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Tag: social change

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.

How (and why) might we defund police?

It appears that when people say, “Defund the Police!” they often don’t mean completely. They usually appear not to mean “dismantle the police force and don’t replace it,” although some do. I started examining the ideas of abolishing or defunding the police in the previous post on this blog.

Defund the Police, like Abolish the Police, is an arresting (sorry), but inadequate slogan. Like most ideas, if you take the logic to its farthest extreme, it’s a terrible idea (hint: for real-life applications, never go to the farthest extreme). But people have begun to have valuable discussions about the way forward.

In this Kevin Siers cartoon, two protesters carry a large banner, emblazoned with a very long slogan that takes up several lines and goes off the edge of the cartoon. Part of it says, "Defund reform repair reeval ... improve rework reenvision ...reinvent cleanse reshape recreate ... Police." One says to the other, "We need a new slogan!"
(Kevin Siers cartoon courtesy of Charlotte Observer/McClatchey)

Deciphering what they actually mean

In the simplest statements I’ve heard, the idea is to reallocate some funds from the local police department. Then to spend them building up departments that would be more appropriate responders to certain kinds of situations. Police solutions often end with someone arrested or ticketed, possibly taken to jail. That’s appropriate for some things, but not for others.

For example, if it’s a mental health crisis, deploy some kind of mental health equivalent of EMTs (and yes, I know we don’t have those yet). This would radically reduce the number of incidents in which a mentally ill person in crisis (but mostly a danger only to themselves) isn’t confronted, further agitated, and then eventually killed by police.

Another example we often hear cited is when police are called to deal with persons experiencing homelessness. What do these people need? Certainly a better place to live. Many also need mental health counseling, physical health care, possibly addiction treatment, additional education so they can find a job, or other services. What can police do about them? Usually none of those things. They can arrest them, or force them to go somewhere else. That’s pretty much it.

A large, multi-spout teapot labeled "Defund the Police" pours tea into cups marked "education," "universal healthcare," "youth services," "housing," and "other community reinvestments."
(Illustration courtesy of Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter)

Why many say policing itself needs a re-think

Diversity training is only as good as the trainer who teaches, and the personal investment of the people who show up. Until individual officers take the messages to heart–and until there’s greater diversity and cross-cultural understanding in most police departments, cultural clashes will continue to fuel bad outcomes.

If the overall culture of the department doesn’t change (and changing police culture is an uphill climb), street-level outcomes won’t, either. Many American police are actively trained to distrust their communities, and to believe every encounter could end in violence against them. They are taught to “fear for their lives” almost as a default-setting. The “warrior” mindset of increased police militarization isn’t helping any of us.

Even when radical overhauls happen, there’s often still a gap between desire and result. It’s discouraging. But allowing ourselves to feel defeated and saying, “I give up” isn’t a sustainable solution. Sweeping problems (and problem officers) under the rug doesn’t work. Perpetuating and doubling-down on “how we’ve always done things” doesn’t cut it. We’ve been doing that for decades, and the results keep getting more extreme.

A city worker power-washes "Defund the Police" from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta.
A city worker power-washes “Defund the Police” from the road outside the Atlanta Police Department, after the protests in Atlanta. When the protests subside, will calls for reform be as easy to erase or ignore? (Photo by Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

What is policing supposed to do?

It gets down to questioning the very purpose of policing. Why do we have police? To keep public order, so we feel safer in our neighborhoods? To respond to (or ideally limit/prevent) crimes such as murder, assault, rape, fraud, and similar invasions of property and person

Do they have a role in limiting vandalism, truancy, and roving bands of unoccupied youths, or should other programs address those ills?

Do we want police to prioritize our privacy and personal autonomy at the expense of the privacy and personal autonomy of others? How much governmental intrusion is acceptable, and are we okay with knowing that some people experience more heavy-handed treatment than others?

De-criminalizing our society

Many proposals start with a laundry-list of things to de-criminalize. I’ve already mentioned de-criminalizing homelessness in this article. A strong case also can be made for de-criminalizing addiction and drug possession

Much is made, in gun-violence arguments, of the urgent need for better mental health services. Yet we are a very long way from de-criminalizing mental illness and creating a robust safety net of mental health services.

De-criminalizing poverty is another consideration. We could do this in part by examining all proposed statutes, civil codes, and local ordinances to see which disproportionately afflict poor people. Another good starting place might be not over-policing poor and minority neighborhoods.

This cartoon by artist Barrie Maguire makes the point that de-criminalizing drug addiction would free up jail space.
Decriminalizing addiction, drug use and other “offenses” that could better be handled by other agencies would also free up jail space (Barrie Maguire cartoon courtesy of the Philadelpha Inquirer).

Where do we go from here?

Some”de-fund” arguments focus, not on policing itself, but on problems that perpetuate the conditions that encourage crime

Even before the pandemic threw them into glaring prominence, inequalities in educational opportunities, in health care, in food security and economic opportunity were major concerns. So it’s not surprising inequities claim prominent places on many people’s “to-reform” lists. Yet all of those things get less money from local governments than policing. Many cities’ biggest budget item is its public safety budget.

Some observers fear we’re rushing into things with half-baked approaches to revamping police forces or radically altering them. Others fear we’ll only use half-measures, then reluctant politicians will have an “out” to declare, “well, that didn’t work!” a few weeks or years from now.

But what if we were really serious about this? What if we actually tried a well-thought-out plan to readjust the way we do social well-being, including efforts to ensure law, order, and justice for everyone? For real.

I think we’re all still trying to figure out how that would look. But next week in this space, I’ll take a stab at relating my own vision and thoughts to my stories about policing in the future on Rana Station.

IMAGE CREDITS:

Many thanks to the Charlotte Observer/McClatchey, for the Kevin Sierscartoon. The “Defund the Police Teapot” illustration is from Aleksey Weintraub, @LAKUTIS via Twitter. It appears to be a clever adaptation of a photo of an actual, multi-spout teapot from Tea Exporter India (now a defunct link) via Alobha Exim’s Pinterest board. The photo of the city worker power-washing the street in front of the Atlanta Police Department is by the formidable Alyssa Pointerof the Atlanta Journal-Constitution The remarkable Barrie Maguire (who also did a stint at Kansas City’s own Hallmark) is a marvelous fine-art painter of Irish-inspired work, but he also created cartoons for the Philadelphia Inquirer for a while, including this one dramatizing prison overcrowding.

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.

Nothing is simple

Nothing is simple, although it may look that way from the outside.

I found an article the other day in one of my online research resources, Police Magazine. It reported on a disturbance in New York City’s Grand Central subway station. 

A group called Decolonize this Place organized it as part of a daylong series of demonstrations. This is the third time this group has staged demonstrations since earlier in 2019.

This photo shows a wide shot of a large crowd, many in dark clothing with protest signs, facing off against police in New York's Grand Central subway station.
A still from a video from New York Post, via Police Magazine, showing the protest in the terminal. (Police Magazine/New York Post)

They didn’t manage to close it down, as they’d hoped.

What they did manage to do was get national TV and other news coverage, and slow things down in Midtown. Reports on the size of the crowd and number of arrests varied. They left banners and sprayed graffiti, and tweeted about it. And they made an effort to look both intimidating and impossible to identify. Seems pretty obvious this group is up to no good, right?

Well, nothing is simple.

What’s the goal of the disruption?

This group clearly hates the police. According to their tweets, they want to “end all policing & destruction of public order . . . to bring public safety back to NYC.” They also want all mass transit fees ended, so the rides are all free. 

This retweet by NYC PBA of a Decolonize video says, "New Yorkers should pay close attention: this is true endgame of the anti-police movement, an end of all policing & destruction of public order. Our members have spent their careers--and in some cases given   their lives--to bring public safety back to NYC. We can't go backwards"
Photo from 1010 WINS Radio, via Twitter. (Note the
linked Twitter video contains profanity).

Let’s unpack this. First of all, “end all policing” is connected to “destruction of public order.” 

The goal is “to bring public safety back to NYC.”

While the article in Police Magazine did list their goals as “no cops in the MTA, free transit [and] no harassment, ” they focused more on the disruption and vandalism

That’s not surprising. Their aim, as stated by MTA Chief Safety Officer Pat Warren (quoted in the article), is to protect “transit services that get New Yorkers to their jobs, schools, doctors and other places they need to go.” Simple enough.

But nothing is simple.

How can the protests promote the need for public safety?

I’d just read another article about a UK study that demonstrated a 14-21% reduction in crime when the police patrolled subway stations every 15 minutes. These platforms previously had not had a police presence–exactly what the New York demonstrators are demanding

The article even went so far as to make a direct comparison: “London’s Underground, akin to NYC’s subway system, was the first underground railway in the world, and now services more than 1.3 billion passengers per year.”

The police show up and crime goes down. That’s pretty simple, isn’t it? But nothing is simple.

This photo shows a seating area at the Canary Wharf stop of the London Underground, with a train in the background.
A study showed police patrols every 15 minutes in the London Underground deterred crime. Yet Decolonize this Place is demanding that police stop patrolling the New York City subways. Does this make sense? (Photo courtesy of Forensic).

Who’s protecting whom, and from what?

The London Underground recently has seen delays from demonstrations, too, but those were staged by climate activists seeking attention. One of the biggest worries there seems to be terrorist attacks (and with good reason)

But hardly any of the London Underground’s users seem to think the police themselves are a danger to public safety. No so, for Decolonize this Place. They demonstrated to remove them from the subways entirely

The New York City subway system’s police officers, interacting with an assortment of low-income persons of color have been captured in distressing videos that went viral. This apparently happens frequently in the subways. 

Six homeless persons doze or sleep on a bench in a New York subway terminal.
The number of homeless persons living in the New York City subways has jumped by 20% recently (screencap of a video via ABC-7 News)

The MTA recently (and controversiallyhired 500 new officers to patrol the subways. They are there to address “quality of life” issues, such as illegal food vendors and the growing number of homeless people living in the subway system. 

Meanwhile, the NYPD has been cracking down on low-level crimes, and that’s no surprise, since that kind of crime is up. But that often means focusing on persons of color, whether it’s because of simple economics or racial bias. But addressing those issues, no matter how tactfully, is no simple matter.

Respect is not as simple a matter as it may seem. 

This 1981 news photo shows uniformed British police moving toward a barricade and bonfire, behind which a group of demonstrators hide.
1981 Brixton Riots in the UK: first large-scale clash between low-income black youths and white British police in the 20th Century. (Photo from The Royal Gazette)

As far as I can tell, one clear problem with NYPD and MTA officers’ approach is that it never seems to be respectfulDefensive, definitely–and in the current environment, caution is warranted

But whatever their intentions, the effect when they surround a tiny, elderly churro vender with four or five much taller armed police officers and handcuff her is pretty darned intimidating.

This is not a new thing, this antagonism between police forces and the working poor. And it’s not isolated to New York City. Fines that unfairly burdened lower-income residents of Ferguson MO fueled some of the fury in the wake of Michael Brown’s killing. And all too often cities’ attempts to “deal with the homeless problem” turn into efforts to chase the homeless out of town–or at least out of sight. 

In this CBC photo officials use a construction front shovel loader to dump debris from the homeless camp into a dumpster for disposal.
Officials used heavy equipment to clear out a homeless camp near Moncton, New Brunswick last May (photo by Shane Magee/CBC)

Even efforts designed to be helpful don’t always succeed. Many places create task forces that include social workers to coordinate with the police, but their success is mixed. “Neighborhood policing” doesn’t always have the desired result.

It’s not just the working poor who feel disrespected. Police officers also have every reason to feel they are not respected. Indeed, too often they are violently targeted. “Bad actors” among sworn-officer ranks get sensational headlines, and besmirch the ones who honestly struggle each day to serve their communities.

Nothing is simple. Especially not efforts to negotiate the delicate balance of respect, accountability, and public order that characterizes interactions between the police and the working poor

But it’s quite simply true that everyone’s safety and security depends on finding a way.

IMAGE CREDITS: 

Many thanks to Police Magazine (and New York Post) for the coverage of the protest, and to 1010 WINS Radio and Twitter for the tweet from Decolonize this Place. I’d also like to thank Forensic for the photo from the London Underground, and ABC-7 News for the screencap of homeless people in subways. Additionally,  much gratitude to The Royal Gazette for the historic photo from the Brixton Riots, as well as The Canadian Broadcasting Company (CBC) and their photographer/reporter Shane Magee for the photo from the Moncton NB homeless camp.

Women do not owe you

The Artdog Image of Interest

August is a month when many students start back to school–many in new schools. I’m dedicating my Images of Interest for the next several weeks to a reminder that as young girls grow into young women, whether they’re in public or private schools or in college, they often are subject to gender-based street harassment–catcalls, comments on their looks, etc. They don’t need this grief, but all too many experience it.

The photo shows a poster, possibly in Brooklyn, NY, placed on a weathered painted wooden wall. The poster, created by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, shows a young woman's face, head, and shoulders, above the message: "Women do not owe you their time or conversation."
Tatyana FazlalizadehWomen do not owe you their time or conversation.

This month’s Images of Interest are dedicated to those maturing girls and young women, as a reminder that we adults in the community have a responsibility to call out harassment wherever it manifests. I am deeply grateful to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose whose work I featured last March.

In this month of Back to School and Women’s Equality day, I’m delighted to share more of her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project.

IMAGE: Many thanks to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project, and to Katherine Brooks’s Huffington Post article, for this image.

Not seeking your validation

The Artdog Image of Interest

August is a month when many students start back to school–many in new schools. I’m dedicating my Images of Interest for the next several weeks to a reminder that as young girls grow into young women, whether they’re in public or private schools or in college, they often are subject to gender-based street harassment–catcalls, comments on their looks, etc. They don’t need this grief, but all too many experience it.

This photo shows a poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh on a graffitti-sprayed wall that is predominantly dark blue, with light blue, white and gold parts. The poster depicts a young woman's head and upper torso, above the message, "Women are not seeking your validation."
Tatyana FazlalizadehWomen are not seeking your validation.

This month’s Images of Interest are dedicated to those maturing girls and young women, as a reminder that we adults in the community have a responsibility to call out harassment wherever it manifests. I am deeply grateful to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose whose work I featured last March.

In this month of Back to School and Women’s Equality day, I’m delighted to share more of her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project.

IMAGE: Many thanks to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project, and to Katherine Brooks’s Huffington Post article, for this image.

My outfit is not an invitation

The Artdog Image of Interest

August is a month when many students start back to school–many in new schools. I’m dedicating my Images of Interest for the next several weeks to a reminder that as young girls grow into young women, whether they’re in public or private schools or in college, they often are subject to gender-based street harassment–catcalls, comments on their looks, etc. They don’t need this grief, but all too many experience it.

This photo shows a black and white poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, on a reddish-brown brick wall. The poster shows a young woman's head and shoulders, and the message, "My outfit is not an invitation."
Tatyana FazlalizadehMy outfit is not an invitation.

This month’s Images of Interest are dedicated to those maturing girls and young women, as a reminder that we adults in the community have a responsibility to call out harassment wherever it manifests. I am deeply grateful to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose whose work I featured last March.

In this month of Back to School and Women’s Equality day, I’m delighted to share more of her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project.

IMAGE: Many thanks to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project, and to Katherine Brooks’s Huffington Post article, for this image.

“I Deserve to be Respected”

The Artdog Image of Interest

August is a month when many students start back to school–many in new schools. I’m dedicating my Images of Interest for the next several weeks to a reminder that as young girls grow into young women, whether they’re in public or private schools or in college, they often are subject to gender-based street harassment–catcalls, comments on their looks, etc. They don’t need this grief, but all too many experience it.

This photo shows a poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, which has been placed on a public wall over a colorful mix of the scraps of earlier posters. Tatyana's poster shows the head and shoulders of a young woman, over the message "Yo Merezco Ser Respetada," which is Spanish for "I deserve your respect."
Tatyana FazlalizadehYo Merezco ser Respetada, “I Deserve to be Respected.”

This month’s Images of Interest are dedicated to those maturing girls and young women, as a reminder that we adults in the community have a responsibility to call out harassment wherever it manifests. I am deeply grateful to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose whose work I featured last March

In this month of Back to School and Women’s Equality day, I’m delighted to share more of her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project.

IMAGE: Many thanks to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project for this image.

A young woman’s worth

The Artdog Image of Interest

August is a month when many students start back to school–many in new schools. I’m dedicating my Images of Interest for the next several weeks to a reminder that as young girls grow into young women, whether they’re in public or private schools or in college, they often are subject to gender-based street harassment–catcalls, comments on their looks, etc. They don’t need this grief, but all too many experience it.

This photo shows a poster on a public wall covered with several other partial images. The poster that's the focus of the photo is by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It shows a drawing of a young woman's face and shoulders, above the words, "My worth extends far beyond my body."
Tatyana FazlalizadehMy Worth extends far Beyond my Body

This month’s Images of Interest are dedicated to those maturing girls and young women, as a reminder that we adults in the community have a responsibility to call out harassment wherever it manifests. I am deeply grateful to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, whose work I featured last March

In this month of Back to School and Women’s Equality day, I’m delighted to share more of her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project.

IMAGE: Many thanks to artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art project for this image.

Catcall and response

The Artdog Image(s) of Interest

Have you ever been walking down a city street, especially past a construction site, and heard somebody yell, “Hey, baby! Gimme a smile!” or similar stuff? If you’ve ever been a woman–particularly a young woman–you have. Guaranteed. Probably daily. (If you’re a man, then probably not, and you may not see what’s wrong with it).

This image is a photo of artwork by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, in this case a self-portrait, with the message "Stop telling women to smile." in this photo the artist's words have been added near the top, saying "It's a matter of control over women's bodies. And it's a serious issue to address."
Tatyana FazlalizadehStop Telling Women to Smile

While the occasional inexperienced country girl may mistake these catcalls for harmless flattery on first exposure, it soon becomes clear that the objectifying intent is neither harmless nor benign. Day after day, the merciless barrage can drag you down

This photograph shows a poster glued to a section of a wall with wood-grain like a piece of plywood. The poster shows a young woman's head and upper torso, and at the bottom it says, "My name is not Baby, Shorty, Sexy, Sweetie, Honey, Pretty, Boo, Sweetheart, Ma." The artwork is by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.
Tatyana FazlalizadehMy Name is not Baby 

t’s recognized more properly as street harassment–and NO, women don’t like it. But what can be done, right? Most of us just duck our heads and keep walking

This photo shows a large-scale poster on a brick wall, featuring the faces and upper torsos of three women, with the words underneath: "Harassing women does not prove your masculinity." The artwork is by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.
Tatyana FazlalizadehHarassing women does not prove your masculinity

Enter Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, and her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” public art campaign. All those things you so wish you could say to harassers? She says them. With large public art displays, right out there in the harassers’ space on the streets.

This photo shows one of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh's posters on the side of a mailbox, overlaying several graffitti-scrawled messages. The drawing shows a young woman's head and upper torso, above the message: "Critiques on my body are not welcome."
Tatyana FazlalizadehCritiques on my Body are not Welcome

Fazlalizadeh has illustrated her messages with the faces of women she knows, women whose lives are impinged upon daily by these assaults. Her images empower all of us, not only her friends.

This photo shows a poster by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, with a drawing of a young woman's head and shoulders over the message, "Women are not outside for your entertainment."
Tatyana FazlalizadehWomen are not Outside for your Entertainment

She speaks what all of us wish we could, in a way that few can mistake

Which speak best for you? Please make comments below!

IMAGES: Many thanks to the Huffington Post, for the image at the top. Deepest gratitude to Katherine Brooks’s  2017 Huffington Post article, “Public Art Project Addresses Gender-Based Street Harassment in a Big Way,” for My name is not Baby, Critiques on my Body are not Welcome, and Women are not Outside for your Entertainment; and honor and props to  Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” page, for Harassing women does not prove your masculinity. I plan to feature more of these posters in future Images of Interest.

Making progress . . .

The Artdog Image of Interest

Have we made progress? Some. Could we improve more? Undoubtedly.

How has life changed for black Americans?

From Visually.

In matters of equity and social justice, no picture is ever static, and progress is always relative. This infographic was created in 2014, so the data is already 5 years old or older. But this is a moderately recent snapshot of where we stand. 

I normally celebrate February as “Social Justice February” in a nod to Black History Month. But remember that--as with feminism–greater social justice makes the world a better place for ALL of us. 

IMAGE: Many thanks to Visually and the team of Noureen Saira, designer, and Elliott Smith, writer, via University of Phoenix, for this infographic “snapshot.”

Taking responsibility

The Artdog Quote of the Week

There is a certain amount of “ownership” of problems that is needed, when a person takes on this important business of being an informed citizen and voter (I hope you are!).

Weighty decisions come into our hands, and with our single votes each of us drops another pebble into one or another bucket that may just tip the balance for all. But this means we must make the choice to pay attention, to study the questions our society faces, and to do the diligence that will help us separate charlatans from true prophets.

IMAGE: Many thanks to AZ Quotes, for this provocative thought from Grace Lee Boggs.

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