Thursday, June 11, 2020

More Good Gals with Cameras

Also today, Morning Edition interviewed Senator James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma.  Lankford is one of a "working group" of Republicans who are "putting together a legislative package to address the U.S. policing system."

Gee, you know I hate to stereotype people, but I don't expect this working group to come up with anything worthwhile.  (To be fair, Congressional Democrats aren't likely to produce something better.)  Lankford, who is evidently an NPR regular, didn't say anything that would lead me to change my mind.

You could tell he was trying to be reasonable and moderate and sensible, which shows once again that it's a mistake to confuse moderation of tone with moderation of substance.  But to be fair, I suppose he was moderate if I set one extreme as putting a bounty on police heads and the other as putting all African-Americans into concentration camps.  Remember that, as Jim Hightower says, there's nothing in the middle of the road but yellow stripes and dead armadillos.

The best thing Lankford mentioned was a provision for penalties (but what kind? a stern gaze from Vice President Mike Pence?) for officers who turn off their body cameras.  In the end, though, he fell back on evasion and both-sidesism when reporter Noel King asked him if he believed "that the U.S. policing system is inherently racist?"
Uh, no, I would not say that police officers are systemically racist.  [She did not ask him that.] This has been a big conversation that we've had around the country lately.  To me, calling all police officers or all police departments racist is like calling all protesters rioters. There are some rioters that are in the middle of some peaceful protesters, that are frustrated. There are some police officers that are bad apples in the middle of some police departments, and those police officers are frustrated that they've got some bad apples in the mix as well. So part of what we're focused on is how do we get greater training, how do we work through better transparency, so we can expose those individuals that in the middle of good police departments, among good officers that really do want to serve and protect the community, that are working very hard and we are grateful for the work that they're doing, but those officers also get frustrated, when someone commits a murder clearly as a police officer or does a racist act.  So this is one of those issues that we can't all paint all protesters with a broad brush or paint all police officers with a broad brush, we've gotta be able to treat all people as individuals.
The Senator overlooked a few things here. The first is that the protesters are not a taxpayer-funded and -armed, hierarchical organization; they are not, and can't be, their brothers' keepers. The police are under orders, the protesters for better or worse are not.  (Leave aside that an unknown number of rioters were outsiders, some white supremacists out to discredit the protests while having a little fun, and some were police provocateurs.)   Second, the police hierarchy, including police unions, has protected police misconduct by "losing" and suppressing evidence, closing ranks against outside efforts to impose accountability and certainly not imposing any themselves.  A prime example of this is the 57 officers who resigned from the Buffalo Emergency Response Team to protest the suspension of their colleagues who'd shoved and injured a 75-year-old protester, but there also been furious denunciations of any criticism by police leadership; I'm not aware of anything analogous from protestors.)  In general, those good, "frustrated" cops have not distinguished themselves by expressing their frustration or doing anything about it, though that too is probably due to fear of retaliation from their brothers for snitching.  It would be a service to those good officers to help them by breaking the grip of police culture with stronger accountability for the "bad apples."

To her credit, King pushed back when Lankhorn claimed that "even in the situation that happened with George Floyd, within hours those officers were fired and as they worked through the criminal justice system, being held to account."  King interrupted him:
Yeah, I would note though, I would note that the original police writeup on Mr. Floyd's death, er, killing was completely inaccurate, and it was because a girl, a 17-year-old girl, was recording it that we have that video, not because of body cams.  So I think when people talk about ending qualified immunity, it's that kind of thing that they're really after.
Lankhorn replied weakly, "I completely understand that, that's why we're trying to increase the use of body cameras so we can get more footage and get every situation and not have to rely on a bystander to get that."

But this is the problem: police reports in incidents like the killing of George Floyd are so routinely inaccurate -- that is, lies -- and body-camera footage has been "lost" or suppressed, often with city-government connivance, that we will need to rely on bystanders with phone cameras for the foreseeable future.  (Why is Rahm Emanuel still at large and an active Democratic Party insider, instead of being held to account?)

Some of the proposals Lankhorn described were mere cover-your-ass stuff, but it seems to me that penalties for turning off body cameras and the anti-lynching provision he mentioned could be encouragingly strong stuff, especially from Republicans.  I just don't expect them to go anywhere, certainly not on their own initiative.