Friday, March 05, 2021

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 3: "Good News, but" on police reform

032 The Erickson Report for February 25 to March 10, Page 3: "Good News, but" on police reform

Next, we have a couple of things that can be considered Good News overall but each of them comes with an asterisk.

Last month, as part of his executive orders in relation to racial justice, Joe Blahden reimposed Obama-era restrictions on a federal program run by the Law Enforcement Support Office. Called the 1033 Program, it's the one that provides ostensibly surplus military equipment to local police departments.

In 2015, the Amazing Mr. O ordered that military equipment such as armored vehicles, grenade launchers, flash-bang grenades, and high-caliber weapons not be part of the program. But in 2017, Tweetie-pie reversed that order. Blahden has now re-reversed it, re-imposing the restrictions.

Okay, this is a good thing. Undoubtedly.

But here's the asterisk: The order doesn't go far enough. The whole thing is a crappy program that inevitably leads to justified suspicion from the targets on the one hand and increased arrogance from the beneficiaries on the other, who get to play Macho Man on the streets of their cities and even small towns.

During the campaign, Blahden accurately said "The last thing you need is an up-armored Humvee coming into a neighborhood, it is like the military invading, they become the enemy." Which is not entirely accurate because too often for too many of the communities that are the targets of these programs, the police have already given ample cause to be perceived as enemies even before the Humvees appear, but let that pass for the moment. More importantly, he should have added that this very militarized manner of policing makes the cops view anyone on the street, particularly those in a protest, particularly if those protesters are non-white, as their enemy - that is, even more than they do already. And they are the ones with most of the guns.

More than that, it doesn't even work. Despite distributing over $7.4 billion in military equipment to over 11,500 local cop agencies, the program has - according to two independent studies published in December - produced no measurable effect on the crime rate.

Instead, at least one other study indicated it produced the opposite: A study of Georgia police departments and sheriff's offices, done by staff at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and published in October, found that those that got more than $1,000 worth of equipment through the 1033 program, on average, fatally shot about four times as many people as those that didn't. That was after controlling for statistical variables such as community income, rural-urban differences, racial makeup, and violent crime rates.

I still think "Defund the Police" is a lousy slogan because one, it doesn't express what is meant, which is that we have to re-think how we do law enforcement or more exactly how we deal with public safety and we have to stop making people with guns always the default choice. Two, at the same time it suggests to those who don't already know what you mean that what you really want is the elimination of law enforcement altogether.

Which is why even though it also fails at snappily expressing the true goal, I think a slogan of "Demilitarize the Police" would do much more to initiate a move in that direction of restructuring.

The reason I bring this up here is that to that should be added the slogan "Deep Six 1033" - because while the re-imposition of the earlier restrictions on the program is a good thing, limiting it simply is not enough. The 1033 program should be shut down entirely. Legislation to do exactly that was introduced in both houses of Congress last summer. They went nowhere then, but they should be revived and become a central focus of federal-level efforts on police reform now.

If that happens, that will be really good news.

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