Saturday, November 29, 2014

Law Enforcement Issue

Rand Paul made a few good points in a Time magazine piece Tuesday.  Chief among them was

Can some of the disparity be blamed on a higher rate of crime in the black community? Yes, but there is a gnawing feeling that simply being black in a high-crime area increases your risk for a deadly altercation with police.

Does bad behavior account for some of the interactions with law enforcement? Yes, but surely there must be ways that we can work to prevent the violence from escalating.

This is, however, weak tea, especially when considering Paul continues

Reforming criminal justice to make it racially blind is imperative, but that won't lift up these young men from poverty. In fact, I don't believe any law will. For too long, we've attached some mythic notion to government solutions and yet, 40 years after we began the War on Poverty, poverty still abounds.

When you look at statistics for the white community alone, you see that we've become two separate worlds in which the successful are educated and wait to have children until they are married, and those in poverty are primarily those without higher education and with children outside of marriage.

This message is not a racial one. The link between poverty, lack of education, and children outside of marriage is staggering and cuts across all racial groups. Statistics uniformly show that waiting to have children in marriage and obtaining an education are an invaluable part of escaping poverty.

I have no intention to scold, but escaping the poverty and crime trap will require more than just criminal justice reform. Escaping the poverty trap will require all of us to relearn that not only are we our brother's keeper, we are our own keeper. While a hand-up can be part of the plan, if the plan doesn't include the self-discovery of education, work, and the self-esteem that comes with work, the cycle of poverty will continue.

As usual, Steve M. separates the wheat from the chaff, and remarks

So in what way is Paul different from any other Republican blaming the poor for their own poverty? Yes, he prefaces this with some hip talk about the drug war, and yes, he says that poor whites are also lazy, shiftless work-shirkers who can't keep it in their pants. How enlightened.

To Paul, the people who run the economy -- -- the haves and the politicians who do their bidding -- are utterly blameless when it comes to poor people's economic problems. It doesn't matter that blue-collar jobs have been rapidly disappearing and the overall middle class has been relentlessly shrinking. No one's to blame! It's that invisible hand!

Dave Weigel notes

Not mentioned, apart from an aside about an infamous case of police misconduct in Georgia, was the subject of Paul's first Ferguson op-ed, also published in Time. "We must demilitarize the police," wrote Paul in August, as he listed the ways that local police departments obtained and misused surplus military equipment. "The militarization of our law enforcement is due to an unprecedented expansion of government power in this realm. It is one thing for federal officials to work in conjunction with local authorities to reduce or solve crime. It is quite another for them to subsidize it."

Three months later, as Evan McMorris-Santoro reports, the anti-"militarization" is nowhere. Even by Washington's amnesiac standards, the efforts to reform the 1033 program that makes military gear available to police departments faded absurdly fast. An Aug. 31 Politico story reported on lawmakers' optimism that Ferguson "actually will lead to some policy changes." One week later, Politico published a report about how "substantive action on the federal level is an uphill battle," and that lobbyists for the cops were likely to save the military gear program.

In an interview the same day as his piece in Time, Paul commented "I think part of the answer is trying to reform  our criminal justice system."  But he evidently offered little if any detail, mirroring his failure to repeat his concern about militarization of police departments (video below from CNN in August). He did, however, note the disproportional arrest rate  of blacks and asserted "folks rightly ask why are our sons disproportionately incarcerated, killed, and maimed?"

But we don't know, as Michael Hirsh writes in Politico Magazine

for sure how serious the problem is—now, or then—because there simply are no reliable national data on police violence in the United States. The data are lacking because police departments keep almost all those numbers to themselves, in defiance of a 20-year-old federal law—the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act—requiring the Justice Department to compile an annual report on “the use of excessive force” by police.

It's not for lack of trying that the federal government can't get basic information from law enforcement's first responders. Hirsh explains

At the Justice Department’s request, the International Association of Police Chiefs conducted a pilot study. But according to John Firman, director of development of the IAPC, after a year “the Justice Department shut it down, and for good reason: The number of [police departments] reporting back to us was under 600” out of about 18,000 in the country. The law had no means of forcing cooperation, Firman added, and as for whether the government is simply ignoring the mandate of the law, “that was between the Congress and the DOJ.”

Now that's American Exceptionalism- police departments routinely disobeying the law.  Law enforcement agencies need not be held to a higher standard than the general public. They merely need to be held to the same standard of compliance.

Yet, police departments, alone among public agencies, believe accountability is not part of their job specifications.

Steve M. believes Rand Paul "dropped the subject" of police militarization once "the Ferguson story went nationwide" and the Fraternal Order of Police and National Sheriffs Association (successfully) "have lobbied furiously to keep the military gear flowing."  He quips "a real profile in courage, that guy."

If we had any reason to hope Rand Paul would be a different kind of Republican, that hope is fading and, as election season draws near, will continue to diminish. It is, however, fair to note there once was a Democratic candidate who promised "change we can believe in," who apparently was not referring to law enforcement, the criminal justice system, or- aside from (arguably) health care- much else.

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