Friday, June 05, 2020

the dystopia of police unions

The question of the police and policing is confused at the outset by the terminology of the tool, the instrument. Even those criticizing the police – such as myself – have a tendency to portray them as the tool of the upper class. In a sense, the tool image is ingrained deeply into the discourse the police have woven about themselves, the discourse of serving the public, or protecting the public.

This misses the crucial political agency and power of the police. It is not simply the selectivity of enforcing the law, the choice made to, say, arrest the black consumers and sellers of illicit drugs and to let white prosperous neighborhoods slide, although it is easy to imagine the police pulling no knock searches on penthouses and mansions in Beverly Hills or NYC’s West side and finding hella cocaine to rock those people to pleas in court. It is also the pressure put by police and their unions to pass certain laws, to create certain immunities, to imagine the community according to police interests. In Minneapolis, a midsized Midwestern town, one can trace a history from Charles Stenvig in the sixties to  Rich Stanek in 2018 to Bob Kroll, the current head of the Police Officers Federation of Minneapolis.

This is Bob Kroll:

IN AN INTERVIEW in April, Lt. Bob Kroll, head of Minneapolis’s police union, said that he and a majority of the Minneapolis Police Officers’ Federation’s board have been involved in police shootings. Kroll said that he and the officers on the union’s board were not bothered by the shootings, comparing themselves favorably to other officers.

“There’s been a big influx of PTSD,” Kroll said. “But I’ve been involved in three shootings myself, and not one of them has bothered me. Maybe I’m different.” 

 Or in Philadelphia, from Frank Rizzo to John McNesby, the current head of the Fraternal order of the Police in Philadelphia, who made headlines in 2017:

There had been just 10 or so protesters, one wielding a megaphone, but it was enough to disrupt an otherwise quiet Bustleton neighborhood and rattle police, who’d never been confronted at their homes before. Now McNesby was getting his turn at the podium. A measured approach could have smothered the smoldering tension in the room; instead, McNesby doused it with gasoline. “When you go work each day,” he spat into the microphone, “you shouldn’t have to worry that a pack of rabid animals will suddenly show up at your home. … ” 

The Phillymag article is one of the rare ones that actually focus on the driver of police activity and politics, instead of on the windowdressing of police commissions. Here’s another graf:

Some greatest hits here locally: In June 2010, McNesby declared stringent new rules regarding police misconduct “would be at the bottom of a litter box pretty soon,” then successfully challenged them before the Pennsylvania Labor Relations Board. In 2012, McNesby mocked the civilian-run Police Advisory Commission, stating: “No one pays any attention to them.” And in 2015, McNesby declared the mayoral candidacy of former DA Lynne Abraham — a longtime tough-on-crime, pro-cop politician — to be over after she spoke to FOP members about pension changes and progressive reforms.”
Because the discussion about “ending policing” is probably not going to result in “ending policing”, I would think a better direction to take would be – curbing police unions. For instance, making sure that policemen who shoot or taser or maim and then cost the city’s thousands in civil suit damages are fired. Simply that. Why should cities be drained to support employees who wild? But even something as simple as that is not going to happen as long as police unions, interlocked with the Republican party and various rightwing organizations, have the upper hand.
It is rather amazing that the dream of a society in which the worker, through unions, has parity with Capital was only realized by… the police. But here we are, in the era in which past utopias are transformed into dystopias right before our eyes. This doesn’t have to be like this.  

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

another desperate spring

Broken at the waist by revolution
or vandal, a figure in excelsius deo
waits a stony resurrection flanking
the portal of the priory. The church trembles
in its long malaria of ghosts and smog.
Late spring. Already summer’s heat.
I walk up narrow Rue Gravilliers
past where a tagged mirror salutes
propped upright against a mildewed wall
waiting for collection, too.
A beggar mumbles bien bien
- this is the poetry of presque rien
channeling the oral tumult of my brain
which like yours is all worries and sex.
I pass the goddess in her natural human size
at the street crossing where the shadow
of a sparrow pursues presque rien
and its me mumbling bien, bien.
- Karen Chamisso

Tuesday, June 02, 2020

The birth of the police union out of the destruction of American apartheid

Robert Sobel’s biography of Calvin Coolidge contains background on the event that catapulted Coolidge into celebrity: his attempt to bust the Boston Police Union. Coolidge was the governor of Massachusetts in 1919, and Boston was a hotbed of political activity – two anarchists from the region, Sacco and Vanzetti, would later impress themselves – their trial for armed robbery and murder, their execution - on the whole decade, creating a cause that brought hundreds of thousands out into the streets throughout the globe. In 1919, the AFL had been busy unionizing police departments. ”… thirty seven cities, including Washington D.C., Los Angeles, St. Paul,  and Vicksburg had police unions, most of them affiliated with the AFL.”

Coolidge, to tell a long story short, busted the Boston police union when they staged a walkout. It was a thorough victory. The AFL stopped trying to unionize police departments. Various Senators, Democratic and Republic, indicated that the threat of imminent Bolshevism was terminated.
That wasn’t the end of the police union, however. It is generally agreed that the next step came in the sixties. As described by Charles Salerno in Police at the Bargaining Table, the civil rights era jumpstarted police unions for two reasons: a., civil disobedience and protest showed police that there was a greater space for union activity than in the past; and b., the police responded to protests on campus and the struggle for civil rights by a sort of institution-wide panic. Policing had meant enforcing the bounds of apartheid, and upholding a white bourgeois social order. As apartheid began to crumble and the student movement made the white bourgeois social order seem weak and perverted, police unionization was  forged in opposition to these things. Salerno goes into a sort of cop romantic revery about the whole thing:

“To witness the wanton destruction and disruption of the schools, not by people unable to attend them, but by those who were fortunate enoghyt to be students, showed the police that nothing was held to be sacred anymore. The police were called onto campuses to restore order and suppress unruly crowds. They witnessed acts of vandalism, disrespect for authority, a severe lack of discipline, open defamation of the American flag, total disregard for law, open profanity, widespread usage of drugs, and physical attacks upon the police.”

Salerno’s narrative is suffused with the cop self-pity and thinly disguised white nationalist sentiment, but it probably accurately reflects the feelings and recollections of the almost all white urban police force:

“All these events had a traumatic effect on the police psyche. They would no longer sit in a corner and lick their wounds. They began to strike back and to take the offensive in an attempt to salvage their dignity and their pride. The Civil Rights Movement and the gains made by minority groups through civil disobedience served as examples to the police. Since they were an occupational minority and an extremely visible one as well, they began to organize into militant or semimilitant groups.”

And thus, out of a highly politicized reaction to the threat to the white order, the police union received its jolt of life – sorta like Frankenstein’s monster, made out of a grotesque hodgepodge of sentiment and organized power. The point is that racism is not just accidental to modern policing, but the glue that held together the unionization of police forces throughout the country.
This is a small but significant footnote in the rightward drift of American society since the sixties and seventies.  

Sunday, May 31, 2020

a rainbow Armageddon

Our riot comparisons – Newark, Detroit, D.C. Watts the Rodney King riots – reference years when the U.S. economy was booming. This aint one. Roosevelt was elected, in part, because Hoover reacted to the Veterans march – the Bonus Army – which had camped on government grounds in D.C. by calling out the army, which, under MacArthur, simply overwhelmed the camp with tanks and soldiers, driving the families there away. That was July 28, 1932. Supposedly this was the last straw for Roosevelt, who decided, finally, that Hoover was not just an opponent but the real shit that he so abundantly was. (for Hoover’s chillingidea that we shoulda allied with Hitler in World War II, see Brad Delong’spost, here: ).
The US is facing a gaping hole where the economy used to be, but in White America, at least, until recently, the thought was that we’d puddle-jump it. So we sort of turned to more important topics in the great lockdown, like Animal Crossing, looking away from the two trillion that the U.S. government essentially pumped into the upper 1 percent. Two trillion used to be quite an amount. And when you compare it with what the administration is proposing now – time to cut food stamps! – it seems, well, pretty large. But the media isn’t going to lead any charge against it anytime soon. On the street, however, the idea that it is either starve or change has a new air of reality.
For the twenty-somethings, this reality is coming down pretty brutally. It is a surprising rainbow who are out there marching. It is lovely, but here I speak as a person who has been in demonstrations on the losing side since the age of Reagan’s Contras: demonstrations are covered and then forgotten. The demonstrations against the Iraq invasion were some of the biggest ever seen, and they meant squat.
Thus, the temptation out there to turn it up a notch. In combination with the inevitable poison cocktail of peep’s projecting their own psychodramas and the suspicious marge, the undercover cops and agents provacateurs. If you have ever been active in any left organization, you will have run into these people. They are standard issue guys, mostly, always proposing the stupidest things to an excitable mass of angry people. Your tax money hard at work!
I think we are sliding into the reaction, delayed but perhaps inevitable, to our age of surroundsound inequalities.  I don’t think it is economic determinism to hypothesize that if black median income wealth were equal to white median income wealth, instead of being 13 x lower, black people in Minneapolis, who compose 15 percent of the population, would not constitute 60 percent of the people that the Minneapolis cops use the choke knee on. Inequalities at certain points converge. An unequal healthcare system equals many more corona deaths in the black community, proportionally, than among whites. As a for instance.
In any horror movie, just when you think the monster is dead, he comes back to life for another jumpscare. This is an excellent rule for how things happen.


  “In brief, cultural history only represents a surface strike against the insight [of historicism], but not that of dialectics. For it lack...