Thursday, April 22, 2021

You Can Change Your City

Yesterday's post comparing police killings in Columbus and Minneapolis reminded me that I meant to talk about Ashley Fairbanks' thoughts on how the Minneapolis police department compares to others. An Anishinaabe woman now living in Texas, Fairbanks posted this to her Twitter account (@ziibiing) several days before the Chauvin verdict:

It’s shocking how quickly people’s response to “I’m from Minneapolis” turned from “Must be cold” to “Oh, the place where the cops keep killing people.” But it’s not that we have more police violence— it’s that people decided to stop allowing it to be done in silence.

Why don’t I know the names of people being murdered by the police in Las Vegas, Denver, or Phoenix? Where is the outrage for the 78 people killed by the Houston police in the last 7 years?

So many Americans continue to believe the propaganda from the police departments, and the age-old rhetoric about “bad guys” and “good guys” that allows them to not question the use of force by their cops. Or the murders.

Out of 100 major cities, Minneapolis ranks 74th in the number of fatal police shootings. Which means, if you live in a large American city, your police are likely killing more people. Where are your protests? Where is your rage?

I don’t want to sound like I’m defending Minneapolis — I’m not. I’m just saying, Americans love to hide behind “well, at least we aren’t as bad as X” and it’s usually total bullshit.

I also want to say it was a relatively small amount of people, who were mostly Black and queer, who set this tone in Minneapolis, that it wasn’t good enough to protest for one day and go home and forget about Jamar Clark. Everyone owes them a huge debt of gratitude.

It’s crazy to think about the impact of a those organizers who decided to occupy the 4th precinct in 2015. They shaped the way Minneapolis thinks about and responds to police violence, and have impacted how people all over the world are thinking about a world beyond policing.

I say this to note. You can change your city. You and a few of your friends can decide to do something more. You can demand to be heard. You can demand justice. Another world is possible.

In saying that, Fairbanks clearly wasn't excusing Minneapolis or Minnesota (remember this chart about how bad Twin Cities police are in the disparity of their killing of Black people!), but pointing out that police killings are a systemic U.S. problem. 

By comparison, the U.K. has 20% of our population (65 million vs. 325 million) and police kill a minute fraction as many people. What are the stats on that, you ask?

Well, first, it was hard to know because the U.S. doesn't keep track. After Ferguson, and the widespread realization that there was no centralized database, the Washington Post began tracking police shootings in 2015 (I'm not sure if it's just shootings or it's all killings) in the United States. They show that: 

  • between 2015 and 2018, U.S. police killed 3,309 people. So that averages to 827.25 people a year for 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018. 
  • Then in 2019, the Post found that U.S. police killed 1,099 people, 24% of whom were black.
  • Then in 2020, according to Mapping Police Violence, U.S. cops killed 1,127.

In contrast, these are the numbers for the UK in the same years. It's painfully funny, because the Wikipedia page on this topic actually lists each individual person's name and the circumstances because there are so few:

  • 2015 - 4
  • 2016 - 5
  • 2017 - 5
  • 2018 - 1
  • 2019 - 4
  • 2020 - 5

World Population Review lists 2021 police killings so far per 10 million people in many countries around the world, and the wide gap between the U.S. and UK is evident. Some other peer nations fall in between, but the U.S. is still an outlier:

  • UK: 0.5
  • France: 3.8
  • Sweden: 6
  • Canada: 9.7
  • US: 28.4

Merrick Garland's announcement yesterday of a Department of Justice pattern and practice investigation of the Minneapolis Police Department is good (as demonstrated in this Minnesota Reformer story from 2020, it's not just Derek Chauvin who's a problem, and even the good cops cover up for the bad ones). But the Columbus, Ohio, example also shows that it's true in many other cities. It's true in the suburbs. It's everywhere.

The problem is policing that was formulated from slave patrols in a slave-holding country, built on stolen land, now militarized by leaps and bounds as the number of guns on the streets has skyrocketed with encouragement from the NRA and the Right. 

And to add to the problem, "the police" are not one thing. They are set up in a decentralized system of more than 12,000 police and sheriff's departments across 50 states and however many counties and municipalities, so systemically changing how they operate is just about impossible without some major sea change that's hard to imagine. 

Which is where Fairbanks' point about organizers and activism comes in again. The changes needed are not going to come from within. Creating examples in particular places is a start, which could lead to adoption in other cities, possibly, along with some federal changes that would add other improvements. As Deray Mckesson said on MSNBC the other night, Biden could make some substantial changes at ATF, DEA, CBP, and ICE immediately that would affect a lot of people, which intersect policing in cities. 

That's what we're stuck with, I think, given our decentralized system. But we'll see if it can be pushed further this time.

No comments: