I have reviewed Chris Hayes’ new book, A Colony In A Nation, here and there, and I think it’s a good read. It also takes a look at ghetto policing that is seriously incomplete. And what makes it incomplete is the final chapter where Hayes promotes an idea for more effective (and less brutal) ghetto policing based on his experiences as a Brown University student in interactions with the campus police. This approach is a rather silly way to discuss a very difficult problem and I suspect that the chapter was tacked onto the book because the editor said, ‘Chris, you gotta’ say something about what needs to be done,’ but it would have better be left unsaid.
If you want to read a serious discussion about how to fix ghetto policing, I suggest you read Franklin Zimring’s new book, When Police Kill, which I also previously reviewed, But I focused that review on the first half of Zimring’s book, which explores the data on cop killings, as well as the data on how many cops get killed. And one of the important issues discussed by Zimring is the degree to which cops get shot while on the job. If you think the differential between civilian gun homicides in the U.S. versus other advanced countries is very wide (on the order of 6 to 200 percent) you ought to look at the difference between the number of cops shot in assaults in the U.S. as compared to everywhere else. Countries like Great Britain and Germany will go multiple years without a single cop being killed at all, whereas nearly 300 on-duty police are killed in the U.S. each year and 90% of these assaults involve the use of guns.
Hayes is aware of this problem, and he notes that “the threat of the sudden bullet extends to every single aspect of policing.” [p. 103.] But police who patrol the Brown University campus really don’t have to worry about whether the students they confront will be armed, whereas in the inner-city, the reality is that guns abound. And while this doesn’t mean that every cop riding through Harlem, Watts or Roxbury should believe that he’s in the middle of the OK Corral, the element of uncertainty and fear on the part of police because there are so many guns needs to be factored into any discussion about policing and race.
And that is exactly what the second half of Franklin Zimring’s book is about, namely, a serious and fact-filled discussion about preventing and controlling police killings, which seem to have lately spiraled out of control. The first issue is a question of data – you can’t fix what you don’t know. And Zimring gives us chapter and verse on how poor, inconsistent and often contradictory the data happens to be. Along with the lack of good data, the response of cops to being attacked is frequently far beyond the use of force necessary to repel that specific attack. Take a look at the data covering 2015 (pp. 61-62) and note that in nearly half of the fatal shootings committed by cops, the victim didn’t have a gun at all. Finally, it turns out that there is no solid reporting of police shootings where the victim didn’t die. So how can we understand the scope of police violence and the reaction of the community to that violence if we don’t even know how often or where it occurs?
Zimring concludes the second half of the book by discussing what he calls “precision in reporting and measurement, and the willingness to invest resources in evaluating new strategies of disarming the dangerous,” and he presents concrete steps for doing both. He believes, and backs up his beliefs with hard data, that such strategies could reduce cop killings by roughly 90% within a decade’s time.
We now have two books out there that look at the issue of police violence from different points of view. My recommendation is that you read both.