Two New Books On Cops And Guns.

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.

hayes             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.

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Is Trump Appealing To Racism When He Supports Armed Citizens? You Betcha.

Back in 2008 Obama had his ‘guns and religion’ moment, which briefly appeared to undo his Presidential campaign, now Hillary has created her moment too with the comment about ‘deplorables.’  And while you might think that an entire national campaign never really rises or falls on a few words, just ask George Bush, the first George Bush, whether or not he’s still asking people to read his lips.

trump2On the other hand, go back to a Reuters poll in June, and maybe the deplorability needle gauging the attitudes of Trump supporters is set just about right.  Because in that poll, half the folks who described themselves as supporting Trump said that Blacks were more ‘violent’ than Whites, and also said that Blacks were more ‘criminal’ than Whites.  And there is no question that Trump has been echoing and encouraging those attitudes every chance he gets, and in that respect he’s getting plenty of help from the NRA.

This whole notion of walking around with a gun in your pocket to protect yourself and others against the criminal ‘element’ has been a watchword of NRA gun propaganda since the 1980s, when the gun industry discovered that White America was no longer going out hunting but was afraid of crime.  Gallup has been asking this question since 1965: ‘Is there any area near where you live – that is, within a mile – where you would be afraid to walk alone at night?’ The affirmative response hit its high-water mark in 1982 with 48% saying ‘yes.’  And it was in the 1980s that the NRA unleashed ads which, for the first time, explicitly promoted gun ownership as a response to crime, and they have been running with this notion ever since. And who exactly are all these criminals committing mayhem in the streets? If you need help figuring out the answer to that question, you need a functioning brain, never mind another gun.

There really are people out there who believe they can protect themselves and others by walking around armed even if they have little, practical training or experience in using a self-defense gun.  Never mind civilians, by the way, even with some degree of training, most cops can’t protect themselves or anyone else with their gun.  A study by the Police Policy Council found that when a New York City police officer encountered an armed suspect, the average ‘hit probability’ was 15 percent!  A study by the RAND Corporation set the number at 18 percent.  Now we’re not talking about internet scam-artists like the United States Concealed Carry Association or a former town constable named Massad Ayoob who earns a nice living going around the country as a reincarnation of Jeff Cooper’s Principles of Personal Defense. We’re talking about the RAND Corporation, okay?  But why trust them when you have such noted researchers as Dana Loesch and Ted Nugent telling you that you’ll always be safe as long as you carry a gun?

The Supreme Court may have gotten it right back in 2008 when it said that the 2nd Amendment gave Americans a Constitutional protection to keep a loaded handgun in their home.  But that’s all the Court said.  It didn’t say there was any Constitutional protection for citizen-protectors who believe it is their duty to walk around armed in their neighborhood streets. Sorry, even though George Zimmerman was found innocent of second-degree murder, he wasn’t exercising any Constitutional ‘right’ when he gunned down Trayvon Martin in 2012.

My issue is not whether guns do or don’t make you safe.  And it certainly isn’t whether or not anyone should own a gun.  The issue is the fact that a gun is a very lethal product in even the most capable hands, and to pretend otherwise has become a not-so-disguised way to promote and exploit racism and fear.  And God only knows that we have been getting a big dose of both from a certain New York City landlord in the current Presidential campaign.

 

An Open Letter To Professor Alex Gourevitch: Guns Are One Thing, Racism Is Another.

You recently published a long and detailed commentary on gun control and racism which I have read with interest and care.  Your basic point seems to be that the usual response to mass killings, as reflected in President Obama’s first remarks about Charleston, is to call for stricter gun control laws which you believe will have the ultimate effect of increasing the racism of our criminal justice system while having no real impact on controlling gun violence, particularly mass gun violence.  You assert that there are already too many arrests of minorities, too many racially-motivated defendant pleadings and too many incarcerations, all of which would simply increase if we institute more criminal laws to control gun violence in response to events like the slaughter at the Emanuel AME Church.

roof               You also bring to the discussion some comments about research by scholars like Levin, Fagan and others concerning stop-and-frisk policing methods employed by the NYPD whose value in allegedly bringing down gun crimes has been evaluated in both positive and negative terms. Some of this research argues that stop-and-frisk was entirely based on racist assumptions about who might have been walking around with illegal guns, and that this strategy, useful or not, was yet another example of an extra-legal effort to combat gun violence that served only to engender racism between the police and the community whom they are sworn to protect.

I’d like to respond to the second issue first.  It’s true that New York City experienced an unprecedented drop in gun violence first under Rudy and then continuing with Mayor Mike.  And much of this decline is tied to stop-and-frisk policing tactics which is obviously tied to racial profiling which is tied to racism, etc.  But you have to be careful about perhaps pushing this argument too far.  The decline in violent crime and gun crime in particular since the mid-1990s (although the decline largely flattened out after 2000) occurred in virtually every metropolitan center whether a change in policing and police tactics took place or not.  In fact, an entire cottage industry has grown up around figuring out why America and other OECD countries appear to be less violent over the last twenty years. I am not sure that any of the multiple crime-decline theories explain the issue pari passu, but inconvenient or not,  scholars have yet to settle on a single, determining factor when it comes to explaining criminal behavior with guns.

Now let’s move to your central argument, namely, that from the perspective of the inner-city community, more gun control means more criminal laws and, hence, more racism in the legal and penal systems that minority populations disproportionately endure.  Nobody would or should argue that the penal process delivers equal justice to minorities and the poor.  And with all due respect, we really didn’t need Dylann Roof to walk into Emanuel AME Church with a Glock 21 to remind us that racism is still alive and well.  But where I think your argument falters is the assumption that because the President calls for more gun control, there will be more criminal laws that will result in more minorities getting arrested, going up before a judge on some trumped-up charge and then going off to jail.

What is really happening is that laws making it easier for anyone to gain access to a gun, or carrying a gun on their person, or bringing that gun into what was formerly a gun-free zone have increased exponentially, while laws that restrict gun access or restrict ‘gun rights’ are the exception, not the rule.  One year after Sandy Hook, 70 new laws had been passed easing gun restrictions, while only 39 more restrictive measures had been signed into law, half of which concerned updating mental health records, a strategy with minimal impact on controlling the violent use of guns.

We need to defeat racism and we also need to defeat violence caused by guns. But each issue deserves to be challenged on its own terms.