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Thursday, October 11, 2018

On not talking the Talk

I'm fascinated by police encounters with the public. As the Court in Terry v. Ohio taught us, these encounters come in all shapes and sizes. Quite often, these encounters result in low-level discipline even if they do not result in an arrest: what the *Terry* Court called "harassment." Some turn deadly. As a result, for many members of the public, the encounter, even if just a stare from a police officer in a high-crime neighborhood, gives rise to the fear and deference that comes with trying to avoid or placate the powerful.

I recently reviewed Josephine Ross's article, What the #Metoo Campaign Teaches About Stop and Frisk, ___ Idaho L. Rev. ___ (2018), discussing why Eric Garner did not run. Eric Garner, Ross points out, stood his ground, and said "Every time you see me, you want to mess with me. I'm tired of it. It stops today…Please just leave me alone." Ross revels that Garner had been the victim of the sort of physically intrusive touching envisaged by the Terry Court as a serious aspect of the stop-and-frisk. Garner, as Ross notes, had previously suffered "a 'cavity search [in which the officer was] . . . digging his fingers in my rectum in the middle of the street." Garner experienced this as a loss of self respect: "the injuries I received was to my manhood"

Garner's reaction to the officer was that of a victim of what felt to him like a sexual assault. Garner likely knew "the Talk": he knew he was in a vulnerable position and was supposed to show deference to the police. Instead he decided to assert his duty to respect himself and his right to be treated with respect: to act, and to be acted towards, as a fellow human being, someone with cares and interests in maintaining his dignity.

In too many aspects of our society, race work is internalized, by the dominant and the subordinated, as servitude work. People like Eric Garner are expected to perform a sort self-abnegation undermining self-respect to mollify some police officer so as to convince the officer to respond calmly and civilly. This places many of us in a difficult position: enacting servitude has moral and political consequences both individually and collectively

If we are to avoid authoritarian government—on the local or on the national level—we must have equal standing; quite literally, perhaps. The civic republican idea of this non-dominative or anti-subordinating version of equal standing is "the ability to look each other in the eye." The sort of response anticipated by the Talk, and demanded by one policing notion of "respect" quite literally precludes this sort of eye-to-eye interaction, treating these self-respecting looks as disobedient stares and a form of resistance. Too much of the history of people of color in this country is one of not making eye contact, of crossing streets and embodying deference as a form of second-class citizenship. Policing, through its demands for compliance and deference on pain of being treated as resistant, is not a neutral activity, responding to crime, but a political activity, creating citizenship status through the ways the police choose if, and when, and whom, and how to encounter people on the street.

Posted by Eric Miller on October 11, 2018 at 05:29 PM | Permalink



Natives are more likely to die at the hands of police then any other demographic

So why is this article about blacks?

Posted by: Jailbreak TallBear | Oct 16, 2018 4:05:19 AM

U.S. appeals court expresses concern about sting operations that overwhelmingly target blacks and Latinos”: Maura Dolan of The Los Angeles Times has an article that begins, “A federal appeals court made it easier Monday for people snagged in ‘reverse sting’ operations to seek evidence that the government targeted blacks and Latinos. The 2-1 decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals portrayed a troubling effort by federal law enforcement to lure blacks and Latinos to participate in purported robberies of fictitious stash houses.

Posted by: H. Bashman | Oct 16, 2018 2:10:18 AM

Democrats raise excise taxes and then call police racists for enforcing those taxes against poor minorities that try to get around them. Eric Garner was killed by tax-enforcement. Get rid of excise taxes on drugs and most police encounters will never happen.

Posted by: the taxman killeth | Oct 12, 2018 8:13:07 PM

If you want to take away the incentives for police to search people, get rid of asset forfeiture. Police can literally earn tens of thousands of dollars by finding a single joint on a man in his car, by then being able to seize his car and sell it in a police auction.

Posted by: end police auctions | Oct 12, 2018 12:29:19 AM

If we want the police halt stop-and-frisk, we need to legalize carrying arms in public and legalize untaxed recreational drugs. Those two things make up 80% of all police stops.

If people could buy untaxed cigarettes in New York, no one would bother selling them individually on the street, like Eric Garner.

Posted by: J Douglas | Oct 12, 2018 12:24:15 AM

The only way to accomplish this vis-a-vis the police is to disarm them. And the public simply does not want to do that, and so the elected officials simply do not have the power to go against the police unions.

Posted by: YesterdayIKilledAMammoth | Oct 11, 2018 11:20:05 PM

"If we are to avoid authoritarian government—on the local or on the national level..."

As a culture, I have grave doubts we Americans want any such thing. I don't agree with Michael Dorf on much when it comes to social politics but even before Trump was elected we both saw eye to eye on the notion that America (and indeed the rest of the world) was becoming a more authoritarian place. The difference between Dorf and I was that he thought those reins of power would be grabbed by social liberals like himself whereas I was more ambivalent on such prospects, making me think that liberals like Dorf were playing a dangerous game. As events have transpired my ambivalence on that point has proved prescient.

To be clear, I do think there are and have been some principled anti-authoritarian intellectuals on the left, including Dorf's blogging compatriot Eric Segall, who has long worried about anyone having concentrated power, but for the most part current pleas, like the one below, towards anti-authoritarianism ring hallow. It sounds like the kind of sour grapes one would expect to appeal to those who let the brass ring slip from their hand.


Posted by: James | Oct 11, 2018 8:55:56 PM

Interesting , but one should also observe the other side : the police work . It is a problem , all over the world . Paradoxically , every state almost , invests huge resources in national security . Not only in budgetary terms , but also in human resources terms . The finest men , are directed or recruited to elite or special units in the army and as well for intelligence units . But , when it comes to police work , standards and resources , fall short , too short , while the necessity is huge , consequences are very significant . For , Police work , is far greater more complicated than what we imagine even ( objectively ) . Yet , input is very poor relatively .

Sometimes , psychological education or rituals or gestures , can make huge difference . It would be enough even , to order every police officer , encountering civilian , first to salute him ( saluting simply , like in military ) in order to transmit very simply message :

We are in your service . We are your agent . We work for you , not vice versa .

By the way , speaking of which , the Surpeme court in Washington , has declared the death penalty as unconstitutional . Among others , justified on the basis of : racial discrimination . Here :



Posted by: El roam | Oct 11, 2018 6:57:18 PM

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