Crossing Out Columbus

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S1: The following program has the potential, dare I say, probability, to give offense. It’s Thursday, June 11th, 2020, from Slate’s The Gist, I’m Mike Pesca. Dallas today to speak to a policing roundtable of sorts.

S2: Donald Trump showed up. Here was the headline in the Dallas Morning News. Trump visits a Dallas Gateway church for discussion on policing and race. Dallas is a logical place to have this discussion.

S1: The local police chief, district attorney and sheriff for all black and none were invited to the discussion here in the Gateway Church. Trump drew applause for lines such as this one.

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S3: I shouldn’t have to dominate the streets. You can’t let that happen. What happened in New York City. The damage they’ve done is yet to dominate the.

S1: Then he clarified what form of domination he meant.

S3: We’re doing it with compassion. If you think about it with dominating the street, with compassion, because we’re saving lives and we’re saving businesses.

S1: Yes. Dominating the streets with compassion through a howitzer of mercy and a battering ram of brotherhood. Pepper spray isn’t a chemical, even though it is because you can’t invent that kind of sincerity. It just organically springs forth from the administration’s decision to flash bang protestors and forcibly clear out priests who just fail to understand the stun grenades of sympathy that were loosed on protesters that day and those New York City cops that drive their car into a crowd. They were just trying to close the distance between civilian and law enforcement. And what if the San Jose Police Department’s own bias trainer who was shot by rubber bullets which ruptured his testicle? What if the grandmother in La Mesa, California, who was hospitalized in an intensive care unit after being hit between the eyes with a rubber bullet? What if the Austin teen who is hospitalized with a brain injury after being shot by so-called lethal rounds, they projectile? Sure. But doesn’t a helping hand come at you pretty quick? And if you don’t duck the gesture of outreach, well, that sure can. Smart. The Trump administration wasn’t dominating the streets with anything other than for one photo op with massively disproportionate force that almost got the defense secretary fired and did cause the chair of the Joint Chiefs to apologize for his participation. The Trump administration has not dominated the battlespace and they have no plans to do so. All he can do is dominate the media space, the space on your iPhone or your TV screen or, yes, your podcast. He will get mocked for his stupid comment today about dominating with compassion. But I do think he’ll get a general pass on his assertion that there was some domination involved. I say no to that, too, because he wants to be known as the dominator. But all the man can dominate with is bullshit. He wanted to just be the jester. Then he got to wear the crown. And the people are increasingly unamused on the show today. I spiel about a certain man who stands above Columbus Circle and peers down on all of us. Is it Anderson Cooper? No. Is it Chris Cuomo? Well, Guy, I’m thinking of his Italian. It’s Cristoforo Colombo, which does rhyme with has got to go. But first, criminologist and Fordham Law School professor John Pfaff has written what amounts to the seminal text on incarceration in America. Now, in this moment, he has set his sights on the first institution that prompts the jailing of so many million Americans, the police.

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S4: John Pfaff joins me next.

S5: John Pfaff is a professor of law at Fordham University. He is the author of Locked in the True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform. And he might not know this, but he’s one of my all time favorite. Just guests. Love the guy. Haven’t had him on that much, not because society hasn’t had issues, but here he is again. Hello, Professor Pfaff.

S6: Hi. Thanks for having me on. So is Sois finding on this, isn’t it.

S5: Isn’t it for all of us. But you are often on talking about, you know, your expertise over incarceration, police brutality. Let me start with this. This question might not go anywhere, might confound you. But I do think if we try to solve a problem, we have to define what the problem is. So what is the problem with police in America? How would we define what that problem is?

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S6: I mean, there’s no one problem. I think there’s probably several. I think part of it, I think, is an issue of budgeting. I don’t think the average person fully appreciates. Right. Which is that in many cities, the police take up on the order of one quarter to one third, sometimes one half of the city’s discretionary spending.

S7: So when people talk about defunding the police these days, they’re trying to draw attention to the fact that they’re really very true big opportunity costs to how we’ve chosen to invest in policing. I usually say, you know, there’s always more money for everything, but policing takes up a massive chunk and it really does limit what cities can do other than policing. I mean, another big chunk of it is sort of the systemic cultural aspects of it. Right. I mean, we like to talk about are this one bad apple theory. But I think two things keep in mind is that know, there is this too awful stories. One from about five or six years ago, one from last year in Buffalo. Several years ago, a black woman officer stopped her colleague from beating up a handcuffed man who is kneeling on the ground and in exchange for preventing police brutality. She got punched in the face by the other officer, then charged with obstruction of justice and then fired without her pension. And in Virginia, of relatively junior police officer who is fresh from Iraq, where he’d been an IED specialist. So a man who had nerves of steel was called Serve a distressed man call. There’s a person one year around clearly suffering from mental health problems and he’s holding a gun. And this military trained police officer came to the assumption right away that the gun was probably unloaded. That the man was clearly suffering a mental health episode. And that was probably an attempt at suicide by cop. So he held his fire and attended to sort of talk this situation down. Almost immediately thereafter, the next cop car rolled up. The officers jumped out, a mealy shot, the man to death for having a gun in his hand, which was, in fact, a loaded. In response, they fired the officer who didn’t fire his gun on the grounds that he endangered the other officers by not shooting first and asking questions later. We say it’s just a few bad apples. But then we actually fire the good apples, right? And we say, oh, just a few bad apples. But then think about the head of the Patrolmen’s Association and the Sergeants Association unions in New York City. They’re incredibly. Aggressive, tough on crime. Do not question our 30 we demand respect types. So is the head of the police union in Minneapolis. They’re elected by a majority vote of the people who they represent. Right. So it’s not just that like, you know, Pat Lynch in York City is an incredibly just aggressive mean do not question me person. Right. He has been repeatedly elected by a majority of the beat officers to represent them. And I think that cultural aspect dominates a sort of bad apple kind of approach.

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S8: Yes. So let’s talk about money for a second. The vast majority of the budget for the police does go for paying police officers salary and pensions.

S6: Right. True of all criminal justice budgets. The same thing with prisons. Right. About two thirds the prisons spending is wages about two thirds, three fourths more of that. A police spending his wages. It really is a jobs program. And that’s part of where the political resistance comes from.

S8: Right. And by the way, let me acknowledge that if we decided as a culture that the job that police were doing was a great job, I’d be fine with having this kind of position be a path to the middle class and to have nice pensions and all that. If we talk about defunding the police, we’re talking about hiring fewer or employing fewer police officers. Does that do the statistics show that that correlates to less brutality, less incarceration, less murder of innocent people?

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S7: Yes, that’s a tricky question.

S6: And I would add the push behind, sir, the defund police movement is not just higher, fewer police. It’s higher, fewer police to hire more of other people. I think one thing the police themselves will be the first to tell you is that we ask them to do. In many ways too much. I dare not just in charge of responding to murders and rapes. They’re also the frontline call for drug overdoses, the frontline call for domestic violence issues that might not be best solved with a gun in the bag, but perhaps social work and relocation and housing. They are the first responders for homelessness. They’re the first responders for mental health crises.

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S7: These are not the job they’re trained for. And these are this is not a job. I think you can train any one person to do well. So the idea is you hire fewer cops. You hire more social workers and more homeless outreach things and invest more in the public housing and the mental health and public health side. Now, from the police point of view, it’s not going to easy to shift them from one job to the other. Are the people trained to be police officers or not easily retrained as a social worker? And so there will be transition costs. But the idea is not as they get rid of the money, is to change.

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S6: Who were paying that payroll for generally more police leads to less crime. That is true. That doesn’t mean, however, that more of something else that we’ve generally chosen not to invest in could have produced that same reduction in crime at a lower social or financial cost.

S7: We invest all these resources in policing one quarter, one third, one half of city budgets go to policing. It’s not clear what we get for that, right. You know, nationwide, the clearance rate for homicide, the percent of homicide that result in an arrest. Now, you may condition just an arrest is about 60 percent. And in many cities, it gets lower than that. In many cities that began as a black man. It gets down to 30 percent. Right. So, you know, why do young black men in cities have a higher rate of gun possession and gun ownership and gun use because the cops aren’t actually there to do the job? The police have actually provided safety. London better books on policing out there. And I don’t understand why it hasn’t gotten more traction is if a ghetto side by Julio Ovie, who who’s an L.A. Times journalist who’s embedded with the homicide division in South St.. What was then called South Central Los Angeles. She draws on her this source of this sort of anthropological research across a time in the globe showing that whenever you got a bunch of young men who don’t have a lot of upward mobility and the state doesn’t do a good job with sort of monopolizing violence, they turn to violence themselves to protect themselves. And that’s kind of what lots of like, you know, black city urban kids face, why they don’t have the employment opportunities that meet the rest of the country necessarily has. And the police aren’t actually doing their job right. They’re making an arrest in one or two thirds of all murdered black men. See no one arrested. Right. And then we act shocked and horrified that there is no greater rates of gun possession. You know, there’s a chorus, right, because the police aren’t actually doing their job. We invested all this money and haven’t gotten NASA what you’d expect to get for it. So why are we going to sink even more and more money into this system that that really isn’t doing its job for the most impacted people? When Braschi should really think boldly about alternate options, I might really address the problem better.

S5: Are some municipalities a lot better? I am pretty familiar with the NYPD. I think you are too. Their clearance rate reports in the last quarter was over 100 percent, which means they arrested. You know, this is maybe for solving a murder that was open from a previous quarter. Meaning they had more arrest than they had murders. And if you look back, the clearance rates usually about 50 percent. It was 74 percent the quarter before that and 60 something percent. Then again, per capita, New York City has far fewer guns and therefore less of a need to have a gun.

S6: And a far bigger police department than most other cities do as well on a per capita basis. We have a huge police department. Doesn’t that add also about a lot of the policing works papers? Is it all or they all stress that, you know, based on our rough estimates of what a crime costs now, a given dollar invested in policing has a dollar 60 return in reduction in crime. The problem with that measure, though, is that’s kind of using the wrong metric for the cost of policing. They’re using the financial cost. We spend one hundred billion dollars a year on policing. What do we get? One 100 billion. But we’ve never really measured the social costs of policing. What is the cost of police violence? Right. Of police shootings. Of police beatings. What is the social cost of the humiliation people feel and they’re walking to school and all things get thrown up against the wall. They get searched. You know, rates of heart attacks and heart disease are higher in the black community. In part, evidence suggest because literally being a black man in America is a risk condition. Right. That the fear and stress a black man feels every day and a black woman. But this voice, even amongst men that they feel every day walking out the door. Is this going to be the day I have that bad encounter or every time their child walks out the door? Is this the day that my son gets grabbed by the cops and something terrible happens that persistent, unrelenting, unmitigated stress actually shortens lifespans?

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S7: You know, you can’t just look at 100 billion we spend, especially as most of that is wages, which is this weird Keynesian jobs program kind of thing. Right.

S6: It’s actually this human cost that we’ve never once even bothered to estimate, which I think says quite a lot about where our priorities lie, that we’re perfectly happy to invest a hundred billion dollars a year in policing and never really bother to measure what the human cost of that investment has been. But there is a study in which these off duty cops had left the party and they had a bad interaction with a local African-American man and they beat him into a coma. And over the next year, the number of nine one one calls to the police center dropped by about 100000. And it wasn’t because crime went down is because the locals are literally terrified to call the police because they’re afraid to be their turn next. And so what’s the psychological harm from that? What kind of crimes took place that might not have that had people actually trusted the police to be willing to call them? These are staggeringly large costs that we’ve never really bothered to try to aggregate up in any real serious way.

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S8: So other than not mismanaging a hurricane or blizzard, you know, you have to keep crime low is so ingrained in the job description. The perceived job description of a politician. And they’re just fearful. They’re fearful of going against the police. The police have ways of slowing down or the blue flu or they honestly believe that there is some justification in these really aggressive tactics that it does bring down crime.

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S7: Right. I think that last bit is key. But implicit in that is that therefore they bleed and that the way you keep crime down is just to the police. And that last jump isn’t necessarily true. Is there something else? There’s more the politics there that they feel compelled. The only way you can show you care really about crime is to invest in the guns and the badges, not the social workers, not the psychologist and psychiatrist, not the mental health side of the public health side. Not housing, not food, not shelter. It’s just guns and shields. And they clearly believe that even when the murder clearance rate is 30 percent, Ryan says obviously that your police department is not, in fact, what’s keeping your murder rate down. They’re only clearing one out of every three homicides at best. But yet there is a sense, as long as you can show you invest into guns, you’re going to put it safe. That’s not just on the mayors. That’s also on the voters. The safer, more gentrified, wealthier white parts of the city who aren’t maybe the beneficiaries of the social work and want response now. And the guys with the guns, they’re responding now. Right. And it’s very much I think white liberal urban voters need to think about why we got here, because they are the ones who got us here and they need to confront that.

S5: Well, I would I would think that the lever of using sociology or housing is just a lot harder than the immediate lever of the police. It’s a it’s a society wide fix. It’s maybe a generational fix in some instances. Whereas just having the police go in and arrest people who are about to do wrong or have or are perceived to about to do wrong, it’s a lot easier. I mean, it takes up a huge percent of the budget, but not as much as, you know, providing New York City without adequate housing would take.

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S7: But we provide aid. We provided 50000 New Yorkers with housing within 15 years. Right. We just built the housing in Clinton and Utica and elsewhere upstate. So how is the tens of thousands of people we arrest?

S6: Stay right where there’s a will to build housing, we can build it. We just chose to build a housing with cages right in the housing with the front door.

S7: This is where the boring stuff starts to matter. Prisons are funded by the state and they make up about five percent of the state budget by housing and policing, make a much bigger chunk of the city budget. So for the cities to expand their housing, they do have to find that money. And that means it’s got to come from somewhere is probably gonna have to come from the police. The tedious budgetary politics are critical here. Americans showed between 1980 and 2000 that we can build a massive amount of publicly funded residential space in an incredibly rapid period of time and staff it and need it and feed it and run it. We just chose to do the penal side of it, not the social side of it. So I don’t doubt our ability. I just out where we choose to focus that ability.

S6: How many preventable deaths would be put up within Park Slope on the grounds that, well, at least is not as bad as it used to be, that our tolerance for things being better but not great is not the metric we use everywhere. In some places we demand that things just be great and for poor, more predominately minority, heavily police communities. We seem to be insisting they be okay with things just getting better, even though things aren’t actually good. And so I think maybe these are getting better. That’s probably true. But it’s such a slow ray and we’re still such a high human and social cost that it does seem to demand something better, much more systemic and daring to come up with.

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S5: John Pfaff is a law professor at Fordham University. His book, Locked In, talks about why the United States has the highest rates of incarceration in the world. Maybe you saw it mentioned on the John Oliver show, but I don’t get HBO. But I do enjoy talking to John. Thanks so much, John.

S9: Thanks so much.

S1: And now the spiel today, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was asked to address the idea of Columbus Circle becoming just Circle.

S10: Christopher Columbus. I understand the dialogue has been going on for a number of years. The Christopher Columbus statue represents, in some ways, the Italian American legacy in this country and the Italian American contribution in this country. I understand the feelings about Christopher Columbus and some of his acts, which nobody would support. But the statue was has come to represent and signify appreciation for the Italian American contribution to New York.

S1: So on that for that reason, I supported the statue of Christopher Columbus in some ways represents the Italian American legacy. Well, as an Italian American, can I say oy vey? And as a Jewish American, might I also add. Oh, on. I noticed Kormos answer had this quality. Cuomo was saying, well, let’s not even talk about any of the facts of what Columbus did. It’s what he represents now to Italian Americans. Now, this, by the way, is the same argument for keeping the Confederate flag on state flags, on NASCAR paint, on Lynard skittered denim jackets. It has come to mean something to the people of that place in this moment. Now, if you listen to the gist, you know that I am very much against judging a different time with the standards of the present. Also, vice versa. If Andrew Cuomo wants Columbus’s time, he would be ostracized, perhaps worse for living out of wedlock. Plus, he backs gay marriage. He generally says things that accommodate the Jews that, in fact, would probably cause them to be burned at the stake because Columbus has sponsors. Ferdinand and Isabella did establish the Spanish Inquisition. But you didn’t expect that? Nobody does. But it is correct. Columbus sailed. August 14, 92. Five months before that, Ferdinand issued the Alhambra decree, otherwise known as the edict of expulsion of the Jews. Now, to take some examples, I don’t think the Princeton needs to unless they want to remove the name Woodrow Wilson from their School of Foreign Affairs, because Woodrow Wilson was a president of the United States and he was a singular force in establishing the United States place in the world. He was also a virulent racist. So I understand not making students sleep in a dorm named for Woodrow Wilson. I get that Yale took Calhoun off the name of one of its colleges because John C. Calhoun supported the institution of slavery with an unrivaled fervor. But Columbus, Ohio, and Columbia, South Carolina or the District of Columbia, these are place names and they do spring from Christopher Columbus. But they also reflect the name of the new country, the new Columbia. That is what America was called. And then place names like all proper names, take on their own meaning become their own thing. The meaning of words change. But a statue of a man to that man is about that man. So let us talk about that man. He was not a good man. His legacy wasn’t even what you might call a mixed legacy in so far as there was great good that he did, but also a little bit of bad. No, I would say the finding the new world had been done before. I wouldn’t say that. I mean, I did say that. But it is a true thing that it had been done before and it would have been done again probably shortly after Columbus did it. The North and South American landmass, plus all the Caribbean islands, they are pretty big. Europe was going to get here. Boats to float. But the best scholarship really does indicate that Columbus was a brutal man who you could accuse of cruelty, but maybe not even cruelty, because dehumanization might be a better word for how he treated the indigenous people he came across, not as people at all. And it also, and this is important, wasn’t in keeping with the times. That is another legitimate thing to think about. George Washington was as a southern plantation owner in keeping with the sinking of his mill, you of his era of his social class. It’s not a blanket excuse for the slave owning that jar George Washington did. But I say take it into a consideration when evaluating the past. Columbus, on the other hand, appalled his own crew members, appalled clergy who traveled with him. He and his brothers governed as tyrants. You know, in 2006, Spanish historians uncovered a document of testimony essentially against Columbus, who is a very cruel and petty leader. There was an investigation that was set off when Ferdinand and Isabella heard rumors of Columbus’s cruelty and greed. He once cut off a man’s nose and ears for stealing corn. He ordered a woman paraded through town naked and had her tongue. Cut off for insulting the Columbus families, non aristocratic origins. He, of course, put down insurrections by natives. This wasn’t just the system of slavery and torture that he did set up. That’s well documented. What I’m talking about a recently revealed contemporaneous accounts that he was a tyrant as judged by his time, and he was a failure as a leader. In his time, Columbus was ordered back to Spain and then jailed. He had failed. He was a tyrant. That is a bad avatar for a country that prides itself on being the world’s first modern democracy. Now, here’s what happened with Colombia’s hundreds of years after his actual actions. A new narrative began to be written about him. Very importantly, Washington Irving wrote a history of the life and voyages of Christopher Columbus. The genre we would now assigned to that work would be historical fiction. But back then, it was just taken as a history. Irving was an avowed nationalist. That’s not a bad thing for a young country. He wrote it in 1828. He was literally and literarily engaged in the creation of a national hero and a national myth, and he wasn’t going to let facts get in his way. You can argue when the book was published, The Nation needed some foundation myths. You can also argue that within a few decades is more Italians became Italian Americans. It was natural that they would cite Columbus as an excellent hero, as a great counter argument against the discrimination they faced. Wait, you’re telling me as an Italian, I’m not a real American. The entire country and continent of America was founded by an Italian. So the argument went. The Columbus myth began to become stuffed full of scientific achievement, he didn’t earn an air of genius. He didn’t deserve to see what the symbol of Columbus became very valuable, even a necessary thing for Italian Americans trying to assert their place within this country. Then in the next few decades after that, and certainly since the discovery of these new records, what Columbus really was and how he led his life and governed and explored came to light the many virtues of Columbus had been misattributed and the vices were underreported. I say there is no logical argument for the preservation of Columbus’s legacy or the hero worship of the actual man. When you know what he really did stand for, it is hard to want your country to be associated with him. It’s hard to want your ancestry to be associated with him. I don’t think it reflects poorly on the Italians. I just don’t think he reflects much on the Italians, nor should he be made to. I say these things not because I don’t believe in America, not because I’m not proud of Italian Americans, I believe in the promise of America. I’m proud of my Italian American heritage. I mean, you know, some proud I like my dad and Andrew Cuomo, his dad. I like Galileo and Da Vinci. Here’s the thing. The Jesuits were founded to dispute Galileo but came to realize, hey, Galileo was right. So they said so credit to them. The Knights of Columbus could be rebranded if they choose to as the guardians of Galileo or the division of Da Vinci, or if you want to go Italian American. The forces of Fermi, Enrico for Fermi, he made the bomb. But in any case, the justifications for the continued presence of Christopher Columbus High above Columbus Circle in Central Park’s northwest corner, there are very few. Let’s go through them. Is it the case that his legacy was mixed with some bad but mostly good? No, not the case. Is it an unreasonable standard being applied to Columbus, whose work was well-known and well understood for many years? No. No. New information is surface. It’s not just new sensitivities. It’s literally new facts and an enlightened people as I like to be. We have a responsibility to update our thinking when new facts arise or come to light. Is it the case that what we see now out of Columbus, what we see as immorality today was at the time countenanced, approved of maybe even necessary? Again, that’s not the case. Are we dishonoring the heritage of a people? I think not the people. The Italian Americans. My people were taught to revere Columbus, but now they can show their strength by surrendering the myth, show that they’re capable of updating their thinking. Prominent Italian American Andrew Cuomo can show that he’s transcended tribalism. It’ll give him some standing. At least it won’t totally undercut any argument he might make in favor of, say, Southern cities taking down Confederate statues or military bases doing away with Confederate nomenclature. And the other argument, the good argument against removing a Columbus statue is this his presence offends so many people. Yeah, I know today it’s easy to say everyone’s offended by everything. But in this case, I don’t sense it as a performative, oversensitive offense. You don’t need to be schooled in a specific academic world to see the truth about Columbus as a person. And you don’t have to be anti-American to really not want to connect that truth to your country. In fact, the more pro-American you are, probably the more you want to run away from the actual Columbus. I think for New York State’s Italian American governor, New York City’s Italian American mayor, to back the removal of the statue would show us that they have thrown out a bit of their own tribalism. I mean, maybe get a new commission on it. Dinero Joe Tory, every fire commissioner for the last 18 years. And you can think of some new Columbus statue. I say keep the variations of Columbia as a place or organization name and find a new hero or heroine to honor and perhaps even to put on a pedestal.

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S2: And that’s it for Today Show, Margaret Kelly, just associate producer, thinks we could use the Columbus Circle opportunity to rethink Washington Square Park. I mean, is that a park in Washington Square or is it Washington Square? Now, here’s the park. Is it Washington Square Park? Just a square park. It’s all it is mostly thinking of Empire State Building. Similar means. Daniel Shrader, just producer, always thought the Pentagon short shrift, short ship shrift. Peita means the painted one. So what the Nina and the Santamaría also did not paint. Come on. It’s just one of the painted ones. Santa Maria. The gist. Philadelphia did lose a statue of its offensive Italian American Frank Rizzo.

S1: But it does keep the statue of Rocky Smart go with the fictional hero saved America from the Commies in Rocky four. And I would guess that most Philadelphians don’t know he’s fictional. Then again, they don’t know that Italian water ice is pretty much a redundancy.

S2: Hooper, Deborah Dupré. And thanks for listening.