Guns Make Everything Worse

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S1: The following program may contain explicit language. It’s Thursday, July 9th, 2020, from Slate, it’s the gist. I’m Mike Pesca. British Olympian Bianca Williams, after a day of training, was returning home in her car, a nice car driven by her husband, who, like Williams, is also a track star for Portugal and also like is black. They were pulled over by the London Police Department after driving in a posh neighborhood hers.

S2: Here’s Williams pulling push and killing myself back into the car. Because I’m not leaving the baby and I get saints in the baby light. My son’s in, my son’s in the car. And they weren’t listening very, very aggressive and then put me in handcuffs. I was so scared. I panicked. Societies started to cry. It was I’ve never been in a situation before.

S1: ITV, which conducted that interview, actually aired the footage of the moment. Williams just described and one of the officers confronts the mother who’s sitting in the back with her baby.

S3: But before that, there was an extremely telling statement and development. It is instructive for us as U.S. viewers look when they reach home, they are confronted by an officer with his baton, raised his baton. Because British police forces do not carry guns, because British citizens do not carry guns. And because of this fact, this huge difference between the U.S. and U.K., everything about that horribly familiar exchange was a little different. I’d go as far say, as bad as it was, a little better in the UK, in both countries. Black people are in the minority in both countries. Black people are poorer than white people. They’re arrested more. They have more interactions with the police. We call it stop and frisk. They call it stop and search. It’s all very similar. But in the UK, interactions with police almost never result in deaths. According to the Washington Post database, 511 Americans have been shot and killed by a police officer in the U.S. this year that shot and killed, not killed by other means. In the UK, the total number of shot and killed by the police in twenty twenty three. That’s the total number also. No one else has been killed by any other means in the UK. And this is because in the United States there are 15000 homicides by gun every year in England. The last year for which there are full figures, there were 33. That actually includes Wales. I couldn’t find evidence there were any firearm homicides in Northern Ireland or Scotland. They usually have one or zero per year. So the US, a country with five times the population as the UK has 400 times the gun murders. It’s very similar when I contrasted knife crimes in the UK with gun crimes in America. You’ve heard me talk about this, how in the UK they’re very up in arms that knife crimes are up. Donald Trump’s tweeted about this, trying to rub that fact in their face. The UK press is all over this development. Citizens there, they’re worried. I’d say they’re rightly worried because knife crimes take the lives of almost 300 people per year in the UK. Compare that to 15000 gun murders or compare that to five or six hundred gun murders in one U.S. city, Chicago. Chicago has almost twice the number of murdered by guns, as the UK does by knives. Chicago’s four percent of the population of the UK. Guns change everything about policing. The police have guns. The police fear citizens who have guns. This will mean more deaths. It also means that the UK is really no better at aggressive policing or unbiased and unrest policing or really fairer policing. They’re having a lot of the same issues with their police as the U.S. is having with our police. The difference isn’t the policing, it’s the guns. The fear and reality of guns are what makes these imperfect policing practices the world over either deadly or a really sad inconvenience. So the London Police Department’s head to Cressida Dick actually issued an apology to Beanca Williams. But still, the UK continues to grapple with the very serious issue. You see this in headlines discussed on their television programs and even in parliament.

S1: What to do about the national issue of excessive handcuffing on the show today, J.K. Rowling and turf wars. You won’t believe who else has been accused of what else. But first, this is the second part of our interview with NYU. Professor Barry Friedman is a professor at NYU Law School. He’s the director of the policing project. He’s the author of Unwarranted Policing Without Permission. And he’s up next. Barry Friedman is a constitutional scholar who is the founder of the policing project at NYU School of Law. This makes him, for many years a leader of the police reform movement. It’s an important time for that movement because it has momentum. But there’s also an argument. You may have heard it. It’s an argument I put you, Barry. What do you think of the current refrain? We’ve tried reform. Reforms haven’t worked. Reforms aren’t getting the job done.

S4: So it depends on what reform looks like. And I’m I’m actually writing something about this now with a colleague of mine, Barry upon Ranka, who we started a policing project together about why reforms fail. And I don’t want to give away the whole story. But, you know, there’s good reforms about reforms. And I think we get we get these periodic spurts of enthusiasm about reform, but then nothing much actually changes. And so if you want to know what needs to change, we need this kind of front end accountability. I and a number of other faculty at a number of academic institutions recently released, and you can find it on our Web site policing project, dawg, in on their Web sites, a set of recommendations which we referred to as a start. Those recommendations are recommendations about things that need to happen right now to get policing on the right track. It’s called Changing the law to change policing first steps. It’s first steps because I think we need to have a pretty fundamental conversation in this country about what police are even for what we want them to do. In the meantime, as long as we’ve got these large armed forces, there are a set of laws that need to be put in place. And every time we talk about reform, we never do that. And so unless and until we do that, we’re not going to see change.

S5: That’s right. People can argue, oh, we gave the Minneapolis police department mindfulness training while that was inadequate. Yes. If we don’t do the fundamental changes that you’re talking about, you can’t really cite mindfulness training that didn’t didn’t work as significant anyway.

S4: Right. I mean, you know, look here, this is this is also an area where there’s again, the research is bad and the instincts are right, which is, you know, it has become clear in our society. It’s not limited to the police. And I think it’s really important to make the point that it is not limited with the police. And, you know, we work with communities and with police and they’re good folks. And I don’t want to be like the president here. There’s good folks on both sides because he was wrong. But there are plenty of good cops who want to do the right thing. And a lot of a lot of times their departments fail them in their training fails them. But so let me get the idea that, you know, there’s unconscious bias in society and we need to fix that. So we’re going to we’re going to Dubai as people. We’re going to give them unconscious bias training. But there’s not much evidence that suggests that works. And so what we’ve got to do is figure out ways to avoid these incidents, realizing that people do have biases and they make mistakes. And instead, what you need, our policies and protocols and then training that is directed at that. And after the fact, compliance to the to the policies and the trainings to make sure that we get the world that we want.

S5: Okay. I have a couple of suppositions I want to test out on you. One is during this debate, you hear, what we need to do is demilitarize the police. We give them excess government, military weapons, essentially, and they show up on our streets and things that look like tanks. Those Bearcat armored vehicles look like tanks to not have guns, but they look like tanks and they dress like they’re ready for war. They dress like some version of, you know, Iron Man. I’m sympathetic to that. I don’t think that that would be a bad reform. I just don’t think that that would go to anything near the core of what we’re talking about. But what does your research show?

S4: So actually, I’m going to push back a bit. Good. And I’m going to push back in two ways. And hopefully you’re going to you know, we’ll arm wrestle O’Niel. And now usually when an arm wrestle, but maybe this one I will. So, you know, first and I think this is the harder sell to you. I to have an easier one in just a minute. But we talk sometimes about community policing and about the relationship between police and the community. But, you know, it’s hard to relate to somebody that’s debt dealt like they’re going to. I mean, you’re not going to develop much a relationship with that person. You’re going to want to walk around them. I mean, I remember once when I was visiting Paris with my kids and we went to the Louv, these, you know, officers came by with no serious weaponry. And all I thought was, I want to get my kids the hell out of there. And so I do think that if you want to develop sound relationships between the community and the police, then you’ve got to stop walking around looking like you’re headed to war. So I think that matters. On the other hand, just not to the cops. But then on the time with the real problem is, you know, a lot of this equipment is coming from the military but is not military equipment. They get a lot of, you know, file cabinets and computers and stuff that like, why should we throw away after it’s had its use and even some things that look like military equipment, like some of the armored vehicles. Mayor. Actually have a role to play in certain situations, including, you know, if you’ve got a a shooter somewhere. What matters is how the equipment gets deployed. But. Where I think I’m at a win you over instantly is with SWAT raids. Oh yeah. Right. I got already so. Well, that’s it.

S5: The pledge to me. That’s exactly right. That’s a deployment issue as opposed to like what I’m what I’m going to say. I’ll let you say it, but it’s fine for department to have one of these tank like operations. But that doesn’t mean they should be used to roll into a housing complex to, you know, try to nab some guy before he flushes his drugs down the toilet.

S4: Yeah, I mean, this is we would have gone insane about they call them tactical teams and tactical forces. And one of the chapters in my book, every chapter in the book starts with some, you know, thing that went horrifically wrong in policing. And one is this story about a mayor in P.G. County, Maryland, whose dogs get killed by the police in some raid where they just tear up his house. That was totally based on a mistake. And we do this countless times every every day, quite frankly, because we started with this idea of SWAT teams for, you know, the sniper in the tower where there’s a real serious problem, Las Vegas, where you’ve just got you know, we’ve got to be able to get in there and save people’s lives. And then all of a sudden, every department wants one. And, you know, by the time every department’s got it, a tactical team, they’re not the Navy SEALs and they’re not getting the Navy SEALs training, but they are getting the weaponry. And that’s just a mistake. As I as I say in the book and as I say to people all the time, like, you know, whatever happened to come out with your hands up? And right, which most people are going to do. They know they got it, that they’re outgunned and they don’t really want to get wiped out. You know, another another situation sometimes might be when you see it used in protests is a problem because it’s just too much weaponry for the job. And so I agree that there are circumstances in which departments may need to have some of this equipment. And I think I’m with you on that. I’m a broken record. If I’m nothing else, go look for the state laws that regulate SWAT teams. You want me to tell you how many there are? Take a guess.

S1: If the answer is 48, it wouldn’t be a good rhetorical points. I’m going to say 10.

S4: Yeah, well, the answer would be either one or zero. Wow. So Utah has a law that Maryland once had that required keeping records on when SWAT teams were used. The police unions went nuts about that. Maryland doesn’t exist anymore. And there you got it.

S5: Cheese, huh? Let’s talk about statistics are mapping police violence. And some other media outlets say that there are about a thousand deadly police shootings a year. Do you have any way of knowing if that’s accurate?

S4: Well, I think I thanks to The Guardian and The Washington Post. I think we’ve come closer to reality. You know, we have a we have a crisis in data around policing in this country. I have a long law review article that will come out, the Texas Law Review this coming year that just talks about policing the information problem. And the and the point is, you know, this is the era of big data. We don’t think to regulate anything. I mean, the most trivial things without data, we are drowning in data and yet around policing, not so much. And there are a number of reasons why that is the case. I will name three, but it’s untenable if public safety is the thing we care about the most and people will say that they do. Then you’d think that we’d want some information and we’d want to and we’d want to regulate based on that information. So one of the reasons, which is the one everybody goes to right away is, you know, the cops want secrecy. Now, there’s some truth to that, without any doubt. But in my own experience, that’s not the biggest problem. The second is police departments run with just like, you know, it would appall you legacy information technology equipment. So they may have fancy surveillance equipment, but when it comes to record keeping and record management, you know, not so good. You know, we worked, for example, with a company, Mach 43 that is trying hard to change some of that, as are others.

S6: But we desperately need the mechanisms for keeping the data. And then the third problem is we got 18000 police departments in this country. So even if they all said we’re going to be really good about keeping the data, they don’t keep different data because there’d be no uniformity. And you’re not going to get that uniformity unless there are mandates either at the state level or the federal level. And here the federal government has just failed us all completely. And I have some pungent reasons why, if you want to hear them, but we just don’t have the data that we need to regulate policing. And by the way, it’s not just police shootings, which is where people focus at the policing project. We’ve got a transparency checklist, which I think is up on our website. It’s all kinds of information that would be useful. It’s, you know, how often do people get stopped and what kinds of surveillance technologies are used and how productive are those surveillance technologies, for example? Police departments are drunk on license plate readers, and I’ve studied them for a long time and I’m still waiting to see the data that tells me that they pay off. We still know we’re ignorant. We’re doing this blind.

S5: So my question with the killings is first to acknowledge we don’t even know what the real number is, but also we are in a society that is awash in guns. If you read the editor’s note on The Washington Post project, they cite a very high number of shootings where the police were actively being shot at at the time and returned fire or something around 30 percent. So there has to be some level of I don’t know what you want to call it, non negligent police shootings. Do you have any guess what that might be or if we could get the police shootings down to the regrettable but not negligent number? What would the Delta be between where we are now and what that number would be?

S4: Yeah. That’s a terrific question. I want to preface my answer just by saying people focus on the shootings. And that is and I know absolutely right that a thousand is way too many, though it is a very large country. What we need to focus on his use of force. All told, that’s the right question. That’s what we ought to be looking at. But if you take any segment of that use of force, any any different types of use of force, including shootings, the wrong answer is to say, well, the person was armed, so the shooting was okay because that forgets everything we talked about at the beginning here about even if they were armed. Could you have gotten out of the way? Could you have solved the situation? You know. Different way. A lot of shootings are tragic. They’re what we call death by cop, which is somebody that’s that’s suffering some terrible emotional trauma and they want to end their life. And one way to do it is to threaten cops and get shot. Well, you know, I was a very poignant presentation about this at the Police Executive Research Forum. And, you know, ways to try to avoid that, because that’s not something anybody wants to have happen. And so I know you want, like, a simple answer, like the right answer would be 237. But but you got to look at each case and say, was there a way out of that situation? And you were right. We’re a society awash in guns, and it makes a cop’s job difficult and dangerous. But with training and tactics, there are ways to address those problems, not to speak of trying to do something about the guns.

S5: Right. There are often cases where a police department is put under review or the federal government offers oversight or there is federal or state pattern or practice investigation. And sometimes they do find maybe through the use of an expert like yourself, that the police are policing in an unconstitutional way. And those unconstitutional tools, if you will, are taken away from them. But they are replaced by better tools. And I’ve heard an analysis of Baltimore that essentially argued this has happened. The police only knew how to do their jobs and not even that well by really brutalizing the populace. They are told they can’t do that. And now what? And I’ll also tie into this. The economist Roland Fryer has a paper out that looked at pattern and practice investigations and found that when there is an investigation after a viral incident, the police really do pull back. And this is in one sense, understandable, given human nature and another sense inexcusable. But he found 893 more homicides in places where there was a viral incident and then an investigation. So my question is, have you looked at what do we do about finding these departments are doing their jobs the wrong way, but also, at least in the interim, giving them enough tools to do it the right way?

S4: First, I think pattern or practice investigations are important. There was also something called collaborative reform that the Trump administration put an end to, which was a department that wasn’t yet in crisis. They thought they had problems, could actually go to DOJ voluntarily and say, can you give us some help? You know, people need help. And sometimes the departments need help, frankly, from outsiders just to be able to get their municipal government to get them the resources that they need. You know, for example, pay for the right kind of training. And I’ll also remind you, by the way, if the government’s gone in to investigate the fact that you are not meeting constitutional standards. So we talked about earlier about how low those constitutional standards are. So the question you want to be asking, and I take you to the asking is how do we have good police departments? And that’s the right question. And I’ll just mention, I mentioned to that we could talk forever, but I mentioned two things. One is the UK’s got a thing called College of Policing, and it’s not perfect. I’d be the last to say it’s perfect, but it is a body somewhat independent from the government that involves the police, that sets kind of national standards and then expects people to be trained and perform to them. And we have nothing like that in this country at all. And in fact, whenever we get standards, they come out of the DOJ, which itself is conflicted because it’s also a law enforcement body. And so, you know, we need somebody like that. The other is that we at the policing project are developing something that I probably should even talk about on the air because it’s too nascent. But here I go. My my foot’s in my mouth maybe, but called a health check, which is that we are trying to develop a set of metrics so that the department itself, the community, the municipal officials, can look at their department and answer the question, you know, is this a good department? And I know you actually talked to Matthew Baj, who works on our team, and it came up one day because we were sitting round the table and somebody said, how do you know something’s a good police department? And you think we know some are good, but we’re not sure. I mean, think about that here in 2020 that we just don’t actually have any answers. That question.

S3: Yeah. Think about all these things. Professor Barry Freedman is the author of Unwarranted Policing Without Permission. He is on the faculty of NYU and he is the founder and director of the policing project there.

S5: Thanks so much. Really a pleasure.

S1: And now the spiel, J.K. Rowling is a turf. What? Yes. Most people not deeply engaged in the discourse. A turf is a foreign sounding term. Now, George R.R. Martin and being, say, a serf, OK? That’s something I could understand. Something medieval. But what’s a turf? Turf stands for trans exclusionary, radical feminist. It is an insult. Clearly a pejorative. An accusation that some radical feminists will not allow in their circle. Trans women. Rowling denies being a turf. She points out that there are parts of the turf belief system that she does not adhere to. But trans activists and I think many trans people will say, you know what? If a quacks like a turf and waddles like a turf, she’s a turf, pretty turf, turf, turf. It is, in fact, rather bizarre that J.K. Rowling is really, really intent on letting everyone know that, A, she’s not a turf and B, shares and appreciate being called a turf, but also, C, she has these really serious concerns about who gets to use the bathroom in which one. And she needs us to know about these concerns a lot over and over again. Anyway, it’s all a little ridiculous, not the underlying issues, just the name calling. We’ve got a probable billionaire versus members of the historically most discriminated against community in the Western world. And the name that’s being called is something that just doesn’t register to 90 percent of the people who hear it as anything other than a patch of grass. I would say a piece of sad but sad to the English people has more resonance than turf. Why does J.K. Rowling even care? Well, it is interesting because there’s a long literary tradition of novelists and writers being accused of verboten mindsets for their passionate stances over what many cases turn out to be nonsense concerns. It is true. It is totally true. It’s not, say, a bit that will quickly wear thin. For instance, J.K. Rowling might be a turf. But in his day, Antony Trollop was accused of being a laugh, a left hand, exclusive, functioning Redser. Yes. Trollop who lived at almost the exact same time as Louis Pastore was of the belief that handwashing might be valuable. On the other hand, it might be damaging. And in trollops case, the other hand was the left hand, which he did choose to keep relatively sanitized. This allowed his right hand to engage in all manner of grasping and clutching the laughs, thought they were charting a reasonable middle course. But there were, of course, assailed on the right by the enlightened and proved correct proponents of germ theory and on the left by the forces of filth. And since these filth filthy folk were to their left, their left hands were an easy reach and quite easily contaminated. Plus you have and you know where this is going. The workforce who hated the laughs even more than any of the other factions did. It was a nightmare of laugh recrimination for the author of The Way We Live Now, which in trollops case was half handed and quite dirty. This brings us to Herman Melville, who was a blue berth. It’s not strictly an acronym. It stood for Blubber Eradication Factional List. After writing Moby Dick, Melville came to believe that blubber was not great as a fuel source, but also much less delicious than other forms of animal fat. The whalers of New England and the McCole people, the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest, for whom whaling was a way of life, vehemently objected with cries of Melville’s a blue birth. Melville’s a blue berth now in his later years after his renown and resources had slipped away. Melville told a confident that not only did he have no regrets about being a blue bird, his bluebird free, he in fact wished he’d become even more vocal as a Swor Derf, a sperm whale ecologist dedicated to eradication of rapacious fishermen. And finally, we come to the baffling and quite sad case of Edna St. Vincent Millay, who is bee bop a boat birth crazy. Being a bee bop a beaut birth was even controversial, given that bee bop abbo births just were believer’s and being open to possibilities, often briskly and eagerly rejecting falsehoods. Who could object to that? The answer, of course, were their rivals, the rivals to the bee bop abbo berths, the banana Fanta faux berths who were frankly opposed to being eager to reject falsehoods. And also and this is important, fans of bananas. They were French, so the syntax was a little backwards, you know, subject verb and all that. It’s why the acronyms don’t exactly line up. But between the Bee Bob Abbo barfs and the banana fana fo burps. Oh me. Oh my. Everyone cancel each other out such that all the remains of this charged era was a sarcastic and largely scattergories go villanelle, which Shirlee Ellis set to music and took to number three in 1964. Shirley Alice herself, by the way, we should say, for the record, was a Sammy Smyth’s most murf. But that is a story for another day. Which might trigger litigation from the Scientology community. The point is J.K. Rowling might be a turf. But at least she washes both hands. Probably. And that’s it for today’s show. Daniel Shrader, Margaret Kelly produced the just the Lisa Montgomery is the executive producer of Slate podcasts. They note that Grumpy Smurf was a girl. The gist? Did you know Edna St. Vincent Millay got her middle name because her uncle’s life was saved at St. Vincent’s Hospital? Good thing the guy didn’t kill over at SUNY Downstate at that look. We’ll protect her to Peru. And thanks for listening.