Thoughts on The Militarization of Police and Black Lives Matter Movement

I’ve been following the recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana and the horrific attack on police officers in Dallas. The level of violence and discord seems to be reaching a new crescendo.

The US is at a potentially dangerous point. We’re divided. People are getting their news from the sources of their choosing, so news stories reporting on the same event can have a diametrically opposite headlines. We’re living in our own realities. We’ve seen it coming to a head in politics. But the latest manifestation has been during the latest spate of gun violence. People seeing the exact same events have oposite interpretations of what really happened. Here’s some of the things I’ve been thinking about over the past week.

You can be Pro Police and Pro Black at the Same Time!

Many people, including many in the media, are painting the choices as “pro-Black Lives Matter” and “anti-police” vs. “anti-Black Lives Matter” and “pro-police.” This division isn’t right. It leads to people taking positions they can’t walk back from. It raises tensions, creates more misunderstandings and is harmful to the US.

Trevor Noah said it best, but I’ll reiterate.

You can be “pro-police” and “anti-people getting abused by police” at the same time.

They’re not mutually exclusive. It’s dangerous and wrong to try to make this issue into another “us vs. them debate.”

It’s clear that most people in the Black Lives Matter movement are anti-black people getting shot, which doesn’t make them somehow anti-cop or anti-white. As with every movement, other people have different opinions across the spectrum. Some people in the Black Lives Matter movement are anti-police. But most aren’t.

As an aside, it’s interesting that some of the people who claim Black Lives Matter protests are anti-police are the same (mostly white) people who are most afraid of government oppression and overreach. Being killed by the state is the most oppressive thing a government can do to you.

2. Criticizing the Militarization of Police and Police Tactics Doesn’t Make You Anti-Police

Well meaning people can have different views of the role of police in our society. I, along with many other people, don’t like the war on drugs, the militarization of police and very aggressive tactics that many cities ask their police officers to implement. It makes officers’ jobs more difficult and likely doesn’t make us safer.

Many people seem to claim that if you protest the police or critique any police tactics, you’re anti-police. It’s not true and it’s damaging to the US to suggest it.

3. Saying “Black Lives Matter” Isn’t Racist

Many have asserted that Black Lives Matter is somehow racist and insist on saying “All Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter. Everyone agrees with that. Saying Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean “Only Black Lives Matter”. There’s an implied “too” after Black Lives Matter. It means “Black Lives Matter, too.”

Here’s another unrelated example to illustrate the point, from Luke 6:20:

“Blessed are you who are poor,
for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who hunger now,
for you will be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now,
for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you,
when they exclude you and insult you
and reject your name as evil,
because of the Son of Man.

Insisting “All Lives Matter” and being offended by someone saying Black Lives Matter is like someone in the crowd being offended by Luke 6:20 and insisting to Jesus:

“No Jesus, ALL people are blessed and created in your image! You should know better! To say anything different is divisive and wrong!” (via Davide)

A law professor had another take in a response to a student’s letter:

There are some implicit words that precede “Black Lives Matter,” and they go something like this:

Because of the brutalizing and killing of black people at the hands of the police and the indifference of society in general and the criminal justice system in particular. It is important that we say that…(Black Lives Matter)

This is, of course, far too long to fit on a shirt.

Premise: Saying “Black Lives Matter” is an expression of racist hatred of white people.

Critique: “Black Lives Matter” is not a statement about white people. It does not exclude white people. It does not accuse white people, unless you are a specific white person who perpetrates, endorses, or ignores violence against black people. If you are one of those people, then somebody had better be saying something to you.

4. Root Causes

We have problems in the US that affect people of all races, but affect minorities more harshly:

The militarization of police, the (failed) war on drugs, along with vague laws that have the average person committing three felonies a day, which allows the government to prosecute who they want, and a heavily armed citizenry are a deadly mix.

Put yourself in the shoes of a police officer making a routine traffic stop in the most heavily armed country in the world. You don’t know anything about the person you’re stopping. Or if they have a gun. The margin for error is tiny.

Now put yourself in shoes of a minority who’s been pulled over 52 times in 15 years and seen videos of police shooting people who look like him. You have a legal gun and are simultaneously annoyed at being pulled over for yet another minor offense and are aware that the margin for error at a traffic stop like this is really small.

It’s a no win situation for police officers or citizens.

5. Incorrect perception that “crime is exploding

Most people also have a faulty perception of crime. Many people think crime is rising and getting worse. But the reality is that it’s gone down steadily since the 1990s.

violent crime

Others talk about the “war on cops.” Policing is a dangerous occupation. I’m grateful officers are willing to put their lives on the line to protect us. Each death in the line of duty is a tragedy and even one death is one too many.

The stats show that it’s generally gotten safer for officers over the years, not more dangerous. It could be because police have been more proactive, but it could also be that as crime rates have fallen, it’s become less dangerous to be a police officer. Full data from National Law Enforcement Officer Memorial Fund and shorter term chart from Washington Post. 2016 is more violent so far, but the trend is generally down.


Books to readThe Rise of The Warrior Cop, Three Felonies a Day.

6. Where can we go from here?

There’s three major things we can do, in addition addressing race relations.

First, stop talking so much and listen to what black and hispanics are really saying. Ask them about their encounters with police. I guarantee that if you ask and listen, you’ll hear some stories that should shock you. A law abiding hispanic friend told me he’d had a gun pulled on him multiple times growing up. Another was pulled through a car window because “he matched the description of an armed robber.” He only got out of the situation when another office arrived and confirmed they were neighbor. Ask and listen.

Second, stop talking so much and listen to what police officers have to say. Most officers deal with incredible situations, violence and difficult things that citizens don’t see. Citizens often don’t understand police procedure, tactics and their purpose in society. Ask and listen.

Third, we can start to make pro-police and pro-citizen changes that take police and citizens out of situations that can create misunderstandings, mistrust and that can even lead to violence.

7. Pro-Police and Pro-Citizen Changes

Change policing strategies so that police don’t have to pull people over for small offenses

It’s debatable whether Broken Windows Policing works. Some will argue that it reduced crime in New York City. Others will argue it was demographics, gentrification, the end of crack cocaine and other factors.

What’s not debatable is that many innocent people minding their own business get stopped for minor offenses. Many of these people, feeling unjustly hassled, acquire a negative perception of police. It’s also not debatable that in a heavily armed society, each police-citizen encounter has the potential for tragedy, both ways. I’d also put reasonable constraints on gun ownership.

Now imagine you’re Philando Castille and you’ve been pulled over 50+ times over the course of 15 years. You’ve been fined thousands of dollars and your license suspended. Whether the police were targeting him for being black or not, he may have thought they were. And for most people, perception is reality.

The guy with a broken taillight? The guy with a beat-up car that’s maybe not 100% street legal? The guy who rolled through a stop sign with no cars around? The guy going 5 over? The guy drinking a beer on the corner in a paper bag? The guy selling loose cigarettes?

I propose that police don’t stop people for minor things:

  • It puts the officer in extra danger in situations for low upside, high downside interactions with the community, now that we have concealed and open carry, every traffic stop is potentially deadly
  • It creates tension between the community and officers. I didn’t like getting pulled over four times between the ages of 18-21 for “minor offenses” for being young, having long hair and crappy car. Imagine it happening for your entire life. Whether you’re getting pulled over for race or not, it sucks.

Why keep creating low reward, high risk situations for police, citizens and the community? Let’s give people more liberty and save the police for higher value investigations.

Cities like Milwaukee and Orlando now only allow chases for felony suspects, which departments hope will reduce the 320+ chase deaths per year.

If you watch the OJ Simpson 30 for 30, you’ll see jurors letting OJ off as “payback” for unjust treatment. Let’s start to lower opportunities for unjust treatment and maybe we’ll avoid attitudes like those jurors. It will take longer to address racial attitudes. Let’s start with the low hanging fruit.

Change how police departments are funded: Reform civil forfeiture and curtail using tickets for revenue

Civil forfeiture is an affront to our constitutional rights and pits police against many innocent citizens each year. Civil forfeiture allows police to take property (cash, cars, houses and more) without a person being convicted of a crime. It’s been misused by local police to fund departments and it unfairly targets minorities and poor people. Watch John Oliver’s overview.

One of the endemic problems in Ferguson was that local police were unfairly ticketing and taking property from poor minorities at high rates to pay for city services. This practice likely made protests even worse.

End the War on Drugs

The war on drugs has failed. We have the highest incarceration rate in the world, probably in world history. Yet drug use keeps steady or going up. We spend billions on locking people away, wrecking families and lives to punish low level drug offenses. We have massive addiction and homeless problems that should be treated as a public heath crisis, not as a punishment issues.

We should follow Portugal’s decriminalization and treatment program, which has been extremely successful:

  1. 50% reduction in drug addicts
  2. Drug usage is among the lowest in EU
  3. Drug related health problems like overdoses and STDs are down even more than usage rates

Curtail the militarization of police and tactics for dealing with protests

Local police shouldn’t have tanks and other military weapons. Regional SWAT should. Police dressing for a riot and using mass arrests, intimidation tactics don’t work and don’t help. It makes citizens distrust the police and likely makes protestors more violent. The father of this type of protest suppression was the Seattle police chief during the WTO protests in the 2000s and it’s his biggest regret of his life. Pictures, videos and tactics like this are hurting, not helping the situation. See this comparison of Ferguson vs. Afghanistan/Iraq.

A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY - RTSH3XR
A demonstrator protesting the shooting death of Alton Sterling is detained by law enforcement near the headquarters of the Baton Rouge Police Department in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, U.S. July 9, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Bachman

Or videos like this:

Or this:

Or this:

Office points rifle at protesters and huffington post reporter. Source:
Office points rifle at protesters and huffington post reporter. Source:

We need to try to come together and see if we can make progress. The status quo isn’t working. I’ll end with a hopeful note that I saw on Facebook. If we all followed this example, we’d be much better off.



Comments are closed.