What an incredibly frustrating week. Today’s video might have bumped up against the pace of events a bit, but I’m still pretty happy with it. The peril of the amount of time it takes to produce a video. When I wrote this last Thursday and Friday, it was still possible to imagine that things might calm down after the arrest of Derek Chauvin for George Floyd’s murder. That was not meant to be. What I don’t feel bad about is how focused this video is on the problem of policing in this country. Last night downtown New York City was destroyed, while most of the over 10,000 police making overtime were busy beating up largely peaceful protesters over in Brooklyn. It’s becoming clear to me at least that this country’s police are more interested in their budgets and their rights than they are in keeping our city safe. I’d like to be wrong about that. We’ll see. More to come.
Video Transcript after the jump…
Hey there. It’s been a rough week here in the United States. The murder of George Floyd by police officers has served to remind all of us of just how evil our country can be. I am really not big on expressing emotion on this channel, and I am pretty sure you don’t need another entitled white man talking to you about his outrage. Instead I would like to make a simple dollars and cents argument about policing and city management, that really needs to be made.
I would expect that much of my international audience is hearing about Minneapolis, Minnesota for the first time. But for me, and I would assume a lot of people like me, it’s surprising to hear and think of Minneapolis in terms of out of control police thugs and burning strip malls.
The cities of the American Midwest, a geographical designation you can argue about for decades, have not had the best half century. Deindustrialization, white flight, and the related flood of population moving South and west has left many cities as shells of their former selves.
When I hear about race riots and police savagery in Cincinnati, Ohio, or St. Louis Missouri, my reaction is outrage but… not exactly surprise. These are poor and poorly run places where poverty often leads to crisis. Minneapolis used to have a better reputation.
It’s one of those places like Portland, Oregon, or Austin Texas, that coastal professionals dream about moving too… heck if the winters weren’t so cold I would consider moving there too. The twin cities are regularly singled out by publications like the New York Times for having the right balance of jobs, affordability and culture. I have friends and cousins who love living there.
It’s important to realize that this happy reputation is the result of decades of hard work. Business people, government officials and everyday citizens have carefully crafted both a lovely city and a great reputation. And all of that has been torn down by one shitty cop in just a week’s time.
Derek Chauvin, his accomplices, and the Minnesota establishment that enabled him have created a situation that is effecting the entire country. But Minneapolis will always be remembered as the place that kicked things off. How many more businesses are going to want to relocate to America’s new racism capital? How have Ferguson Missouri and Baltimore Maryland been doing 6 years after murderous cops made those cities world famous?
It’s rough out there for a mid sized American city in the 21st century. Our current economy seems to only have space for a few winners. Up until this week, Minneapolis looked like one of them. But Minneapolis screwed up. They failed to tame their savage police department, and it’s probably set the whole twin cities region back a decade or two.
From the 1970s to the 1990s the United States dealt with a nightmarish crime wave. It drove us all a little insane. Under the leadership of people like Rudy Giuliani and Bill Clinton, every city in the country established larger, more heavily armed, and terrifyingly intrusive police forces. A culture of warrior policing arose, and city government’s and constitutional lawyers all over the country chose to get out of its way.
Now some argue that this policing culture led to success. I tend to think it was a range of factors with authoritarian policing coming in far behind things like video games, taking lead out of our air and the aging out of the baby boom. Regardless, it’s indisputable that the late 20th century crime wave is long over. Nobody really agrees on why, but crime has fallen dramatically since the 1990s, almost everywhere in the country.
Long after crime rates began to fall, the militarization of our police forces continued to intensify. Police forces have become rogue, violent forces in our society, with their own flag, and their own horrifying symbols. Their special status has been enshrined in law. 16 states, including Minnesota, have enacted police bill of rights laws that shield them from any accountability. The steady expansion of the doctrine of qualified immunity means that police officers can pretty much do what they want, free of consequences.
Whether you think the era of the thug cop was necessary or not, it’s very clear that it’s no longer necessary. In 2013 the New York police department claimed that the court mandated end of their stop and frisk policy would lead to a surge in crime. Instead crime continued to plummet.
In 2019, the NYPD threw a hissy fit when one of their number finally lost his job for the murder of Eric Garner all the way back in 2014. They reacted with the latest in a series of policing slow downs they had been carrying out over the past five years. These slowdowns demonstrate something very interesting. When arrests for minor offenses fall, so do major crimes. The New York Police have repeatedly demonstrated that they are not as important as they think they are.
A city as big and wealthy as New York City can afford to maintain a system of brutal over policing. It’s many millionaires and billionaires largely prefer it. People probably aren’t going to stop wanting to live here. But Minneapolis can’t afford it. Their savage policing system has gone from a debatable asset to an extraordinary liability.
As good as it feels to focus on Derek Chauvin, the police officer that somehow managed to keep his job in the face of 17 separate complaints, we need to focus on the system that kept employing him. It’s vital that individual police officers be fired and prosecuted, but the whole system of policing needs to be reined back in. This keeps not happening. Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey supposedly ran on police accountability, but he ended up jacking up the police department budget. When he tried to cancel some of the department’s violent fear-based training, the police union stepped in to keep the program going. The murder of George Floyd is a result of this culture.
Police departments all over the country have carved out, or been given an extreme level of autonomy. Any city in the country that wants to control its future needs to claw that power back. If they don’t, they risk becoming the next international symbol of racism. This is a lesson that should have been learned after Ferguson back in 2014. I hope the country’s mayors and city council people learn it now.