NYS update: At last, we’ve turned the corner and now we don’t have to pretend that what Cuomo says every day is newsworthy. The Legislature is wasting no time on police reform tonight; at least, they are going after the low-hanging fruit first, passing the Eric Garner Anti-Chokehold Act. This is an easy one, criminalizing deaths that occur when police use the chokehold. But it doesn’t appear to universally criminalize chokeholds themselves, and let’s not forget that until relatively recently, being choked into unconsciousness — and off camera — was not a felony in New York mainly because it was “unprovable” in court.
Choking, experts say, is one of the most pervasive forms of domestic violence, with its overtones of power and control, and one of the best predictors of more serious violence. “A woman who has been choked is seven times more likely to be the victim of a domestic violence homicide later.”
Hopefully we can now also recognize that a police officer who likes to use chokeholds beyond what is reasonably called for by procedure is akin to a domestic abuser (and statistically, alas, may actually be one). Hopefully we get politicians who are perfectly happy to support domestic abuse shelters to start supporting assistance to victims of police abuse, which of course starts with believing that it doesn’t happen because people often run into cops’ fists.
Defunding the police is the talk of the moment. One thread about what really happened in Camden, New Jersey when police were defunded, however, should be read carefully. Not because the actual experience in Camden negates the benefits of defunding police, but because the road to improvement in Camden was long and painful and just didn’t start out well at all. You can’t just “defund police” if it creates a vacuum where new abusers rush in.
The [new] Metro Police immediately became better funded, hired more police officers, and became much, much whiter and younger. In fact, because the new force paid so little after busting the local union, it became a place that young, white police spent a year or two prior to returning to their own towns. Camden County even had to try to recoup “training” costs from other townships, it had become a state-wide training ground for white cops who did not stay long… And as you might imagine, the instincts of the newer, whiter force were not good. They went on an explicit broken windows campaign… The violence by police was paired with tokenistic approaches to community policing — ice cream parties, cops playing basketball, often covered by the news while the issues of excessive force received less attention.
The only thing that created real improvement in Camden was — you guessed it — local black community leadership that demanded specific action. (Fingers crossed that Syracuse has already skipped the bad parts of this story and will fast-forward to the good.)
New York City is starting on Day One of the rest of its life today. As bad as things have been there, at least we can all count ourselves fortunate that we are not living in Arizona, where alert officials have called for hospitals to start instituting their crisis plans now that some of their ICU’s are almost 100% full.
Onondaga County update: Do you want to know what will be happening next week in New York’s COVID-19 recovery process? The track record of the past three months hints that it will be about whatever CE McMahon is musing about publicly this week. With Cuomo now allowing churches to open at 25% capacity (which was McMahon’s plan all along), the latest is that Phase 3 and Phase 4 of reopening might be telescoped into mostly one phase. This is the page we are now on as of today. Cuomo is still licking his finger to turn the page on last week’s chapter.
The (first?) COVID wave in Onondaga County has not officially been deemed over, but the remarks today seemed all but a formal declaration of the end, as the CE began to say “…if the virus is in fact gone now.” Community spread, which should have been making itself well apparent now after the start of Phase 2, remains extremely low. Of course, the protests could have upended that — and we won’t know for another few days. No one is to take off their masks.
A lot of today’s questioning focused on the issues surrounding the protests, making for an awkward moment when McMahon apparently misheard the question “What do you think about defunding the police?” as “What do you think about defending the police,” which he did with vigor. Ahem. No, actually, what about defunding them? Oh, that. This did give him an opportunity to remind everyone again that he hasn’t got his own police force. But, actually, yeah, the county executive is responsible for making decisions about funding the sheriff’s office. But nobody has any money any more! He then complained a bit about the press being bored with his PIE (poverty, infrastructure, economic development) platform that he ran on in 2019. I don’t doubt his sincerity on investing in all of these things; but I do question if this is the right moment to fall back on (as the Camden story above puts it) “tokenistic approaches to community policing — ice cream parties, cops playing basketball, often covered by the news while the issues of excessive force received less attention.” Which he essentially did in this briefing today.
As local leaders of Last Chance for Change figure out where to apply pressure best on whom, I’m sure that the CE’s influence over the funding of the county sheriff’s office will be another pressure point for them to push. Someone who is so far ahead of the curve on COVID will hopefully learn to be ahead of the curve on what he called in today’s briefing “a countywide movement.”