We are witnessing an extraordinary chain of events in the US today. We have a worldwide pandemic that has decided to just decimate the country. With just four percent of the world's population, the US has over 28% of all Covid-19 deaths, over 29% of all Covid-19 cases this year and over 37% of those Covid-19 cases still going on. It is also the epicenter of incredible nationwide protests over the past two weeks that have centered around inherent, systemic police injustice towards minorities. The trigger this time for such widespread unrest was the needless and senseless torture and murder of a black man by four white officers in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Oh, by the way, we also have the most incompetent president in the history of the nation. History will not be kind to us in the year 2020.
We got here via a bad election that netted us a narcissistic president with a very low intelligence quotient, a surprise virus pandemic, and a continual racist problem that we've tried to sweep under the rug rather than scrub clean. Over the centuries, we've turned a blind eye to racists in the police ranks while pursuing "noble" causes like eliminating marijuana smoking in the home and minority delinquency on the streets. Let's not forget that the martyred George Floyd's fateful run-in with the law came as a result of a counterfeit $20 bill. Apparently, Mr. Floyd didn't read the fine print in the local constitution that stated that a counterfeit $20 bill carried the penalty of death to be enforced immediately. Even now, writing those words makes me sick to my stomach.
While in the US, only basic tests that vary place to place are used to hire police recruits, in Germany for example, a policeman has to earn a university's bachelor's degree to join the force. There, they are specifically trained to NOT SHOOT. In a 2015 article on takepart.com, "In every head of every policeman, there is the aim not to shoot," says Col. Uwe Thieme, the four-star senior police director at the state's office for education, training, and human resources. "We try to make all police officers recognize that you are not a good guy if you are shooting. You are a good guy if you are not shooting." This is from the same country that had goose-stepping Nazi brown-shirts keeping the peace via extreme violence only 85 years ago. Many other European police hiring practices emphasis similar peaceful methods.
That same article also points out that "Canada recorded an average of 12 fatal police shootings a year between 1999 and 2009; British police fired their weapons on just 51 occasions between 2003 and 2013; [and] in Japan, the last time a suspect was shot by a police officer was in 2012." Police in the USA not only shoot thousands of its citizens every year, they kill around 1,000 people year after year with a disproportionate amount of them being black or brown.
Every police system needs a way in which they will carry out their duties. Heavy-handed, service-oriented or just informative, they need a commonality in their approach to the citizenry. One of the best cited studies of policing conducted by James Q. Wilson in 1968 describes three styles: watchman, legalistic and service. Where the watchman style might tell a group of kids that it's after curfew and they should go home, the legalistic version would arrest them while the service type of policing would ensure that the kids were returned home either by the police themselves or by the parents. Although all three systems are in evidence in the US, it is obvious which ones can be found in all-White rich districts and which ones are imposed on the more racially-diverse middle class suburbs and minority-laden poor inner cities and barrios. While similar styles exist elsewhere in the world, it is rare in civilized nations to find such racist, totalitarian styles.
Of course, police can't enforce all laws at all times. There are always a hierarchy of laws and policing guidelines to focus on and each country has its own priorities. One fact that greatly limits coordinated policy in the US is the fact that instead of having one set of federal crimes code to enforce everywhere, something that is quite common around the world, there exist some 18,000 different police agencies in 50 different states, throughout thousands of diverse counties and spread over tens of thousands of separate municipalities. Each state has its own laws, each county has its own set of rules and each municipality has its own array of regulations. They are not mutually inclusive.
While living in Europe in the 1970s, I noticed that city policing had been relegated to a community service on par with that of postal service or street sweeping, a concept that is repeated in many places around the civilized world. Nevertheless it is different in the United States. Along with many tyrannical police states such as Russia with 6.2 police per thousand citizens, Turkey with 5.2/m, Israel with 3.5/m, or Singapore with a whopping 7.1/m, the US with nearly one million officers, or 3.0/m, use the police to actively control their population. In the US, we have the added layers of racism and variety, racism against the black and brown community and variety in that each local entity has a different set of legal parameters that one is obligated to know upon arrival.
The US has even taken this whole control to a special new level thanks to the very popular War On Drugs started by our actor President Reagan in the early 1980s. We have weaponized, militarized and incentivized our police forces to actively pursue a low-level siege of the American inner cities and poorer neighborhoods to increase arrestation, incarceration (at 2.2 million people behind bars, the USA has by far the highest prison population in the world), and domination through mass torture and intimidation. In the article, The US Police State, How the United States Has Become Its Own Worst Nightmare, the Criminal Justice Degree Hub shows how the US has dramatically veered from the original ten bill of rights describing the freedoms of people to be safe and secure with a well-regulated peace force to today's hodge podge collection of tear-gas launching, rubber-bullet firing white-honoring, black- and brown-beating decrees and dictums that reinforce our current police policy.
We have militarized our police force through the Federal 1033 Program that gives, YES GIVES, military hardware to local police forces.We spend over $30 billion annually to prop up this war on drugs. The method used to decide which police departments are to receive these funds can be easily explained. According to Neill Franklin, a retired major who served for 34 years in the Maryland State Police and Baltimore Police Department, "One of the requirements for completing a federal grant application for funds to combat drugs was showing how many drug arrests we made. The thinking was that the more drug arrests you have, the more significant your drug problem. If you have a significant drug problem, the federal government will give you more funds." A bigger problem got more money, more weapons and more military gear.
So, forty years on from the push to give our ill-trained and somewhat racist police force enough military fire power to immediately mow down a medium-sized, well-equipped insurrection, we find ourselves dealing with issues that should have been resolved at the turn of the 19th Century when all civilized nations agreed that slavery was illegal . Amazingly enough, the United States appears throughout that list despite the white supremacy policies that permeate the government from the president on down today.
The US has slowly, over the course of many decades, created a government and political system that actively discourages black and brown participation through voter suppression and media dissuasion, actively encourages white privilege in our hiring, lending and promoting practices and actively supports minority subjugation through the poverty-to-prison pipeline that exists in our poorer, minority neighborhoods. We have relied heavily on the community policing practices of inherently prejudiced doctrine to enforce our racism and we bear fruit today from that long, arduous and painful harvest.