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More than 60 people shared their accounts of Warren Ellis. Their next steps are worth your time.

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I've long been a fan of Warren Ellis's writing in comics, prose, essays, and on the internet in general; in particular, his work has taught me a lot about the values and strengths of subcultures, and the ugly behaviors of powerful men. Unfortunately, as we learned earlier this week, it turned out that Ellis was more familiar with those behaviors than he let on.

A group of over sixty women and non-binary individuals came together to share his stories of the coercive and manipulative behaviors. And the work they have done here — not just the emotional labor, but that, too — makes them so much of a god damn superhero team. To be clear, none of them have accused of rape, or sexual assault, or anything illegal; but they all had similar experiences of sexual relationships built on power imbalances, of Ellis using his influence to charm them and boost their careers in exchange for sexual favors, before ultimately gaslighting them. For many of them, he was a tremendous aid in their professional careers before he hurt them — although the fact that he was boosting the careers of these women and artists was certainly not bad for his career, either. From their collective statement:

Our aim is to dismantle the systems that allow people in power to abuse that power for the purpose of serial predatory corralling, emotional manipulation, and grooming. With this goal in mind, we are sharing our stories about a man who abused his power.

[…]

The scope of our interactions with Warren Ellis varies extensively in degree and duration. With some of us, it was a brief period of private messaging conducted solely online; with others, he cultivated a relationship lasting many years, involving multiple episodes of intimate physical contact. Though people are still coming forward, what’s already been disclosed covers a wide range of experiences, some seemingly harmless, some devastating. Taken in aggregate, they show a clear pattern of abuse.

We were consciously manipulated with positive and negative reinforcement, gaslighting, and other techniques of control which leave lasting psychological damage. Warren Ellis’ chronic duplicity and manipulation (particularly of young and vulnerable individuals) often rendered informed consent impossible.

But rather than focus on Ellis's actions, I'd like to bring your attention to the remarkable work being done by the people he has harmed. Through an impressive show of solidarity, they have compiled dozens of first-hand accounts — many corroborated through emails and text messages — to create a timeline illustrating Ellis's patterns of behavior. And rather than some vague call for accountability that many would dismiss offhand as "cancel culture," this collective of individuals, known as So Many Of Us, has issued a clear plan for transformative justice. "We are telling our stories so that three things happen," they explain:

  1. No one else is added to our group. We now know of nearly 100 people who were targeted by Warren Ellis over two decades of misconduct. We want to stop this pattern of behavior and protect others from going through what we have experienced.
  2. For anyone affected by Warren Ellis to know that we are here and waiting for them. We are a group of women and nonbinary people who want to hold space for others who have been targeted, and to assure them they are not alone. We can provide a place for them to be supported, validated, and angry; a place to process, question, and unpack their experiences; a place to be listened to, where self-care, empathy, and mutual aid are of the highest priority.
  3. For this insidious behavior to be recognizable, and for the systems allowing it to flourish to be dismantled. What we endured is practiced, deliberate, and not an isolated phenomenon. No one who experiences this type of behavior consents to it. The calculated dishonesty required to enable these systems removes the possibility of informed consent. We do not want to see one abuser removed only to be replaced with another, which is why we are adamant that the systems that allow these patterns of behavior to carry on unchecked be destroyed. Specific systems we’d like to see dismantled include: the “protected” status of celebrities, the limited public understanding of both abuse and consent, the way irony can be used as a shield, and the implementation of enforced and toxic hierarchies.To read more about these systems, check out our FAQ

A final thing that some of us are open to is the possibility of a mediated transformative justice action with Warren Ellis. There is still a chance for him to be of help on a larger scale. If Warren wants to get in touch with us to start this process, we are interested in cultivating healing, accountability, resilience, and safety for all involved. Specifically, we would like to see Warren:

  1. Acknowledge his actions in their entirety
  2. Acknowledge his pattern of harmful behavior
  3. Acknowledge that he has callously hurt people
  4. Contribute to transformative work to dismantle the systems which allowed this to go on

To be clear, our aim is not to see Warren Ellis punished, we are here to look forward.

At a time when bullshit wolf-cries of "cancel culture" are spreading like COVID-19 across the Internet, this collective has made a clear statement in defiance of that reductive accusation. They make it clear: no one's asking for anyone to be "cancelled," and no one is asking for prison time or other such punishment for what was clearly not illegal, but shitty nonetheless.

Simply put, this is a collective of people who share a pain that begins from a single source — a source that had social influence and power of them, which made them all, at the times of their respective experiences, feel as if they were beneath him on the hierarchy, and thus, without power themselves. What they've done here is band together in solidarity and demand true accountability, and a better future for everyone, including the one who did them harm. And I think that's a much more inspiring model to base our society upon.

You can go ahead and keep reading Ellis's work; none of his victims would discourage from doing so. But I would also encourage you to read their stories as well. Kelly Sue DeConnick — a woman who is friends with Ellis, and benefited from his support and mentorship without enduring any abusive behavior or sexual misconduct — shared a powerful 2-part video response to this news as well. I also think this essay from Dr. Nerdlove, on the "ironic" toxic culture of Progressive Geekdom Circles, largely influenced by the model set forth in the old Warren Ellis Forum, is worth a read.

So Many Of Us

Women speak out about Warren Ellis: 'Full and informed consent was impossible' [Sam Thielman / The Guardian]

On Finding Out Your Heroes are Monsters (Or: Detoxifying A Culture) [Dr. Nerdlove]

Image: Gage Skidmore / Flickr (CC 2.0)

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Don’t Fall For The 'Cancel Culture' Scam

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On Monday, 153 prominent writers, academics and public figures signed their names to a statement entitled “A Letter on Justice and Open Debate.” According to the signatories, “The free exchange of information and ideas, the lifeblood of a liberal society, is daily becoming more constricted.”

While the letter itself, published by the magazine Harper’s, doesn’t use the term, the statement represents a bleak apogee in the yearslong, increasingly contentious debate over “cancel culture.” The American left, we are told, is imposing an Orwellian set of restrictions on which views can be expressed in public. Institutions at every level are supposedly gripped by fears of social media mobs and dire professional consequences if their members express so much as a single statement of wrongthink.

This is false. Every statement of fact in the Harper’s letter is either wildly exaggerated or plainly untrue. More broadly, the controversy over “cancel culture” is a straightforward moral panic. While there are indeed real cases of ordinary Americans plucked from obscurity and harassed into unemployment, this rare, isolated phenomenon is being blown up far beyond its importance.

The panic over “cancel culture” is, at its core, a reactionary backlash. Conservative elites, threatened by changing social norms and an accelerating generational handover, are attempting to amplify their feelings of aggrievement into a national crisis. The Harper’s statement, like nearly everything else written on this subject, could have been more efficiently summarized in four words: “Get Off My Lawn.”

What Are We Actually Talking About Here?

The first question to ask when determining whether you’re falling for a moral panic is whether it’s really a Thing. Societal freakouts over razor blades in Halloween candy, strangers in vans kidnapping kids, and teenagers hosting “rainbow parties” turned out, in hindsight, to be based on tiny numbers of confirmed cases — or none at all.

“Cancel culture” has the same characteristics as previous episodes of pearl-clutchery. Nearly every example cited by the Harper’s letter turns out, upon scrutiny, to be something else entirely.

Take the letter’s ominous warning that “editors are fired for running controversial pieces.” This is almost certainly a reference to James Bennet, the opinion editor of The New York Times who resigned last month after printing an op-ed by Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) calling for the military suppression of Black Lives Matter protests.

While the op-ed did inspire widespread criticism, Bennet’s resignation is not a case of social-media censorship. The Times’ itself admitted that the piece “fell short of our standards” and represented a “breakdown” in the paper’s editorial process. Bennet eventually admitted that he hadn’t even read it before publishing it.

And beyond Bennet’s incompetence, there is the simple question of accountability. Even before the Cotton op-ed, Bennet hired climate change deniers, neglected fact-checking and printed “pro-mercenary” articles by private military contractors. Are the signatories to the Harper’s letter really saying that Times readers and employees should not have expressed their frustration with these obvious breaches of ethics?

Dozens of journalists, including several at the Times and HuffPost, made this point in a Friday response to the Harper’s letter spearheaded by journalists of color and co-signed by members of the academic and publishing communities.

The Harper’s letter also says, in its oblique way, that in today’s America, “professors are investigated for quoting works of literature in class.” This is, in a purely literal sense, true: Last month, a professor named W. Ajax Peris was investigated by UCLA for reading Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail” aloud in class.

That’s not why Peris was investigated, though. He was investigated because he read excerpts of the letter containing the N-word without warning his students first. He also showed graphic footage of lynchings in his class without content warnings. When students complained, he insisted that he should be allowed to use the slur. 

Even if you think the complaint against Peris was overly sensitive, he was not “canceled” in any meaningful sense. The UCLA investigation was resolved with a critical letter from his department head. He was not subject to widespread calls for termination and will be teaching classes in the fall.

In other words, Peris’ case was utterly routine. Students complain about their teachers for justifiable reasons and silly ones thousands of times per week in America. These complaints don’t just come from left-wing students: After the 2016 election, a professor at the College of Charleston was targeted by conservatives for dedicating a class to discussing Donald Trump’s victory. The far-right advocacy group Turning Point USA has a Professor Watchlist where Republican pupils can report professors who advance “leftist propaganda in the classroom.”

America is a big country. Sometimes employees disagree with the decisions of their bosses and sometimes 19-year-olds do things that adults disagree with. Simply because these cases happened does not mean that they are new or important.

Why Should I Care?

Another sure sign of a moral panic is the elevation of nonevents into national catastrophes. Again and again, the decriers of “cancel culture” intimate that if left unchecked, the left’s increasing intolerance for dissent will result in profound consequences.

And yet, most actual examples of “cancel culture” turn out to have cartoonishly low stakes. According to the Harper’s letter, left-wing intolerance has caused books to be “withdrawn for alleged inauthenticity.” This is likely a reference to “American Dirt,” a novel about the U.S.-Mexico border written by a white author. And yes, the book received widespread criticism when it was published in January. It was not, however, withdrawn by its publisher. It was, in fact, the No. 1 book in America for weeks on end. Even now, six months later, it is still in the top 10. Are we really supposed to believe that an author receiving negative reviews before selling millions of copies of her book is some sort of existential crisis for the left?

Other examples of “cancel culture” have the same pitiful stakes. In 2018, right-wing media exploded after the Association of Library Service to Children renamed its Laura Ingalls Wilder Award due to the author’s racial insensitivity. In June, “cancel culture” beat reporters fretted about a journalist being asked to apologize for sending insensitive tweets. And just last week, New York Magazine published a panicked story about a guy being removed from a group email list.

Given how many crises America finds itself in the middle of, I am reluctant to add award rebrandings and repentant social media posts to the list of things I should be worrying about. Seriously, an email list?

Who Is Being Harmed?

The third sign of a moral panic is when the same term is applied to cases with fundamental differences. Consider the following two examples of “cancel culture” run amok:

  1. David Shor, a polling researcher, is fired from his job for sending a tweet summarizing the findings of an academic study.
  2. Gillian Philip, a children’s book author, is fired by her publisher after adding “I stand with J.K. Rowling” to her Twitter profile.

While they may look similar on the surface, these cases in fact have little in common.

First, the person being “canceled.” It makes no sense to apply the same standard to public figures and random citizens alike. Philip, unlike Shor, is a public figure. She is a bestselling author and is surely aware that her political statements will affect her standing among her target audience and her publisher. Let’s not be coy about this: Declaring support for J.K. Rowling in July of 2020 is a de facto statement that you agree with her controversial, unpopular views on transgender people.

Public figures certainly have a right to express their controversial views. Readers have the right to react accordingly, and publishers have the right to take these views into account when deciding which books to publish. That’s why it’s called, as “cancel culture” critics love to point out, the “marketplace of ideas.”

So far, there is no indication that private citizens are being held to the same standard as bestselling authors. Philip’s statement in support of Rowling received thousands of supportive replies. This did not trigger a wave of mass firings. The fact is, it remains wildly acceptable for private citizens to state transphobic views. Public figures are held to a different standard, but there is nothing new or troubling about this.

Second, these cases differ in who is doing the “canceling.” Shor, unlike Philip, was never targeted on social media. Last month, he sent a tweet summarizing the findings of an academic paper arguing that race riots in 1968 may have tipped the election to Nixon. He clearly meant the tweet as an argument against the looting taking place during the George Floyd protests “Helping Trump get re-elected is not going to lead to better behavior by cops,” he tweeted following his original post.

While he was indeed criticized for his view, the disagreement was limited and relatively civilized. Much of the pushback came from fellow researchers who believed he had misrepresented the study. A single person tagged his boss at Civis Analytics, the polling firm that employed Shor. A few days later, he was fired. (I should note here that neither Civis nor Shor have confirmed that he was fired for the tweets, something “cancel culture” critics seem weirdly intent on ignoring.)

Shor’s case is not that of a random person being targeted by a hate mob. It is that of a professional pollster using his expertise to advance an argument about current events and then being punished by his employer. It’s not good, obviously, but calling it “cancel culture” performs exactly the same collapse of complexity the Harper’s letter signatories accuse their critics of doing.

If “cancel culture” is a term that encompasses both the famous and the nonfamous, social media mobs and risk-averse employers, firings and consumer boycotts, then it means nothing at all. It is, like “political correctness” before it, simply a name people give to things they do not like.

What’s The Solution?

This where we finally get to the parts of the Harper’s letter I agree with. There really are cases of ordinary people losing their jobs after being targeted by social media mobs. Majdi Wadi, the owner of a Minneapolis catering company, was evicted from one of his store locations after racist social media posts from one of his employees (his daughter) surfaced online. Emmanuel Cafferty, a San Diego Gas & Electric company employee, was fired after being falsely accused of making a white supremacist hand gesture.

These cases are indefensible. If the Harper’s statement had limited itself to cases in which social media users unjustly target random citizens for firing, I would agree with it. Hell, I probably would have signed it.

But is the argument of the Harper’s signatories simply that people should not participate in unjust social media mobs? Well, duh. Outside of the darkest corners of the internet, it would be nearly impossible to find anyone who disagrees with that statement.

Plus, if the real issue here is online harassment and abuse, it makes no sense to limit the critique to the left. Some of the most prominent social media firing squads have originated on the right. In 2018, film director James Gunn was removed from “Guardians of the Galaxy 3” after right-wing trolls unearthed insensitive tweets and spammed his studio (Gunn was later reinstated). Numerous journalists — disproportionately female and nonwhite — have been hounded by social media hate mobs. Ijeoma Oluo, the author of “So You Want to Talk About Race,” was the target of an attempt to send a SWAT team to her home.

And while it’s true that J.K. Rowling and other prominent figures have received death threats for expressing “gender critical” — i.e. transphobic — views, trans people who have challenged those views have received death threats too. The unfortunate reality of the internet is that there is enough harassment to go around.

If the signatories of the Harper’s letter were concerned about larger issues of online abuse, death threats and doxxing, they could have proposed solutions to these problems. And they would have been right: Social media platforms could do more to prevent harassment. Police departments and other government agencies should also take these threats more seriously.

Similarly, if “cancel culture” is really about ordinary people being fired after being targeted by social media mobs, the solutions are clear. The vast majority of American employment is “at will,” meaning companies can fire their workers for any reason and at any time. A great way to fix this problem would be to advocate for stronger unions and better employment protections.

But the moral panic over “cancel culture” isn’t about workers losing their jobs or ordinary people facing online abuse. Almost every example included in the Harper’s letter involves powerful people — editors, authors, journalists, “heads of organizations” — being criticized from below.

This is telling. Like most “cancel culture” punditry, the Harper’s letter is not aimed at actors with institutional power. It is almost exclusively directed at the ordinary people who point out the failures of those institutions.

Cries Of ‘Cancel Culture’ Are A Tantrum By The Powerful  

If I sound like I have a chip on my shoulder about this, that’s because I do. For the last two years, I have co-hosted a podcast, “You’re Wrong About,” that investigates misremembered historical events. From the McDonald’s hot coffee case to the Terri Schiavo controversy to Janet Jackson’s 2004 Super Bowl halftime show, many of the public’s misperceptions originate with the tiny number of media gatekeepers who traditionally decided which opinions were worthy of airing and which weren’t.

The most stark example of this is the “Ebonics” controversy. In 1996, the Oakland, California, school board released a resolution stating that it was going to recognize the language used by its Black students — now known as African American English but then known as “Ebonics” — as a legitimate form of expression. For years, academic research had demonstrated that African American English followed defined grammatical rules. Furthermore, studies from across the country had found that teaching Black children by contrasting their own language with what’s known as standard English was a more efficient way to teach reading and writing.

The country lost its mind. States started passing laws banning their own schools from recognizing Ebonics. Congress hauled Oakland administrators to Washington for a public hearing. Op-ed columnists claimed that Oakland teachers were going to start teaching white kids Ebonics instead of standard English. TV anchors said the district had given up on teaching Black kids the language skills they needed for college admissions tests and job interviews.

None of it was true, but it didn’t matter. The more complex story about Oakland was outside the realm of acceptable debate. The New York Times ran a prominent ad featuring a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. overlaid with the text “I Has a Dream.” It later emerged that the publisher had given away the page space for free. Meanwhile, when a group of linguists and experts wrote an open letter contextualizing the Oakland resolution and arguing for the validity of African American English, the Times refused to run it.

I spent hours on LexisNexis looking for any defense of the Oakland school board. The closest thing I could find was a New York Times op-ed (with the atrocious headline “The Ebonic Plague”) that said simply that the administrators shouldn’t have received quite so much abuse over a single resolution. No one even tried to defend what the district was doing.

The Ebonics controversy — not J.K. Rowling’s Twitter mentions — is what stifling debate really looks like. For decades, American media was controlled by a tiny number of gatekeepers. Count up all the top editors of all the national news outlets in the pre-internet era and you would have gotten a shockingly small number. If that tiny — and overwhelmingly white, male, straight and cis — group of editors decided that an opinion was not worthy of being heard, it wasn’t.

The moral panic over “cancel culture” feels like a backlash by those editors. Since the early 2000s, we have slowly shifted from a media environment defined by a small group of gatekeepers to one with no gatekeepers at all. Thanks to social media and platforms like Medium, anyone can publish anything now. Every conceivable viewpoint is being expressed somewhere, right this minute.

The actual debate over free speech is about how to decide which of those views deserve space and attention. Outlets like The New York Times and Harper’s bestow credibility on the opinions they publish. Their employees and their readers have the right to argue that some views do not deserve such credibility. That is not the suppression of free speech; it is the exercise of it.

Ultimately, the Harper’s letter represents a much larger problem than oversensitive college students or uber-woke employees: the failure of elite institutions to see through the bad faith of the far right.

For nearly a decade, conservative outlets have highlighted meaningless anecdotes to advance narratives about “campus political correctness gone wrong” and “free speech under attack.” Beyond absurd slippery-slope arguments, they have never provided any evidence that these issues are worthy of the nation’s attention.

“Cancel culture” is nothing more than the latest repackaging of the argument that the true threat to liberalism resides not in lawmakers or large corporations but in overly sensitive college students and random social media users. It is no more sophisticated than the “war on Christmas” and has the same goal: to imply that those pushing back against injustice are equivalent to the injustice itself.

Some of the signatories of the Harper’s letter know this and some of them don’t. All of them should have known better.

CORRECTION: This article initially misstated that a SWAT team was sent to Oluo’s home.

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fxer
2 days ago
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> The country lost its mind. States started passing laws banning their own schools from recognizing Ebonics. Congress hauled Oakland administrators to Washington for a public hearing. Op-ed columnists claimed that Oakland teachers were going to start teaching white kids Ebonics instead of standard English. TV anchors said the district had given up on teaching Black kids

Oh man, the conservative outrage over Ebonics was palpable. So many spittle filled hot-takes
Bend, Oregon
diannemharris
3 days ago
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"Cries Of ‘Cancel Culture’ Are A Tantrum By The Powerful"

KOMANOFF: New York Times Starts Embracing ‘Future without Cars’

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  “Live long enough,” the saying goes, “and you’ll see everything.” So it is. On Friday, we saw perhaps the first-ever NY Times link to “Banning Cars from Manhattan,” the seminal 1962 samizdat essay that suggested another urban world was possible. We also saw a 3,000-word essay revivify the truths in the classic 1980s underground sticker, “Ban cars from the city: They pollute, they kill people, they take up space.” All this, and more, in a piece provocatively titled, “I’ve Seen a Future Without Cars, and It’s Amazing” by Times opinion columnist Farhad Manjoo — with a subtitle that dared to ask, “Why do American cities waste so much space on cars?” To paraphrase jazz immortal Sun Ra, space is place for us urbanists. To me, what makes Manjoo’s essay so distinctive is its focus on the immense space cars and driving require. That, plus its conviction that New York and other cities can and must be transformed, now — during and post pandemic; plus that it appeared in the New York Times, automatically giving it currency and gravity. Space — the word — appears 19 times in the essay. Its close cousin, land, shows up for 15. “If cars are our only option, how [after the pandemic] will we find space for all of them?,” Manjoo muses. Cities’ “worst mistake [was] giving up so much of their land to the automobile,” Manjoo declares:
Automobiles are not just dangerous and bad for the environment, they are also profoundly wasteful of the land around us: Cars take up way too much physical space to transport too few people. It’s geometry.
Cars wasting space is old hat to anyone who spends much time biking in New York City. And the hopeless geometry of cars in cities has been a thing on “Transit Twitter” for some time. But I’ll bet Manjoo’s message struck Gray Lady readers as fresh and new. Even if they’re now schooled in tailpipes and carbon and crashes, most “normies” probably haven’t thought that “as roads become freer of cars, they grow full of possibility.” Manjoo is speaking to this car-cocooned majority, sagely anticipating their objections and trying to help them get over, with passages like this:
What’s that you say? There aren’t enough buses in your city to avoid overcrowding, and they’re too slow, anyway? Pedestrian space is already hard to find? Well, right. That’s car dependency.
Without cars, Manjoo explains, “Manhattan’s streets could give priority to more equitable and accessible ways of getting around.” Crucially, these better ways aren’t ride-hails or Teslas or self-driving cars. Indeed, one of the essay’s notable feature is its kiss-off to digerati fantasies of melding technology, automobiles and cities. (Manjoo, a former reporter, covered Silicon Valley.) No faux disrupter, Manjoo is going sustainable and long, urging bike superhighways and bus rapid transit and congestion pricing and ample sidewalks — elements of a wholesale repurposing of the vast space taken up by moving cars, parked cars, cruising-for-parking cars, stuck-in-traffic cars, refuel stations and the like. In Los Angeles, “land for parking exceeds the entire land area of Manhattan, enough space to house almost a million more people at Los Angeles’s prevailing density.” And just in Manhattan, “nearly 1,000 acres … is occupied by parking garages, gas stations, car washes, car dealerships and auto repair shops.” (Central Park covers 840 acres.) “The amount of space devoted to cars in Manhattan is not just wasteful, but, in a deeper sense, unfair to the millions of New Yorkers who have no need for cars,” Manjoo writes, before teeing up this killer quote from urban planner Vishaan Chakrabarti: “It really does feel like there is a silent majority that doesn’t get any real say in how the public space is used.” Chakrabarti, whose Practice for Architecture and Urbanism firm provided underpinning for Manjoo’s column, here joins the Regional Plan Association in demanding that politicians stop coddling the pro-car NIMBY’s who overpopulate city community planning boards and problematize virtually every measure that might take space from cars. “Cars aren’t just greedy for physical space,” Manjoo writes, “they’re insatiable,” calling out the true meaning of induced demand: “an unwinnable cycle that ends with every inch of our cities paved over” (an outcome sadly familiar to aficionados of Streetsblog’s Parking Madness tournaments). “Cars make every other form of transportation a little bit terrible,” Manjoo adds, perhaps understating. “The absence of cars, then, exerts its own kind of magic — take private cars away, and every other way of getting around gets much better.” That goes for walking, biking, scootering, even taxis and Ubers, Manjoo notes, but, above all, for buses, as Chakrabarti’s graphic of time savings from removing Manhattan car traffic makes clear:
Bus speed map from NYT
This map, made by the New York Times based on estimates by Euro Happold, assumes a 60-percent reduction in traffic in Manhattan.
I posted that graphic on Twitter in response to concerns that barring most private autos from Manhattan and upgrading bus service to BRT, as Manjoo suggests, “wouldn’t serve equity.” “On what planet,” I asked, “is cutting super-double-digit minutes off bus commutes in/around NYC not a win for equity?” Of course, a win for equity like humane and efficient buses is a poor stand-in for an across-the-board commitment to equity, as was pointed out in response. “A true commitment to equity changes the power structure for making decisions,” added another commenter — and I fully agree But I don’t think it’s helpful to fault Manjoo’s article, or their vision, for failing to confront power structures that enforce economic inequality or white supremacy. Dismantling those structures is the paramount work of our time, in my view. And I want no part of any measures that would further entrench them. Yet making New York and other cities safe, sustainable and habitable for their hundred million or more inhabitants is also vital. I’ve seen nothing suggesting that aggressively reducing car dependence along the lines urged by Manjoo will either interfere with that work or worsen conditions for communities of color and other underserved constituencies. The 2021 races for mayor, public advocate, comptroller and city council are fast approaching, and Manjoo has sent NYC livable-streets advocates a clear signal to elevate our game. The signoff from their column gets the last word (emphases added):
Many of the most intractable challenges faced by America’s urban centers stem from the same cause — a lack of accessible physical space. We live in a time of epidemic homelessness. There’s a national housing affordability crisis caused by an extreme shortage of places to live. And now there’s a contagion that thrives on indoor overcrowding. Given these threats, how can American cities continue to justify wasting such enormous tracts of land on death machines?
How, indeed?
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Meet the Pedal People, Northampton’s Bike-Powered Cargo Haulers

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Since 2007, the City of Northampton has relied on Pedal People, a cooperatively-owned, bike-powered transportation company, to provide garbage and recycling hauling services for the city’s public trash cans. Pedal People, a cooperative started by Alex Jarrett and Ruthy Woodring in 2002, uses bicycles and bike trailers to transport goods and provide services, “model[ing] the use of human power as a viable alternative to fossil fuels,” according to their mission statement. Pedal People services approximately eighty public trash cans, and also provides trash pick-up services for ten to twelve percent of Northampton’s roughly 11,200 households. How has Pedal People succeeded for nearly two decades in running a cooperative business devoted to the use of bicycles instead of fossil-fuel reliant larger vehicles that could haul their loads quickly and easily? Is it possible to duplicate Pedal People’s success outside of a small city that was once called the “most liberal medium-sized city” in the country? Annie Doran has been a Pedal Person for six years and is one of 25 current owner-workers. The collective functions as a flat hierarchy–there are no bosses, everyone pedals, and everyone does some sort of administrative work. Annie also has her own consulting business in which she “helps organizations find and live their values and keep employees engaged,” and is currently working with a start-up in Norway, Maine (population 5,014 according to the 2010 Census) that seeks to emulate Pedal People’s model. “We’ll see in about a year!” answers Doran when I ask her if it’s possible to duplicate Pedal People’s success. She emphasizes their deliberately slow growth and small service area as reasons behind their staying power. “One way we’ve been able to live out our values is keeping a low overhead, which allows us to only use as much as we need. Our advertising and marketing is primarily through word of mouth. Our business has increased by just ten percent per year since our beginnings; thanks to this slow growth, we haven’t had to be nimble,” says Doran. She also points out that the city of Northampton has no municipal trash and recycling collection program. Residents must hire someone to haul their trash or haul their trash themselves, so Pedal People provides a necessary community service. They currently have a waiting list for new customers and are beginning to expand their services into neighboring Easthampton, but like everything else they do, slow and steady is the key. On the subject of slow and steady, I asked Annie if there was anything that has been impossible for Pedal People to move due to their sole reliance on human power. “People have been surprised at how much we can move when we have enough time,” she says. “We’ve moved the entire contents of apartments! We have started considering using electric-assist bikes, but that’s on hold during the pandemic. It gets away from our historical values (of relying entirely on human power) but it gets at our other strong values of self care, reaching more customers, and engaging a more diverse group of possible hires.” The possibility of using electric-assist bikes in Massachusetts is complicated by the fact that the state doesn’t differentiate between e-bikes and higher-speed mopeds and scooters. MassBike, a statewide bicycle advocacy organization, has been lobbying for updated state laws to differentiate between lower- and higher-speed bicycles in order to make e-bikes subject to the same laws as regular bicycles. This would certainly benefit Pedal People and other bicycle-based businesses currently using or considering using e-bikes. Massachusetts is one of just six states whose current e-bike laws are considered “problematic” by advocacy group People For Bikes due to the difference in e-bike access to regular bikes’ infrastructures as well as confusing equipment, use, licensing, and registration requirements. The current bills filed in the Massachusetts House and Senate use People For Bike’s model legislation that defines and regulates three classes of e-bikes. Companies like Pedal People could also benefit from the new federal transportation bill, the INVEST In America Act, which could reinstate and improve a bicycle commuter benefit that was suspended in a 2017 tax cut law. The new bill would require areas with high rates of bicycle fatalities to improve safety and require all states to have a full time Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator. It would also establish a National Road Safety Assessment, as originally proposed by Massachusetts State Representative Stephen Lynch, that requires identifying and cataloging roads and intersections that are unsafe for bikers and pedestrians. Several Massachusetts legislators are involved in this legislation including Representative Ayanna Pressley, as Co-Chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus, and Representative Richard Neal, who, as the Chair of the Ways and Means Subcommittee, reinstated the Bicycle Commuter Act into the larger INVEST package. Better transportation policy may lead to more bike-based businesses, but can Pedal People’s “slow and steady” growth, using only what is absolutely necessary, be applied to businesses in general? The climate crisis forces us to do an all-encompassing reconsideration of our reliance on fossil fuels, and the COVID-19 pandemic has forced the business world to re-think its relationships with employees and customers. “People power” offers an intriguing solution, emphasizing thoughtfulness and humanity over industrial concepts of speed and efficiency. Galen Mook, Executive Director of MassBike, draws parallels between Pedal People’s approach and Vision Zero, the policy goal that aims to eliminate all traffic fatalities and severe injuries by treating those tragedies as preventable, rather than inevitable, and using a systems approach to create safer streets, rather than relying on individual responsibility alone. “We need to move to a mindset that safety is more important than throughput, or just getting cars through intersections,” says Mook. “We need to keep the focus on the people, especially those most vulnerable out there.”  
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What the police really believe

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Police officers line up by the AFL-CIO building during a stand-off between law enforcement officers and protesters at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, on June 23. | Astrid Riecken/Washington Post/Getty Images

Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing — and how it justifies racist violence.

Arthur Rizer is a former police officer and 21-year veteran of the US Army, where he served as a military policeman. Today, he heads the criminal justice program at the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank in DC. And he wants you to know that American policing is even more broken than you think.

“That whole thing about the bad apple? I hate when people say that,” Rizer tells me. “The bad apple rots the barrel. And until we do something about the rotten barrel, it doesn’t matter how many good fucking apples you put in.”

To illustrate the problem, Rizer tells a story about a time he observed a patrol by some officers in Montgomery, Alabama. They were called in to deal with a woman they knew had mental illness; she was flailing around and had cut someone with a broken plant pick. To subdue her, one of the officers body-slammed her against a door. Hard.

Rizer recalls that Montgomery officers were nervous about being watched during such a violent arrest — until they found out he had once been a cop. They didn’t actually have any problem with what one of them had just done to the woman; in fact, they started laughing about it.

“It’s one thing to use force and violence to affect an arrest. It’s another thing to find it funny,” he tells me. “It’s just pervasive throughout policing. When I was a police officer and doing these kind of ride-alongs [as a researcher], you see the underbelly of it. And it’s ... gross.”


America’s epidemic of police violence is not limited to what’s on the news. For every high-profile story of a police officer killing an unarmed Black person or tear-gassing peaceful protesters, there are many, many allegations of police misconduct you don’t hear about — abuses ranging from excessive use of force to mistreatment of prisoners to planting evidence. African Americans are arrested and roughed up by cops at wildly disproportionate rates, relative to both their overall share of the population and the percentage of crimes they commit.

Something about the way police relate to the communities they’re tasked with protecting has gone wrong. Officers aren’t just regularly treating people badly; a deep dive into the motivations and beliefs of police reveals that too many believe they are justified in doing so.

To understand how the police think about themselves and their job, I interviewed more than a dozen former officers and experts on policing. These sources, ranging from conservatives to police abolitionists, painted a deeply disturbing picture of the internal culture of policing.

 Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
Police officers confront protesters in front of City Hall in New York City on July 1.

Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country.

The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions.

In that sense, police ideology can help us understand the persistence of officer-involved shootings and the recent brutal suppression of peaceful protests. In a culture where Black people are stereotyped as more threatening, Black communities are terrorized by aggressive policing, with officers acting less like community protectors and more like an occupying army.

The beliefs that define police ideology are neither universally shared among officers nor evenly distributed across departments. There are more than 600,000 local police officers across the country and more than 12,000 local police agencies. The officer corps has gotten more diverse over the years, with women, people of color, and LGBTQ officers making up a growing share of the profession. Speaking about such a group in blanket terms would do a disservice to the many officers who try to serve with care and kindness.

However, the officer corps remains overwhelmingly white, male, and straight. Federal Election Commission data from the 2020 cycle suggests that police heavily favor Republicans. And it is indisputable that there are commonly held beliefs among officers.

“The fact that not every department is the same doesn’t undermine the point that there are common factors that people can reasonably identify as a police culture,” says Tracey Meares, the founding director of Yale University’s Justice Collaboratory.

The danger imperative

In 1998, Georgia sheriff’s deputy Kyle Dinkheller pulled over a middle-aged white man named Andrew Howard Brannan for speeding. Brannan, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, refused to comply with Dinkheller’s instructions. He got out of the car and started dancing in the middle of the road, singing “Here I am, shoot me” over and over again.

In the encounter, recorded by the deputy’s dashcam, things then escalate: Brannan charges at Dinkheller; Dinkheller tells him to “get back.” Brannan heads back to the car — only to reemerge with a rifle pointed at Dinkheller. The officer fires first, and misses; Brannan shoots back. In the ensuing firefight, both men are wounded, but Dinkheller far more severely. It ends with Brannan standing over Dinkheller, pointing the rifle at the deputy’s eye. He yells — “Die, fucker!” — and pulls the trigger.

The dashcam footage of Dinkheller’s killing, widely known among cops as the “Dinkheller video,” is burned into the minds of many American police officers. It is screened in police academies around the country; one training turns it into a video game-style simulation in which officers can change the ending by killing Brannan. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop, was shown the Dinkheller video during his training.

“Every cop knows the name ‘Dinkheller’ — and no one else does,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The purpose of the Dinkheller video, and many others like it shown at police academies, is to teach officers that any situation could escalate to violence. Cop killers lurk around every corner.

It’s true that policing is a relatively dangerous job. But contrary to the impression the Dinkheller video might give trainees, murders of police are not the omnipresent threat they are made out to be. The number of police killings across the country has been falling for decades; there’s been a 90 percent drop in ambush killings of officers since 1970. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 13 per 100,000 police officers died on the job in 2017. Compare that to farmers (24 deaths per 100,000), truck drivers (26.9 per 100,000), and trash collectors (34.9 per 100,000). But police academies and field training officers hammer home the risk of violent death to officers again and again.

It’s not just training and socialization, though: The very nature of the job reinforces the sense of fear and threat. Law enforcement isn’t called to people’s homes and streets when things are going well. Officers constantly find themselves thrown into situations where a seemingly normal interaction has gone haywire — a marital argument devolving into domestic violence, for example.

“For them, any scene can turn into a potential danger,” says Eugene Paoline III, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida. “They’re taught, through their experiences, that very routine events can go bad.”

Michael Sierra-Arevalo, a professor at Rutgers University, calls the police obsession with violent death “the danger imperative.” After conducting 1,000 hours of interviews with 94 police officers, he found that the risk of violent death occupies an extraordinary amount of mental space for many officers — far more so than it should, given the objective risks.

Here’s what I mean: According to the past 20 years of FBI data on officer fatalities, 1,001 officers have been killed by firearms while 760 have died in car crashes. For this reason, police officers are, like the rest of us, required to wear seat belts at all times.

In reality, many choose not to wear them even when speeding through city streets. Sierra-Arevalo rode along with one police officer, whom he calls officer Doyle, during a car chase where Doyle was going around 100 miles per hour — and still not wearing a seat belt. Sierra-Arevalo asked him why he did things like this. Here’s what Doyle said:

There’s times where I’ll be driving and the next thing you know I’ll be like, ‘Oh shit, that dude’s got a fucking gun!’ I’ll stop [mimics tires screeching], try to get out — fuck. Stuck on the seat belt … I’d rather just be able to jump out on people, you know. If I have to, be able to jump out of this deathtrap of a car.

Despite the fact that fatal car accidents are a risk for police, officers like Doyle prioritize their ability to respond to one specific shooting scenario over the clear and consistent benefits of wearing a seat belt.

“Knowing officers consistently claim safety is their primary concern, multiple drivers not wearing a seatbelt and speeding towards the same call should be interpreted as an unacceptable danger; it is not,” Sierra-Arevalo writes. “The danger imperative — the preoccupation with violence and the provision of officer safety — contributes to officer behaviors that, though perceived as keeping them safe, in fact put them in great physical danger.”

This outsized attention to violence doesn’t just make officers a threat to themselves. It’s also part of what makes them a threat to citizens.

Because officers are hyper-attuned to the risks of attacks, they tend to believe that they must always be prepared to use force against them — sometimes even disproportionate force. Many officers believe that, if they are humiliated or undermined by a civilian, that civilian might be more willing to physically threaten them.

Scholars of policing call this concept “maintaining the edge,” and it’s a vital reason why officers seem so willing to employ force that appears obviously excessive when captured by body cams and cellphones.

“To let down that edge is perceived as inviting chaos, and thus danger,” Moskos says.

This mindset helps explain why so many instances of police violence — like George Floyd’s killing by officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis — happen during struggles related to arrest.

In these situations, the officers aren’t always threatened with a deadly weapon: Floyd, for example, was unarmed. But when the officer decides the suspect is disrespecting them or resisting their commands, they feel the need to use force to reestablish the edge.

They need to make the suspect submit to their authority.

A siege mentality

Police officers today tend to see themselves as engaged in a lonely, armed struggle against the criminal element. They are judged by their effectiveness at that task, measured by internal data such as arrest numbers and crime rates in the areas they patrol. Officers believe these efforts are underappreciated by the general public; according to a 2017 Pew report, 86 percent of police believe the public doesn’t really understand the “risks and challenges” involved in their job.

Rizer, the former officer and R Street researcher, recently conducted a separate large-scale survey of American police officers. One of the questions he asked was whether they would want their children to become police officers. A majority, around 60 percent, said no — for reasons that, in Rizer’s words, “blew me away.”

“The vast majority of people that said ‘no, I don’t want them to become a police officer’ was because they felt like the public no longer supported them — and that they were ‘at war’ with the public,” he tells me. “There’s a ‘me versus them’ kind of worldview, that we’re not part of this community that we’re patrolling.”

You can see this mentality on display in the widespread police adoption of an emblem called the “thin blue line.” In one version of the symbol, two black rectangles are separated by a dark blue horizontal line. The rectangles represent the public and criminals, respectively; the blue line separating them is the police.

In another, the blue line replaces the central white stripe in a black-and-white American flag, separating the stars from the stripes below. During the recent anti-police violence protests in Cincinnati, Ohio, officers raised this modified banner outside their station.

 Stephen Maturen/Getty Images
A demonstrator holds a “thin blue line” flag and a sign in support of police during a protest outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 27.

In the “thin blue line” mindset, loyalty to the badge is paramount; reporting excessive force or the use of racial slurs by a colleague is an act of treason. This emphasis on loyalty can create conditions for abuses, even systematic ones, to take place: Officers at one station in Chicago, Illinois, tortured at least 125 Black suspects between 1972 and 1991. These crimes were uncovered by the dogged work of an investigative journalist rather than a police whistleblower.

“Officers, when they get wind that something might be wrong, either participate in it themselves when they’re commanded to — or they actively ignore it, find ways to look the other way,” says Laurence Ralph, a Princeton professor and the author of The Torture Letters, a recent book on the abuses in Chicago.

This insularity and siege mentality is not universal among American police. Worldviews vary from person to person and department to department; many officers are decent people who work hard to get to know citizens and address their concerns.

But it is powerful enough, experts say, to distort departments across the country. It has seriously undermined some recent efforts to reorient the police toward working more closely with local communities, generally pushing departments away from deep engagement with citizens and toward a more militarized and aggressive model.

“The police have been in the midst of an epic ideological battle. It’s been taking place ever since the supposed community policing revolution started back in the 1980s,” says Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “In the last 10 to 15 years, the more toxic elements have been far more influential.”

Since the George Floyd protests began, police have tear-gassed protesters in 100 different US cities. This is not an accident or the result of behaviors by a few bad apples. Instead, it reflects the fact that officers see themselves as at war — and the protesters as the enemies.

A 2017 study by Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, a sociologist at Colorado State University-Pueblo, examined data on 7,000 protests from 1960 to 1995. She found that “police are much more likely to try to quell protests that criticize police conduct.”

“Recent scholarship argues that, over the last twenty years, protest policing [has gotten] more aggressive and less impartial,” Reynolds-Stenson concludes. “The pattern of disproportionate repression of police brutality protests found in this study may be even more pronounced today.”

There’s a reason that, after New York Police Department Lt. Robert Cattani kneeled alongside Black Lives Matter protesters on May 31, he sent an email to his precinct apologizing for the “horrible decision to give into a crowd of protesters’ demands.” In his mind, the decision to work with the crowd amounted to collaboration with the enemy.

“The cop in me,” Cattani wrote, “wants to kick my own ass.”

Anti-Blackness

Policing in the United States has always been bound up with the color line. In the South, police departments emerged out of 18th century slave patrols — bands of men working to discipline slaves, facilitate their transfer between plantations, and catch runaways. In the North, professional police departments came about as a response to a series of mid-19th century urban upheavals — many of which, like the 1834 New York anti-abolition riot, had their origins in racial strife.

While policing has changed dramatically since then, there’s clear evidence of continued structural racism in American policing. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has compiled an extensive list of academic studies documenting this fact, covering everything from traffic stops to use of deadly force. Research has confirmed that this is a nationwide problem, involving a significant percentage of officers.

When talking about race in policing and the way it relates to police ideology, there are two related phenomena to think about.

The first is overt racism. In some police departments, the culture permits a minority of racists on the force to commit brutal acts of racial violence with impunity.

Examples of explicit racism abound in police officer conduct. The following three incidents were reported in the past month alone:

  • In leaked audio, Wilmington, North Carolina, officer Kevin Piner said, “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering [Blacks],” adding that he “can’t wait” for a new civil war so whites could “wipe them off the fucking map.” Piner was dismissed from the force, as were two other officers involved in the conversation.
  • Joey Lawn, a 10-year veteran of the Meridian, Mississippi, force, was fired for using an unspecified racial slur against a Black colleague during a 2018 exercise. Lawn’s boss, John Griffith, was demoted from captain to lieutenant for failing to punish Lawn at the time.
  • Four officers in San Jose, California, were put on administrative leave amid an investigation into their membership in a secret Facebook group. In a public post, officer Mark Pimentel wrote that “black lives don’t really matter”; in another private one, retired officer Michael Nagel wrote about female Muslim prisoners: “i say we repurpose the hijabs into nooses.”

In all of these cases, superiors punished officers for their offensive comments and actions — but only after they came to light. It’s safe to say a lot more go unreported.

Last April, a human resources manager in San Francisco’s city government quit after spending two years conducting anti-bias training for the city’s police force. In an exit email sent to his boss and the city’s police chief, he wrote that “the degree of anti-black sentiment throughout SFPD is extreme,” adding that “while there are some at SFPD who possess somewhat of a balanced view of racism and anti-blackness, there are an equal number (if not more) — who possess and exude deeply rooted anti-black sentiments.”

Psychological research suggests that white officers are disproportionately likely to demonstrate a personality trait called “social dominance orientation.” Individuals with high levels of this trait tend to believe that existing social hierarchies are not only necessary, but morally justified — that inequalities reflect the way that things actually should be. The concept was originally formulated in the 1990s as a way of explaining why some people are more likely to accept what a group of researchers termed “ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality,” including “the ideology of anti-Black racism.”

 Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images
A demonstrator walks past a mural for George Floyd during a protest near the White House in Washington, DC, on June 4.

This helps us understand why some officers are more likely to use force against Black suspects, even unarmed ones. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychologist at John Jay and the CEO of the Center for Policing Equity think tank, has done forthcoming research on the distribution of social dominance orientation among officers in three different cities. Goff and his co-authors found that white officers who score very highly in this trait tend to use force more frequently than those who don’t.

“If you think the social hierarchy is good, then maybe you’re more willing to use violence from the state’s perspective to enforce that hierarchy — and you think that’s your job,” he tells me.

But while the problem of overt racism and explicit commitment to racial hierarchy is a serious one, it’s not necessarily the central problem in modern policing.

The second manifestation of anti-Blackness is more subtle. The very nature of policing, in which officers perform a dizzying array of stressful tasks for long hours, brings out the worst in people. The psychological stressors combine with police ideology and widespread cultural stereotypes to push officers, even ones who don’t hold overtly racist beliefs, to treat Black people as more suspect and more dangerous. It’s not just the officers who are the problem; it’s the society they come from, and the things that society asks them to do.

While overt racists may be overrepresented on police forces, the average white officer’s beliefs are not all that different from those of the average white person in their local community. According to Goff, tests of racial bias reveal somewhat higher rates of prejudice among officers than the general population, but the effect size tends to be swamped by demographic and regional effects.

“If you live in a racist city, that’s going to matter more for how racist your law enforcement is ... than looking at the difference between law enforcement and your neighbors,” he told me.

In this sense, the rising diversity of America’s officer corps should make a real difference. If you draw from a demographically different pool of recruits, one with overall lower levels of racial bias, then there should be less of a problem with racism on the force.

There’s some data to back this up. Pew’s 2017 survey of officers found that Black officers and female officers were considerably more sympathetic to anti-police brutality protesters than white ones. A 2016 paper on officer-involved killings of Black people, from Yale’s Joscha Legewie and Columbia’s Jeffrey Fagan, found that departments with a larger percentage of Black officers had lower rates of killings of Black people.

But scholars caution that diversity will not, on its own, solve policing’s problems. In Pew’s survey, 60 percent of Hispanic and white officers said their departments had “excellent” or “good” relations with the local Black community, while only 32 percent of Black officers said the same. The hierarchy of policing remains extremely white — across cities, departmental brass and police unions tend to be disproportionately white relative to the rank-and-file. And the existing culture in many departments pushes nonwhite officers to try and fit in with what’s been established by the white hierarchy.

“We have seen that officers of color actually face increased pressure to fit into the existing culture of policing and may go out of their way to align themselves with traditional police tactics,” says Shannon Portillo, a scholar of bureaucratic culture at the University of Kansas-Edwards.

There’s a deeper problem than mere representation. The very nature of policing, both police ideology and the nuts-and-bolts nature of the job, can bring out the worst in people — especially when it comes to deep-seated racial prejudices and stereotypes.

The intersection of commonly held stereotypes with police ideology can prime officers for abusive behavior, especially when they’re patrolling majority-Black neighborhoods where residents have long-standing grievances against the cops. Some kind of incident with a Black citizen is certain to set off a confrontation; officers will eventually feel the need to escalate well beyond what seems necessary or even acceptable from the outside to protect themselves.

“The drug dealer — if he says ‘fuck you’ one day, it’s like getting punked on the playground. You have to go through that every day,” says Moskos, the former Baltimore officer. “You’re not allowed to get punked as a cop, not just because of your ego but because of the danger of it.”

The problems with ideology and prejudice are dramatically intensified by the demanding nature of the policing profession. Officers work a difficult job for long hours, called upon to handle responsibilities ranging from mental health intervention to spousal dispute resolution. While on shift, they are constantly anxious, searching for the next threat or potential arrest.

Stress gets to them even off the job; PTSD and marital strife are common problems. It’s a kind of negative feedback loop: The job makes them stressed and nervous, which damages their mental health and personal relationships, which raises their overall level of stress and makes the job even more taxing.

According to Goff, it’s hard to overstate how much more likely people are to be racist under these circumstances. When you put people under stress, they tend to make snap judgments rooted in their basic instincts. For police officers, raised in a racist society and socialized in a violent work atmosphere, that makes racist behavior inevitable.

“The mission and practice of policing is not aligned with what we know about how to keep people from acting on the kinds of implicit biases and mental shortcuts,” he says. “You could design a job where that’s not how it works. We have not chosen to do that for policing.”


Across the United States, we have created a system that makes disproportionate police targeting of Black citizens an inevitability. Officers don’t need to be especially racist as compared to the general population for discrimination to recur over and over; it’s the nature of the police profession, the beliefs that permeate it, and the situations in which officers find themselves that lead them to act in racist ways.

This reality helps us understand why the current protests have been so forceful: they are an expression of long-held rage against an institution that Black communities experience less as a protection force and more as a sort of military occupation.

 David Dee Delgado/Getty Images
Police officers often represent more of a military occupation than a protection force for Black communities.

In one landmark project, a team including Yale’s Meares and Hopkins’s Vesla Weaver facilitated more than 850 conversations about policing among residents of six different cities, finding a pervasive sense of police lawlessness among residents of highly policed Black communities.

Residents believe that police see them as subhuman or animal, that interactions with officers invariably end with arrests and/or physical assaults, and that the Constitution’s protections against police abuse don’t apply to Black people.

“[It’s often said that] if you don’t have anything on you, just agree to a search and everything will be okay. Let me tell you, that’s not what happens,” Weaver tells me, summarizing the beliefs of her research subjects. “What actually happens is that you’re bound to get beat up, you’re bound to get dragged to the station. The police can search you for whatever. We don’t get due process, we don’t get restitution — this is what we live by.”

Police don’t treat whole communities like this because they’re born worse or more evil than civilians. It’s better to understand the majority of officers as ordinary Americans who are thrown into a system that conditions them to be violent and to treat Black people, in particular, as the enemy. While some departments are better than others at ameliorating this problem, there’s not a city in the country that appears to have solved it entirely.

Rizer summarizes the problem by telling me about one new officer’s experience in Baltimore.

“This was a great young man,” Rizer says. “He joined the Baltimore Police Department because he wanted to make a difference.”

Six months after this man graduated from the academy, Rizer checked in on him to see how he was doing. It wasn’t good.

“They’re animals. All of them,” Rizer recalls the young officer telling him. “The cops, the people I patrol, everybody. They’re just fucking animals.”

This man was, in Rizer’s mind, “the embodiment of what a good police officer should have been.” Some time after their conversation, he quit the force — pushed out by a system that takes people in and breaks them, on both sides of the law.


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Long-term Muscle Relaxant Use Nearly Triples in the US

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Long-term use of skeletal muscle relaxants nearly tripled in the US between 2005 and 2016. These medications were prescribed disproportionately to older adults, often in combination with an opioid.
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FFS, legalize it already.
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