The Supreme Court ruled years ago and more than once (DeShaney vs. Winnebago and Town of Castle Rock vs. Gonzales), that police agencies and individual officers are not obligated to provide protection of citizens.
Of course they did. Because that’s what they do. They inflict violence on people they perceive have no power, and that they believe will lose any we said/cop said scenario. They almost always escalate. It’s a version of the old “if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.” Police academy training primes them to assume that everyone not wearing a badge is just someone waiting for an excuse to attack them, and they only tools they believe they can rely on are violence and the complicity of their fellow officers.
Which is why we’re protesting and making various demands. Congress critters claim they have heard us and are ready to get serious on reform. One of the problems is that one of the only tools Congress has is money. Which means that any reform bill they come up with is going to result in more money going to police departments, not less.
If they were serious at reform they would look at those federal cases, we see that in the eyes of the law, cops are just crime accountants, not crime fighters. Their only obligations are to observe and record the aftermath of crimes, not prevent crimes, and not even to arrest criminals if they don’t want to.
So what we need is a Law Enforcement Act. The Civil Rights Act of 1964 outlawed various kinds of discrimination under an argument that while the Constitution guarantees basic civil rights, it doesn’t always spell out what those rights are. Though the Tenth Amendment does say that powers not specifically delegated to the federal government in the Constitution belong to the States and to the People. And the Fourteenth Amendment says that no person can be deprived of the equal protection of the law and that citizens can’t have their rights abridged has often been interpreted as affirming that people are entitled to rights not spelled out elsewhere. That was most of the legal justification of the Civil Rights Act: at attempt by Congress to define what some of those unspecified rights are, and to provide a framework for the enforcement of both enumerated and unspecified rights.
The Law Enforcement Act could extend that framework, though the points I suggest such an Act must have can be read right out of one ennumerated right from the First Amendment, and one part of the Fourteenth.
Lots of people claim all sorts of things are protected by the First Amendment, and I don’t want to get into that debate. For this purpose, I’m going to stick to the text. One of the rights specifically mentioned in the First Amendment that most people forget about is the right “to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” My proposed Law Enforcement Act would define the following things as part of that right to petition the Government:
The right to sue individual police, police departments, and local and state governments which fund those police departments for failure to protect ordinary residents, or for police misconduct that harms a person or deprives them of property, or for wrongful death. In other words, repeal limited immunity.
The right to require public hearings for police misconduct allegations, and a right for ordinary residents who make such allegations to appeal any findings of the misconduct hearings to a civil authority outside the police department.
The right to demand judicial review of clauses of police union contracts which in any way impede those aforementioned rights
the right to have any property seized through asset forfeiture returned (and in the case of cash, with interest) unless there is a conviction by a jury of a crime related to said assets. (I would prefer that asset forfeiture be outlawed completely, but I know that’s not going to happen.)
Next, turning to the Fourteenth Amendment, one of the rights that it forbids States from infringing is “the equal protection of the laws.” And so the act should spell out the equal protection includes:
An obligation of the police to protect all persons within their jurisdiction.
Any State the fails to enact laws that protect the rights listed in the Act shall be denied all federal monies for any current or future program to support law enforcement.
There are a lot of others things that Act ought to have, but if we can just get the right to sue the police and government over misconduct and failure to protect citizens, the stick of all those lawsuits is going to force police reform.
Let’s change topics
Since the surprisingly pro-LGBTQ pro-trans Supreme Court ruling about employment discrimination, I have heard and read a lot of queer folks incorrectly saying that the Court found employment discrimination about queer folks unconstitutional. No. The ruling was not about constitutionality. It was a statutory interpretation ruling. It was a logical recognition that discrimination against LGBTQ people is a form of sex discrimination. The ruling could probably be undone by the simple passage of a law of Congress that “clarifies” the meaning of sex discrimination in the earlier law.
Now, as long as the Democrats control at least one house of Congress, that isn’t likely to happen. And, heck, if you noticed how few Republican Senators put out a spirited criticism of the ruling, reflects the reality that a large majority of voters support the ruling, so support for such a bill is likely soft on the Republican side.
However, religious freedom is explicitly protected in the Constitution, so we shouldn’t be surprised if, before the Court adjourns for the summer, one of those so-called Religious Freedom cases doesn’t walk much of that ruling back (Like Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berru which was just argued last month). And whether it does or not, we can expect a lot more attempts to invalidate our lives in the name of religion.
Laws have frequently been used to target minorities and marginalized people who are not doing what most people would think of as criminal activity. When writing about the origins of Pride Month, I often mention that before the early-to-mid-seventies it was illegal for a woman to wear pants in public. This seems crazy to most people now, and it sometimes came as a shock to people back then, but there it was.
Other laws sound more reasonable until you understand how they were actually applied. For example, in 1968 the Nixon campaign committee came up with the idea of the War on Drugs as a way to target two groups which opposed all of Nixon’s priorities: black people and those opposed to the Vietnam War. Many years after the fact, Nixon domestic policy chief, John Ehrlichman, explained it:
“You understand what I’m saying? We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities,” Ehrlichman said. “We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.”
Long before that loitering laws were used to harass anyone that the powers that be found undesirable. Loitering was usually defined as “a person simply being in a public place for no apparent reason.” In 1972 the Supreme Court ruled that loitering ordinances and vagrancy ordinances were unconstitutional for two reason: they were so vague that a common citizens couldn’t be sure what behavior constituted the crime, and police were able to arbitrarily enforce it on people who were poor, members of minorities, and so forth.
Historically, the laws were almost always used to target minorities.
The Supreme Court ruling led many jurisdictions to replace the ordinances with so-called “loitering plus” laws. These were ordinances supposedly didn’t make simply being in a public place a crime, but rather being in public for various nefarious purposes. And one of the most popular in the late 80s and 90s were so-called “drug loitering” laws. These laws allowed police to demand ID and to perform personal searches on anyone who was in public and behaving in a way that made the cop suspect that maybe they might possibly be trying to buy or sell illegal drugs. Common activities that could get you arrested under these laws were such horrible criminal acts as: looking at the cars driving by on the roadway, waving at someone, appearing to be trying to make contact with other pedestrians on the sidewalk.
And the sad thing is that even though people tried to appeal these laws to the Supreme Court, it hasn’t accepted such a case for review in decades.
The City of Seattle passed one of these laws back in the 90s. I donated money to a campaign that tried to appeal the low through the courts. When that didn’t get anywhere, I donated money and even volunteered to phone back for a campaign that tried to get an initiative on the ballot to repeal the law. We didn’t succeed.
Year after year people brought forward evidence that both the drug loitering ordinance and the prostitution loitering ordinance were disproportionately used to target black people and gender-non-conforming people, the laws stayed on the books. A few years ago a new city attorney was elected he ceased prosecutions on the two laws precisely for those reasons, but it didn’t really solve the problem, because the next city attorney could just start filing the charges again, and cops would know they could start harassing people in the name of those laws again.
This is a direct result of the Black Lives Matter protests still going on in the city. So we’ve made a teensy bit of progress!
There are many other problems to address. The biggest problem is that virtually all politicians and most common people believe that myth that police forces protect the public from crime. Statistically, they don’t. Of the most common categories of property crime (burglary, larceny, auto theft), only between 13% to 22% of those reported result in an arrest. And those percentages have been so low, that by best estimates, less than 29% of burglaries and larceny are even reported—that means fewer than 4% of such crimes are ever solved!. Heck, fewer the 70% of car thefts are reported to police!
Only abut 38% of rape cases reported to police are cleared (and a laughably even tinier percentage result in any conviction). And since only 25%-40% of sexual assaults are even reported to the police, again we’re looking at fewer than 10% leading to an arrest. Only about 60% of murders are ever solved.
Meanwhile, through abuse of asset forfeiture laws, law enforcement agencies steal far more from the people in their communities that all the burglaries and other robbery categories combined!
There are many reasons for this. One is that in most police departments across the country, the units tasks with investigating robberies and sexual assaults get the lowest budgets, and for various reasons even then, they are the departments most likely to be understaffed (as in, fewer officers actually working in those divisions than is budgeted for).
And then there are the cultural issues. K.L. Williams is a former police chief who now runs the Institute of Justice and Accountability, trying to reform police training (among other things). He sums up the police culture problem this way: about 15% of officers will do the right thing no matter what. And approximately 15% percent of officers will abuse their authority at every opportunity. The remaining 70% could go either way depending on whom they are working with.
At first glance that might not seem too bad—only 15% of cops are abusing their authority, right? But with 70% willing to look the other way and even cover up for the bad cops, that means that it’s 85% of cops who are bad, nut merely 15%. And surveys of cops have shown that a clear majority of cops admit that most of the colleagues routinely look the other way and often help cover up misconduct by other cops.
It’s just just that systemic racism, homophobia, and misogyny leads policing to victimize, rather than protect, minorities and marginalized people—those things combined with police attitudes about the public in general and anyone they perceive as being worth even less than the public means that queer (especially gender-non-conforming) and trans people have been oppressed, harassed, and abused by police forever. And as the article above explains, race, perceived ethnicity (not always the same thing), and perceived immigration status simply amplify that.
Which brings us full circle back to the trans women of color who threw the first bunches, the first bricks, the first shot glasses, that started the Stonewall Riots.
I know this is something I’ve written about before on this blog, but as we approach what would have been the weekend of the Pride Parade here in Seattle (and many other cities around the country)—while the world is engulfed in a pandemic, and many protests about police brutality and racial inequality—it is vital to remember that the first Pride was a riot. Or, rather, a series of riots the continued for several nights after that first uprising in response to yet another police raid on a gay bar. No one knows for certain why that night people started fighting back. I think it was simply that a bunch of those trans and gender-non-conforming women of color were simply fed up.
And no, the Stonewall riots weren’t the first time that queers had protested and rioted over police brutality of queer people.
In 1959 in Los Angeles, for instance, there was the Cooper Do-nuts Riot. Cooper Do-nuts was a 24-hour donut shop located about halfway between two of the city’s gay bars. It was a place where queer people often congregated at night. At the time it was illegal in California (and many other places and would remain so for many years after), for a person to appear in public wearing clothes traditionally worn by the opposite gender. Because cops liked having an easy excuse to harass queer people, the gay bars didn’t like lots of trans people and street queens to be inside. Cooper Do-nuts served everyone, so it was always full of not just LGBTQ patrons, but specifically trans people, drag queens, and other very obviously gender nonconforming people. So the cops routine showed up there, demanded to see people’s ID and would arrest anyone whose legal ID showed them to a different gender than how they were dressed.
And remember, at the time, that law meant it was illegal for women to wear pants.
Anyway, in May of 1959 a couple of cops came into the shop, demanded to see everyone’s ID, and then tried to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. As at least one of those being arrested protested, the crowd erupted, pelting the cops with donuts, trash, and in some cases hot coffee. The cops fled the scene without arresting anyone. Unfortunately, the cops came back with backup and blocked off the entire street. A lot of people wound up arrested.
In 1966 in San Fransisco the management of a Compton’s Cafe decided they didn’t like how many transgender people were hangin out in their cafe, and they started calling the police to get the customers arrested. This caused the community to organize a picket line outside the cafe. Cops were called to arrest the trans people again, and this time a riot broke out. The windows of the cafe were smashed, along with a lot of furniture and all the windows of the first cop car. Eventually reinforcements came in and the riot intensified, but a lot of the riots were beaten, shoved into paddy wagons, and thrown in jail.
While the riot didn’t inspire a national movement, it did motivate a lot of homeless queer youth and others to join an organization called Vanguard Street Actions which staged various mostly peaceful protests, and over time the city began to try making changes in policy to reduce police harassment of queer people.
On New Year’s Eve 1967, at a Los Angeles gay bar called the Black Cat Tavern, a busy New Year’s Eve party took place. The newspaper accounts later said the party was “hopping” and the crowd was happy. Right up until midnight, when couples all over the bar started kissing to ring in the New Year. And then a bunch of undercover police started beating and arresting those kissing couples. Fourteen people were arrested that night. There was no riot. Some weeks later there was an organized public demonstration, and organizations that were lobbying government officials for LGBTQ rights raised a lot of money for among other things to try to appeal the convictions of some of the arrested same-sex couples. The Advocate, which remains a leading queer news source, was founded as a newsletter as part of the organized protests because of the Black Cat raid.
Seven months later, at another Los Angeles gay bar called the Patch, police raided one night, and started arresting people. The owner of the bar, Lee Glaze, jumped up on stage and got the crowd to chant various slogans and tried to convince the cops to let the arrestees go. When they didn’t work, they did not riot. Instead, Glaze led the rest of the crowd up the street to a flower shop, where they bought every single flower in the shop, and then marched to the police station, handing out flowers and chanting as they went. The protested peacefully outside the precinct until everyone arrested made bail and was released.
One of the protesters was a formerly-closeted pastor (who had been kicked out of the church) named Troy Perry, whose boyfriend (Tony Valdez) was among those arrested. After making bail, Valdez told Perry that his jail experience convinced him that god doesn’t love queer people. Perry decided to stop trying to fit in at the established churches that looked at his queerness as a sin, and to found a gay friendly church, which is how the Metropolitan Community Church came into being.
And then the next year the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City…
So that night at Stonewall wasn’t the first time that queer people got fed up with police harassment and brutality, but it was the first time where the protests and rioting continued for many days afterward. And probably because one of the newspapers that tried to cover the events objectively, The Village Voice, was read by a lot of professional journalists and academics far outside of New York City, is why Stonewall seemed to kick off a more organized fight for LGBTQ rights. Within a year, chapters of the new Gay Liberation Front had opened in many cities around the country, and within a couple more years nearly every college town in the U.S. had a chapter.
Most of the people targeted by the police in all of those incidents were those who were gender-nonconforming and/or not white. The cops harassed any queers that they could, but those were the people who got singled out every time. And in most of the cases they were the ones who get fed up and fought back.
I’m an old, white-bearded, cisgender blue-eyed white gay guy who is college educated and work in the software industry. A lot of people think that the LGBTQ rights movement is about and for people like me. But the real heroes, the first leaders, were the trans women of color. And just as we should never forget that they only gave us rights because queers gave them riots, we should remember that it was those trans and gender-non-conforming people of color who started and inspired the riots by fighting back against police brutality.
Once again it is time for one of my Saturday posts where I talk about news stories that either broke after I finished this week’s Friday Five, or was linked in a previous post and has had new developments since it was linked, or otherwise bears sharing now rather than later. Along with more commentary from me than usually accompanies the Friday Five posts. This a a particularly weird collection today. Let’s go!
First, let’s deal with something outside the usual news. Way, way outside:
Headline-grabbing asteroid 2002 NN4 has no chance of hitting us. That’s right, many news sites were posting click-baity headlines about a giant asteroid heading towards Earth! Toward us! And fast! And it’s huge! And it might miss us… or… None say it is going to hit, they just phrase it in the headline as if it’s going to be a near thing.
So now let’s go from things millions of miles away to things really close to home (at least for me):
Welcome to Modified Phase 1, King County. Where I live, we are getting a slight relaxation of the quarantine protocols. Retail businesses that were closed can open with restrictions. We haven’t turned the curve, yet, here–because we have an international air port and a lot of hospitals that have to accept patients from parts of the state that don’t have hospitals, we have been one of the epicenters of the contagion. That’s why we aren’t moving fully to Phase 2 of re-opening in this county.
Maybe that was a bit too local for you, so let’s move on.
It’s Pride Month! And you know how every year as us queer people start talking about Pride, people come out of the woodwork to tell us that we should stop making a fuss because we have our rights now? Well… 51 Years After Stonewall, Police Target Gay Bars And Queer Activists Amid George Floyd Protests. The first pride was a riot. It was a rebellion and a protest against police brutality in 1969. Stonewall may have energized the LGBTQ+ rights movement, but it didn’t end bullshit police raids of queer bars, and it certainly, as the linked story (and many, many others) shows, end police targeting queer people.
57 cops resigned from the Emergency Response Team to protest two of their colleagues being suspended. The police union spokesman issued a statement saying the two officers shouldn’t have been suspended. He wasn’t shoved, they all said, he just happened to fall down. The video is pretty clear that he was shoved. The more damning detail to me is the others just ignoring an elderly man laying bleeding on the ground.
They thought this mass resignation (note they didn’t resign from the force, just from this team) and protest would stop the investigation, but today the charges in the previous link were filed. Now, I think the Mayor or someone should be looking into firing the 57 other cops AND strongly implying in a public statement that their mass resignation might constitute aiding and abetting after the fact. Which is a crime…
I know, I live in a fantasy.
I could go on, but I’m starting to get depressed. The below clip isn’t exactly uplifting, but there is a part of Stephen Colbert’s monologue that sounds like the kind of speech we wish a president would make in times like this. Give it a listen.
After Days Of Unrest, America Needs Moral Leadership. Instead, We Have Donald Trump: