Wednesday, September 14, 2016

For the record: training cops to act like an army


Northern California has just completed hosting Urban Shield. The Guardian explained:

Urban Shield is the ultimate intersection of law enforcement, the military industrial complex and the tech industry. Now in its 10th year, the Department of Homeland Security-funded event attracts SWAT teams from 40 local and international police departments, including the University of California, Berkeley, and Mexico’s federal police.

I note that San Francisco's rogue police department is a listed participant. Great -- the last thing we need is more police training in subduing residents.

My friend John Lindsey-Poland is a justice activist with the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the American Friends Service Committee who has devoted a life to working for non-violent solutions to conflict in such places as Colombia. Lindsey-Poland was arrested last week protesting Urban Shield and explained why at the Huffington Post. Here are some excerpts:

If you are a good person, a police officer, and I give you military tools for fighting enemies, if prosecutors don’t hold your peers accountable when they commit crimes or use excessive force, if you don’t live in the community where you work, if you are not aware of implicit racial bias or toxic masculinity, then even you as a good person will likely commit abuses.

... Today’s normalization of militarized policing is evident in the phrase “first responders,” which conflates police with fire and EMS personnel, and removes from the meaning of law enforcement its capacity for force and violence. It also makes invisible those who are typically first responders: family, neighbors, and other community members. The phrase sounds so good, especially when Sheriff spokesmen reference emergencies such as earthquakes. Of course we want agencies that will help us prepare for and respond to natural disasters. But why would you want a SWAT team to be the first to respond to an earthquake?

... The other image invoked for Urban Shield training is of terrorists hell-bent on killing and destroying, for which no negotiation or de-escalation skills supposedly can be applied. In fact, an FBI study of 160 active shooter incidents found that a majority of the incidents ended on the shooter’s initiative, most before police arrived on the scene; in 21 incidents, unarmed citizens - primarily staff and students in school shootings - safely restrained the shooter.

Urban Shield training is actually applied to much more ordinary law enforcement. Two thirds of SWAT team deployments in 2014-2015 disclosed by police departments that participated in Urban Shield and responded to public records requests were for serving search, arrests and parole warrants, rather than for situations requiring specialized tactical capacities. Limited data indicate they also were deployed disproportionately against people of color, consistent with a national study by the American Civil Liberties Union.

... A colleague of mine who comes from a family with many police officers observes that police are exposed to the worst in people, while also having enormous power. They are, after all, authorized to use lethal force in some circumstances. The combination of pessimism with power, he notes, has awful consequences. And current training focused on worst-case scenarios reinforces both of these features.

This is what San Franciscans are up against as we seek to restrain the SFPD's use of force.

San Franciscans are struggling these days to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 40 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over. Calls for reform seem to achieve little. I plan to write an occasional post "for the record" about aspects of police use of force.

1 comment:

Hattie said...

And our police department in this small place has killed three citizens in the past few months.

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