Police: The Strong Blue Thread

Evidence of The Safe Harbor Initiative.

Facebook user, Anthony Welichko posted the picture above with the following message about “The Safe Harbor Initiative.”

To all law enforcement who see this line, know that the residents of this home appreciate your service and dedication to keeping the peace. Know that when you enter the neighborhood and see these lines that you are not alone or without “back-up”. We do not need the media to make our voices of support for our police and emergency services heard ( though it would be nice). Lastly, if you are in my neighborhood and mean to harm a member of law enforcement, know that decision may be hazardous to you health as someone has that officers back!

This initiative fits in with rising rhetoric that there is a “War on Police.” Nevermind that there is no such thing as a war on police. This rhetoric is a countermobilization of white citizens responding to the effectivness of the #BlackLivesMatter movement in shaping the broader political agenda, in part by increasing scrutiny of police practices, including their decisively racist outcomes. The response of white citizens when police come under criticism is to redouble their public, visible, and unquestioning support for the institution of police and all its officers.  Continue reading

What will we take away from the Ahmed Mohamed controversy?

Ahmed Mohamed, 14. Photo: Vernon Bryant, Dallas News.


On Monday, August 14, a 14-year-old ninth grade student, Ahmed Mohamed, was arrested for bringing a homemade clock to Irving MacArthur High School, his school in Irving, Texas.


Dark-skinned and a Muslim, Mohamed was clearly singled out on the basis of his ethnic and religious background. Of course, the school and police officials reject this assertion, but Mohamed’s family and many thousands of social media users aren’t buying it. The rapid, nationwide attention to Mohamed’s case provides an opportunity. Not only have charges been dropped against Mohamed, but it is unlikely that his detention and arrest will produce the negative reputation they otherwise would have. When applying to colleges, his Islamic name and the box checked indicating that he has been arrested would otherwise be cause for rejection. Instead, the details of his arrest are widely known and assessed as illegitimate. That’s great news for Mohamed, and this alone is a laudable outcome of social media activism.

This case not only provides an opportunity for justice for Mohamed. It exposes the pernicious and often racist outcomes of zero tolerance policies, school policing, and their contributions to the school-to-prison pipeline. But I’m not so sure it will play such a role.

More likely, this case will demonstrate the pervasiveness of respectability politics. Wearing a NASA shirt while arrested for his electronics “maker” project, Mohamed is likely to be used as a model for respectable children of color and observant Muslims. His case won’t be generalized to represent the evil of school policing precisely because he will treated as exceptional. And, in treating him as such a symbol, those celebrating his cause will implicitly reproduce the same symbolic violence that allowed him to be selected by police on the basis of his skin tone and religion in the first place. He will be a symbol of what dark-skinned persons and Muslims ought to be in order to earn support when they are victimized by police and zero tolerance policies. If he were wearing a thobe instead of a NASA t-shirt, or in possession of a common pocket knife instead of a homemade clock, Mohamed would unlikely be known to many. If he were, his arrest would provoke widespread justification.

Mohamed’s respectability as a “maker” and an especially gifted young man has produced his public innocence. Now that many Americans know about him in his specificity, they will not see him as the variety of person the security apparatus is designed to guard against. He was one of the innocents caught in the net. The phenomenon of innocent people being mistakenly harmed by the very systems of security the same people otherwise promote commonly provokes broad anxieties, but especially those of suburban, middle class American whites, particularly in a time when they are distrustful of government. Nearly all discourse about privacy and fears of surveillance is grounded in this phenomenon. When policing and its unjust or brutal outcomes generates much controversy, most concern is centered around the innocence of the aggrieved individual. Any bit of information that is construed as evidence against innocence is certain to result in a loss of public concern for the victimized person—and often generates open support for the injustice the person experienced.

If we are to challenge the school-to-prison pipeline, we must recognize that it was a net designed in part to fabricate the very terms of innocence and guilt. Those who are only concerned about those widely considered as innocent being mistakenly caught in that net are ultimately legitimating the net itself, and therefore the inextricably racialized terms by which innocence and guilt are established.

What we should take away from the Ahmed Mohamed controversy is that Mohamed is the tip of the iceberg. Unlike those real iceberg’s this civilization is rapidly melting to perpetuate itself, this metaphorical iceberg is increasing in size and for the very same reason. We should take away from Mohamed’s case the commitment to ensuring that one day no 14-year-old will be cuffed at school and absorbed into the criminal justice system.


School-To-Prison Pipeline Info-Graphic, from Community Coalition

Challenging Police Union Leadership in the War on the Poor and People of Color

Police Leadership in Manufacturing ‘War Zones’

Police increasingly describe the communities they occupy as war zones, their inhabitants as enemy combatants, and their jobs as wrought with danger. As a Pulaski County, Indiana Sheriff said:

The United States of America has become a war zone. There’s violence in the workplace, there’s violence in schools and there’s violence in the streets. You are seeing police departments going to a semi-military format because of the threats we have to counteract. If driving a military vehicle is going to protect officers, then that’s what I’m going to do.

Continue reading

The Reason Mike Brown Can’t Get Justice Has Nothing To Do With Cameras


After Darren Wilson was released from legal responsibility for his murder of Mike Brown, it seemed everyone wanted to believe things would have happened otherwise were the killing captured on video by cameras. “Put a camera on every cop, and we’ll have fewer Mike Browns,” they said.

But this fails to understand the fundamental nature of both police and of video imagery. We might not need much sophisticated analysis to see this, since the same week Obama announced his campaign to put cameras on 50,000 officers, the videotaped killing of Eric Garner failed to even secure an indictment. Continue reading

A Short Script on On-Officer Wearable Cameras and Civilian Complaints

The scene is an interrogation room. A small room with brick walls, painted in light green-grey. A two-way mirror is on one wall and a surveillance camera is mounted in the corner. 

In the center of the room is a table with a chair on either side. An empty chair is on the side of the table facing a closed door. In the other chair is John, a Black male in his early twenties, wearing a black t-shirt, jeans, and some dried blood around one bruised eye. 

An officer in uniform, named Dick, enters the room and sits at the table across from John.

John: Look, I’m not talking to you without my lawyer.

Dick: I understand.

John: No, I don’t think you understand. I want to talk to a white shirt and file a complaint for what you did to me.

Dick: Look, John, we got you for driving without insurance, which is going to cause enough problems for you. But I want to show you something else…

Dick pulls a small device from his duty belt. It looks like a smart phone, only larger and more ‘heavy duty.’ He presses a button and a video begins to play.

Dick: Watch this, right here… I tell you to put your hands behind your back.

The video plays. We hear Dick yelling, “Hands behind your back… behind your back motherfucker… Stop resisting… Stop resisting…” John replies, “I’m not resisting! What are you arresting me for? I have my rights! Tell me what you’re arresting me…” His voice trails off and we hear the sound of tussling bodies and heavy breathing. “Ow! Damn!” Dick stops the video.

John: See, you hit me for no reason. I want my lawyer.

Dick: I told you to put your hands behind your back and you put your arms to the side to avoid being cuffed-

John: I put my hands out so you wouldn’t accuse me of going for a weapon!

Dick: John, I was just attempting to place you in cuffs for my safety, and you resisted. So I can also charge you with resisting arrest.

John: Bullshit, I-

Dick: And when I grabbed your arm you cocked back and elbowed me. That’s assaulting an officer. A felony. You could spend months in jail, maybe more.

John: I didn’t hit you, you hit me! Look at my face! I want to file a complaint.

Dick: Look, John, these complaints never go anywhere and you know that. But they are a real pain in the ass.

John: Well, I’m gonna be a pain in your ass when I sue you.

Dick: John. John. Calm down. Look, you’re facing charges for driving without insurance, resisting arrest, assaulting an officer. You’re looking at some serious time.

John: I want my lawyer.

Dick: How about we make this easier on both of us. If you are willing to let this go, we can stop this all right here and I’ll send you home with a traffic ticket. If you want to go ahead and file that complaint, this video will be played for a jury and you’re going to be doing some hard time. What do you say?

Fade out.

Cameras on Cops and Junk Science in Rialto

Some police departments are turning to wearable cameras, allowing their officers to record interactions with citizens. At the Taser International headquarters in Scottsdale, Ariz., Joseph LeDuc, a police officer, checked a video made with such a camera. (Photo: Joshua Lott, The New York Times)

Those of us who don’t confront the potential wide diffusion of on-officer body-worn cameras with excitement and hopefulness have already grown accustomed to some pat responses from advocates. Certain to be among them is the citation of a study from Rialto, California, that has made national news.

As the New York Times reported:

The Rialto study began in February 2012 and will run until this July [2013]. The results from the first 12 months are striking. Even with only half of the 54 uniformed patrol officers wearing cameras at any given time, the department over all had an 88 percent decline in the number of complaints filed against officers, compared with the 12 months before the study, to 3 from 24.

Rialto’s police officers also used force nearly 60 percent less often — in 25 instances, compared with 61. When force was used, it was twice as likely to have been applied by the officers who weren’t wearing cameras during that shift, the study found.

After completion of the study, Britain’s The Guardian relayed the same statistics and reported “Rialto’s randomised controlled study has seized attention because it offers scientific – and encouraging – findings.” Civilian police monitoring groups, like Police The Police, touted the new technology with an internet meme that circulated widely on social media. Continue reading

Police Violence Is Not A Problem Because Of Its Invisibility

Officers wearing riot gear walk through a park in downtown St. Louis on Sunday. (Photo: Tom Gannam/AP)


For months, in response to the killing of Michael Brown, Ferguson and Saint Louis have been sites of ongoing rebellion, with frequent actions of solidarity throughout the United States. Last week, after a grand jury declined to indict Michael Brown’s murderer, Officer Darren Wilson, protests erupted across the country.

In response, today US President Obama proposed a national program to outfit 50,000 police officers with body-worn cameras. Many, including Michael Brown’s family, advocate in favor of wearable cameras for police. Rashad Robinson of ColorOfChange.org wrote today that, “If what happened between Mike Brown and Darren Wilson had been captured on video, we would not be here today—and Michael Brown might be alive.” This advocacy is predicated on the idea that police violence is a problem because it remains hidden. Continue reading

An acknowledgment

Were I to strip all historical and political qualities to which Thanksgiving necessarily requires attention, I might say that today is a day that begs reflections of gratitude. The story I want to tell is one that has required no new reflection, because it has lingered in my thoughts daily since it happened. Though it is often on my mind, I have not told this story often, only because I know my words cannot do justice to the exemplary acts I wish to relate.
Continue reading

Civilians Less Violent, Cops More Violent, All More Visible

Policing Ferguson. Photograph by Scott Olson/Getty.

Police are safer than ever, civilians are less violent than ever, and violent force and imprisonment is more often to be expected by civilians—all under the watchful eye of cameras.


In the United States, violent crime rates continue to drop. Murders fell by 4.4 percent from 2012 to 2013, and are now at the lowest in around 40 years. According to the F.B.I. crime report, the U.S. had an estimated 1.16 million violent crimes last year, the lowest since 1.09 million were recorded in 1978. Adjusting for population, there are 4.3 violent crimes per year, per 1000 population now, compared with 4.9 in 1978. Continue reading