Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Glorification of police, even good ones, distracts from most productive solutions

The New England media outlets are in the process of glorifying at least two or three high profile police officers that were shot in the line of duty and two of them were killed. To the best of my knowledge there is no reason to believe that there are any major problems with any of them and I don't dispute that they're probably all reasonably good cops.

However all this attention on the glorification of these police does nothing to educate the public on the most effective ways to reduce crime and make these confrontations much less likely.

Instead of reporting on the most important research that could reduce crime the media routinely creates an enormous amount of hype that clearly seems to dramatize events and encourage hero worship, and even provide profitable opportunities for bushiness's selling memorial items like hats shirts and mugs etc. that often accommodate the hype.

No doubt some people might think it disrespectful to question all the hype and glorification of these police; however I wonder whether it is more disrespectful to go along with the hype and do little or nothing to prevent future confrontations or to try to draw attention to real solutions that have a much better chance of contributing to solutions.

If these memorials were done in moderation and the traditional media did more to inform the public about many of the contributing causes to violence and how to prevent them then I wouldn't have any objections. But that isn't the case and I mean no disrespect to the good police officers, quite the opposite; I believe that by addressing the social problems that precede these problems then murder rates, police shootings both by police and against police can be reduced even further than they already have been.

One of the biggest problems with the hyped up media coverage of shootouts is that they often give people the impression that the most effective way to solve problems is through increased militarization of police and escalating violence instead of addressing the root causes of violence and preventing them before they escalate.

As I indicated previously in The threat to police is greatly exaggerated even though there are a fair number of shootings of police that have been widely reported and hyped in the media it is much less common than it was in the seventies and especially in the twenties when shooting of police was at it's peak during the prohibition era. Murders and violent crime is also down since then.

However thanks to increasing amounts of hype the public often gets the impression that crime is getting worse; and they have little understanding of what causes it or why it is actually going down and how to reduce it even further. In a series of posts starting with Ignored evidence linking corporal punishment, poverty and crime grows and most recently Politicians increase crime; Grass roots efforts reduce crime; Politicians steal the credit I reviewed some of the biggest contributing causes to crime and violence and attempted to back it up with research, including some rough reviews of my own as well as peer reviewed studies from more traditional sources that are more credible but get little coverage in the mainstream media.

One of the biggest contributing causes to violence is almost certainly corporal punishment and child abuse which escalates to more violence later in life; this often includes bullying and hazing and even more willingness to go along with wars based on lies. It also includes research about how poverty, education and gambling among other things might contribute to more violence and how addressing these can reduce crime even more than it has already been reduced.

One of the biggest reasons for less violence and fewer murders of both citizens and police is almost certainly changes in child rearing that leads to less abuse and escalating violence over the past fifty years; however some of the contributing causes may actually be getting worse like income inequality and increased reliance on gambling or attempts to allow corporations to take over education, which is abandoning large segments of society.

Unfortunately the traditional media isn't covering this much at all; instead they come up with an enormous amount of hype like the following article, which may seem good at first glance but has problems when reviewed closer:

Wounded officer commanded respect in Iraq 03/28/2015

As a platoon leader in a volatile region of Iraq known as the “Triangle of Death,” Army Ranger Lieutenant John Moynihan used to say there were two ways to be a leader: pull rank and force soldiers to follow, or earn their respect. He knew — and his men knew — which kind he was.

“He lived by that respect,” said Joshua Bartlett, who served under Moynihan as a sergeant and team leader in 2007. Whether Moynihan’s men were taking heavy fire or laying concertina wire, Moynihan was right there in the middle of the action, working shoulder to shoulder. “He respected us, we respected him.”

On Saturday, Moynihan, who left the military and became a Boston police gang unit officer, lay in a medically induced coma at Boston Medical Center, a bullet lodged behind his right ear. Moynihan, who was honored for his bravery in the Watertown shootout with the Boston Marathon bombers in April 2013, had been shot point blank in the face, allegedly by a convicted felon with a history of shooting at police.

“It is clear that Officer Moynihan is a hero for our city, and the entire nation, and today we are thankful for all of those who put their lives on the line every day to protect us,” Mayor Martin J. Walsh said in a statement Saturday. Complete article

One major problem with the practice of glorifying police based on their past military experience, especially when it involves serving in Iraq, is that most of our military activities, if not all of them, are based on lies. Iraq is one of the most obvious cases; by now it is clear that there were no "weapons of mass destruction" there which was the reason for the war. Actually the evidence for that was public even before the war; but the propaganda at that time was being repeated over and over again while the truth was only reported in a much lower profile manner.

Real heroes would have refused to serve in an illegal war at all; however the traditional media continues to portray veterans who blindly obeyed orders as heroes and those who raised legitimate questions as cowards.

Another major problem is that it reinforces beliefs that the way to handle crime is to wait for the last minute and prepare for a shootout in some cases. This is being portrayed as justified since Angelo West presumably started shooting without provocation, and follow up research indicates that he had a violent past and was even involved in another shootout with police.

I have no reason to doubt it however if more time was put into thinking about why there are still some violent people around that pose a real threat then changes can be made to make them less likely. As indicated in previous blogs efforts to reduce child abuse can make it much less likely that someone like West, or the people involved in other police shootings, would become violent and Jonathan Kozol makes it clear in his books Savage Inequalities and The Shame of the Nation among others that many abandoned inner cities are much more likely to create environments where people are more likely to become violent when they have no opportunities and the only "hope" or "change" is part of a campaign slogan or promises that will be broken once a candidate gets into office.

It's easy for people to get outraged and say "That's no excuse!" And they might even be right about it not being an excuse but if people took the time to learn about the situation or if they actually had to live in the situations that Kozol describes then they would know that even if it isn't an excuse for shooting police it is a major contributing causes and if we didn't abandon inner cities it would be much less likely to happen.

If the traditional media did more to explain this then the public might understand that although, in the sort term, preventing violence may involve traditional methods that could result in more shootings, in the long term much more could be done to prevent confrontations from happening in the first place by addressing the root causes of shooting incidents. If better education and less abuse was available when Angelo West was raised as a child then this never would have happened.

By educating the public about this many more children can receive education instead of abuse that turns them violent.

It is much less expensive to educate children and prevent violence than it is to maintain large prison populations and cover the medical and other expenses after the fact. And most reasonable people would agree that the saving of lives is even more important than the saving of money.

Instead of educating the public about more effective ways of reducing crime the media is of course hyping the event to make it look like the police are our glorious protectors and this could be used to counter growing criticism about the police shootings where many unarmed people are being killed. It may make it seem as if we have to choose between letting them kill the police or killing them, which in some cases, thanks to lack of efforts to prevent it from getting to that point it might actually be true.

However as I have tried to indicate in previous blogs, when the government trains people to handle things in a violent way it leads to escalating violence not reduced violence or protection from crime. In Teach a soldier to kill and he just might I reviewed why some soldiers might be more prone to violence and indoctrinated to blindly obey orders; and in Is the militarization of the police leading to escalation of violence including Vegas shooting? I reviewed how police training and increased reliance on SWAT teams might be inciting more violence than they prevent and in A Brief History of Cops Convicted of Murder I indicated that some police were more violent than other citizens and it might be at least partially because of their training.

This doesn't mean that all cops should be considered violent and some of them have indicated that they agree and want to reform the system as much as the victims of police violence. Those officers do more to demonstrate that not all police are violent than the ones who attempt to claim that there is no problem at all and all police shootings are justified.

However the recent shooting in South Carolina by another police officer who was also a military veteran clearly raises additional doubts about how heroic police are and indicates that some of them have been involved in cover ups and that some of the hype about heroic police is based on lies. Not that I think people should conclude that officers like John Moynihan, Stephen Arkell or Michael Maloney are being glorified based on lies. I see no indication to come to that conclusion; but their glorification, when taken to too much of an extreme, still distracts from solutions that are much more effective.

The following raises major doubts about the reliability of some stories from police when things do go wrong:

Everything The Police Said About Walter Scott’s Death Before A Video Showed What Really Happened 04/07/2015

On Tuesday, South Carolina police officer Michael Thomas Slager was charged with first-degree murder for the shooting death of Walter Scott. Charges against South Carolina police officers for shooting someone are extremely rare. But what was particularly remarkable in this case was, for at least two days, Slager was apparently unaware that video of the entire incident existed.

This provides a unique opportunity to observe how one police officer sought to avoid accountability for his actions.

Between the time when he shot and killed Scott early Saturday morning and when charges were filed, Slager — using the both the police department and his attorney — was able to provide his “version” of the events. He appeared well on his way to avoiding charges and pinning the blame on Scott.

Then a video, shot by an anonymous bystander, revealed exactly what happened.

On Saturday the police released a statement alleging that Scott had attempted to gain control of a Taser from Slager and that he was shot in a struggle over the weapon. The Post And Courier reported the initial story:

Police in a matter of hours declared the occurrence at the corner of Remount and Craig roads a traffic stop gone wrong, alleging the dead man fought with an officer over his Taser before deadly force was employed.

A statement released by North Charleston police spokesman Spencer Pryor said a man ran on foot from the traffic stop and an officer deployed his department-issued Taser in an attempt to stop him.

That did not work, police said, and an altercation ensued as the men struggled over the device. Police allege that during the struggle the man gained control of the Taser and attempted to use it against the officer.

The officer then resorted to his service weapon and shot him, police alleged. ..... Complete article

This story turned out to be false and on top of that another police officer claimed that he attempted to provide medical care which also turned out to be false. This clearly indicates that at least some of the police in this town are willing to mislead the public in order to cover for each other; and there are plenty more stories like that in other police departments around the country.

According to, Officer Michael Thomas Slager of South Carolina: What we know about him 04/09/2015 "He served in the U.S. Coast Guard from 2003 to 2009, according to a job application filed with the North Charleston Police Department." As I indicated in both the previous posts about large numbers of veterans who were later charged with murder and the history of police that have also been implicated in violent activity a major part of the reason why they might be more prone to violence is that early authoritarian up bringing might escalate in their police or military training which often includes hazing and bullying. Other police officers and veterans have also confirmed this; these police do more to preserve their reputation than those that attempt to sweep it under the rug.

The article also says, "Slager was named in a police complaint in 2013 after he allegedly 'tased a man for no reason' before slamming him to the ground and dragging him, according to the North Charleston Police Department." He was cleared in this incident but there is still potential for a law suit. This is quite common among many of the police that do get in trouble; they often do so over and over again but instead of being removed they often go right back to work.

These problems aren't limited to South Carolina, there are plenty of other incidents including another one in Massachusetts where a Worcester police officer is accused of assaulting prisoner 04/09/2015 and another in New York where a NYPD detective suspended after video shows him taking cash during Brooklyn deli raid 04/09/2015

This is a constant public relations effort by the police, that often ahs the help of the media, when the shootings aren't too extreme and caught on camera. If the incident with Slager wasn't on film it might have been portrayed as another example where a police officer acted heroically in a dangerous situation. This would be ironic since they often glorify the military as well and the victim of the shooting was a member of the military.

This is far more common than most people realize. There have been an enormous number of incidents where police have killed veterans, justified or not; and a smaller number of incidents where veterans have killed police. This should raise major doubts about the glory about veterans and police since when ever one of them shoots another it indicates that at least one of them wasn't quite as glorious.

On top of that some of these events seem as concerned about selling tee shirts, sports bags and other things that are almost certainly bringing in profits for many of the people that sponsor these events. This includes Sig Sauer that profits from the sale of guns and has a financial incentive to escalate the arms race instead of finding the most effective way to prevent disasters like this.

Sponsors also include at least two hospitals which also profit off of increased business more than they might be supporting educational events that would make disasters less likely, although most of us would hardly think of a hospital of behaving this way. They almost certainly wouldn't intentionally but when their primary motive is to make a profit subtle motives can impact things in subtle ways; and the bottom line is that there is still very little discussion about the most effective prevention methods by either the media or the sponsors.

As I said previously I mean no disrespect to the police who do a good job, and some of them have indicated that tehy also support reasonable reform that addresses the contributing causes of these problems; however hype about dramtic events ahs a tendency to escalate and appeals to emotion are often used to discourage anyone that questions the hype, even when there are legitimate conflicts of interests.

Glorification of heroes is often used to convince members of the public to follow their leaders without question; and when the heroes are dead then the political establishment and the media can control they hype and thy have an opportunity to manipulate the public for their purposes, often distracting people from their own agenda.

Reasonable respect for those who contribute to the most effective solutions is justified but that should also include teachers, social workers and many other people that do work to minimize or prevent social problems and violence, not just those that are involved in dramatic events that only happen when small things aren't done to prevent problems from escalating.

There is also a long history where civilizations have collapsed partly due to excessive hype that has accompanied worshiping their leaders, warriors, dramatic monuments like the pyramids, etc.; while not taking care of some of the basic needs of society.

Officer Stephen Arkell Memorial Scholarship Fund

Chief Maloney Unity Run

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