Political Animal


April 18, 2015 7:39 PM Kansas Embarrasses Itself Again, This Time Over Marijuana

Apparently not tired of being the laughingstock of America and the world, Kansas seems determined to continue topping itself:

On March 24, cannabis oil activist Shona Banda‘s life was flipped upside-down after her son was taken from her by the State of Kansas. The ordeal started when counselors at her 11-year-old son’s school conducted a drug education class. Her son, who had previously lived in Colorado for a period of time, disagreed with some of the anti-pot points that were being made by school officials. “My son says different things like my ‘Mom calls it cannabis and not marijuana.’ He let them know how educated he was on the facts,” said Banda in an exclusive interview with BenSwann.com. Banda successfully treated her own Crohn’s disease with cannabis oil.
After her son spoke out about medical marijuana, he was detained, and police launched a raid on Shona Banda’s home. “Well, they had that drug education class at school that was just conducted by the counselors… They pulled my son out of school at about 1:40 in the afternoon and interrogated him. Police showed up at my house at 3… I let them know that they weren’t allowed in my home without a warrant… I didn’t believe you could get a warrant off of something a child says in school.” Banda continued, “We waited from 3 o’clock until 6 o’clock. They got a warrant at 6 o’clock at night and executed a warrant into my home. My husband and I are separated, and neither parent was contacted by authorities before [our son] was taken and questioned.”

Now authorities are trying to take this poor woman’s son out of her custody.

It’s the sort of story that will show up in our children’s history books as an example of preposterous old-timey prejudice, like speakeasy, sodomy and Jim Crow law arrests. There will come a day soon when marijuana is legalized nationally, first medically and then recreationally. Big corporations will take over the production and sales in an open way just as they do with the much more harmful drug called alcohol today, and poor Americans will start being arrested for selling other narcotics, instead—until the day those are decriminalized and sold for Wall Street’s benefit in turn.

This is pretty obvious in most of America. The biggest impediment at this point is reliable older voters who have bought into Reefer Madness propaganda their entire lives, and staid politicians who either also believe it themselves or are afraid of upsetting the anti-marijuana minority of the population that nevertheless constitutes a majority of the dependable vote.

But by and large, Americans are figuring out how to slowly ease into a future that accepts marijuana decriminalization as inevitable.

Except for hyper-conservative states like Kansas. They’re determined in every possible way to become the butt of derision of today’s news and tomorrow’s history books.

April 18, 2015 4:30 PM Like A Prayer

Katharine Hayhoethe climate scientist and evangelical Christian featured in the 2014 Showtime series Years of Living Dangerously—is one of my “sheroes,” not only for the skill and clarity with which she communicates the threat to humanity posed by unrestricted carbon pollution, but also for her courage in the face of vicious, savagely sexist rhetorical attacks from the denialist right.

On April 8, Hayhoe spoke at Boston College on the topic of “Religion and the Roots of Climate Change Denial.” Her speech was magnificent, and I encourage you to drop whatever you’re doing and watch it now:

Some thoughts on the speech:

* At about the 10-minute mark, Hayhoe discusses recent surveys noting that Hispanic Catholics are strongly concerned about the climate crisis. I would submit that the Republican Party’s voter-suppression efforts—which investigative journalist Brad Friedman has covered aggressively for the past decade—are motivated, at least in part, by a desire to prevent minorities who are concerned about climate change from voting for politicians who are inclined to address climate change.

* At about the 21-minute mark, Hayhoe thoroughly destroys the right-wing “Dominionist” argument against taking action on climate change.

* At about the 24-minute mark, Hayhoe points about that the Bible does not refute climate science, a point that Joe Romm of Climate Progress also emphasized in a November 2010 appearance on MSNBC’s Countdown with Keith Olbermann.

* At about the 30-minute mark, Hayhoe discusses the media’s role in driving climate-change denial, a point that reaffirms the argument my former radio colleague Betsy Rosenberg has long made about the need to dramatically increase mainstream-media coverage of the climate crisis.

* At about the 35-minute mark, Hayhoe notes the connection between rejection of climate science and epistemic closure in the United States. It’s perhaps the best distillation of the epistemic-closure dynamic I have ever heard.

* Finally, at about the 44-minute mark, Hayhoe states that we have been given a sound mind. Of course, too many people in Congress are of unsound minds when it comes to this issue—and there’s a literally a snowball’s chance in hell of changing those unsound minds.

Hayhoe is one of our best thinkers—and doers—on the most critical issue of our time. To paraphrase an old Deval Patrick commercial, when you hear her speak, you can hear the justice in her voice.

UPDATE: Hayhoe was among the many climate scientists featured in the new More Than Scientists campaign, an inside look at the men and women who awakened the world to the threat of carbon pollution. Please check out the latest videos from this campaign, featuring Marcus Eriksen and Mauri Pelto.

April 18, 2015 2:30 PM The “Jobs of the Future” Won’t Help the 42% of Americans Making Under $15/Hour

Both neoliberal and conservative politicians love to assert that with enough education and training, the math-heavy jobs of the future will save the economy and permit Americans to live in the American dream.

Quick newsflash for them: 42% of all workers in the United States make less than $15 an hour, and most of those are in the service sector. There might just possibly be an argument that with enough advanced training a few of the workers increasingly displaced by automation, flattening and globalization might be able to cling the mast of the sinking ship just a little while longer. But there’s no way that coding apps and designing templates for 3D printers is going to make any sort of dent in the lives of the 42% of Americans making below living wages in the service sector.

It’s also worth noting that it’s not highly skilled jobs that are most protected from automation, either: programmers and lawyers alike are all threatened by the trend. Rather, the most protected jobs are the ones that require the most personal touch, like in-home nursing care. Those are the jobs society truly needs most, but they’re also the ones that tend to pay the least.

The free market alone isn’t going to solve this problem. Fixing the obvious imbalance requires government to intervene and redistribute to keep life even remotely fair.

Conservatives can whinge and grind their teeth all they want. But given the trends, the only alternative to government intervention on behalf of economic fairness is far messier, far less pleasant, and far more dangerous to those who receive the surfeit of financial rewards in the modern economy.

April 18, 2015 12:30 PM The Rand Corporation

Hey, wait a minute—didn’t Rachel Maddow already disqualify Rand Paul as a serious presidential candidate five years ago?

It appears the Beltway has long since forgotten about Paul’s disgusting May 2010 interview with Maddow, during which he made clear his belief in separate and unequal treatment for people of color in the private sector. Back then, I was horrified to see Paul defend his 21-century segregationist views, and was convinced that the man would be a clear and present danger to American democracy if he were elected to the United States Senate.

At the time, I was also surprised that prominent figures on the right didn’t stand up to denounce Paul’s views in the name of being logically consistent. After all, the right’s thought leaders had long pushed the idea that Republicans were the real leaders on civil rights. Consider this 1997 letter to the New York Times from conservative Harvard professor Stephan Thernstrom:

”Political Right’s Point Man on Race” (news article, Nov. 16) describes Clint Bolick of the Institute for Justice as typical of a generation of white Republicans who ”readily say their party was on the wrong side” in the civil rights struggles of the 1960’s. This equates the Republican Party with Barry Goldwater, its 1964 Presidential candidate, who opposed the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
But 80 percent of House Republicans voted for the 1964 legislation, as did 82 percent of Republican senators. In the House, three of four votes cast against the bill came from Democrats, as did four of five votes in the Senate. Likewise, 82 percent of House Republicans and 93 percent of Senate Republicans backed the Voting Rights Act the next year.

Now, you would figure that the “Republicans-were-the real-party-of-colorblindness!” crowd would rise up and denounce Paul for suggesting that the Republicans who voted for the 1964 Civil Rights Act voted for an unconstitutional piece of legislation. Of course, the right’s thought leaders—with rare exceptions—gave Paul a pass, and largely denounced the “liberal media” for making a big deal about Paul’s abhorrent remarks.

Nothing I’ve seen out of Rand Paul’s mouth in the past five years has changed my view that in his heart, he is an old-school Southern segregationist who believes Negroes should know their place, and that the white man should be in a place above them. In Rand Paul’s America, business owners could still have signs on their doors saying, “We Do Not Serve Coloreds.” In Rand Paul’s America, black people would have no rights that white people must respect.

Speaking of respect, Rachel Maddow deserves our continued respect for ripping the mask right off Paul’s face five years ago and exposing him as the bigot’s best buddy… and Paul deserves nothing but our continued contempt.

April 18, 2015 8:45 AM Anti-Vax Parents Should Be Wary of the State’s Compelling Interest in Their Kids’ Education

If anything proves that stubborn, anti-science recalcitrance isn’t just the province of conservatives, it’s the debate over vaccination. A coalition of far left and far right libertarians, conspiracy theorists and superstitious extremists have joined forces to upend what was once a settled issue, refusing vaccinations to their children on a large enough scale to imperil public health and weaken herd immunity.

After a number of high profile incidences of the return of easily preventable childhood diseases, members of the California legislature had the wisdom to advance a bill eliminating (in most cases) the personal belief exemption for vaccinations. One of the intents of the legislation was to protect children at school from diseases transmitted by unvaccinated classmates.

Unfortunately, rather than do the right thing and vaccinate their kids, anti-vax parents are using their children as hostages, complaining that their children’s right to an education is being imperiled if they cannot attend public school and the parents are unwilling to homeschool. Those concerns have won the day long enough to stall the bill in committee while legislators try to figure out how to square the education circle.

Ultimately, the stand of the anti-vax parents is deeply unethical and harmful both to their own and to other children. Vaccines have been conclusively proven to be safe and effective, and parents of responsibly vaccinated children have a right not to have their own kids exposed to measles and other terrible diseases without being imperiled by other irresponsible parents.

If the children of anti-vaxxers do have an inalienable right to an education, and anti-vaxxer parents insist on refusing to vaccinate, it’s hard to argue that the parents are doing anything other than abusing their children and exposing their own and other children to unacceptable risk. Using the state’s interest in protecting and educating their children can cut multiple ways, including in ones that anti-vax parents would certainly not like.

What is absolutely unacceptable is to continue to endanger other children at public schools on account of their irresponsible behavior.

April 18, 2015 7:30 AM Washed Up

Didn’t Jeb Bush ever hear the saying, “Better to keep your mouth shut and be thought of as a fool, then to open your mouth and remove all doubt?”

Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush acknowledged on Friday that he’s “concerned” about climate change, but argued that the U.S. has largely addressed carbon emissions through private sector innovation that has led to a natural gas boom.
Speaking at the New England Council’s “Politics and Eggs” series in Manchester, New Hampshire, a popular stop for presidential hopefuls, Bush fielded a question about whether his energy policy would take the environment into account.
“The climate is changing and I’m concerned about that,” Bush responded. “But to be honest with you, I’m more concerned about the hollowing out of our country, the hollowing out of our industrial core, the hollowing out of our ability to compete in an increasingly competitive world.”

Of course, Bush fails to understand that human-caused climate change will in fact “hollow out” our country and our world. It’s also fairly obvious that Bush is willfully ignorant when it comes to the hazards of fracking:

Bush argued that the U.S. has reduced carbon emissions through conservation and an increased reliance on cheap natural gas.
“We can continue to reduce carbon emissions by taking advantage of the abundance of natural gas,” he said.

I’d suggest that Bush sit down for a chat with Anthony Ingraffea, but it’s highly unlikely Bush would grasp the logic of, or even care about, anything Ingraffea said.

Ironically, Bush’s dismissive remarks about the climate crisis came just a day after the seventh anniversary of his brother’s Rose Garden speech on climate. While George W. Bush’s speech was obnoxious on numerous levels, it did at least acknowledge the basic science of human-caused climate change, something the former Florida governor seems incapable of.

The Republican Party has moved so far to the right in the Obama era that there’s a good chance historians will regard the GOP of the Bush 43 era as relatively moderate by comparison, as horrifying as that idea is for those who lived through the 2000s. Of course, there are other horrifying ideas…and Jeb Bush’s prejudice against physics is one of them.

UPDATE: More from Peter Sinclair.

SECOND UPDATE: Words from an actual climate-hawk President: Barack Obama’s weekly address, April 18, 2015.

April 18, 2015 6:30 AM Daylight Video

Forty-five years ago today, “Let It Be” by the Beatles was America’s number-one single.

April 17, 2015 5:35 PM Day’s End and Weekend Watch

Today’s 35 comments may be a record for Lunch Buffet. Remind me next time things get slow we can always provide opportunity for people to warn others away from their towns.

Here are some remains of the day:

* Steve King comes right out and says whole purpose of Obama immigration policies is to import future Democratic voters. Might not be so if you weren’t such a repulsive jerk to them, Steve.

* Remember Ezzat al-Douri, the Ginger Baathist who eluded capture during the Iraq War? Iraqi forces and Shi’a militia claim he’s been killed in Iraq where he was commanding Sunni forces allied to IS.

* Boy, what a week for Jebbie: while defending his actions in Terri Schiavo case, says all Medicare beneficiaries should be required to have end-of-life plan. Death panels! Death panels!

* At Ten Miles Square, Andrew Sabl argues liberalism clearly committed to reducing deployment of arbitrary power.

* At College Guide, Daniel Luzer suggests lowering costs for students better way to improve completion rate for community colleges than the latest fad, self-esteem training.

And in non-political news:

* NBA playoffs set to begin tomorrow. Very weird to see the Hawks in the top seed for the Eastern Conference.

That’s it for Friday. D.R. Tucker and David Atkins will be in tomorrow for Weekend Blogging. We’ll close with some more Mississippi Fred McDowell, and “Goin’ Down to the River.”


April 17, 2015 4:15 PM Life’s Just Unfair to Jeb Bush

Unless he walks it back directly, I suspect Jeb Bush’s reckless foray into cautious messing around with Social Security will soon raise comparisons with his older brother’s post-re-election Waterloo, his Social Security “partial privatization” proposal. Maybe reporters have already done that with respect to Chris Christie’s early leap onto the “third rail”—I don’t take him seriously enough as a potential presidential candidate to have watched this particular drama closely—but probably not with as much emphasis as they’d deploy with Bush, who should know better, shouldn’t he?


Similarly, as Ed O’Keefe points out at WaPo today, Jeb may be right smack in the middle of the GOP consensus in drifting back towards precisely those foreign policy and national security views associated with George W. Bush, but he’ll get special and not very positive attention for it, not just from the media but from voters who may not have a highly articulated foreign policy outlook but do know they don’t want to go back to 2005 or 2006.


Perhaps Jeb is so used to this phenomenon that he can shrug it off. But you get the sense he’s always resented questions about his family connections and wondered why people couldn’t see that he was totally his own man accomplishing his own goals in life. Here’s an interesting nugget from a New York Times piece today by Steve Eder on Jeb’s business career:

“By definition, every single business transaction I am involved with may give the appearance that I am trading on my name,” Mr. Bush wrote in The Wall Street Journal during the final days of his father’s re-election campaign in 1992, responding specifically to stories about his involvement with the sale of M.W.I.’s water pumps. “I cannot change who I am.”

The “stories” included business trips to Nigeria that were treated like state visits and yielded predictably impressive results in terms of government purchases of his partners’ products.

No, Jebbie could not change who he was, but he might have found a way to make a living that relied a little less on tree shaking and a little more on jelly making. People with extremely powerful connections that choose to “make deals” are going to be suspect.

Paul Waldman puts it more bluntly:

When he was born, Jeb Bush won the lottery. We don’t condemn anyone for winning the lottery, but we do judge what they do afterward. Some people win it, buy a nice house, and then set up a foundation to help other people. Other people win the lottery and blow the whole thing on hookers and cocaine. Bush’s history seems to be somewhere in between.

Even if you think that’s a bit harsh, questions about Bush’s business career are going to come up quite legitimately, and beyond that, yes, whenever he acts like his brother people are going to think about his brother, even if everybody else in the GOP field is acting like his brother, too.

April 17, 2015 3:27 PM That’s No Hostage! That’s the Next Customer In Line!

After President Obama used a question at a joint press conference with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi to lash out at Mitch McConnell for “political gamesmanship” in perpetually stalling the confirmation of Attorney General nominee Loretta Lynch, ol’ Mitch’s staff came back with a funny (per WaPo’s Eilperin and Mufson):

Don Stewart, deputy chief of staff for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), replied that the GOP leader “has already announced that the Lynch nomination will get a vote.” He said that members of Congress were trying “to find a way to overcome the Democrats’ filibuster of a bipartisan bill that will help prevent women and children from being sold into sex slavery. Once that bill’s complete, the Lynch nomination is next.”

Gee, I thought the Majority Leader of the Senate set the schedule. Can’t he just set aside the snarled “trafficking” bill—snarled because Republicans added in non-germane abortion language, BTW—and take up the Lynch confirmation any old time he wants? I mean, if he’s pointing at whoever set up the order of bills and shrugging, he’s gotta be pointing at himself, right?

You half-expect his spox to have said: “Loretta Lynch—the woman there tied to the chair—is the next customer in line.”

April 17, 2015 2:55 PM Huck Starts Sawing Off Social Security Plank

In the past I’ve often criticized Mike Huckabee for claiming a “populism” that seemed content-free, and not at all in any conflict with your typical plutocratic conservative economic gospel. But I dunno about now. Last month he blasted “globalism” and past trade agreements with China and also signaled opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that most congressional Republicans are lining up to support in a rare accommodation of Barack Obama. And now, on the very day that Jeb Bush seems to have climbed off onto the same limb—or perhaps it’s a plank over shark-infested waters—as Chris Christie on entitlement reform, ol’ Huck is preparing to saw it off (per a report from the Weekly Standard’s John McCormick):

As he gears up for another presidential campaign, former Arkansas governor Mike Huckabee is making a big break with the Republican party on the issue of entitlement reform. Meeting with reporters at a hotel in Washington, D.C. this morning, Huckabee strongly criticized New Jersey governor Chris Christie’s proposal to reform Social Security and said he would not sign Paul Ryan’s Medicare reform into law if he were president.
“I don’t know why Republicans want to insult Americans by pretending they don’t understand what their Social Security program and Medicare program is,” Huckabee said in response to a question about Christie’s proposal to gradually raise the retirement age and implement a means test.
Huckabee said his response to such proposals is “not just no, it’s you-know-what no.”

McCormick is quick to quote Huckabee as having said positive things about Paul Ryan’s Medicare voucher proposal in 2012. But I suspect what matters more about this isn’t any affection it gains Huck but the harsh light it casts on Christie and Bush and anybody else that goes back down the entitlement reform highway to political hell.

Huckabee said Republican proposals to reform entitlements are “disastrous, not only politically but I think they be disastrous in terms of further breaking the trust between the government and its people.”

This probably will not improve Huck’s relationship with the “Club for Greed,” will it? But it will give him something to say on the campaign trail when he or his audience gets tired of whining about being persecuted along with that poor Duck Dynasty man.

April 17, 2015 1:29 PM Lunch Buffet

It finally became obvious to me in reading the comment thread to yesterday’s Day’s End post that I’m annoying fellow residents of the central coast of California by making it sound so fabulous here that others might want to come here to live or play.

So on second thought:

* It’s crazy expensive to live here, as you might expect in a place where the real estate market is dictated by people rich enough to live in two or three or four places. Sotheby’s seems to be the top realty company.

* I’ve seen Iowans’ teeth chatter at the wind off the Monterey Bay, making them long for the warm climes of Cedar Rapids.

* We really are running out of water. The municipalities on the coast have been illegally tapping the Carmel River for years, and there’s a chance the state will bust us for good before we get an insanely expensive desal plant online.

* The local politics are completely irrational. People here are the Stalinists of NIMBYism. Every election season the “NO!” signs spring up like mushrooms, no matter what’s on the ballot.

* Last time the roads around here were repaired was probably during the Brown administration of 1975-83. There’s public transportation of a sort, but it’s all designed to bus domestic help from Salinas to Pebble Beach and Carmel.

* Remember Hitchcock’s The Birds? It was based on a true incident in Monterey. The very large crow population around here looks like it’s getting restless again.

So don’t move here, and if you visit, try to avoid the nine-month-long tourist season.

Okay, now that I’ve set the record straight, here are some midday news/views treats.

* Christie envy? Jeb Bush endorses gradual rise in Social Security retirement age.

* Rick Scott suing HHS for tying low-income funding for hospitals that conservatives used to complain about as “fraud” to Medicaid expansion.

* A second case on “religious liberty” exemptions from contraception coverage mandate is headed for SCOTUS.

* Carly Fiorina seems to be saying that it’s precisely her ignominious defeat in her one run for public office that most qualifies her to run for president, since she not tainted by politics.

* Charlie Cook points to recent Pew poll on partisan affiliation and suggests Republicans really do need to change the brand pronto.

And in non-political news:

* Sarah Jessica Parker gets new HBO seriesDivorce—eleven years after final episode of Sex and the City.

As we break for lunch, I’ll take a break from the blues to post Ry Cooder’s version of the Woody Guthrie song that made the don’t-come-to-California argument many long years ago: “Do Re Mi.”

April 17, 2015 12:55 PM Pretty Good Partisan Differentiator

So the House went ahead and voted to totally repeal the federal estate tax yesterday. But something was missing from similar votes back in the day: widespread Democratic defections. Used to be a standard push-off-the-left Blue Doggy thing to oppose the “death tax,” particularly for Members with big agricultural producers in their districts. But this time around only seven House Dems voted for this abomination, while three Republicans defected from their own party.

If nothing else, this means Democrats will have no problem making this an issue of “partisan differentiation.” If you think it will become impossible for people to “succeed” in this country if they cannot pass along unlimited wealth without taxation to their heirs, you are very likely a Republican, albeit of a kind who would make Teddy Roosevelt roll over in his grave. If you think a five-million-dollar-plus exemption—plus complete non-taxation of estates where there is a surviving spouse— is probably enough to accommodate family farms and small businesses, you are probably a Democrat. It’s most definitely a difference in perception.

April 17, 2015 12:06 PM Francis Calls Off the Nun Police

In what might be his most impressive practical measure to create a new atmosphere in Roman Catholicism, Pope Francis has quietly called an end to what almost has to be called an inquisition of American nuns accused of too much interest in social justice concerns and too little subservience to the political priorities of the (all-male) hierarchy. Here’s how the New York Times’ Laurie Goodstein describes the detente:

The Vatican has abruptly ended its takeover of the main leadership group of American nuns two years earlier than expected, allowing Pope Francis to put to rest a confrontation started by his predecessor that created an uproar among American Catholics who had rallied to the sisters’ defense.
Anticipating a visit by Francis to the United States in the fall, the Vatican and the American bishops were eager to resolve an episode that was seen by many Catholics as a vexing and unjust inquisition of the sisters who ran the church’s schools, hospitals and charities.
Under the previous pope, Benedict XVI, the Vatican’s doctrinal office had appointed three bishops in 2012 to overhaul the nuns’ group, the Leadership Conference of Women Religious, out of concerns that it had hosted speakers and published materials that strayed from Catholic doctrine on such matters as the all-male priesthood, birth control and sexuality, and the centrality of Jesus to the faith.
But Francis has shown in his two-year papacy that he is less interested in having the church police doctrinal boundaries than in demonstrating mercy and love for the poor and vulnerable — the very work that most of the women’s religious orders under investigation have long been engaged in.

Francis also spent some serious time with four leaders of the previous hounded nuns’ group, and made it pretty plain where his sympathies lay.

The friendly resolution came as a great relief to the sisters and their supporters, who had feared that the Vatican could dissolve the Leadership Conference or take permanent control of it, said the Rev. James Martin, editor at large with the Jesuit magazine America, who wrote often about the conflict. “What you see with the sisters is true courage, which is being faithful to the church authority and also to who they are,” he said.

Francis is sure to disappoint many of his progressive fans, particularly non-Catholics, and his innovations continue to be in matters of emphasis and integrity, not so much doctrine. But in creating a climate more conducive to free expression, and in relaxing a previously ever-intensifying Vatican insistence on patriarchal culture war, the Pontiff has certainly opened many doors to reform.

April 17, 2015 11:34 AM Police: Warriors Or Guardians?

The almost constant examples we are experiencing of police officers gunning down unarmed suspects of late—or treating the communities they patrol as enemy bastions to be approached with overwhelming military force—are a particular shock to those of us who thought the principles of “community policing” had taken deeper root in the culture of law enforcement agencies. That’s clearly not the case. And in fact, to get back to something like community policing will require a serious reorientation of police training. The task is explained in depth at Ten Miles Square today by Seth Stoughton, a law professor at the University of South Carolina who is also a former police officer.

Becoming a “warrior” on hair-trigger to answer violence with violence has become central to police training, says Stoughton:

In this worldview, officers are warriors combatting unknown and unpredictable—but highly lethal—enemies. They learn to be afraid. Officers don’t use that word, of course. Vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, or observant are the terms that appear most often in police publications. But officers learn to be vigilant, attentive, cautious, alert, and observant because they are afraid, and they afraid because they’re taught to be.
As a result, officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making. Every individual, every situation — no exceptions. A popular police training text offers this advice: “As you approach any situation, you want to be in the habit of looking for cover[] so you can react automatically to reach it should trouble erupt.” A more recent article puts it even more bluntly: “Remain humble and compassionate; be professional and courteous — and have a plan to kill everyone you meet.”

Add in racial stereotypes and limited experience with the community an officer is “protecting” and you can understand how regular interactions between cops and citizens have entered a frightening world remote from the trust-based assumptions of community policing.

Stoughton suggests replacing the whole “warrior” mentality inculcated by police training with a self-concept of “Community Guardians.”

[W]hat’s the difference? Both Warriors and Guardians seek to protect the communities they serve, of course, but the guardian mindset takes both a broader and a longer view of how to achieve that goal. Put simply, the guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships. It instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified; they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. It emphasizes communication over command, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority. In the use-of-force context, the Guardian mindset emphasizes restraint over control, stability over action. But the concept is even broader; it seeks to protect civilians not just from crime and violence, but also from indignity and humiliation.

Stoughton offers some practical steps for how to train police officers to be “Guardians” rather than “Warriors,” including special training in how to de-escalate confrontations and how to safely exercise tactical restraint. But the starting point is admitting we have a real problem when public servants are trained to think of the citizenry as a mob of potential killers.

Political Animal Archive