Desmond and Papchristos on the impact of police violence

Our current P4P author, Matthew Desmond is the co-author with Andrew Papchristos of an important opinion piece in the New York Times on September 30th on the impact of police violence.

In the article they write,

…police violence rips apart the social contract between the criminal justice system and the citizenry, suppressing one of the most basic forms of civic engagement, calling 911 for help. The promotion of public safety requires both effective policing and an engaged community. We cannot have one without the other.”

Keith Negley

SINCE the year began, police officers have killed 804 people, roughly three a day. In recent weeks, police officers fatally shot Terence Crutcher in Tulsa and Alfred Olango in a San Diego suburb. Both men were black and unarmed.

When the police beat or kill an unarmed black man, what impact does it have on a city and on its black community in particular? Until recently, we have been unable to answer this question with solid data, even as the national debate about this issue has grown more contentious.

One well-known contribution to this debate has been Heather Mac Donald’s notion of the “Ferguson effect,” the idea that, after an episode of police violence, crime spikes in cities because ensuing protests cause the police to stop proactive tactics, emboldening the bad guys. “The most plausible explanation for the surge in lawlessness,” Ms. Mac Donald, a fellow at the Manhattan Institute, writes in her book “The War on Cops,” “is the intense agitation against American police departments that began in the summer of 2014,” following the deaths of Eric Garner, Michael Brown and Freddie Gray. To support her claim, Ms. Mac Donald cites crime trends and interviews with several police chiefs and politicians, including Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of Chicago, who remarked last year, “We have allowed our police departments to get fetal.”

If you look at crime numbers since the Clinton presidency, you see a plummeting trend — what the criminologist Franklin E. Zimring calls “the great American crime decline.” But if you focus on any single year, you see squiggles. Those squiggles are what commentators tend to focus on when they say that crime is up. It is true that violent crime has jumped in some cities that have also experienced police violence followed by public unrest. Murder and manslaughter increased by 10 percent last year, a trend that seems to be driven by some cities more than others.

Critics of the idea of the Ferguson effect have pointed out that there is little evidence to support it. But up to this point there’s been none to debunk it, either.

In a recently published study that we conducted with our fellow sociologist David Kirk, we bring fresh data to bear on this issue. The study focuses on what happened to crime-related 911 calls in the wake of one of Milwaukee’s most publicized cases of police violence against an unarmed black man: the beating of Frank Jude in October 2004. Mr. Jude was attacked by several white off-duty police officers — and one who was on-duty — after being accused of stealing a police badge at a party. Officers boot-stomped his face, snapped his fingers and pressed pens into his ear canals. The lost badge was never recovered.

The months after were quiet. The officers returned to work, and Mr. Jude began a slow recovery. But on Feb. 6, 2005, a Sunday, readers of The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel were met with the following front-page headline: “Police Suspected in Man’s Beating,” accompanied by a photographtaken at the hospital of Mr. Jude’s swollen face

Our study shows that residents of Milwaukee’s neighborhoods, especially residents of black neighborhoods, were far less likely to report crime to the police after Mr. Jude’s beating was reported in the press and the subsequent fallout shook the city. In our work, we controlled for crime rates, previous calling patterns and several other neighborhood characteristics. The effect lasted for over a year and resulted in a loss of approximately 22,200 911 calls, a 17 percent reduction in citizen crime reporting, compared with the expected number of calls. It is one thing to disparage law enforcement in your thoughts and speech after an instance of police violence makes the news. It is quite another to witness a crime, or even to be victimized, and decide not to report it.

In the six months after Mr. Jude’s story was published, homicides in Milwaukee jumped 32 percent. Our research suggests that this happened not because the police “got fetal” but because many members of the black community stopped calling 911, their trust in the justice system in tatters. Research showsthat urban neighborhoods with higher levels of legal cynicism also have higher rates of violent crime: When citizens lose faith in the police, they are more apt to take the law into their own hands.

Our findings confirm what the people of Ferguson, Mo., Baltimore and other cities have been saying all along: that police violence rips apart the social contract between the criminal justice system and the citizenry, suppressing one of the most basic forms of civic engagement, calling 911 for help. The promotion of public safety requires both effective policing and an engaged community. We cannot have one without the other.

No act of police violence is an isolated incident and it should not be treated as such. Each new tragedy contributes to and reawakens the collective trauma of black communities, which have been subjected to state-sanctioned assaults — from slave whippings and lynching campaigns to Jim Crow enforcement and mass incarceration — for generations. If acts of excessive police force result in community-level consequences, then cities should implement community-level interventions in the aftermath of such acts.

To restore their legitimacy in the eyes of all citizens, police departments could begin by acknowledging their role in past injustices. In his response to our study, Edward Flynn, the police chief of Milwaukee, had the opportunity to do just that. Instead of addressing the implications of our study’s results, though, he dismissed them by claiming that our data were affected by technological quirks in the 911 system. But our study accounted for these considerations by showing that not all 911 calls went down after Mr. Jude’s beating made headlines, just calls reporting crime to the police.

What explains our finding is not some administrative glitch but the fact that police violence against an unarmed black man was registered in the collective memories of black Milwaukeeans as part of a larger pattern. Before Frank Jude, there was Justin Fields, an unarmed black man shot in the back by a Milwaukee police officer in 2003. Before Justin Fields there was Mario Mallett, a black man who, handcuffed and shackled, died in the back of a police wagon after a struggle with officers. Before Mario Mallett there was Thomas Jackson, a mentally ill man who suffocated after police officers placed their knees in his back while he was handcuffed. Before Thomas Jackson, there was James Philips III and Nicholas Elm Sr., who died in police custody; before them, there was Tandy O’Neal, shot in the back during a police raid; before him, there was Ernest Lacy, a black man falsely accused of rape, who died after officers used excessive force while arresting him. Some of us have forgotten these names; some of us cannot.

Founder of the Politics for the People free educational series and book club for independent voters. Chair of the New York County Independence Party.

One thought on “Desmond and Papchristos on the impact of police violence

  1. Police brutality against “blackness” is nationwide. Before the posting of this post–three unarmed black men were killed by the police in a continued genocide against “blackness” that has gripped the Nation. This was all reported by the articles on the Internet during the last three days. I do not know how the Mainstream Media (CNN and others) is spinning their stories revolving around all of this.
    There will be the standard “character assassination” procedures by the police (a lot of them thugs, and racists), in which the victim is transformed into the perpetrator, or it is made their fault in some kind of way. Then–enormous amounts of energy is expended in propaganda–through the “leftist/racist” Media to justify the actions of the rogue officers, despite condemning video evidence, and eyewitness accounts of police misconduct, which goes unpunished 99% of the time by a “racist” justice system. This–in the end gives a license for the killing of black males with impunity by the police state. There is no safety in the United States of America for those born of “blackness”, since such persons of humanity are “criminalized by perception” before they grasp the “conscious reality” of it themselves. It matters not the name of the Town, City, or the State that a grave injustice against “blackness” occurs. The Mainstream Media may treat each incident as separate one in the name of “political correctness”, but many who are connected to the greater “Black Consciousness” in the United States of America, can easily connect the dots, and understand the suffrage of the pain that comes with it. They also know that it is more of the same no matter how many days, weeks, months, and years pass by. The pattern is the same, and it is generational. Those who are in denial of such truths cling to a hope of a justice system that was designed against them–against “blackness”–since the colonial period, and the founding of that Nation that became the United States.
    Prayers to a Christian God and so on, has never delivered the kind of justice that “blackness” seeks against generational oppression, and economic deprivation, and against a “state of inferiority of blackness’s humanity.” Those of the “Black Consciousness” who rebel against their state of existence, that is imposed upon this them by a designed “Jim Crow” style institutionalized system, are heaped with various levels of persecution by “White Supremacy”, and are told to go back to Africa. Told to go back to a continent as if “blackness” never belonged to the North American Continent–the United States of America.
    This remark would only apply to the original slave ancestors, who were brought here against their will to the “New World” by their White slave masters, and striped of their African spirituality, their cultural identities, their languages, and their names. The children of the slave ancestors, became indigenous to the North American continent the moment their feet touched Gaia–touched Mother Earth–even when they knew it not.
    “Blackness’s” continuous claim of legitimacy to the land, is the generational lineage that cannot be denied, and that continues to exist to the present day, despite the fact that all do not realize this. For good or ill–the United States of America is the home to “blackness”, the home to Black People of every skin-color level, and they should never be ashamed of this fact, despite the fact that is the United States’ agenda to never allow “blackness” to have an equal existence in all facets of this Society. The crafted racist/institutionalized system that is in place, ensures this on a generational level. The only way “blackness” will “experience true liberation” is by the “dismantling” of the existing system, and end this call for “reform”, because that will never fix what is, and what continues to be. The oppressors of “blackness” must be reminded that those born of “blackness’s shade” by the Creator are–and have always been “full human-beings”, since the dawn of Humanity’s existence, no written passage in the Constitution, or written Law by Man will ever change this fact. Every written law against the humanity of “blackness” in this Nation, must be unwritten, and declared unjust, until no such writings exist; since those, who have written such laws, were wicked in their hearts and minds, and had committed their own crimes against Humanity, right here on in the United States–and the North American continent.
    When the Creator crafted Humanity from the dust of Mother Earth. Humanity was the Creator’s greatest creation, and there was no “inferiority” to his creation. This concept is a human creation, and a crafted sin that humanity itself, created to spawn division among itself to the present day through its own wickedness.

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