This actually is interesting: the home page of the Physics Department has a photo of a mass rally yesterday (below); a unanimously approved apology to students for the police violence on campus; and a majority-vote call for the resignation of the Chancellor, Linda Katehi.
More on militarization and so on shortly.
Also, after the jump, two notes from California in defense of local police.
Reader LB writes:
I am writing to note my distaste for the virulent bigotry against police officers that too often goes unremarked these days. Former U.S. poet laureate Robert Hass's NY Times op-ed piece a few days ago mentions "deputy sheriffs, all white men, except for one young woman, perhaps Filipino, who was trying to look severe but looked terrified..." Mr. Hass presumably chose his words with care, which makes the ignorance of the statement (along with the implicit self-loathing--isn't Mr. Hass a white man? oh, never mind) all that much more astonishing. Assuming his assessment of the ethnic background of the police force on hand in Sproul Plaza the day he got roughed up is accurate, what, exactly, would that signify?
This kind of two-dimensional stereotyping angers me because I have a close family member on the Oakland police force who looks and sounds white, but, in fact, is half Mexican (and also has a diverse socioeconomic heritage). He is one of the most sensitive people to multicultural nuance I've ever met, and Oakland is lucky to have him doing his job under impossibly difficult circumstances.
The naiveté of those who simplistically romanticize 1960s-era conflicts and perpetuate ethnic divides because of the power derived from victim status plays right into the hands of Karl Rove and his ilk. Bigotry in any guise is ugly, and does not well serve the noble spirit at the heart of the Occupy movement.
And another to similar effect, about the gap, or lack thereof, between citizens and their newly militarized police.
Re some of your comments in the 'Tanks in Small Towns', the police just about everywhere in America DO live in the community. They always have - for a couple of centuries now. They don't live in barracks, and never have. Almost everyone agrees that policemen should live in the communities they police, which used to be the rule. These days, there are a lot of exceptions, but that has to do with the affordability of housing, not policy.
Also, they're pretty multi-cultural. Have been since the 70's. Looking up some stats on the NYPD (where I most assuredly do NOT live) for an article I intended to write, I learn that in 2008 that Department was about 26 percent Hispanic, 16-17% African American, and 8 percent agent. The Hispanic percentage just about matches the population, the African American is below the 25 percent or so of African American population, but hardly token, either. The one underrepresented minority is Asian, but since that culture is also underrepresented (in a good way) on criminal dockets, maybe it works out.
More than that, though there's no question that the small police departments in the county where I used to practice criminal law, do love their toys, none of them have or had dedicated units. They all have SWAT teams and the like, but it would be cost-prohibitive to have officers who do nothing but SWAT. So a cadre of officers get the training, and be called upon to use it when the need arises. Ditto for the other exotic equipment. No one tools around in that stuff. The idea that cops are doing patrol in mini-tanks is actually a little comic. (Remember ultimately all officers report to the chief, and the chief to the city council. Police chiefs in most towns aren't at all sacred - they get fired all the time. Do you think there is one community in the US that would tolerate that kind of policing on its streets? Forget it.)
God knows, policing and criminal justice should be subjects of constant discussion. Justice Stevens is entirely correct when he calls the system 'bloated'. We criminalize too many actions, particularly drug use, and our fact-finding mechanisms are unbelievably roundabout. We imprison too many people. But I do think the whiff of scandal is inappropriate. The police officers themselves are members of the 99 percent - I'd imagine generally in the middle third. I never met a cop who had any use for the rich and privileged. Their natural sympathies are with the spirit of the protest, not the financial community. That in itself distinguishes the protests from those of the late 60's. where there were issues of life style ("long hair hippies") and politics.
I'm all for the OWS protests - the disparity in income and wealth in this country is a scandal and the root of all the other problems. My daughter took time out from her studies to go down to San Diego and particpate (where she found the cops friendly and encouraging, by the way.) But what is going on in terms of policing, I think, is that the decision of a number of municipalities to permit the erection of these mini-Hoovervilles has created all sorts of problems for the police that are all but unprecedented. Some departments have handled them well, some badly, but mostly no one in recent memory has had to copr with these issues. In a funny way, it's not the police who are strangers to the streets, but the protesters, at least living in pup tents.
I believe in the protests, but I think that permitting the encampments was a big mistake. What happens is that for a fraction of Occupiers, the protest becomes a life unto itself, they refuse to leave, and major confrontations occur. That's the Oakland story, anyway. (Davis seems to be plain old bad policing, plus maybe a rogue cop, and also - I think - a weak executive who lay have asked for a police action that was completely unnecessary.)
In any case, the notion that because the cops are purchasing a lot of gear, that they have become an alien force, just ain't so. They live in the same type houses as other citizens, drink beer, worry about how their kids, pensions, and how the Giants are doing. What is annoying is that the Occupy policing issues tend to obscure that the need for financial and economic reform is one of the great unifying issues that have come along recently. Most cops, both by economic status and inclination, should be (and are) sympathetic to the goals. It's exasperating to have that commonality of interest obscured by these matters
And one more, from a scientist on campus yesterday:
I was at UC-Davis on Monday to give a seminar, and briefly watched the large but very civilized protest on campus...:
Interestingly, from my own vantage point (near the site of the pepper-spray incident) I could see no police presence at all for the entire event, where several thousand people were assembled. In fact, there seemed to be practically no visible police presence on campus at all. I wonder what went into that decision: a crowd that big, justifiably angry, could turn ugly and crowd control measures might have been legitimately needed. But of course visible presence of the UC-Davis police could easily become a flashpoint by itself. (With the police department temporarily leaderless, they might have stayed away simply by default.)
Unfortunately part of the rally was taken up by the typical unrelated left-wing cause floggers and that made for some dull moments as well as the message dilution the Occupy movement seems to suffer from overall. I didn't hear "Free Mumia" but I feared it was coming up next at times. Unfortunately I wasn't around for the really emotional parts, where the sprayed students told their stories while the chancellor waited in line with all the others to address the crowd for a timed minute.
Best sign I saw (and apropos of your recent discussions): "Riot gear is for riots, not camping without a permit."
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