The Police Culture's Cold War Targets Even Allies Like Me
Preventing Peaceful Change, Though, Will Keep Us in Crisis
By Michael McQuillan
Even as much of the nation is grieving for Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and girding for the Senate fight on her Supreme Court successor, that has not pushed social protest and policing reform off the nation's front pages. They remain urgent ongoing concerns. So, as we salute RBG’s legacy and decry Mitch McConnell's hypocrisy on how soon the Senate should fill her seat, the judicial system thrusts other issues at us.
Current events and rhetorical thunder will continue to motivate the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as its adversaries, as each proceeding's conclusion becomes breaking news.
On Wednesday, a Louisville, KY grand jury indicted one police detective on three counts of wanton endangerment for his wild gunfire into other apartments, but charged no one for killing Breonna Taylor, an African-American woman shot six times in her bed in March. A grand jury in Rochester, NY is weighing criminal charges for Daniel Prude's death; Prude, a Black man suffering from mental illness, suffocated on March 23 when police officers placed a bag over his head. The Eric Garner case, in which a police officer used a banned chokehold on Garner, an African-American man, to subdue and kill him in 2014 for selling loose cigarettes in New York City, has reopened with his family's lawsuit for a judicial inquiry into the actions of the police.
America has learned little since the 1968 Kerner Commission found police misconduct in minority communities the causal thread in urban uprisings. Bromides like "the vast majority are good cops but a few bad apples cause problems," trotted out during crises, make us complacent until the next crisis occurs.
Would a yearly roll call for the unarmed victims of police violence, as for our 9/11 dead, wake us from slumber? Put your heart into saying their names:
Amadou Diallo, Abner Louima, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, Ramarley Graham, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Alton Sterling, Philando Castille, Akai Gurley, Sandra Bland, Stephon Clark, Eric Garner, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Daniel Prude, Jason Blake, …..
Blood seeps through a "blue wall" police culture that without remorse treats each racial misconduct case as unique. That establishment lied about the 2014-2018 illegal arrest quotas targeting innocent youth in New York's Black and Latino neighborhoods, as Steven Maing's "Crime and Punishment" documentary on the New York Police Department 12 exposed.
The NYPD reluctantly formed a Training Advisory Council in 2015 to improve its race relations after Garner died. I was one of seven professionals recruited, appointed and deterred by opponents whose toolkit comprised deflection, distraction, delay. When Michael Julian, the Deputy Commissioner for Training, declared at the outset that "we deliberately avoid talking about race because it's so volatile," it signaled what was in store. I thought we'd work through his reserve in good faith, but found him a foot soldier in the psychological cold war that in three years forced our group to dissolve from frustration.
Surveying police departments in twelve other cities for race-related police academy and in-service programs, we endorsed what the Seattle Police Department had done as "highly developed" and worth replicating. All SPD executive, patrol and support personnel had mandatory full-day sessions on institutional and implicit bias; no other urban police department had both. Authentic role-play scenarios of traffic stops and other encounters in mock settings at a complex outside Seattle challenged police officials to master their training before field work resumed. SPD's documentaries on the history of police-community relations dating back to slave patrols sparked essential discussions.
NYPD sent two of us with a staff team to observe in Seattle. We were excited when a state-of-the-art police academy in Queens opened, with Seattle-like role playing replacing the old site's PowerPoint lectures. But in the end, what our group had done was resented. "The protocol is that people come here to learn what we do," academy officials said as bureaucratic inertia took hold.
NYPD delayed formal meetings at One Police Plaza for months at a time. We worked on our own during these intervals with no authority to advance our proposals. Its paid training consultants spurned contact, and we couldn't reach Commissioner O'Neill even though before him Bill Bratton had said "the race factor is undeniable in the police-community divide, and unless we can solve the race issue, we can't solve other issues."
The NYPD staff tabled crucial agenda items or interrupted the process, asserting that the First Deputy Commissioner had other groups waiting, hustling him from the conference room. We couldn't leverage outside support since the press office wouldn't announce we existed.
Police command calls civilians outsiders, critics enemies. Fear "they won't come when I need them and crime will increase" mutes elected officials' and the public's dissent; police culture, systemically racist, puts neighbors at risk when they leave home each morning.
"Those who make peaceful change impossible make violence inevitable," President John F. Kennedy said.
Will you say or do something to help before the next crisis occurs? What does your conscience tell you?
Michael McQuillan, who was Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden's Adviser for Racial and Ethnic Affairs from 1988 to 2000, coordinated the Crown Heights Coalition, and later chaired the NYPD Training Advisory Council’s Race Subcommittee.