Category Archives: Police

Black Lives Matter Insurrection or not?


I want to talk a little about the Black Lives Matter movement.  Perhaps because the right-wing and the left in America get their information from completely different sources, Fox News and the Internet on one side, and CNN, the Internet, and traditional news media on the other. Even on the Internet both sides go to different sources that are polar opposites. The two movements (left and right) have completely opposite views of what happened in Minneapolis, or on Capitol Hill on January 6th,  and other parts of the US.  The right-wing saw insurrection in Minneapolis Portland, and other places, but not at the Capitol. The left wing saw insurrection at the Capitol.

I really think it is a matter of what images the media of choice has chosen to emphasize. Fox News likes to put the emphasis on black rebellion and CNN emphasizes right wing rebellion. This is a key source of division.

In Minneapolis, for example, the media showed graphic images of protesters, many of them, not insignificantly black, ignoring police and laws to burn down businesses, some of which are even owned by blacks. To many white Americans this is proof of the anarchy at the root of the protests against the current regime.

African-Americans and their allies on the left see a white privileged state supported and protected by police that will use all of its powers to tamp down non-white rebellion while doing nothing to protect innocent children of African-Americans.

Neither side is able to see any truth to the side of the other. The other side ignores truth in favor of its own self-serving ideology. The two sides are unable to agree on basic facts so are unable to reach any agreement about what the problem is and how it should be solved. each side is mystified by the apparent blindness of the other to obvious truths.

White spectators at a BLM rally in St. Louis brought out automatic weapons to protect their property. White vigilantes were seen bearing arms in cities to protect white businesses from perceived ruin. This is what the left saw from its media sources. Meanwhile peaceful white and black protestors fear for their lives on the streets of American cities.

It is very difficult for Americans to deal with domestic terrorism  when they cannot agree on what the basic facts are. In the “good old days,” where most news came from 3 television networks that had no strong ideological differences between them, there were no such disagreements about basic facts. As a result, there was not such strong polarization as there is now. As a result of all this the middle is being hollowed out. The extremes are growing, on both sides. I don’t know what we can do about it.

This does not augur well for America. It suggests, to me at least, ruin to come. I hope I am wrong.

Policing in a Broken Society

This past year in America 5 black  cops brutally killed a young black man for no apparent reason that has been revealed. Why did that happen?

Bill Maher was  right when he said on his television show earlier this year, “What’s going on, in my view, is that society is broken. We don’t educate people anymore, discipline is all broken down, families are broken down.” I agree this is a product of a broken society and then we ask the police to solve it.  Among all the other jobs they have to deal with they are expected to hold society together as it is shredded.  They are being asked to be psychologists, marriage counsellors, social workers advocates. As Bill Maher said, “No one ever calls the cops to tell them how well the marriage is going.” It is what I always said about schools. The principal never called us ot a team meeting to tell us how well the lads were doing in school.

How could that possibly work? Trust is gone. Guns sluice through American society. That doesn’t help. Violence is bred in the bone, particularly in America. What can the police do to mend this mess? As Bill Maher said, “They are the ones who get the slop of a broken society.”  And then they are asked to do far too much. And sometimes they contribute to it.

Yet, of course, the cops are also part of that broken society. Why those 5 black cops did what they did may always remain a mystery.  They just did it.   The cops perhaps were going through a divorce, or under pressure from their landlord to pay the rent, or their kids are trying drugs and disrespect their parents. What can the cops do about that?  They can break is about all they can do under impossible conditions.

There is a bigger question: where is all the rage coming from?  This is a vitally important question without any apparent answers. The rage is clearly out there, but where did it come from? The police like the rest of us are suffering from anxiety and fear. Every day they drive into harm’s way as part of their jobs.  The cops live in a society transfused with fear, anxiety, depression, and above all hate. It is a toxic mess that no Sunday School can cure.

Of course, we must always remember that a very high percentage of cops don’t resort to killing people out of frustration.  Most of them are just trying to do an honourable job as best they can.  Yet we must not accept it when they don’t do their best or abuse the trust given to them. Society is entitled to their best. Also, we must not be surprised when the police abuse the trust and fall short. It is going to happen. A broken society cannot deliver a perfect result. Fear, anxiety, depression and hate will never produce perfection. We will never get perfect policing until we get a perfect society, at which time we won’t need the police.

As Brett Stephens also said on Maher’s show, “Every day a cop in America is shot and killed. And police deserve a lot more respect than they get.”[2]

 I do not want to be taken to be giving in to fatalism. We must insist police do a better job. We must give them the support and respect they deserve, but not blind automatic acceptance of all they do.

 The real issue about cops is the same as the real issue of guns.  It is not inadequate laws that are the problem.  The real problem is the incredible rage in American society. In many ways it is a broken society. And that means that when the pieces of glass fly, people will get hurt. The rage let loose in a broken society is going to hurt someone. Whoever is in the way will get hurt. Police and guns just happen to be right on the edge of the tears in society. And we just have to look out.

Is Racism in our DNA?


President Obama in 2015, the last full year of his presidency, finally started to buck up the courage to speak about racism. He pointed out how the United States had ““the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, and discrimination” was “still part of our DNA” as Americans.” Remember I am not pointing my finger at Americans from the perspective of us here in Canada being clean. We have the same problem here. Both countries have the same original sin namely racism and male supremacy. This is what Condoleezza  Rice called “a birth defect”.

Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Dubois both understood this as well. As Todd and May explained in their New York Times article,

Both men emphasized how the word is part of the institutional fabric of black oppression, that individual racist acts are not aberrations but the products of a larger systemic set of practices that, as the feminist scholar Barbara Applebaum argues, “hold structural injustice in place.” Central to those practices is policing, and the “bad apple” framing fails to confront its role in structural injustice.

If you just look at bad apples you fail to see or do anything about the tree, the structure, that holds them in place. People who are part of an unjust system may be good people, they may not appear to be exploiters or bad, but if they are part of a system that oppresses they are part of the problem.

The philosopher Iris Marion Young wrote this:

“Structural injustice occurs as a consequence of many individual and institutions acting in pursuit of their particular goals and interests, within given institutional rules and accepted norms. All the persons who participated by their actions in the ongoing schemes of cooperation that constitute these structures are responsible for them, in the sense that they are part of the process that causes them. They are not responsible, however, in the sense of having directed the process or intended its outcomes.”

Everyone who is part of an unjust system—including me and you—have an obligation to dissent. We must voice our objections to that system or   we are part of the oppression. There is no way around this uncomfortable fact. The least we can do—we should do more—is to voice our objections. If we don’t do at least that, we are complicit—we are aiding and abetting—and in law that makes us just as guilty as the perpetrator. 

In 1987 in the Stanford Law Review, Charles Lawrence wrote this way about the bad-apple metaphor: “the bad-apple metaphor suggests a “perpetrator” model that fails to give an account of just how systemic racism is “transmitted by tacit understandings” and “collective unconscious.

 The philosopher Charles Mills argued, “the perpetrator [of racist actions or beliefs] perspective presupposes a world composed of atomic individuals whose actions are outside of and apart from the social fabric and without historical continuity.”

The police—just like all of us—are part of a system for which we are partly responsible. We know that system harms a lot of people. Let’s face it for once. We all know that system harms a lot of people. It is time for all of us to object to that system or we are culpable too.

Michael Eric Dyson, in his influential book, The Tears We Cannot Stop: A Sermon to White America,” explained it well:

“That metaphor of a few bad apples doesn’t begin to get at the root of the problem. Police violence may be more like a poisoned water stream that pollutes the entire system. To argue that only a few bad cops cause police terror is like relegating racism to a few bigots. Bigots are surely a problem, but they are sustained by systems of belief and perception, by widely held stereotypes and social practice.”

So what do we do about it? It is important for all of us to understand this. As Todd and May said,


To truly confront problems of racist violence in our society, let’s not once again begin with the question of how to reform the police. Let’s instead start with the question of how to build healthy and safe communities of mutual respect and see which institutions we need to reach that goal. If anything that is to be called policing emerges from that inquiry, it should be at its end rather than assumed at the outset.

Only such an approach can possibly lead to deep reform. That is the reform we need.


Bad Apples or a Rotten Tree?


A lot people—particularly white people—believe that the problem with policing in Canada and the United States is a few bad apples. Others think it is a lot of bad apples. Both of these beliefs miss the point. It is not just that some police are bad apples; the point it that the tree is rotten. The system is rotten. And from a rotten tree you get poisonous fruit.

Most people believe that most police officers are doing a good job of protecting people. Todd May and George Yancy have argued in a powerful New York Times piece that this is too simple. They put it this way:

It is a mistake not because it underestimates the number of police officers who are racist and violent, but because the problem of racist policing is not one of individual actors. It is a mistake because the role of the police in society must be understood, not individually but structurally.


Like an organ in a human body, a Police Department is part of a structural whole. It functions to perform a certain task in the body politic; it is an organ in that body. Seen this way, each police officer is then like a cell in that organ. Before we can identify any problem in that organ, we must first understand the job that organ performs.


In the case of the police, the answer might seem obvious. Their function is to protect the citizenry from crime. At least that’s what we’re told. But as any good student of biology or politics knows, it won’t help to ask what an organ is said to do. It is better to observe what it actually does.


To merely accept the claim that police forces, since their inception, have protected law-abiding citizens from crime involves the neglect of several crucial factors. It neglects the long history of police abuse and the specific intentional abuse of people of color; it neglects the role that the police have played in breaking strikes, in silencing dissent and in keeping the social order safe from resistance or change. It also neglects the early history of policing in the United States that took the form of slave patrols in the 1700s and the enforcement of Black Codes and Jim Crow laws in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Since police forces were created, they have been the instruments whereby those in power have inflicted their will on the less powerful. And in countries, like Canada and the United States, where race has been, and continues to be, such a powerful force, that power has often been imposed on people who are not white.

Remember everything here applies to Canada too. The early history of the vaunted RCMP was to put down indigenous people in the west. which they did–brutally.

The philosopher and historian Michel Foucault said most of us look at the problem in the wrong way. He said we should not ask why the criminal justice system fails so often, but rather we should ask at what does it succeed? If it succeeded at nothing it would have been defunded a long time ago.

May and Yancy answered that question this way:

Once we ask that question, the answer is entirely clear. They succeed in keeping people in their place. They succeed in keeping middle-class and especially upper-class white people safe, so long as they don’t get out of line. They succeed in keeping people of color in their place so that they don’t challenge the social order that privileges middle- and upper-class white people. And, as we have recently witnessed in many violent police responses at protests, they succeed in suppressing those who would question the social order.

This brings me back to the point I tried to make about racism. The deadliest racism is not the obvious racism; it is the invisible system of racism. It is relatively easy to tackle the overt racists. The invisible racism is much harder to root out. So too with police. We must look at the police system. Or as May and Todd explained,

If we look at individual police officers divorced from the structure in which they operate — if we simply look for the “bad apples”— we fail to see the role of the police as a whole. Whether individual police officers are racist is not the fundamental issue. The fundamental issue is whether the police — the institution of policing as it exists in the United States — is racist. And once we look at this clearly, we understand that the answer must be yes.


So let’s not focus on the  Minneapolis cop who put his knee on the neck of George Floyd. Or the cops in Winnipeg who held down Finn Nolan Dorian near the Winnipeg Centennial Concert Hall. As long as we concentrate on bad apples we will miss out on the more serious problem—the system. In Canada and the United States that system is fused with white supremacism.

It’s really a lot worse than a some bad apples.

Defund the Police?

The issue of race in both Canada and the United States is intimately connected to policing. Racism has been at the centre of the relationship between people of colour and the police in both countries. In a society in which race has played such an important role for centuries that would be unavoidable. That is particularly true when for so long the dominant group has denied that racism is real and has a profound effect.

Some things are obvious. There are good cops and bad cops. The bad cops must be eliminated. The good cops should be encouraged. The underlying system of racism in both countries must be attacked because it has poisoned both countries. I think most people now agree with that statement.

As a result of incidents that have happened recently there is now a strong movement, that some consider insane, to “Defund the Police,” but what exactly that means is less clear. It is clear that even whites are beginning to doubt that the police are blameless. Until recently, most whites took it for granted that the people of colour were at fault. Not any more. There is no longer such an assumption. So far, that is a good thing. But where does that leave us? We must not leave reason out of the picture. This is a time when we need critical thinking, not just emotion. Most of us believe that we need a police force to keep the peace. Are we wrong?

Andrew Sullivan a columnist for New York Magazine delivered a powerful rant on this topic on Real Times with Bill Maher. He was reacting to an incident that happened in Berkeley University in California—Liberal Land if there ever was any. The College of Music there apologized for allowing police officers to use their washrooms during a protest. That does sound pretty crazy. OK, it is pretty crazy.

This is more or less what he said (though) I have left out parts:

There are very practical things we can do to help police reform and we can get bi-partisan support for many of those things, but what has happened with the debate over the last couple of weeks is that fervour and moral panic has taken over and has helped people to lose their reason. This is all emotion. This is mob frenzy. This is precluding any kind of nuance, any kind of practical point. When I hear the cops in general, without any kind of distinguishing between the good and the bad cops, being described as “all cops are bastards,” when I hear the kind of rhetoric you are getting from people on the left about defunding the police, treating the police constantly as the enemy this is not how most Americans feel about them. (Or Canadians I would add.) They want reform. They don’t want to hear this kind of rhetoric of real hatred of the cops. The cops are doing a really hard job and in the past 25 years there has been an extraordinary decrease in crime. The most successful period of crime reduction ever and no one gives them any credit for that. It seems sometimes they just can’t win. I’m not excusing bad behavior in any way nor the misconduct of the few. But the left has gone nuts over the last couple of weeks and they need to calm down and stop demonizing the cops and stop running a campaign on defunding the police and stop this excessive rhetoric about how we all live in white supremacy and all white people have to confess their guilt. This kind of moral panic and orthodoxy that is taking place is unhealthy for democracy. We need to have open debate. We need to respect one another and there is a real McCarthyist feeling in the air right now in which dissenting opinions are not respected.

This is wise. Well at least some of it is wise. We need reason; not name-calling. We have to call out wicked cops. And there are many of them. More than most of us whites now realize. But we need rational debate or any change we achieve will not be good. It is clearly time for the attitude of cops not to change when they go from an all white neighbourhood to an African-American or Indigenous neighbourhood. Clearly that has not been happening. As Malcolm Nance, another guest on the show, said, “They can’t go into these neighbourhoods and treat it like Fallujah.”

According to Sullivan at this time there are a bunch of Woke activists who are holding the media by the throat and we have to sever that grip. This is not good for the left or the right. It will alienate the citizenry. It will destroy the noble cause. In the United States this could help elect Trump. Sullivan worries that the current left will lead people to abandon their current just cause and then, America can have a repeat of what happened in 1968. Anti-Vietnam War Protesters got so extreme that they helped get Richard Nixon elected. That would be unfortunate just when there seems to be a growing consensus for reform. Sometimes the perfect is the enemy of the good.

America and Canada both have done some wonderful things. They have brought in the vote for women and blacks and indigenous people, though with horrible deficiencies. The rights of the LGBTQ community have progressed astonishingly in the past 30 years. Both countries need deep reform but they are not hopeless.

Malcolm Nance said it well, “Forget the extreme voices on both sides. We don’t need militia men and we don’t need to defund the police.” But—and this important—the police need to treat African Americans and Canadians  and Indigenous people like they treat white people. And that is pretty extreme too. It’s clear people of colour and their allies won’t put up with anything else much longer. The time for change has arrived. And it must be real change. Deep change.

The Kick that saved a life?


Sometimes truth is murky. Just as I was thinking about these issues involving race that have been so much in the news lately, we had an interesting incident in Winnipeg. A video surfaced—as they always do—that showed an indigenous man lying on the ground with 2 police officers holding him down and a third one kicking him twice for his own good while a fourth officer was also there pointing a gun at him. The officers said the kick might have saved his life. Is that possible? The Winnipeg police seemed proud when they revealed the video. Of course by then multiple videos had already been released by bystanders.

Finn Nolan Dorian is a 33-year old indigenous man who was kicked twice while being kneed repeatedly by a police officer. The police had answered a call that reported an intoxicated man destroying property and brandishing a hand gun near Winnipeg’s Centennial Concert Hall an area in which indigenous people are prominent. The gun turned out to be an airsoft replica. Not a real gun but it looked at least a bit like a real gun.

The Winnipeg Police department takes the position that the kicks were justified in the circumstances because the man had a knife in his waistband and might have been reaching for it. The police department pointed out that if the officers had shot and killed the man it would have been one more case of police shooting an indigenous person. Had the man grabbed the knife the officers suggested they might have shot the man  in which case the situation would have been much worse. As a result of the kicks, they said they were able to get the situation under control without lethal force. So the man was lucky he got kicked rather than killed!

This makes some sense. The police department says it strives for exactly this result—i.e. non-lethal force that subdues a potentially dangerous man. Had he been killed, people would have asked why didn’t the police just subdue him?

Yet the situation is still disturbing. Is it really necessary to kick him while he is on the ground when there are 4 police officers present, he is intoxicated, and lying face down on the ground with two burly officers holding him face down? Does this meet the smell test?

Yes sometimes truth is murky, but sometimes we have to make the best judgement we can.