To End Racist Policing, Tackle Unjust Laws and Poverty, Says Director of LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Obviously this is not the happiest of times in this country and in the debate that has been going on for several years now about policing and violence. And it seems that no matter what happens, or what kind of reforms or what sort of dialog, it always seems to come back to violence. And I think while the country was convulsing from two extremely disturbing police-involved shootings. The Real News has covered the Black Lives Matter in detail, and now TRNN's Paul Jay and Stephen Janis are speaking with former policeman Neill Franklin about recent police shootings of civilians and the civilian killing of police officers in Dallas on Baltimore radio program "First Edition with Sean Yoes."


STEPHEN JANIS, GUEST HOST, WEAA 88.9'S FIRST EDITION: Welcome back to First Edition on Friday evening How do you think [Dallas] affects the dialog that Black Lives Matter has been trying to continue to keep front-and-center about police reform in this country? And what does it say about policing that it seems to constantly be under duress of these kind of events that come out of nowhere?

PAUL JAY, TRNN: Well, I think you have to step back a bit. If you're asking me how what happened in Dallas is going to affect the issue of police reform, then that's--it's an interesting question, because I think if you look--. There's a congressman from Illinois Tweeted earlier today--a former Congressman, I should say. I think his last name might be Walsh, but I may be misremembering. But he says it's time Black Lives Matter and Obama and everyone who's facilitating this and the police hatred, watch out; we're coming for you. There is a kind of a new phase of a reorganization of a fascist movement in the United States. It's taking different forms. Certainly the most prominent form is what's gathering around the Trump candidacy. The specifics of Dallas is being used by the far right to try to close down any discussions about police reform and defend our cops. And critique of police abuse, it's almost like critique of Israel. You know, if you critique Israel, you're an anti-Semite. If you critique [police abuse or] police killings, somehow you're against all policemen, which nobody's saying, including Black Lives Matter. The underlying issue here is we ask our police--and I mean we as society--and when I say we, in some ways I want to exempt most of us, 'cause most of us don't have all that much power in the society. So the elites ask the police force to be a hammer, especially in cities like Baltimore and areas of deep poverty, to contain the poverty, contain the consequences of the poverty. And I really mean contain. I mean, the reason there's such a high murder rate in Baltimore to a large extent is 'cause it's poor people, poor black people, killing poor black people. And the containment is: make sure that doesn't spill out into Roland Park and into Federal Hill. And to a large extent it doesn't, 'cause if you're a white person in Baltimore, it's one of the safest cities in the country. So the police play a role of dealing with the symptoms of the problem. The real problem is long-term chronic poverty, low wages, high unemployment. And obviously that creates tremendous trauma amongst the people and the kids that grow up within those conditions. And it's dealt with as if it's unsolvable. It's all like, oh, why does this go on for decade after decade after decade, at least 60 years of intense poverty in Baltimore? It's not unsolvable. It's that, one, people make money out of the current situation, whether it's spill-off of the war on drugs and whether it's even at the level of policing and [overtime?], but certainly the courts and the justice system and the lawyers--and most importantly low wages. People with such high unemployment are willing to work sometimes in very difficult jobs at very low wage levels. The underlying issue is the problem, and the police become the face of this super-exploitation, you could say, because the ideology of white supremacy, racism, is to justify this super-exploitation.

JANIS: Well, let me move--let me ask--. Oh. Go ahead, Paul. Sorry.

FRANKLIN: The black problem is everybody's problem. Go ahead, Paul.

JAY: And two, which is very important, I think the number--and I'm sorry I don't have it--I may be somewhat wrong--something like 70 percent of post 2007-2008 crash economic gain--and there's been a big gain in the stock market--has gone to the top one percentile, and then a vast majority of the rest of it goes to the top ten percentile. African Americans have lost more since the '07-08 crash, in the crash and since, and recovered less than the rest of society. If you really want to deal with the problems of violence and crime, and even deal with the problems facing cops, then you've got to deal with the poverty. Take Baltimore. You need a Marshall plan for Baltimore. And there is the wealth to do it if there was the will. There is certainly the wealth in this society to have a mass program of training and investment to start productive enterprises and raise up the level of the schools and so on. You look at the size of the American military budget and other kinds of budgets, it's a pittance what it would take to have a real recovery in places like Baltimore.

JANIS: Well, so Paul raised this question. Why do you think, Neill, these episodes keep happening? Certainly the country's aware of it, the controversy. There've been indictments. If you're a police officer, why would a guy shoot somebody? Or they have him pinned to the ground. Why does this keep happening? I mean, do you think Paul's sort of in the right area there? Is it larger macro economic forces that translate into the street action? Or why do you think it keeps happening, given all the exposure and discussion?

FRANKLIN: So it is a complex scenario. And from time to time I speak to the policies that are a problem, the things that we give our police to do, the tasks that we place upon them--zero-tolerance policing in Baltimore, which causes more interaction between police and community. It's that. It's how we--and not just the police, but society in general--views the black male, the fear that's there, which causes the police, as part of society and who think this way, to react a certain way when they're dealing with a black male. More quickly do they pull out their firearms, even though in this scenario with Mr. Sterling you saw verbal commands, then you saw the Taser, then you saw the tackling and the subduing, before they actually pulled out the firearms on Mr. Sterling.

JANIS: That was in Louisiana, Baton Rouge.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, in Baton Rouge. And so then it gets--then we end up with Sterling being shot. The psyche there, what's in the heads of these people, it's very difficult to unravel. A lot of it has to do with the fear.

JANIS: I do agree with you. I mean, it sounded like the officer was just absolutely scared in the other incident in St. Paul, that he literally was fearful, that he was not in control of that situation or didn't really have any of the skills that were able to interact with somebody and resolve something peacefully.

JANIS: Well, so Paul raised this question. Why do you think, Neill, these episodes keep happening? Certainly the country's aware of it, the controversy. There've been indictments. If you're a police officer, why would a guy shoot somebody? Or they have him pinned to the ground. Why does this keep happening? I mean, do you think Paul's sort of in the right area there? Is it larger macro economic forces that translate into the street action? Or why do you think it keeps happening, given all the exposure and discussion?

FRANKLIN: So it is a complex scenario. And from time to time I speak to the policies that are a problem, the things that we give our police to do, the tasks that we place upon them--zero-tolerance policing in Baltimore, which causes more interaction between police and community. It's that. It's how we--and not just the police, but society in general--views the black male, the fear that's there, which causes the police, as part of society and who think this way, to react a certain way when they're dealing with a black male. More quickly do they pull out their firearms, even though in this scenario with Mr. Sterling you saw verbal commands, then you saw the Taser, then you saw the tackling and the subduing, before they actually pulled out the firearms on Mr. Sterling.

JANIS: That was in Louisiana, Baton Rouge.

FRANKLIN: Yeah, in Baton Rouge. And so then it gets--then we end up with Sterling being shot. The psyche there, what's in the heads of these people, it's very difficult to unravel. A lot of it has to do with the fear. JANIS: I do agree with you. I mean, it sounded like the officer was just absolutely scared in the other incident in St. Paul, that he literally was fearful, that he was not in control of that situation or didn't really have any of the skills that were able to interact with somebody and resolve something peacefully.

FRANKLIN: And we've got--these are two completely different areas. We've got to realize [crosstalk] And not that that makes it any [less] difficult, 'cause we lost a life in a minor [crosskalk] JANIS: Two really minor things that ended up with someone dead.

FRANKLIN: Well, let me ask you something.

JANIS: Yeah, I know what you're going to ask me.

FRANKLIN: I want to ask you something. And believe me, for instance, if I'm working in Baltimore as a cop and I get a call for someone with a gun--not just someone with a gun, but the call that the dispatcher actually said, he threatened someone with it, now, you have to take that, coming from your dispatcher, as truth. You have to. You can't question the information that you they're giving you on such a call. So you have to approach it very cautiously.

JANIS: But, you know, Neill, I saw something. You know Kelvin Sewell. I wrote the book with him Why Do We Kill. And we were out on on Garrison Boulevard shooting some video about one of the crimes he investigated, and a young man pulled out--it was a toy gun, but it looked real. And Kelvin waved at him and said, "Hey, can I talk to you for a second?" Went over. "Let me look at that." And it was resolved. Now, I was totally fearful, and it was for me the first time to witness what a terrible situation that was, because I was like, oh my God, there's a gun. You know. He was incredibly brave and graceful. I don't know if I could have done that. But I can see the dilemma, 'cause I was like, this kid could have a gun. Paul, so, I mean, we kind of are on two split things. I mean, when you talk about sort of the entrenched poverty in Baltimore, is policing sort of the way to prevent that conversation from really happening, in a sense? Because it criminalizes--.

JAY: Well, I think it's kind of--there's two things that have to happen at the same time. One is you have to try to mitigate as much as you can the culture within the police department that's a reflection of society, of elites asking police to contain violence within certain communities. So to mitigate that, you need real community control of the police. You have to be able to have an outside force directly elected by the community who can actually hire and fire a police chief, who directly can [crosskalk]

JANIS: But is that politically realistic? I mean, you saw what happened in Annapolis. There were not meaningful--they're still debating whether or not they're going to let someone on the trial board, let alone say you're going to have a civilian commission comparable to what you've talked about in Toronto. I mean, is that politically feasible in Maryland?

JAY: Yeah, if you start your demands for reform on what's politically feasible, nothing significant will ever change,-- JANIS: That's a good point. JAY: --because what is politically feasible depends on what masses of people do. Like, who would have thought Bernie Sanders could give Hillary a race for her money?

JANIS: Very true. JAY: Whoever thought he could break the whole paradigm of funding and actually raise as much money as [crosstalk]

JANIS: Let me ask Neill. Neill, do you think civilians would ever be given any sort of meaningful control over police on-- JAY: Not "given". [crosskalk]

FRANKLIN: Paul knows I agree with him on this one, and it can be done. And you start in a reasonable size jurisdiction, yeah. Chicago it's going to be much were difficult to push that sort of agenda than Baltimore to get it done. And the smaller the town you can get it done in, then once you start seeing results from that, then you'll have other jurisdictions coming on board. You've got to make sure it's done right, so you start small, and you then branch out into a larger place. But I want to point out something that when Paul was analyzing the president's speech about these issues, some common language that the president used when he was talking. You could clearly hear that he's talking about two separate groups, the police and community. This is a significant problem. And what Paul's talking about regarding a governance board takes it from two separate groups--police, community--and makes it one.

JANIS: You make a great point, 'cause he said we have to pray for the families. He didn't say we have to pray for the families of the men who were shot. He said we have to pray for the families of the police. You're absolutely right.

FRANKLIN: But we all say this. Even when we use the term partnership--"Oh, we need partnerships between police and community"--that term partnership says that this is one group, this is another group, and we've got to get them to work together. Bull crap. They need to be one and the same. And those people wearing the uniforms need to understand and feel that we're all of the same group; we're just the smaller portion of this group who's going to address crime, people hurting people--not people hurting themselves; people hurting people. We're going to address that 24-7 using the philosophy of the community to do so. JAY: And let me add one thing, which I think there has to be a real emphasis on looking at projects like the Rose Street community association, where you have communities that are doing their own violence intervention, maybe Safer Streets, and radically say, we're going to assist, even help finance communities to reduce violence in their own communities, because listen: if you have a domestic dispute--forget even the drug thing, where you can have gangs negotiate corners and not fight over them--but even domestic disputes, instead of cops showing up so fearful 'cause they don't know the people, they have no idea if someone might have a gun, they step between a husband and wife or two guys having an argument over something personal, more often than not it gets worse when the cops show up, whereas if you have community members who know the families and know the people and they step in and they know people's names and they have a history with them, that kind of intervention's completely different. And how many killings wind up resulting out of police interventions of domestic incidents that turn ugly? The money has to be put into not just community policing; even more importantly: fund community organizing, and like what happened in Rose Street. But that also means you have to stop enforcing these crazy drug laws. Watch: Neill Franklin also spoke on Reason TV about how the drug war hurts kids

Understand the importance of honest news ?

So do we.

The past year has been the most arduous of our lives. The Covid-19 pandemic continues to be catastrophic not only to our health - mental and physical - but also to the stability of millions of people. For all of us independent news organizations, it’s no exception.

We’ve covered everything thrown at us this past year and will continue to do so with your support. We’ve always understood the importance of calling out corruption, regardless of political affiliation.

We need your support in this difficult time. Every reader contribution, no matter the amount, makes a difference in allowing our newsroom to bring you the stories that matter, at a time when being informed is more important than ever. Invest with us.

Make a one-time contribution to Alternet All Access, or click here to become a subscriber. Thank you.

Click to donate by check.

DonateDonate by credit card
Donate by Paypal

Don't Sit on the Sidelines of History. Join Alternet All Access and Go Ad-Free. Support Honest Journalism.