What’s Wrong With Policing in America?

Mark Fischler Cognitive, Ethical, Integral Justice Warrior, Moral, Perspectives, Politics, Values, Video, World Affairs, Worldviews 15 Comments

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n April 20th, 2021, former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts for the wrongful death of George Floyd, whose highly publicized death after being pinned to the ground for nine agonizing minutes sparked a new wave of #BLM protests all over the country throughout 2020.

Like everything else in the social media age, the question of policing in America has sadly become yet another theater for our ongoing culture war, rife with the same sort of tribalism, confirmation biases, and all-or-nothing mentalities that have infected every other important social challenge we are facing.

It has become predictably Rorschachian, where everyone sees only what they want to see according to their own political identities, allegiances, and focus-tested narratives. For many this verdict was celebrated as a rare moment of accountability for police officers who have too often circumvented any lasting consequences for their crimes. For others, this verdict represents an all-out assault on civilization itself as it further erodes the “thin blue line” that separates us from total barbarism.

But there are questions we simply cannot answer if we are only taking a partial and partisan view:

  • Why do we see so many cases of apparent police abuse being recorded so frequently, but punished so rarely?
  • What are some possible solutions that can help create more social trust for our police organizations, and a more peaceful society for all of us?
  • What are the dangers of overreacting with the sort of #DefundThePolice and #ACAB (“all cops are bastards”) narratives that we see from the left? What are the partial truths contained within those narratives?
  • Is the problem of policing in America better framed as a “Black Lives Matter” issue, or as a genuine “All Lives Matter” issue?
  • What does an optimal police force look like as a healthy amber social holon, and what is preventing us from creating that healthy (and necessary) structure?

It’s easy to say something like “well, everyone is right” — but when it comes to cases like these, who is more right? After all, we as integralists want to include as many different perspectives as we can into our own, but it also remains true that some perspectives are simply more valuable, more high-resolution, and more true than others. And yet, even the views we regard as being “lower-resolution” can help us identify blind spots in our own perspective, or illuminate more fundamental issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Watch as Mark and Corey take a careful look at the Derek Chauvin verdict — and at the state of policing itself in America — as they offer their own personal views and try to sort through the conflicting narratives surrounding this tragically controversial cultural fault line.

Transcript Excerpt

Mark: So Joe Crystal was a cop in Baltimore, and an incredible TV show called The Wire really told a lot of the stories of what happened. But you know, this guy was just an amazing cop, just straight up as good as they get, and saw a handcuffed defendant brought back into a house and then he was viciously beaten by other officers. And he exposed it, and his career was ruined. Nobody wanted to work with him. People threw rats on his car. He was confronted time and time again, called him a rat. He was shifted around in the department from different agencies within, nobody wanted to work with him, to the point where he quit and became a sheriff in Florida.

A guy was beaten, and they all closed ranks, and they didn’t care.

[George Floyd was in] 2020. Joe Crystal was like 2005. And in the 1990s in New York city they talked about the “blue wall of silence”, and that was a real thing. But in Buffalo in 2020 — do you remember this elderly protestor that was shoved by the police, smacked his head, was bleeding? He was in a pool of blood, banged his head. Two officers were suspended, and then 57 officers resigned in disgust — not over what happened, but they resigned because they didn’t want to be a part of the riot team anymore because these guys were suspended for doing what they did. So it’s like the classic Nuremberg defense, you know, “we’re just following orders, why are you blaming us?” Again, this is the culture that makes this really difficult to get at, and why part of the answer is culture has got to change.
Corey: You just nailed it. Because this is “the thin blue line” as it’s often called — which maybe we can call “the thin Amber line” — and I see this as a very common pattern with a lot of these Amber institutions that are themselves, for whatever reason, not being held accountable to Orange principles of law.
And I think what happens is, these Amber organizations wield power in a particular way. Power has a very particular meaning at Amber, and usually the kind of power that you seek is a totalizing power. Right? And when it comes to these power games, when these groups are for whatever reason unable to be held to account to Orange standards of law and order, then you see exactly these kinds of dysfunctions. This is when you start to see not only massive cases of abuse, but cases of abuse being covered up. Or if they even do come out to light, the accountability is so minor. A lot of these officers who end up actually getting fired from their jobs, what they’ll do is they’ll just pick up and move two towns over and get rehired again. And it’s like their career just kind of goes on uninterrupted. They just have to, you know, leave one community and go into another community, and there’s nothing about what got them fired in the first place that follows them through their career.
So it seems obvious that we have these pathological Amber structures. And here’s the irony: these Orange principles of law and order depend on these Amber organizations being healthy, being trustable, et cetera. One of the first points I made in the show is that we need Amber in order to contain Red, and there’s a lot of Red out there. There’s a lot of assholes out there who will not hesitate to kill another human being because they’re standing in their way. There’s no shortage of that in this country. So it’s a real threat. And being a police officer is not an easy job by any means. And yet if we, as a society, allow ourselves to get to a point where we mistrust these structures that are responsible for keeping us safe – this is where I partially agree with Tucker Carlson’s view that this case against Chauvin was an attack on American civilization itself. Well, you know, if we actually start tying our police officers’ hands and making it so that they cannot respond the way they oftentimes need to respond to these real threats, then yeah, we will see a genuine social collapse as a result. But I think it’s a bit of a straw-man leap there to say “therefore we don’t need any accountability whatsoever”.
I think it just speaks to the complexity of the problem. We need to both understand that we need a strong Amber institution when it comes to the police force, and because it is so Amber, and because it’s so important and fundamental to society itself, we need to have the trust that it is properly enfolded in with our Orange standards of law and order.
Mark: That’s where I was going to actually maybe take it a little bit with you, and you kind of said it, but that maybe part of the answer is policing actually needs to be an Orange structure with a healthy Amber enfoldment with units of Amber. But we’re seeing, as a structural element onto its own, that the pathological elements come through too much. And the reasons why we evolved to higher forms of human rights and liberties under Orange structures is that it’s really had to fully evolve to an Orange structure with Amber enfoldment within. And you know, that may get us to a better place, and then maybe a hundred years from now we’ll be arguing about how it needs to be Green with Orange units therein.

If you enjoy this episode, be sure to check out more episodes of Integral Justice Warrior. Watch them all for only $1!

Written and produced by Corey deVos

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Mark Fischler

About Mark Fischler

Professor Fischler has worked extensively with alternative theoretical models in law, constitutional law, and higher education, and has published on integral applications to teaching, being a lawyer, and legal theory. His focus in the classroom is ethics and criminal procedure, and he is well respected for a teaching philosophy that emphasizes recognizing the humanity and dignity of each student.

Corey deVos

About Corey deVos

Corey W. deVos is Editor-in-Chief of Integral Life, as well as Managing Editor of KenWilber.com. He has worked for Integral Institute/Integal Life since Spring of 2003, and has been a student of integral theory and practice since 1996. Corey is also a professional woodworker, and many of his artworks can be found in his VisionLogix art gallery.

Notable Replies

  1. I would like to point out from the start that the preceding quote claiming confirmation bias would carry more weight if there were not dozens of other Democracies without anywhere near the problems we see in Police Forces across the USA.
    Confirmation bias only exists when you first have a existing belief or theory and only look at events through that lens. It does not exist when we look through multiple lenses from different points of view and still come to the same conclusion: Police Forces in the USA are much more aggressive than in all but the most brutal totalitarian undemocratic regimes.
    If I travel and live abroad and experience dozens of democracies over 10 years that have very few to zero problems with police forces violently brutalizing their citizenry and then move back to the USA and experience police aggression and threatening deadly force for riding a bicycle without a light (for example) - this is no longer anywhere within the realm of confirmation bias, but just plain confirmation.
    In this example, it would only be confirmation bias if I and tens of thousands of other Americans did not experience over the top police aggression and threats of immediate violence or deadly force for minor infractions - or if this is also common in other Post industrial (Post-Green) Democracies as well.

  2. I’ll agree up to this point.
    From there we get into arguing against an extreme point, which is a very easy thing to do and makes us feel superior to whoever, but does not really stimulate a deep robust discussion.
    What % of people actually promote ACAB and defunding the police? I believe it’s a fringe and a very easy straw man to score points against and make the counter argument seem more reasonable.

    I propose instead of the extreme positions that are easily seen as flawed, we turn the discussion toward anti-police ideas that I would argue are common sense or commonly known throughout the United States - but are not true in most other Democracies.

    • The majority of the population to some degree distrust most branches of law enforcement
    • Any competent Lawyer will advise you to never give any information to law enforcement unless absolutely required to do so. Never invite them into your house, never give them any information other than what you are absolutely required to by law.
    • Police are trained to view the general public as hostile to them, even so far as to display the public as the enemy in police academy training and later 1:1 on the street training
    • Police departments and Officers are usually rewarded financially for having extremely aggressive tactics and use extralegal means to protect their own tribe, for example with falsified reports. Many police departments suffer from commonplace corruption and falsification of records.
    • In many departments there is great risk involved in filing a formal complaint against an officer, or at the very least there is no obvious way to go about it.
    • The law enforcement has created their own tribalism where their tribe is above law and morality
      Then add that these are points of concern commonly discussed by well meaning but completely overwhelmed minorities within law enforcement.

    I don’t think it’s necessary to exaggerate. The actual every day facts of the matter have reached an extreme point without exaggeration and is part of the public record of cities across the country. When compared to police forces of other democracies the contrast is extreme.

    Again - I want to stress that most people did not somehow come up with some kind of unfounded dislike of police because of a political ideology that formed in a vacuum and then after that formed an unfounded bias against police.
    No, but that would be convenient.
    Many people could very well have a positive opinion of police until having several unpleasant experiences where police were dishonest, overly aggressive, and/or violated their rights. Other people might have grown up with the idea of police as a kind of superhero and then as adults witness story after story in their local or national news.
    In my city just recently during covid there was massive overtime fraud to the sum of tens of millions of dollars, which means a large part of the department was violating the law for their own financial gain, and issuing tickets for every minor infraction or even completely bogus tickets. This is following the conviction of the Police Chief married to the County Prosecutor of a neighboring county for framing people they held grudges against. The same and worse stories are repeated again and again across the country to a degree not seen anywhere else in the free world.

    I think in the case of the police there is a unique situation. If the garbage man one day goes crazy and dumps your garbage on your lawn - you can clean it up and another garbage man can take it away the next week. It’s just an inconvenience. Or other people in the public trust are under rigorous scrutiny, such as Doctors who often pay out when they make a mistake and even have malpractice insurance just for this reason. But with a Police Officer if they violate the public trust there is often no recourse for the victim, and after decades of bad policy we now have a pot boiling over.

  3. I’ll “bite” on defund the police:
    Currently Police receive much of their funding in the form of weapons, riot gear and military equipment that has nothing to do with crime prevention and everything to do with power and control. Often police departments just find themselves with a windfall of military equipment designed to fight urban warfare, and then they feel the need to find a use for such equipment.
    Another aspect of this militarism of the police is funding obtained through the “war on drugs” where law enforcement can seize cash and assets they believe are linked to the drug trade without due process. Just having a large amount of cash is one such “suspicious” activities and there have been documented cases of police just taking sums in excess of $10,000 from people completely unconnected with the drug trade just because having large amounts of cash is probable cause.
    Then the drug trade brings up the topic of victimless crimes. The war on drugs is a self perpetuating orobos. The United States learned in the 1930’s that prohibition does not work, but doubled down on drug prohibition with the war on drugs due to the massive government budgets such programs require. Then they were funded by not actually stopping the drug trade, but just seizing enough to keep the self perpetuating loop going. The result is 50 years later we have a prescription opioid epidemic because we funded the police instead of mental and psychological health.
    So yes, defund the police first in regards to military equipment that is designed for urban warfare and defund the police’s funding obtained from illegal seizures without due process via the war on drugs. Yes, also defund training programs that are oriented towards suppression of democratic freedoms.
    Begin funding instead mental and psychological health programs, including self actualization and self worth programs in public schools.
    We saw in 2020 what happens when there is no accountability at the Federal level and the police use this equipment, tactics and philosophy to suppress first amendment rights. In many cities they fanned the flames. “The Police” can only be trusted with democracy insofar as they fear repercussions in the courts.
    Defund the Police is only bad if seen as an absolute “all or nothing” position. Logically and and rationally there are huge problems with how law enforcement is funded and what they use the funding for (oppression and perpetuating the crime cycle rather than ).

    I’ll also take a stab at ACAB:
    I think this has more to do with people identifying their profession as themselves. I think most people in integral do not identify their career as their own personal identity, and at the end of the work day shed that persona and engage in their family and social life as their authentic selves.
    But certain careers require or at least strongly encourage people to become their professional personas.
    With police we are left with a situation where they are trained to be assholes and bastards on the job, and largely take that on as their identity as part and parcel with being a cop.
    Anecdotally, I have met or been friends / acquaintances with many Navy Seals and Special Forces personnel in my life and I have no doubt they’ve killed lots of people and would be scary to meet in a war zone. But they are generally “cool dudes” at a BBQ. It’s almost as if the longer they are in the more well adjusted and even benevolent they become. Also anecdotally, not once have I even met a Police or retired Police in a social setting and thought the same. It’s almost as if the opposite is true of Police Officers - the longer they are in the more unpleasant they are to meet socially. Of course I can’t say “All”, because I’ve socially interacted with few police.
    I have been given a break and not ticketed by police officers on the job. I’m not sure where this falls on the range of privilege vs the police being nice. But it only happens if I overtly and vocally recognize the officer’s power and stroke that a little to get out of a $100 ticket. Anecdotally when I’m not in a mood to stoke an officer’s ego - I get the ticket, lol. Only once did me sticking to my rights and not stoking their ego result in the officer calling for backup. (I refused to give her my telephone number, work address and drivers license for a bicycle citation). I often wonder how all these encounters would have gone if I was a different race and/or did not dress and present myself as a member of the White Educated Professional Services class.

  4. This is a fantastic discussion; thanks to everyone. Perhaps what I’m most enthusiastic about is the attention given to the abusiveness and corruptness of the amber social holon. While Integral has focused for the past several decades to a large degree on unhealthy green (and there are understandable reasons for that), I once heard Ken Wilber say that the amber holon is probably the greatest threat to the world. This has been my view. Both in the U.S. and globally, the rise of bold and corrupt amber-stage authoritarianism based on the rule of a group/party or individual is a serious threat to democracy as well as human and planetary health. If Integral is still aligned with the amber-stage as being “pre-rational,” why wouldn’t we consider this the greatest threat? Granted, some green-stage leftists do regress to amber stages themselves, with a little red violence thrown in, but overall, I don’t see how this is equal to the transgressions in multiple areas of the amber holon.

    As for BLM and racism, a quick internet search will show that there is not a whole lot of agreement as to what “systemic racism” is. Some equate it with institutional (also called structural or state) racism, while others claim it is “the value system embedded in a society that supports and allows discrimination,” and is therefore both different and the basis of both institutional and individual racism. Confusing, but what it tells me is that the issue is complexifying, probably as a result of growth in consciousness around race issues. That’s good news.

    If one just considers the laws on the books when speaking of systemic racism, then perhaps there is none. But if practices, procedures, and methodologies are considered–in everything from education to banking/finance, housing/real estate, health care, business, law enforcement/judicial system, etc.–then it seems there is minimally institutional racism. And other ‘isms’ as well.

    Environmental air quality standards in the state where I live, for instance, are based upon what is considered safe for an 18-year-old healthy male, which excludes children, older people, females, people with respiratory or others illnesses, etc. Sex-aggregated data for the Covid-19 vaccine trials has yet to be fully released; what has been published shows that 45% of the participants in vaccine trials were women (55% male), 61% of vaccine doses given through February were given to women, 79% of adverse side effects occurred in women (per CDC). If medical research is considered a part of the medical system, then there is either sexism in the system, or perhaps just a stubborn and unhelpful pragmatism as medical researchers seek a “uniform cohort of subjects” and females (including female mice!) are often excluded due to hormonal cycles–even when testing drugs designed specifically for women! And yet another example, the U.S. Dept. of Education just this month has issued proposals to update the teaching of American history and civics in schools, to “incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives in teaching and learning.” Which is an admission that heretofore, those diverse perspectives have been missing.

    As for policing and police violence, some police departments in the U.S. are aligning themselves with the national Campaign Zero and the “8 can’t wait” policing reforms (i.e. de-escalation training, bans on chokeholds and strangleholds, not shooting at moving cars, requiring a warning before firing a gun, use-of-force continuum, exhaustion of all alternatives before shooting, comprehensive reporting by officers whenever they use force or threaten to use force against civilians, and duty of officers to intervene when a fellow officer is getting angry or too emotional or violating laws/regulations.)

    A police department in my state that has had policing and police-shooting problems and its fair share of “defund the police” rallies, has instituted a de-escalation training that includes the following: focusing on officer wellness and stress management (which speaks to Benjamin’s points about too much being expected of police), teaching police to not take things personally, teaching when to walk away, teaching how to slow down an encounter, and the requirement that other officers have a duty to intervene when another one is exhibiting volatility. Sounds good; the only problem is the training is only 10-hours long, and seems to me, any one of these topics might warrant a 10-hour training itself. No wonder many trainings don’t “take.”

    While attempts at police reform are not the total answer (and many attempts at reform have failed), they are a part of it, and some reforms are happening. Long road ahead.

  5. That’s because there is not much agreement, much less common understanding, about systems in general. It’s an obviously complex topic. This also goes to difficult issues of collectivities, what it means to have a shared humanity in a shared society on a shared planet. What if human identity itself is thought of in terms of systems and collectivities? That makes me think of the self as bundled, extended, relational, socially constructed, etc. And there is the related topic of hyperobjects, which always makes me wonder about hypersubjects.

    By the way, a major hyperobject is lead toxicity specifically and pollution generally. This disproportionately affects minorities. Part of the reason is because toxic dumps are more often placed in poor minority communities because such people have the least power, representation, and voice in our society. They can’t defend themselves and so, as with police brutality, they are the most easily victimized. It’s systemic problems within systemic problems overlapping with still other systemic problems.

    This is one small piece of environmental racism. And lead toxicity, as with pollution and climate change, is a great example of slow violence, closely related to hyperobjects. Slow violence is spread across time and a hyperobject is spatially dispersed, which in both cases make them hard to viscerally perceive and often hard to objectively prove. They are most clearly seen across large sets of abstract data, even as they are invisible right in front of you.

    Yet they have potent affect on individuals, families, and neighborhoods in concrete ways. Entire communities have been devastated, particularly when intersectionally combined with other factors of prejudice, oppression, and disadvantage. For example, it’s the same populations being poisoned with lead toxicity that also are being brutalized by police brutality, not to mention being trapped in poverty and inequality, along with hundreds of other interlinking conditions.

    To give a specific example, consider Freddie Gray as one of the well known cases of police violence leading to undeserving death. Gray and his sister had early childhood lead exposure at toxic levels. Lead toxicity leads to a host of health and behavioral issues — besides conditions like asthma, it can caused neurocognitive stuntng, lowered IQ, decreased impulse control, increased aggression, etc.

    Research shows that populations with high lead toxicity result in increased violent crime rates about 20 years following childhood exposure when those children reach adulthood. But those victims of externalized costs of others, instead of being helped and treated and cared for, are further victimized by being criminalized. They’ve often experienced police brutality while still children when they get pulled into the school-to-prison pipeline.

    That is how racism works. And the privileged don’t have to ever experience or appreciate or even acknowledge how the system works in benefiting them. The greatest of privileges is being free to be oblivious to one’s privilege.

    There are many institutions in society, far beyond police and government. In capitalism, corporations and banks have come to play the role of institutions. Any social structure, from church to family, can be an ‘institution’. Then to speak of ‘structural’ is to be even more broad.

    Culture itself as part of social institutions and social structure pretty much can cover all the rest of society. LOL There really is nothing that isn’t a system, an institution, or a structure; or is part of them. This is how, in a historically racist society, racism gets into everything and everyone.

    That’s a great example. It’s amusing how certainly truths get indirectly, implicitly, and inadvertently admitted. One becomes sensitive to reading in between the lines.

Continue the discussion at community.integrallife.com

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