What’s Wrong With Policing in America?

Mark Fischler Cognitive, Ethical, How should we relate to the social justice movement?, Integral Justice Warrior, Moral, Perspectives, Politics, Values, Video, World Affairs, Worldviews 30 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

Mark Fischler is a Professor of Criminal justice and current program coordinator for the criminal justice and criminology programs at Plymouth State University. Prior to joining the Plymouth State faculty, he practiced law, representing poor criminal defendants for the New Hampshire Public Defender’s Office. Mark 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 is well respected for a teaching philosophy that emphasizes recognizing the humanity and dignity of each student. Professor Fischler was awarded the outstanding teaching award at his university in 2014. He currently offers a weekly Spiritual Inquiry class through Satya Yoga Studio.

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. We also need to be historically informed. Some of the earliest origins of American policing were slave patrols. Police abuse, brutality, and corruption didn’t come out of nowhere. We live in a country built on centuries of violent oppression and social control. And this has shaped the world we now live in, shaped the system of power. A good book on this The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (see my post An Unjust ‘Justice’ System: Victimizing the Innocent).

    About the long history, there has been: Indian Wars, land theft, genocide, reservations, convict labor, indentured servitude, racialized slavery, company towns, union-busting, Pinkertons, Ku Klux Klan, lynch mobs, race riots/wars/terrorism, Jim Crow laws, eugenics, unethical testing on poor minorities, bigoted immigration laws, sundown towns, redlining, racialized housing covenants, ghettos, internment camps, racial profiling, McCarthyism, corporate blackballing and blacklisting, police/surveillance state, miliitarized policing, war on the poor, war on drugs, FBI COINTELPRO, etc.

    We have to be self-aware of and cautious about our own privilege. Most people interested in integral theory are probably white, middle class, and well educated. We aren’t the typical targets of state oppresson, police brutality, racial prejudice, and ghettoization. And so most of us can’t really understand what the BLM movement is responding to. It’s not personally, emotionally, and viscerally real for those not living it. But that is somewhat changing with smartphone cameras and social media that has a stronger impact in creating awareness.

    Nonetheless, I’d agree that some BLM rhetoric can be unhelpful. It’s easy, for example, to portray “defund the police” as extremist and then use that to dismiss a large swath of BLM supporters. But maybe we need to take a more humble approach. When people have dealt with a problem in their personal experience and in their communities, maybe they genuinely do understand the problem better than those of us who are commenting from a safe distance of privilege that disconnects us from the reality on the ground.

    We should sympathetically listen to how the defenders of “defund the police” make their arguments, instead of projecting onto them what we think they mean. Part of the problem is that it’s phrased badly. For most BLM supporters, the ‘defund’ part isn’t about taking away all funding to police, as it gets caricatured, but to stop increasing funding and, instead, lowering it back down to the more reasonable levels that were seen in the past. It’s also suggesting that we should take that funding to promote social services, rather than expecting police to be the one-size-fits-all solution to every social ill.

    I’m just not sure that we should be too harshly critical in claiming, as corey-devos did, that “defund the police” is “an example of absolutely terrible messaging”. Is it less than optimal? Yeah, I suppose. Is it absolutely terrible? I don’t think so. It powerfully gets a point across, that the police are over-funded. But, of course, it’s always more complicated. Effective communication for social organization and political action, though, requires simplification to create a potent message that is quickly grasped and easly repeated.

    The fact of the matter is that the real issues are hard to communicate. This has been largely intentional, as part of what Noam Chomsky and others have referred to as the propaganda model of news media that often only allows repetition of sound bites, catchy phrases, simplifications, and stereotypes. New ideas are hard to communicate in the MSM because they requre explaining theory, terminology, history, data, etc that isn’t already familiar to the host and audience.

    We the American public have been kept ignorant and indoctrinated. It’s hard to blame the aspiring reformers for failng the near impossble task of reaching such an audience. Yet, miraculously, the BLM message has somehow been heard, understood, and embraced by most Americans. A supermajority now agrees that there is systemic racism in the police and that they need to be reformed. That is no small achievement, as that supermajorty public opinion has never before existed. The morally strong rhetoric and refusal to intellectually quibble might’ve been a major part of that success.

    Besides, it’s probably only a small percentage that ever used the rhetoric of “defund the police”. It was mostly those who wanted to discredit police reform who have latched onto it and then corporate media repeated it ad nauseum, as they tend to do, although that attempt at discrediting seems to have backfred. Anyway, there are surely thousands of people making articulate arguments and trying to promote better ways of communicating, but they are being ignored because that being silenced is central to social control.

    If we jump onto those criticisms and dismissals promoted by the powerful, we are simply furthering the problem. We need to learn intellectual defenses and not allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated in these rhetorical wars. We are always working to improve our rhetorical strategies and communicaton skills. And so fair well-meaning critique is always welcome. But politcs on the ground is always messy and imperfect. Maybe the words matter less than the moral force behind the words.

    We need new narratives and so do those authority figures who stand in as representatives of our social order. The police are in an impossible position. They are being commanded to serve too many masters, serve too many purposes. With increasing militarized power and aggressive methods, they are supposed to, implicitly or overtly, represent the enforcement of authoritarian statism, capitalist interests, systemic racism, and class war while somehow also “basically being tasked with addressing every social problem that we have”, far beyond mere enforcement of basic laws (NPR CODE SW!TCH interview with Alex S. Vitale, How Much Do We Need The Police?). While being the ultimate symbol and representative of hierarchical power and privilege, they are supposed to monitor traffic infractions, protect communities, uphold individual rights, deal with troubled teens, handle disorderly conduct, help the mentally ill, provide services to the homeless, mediate spousal conflicts, stop child abuse, intervene in alcoholism and addiction, monitor sex workers, act as guards in schools, enforce order in classrooms, and on and on.

    The main tool we give the police to deal with this overwhelming and ever growing set of tasks is violence and threat of violence with a gun always at hand — stop the bad guys by any means necessary, in a narrative where all social problems are turned into black-and-white morality judgments. The police are often both the first to be called and the last resort to enact punishment when all else fails. The police are put into an impossible situation. They are asked to carry the entire load of our schizoid society, simultaneously serving authoritarianism and (hyper-)individualism, two sides of the same dysfunctional society of ideological extremism and dogmatic absolutism. It makes no sense. It defies all possibility of sense. So, we end up scapegoating the police when they fail to do the impossible, no different than we also scapegoat the poor and minorities in being victims of the same moral rot that grows like a cancer within our collective humanity.

    Such vast areas of modern life have been criminalized. This has placed a large part of the population under the control of militarized policing that must enforce law and order. As communities have disintegrated and culture of trust has weakened, the police are suppose to replace what has been hollowed out, what once made society functional. It’s fucking insane! This is how we end up with more police than social workers, more police than teachers, more police than librarians and coaches and ministers. The police have become the sole pillar that must hold up the entire social order or it will collapse into total chaos and that will be the end of civilization as we know it; or so the story is told in a tone of the fear-mongering. Well, that is asking a lot of police. No wonder they feel stressed out and so often break under the pressure in turning to brutal violence and abuse, not only of citizens but also as seen in the high rates of spousal abuse among police officers.

    The police are incapable of even policing themselves, much less reforming themselves. That is because they are forced to try to do what is beyond their capacity. They are violence workers with the mandated power to stop and arrest criminals with the protected right to kill whenever they deem it necessary. “And while we’re not using police to manage slavery or colonialism today,” Alex S. Vitale spoke, “we are using police to manage the problems that our very unequal system has produced. We’re invested in this kind of austerity politics that says the government can’t afford to really do anything to lift people up. We have to put all our resources into subsidizing the already most successful parts of the economy. But those parts of the economy are producing this huge group of people who are homeless, unemployed, have untreated mental health and substance abuse problems. And then we ask the police to put a lid on those problems — to manage them so they don’t interfere with the “order” that we’re supposedly all benefiting from.”

    It’s not surprising that the police act dysfunctionally and oppressively in acting on behalf of a dysfunctional and oppressive system. It could not be otherwise. And so we should not be surprised that, when turning police against protesters who are protesting police abuse, it will not turn out well — as Vitale explained: “What we’re seeing is really an immediate escalation to very high levels of force, a high degree of confrontation. And I think part of it is driven by deep frustration within policing, which is that police feel under assault, and they have no answer. They trotted out all the possible solutions: police-community dialogue sessions, implicit bias training, community policing, body cameras. And it just didn’t work. It didn’t make any difference. And so they ran out of excuses. So the protests today are a much more kind of existential threat to the police. And the police are overreacting as a result.”

    Policing has not only become our answer to everything but, worse still, our explanatory narrative of everything. And to try to resolve this conflict, we’ve made our problems worse by militarizing the police which ends up conflating military and police, as our society further takes on the characteristics of a fascist police state and hence a banana republic. With each new wave of policing failure, we throw even more policing measures to deal with it. But this is not a problem for the police to take care of. Turning to the police in the first place is the problem. The police are an extreme measure and should only be called upon when all other measures have been tried and failed. Only in immediate situations of violence should the police be the initial course of action. Militarizing the police in treating them as the solution to everything is not only anti-democratic and anti-libertarian but also simply unfair to the police officers themselves who shouldn’t be forced into that position of authoritarian oppressors. All of us as citizens and community members need to take responsibility for having apathetically succumbed to authoritarian realism, of having failed to radically imagine another way.

  2. I considered typing out all of my relationships with police, but in the end I don’t think it’s constructive because this is fast becoming an “everybody” problem. The recent COVID lockdowns brought these issues to everyone’s neighborhood, as even people in posh elite neighborhoods had their comfort zone pushed against. There was a story in the news locally where a woman walking her dog in a neighborhood with $5+ million homes got a $5,000 ticket for stepping one foot into a park and thus violating the Mayor’s lockdown orders. There were so many people who got $5,000 COVID violation tickets that a judge just threw all of them out, and now the fraud of our Police Department during COVID is in the public discussion.

    I think actual police criminal activity has to be dealt with by an outside force. The oppressed community do not have the power - or they would have addressed it before now, and the police don’t have the desire to fix the problems - or they would have before now.
    Criminal activity by the police really is what we are dealing with as a norm for decades. Here in my city it’s finally out in the open and being published by newspapers. Fraud is a crime. Making an untrue statement on a police report is fraud. I would say that crime is rampant in our Police Departments across the country. The crime of fraud is so insidious because it has covered up much darker crimes for decades. I might put my conspiracy hat on and say that here locally it’s only in the news now and being investigated because they gave a $5,000 ticket to a rich woman in the elite social class with political connections - but there it is.

    Also in our state news is a story of a Police Chief and his County Prosecutor wife and a few other police officers maliciously conspiring to frame someone because of a personal grudge.

  3. Certainly there are problems that must incorporate outside influences. It’s pretty tricky to get to the heart of a problem from the outside of an institution. I’m not sure how it can be done but there has to be a multi-level approach to resolving these “wicked problems” that we have in our societies. People that are functioning from higher, more expanded levels of development simply have no interest in working in law enforcement. Obviously, most of the people in this line of work are functioning at Amber with some Orange and Red.

    I think we may be in for a period of rough waters because transforming police departments is going to require we first do a “cleaning up.” That’s going to have a tremendous push-back. We can already see that. Here in Seattle police response is dismal to many things that aren’t considered “high-priority” in their minds. I run properties and have had to complain to the Seattle police dept for their inept response to things they should’ve responded to. I was told to take it up with my City Council.

    Second, we need to revamp the vetting process as well as the educational demands placed upon police officers. This must include educating them on Psychology and especially their own minds and how to manage stress better and even meditation, etc. Unfortunately, we have the issue of the established culture that is deeply ingrained and influenced by less developed levels of mind. That’s going to be where the push-back comes from and will end up being the biggest challenge. I’ve watched these dynamics go on here in Seattle since the WTO protests in 2000.

    I think the most important dynamic we must keep in mind is making sure we have as many perspectives at the table at all times and not allow ourselves to polarize into a righteous(I/we know better than anyone else) mindset. That type of dynamic breeds distrust and forces people into their corners and sets the stage for conflict. I’d like to think that “I know better” and in a way perhaps I do but if I refuse to listen and truly “hear” and “feel” what others at earlier stages are expressing communication breakdown is certain and inclusion will never occur.

  4. One thing I find interesting about these discussions is that there is often an assumption by many that critics of the police are viewing things from the outside.

    I really do challenge this assumption. It’s a very limited point of view that only someone within a tribe can solve the problems of that tribe. On the contrary, I’d say “A problem can rarely be solved by the same mindset that created the problem.”

    Related to this is the belief that the Police have the capability to find these answers from within their own ranks, and that people who are not within the ranks of police are not able to find answers and will create conflict and distrust.

    At the point we are now in Policing America, the Police in most cities are not able to Police themselves without some kind of external pressure to do so. Plumbers and electricians need a code that they have to follow or have their license revoked or fines imposed by an external licensing body, so too do the police need an external body monitoring them and implementing disciplinary measures to violators. Whether this external body is the court system or an administrative system, it cannot be under the same umbrella as the Chief of Police in that city.
    I agree with Mark in the discussion when he says that the Police rank and file have to be Amber to keep a check on red - but they need Orange to keep them in check.
    In the Military this is done through an enlisted corps and an officer corps, and it’s very effective almost to the point of being the most efficient organization we know in dealing with Red. There are many Hollywood movies that accurately display this conflict between the Amber enlisted man who goes into red as part of his job description, and the officer corps that is expected to maintain Orange ideals. “A Few Good Men” comes to mind most clearly where the protagonist is fighting for Orange ideals in an organization with an Amber / Red mission.
    In the military this line is very clearly defined and lived day to day. Military Officers don’t fraternize with enlisted, and have a much stricter code of conduct than Enlisted do. Most of the Officer Corps has never been enlisted.
    While Police do have ranks, there isn’t nearly the same separation within the organization as in the Military, and usually the Police Lieutenants are trained by the rank and file first alongside all the other Police recruits, not separately as Military Officers are. As a result, Police supervisors are trained to be more Amber first and foremost while Military Officers are trained to be more Orange in separate training than the rank and file.
    Note the rank and file in the Military often resent this - which is why it is not up to them, lol. The Orange Officer Corps establishes the policy and the Amber enlisted Corps follows that policy.

  5. I think to look at this we really have to recognize that this isn’t something that was inevitable to happen, because no other wealthy democracy has this problem.

    Here are the main problems I see:
    Us vs them - Police training should be assessed and changed wherever it stresses the public in general as always having to be treated as dangerous.
    The thin blue line - Internal affairs investigations have to be conducted and reviewed by a body outside the City’s organization structure.
    Homeland security - Police should be peace officers, not warfighters trained to treat protestors as terrorists.
    Creating criminals - All drugs should be treated as medications and be issued under supervision of a Dr. with a prescription. The police should not be killing people over drugs. The whole war on drugs was a complete waste and made all the problems worse.

    Most of this can be accomplished with new accountability and organizational structures and training. For example, a federal group of investigators who investigate police shootings rather than the same Police Department. Or a federal professional license like TSA Officers are required to have and cannot keep if they are fired for cause or ever had it revoked. Basically, anything to have any kind of accountability over officers that cannot be corrupted by Municipal politics or threats by police to not follow their oaths.
    The Federal government does the with all kinds of things already - here are the rules and you have to follow them if you want federal funding. The problem of the last 20 years is the federal government has done this and their guidance has been to treat the population as an inevitable security threat, and given them military equipment to do a “police action” on the population.



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