Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Brian McFadden's "Overdue Police Reforms" -- plus one of my own


by Ken

I'm going to suggest a police reform of my own, but I thought first we would look at some of Brian McFadden's proposals, posted on DailyKos Friday, which he introduces thusly:
I drew this after video of Officer Slager gunning down Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC came out, but before video of Reserve Deputy (Kind of like a police cosplayer, but given an all-too-real firearm.) Robert Bates shooting Eric Harris in Tulsa County, OK was made public over the weekend.

Surveillance of the police is a start, but it’s tragic that even more graphic snuff films are needed to convince people that our criminal justice system is messed up.

Of course we know that police work is inherently dangerous. For some cops, however, the dangers are magnified to an almost unbearable level by, well, some of the kinds of people they're sworn to protect and serve.

There seems to be an erroneous impression that cops always shoot suspects they come into contact with. Perhaps better data collection and publication would help.

Another common impression is that cops have somehow lost their connection to the community. These reforms might help reforge that tie.


Weekend before last I missed a walking tour in part because I lost 10-15 minutes trying to circumnavigate an undefined chunk of the Wall Street area that was not only cordoned off but "protected" by what looked to be roughly a million cops who didn't seem to be actually doing anything except making sure that no one could get through or get any information about how to get around the barricaded area.

It's this last part that really steamed me: the gleeful refusal to provide any information about how to get around the no-admission area. But we'll come back to that.

This is a legacy of the imperial mayoralties of Rudy Giuliani and especially "Mayor Mike" Bloomberg, whereby in order to protect citizens from their right to assemble peacefully, anytime such an assembly is threatened, an area extending for many additional blocks is cordoned off and occupied by as many cops as can be fit into the available space -- with a minimum of a million. Then the cops just stand there sullenly and when necessary threateningly, in other words doing whatever has to be done to make sure no goddam peaceful assembly takes place on their watch. And a crucial part of the strategy, apparently, is that under no circumstances is any information to be made availalble to (shudder!) the public, the goddam crybabies. If Mayor Mike had actually been the Hapsburg emperor he seemed to think of himself as, he couldn't have devised a better system for protecting the city against, you know, its citizens.

My situation that Sunday was that I had a brief interval between a late-morning New York Transit Museum visit to Substation 21, an actual working subway power substation housed in a building smack dab in the leafy splendor of Brooklyn Heights, one of the city's toniest neighborhoods, and an afternoon Municipal Art Society walking tour in which Francis Morrone annually re-creates the very first walking tour, in 1956, of the Madison Square area. (I've done this walk before, but I'd decided it was time to do it again.)

[Click to enlarge.]

I had the idea of taking advantage of this brief interval to stop in at my office, which is in the Wall street area, to perform a few chores, like finishing up a Sunday blogpost or two. And the plan was working just fine until I came up from the Wall Street station of the Lexington Avenue subway and rounded the corner from Broadway onto Wall Street in expectation of traversing the short block to Broad Street and discovered that the way was police-blockaded, and already I could see some of the Million Cops onsite.

At this point I faced a choice that didn't seem all that momentous. To be able to head east, I could walk up a block to Pine Street or down a block to Exchange Place. It turned out, though, that there was a right choice and a disastrously wrong choice, and guess which I made!

If I'd really thought it through, I would have hung a left and headed down to Exchange Place, because, after all, once I got to Broad Street, if I ever got to Broad Street, I wanted to be at the Exchange Place end of the block anyway. But that's not the reasoning I applied. I reasoned that the block from Wall Street to Exchange Place is kind of long, and isn't the other block, from Wall Street to Pine Street shorter? And I went for the putatively shorter block.

Little imagining that at Pine Street I couldn't get through either. But now I was frustrated enough to become reckless. I was at least able to get near Nassau Street (which is the street that continues the path of Broad Street north of Wall), and could now point down Nassau Street and whine to the segment of the Million Cops on watch that I was just trying to get to my office. Sometimes that actually makes a difference in the neighborhood, because my office is actually within the perimeter of the highly secured NY Stock Exchange, and sometimes if we flash our ID cards to confirm that we belong there, it makes a difference.

And for a moment there I thought it might sort-of-work. One of the Million Cops asked where my office was, and I said, "20 Broad," pointing down Nassau Street, where "my" block might have been visible in the protected distance if not for the obstruction of, you know, the Million Cops -- and whatever the hell was going on. (I never did find out what it was. I guessed it was a movie or TV shoot.) Unfortunately my saying "20 Broad" didn't help, because he had no idea where that was.

In exasperation, I said something like: "So now I've got to go all the way back down to Exchange Place and --" Of course he had no idea where Exchange Place was either, but he had stopped me and now magnanimously led me through the milling throng! But not, as I was expecting, to some safe passageway down Nassau Street. No, he was leading me across Nassau Street to enable me to continue walking down Pine Street another block, presumably to William Street. I realized that I actually should have gone all the effing way back down to Exchange Place! (Assuming that I could get through there!)

Which gave me plenty of time to ponder the reality, which I've encountered before at such Million Cop enclaves: that none of the Million Cops seems to have any idea where they fuck they are! Maybe one reason they so steadfastly refuse to give information about the geography of the blockage-of-the-day is that they don't know anything about the area they're "protecting," except that no goddam people are gonna goddam get through.

I applied the last piece of finesse in my arsenal. Realizing that I was being sent all the effing way to William Street, it occurred to me that, assuming it hadn't been shut down by whatever the hell was going on, the Duane-Reade at midblock would enable me to make the passage from Pine to Wall -- and that's what I did. Of course I had no assurance that once I got to the Wall Street entrance I would be able to get back to Broad Street, but it turned out that I was. I was able to slither down a tiny slice of Broad Street to (of course) Exchange Place and there go through the "normal" security checkpoint and then into my building.

Sure enough, Exchange Place was clear through to Broadway, so I could have gotten through if I'd made the left turn instead down Broadway instead of the right turn up it. At least, I reasoned, I now knew my escape path once I finished in the office. But by the time I finished what I had to do, having lost those 10-15 minues of police-enforced futility, I would need perfect connections on whichever of several subways I chose to make my tour with Francis close enough to the start to be able to join. In reality, I faced a lousy connection on an uptown Lexington Avenue No. 2 or 3, from which I would still have to transfer to a No. 6 local -- and on Sunday subway schedules. So I walked over to the Rector Street BMT station and found that I'd just missed an R train, meaning probably a minimum 10-minute wait. So instead I walked the short block over to the Rector Street station of the No. 1 train and headed home.

Once upon a time in NYC, back in the days of the pre-imperial mayor, if cops were securing an area, they told you how to negotiate the closed-off area. There would, for example, have been somebody at the blockade point on Wall Street who would have told me how far north or south I would have to go in order to get through, and would have warned me that no, I would not be able to get into Nassau Street. Not so, apparently, in the modern new NYPD.

And so here's my proposed police reform. NYC cops when they're on duty in interface with the public would know where the fuck they are, and know which blocks exactly were blocked off, and on that basis be able to advise would-be pedestrians accordingly.

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