Protesting Police Brutality Isn’t Enough

But how do you effect change when the agents of the institution you’re protesting against economically benefit from your protesting? 

Protests during the Baltimore Uprising (image via CNN.com)

Protests during the Baltimore Uprising (image via CNN.com)

It’s well-established that if you want to effect change, hit ‘em where it hurts: economically. Nowhere was that more evident this past week than at the University of Missouri, whose dean resigned due to allegations of systemic racism, as well as not doing enough to prevent it:

The University of Missouri system’s president, Tim Wolfe, and the chancellor of the flagship campus, R. Bowen Loftin, announced on Monday that they were resigning their posts in the face of growing protests by African-American students, the threat of a walkout by faculty and a strike by football players who said the administrators had done too little to combat racism on campus.

It’s important to note that this started out with a student going on a hunger strike for several days, which went largely uncovered in the media. Only once the football team (as well as the coaching staff) went on strike was this taken seriously, because that’s where the big bucks are: the university would have lost millions had the strike continued.

The cast of Exodus: Of Gods and Kings. Since when were Egyptians ever white?

The cast of Exodus: Of Gods and Kings. Since when were Egyptians ever white?

Another great example of economics effecting change is in movies, most recently with big-budget blockbuster Exodus: Of Gods and Kings, which raised controversy with its racist (and frankly, unrealistic) casting of white people playing Egyptian royalty, while non-white actors were cast as the antagonists. As a result, there was a boycott of the movie, and it tanked.

Both of these examples involve either strikes and/or boycotts; i.e. cutting off a major source of income. But how do you effect change when an organization isn’t funded by sales, but instead: directly by the government? More importantly: how do you effect change in an organization whose rank & file members actually economically benefit by you protesting them?

Yes, I’m talking about the police.  

Police Love Protests

I have some bad news for you, protesters: as long as they’re not getting killed or severely injured*, police officers love protests. At least, the rank & file ones do. More specifically, their bank accounts do. Wanna know why?

*No, I’m not condoning or recommending the killing and/or injuring of cops. It’s sad that I even need to say that. 

One word: Overtime.

During the Baltimore Uprising (i.e. the Freddie Gray Riots), many police officers were working double shifts, with no days off–and their paychecks reflected it. So much so, that rank & file started calling their overtime checks “Freddie Fun Bucks” (I will keep who I heard this from anonymous, but if you read the rest of my site, it isn’t hard to figure out).

Now, clearly “the brass” don’t enjoy paying out that much overtime, which was at least partially offset by a $1M Department of Justice grant. But they had no choice: Baltimore was in absolute chaos. Sure, the police officers were exhausted from all of the overtime, and a few, unfortunately, were severely injured during the riots.  

So what’s my point?

The Baltimore Uprising was the result of years–if not decades–of racist double standards in police policy, which led to a massive distrust of police by the poorer, predominantly black communities (to be discussed further in my next blog post). Freddie Gray becoming fatally injured while in police custody was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  

But are the police changing their policies and tactics for the better?

That’s what you’d call a “rhetorical question.” If anything, they’re dialing back the intensity in which they do their jobs, out of fear of getting filmed and scrutinized.

My main point is this: short of getting fired and/or charged with a crime, police officers simply don’t have any direct economic incentive to do their jobs well, or conversely: any economic disincentives to not do their jobs badly. And at least in Baltimore City, where over 80% of the police officers don’t live in the city that they patrol, why should they care? (again: to be discussed further in my next blog post). As long as the status quo is upheld, and the citizens are just angry enough to continue protesting, the rank & file will still get their “Freddie Fun Bucks,” and nothing will change.

Officer Jimmy McNulty from The Wire

Officer Jimmy McNulty from The Wire

The change has to happen with patrol officers, as they’re the ones interacting with the community. To quote the great Jimmy McNulty from The Wire:

Baker, Let me let you in on a little secret, The patrolling officer on his beat is the one true dictatorship in America, we can lock a guy up on the humble, lock him up for real, or say fuck it and drink ourselves to death under the expressway and our side partners will cover us, No one – I mean no one – tells us how to waste our shift!

The only way I can see any sort of change happen is if police officers were required to carry Misconduct Insurance, an idea I wrote about a few months ago. Economic incentives and disincentives do work, and they work well. I believe they are needed, because clearly for some police officers, to “protect and to serve” isn’t incentive enough to do a good job on it’s own.  

Oh, and if you’re a police officer that does a good job and takes pride in your work, then you shouldn’t be offended by any of this, because it shouldn’t apply to you if you’re doing your job correctly. But if you read this and you feel butthurt, maybe you should reevaluate your reasons for becoming a police officer in the first place. If you’d rather be a part of the Blue Wall of Silence instead of outing the bad cops that give you a bad name, then you’re a part of the problem.

 

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