Sunday, 3 February 2013

Connect the dots 10011001

Michelle Alexander is the author of The New Jim Crow about how our criminal justice/prison system is a way for us to preserve practical segregation while pretending to be an enlightened and pluralistic society. She writes in today’s NY Times that police officers are given incentives to lie under oath and make up crimes where none have been committed.

No one should be surprised that sometimes, some cops make shit up. But Alexander’s argument is systemic: she says the pressure to ‘make the numbers’ is built into the enforcement apparatus and that therefore, cops being human, they’re going to commit perjury if it will save their jobs and/or asses. This was typically rampant in narcotics units where the accused were usually saddled with priors and couldn’t make a credible defense, whether or not they were guilty in the specific case alleged. But Alexander says it goes much deeper than that:

THE pressure to boost arrest numbers is not limited to drug law enforcement. Even where no clear financial incentives exist, the “get tough” movement has warped police culture to such a degree that police chiefs and individual officers feel pressured to meet stop-and-frisk or arrest quotas in order to prove their “productivity.”

She points out that some federal law enforcement monies are tied directly to arrest numbers so that if arrests are not forthcoming, the cash dries up. Here in New York the chiefs have insisted they impose no quotas on officers for arrests, which isn’t surprising since that’s illegal. But we have concrete voice recordings from precinct captains showing that they do. (Curiously, despite the widespread use of wiretaps to convict people, nothing has happened to the police hierarchs who were caught breaking THAT particular law.)

Alexander quotes one city police officer who spoke out on ABC News about quotas:
Our primary job is not to help anybody, our primary job is not to assist anybody, our primary job is to get those numbers and come back with them. At the end of the night you have to come back with something. You have to write somebody, you have to arrest somebody, even if the crime is not committed, the number’s there. So our choice is to come up with the number.
The numbers rule once again. Why does this sound so familiar? Why, isn’t this the same city where Mayor Bloomberg has insisted for years on ‘rating’ schoolteachers to make sure they are doing a good job? Haven’t we pushing schools and kids for at least a decade, through No Child Left Behind and the Obama/Duncan/Rhee version of school ‘reform’, to test-test-test and thereby prove you know something?

It’s as if the measurability of a thing makes it real while all else disappears into an amorphous soup, a cloud of humanistic do-gooderism that can’t be taken seriously. What a commentary on our hyper-computerized culture and the creeping dictatorship of HAL.

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