On today's BradCast (with helicopters circling overhead here in Hollywood): Massive protests around the country continue today for an eighth day following last week's police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. The street protests continue to swell, no doubt, in response to the frequently brutal response by law enforcement officials in many major cities around the country toward the mostly peaceful demonstrations. But protests in the streets aren't the only much-needed response to years of violence instigated by law enforcement. [Audio link to full show is posted below.]
First up today, one response will be --- or, certainly should be --- at the voting booth this year. To that end, eight states and Washington D.C. are holding their Presidential primaries today. Congressional primaries and municipal elections are being held in a number of other states as well, many of them previously postponed due to the coronavirus. But the deadly pandemic continues, leading Republican Gov. Mike Parsons of Missouri --- where absentee voting is severely restricted --- to tell voters recently that if they don't feel safe to vote due to the pandemic, they just shouldn't bother. That, instead of working to expand absentee voting in the Show-Me State to make it safer for voters to exercise their right to participate in their own democracy. As a GOP-dominated state, however, making it easier to vote in MO may be the last thing Parsons wants.
Nonetheless, expanded absentee voting is now occurring in a number of states --- red, blue and battleground --- where problems have already emerged, including in Pennsylvania and in Idaho, as discussed on today's show.
We're hopeful that election officials see today's "practice run" primaries as a flashing red warning light to get their acts together before November 3rd. That will not be made any easier by intransigent Republican lawmakers in D.C. who are still refusing to appropriate the billions of dollars that elections officials say they need to upgrade systems for this year's elections amid a pandemic, or to bail out the U.S. Postal Service --- hard hit by the COVID crisis --- so they are able to handle the unprecedented mail-in voting we will see in this fall's critical general election.
In related news, the President of the United States, after reportedly spending time over the weekend locked away in a White House bunker due to fears of protests in front of the Presidential mansion, decided to play tough guy on Monday by unleashing federal troops with tear gas, rubber bullets, batons and shields on peaceful protesters in Lafayette Park, on the priest and several seminarians at St. John's Episcopal Church across the street, and on foreign journalists covering the American Dystopian nightmare live on television. D.C.'s Episcopal Bishop, as well as the Australian Ambassador, both had a word or two to say about it after a crew from the country's Seven Network was ">punched by federal storm-troopers as the journalists were covering the violent effort to clear out the park so that Trump could pose for a campaign photo-op holding a bible in front of the historic church.
And, in more related news, while Trump's questionably Constitutional threat on Monday to dispatch the U.S. military to quell protests in states around the country --- beyond his own front door, in any event --- is likely as hollow as most of his other strongman threats, the very real and systemic problem of brutal, racist policing policies continues in this country. To that end, calls to "Defund the Police" have grown in recent days, as seen in protest signs, from various non-governmental organizations around the country and in various media outlets.
We're joined today by longtime policing expert ALEX S. VITALE, Professor of Sociology at Brooklyn College and Coordinator of their Policing and Social Justice Project. Vitale, who penned an opinion piece for The Nation over the weekend headlined "The Only Solution Is to Defund the Police" explains how reforms instituted by the Obama Administration after outrage unleashed by the police murders of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO and Eric Garner on Staten Island, NY six years ago have failed to bring much-needed institutional changes to police departments around the country. The Minneapolis Police Department, in fact, was once held up by some as a model of progressive change that, clearly, has not resulted in the hoped-for reform.
"Minneapolis was kind of a 'shining star' of this new approach to police reform," he tells me. "That comes out of the Obama Administration, the Department of Justice and a lot of academic think tanks. Their idea was if we can make the police more professional, less biased, more transparent, that this will help restore people's trust in policing. So they implement things like implicit bias training, mindfulness training, de-escalation training. They give police body cameras. They set up a lot of police-community encounter sessions. They try to identify a few problem officers, to give them supplemental training. These are the kinds of things that they hope will create a more modern, professional police force that hopefully will kill fewer unarmed black people."
None of that worked, however, he says. "The number of police killings has not been reduced over the last five or six years. The number of low-level misdemeanor arrests has not been reduced. The number of police in our schools has not been reduced. The war on drugs has not been reduced. So we haven't seen real changes in the impact of policing on those who are most heavily policed. And that's really the problem here."
Now, explains Vitale, author of the book The End of Policing, it is time to demilitarize and defund departments around the country after 40 years of expanded and intensified policing and the more recent failed reforms. "We have dozens of places across the country where people have organized campaigns to dial back police funding," he explains. "No one is out there saying tomorrow we can just flip a switch and there are no police. Most of these proposals are about rolling back increases in police spending over the last ten years."
He argues that many of the functions that cops are currently tasked with would be much better handled by social workers and community organizations, where funding should be shifted away from the police. He also details how this has been a long time bipartisan problem and that many of the "solutions" offered by politicians --- from tough guy "law and order" measures on the Right or more recent progressive initiatives to better train cops to handle sensitive racial situations and improve community policing efforts on the Left --- are more often "used by police leaders and political leaders to deflect and demobilize the protests against them."
Vitale explains how you can help join the movement, why its so important, and how it is literally the only chance we have left for change. Hopefully, this is just the beginning of a long-overdue conversation in our country. "My hope is that, as the immediacy of the protests subside, that people connect with these real movements to do the kind of sustained political organizing on the ground that can help change the view about policing, and develop a kind of new majoritarian politics that is more humane, and less centered on punishment and vengeance," he says.
Finally, Desi Doyen joins us for our latest Green News Report, as Trump's EPA proves they couldn't care less about "states' rights"; the U.N. is forced to delay a crucial climate summit due to the pandemic; there is more good news about the end of coal; and less good news about Zombie Fires! Yes, Zombie Fires!...
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(Snail mail support to "Brad Friedman, 7095 Hollywood Blvd., #594 Los Angeles, CA 90028" always welcome too!)