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How Much Do We Need The Police?

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Police advance on demonstrators who are protesting the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Scott Olson/Getty Images hide caption

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Police advance on demonstrators who are protesting the killing of George Floyd on May 30, 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

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One effect of the widespread protests across U.S. cities this week has been to renew discussions of what role the police should play in society.

For many Americans, it goes without saying that the police are critical in maintaining public safety. Have an emergency? Call the police. But many others — especially black people and poor people — have long countered that the police pose more of a threat to their safety than a boon. See a police officer? Walk the other direction.

So it seems like a good moment to talk to Alex S. Vitale. He’s the author of the 2017 book The End of Policing. In it, he argues that rather than focus on police reform or officer retraining, the country needs to fundamentally reconsider what it is the police should be doing at all.

I spoke with Vitale about what roles police should and shouldn’t play, what he makes of the current protests and what actual change in the way police in this country do their jobs might look like. Our conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity.

One of the arguments you make in The End of Policing is that police are being asked to do too much. They’re basically being tasked with addressing every social problem that we have. So what are police asked to do? And what should they be asked to do?

One of the problems that we’re encountering here is this massive expansion in the scope of policing over the last 40 years or so. Policing is now happening in our schools. It’s happening in relation to the problems of homelessness, untreated mental illness, youth violence and some things that we historically associate police with.

But the policing has become more intensive, more invasive, more aggressive. So what I’m calling for is a rethink on why we’ve turned all of these social problems over to the police to manage. And as we dial those things back, then we can think more concretely about what the rest of policing should look like and how that could be reformed.

You brought up homelessness. In many cities police are tasked with dealing with people experiencing homelessness — but they don’t have many options besides basically moving people or arresting them.

Well, we’ve created this situation where our political leaders have basically abandoned the possibility of actually housing people. Which, of course, is the real solution, supportive housing for those who need extra support. But basically, we have a massive failure in housing markets that is unable to provide basic shelter for millions of Americans.

So instead of actually addressing that fundamental problem, we have relabeled it as a problem that is the fault of the disorderly people who we label as morally deficient. And then we use police to criminalize them, to control their behavior and to reduce their disorderly impact on the rest of us. And this is perverse and unjust. So then it places police in this completely untenable situation, because they completely lack the tools to make this problem any better. And yet we’ve told them it’s their problem to manage. …

Part of our misunderstanding about the nature of policing is we keep imagining that we can turn police into social workers. That we can make them nice, friendly community outreach workers. But police are violence workers. That’s what distinguishes them from all other government functions, is that they have the legal capacity to use violence in situations where the average citizen would be arrested.

So when we turn a problem over to the police to manage, there will be violence, because those are ultimately the tools that they are most equipped to utilize: handcuffs, threats, guns, arrests. That’s what really is at the root of policing. So if we don’t want violence, we should try to figure out how to not get the police involved.

There are obviously a lot of people who agree broadly with the notion that the way that policing happens in this country is a problem and that there needs to be some sort of change. But they’re pretty invested in the idea that police are needed to maintain public safety. People ask the question, without police, what do you do when someone gets murdered? What do you do when someone’s house gets robbed? What do you say to those people who have those concerns?

Well, I’m certainly not talking about any kind of scenario where tomorrow someone just flips a switch and there are no police. What I’m talking about is the systematic questioning of the specific roles that police currently undertake, and attempting to develop evidence-based alternatives so that we can dial back our reliance on them. And my feeling is that this encompasses actually the vast majority of what police do. We have better alternatives for them.

Even if you take something like burglary — a huge amount of burglary activity is driven by drug use. And we need to completely rethink our approach to drugs so that property crime isn’t the primary way that people access drugs. We don’t have any part of this country that has high quality medical drug treatment on demand. But we have policing on demand everywhere. And it’s not working.

Obviously, a big part of what is on people’s minds right now is the role that police have in dealing with protesters, dealing with different types of political unrest. In your book, you talk a lot about the history of how police have been used to quell social unrest. Can you talk about that history a little bit?

Well, I think that one of the myths we have about policing is that it is politically neutral, and that it is always here to sort of create order in a way that benefits everyone. But the reality is that America’s social order has never been entirely equitable. We have a long history of exploitation of the indigenous population, of African Americans through slavery, Jim Crow and today.

And while we’re not using police to manage slavery or colonialism today, 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.

But if you’re one of those poor people, one of those folks with a mental health problem, someone who’s involved in black market activities to survive, then you experience this as constant criminalization.

And would you say the same goes for people who are political protesters?

Political protest has always been a part of this dynamic, right? Political protests are a threat to the order of this system. And so policing has always been the primary tool for managing those threats to the public order. Just as we understand the use of police to deal with homelessness as a political failure, every time we turn a political order problem over to the police to manage, that’s also a political failure. I think the mayor of Minneapolis, for instance: Jacob Frey. He has consistently tried to frame this as a problem of a few bad apples. And he says, “Why are you protesting? We fired them.” But this completely misunderstands the nature of the grievances. And instead of actually addressing those grievances, he’s throwing police at the problem.

Are the interactions that are happening right now between police and protesters something that you think is predictable? Or is this something new that we haven’t seen before?

It’s not completely new, it’s just the intensity of it compared to, let’s say, five years ago during the Eric Garner and the Mike Brown protests. 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.

If we were to take serious steps toward moving in the direction of having police address fewer of our social problems and putting those problems in the hands of people who are actually more equipped to deal with them, what would be the next step? What is the next thing that we as a country have to push for?

I think this will look like a series of local budget battles. And that’s really what’s going on across the country, is when we have these divest campaigns in places like Los Angeles and Minneapolis and New York and Durham, North Carolina and Nashville, Tennessee and Dallas, Texas. These are folks who are saying concretely: “We don’t want police in our schools. We want that money spent in ways that help our children, not criminalize them. We don’t want more money for overtime for narcotics officers. We want actual drug treatment programs, safe injection facilities, things that will help people.” So that’s what this looks like. It’s about rallying city council members and mayors around a new vision of creating healthier communities.

When you’re looking around at what’s happening right now, what are the things that you think people need to understand to really process what is going on around the country?

Well, I think the police are making the argument for us, right? People started this conversation by saying policing is out of control; they’re not making the situation better. They have not been reformed. Well, now all you have to do is turn on the nightly news and see how true that is.

The level of aggression and unnecessary escalation is stark evidence of how unreformed policing is, and I argue how unreformable it is. The question is whether or not people will take it to the next step and ask the tough political questions. Why are our mayors turning this over to the police to manage? Why are we using curfews instead of having conversations? Why are we throwing protesters in prison instead of trying to figure out what’s driving all of this anger?

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2020/06/03/457251670/how-much-do-we-need-the-police?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Eiffel Tower Reopens In Paris, After A 3-Month Shutdown

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A couple hugs each other as they visit the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Thursday. The iconic tower is reopening after the coronavirus forced its longest closure since World War II. Thibault Camus/AP hide caption

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The Eiffel Tower reopened to visitors Thursday morning, after being shut down for more than three months due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was the Paris landmark’s longest closure since World War II.

The reopening is a dramatic sign of people finally reclaiming public spaces in France, after more than 100 days of restrictions. But the tower’s highest point is still not open – and for now, visitors will need to take the stairs.

The stairs-only rule is one of several restrictions at the site, which draws millions of tourists during a normal year. Face masks are compulsory for all visitors over the age of 11, and physical distancing markers are in place.

To keep people from crossing paths on the stairs, visitors will ascend on the Eiffel Tower’s East pillar and descent on the West pillar, the Eiffel Tower website states.

The reopening took place on a sunny and clear morning, promising wide views of the city. The tower’s return was widely celebrated, with Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo hailing the reopening. As the first visitors prepared to make their way up, a band of drummers performed in the plaza at the tower’s base.

Elevator service inside the monument is slated to return on July 1. For those who can’t wait, a ticket to walk up to the Eiffel Tower’s second floor – the wider area that cuts off just as the tower narrows toward its spire – costs 10.40 euros (about $11.65).

Tickets are being sold online, in 30-minute increments. Shortly after noon local time Thursday, spots were still open through the afternoon, although the evening tickets had all been claimed, presumably by people eager to see how the City of Lights comes to life in the night, even during a pandemic.

A French government official declared the coronavirus to be “under control” in early June. Days later, France joined the rest of the European Union in lifting many border restrictions within the bloc – part of a plan to salvage part of the summer tourism season.

There are signs that the virus is remaining under control. France’s positive test rate for the coronavirus is 1.5%, according to the most recent data from the national public health agency. Only two of its 104 departments are considered to be in a highly vulnerable situation – and those are in islands in the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean.

France has confirmed 161,348 coronavirus cases, including 29,731 deaths, according to government data.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/883270541/eiffel-tower-reopens-in-paris-after-a-3-month-shutdown?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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‘Gone With The Wind’ Returns To HBO Max With New Introduction

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The New York premiere of Gone With the Wind on Dec. 19, 1939, in the Astor Theater on Broadway. AP hide caption

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Gone With The Wind has returned to the streaming service HBO Max after it was removed earlier this month because of its benign portrayal of American slavery. The film now features a new introduction by film scholar and Turner Classic Movies host Jacqueline Stewart.

In the introduction, Stewart addresses the film’s problematic depiction of the Antebellum South.

“Eighty years after its initial release, ‘Gone With the Wind’ is a film of undeniable cultural significance,” she says. “It is not only a major document of Hollywood’s racist practices of the past but also an enduring work of popular culture that speaks directly to the racial inequalities that persist in media and society today.”

Stewart adds that the film depicts a “world of grace and beauty, without acknowledging the brutalities of the system of chattel slavery upon which this world is based.”

The streaming service also added two companion videos along with the return of the film. One video features a panel discussion on the film’s controversial legacy and another provides more information about Hattie McDaniel, who in 1940 became the first African American to win an Oscar for her portrayal of the enslaved “Mammy.”

Los Angeles school children attend a ceremony unveiling a commemorative U.S. Postal Service stamp for actor Hattie McDaniel in 2006, in Beverly Hills, Calif. McDaniel, also a singer, radio and television personality, was the first African American to win an Oscar, for her portrayal of Mammy in Gone With the Wind. DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP hide caption

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DAMIAN DOVARGANES/AP

The 1939 film has long been the subject of criticism, with some saying it portrayed the Confederacy with sentimentality and fondness. Recent protests for racial justice sparked by the police killing of George Floyd renewed these concerns. Screenwriter, producer and director John Ridley wrote an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times earlier this month calling on HBO Max to remove Gone With the Wind from its library.

“The movie had the very best talents in Hollywood at that time working together to sentimentalize a history that never was,” Ridley wrote. “And it continues to give cover to those who falsely claim that clinging to the iconography of the plantation era is a matter of ‘heritage, not hate.’ “

A spokesperson for the streaming service told NPR in a statement at the time of the film’s removal that the “racist depictions” in the film were “wrong then and wrong today, and we felt that to keep this title up without an explanation and a denouncement of those depictions would be irresponsible.”

The spokesperson added that aside from the new introduction, the movie itself would not be altered once it returned, “because to do otherwise would be the same as claiming these prejudices never existed.”

Stewart reiterated those sentiments in her introduction, acknowledging that while watching Gone With The Wind and other classic films could be uncomfortable or painful, the films should be available in their original form to “invite viewers to reflect on their own beliefs when watching them now.”

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/live-updates-protests-for-racial-justice/2020/06/25/883216627/gone-with-the-wind-returns-to-hbo-max-with-new-introduction?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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Both Chambers Of Congress Back For First Time During Pandemic Amid Questions On Tests

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Lawmakers are directed to practice social distancing for debates and votes on the floor of the House of Representatives. AP hide caption

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On Thursday, the House and Senate will be in session at the same time, for the first time, since the pandemic began more than three months ago.

While the 100-member Senate resumed its regular floor business in May, the much larger House of Representatives has met sparingly. With more than 430 members, the lower chamber faces higher risks for an outbreak.

And like many other workplaces around the country, Congress has had to ration tests for the coronavirus. Much of the work by employees, aides and lawmakers is being done remotely. Last month, the House approved new rules allowing proxy voting and hearings by video conference.

“Rationing tests for members of Congress … to me, it’s maddening,” said Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute. “Like, this is no way to run a country.”

But there have been some improvements. The attending physician to Congress can now test asymptomatic members, a senior Democratic aide told NPR. Previously, only some sick members could access tests.

Meanwhile, the Capitol remains closed to the general public for tours and visits. And those still meeting there largely adhere to the attending physician’s guidance to maintain social distancing and wear masks.

“Everyone should just wear a damn mask, like you guys are, like I am right now,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., told reporters Wednesday.

Members of Congress saw a spike in cases at the start of the pandemic but have largely flattened their curve, with a total of nine cases.

But Capitol workers — which include staff members, Capitol Police officers and those who maintain operations — have seen a larger influx of cases, with more than 60 by mid-June, according to a congressional aide.

“Those are the ones that we should be concerned about developing some long-term testing protocols for, because it’s not just about the members,” Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., ranking member on the House Administration Committee, told NPR recently.

Davis has been on the hunt for a new testing program for Congress. This month, he wrote House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., asking for the attending physician to partner with the military or a private vendor to test 2,000 people or more a week.

But so far Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., have said Congress shouldn’t get prioritized testing ahead of essential workers.

The chair of the House Administration Committee, Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., agrees with that plan — for now.

“I think until the country is in better shape, we’re not going to be in a position to test everybody who comes into the Capitol,” Lofgren said.

Experts such as Jha say national testing still hasn’t reached recommended levels. Among those showing little interest in boosting it is President Trump, who told a rally last weekend in Tulsa, Okla., that he asked for testing to be slowed.

On Tuesday, Trump told reporters he wasn’t kidding when he made the comments.

“Testing is a double-edged sword,” he said.

Source: https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/06/25/883028666/both-chambers-of-congress-back-for-first-time-during-pandemic-amid-questions-on-?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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On The COVID-19 Campaign Trail, Montana’s Gov. Steve Bullock May Be Getting A Boost

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Gov. Steve Bullock (D-Mont.), left, gets an update on coronavirus testing from councilman Martin Charlo of Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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At a free, mass testing site on Montana’s Flathead Reservation, hundreds of people are queued up in idling cars. They’re waiting an hour or more for the irritating nose swab test for COVID-19, but most like Francine Van Maanen are just grateful to finally get one.

“We enjoyed the fact that they had this testing available to us so why not get checked,” she says, while waiting in line with her husband.

Nurses wearing face shields put the swabs in plastic tubes while busily scribbling notes on clipboards. This “mass surveillance” testing event was part of Gov. Steve Bullock’s recent goal to do community surveillance testing of 60,000 Montanans a month ⁠— the state has yet to come close to hitting that.

“This is big, this is overwhelming,” Bullock told tribal and county health officials working the recent Flathead event. “Now let’s start talking about when we’re going to do it again.”

Under Bullock’s watch, Montana now has the lowest coronavirus infection rate in the nation, and among its lowest hospitalizations and deaths. Daily new case numbers have been going up for the last two weeks, but only by single or double digits. The pandemic ⁠— and Bullock’s handling of it as the state’s top leader ⁠— is fast becoming a central issue in his campaign to unseat Republican Sen. Steve Daines.

The race is one of a few around the country that could decide which party controls the U.S. Senate next year. It’s also expected to be one of the most expensive in the nation, and likely the most expensive in Montana’s history.

Some waited for more than an hour to get tested at a recent free coronavirus testing event on the Flathead Reservation. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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COVID-19 campaigning

Bullock, citing advice from local public health officials, implemented a statewide stay-at-home order and closed most schools down earlier than some neighboring states on March 28. Montana also began a phased reopening earlier than most, around the middle of last month. By June 1, citing the low number of cases, Bullock lifted a 14-day quarantine requirement for travelers, saying there is ample contact tracing now.

“We may see positive cases,” he says. “But we’ll also identify those positive cases before they start spreading.”

On the Flathead, the one-time presidential candidate was in his element, wearing jeans and cowboy boots, his Ray-Bans shielding against the glare from the sun hitting the late season snow high on the Mission Mountains.

Bullock is termed out as governor after this year. After months of insisting he wouldn’t run for Senate, just before the filing deadline, he changed his mind in March. Then a few days later, the pandemic hit.

“I think there’ll be a time for the campaigning side of that,” he says. “But that hasn’t been where I’ve really been putting the time.”

But the pandemic is in the news every day, which so far hasn’t exactly hurt Bullock who until recently had been seen as the underdog.

“He’s dominating the airwaves, you can’t turn around without seeing a story about the governor,” says Chris Mehl, the non-partisan mayor of Bozeman.

Bozeman is the state’s fastest growing city. It’s swung blue lately, in part due to a wave of newcomers attracted by the area’s outdoor and recreation amenities and the increased ability to telecommute. The university town near to ski resorts and Yellowstone National Park was also Montana’s initial hotspot for cases.

“It’s in a sense become what he’s tied to,” Mehl says. “The issue for him is the competency of handling the pandemic, both on a health side but also on an economic recovery side.”

Bozeman Mayor Chris Mehl’s city lies at the heart of Montana’s fastest growing region. It was also an early hotspot for coronavirus cases in the West. Kirk Siegler/NPR hide caption

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Kirk Siegler/NPR

‘Jobs and economy’ election

Bozeman is also the hometown of Republican Steve Daines. Lately Daines has struggled to get into the local news as much as Bullock even after he helped pass a sweeping public lands conservation bill. If these were normal times, that would have been big news considering the growing influence of the outdoor recreation economy in the state.

Nevertheless, in a phone interview, the senator says he doesn’t think the public health crisis itself will be much of a factor come Fall.

“I think by the time voters start to cast their ballots, this election is going to be a jobs and economy election,” Daines says.

Daines touted his experience helping small businesses, and he predicted unemployment claims will continue to mount if the pandemic continues to hamper economic recovery.

But in Montana right now, Daines’ reelection chances may depend mostly on President Trump remaining popular here.

Daines has positioned himself as one of the president’s staunch supporters. When Trump tweeted the so-called “squad” should go back where they came from, Daines doubled down in support. He was also one of the few Republican senators to publicly praise the president when peaceful protesters were cleared out from in front of the White House so Trump could pose holding a bible.

“Montanans are going to vote for President Trump, he’s going to win Montana,” Daines says. “They’re going to be glad that he’s coming here.”

Trump also came to Montana four times in 2018, failing to unseat the state’s other senator, Democrat Jon Tester. While no dates have been set, his return on behalf of Daines is widely expected and that’s prompting the same public health concerns as at recent rallies in Tulsa and Phoenix.

“That bridge will be crossed when there is a decision made to have a rally,” Daines says.

Montana ticket splitting

Montana is famously all over the map politically. When Daines was elected in 2014, he took over a Senate seat that Democrats had held for 100 years. In 2016, when Trump won Montana by nearly 20 points, Steve Bullock was re-elected as governor.

Just like during his long-shot presidential bid, Bullock is touting his bipartisan record from COVID-19, to Medicaid expansion and showing support for the Keystone pipeline which crosses the state.

Look, I stood up to President Obama multiple times,” Bullock says. “I’ll work with whoever it is when it’s in the best interest of Montana.

One place Bullock has taken some heat for his handling of the pandemic is in national park gateway towns like West Yellowstone. Montana’s entrance gates opened three weeks after Wyoming’s, as per Bullock’s order.

“I would have loved to have seen us open earlier,” says Travis Watt, general manager for a hotel and a couple other businesses in the tourist-dependent town. “I’m glad he didn’t wait till longer, I know there was a lot of pressure to push until later.”

Watt didn’t vote for Bullock for Governor but he says he likes how he’s managed the pandemic so far.

“It’s a unique situation and you look at some of the things going around in the country and I think Montana sits pretty good,” Watt says.

While Sen. Daines can probably win Montana with a big turnout from Trump’s base and rural voters, Bullock will need people like Watt to consider crossing over, just as he needs coronavirus cases to stay low and the economy to rebound.

Source: https://www.npr.org/2020/06/25/882311863/on-the-covid-19-campaign-trail-montanas-gov-steve-bullock-may-be-getting-a-boost?utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=news

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