BROOKE GLADSTONE: If Gavin Long, the shooter in Baton Rouge, had survived, he would have been prosecuted under Louisiana's brand-new Blue Lives Matter act, which classifies the killing of police officers as a hate crime. Florida, Wisconsin and Kentucky have introduced similar bills and a Blue Lives Matter act has been presented to Congress. Are the police under attack? Here's Trump on Thursday.
DONALD TRUMP: The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent, compared to this point last year.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In fact, the number of police killed by gunfire last year was down 14 percent from 2014, and the average number of total deaths has steadily declined since the Reagan era. Eugene O'Donnell is a former NYPD officer and prosecutor and currently a faculty member of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. He says pitching black lives against blue ones does nothing to address what really ails our police force.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: What we have here, which is a crisis, unreported, is, in large cities, 80 percent of violent crime is not solved. The police now, presented with homicide cases, are giving black people, in the main, some Latino people, condolences. And I find that unacceptable.
Now, I could tell you forever how, how bad jail is, prison is, but we need something to incapacitate people that are a danger to the community. And if you walk in the City of Chicago, street by street, the South Side, the West Side, this is what the people in the neighborhood actually want. The one thing the country absolutely does not need is a rerunning of law and order-
- versus the new paradigm, which is the system is racist, let’s hit the shutdown button. The common thread is that poor people lose in both those conversations and have lost now for 30 years. It’s not a national crisis. The Republicans are talking junk, of course. The country is more safe, by and large, than it has been but in the inner cities we’ve got real serious issues, and they’re not just people shooting. How many African-American middle class people left Chicago, in the South Side, the West Side, in large part because of public safety, because their needs were being ignored?
Now, we have in Chicago now a police department in name only. They get there when they get there and, if you hear the cops talk, they say, be fetal, stay fetal, don't do anything at all, which is cruel because in the African-American community this has been a dual complaint. The cops are either brutal or feckless, there’s no in between. And that's where the conversation needs to be.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I know you're skeptical of the idea of community policing. Do you see that as a solution of any kind, or do you see any solutions? Where do we begin?
EUGENE O'DONNELL: Well, I hate to say this but we have a failed political system and a soon-to-be-failed police system. It’s hard to get people to vote, it's hard to get people to engage, doubly hard for poor people that are just struggling to make ends meet. So when you talk about community policing, you’re gonna have big cities where community policing is good for the cops because they don’t have to do patrol. It’s most often used in the aftermath of a crisis.
You know, I hate to be a dismissive because certainly with an Eric Garner case on Staten Island, that to me was a case for community policing. I mean, you don’t need to dedicate the whole agency to this. If you could have in each neighborhood a couple of cops, well known in the neighborhood, who can use their soft power to go out and to try to negotiate people off the corners that are causing problems that are of concern.
But this, again, is the rub with the police. The police have, in part, a conflictive adversarial role. So everybody likes community policing because it implies that policing is never conflictive or adversarial. And the fact is there are people that bully whole neighborhoods, people that show utter disregard for whole neighborhoods, and you get repeated complaints. And we have an elite of people living in doorman condominiums saying, that’s okay for them but it wouldn’t be okay for us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: So these are the kinds of issues you have to navigate. But the problem is, in a lot of the communities, you'll see a neighborhood of 130,000 people and five of the same faces there. The idea that you’re going to get a large cadre of people that are going to be so invested, especially now - if you go back years ago, in the ‘70s, and I’m thinking of well, the Neighborhood Police Team in Harlem, which was very effective, but there was more engagement. You had the churches, you had a lot of people that you could connect into. You still have some of that but, let's face it, our democracy is in danger here. And people offering no solutions get center stage.
Almost predictably, when you try to get into solutions, the conversation ends with the press because the pyrotechnics is what's exciting. And there are no magic solutions, but there are some solutions.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Tell me what you think some of them might be.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: Well, I mean, the, the President’s commission last year – and it should have been big news - didn't even try to suggest what the Kerner Commission said 50 years ago, which is every cop should have a four-year degree.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: They would be laughed out, if they did that now. Ninety-nine percent of the nation’s police departments do not have a four-year requirement. Cities that had a modest go-to-college-for-some-credits requirement have been forced to drop that requirement, as the recruiting pools shrink and shrink and shrink. Just getting ambulatory people to do the job is, is a challenge. And, again, the elite thinks it's not a skilled job. It’s an incredibly skilled job.
And renowned media outlets – The New York Times, The Washington Post - this is a topic they don't spend any time on because it really is an elitist outlook. Some knucklehead will be desperate enough, they'll take the job, and we can write 475 editorials criticizing those people.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I wonder then, do you agree with what the, the Dallas police chief said.
POLICE CHIEF DAVID BROWN: Not enough mental health funding, let the cop handle it. Not enough drug addiction funding, let’s give it to the cops. Here in Dallas, you got a loose dog problem. Let’s have the cops chase loose dogs. You know, schools fail, give it to the cops. Seventy percent of the African-American community is being raised by single women, let’s give it to the cops, to solve that, as well. That’s too much to ask.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The police become [AUDIBLE EXHALE] the representative of the government of first contact and last resort.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: Is there any doubt that the political system has failed, that they’re in absentia on the ground where they’re most needed? Is there anything more depressing? This is a human issue, it’s an American issue. We got kids, you know, in Chicago that fought for the country. They’re veterans. I mean, there’s a lot [LAUGHS] - I mean, can’t we find some urgency?
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So what you’re saying is we need to allocate more resources for these communities, more opportunities for people to build their lives.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: You know, in the ten cities in the country that are most heavily affected with this, how do we take off our partisan hats and come up with solutions - job training, you know, improvement in the schools? I mean, the picture is bleak, and the decline in the labor movement, the decline in middle-class jobs, the postal service, public transit. I mean, there were so many places where people, white and black, had access to employment. They were homeowners. They were able to pay the bills. They were able to retire someday. This is not lost on the younger generation. They know there's no plan for them at all, not even a pretense, neither party.
You know, we’re talking about the inner city but increasingly it’s well documented here, this is a white and black issue also. And real reform, I think, has to be premised on the notion the police role’s got to be shrunk. It’s going to have to be shrunk just because of the numbers, but it also has to be shrunk because we’re overtasking the police, over asking the police. And something like deadly force, it’s really hard to simultaneously send the cops into harm’s way and micromanage their interactions. It’s just a very hard fix.
And this is where Black Lives Matter - I get Black Lives Matter because as a prosecutor I investigated police shootings, and it was always a concern. We wanted to make sure that the police are only shooting when there is no other choice. And there are definitely shootings that are legally justifiable but are not necessary. That might sound bizarre, but under our system –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Mm-hmm.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: - because the police have so much power, they can shoot even though it's not absolutely necessary. So what does that tell you? Well, I understand the black community, if you look that all the victims seem to be black, that that doesn't seem to equate to their lives mattering in the justice system.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Where you and Patrisse seem to entirely agree is that the focus has to be on those neighborhoods, on those schools, on the housing, jobs that offer you a handhold into the middle class.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: But that conversation is dead on arrival. The notion of a government job program, that the government has some responsibility, I don't see Mrs. Clinton doing that. That's off the table. Congress is not going to do that. And I don't think this has to be terribly expensive, but we have eight or ten cities, we should make it a laboratory. How do we find those programs that work the best and replicate them where they’re most needed?
And the other thing that just is so obvious here, the federal government has to have a role, and that’s what's been missing. You cannot say to Camden, New Jersey or even Philadelphia, you know, go fix this. There has to be federal money on the table. And, again, the depressing thing is it's not seeable. And, and what's also further depressing, you know, I can say it because the Republicans are saying it at their convention, there’s this apocalyptic 1968 the-cities-are-going-to-burn rhetoric hanging right out there. And when you had that the last time, that scared people into acting. This was self-preservation. That, I don't see now at all.
You almost get the impression some people wouldn’t mind a, a great unraveling.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eugene, thank you very much.
EUGENE O'DONNELL: Sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Eugene O'Donnell is a former NYPD officer and now on the faculty of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.