In “In South Carolina, Shot in the Back as He Ran” Mr. Blow says now is the time for a fundamental change of culture: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically. Mr. Kristof, in “Enjoying the Low Life?”, says the latest world rankings on the quality of life for ordinary citizens should put the United States to shame. Ms. Collins has a question in “Rand Paul, Paul Rand Quiz:” What do we know about the latest Republican candidate for president? Here’s Mr. Blow:
I am truly weary, deep in my bones, of writing these columns about the killings of unarmed people of color by the police. Indeed, you may be weary of reading them. Still, our weariness is but a dim shadow that falls near the darkness of despair that a family is thrust into when a child or parent or sibling is lost, and that family must wonder if the use of deadly force was appropriate and whether justice will be served.
And so, we can’t stop focusing on these cases until there are no more cases on which to focus.
Which brings me to the latest case, a truly chilling one: A video shows an apparently unarmed 50-year-old black man, Walter L. Scott, running away from an officer after an incident during a traffic stop in North Charleston, S.C.
The officer, Michael T. Slager, fires his weapon eight times, striking Scott in the back, upper buttocks and ear.
According to The New York Times:
“Moments after the struggle, Officer Slager reported on his radio: ‘Shots fired and the subject is down. He took my Taser,’ according to police reports.”
But The Times continues:
“Something — it is not clear whether it is the stun gun — is either tossed or knocked to the ground behind the two men, and Officer Slager draws his gun, the video shows. When the officer fires, Mr. Scott appears to be 15 to 20 feet away and fleeing. He falls after the last of eight shots.
“The officer then runs back toward where the initial scuffle occurred and picks something up off the ground. Moments later, he drops an object near Mr. Scott’s body, the video shows.”
In fact, the video appears to dispute much of what the police reports claim.
Scott, of course, dies of his injuries.
After the video surfaces, the officer is charged with murder and fired from the police force. In a news conference, the mayor of the city, Keith Summey, says of the incident: “When you’re wrong, you’re wrong. And if you make a bad decision, don’t care if you’re behind the shield or just a citizen on the street, you have to live by that decision.”
But even the phrase “bad decision” seems to diminish the severity of what has happened. A life has been taken. And, if the video shows what it appears to show, there may have been some attempts by the officer to “misrepresent the truth,” a phrase that one could also argue may diminish the severity of what is alleged to have happened.
This case is yet another in a horrifyingly familiar succession of cases that have elevated the issue of use of force, particularly deadly force, by officers against people of color and inflamed the conversation that surrounds it.
And it further erodes an already tenuous trust by people of color in the police as an institution. CBS News polling has shown that a vast majority of blacks believe that the police are more likely to use deadly force against a black person than a white person (zero percent believe the inverse.) This is not good for the proper function of a civil society.
As a Sentencing Project report put it last year: “Racial minorities’ perceptions of unfairness in the criminal justice system have dampened cooperation with police work and impeded criminal trials.”
And the police are needed in society, so if you don’t trust them, whom do you call when help is truly needed?
This case has also refocused attention on the power of video evidence and is likely to redouble calls for the universal implementation of police body cameras (the video in this case came from a witness). What would have happened if video of this incident had not surfaced? Would the officer’s version of events have stood? How many such cases must there be where there is no video?
But I would argue that the issue we are facing in these cases is not one of equipment, or even policy, but culture.
I would submit that cameras would have an impact on policy and culture, but that a change in culture must be bigger than both. It must start with “good cops” no longer countenancing the behavior of “bad cops.” It will start with those good cops publicly and vociferously chastising and condemning their brethren when they are wrong. Their silence has never been — and is certainly no longer — suitable. We must hear from them, not necessarily from the rank-and-file but from those higher up the ladder.
One of the most disturbing features of the Department of Justice’s report on the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson was the number of witnesses who said that they were afraid to come forward because their version of events contradicted what they saw as community consensus.
But isn’t the unwillingness, or even fear, of “good cops” to more forcefully condemn bad behavior just the same glove turned inside out?
As Radley Balko wrote in the February 2011 issue of Reason magazine, “For all the concern about the ‘Stop Snitchin’ message within the hip-hop community, police have engaged in a far more impactful and pernicious Stop Snitchin’ campaign of their own. It’s called the Blue Wall of Silence.”
This case also highlights once again the issue of police forces not being representative of the communities they serve. As The Times pointed out:
“North Charleston is South Carolina’s third-largest city, with a population of about 100,000. African-Americans make up about 47 percent of residents, and whites account for about 37 percent. The Police Department is about 80 percent white, according to data collected by the Justice Department in 2007, the most recent period available.”
And yet there is a vicious cycle of mistrust — re-enforced by cases like this — that helps to make diversifying police forces difficult. As the International Business Times put it in August, law enforcement agencies “are often hard pressed to find black applicants. Recruiters want to fill their ranks with officers of all backgrounds, experts say, but cultural biases put them at a disadvantage.”
And lastly, there remains a disturbing desire to find perfection in a case, to find one devoid of ambiguity, as if police interactions with the public are not often complicated affairs in which many judgments are made in quick order by all involved and in which a tremendous amount of discretion is allowed to be exercised.
Tuesday on CNN, the North Charleston police chief, Eddie Driggers, was asked the question that is always circling cases like this like a condor: whether he thought race played a role in what happened. His was a diplomatic and humane response: “I want to believe in my heart of hearts that it was a tragic set of events after a traffic stop.” He continued, “I always look for the good in folks, and so I would hope that nobody would ever do something like that.”
I, too, would hope that nobody would ever do something like that, but it seems to me that the end of the line has come for hoping alone. Now is the time for fundamental change: not just in one particular case or with one particular officer, but also systemically. (The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing has already recommended some policy changes.)
And now is the time for not only considering the interplay of race and power in these cases, but also the ability to register and respect humanity itself. That requires a change of culture.
Next up we have Mr. Kristof:
The United States is the most powerful colossus in the history of the world: Our nuclear warheads could wipe out the globe, our enemies tweet on iPhones, and kids worldwide bop to Beyoncé.
Yet let’s get real. All this hasn’t benefited all Americans. A newly released global index finds that America falls short, along with other powerful countries, on what matters most: assuring a high quality of life for ordinary citizens.
The Social Progress Index for 2015 ranks the United States 16th in the world. We may thump our chests and boast that we’re No. 1, and in some ways we are. But, in important ways, we lag.
The index ranks the United States 30th in life expectancy, 38th in saving children’s lives, and a humiliating 55th in women surviving childbirth. O.K., we know that we have a high homicide rate, but we’re at risk in other ways as well. We have higher traffic fatality rates than 37 other countries, and higher suicide rates than 80.
We also rank 32nd in preventing early marriage, 38th in the equality of our education system, 49th in high school enrollment rates and 87th in cellphone use.
Ouch. “We’re No. 87!” doesn’t have much of a ring to it, does it?
Michael E. Porter, the Harvard Business School professor who helped devise the Social Progress Index, says that it’s important to have conventional economic measures such as G.D.P. growth. But social progress is also a critical measure, he notes, of how a country is serving its people.
“We’re not now No. 1 in a lot of stuff that traditionally we have been,” said Professor Porter, an expert on international competitiveness. “What we’re learning is that the fact that we’re not No. 1 on this stuff also means that we’re facing long-term economic stresses.”
“We’re starting to understand that we can’t put economic development and social progress in two separate buckets,” Porter added. “There’s a dialectic here.”
The top countries in the 2015 Social Progress Index are Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, Iceland, New Zealand and Canada. Of the 133 countries rated, Central African Republic is last, just after Chad and Afghanistan.
Sri Lanka does better than India. Bangladesh outperforms Pakistan. Both the Philippines and South Africa do better than Russia. Mongolia comes in ahead of China. And Canada wallops the United States.
One way of looking at the index is to learn from countries that outperform by having social indicators better than their income levels. By that standard, the biggest stars are Costa Rica and Uruguay, with New Zealand and Rwanda also outperforming.
“This takes time,” said Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, which produces the index. “Costa Rica is an overperformer because of its history.”
Green notes that Costa Rica offered free, universal primary education in the 19th century. In the 20th century, it disbanded its military forces and invested some of the savings in education. One payoff: Some surveys have found Costa Ricans among the happiest people in the world.
Then there are the underperformers that do worse than would be expected from their income level. Saudi Arabia leads that list.
The Social Progress Index, now in its second year, might seem a clarion call for greater equality, but that’s not quite right. Professor Porter and his number-crunchers found only a mild correlation between economic equality (measured by Gini coefficient) and social progress. What mattered much more was poverty.
Of course, wealthy countries with high poverty tend to be unequal as well. But inequality at the top seems to matter less for well-being than inequality at the bottom. Perhaps we should worry less about reining in the top 1 percent and more about helping the bottom 20 percent?
On the other hand, one way to finance empowerment programs is to raise taxes on tycoons. And when there is tremendous inequality, the wealthy create private alternatives to public goods — private schools, private security forces, gated communities — that lead to disinvestment in public goods vital to the needy.
In any case, the 2015 Social Progress Index should be serve notice to Americans — and to people around the globe. We obsess on the wrong measures, so we often have the wrong priorities.
As an American, what saddens me is also that our political system seems unable to rise to the challenges.
As Porter notes, Americans generally understand that we face economic impediments such as declining infrastructure, yet we’re frozen. We appreciate that our education system is a mess, yet we’re passive.
We can send people to space and turn watches into computers, but we seem incapable of consensus on the issues that matter most to our children — so our political system remains in gridlock, even as other countries pass us by.
And now here’s Ms. Collins:
Rand Paul for president! Wow, we’re awash with first-term Republican senators who feel the nation needs their services as leader of the most powerful nation on the planet.
Paul can also perform eye surgery, which is certainly a plus.
What do we know about this man Rand? Well, he’s interesting. Among the throngs of Republicans promising to cut taxes, slash domestic spending and repeal Obamacare, Paul is unusual in that he also wants to stop government surveillance, negotiate a peace treaty with Iran, slash defense spending and eliminate foreign aid.
Except — stop the presses! — Rand Paul is also evolving. The freshman senator who once wanted to eliminate all foreign aid, including to Israel, is now a freshman senator who wants to eliminate some foreign aid while leaving more than enough for a certain “strong ally of ours.” Also, he has learned that Iran probably can’t be trusted. And he now wants to raise defense spending by about $190 billion.
You could argue he was way more interesting before he started to evolve. But onward.
During a postannouncement interview on Fox News, the new presidential contender was asked about an incident when he “took a shot at Dick Cheney.” This would have been a 2009 speech, discovered by Mother Jones, in which Paul basically argued that Cheney had opposed invading Iraq until he went to work for the war contractor Halliburton.
“Before I was involved in politics!” the new candidate retorted. If you agree with his theory that would mean that nothing Rand Paul said before 2010 counts.
It is true that you can’t blame politicians for everything they did when they were young and foolish, but a five-year statute of limitations seems a bit short. I’d accept a rule wiping out anything that happened in college short of a major felony. That would include a former classmate’s claim that when she was at Baylor University, Rand Paul and a friend forced her to bow down and worship the god Aqua Buddha.
That’s way more diverting than the story about Mitt Romney cutting off a classmate’s long hair in high school. But it’s off the record. Do not base you opinion of Rand Paul on the Aqua Buddha incident. Really. Forget I ever mentioned it.
Once Paul began sniffing the presidential air, position changes started coming rapid-fire, and he’s gotten quite touchy when people point that out. “No, no, no, nonononono,” he said, accusing NBC’s Savannah Guthrie of “editorializing” when she listed several of his recent shifts. It was reminiscent of an encounter he had a while back with Kelly Evans of CNBC. (“Shhh. Calm down a bit here, Kelly.”) You might wonder about Rand Paul and TV women, but as we all know it takes three incidents to make a trend. Next time.
The encounter with Evans came after Paul was trying to walk back one of his more interesting policy statements: opposition to mandatory vaccinations. “I guess being for freedom would be really unusual,” he said archly, before claiming that he knew of many “walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders” after being vaccinated. This one has since evolved a lot.
Paul has swung to the left on some issues, like immigration. He acknowledges that there’s global warming, which he believes should be combated in ways that do not inconvenience the coal industry. He has stuck to his guns on opposing government surveillance of American citizens, and you can buy a “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” shirt on his website. (Also at the website: $20 Rand Paul Flip-Flops, although someone on the team apparently noted the irony and changed their name to Rand Paul Sandals.)
And, of course, Paul is still a libertarian. Because he most definitely believes government should get off your backs and stop messing with your lives. Unless you happen to have an unwanted pregnancy, in which case, rather than allow you access to abortion, he is prepared to tie you to a post until you deliver.
Everything perfectly clear? And, now, a brief Rand Paul Pop Quiz.
1) Senator Paul began his presidential announcement speech by telling the people:
A) “We have come to take our country back.”
B) “We come to take our money back.”
C) “We have come to take our previous statements back.”
2) Rand Paul did not get a bachelor’s degree because:
A) He was out partying all the time with the future governor of Wisconsin, Scott Walker.
B) He was so supersmart that Duke University allowed him to skip right over to medical school.
C) He was expelled for the Aqua Buddha affair.
3) An avid user of all media social, Senator Paul once twittered that politics doesn’t involve enough:
A) Good ideas for using more coal.
B) People with an I.Q. above 90.
4) The Rand Paul presidential campaign slogan is:
A) “Defeat the Washington machine. Unleash the American dream.”
B) “Cry havoc and let slip the dogs of war.”
C) “Beat Hillary. Release the Kraken.”
Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-C, 4-A.