Monday, July 11, 2016

When police become tax collectors, and other complications

Paradise, comparatively. Now if it would just rain
 This all started, by the way, with BCNM President John Hooker sending me a link.

What My Bike Has Taught Me About White Privilege

One is fortunate to live in Los Alamos, where the most serious problems we confront are whether to put in roundabouts or signalized intersections. Or "do I pull out the road bike or the mountain bike today?" Or complaining that the bridge sidepath isn't wide enough to race across on a bicycle. Whether it is white privilege or class privilege or both, we have it in our little version of Lake Wobegon. Elsewhere, civil discourse has been reduced to shouting and shooting at each other, packing heat, occupying wildlife refuges while carrying "modern sporting rifles" and watching the bridges on interstate highways collapse as government entities declare bankruptcy.

Last week was pretty bad. The dog woke me up in the wee hours of Thursdsay and while checking my email to get back to sleep, I got to watch Philando Castile bleed out after a botched concealed carry/traffic stop (for a discussion of ccw traffic stops, try this link or this). Then Friday I woke up to the Dallas massacre. What's next?

The Dallas carnage gave the lie to the idea that we can be safer or more polite with more good guys with guns. There were dozens of police, i.e., armed good guys present and according to the NY Times, numerous protestors were open carrying.  Still, a well trained shooter lying in ambush had all the cards.  There are so many weapons around; in a nation where a lot of people are harboring grudges, whether it be disgruntled blacks, disgruntled ranchers, disgruntled "Patriots", or just garden variety gang members or drug dealers, it is inevitable that some guns will be misused. Guns have become America's Maslow's Hammer; the solution is a gun, now what was the problem? Until we change that mentality, we are screwed. Do we want Anbar Province or a community where you don't constantly have to be on your guard? I'm pretty far from anti-gun, but I am getting tired of the tone of the conversation.

But disarming or highly regulating guns for the public, even if that could be done with a change in SCOTUS composition or with carefully vetted laws, will not cure the cancer in our communities any more than a shot of morphine cures cancer in a human. It just dulls the pain. It goes after means rather than motive and without some fundamental changes in society, the motives will remain. An example:

"Essentially, these small towns in urban areas have municipal infrastructure that can't be supported by the tax base, and so they ticket everything in sight to keep the town functioning," said William Maurer, a lawyer with the Institute for Justice who has been studying the sudden rise in "nontraffic-related fines."  -- "The dangers of turning police officers into revenue generators.", by Jack Hitt

Someone needs to look beyond the idea of gun control (or its polar opposite) and ask why so many communities are becoming politically and economically toxic. I was forwarded the Mother Jones piece from last fall, excerpted above, via a Strong Towns tweet. MJ talks about the situation in many communities where taxes cannot support the local government, leading to taxation by fines. In these communities, the police are not there primarily to serve and protect but increasingly, to issue nuisance summonses to raise funds. Hence the cops are adversaries. Jack Hitt, in the MJ article argues that this situation leads to a lot of lousy cops doing the kind of work police forces just should not be doing, leading to adversity, shootings and violence. Chuck Marohn at Strong Towns has long argued that many communities have been living beyond their means, leading to these sorts of excesses as communities do some pretty unethical things to keep from admitting the wolf has long gotten through the door.

How American Cities Fine Their Black Citizens To Make Up For Budget Shortfalls

Mother Jones: African-American Gun Ownership Is Up, and So Is Wariness

Black doctor's conflict: Saving officers, distrusting police

Maybe we can put it all together some day, rather than nibbling around the edges.  Here is the MJ piece, in case you have not already read it.