10/02/19 Phillip Atiba Goff

Century of Lies
Phillip Atiba Goff
Drug War Facts

This week on Century we look at reforming police practices and efforts to get a handle on police brutality. The US House Judiciary Committee recently held an oversight hearing on police practices. We'll hear audio from Committee Chair Rep. Jerrold Naddler, Gwen Carr, Ron Davis, and Dr. Phillip Atiba Goff.

Audio file



OCTOBER 2, 2019

DEAN BECKER: The failure of the drug war is glaringly obvious to judges, cops, wardens, prosecutors, and millions more now calling for decriminalization, legalization – the end of prohibition. Let us investigate the Century of Lies.

DOUG MCVAY: Hello and welcome to Century of Lies. I am your host, Doug McVay, Editor of DrugWarFacts.org. Well folks on this show we are going to be talking about police practices, police abuse, and how to get a grip on police brutality. Recently, the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing on police practices. We are going to hear portions of that hearing now. First up Representative Jerrold Nadler, Chair of the Judiciary Committee.

REP. NADLER: Today’s hearing furthers our committee’s long standing commitment to conduct a meaningful oversight of state and federal law enforcement. It’s initiated by former Chairman Goodlat and his establishment of the bipartisan Policing Strategies Working Room. Together we’ve had productive conversations about improving relations between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve and today we continue that important discussion. Without question the vast majority of law enforcement officers serve honorably under difficult conditions, often risking and sometimes losing their lives to protect us.

There have been, however, a disturbing number of incidents of excessive force used by policing its civilians many of whom were either unarmed, most of whom were people of color and many of which resulted in tragic death and it put incredible strain on the relationship between law enforcement and their local communities. For example, on July 17, 2014, five New York City Police Department officers attempted to arrest Eric Garner, a 42-year old father of six for allegedly selling loose cigarettes by tackling to the ground and placing him in an illegal choke hold. He repeatedly told the officers, “I can’t breathe”. The officers ignored his pleas as he slipped in to unconsciousness and death. No one was held criminally responsible for Mr. Garner’s death. We are fortunate to be joined by Mr. Garner’s mother, Gwen Carr – and I say to you that the criminal justice system and the justice system failed you, your son, and your entire family. Shockingly the officer responsible for placing Mr. Garner in a departmentally banned choke hold he remained on the force for five years before being finally fired this past August. On September 9th, 2015, James Blake, an African American professional tennis player was standing outside the Grand Hyatt hotel in midtown Manhattan when Officer James Frescatory – for no apparent reason – charged him, wrestled him to the ground, and placed him handcuffs. New York’s Civilian Complaint Review Board, an independent agency –-it reviews complaints of police misconduct – determined that Frescatory used excessive force and recommended that the officer be punished with departmental disciplinary charges that could lead to suspension or dismissal. Instead his only punishment was to lose five vacation days. Mr. Garner’s death and the assault on Mr. Blake – both at the hands of police officers sworn to protect and serve should alarm all Americans regardless of party; regardless of political ideology; regardless of race, religion, or gender. This is not a partisan issue, there are no sides.

Too often the discourse and police misconduct descends in to a false dichotomy of us versus them. Blue lives versus Black lives – this is a false and dangerous dichotomy. The United States stands as the world’s greatest experiment in self-government. Legitimacy and authority of our nation’s government rests upon the consent of its people – We the People. Its principal particularly applies to law enforcement which has been given the authority to use deadly force under color of law, there can be no doubt unfortunately. Communities of color perceive law enforcement as a threat to their everyday freedoms.

These perceptions go back decades, predating both the 1994 Los Angeles riots and the 1965 Watts riots. Both of which were sparked by a lack of accountability for incidents of police brutality. These perceptions are reality for African Americans. According to the Center for Policing Equity, African Americans are two to four times more likely than white Americans to have force used against them. For far too long, however, policing with just and humane treatment from law enforcement have often fallen on deaf ears. Claims of police misconduct coming from communities of color have often been ignored or not believed. Mr. Garner’s killing and a series of other examples of police misconduct against African Americans – many of which were caught on video – make it unmistakably clear that claims of police misconduct are all too often real.

On August 5th, 2014, John Crawford was shot and killed by a police officer at a Walmart store in Beavercreek, Ohio while holding a toy B.B gun. On August 9th, 2014, Michael Brown who was unarmed was shot and killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. On November 22nd, 2014, twelve year old Tameer Rice who was unarmed was shot and killed by police in Cleveland, Ohio. On April 2nd, 2015, Eric Harris who was unarmed was shot and killed by police in Tulsa, Oklahoma. On April 4th, 2015, Walter Scott who was unarmed was shot and killed by police in North Charleston, South Carolina. On April 19th, 2015, Freddy Grey who was unarmed died in police custody in Baltimore, Maryland. On July 6th, 2016, Samuel DeBose who was unarmed was shot and killed by police in Cincinnati, Ohio.

The frequency of these killings and the absence of full accountability for those responsible sent a message to members of the African American community that black lives do not matter. Let me state clearly for the record that black lives matter.

Our criminal justice system including our police departments cannot function without African Americans knowing that their lives matter equally where the system works to protect them just as it does every other citizen. We must also be able to put ourselves in the shoes of our law enforcement officers. We must be able to celebrate the service and sacrifices of our men and women in law enforcement who put their lives on the line day in and day out. We must recognize the psychological toll that serving such an inherently dangerous job can take on individual law enforcement officers and their families. It is also critical that we not paint law enforcement with a broad brush. The vast majority of officers execute their jobs with dignity, honor, and respect for the citizens they serve and protect. Every American should take pride in that.

Research shows that a small percentage of repeat offenders are responsible for the majority of incidents of misconduct. Today’s hearing presents a unique opportunity for us to hear from some of the individuals of families affected by police misconduct. I want to personally thank Ms. Carr for speaking at this hearing on behalf of her son, Mr. Blake, for sharing his personal story with us.

Today presents an opportunity for us to explore bipartisan solutions to make policing a safer more fulfilling job for law enforcement officers by restoring the trust and good will between police and the communities they serve. We can reexamine the effort to see reforms advanced by President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, and determined what further solutions are warranted. For example, we should examine whether the incentives created by the doctrine of qualified immunity remain useful in today’s environment. We should consider legislative proposals to end racial profiling and to restore trust between law enforcement and the community and we should explore ways to strengthen data collection on use of force and racial profiling so that police departments can measure the practices they manage, but most important – we can all agree that too many lives are put at risk and have been lost in police/citizen encounters and that it is incumbent upon each of us to work together as fellow Americans to solve this problem.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Representative Jerrold Nadler giving his opening statement at a hearing before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee – an oversight hearing on police practices. Now let’s hear from some of the witnesses. First up Ms. Gwen Carr.

MS. GWEN CARR: My name is Gwen Carr, I am the mother of Eric Garner. Five years ago my beloved son Eric was murdered by people who were supposed to serve and protect. On July 17th, the NYPD police officers approached my son – one of them put him in an illegal choke hold. Eric cried out 11 times, “I can’t breathe”. Eleven times he said, “I can’t breathe”, but those officers who were on the scene that day didn’t seem to care. Eric died that day. There was a video that captured the incident including the choke hold and my son’s cry saying that he couldn’t breathe –this went viral around the world. So my thought is today how come no one was held accountable? No one was held in charge for my son’s death – not only the officer that murdered my son, but all of the officers who were on the scene need to stand accountable for his death that day.

I will never forget that day in July. I got up that morning and I spoke to Eric. I spoke to him for about ten minutes and afterwards we said our goodbyes. He said, “I love you, Mom”. I said, “I love you, too, Eric” – never knowing that would be our last and final conversation. My entire life was uprooted on that July day. I felt helpless, in a dark place scattered in millions of pieces. It is impossible to describe the pain that I felt that day, losing a child is just indescribable. Having the burden of finding out exactly what happened to your child by the police who was responsible for his demise. How is a person supposed to get answers? Who does she go to for help? Most people can’t even comprehend how difficult it is to suddenly lose a child and to fight for five years and just get an ounce of accountability. It has impacted our lives in many devastating ways.

Almost two months ago I lost my husband. He was my partner in every sense of the word. He fought the long fight with me even though he wasn’t in front of the cameras he supported me and he really supported the cause. My granddaughter Erica died December 17th of a heart attack. She was only 27 years old but when my son was murdered she fought the good fight. She fought until she became ill. I say she died of a broken heart. These are the wounds of the seen and unseen from the police brutality. The loss of loved ones and no recourse, no accountability. The entire family is traumatized. Each and every time we enter the courtroom or watch the officer responsible for my son’s death get a pay raise, or hear the Department of Justice saying they’re not going to seek charges, or when the officer who is the commanding officer of the person who was on the scene when my son was murdered said it was not a big deal that Eric laid on the ground D.O.A.

I come before you today not only to share my son’s story or the long quest of justice that we’ve been seeking for five years but I urge you to take immediate action to imply the national changes and standards towards policing. In 2015, I stood with Representative Hakeem Jeffries as we introduced the bill that would make choke holds illegal under federal civil rights law. Once the bill is reintroduced – this season I call for you to support and vote for legislation. The Excessive Use of Force Prevention Act of 2019, please vote for it.

Violent police have no place in this society so like you said, Mr. Nadler, let’s get them out of there. No officer who is not there to do his job should be on the police force so again, I ask you to please vote on this bill.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner a young man who as murdered by New York Police Department officers. He had been selling lose cigarettes on the street. He was put in to an illegal choke hold and he was killed. You are listening to Century of Lies, we are a production of the Drug Truth Network for the Pacifica Foundation Radio Network. On the web at drugtruth.net. I am your host, Doug McVay, the Editor of DrugWarFacts.org.

On today’s show we are looking at police abuse and how to get a handle on police brutality. Recently the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary held an oversight hearing on police practices. We are hearing portions of that today. Now let’s hear from one of the other witnesses. Ron Davis is the former Director of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Community Oriented Police Services office. He is also a retired police officer.

RON DAVIS: My name is Ronald Davis and I had the distinct honor of serving as Director of the United Stated Department of Justice Office of Community Oriented Policing Services in the Obama Administration. I also served as the Executive Director of President Obama’s Taskforce in 21st Century Policing. Before my service in the Administration, I spent close to 30 years in local policing. Twenty years in the great city of Oakland, California and eight years as Police Chief in the great city of East Palo Alto. My testimony is based on these perspectives as well as my perspective as a black man and the father of black children.

First as a 20-year police veteran I know firsthand the complex, challenging, and dangerous nature of being a police officer. As a police chief I had to tell a wife that her husband – one of my brave police officers – was shot and killed in the line of duty. I have personally seen the toll being a police officer takes on so many. I have lost friends and colleagues to suicide – a threat which is now really at an exponential rate but I have also seen a lot of positive changes in policing in the areas such as technology, crime reduction, diversity training, and in community policing. However, as a black man I know that despite these efforts significant racial disparities still exist in our policing and criminal justice system. I do not believe the disparities exist because the profession is full of racists. I believe they exist because of structural racism. Many of the systems and practices in policing that exist today were designed in the 1950s and 60s to enforce discriminatory laws and to oppress black Americans. We must acknowledge the history of policing in this country and the role that police have played in enforcing discriminatory laws and continue to play through draconian discriminatory policing practices. With that being said I think it’s fair to say that positive changes have started, especially through some of the work with President Obama’s Taskforce on 21st Century Policing.

So I testify today here, Mr. Chairman, my concern is not that we haven’t made progress. My concern is that this Department of Justice is attempting to stop this progress by returning to the failed policies and practices of the 80s and 90s, policies that resulted in unequal justice.

I was a street cop in Oakland during the 80s and 90s and I can tell you first hand that this nostalgia for the policing practices of those years is dangerously misplaced. I worked in units that made thousands of arrests and most of them men of color while simultaneously watching the homicide rate climb to record levels. I also witnessed these practices destroy the future of thousands of young men of color with unfair sentencing practices. We now know that these practices cause significant collateral damage and they did not work. What did work in Oakland and so many other communities was community policing and the use of evidence-based programs such as Operation Cease Fire have focus-deterred strategies.

Now there will be those that will argue that the tactics of the 90s did work and I guess if taking a lot of people to jail and having statistical crime numbers go up and down for a couple of months is success, then it worked. But in our democracy public safety is not just the absence of crime it must include the presence of justice and this idea taken from Dr. King’s quote on peace must serve as the foundation for how we evaluate all policing practices in our criminal justice system. As most of you know the American Policing System is by design decentralized and controlled locally so that policing practices are accountable to local community values and their priorities. It is especially disheartening to hear the Attorney General of the United States attack local mayors and prosecutors for their efforts to respond to their local community. It is also disheartening to hear people including those in this administration talk about how they support the men and women of law enforcement yet their actions do not back this rhetoric. Don’t tell me you support law enforcement and look to control the police then threaten to take away grant funding if local police refuse to enforce federal immigration laws. Don’t talk about cops having the resources necessary to their job then vote against funding for the cop’s office to hire and train more cops. Do not demand community respect from law enforcement while advocating for those very policies that you know will destroy that trust.

I remind you that in New York it was first the officers and their union that was against Stop, Question and Frisk but it was implemented nonetheless and when we were bad the officers were blamed. Now the Justice Department is advocating for return to those same types of policies. They are ignoring the lessons of the past while ignoring the voices from the field. Once again, placing officers and the community in untenable positions. This is why this hearing was so important. Through its grants program, technical assistance and civil rights enforcement, the Justice Department can play a role to help out the 16 to 18,000 police agencies in the United States.

To make sure that whether the department has four cops or 40,000 cops that they have access to the best policies and training and practices in the country. There is much the federal government can do to help police and since my time is winding down let us give you a couple direct recommendations.

The first recommendation is that we rescind the Sessions memo and restore the ability for the Civil Rights Department to conduct pattern and practice investigations. That we work collaboratively with law enforcement and communities to develop and implement new and innovative strategies to enhance public safety. That we restore funding to train officers and deputies in implicit bias and procedural justice. That we increase funding to the National Institute of Justice to expand its capacity to conduct research and evaluate crime strategies. That we work with local prosecutors instead of criticizing them to reform the criminal justice system. That we expand the efforts to develop strategies to enhance officer safety and wellness and that we support the end of racial profiling act to make sure that that accountability is in every department in this country. As a black man and as a former cop I should be able to drive anywhere in this country and expect the same constitutional treatment and it should not be depending on how big the department is or how much money that they have. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Mr. Ron Davis. He is the former Director of the community-oriented Policing Services Office in the U.S. Department of Justice and he is a retired police officer. He is testifying before the U.S. House Committee on the Judiciary at an oversight hearing on police practices. Next up let’s hear from Dr. Phillip Attiba Goff, the Co-founder and President of Center for Policing Equities and professor at John J. University in New York.

DR. GOFF: My name is Phillip Attiba Goff, I am a professional nerd I am also by disposition relatively conflict-diverse person but my love of country and my respect for this body and mostly my vocation as a scientist would not allow me to move to my prepared remarks just yet. I feel I must at least correct the record on some statistical elements.

The fall of crime over the course of the last quarter century is just abjectly not in response to police behavior alone. If the members would like for the reading on this, I can highly recommend Pat Sharkey’s Book, Uneasy Peace, which identifies quite clearly that community-based anti-violence work is a large and underappreciated component of reductions in crime not just police behavior. I should say that I believe that a 2015 Quinnipiac poll was just cited as evidence perhaps implying that black people actually liked broken windows policing.

If memory serves, that exact same Quinnipiac poll showed that black people were concerned about racial bias within law enforcement, a trend that has escalated over the period of time since 2015;

To suggest that black people enjoyed the treatment in New York or any place else with broken windows policing is what scholars (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Weaver and Elizabeth (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were referred to as selective hearing. Hearing only what is convenient to an ideological narrative and not the fullness of what those communities are calling for which is safety and justice at the same time – surely not too high a bar for law enforcement.

Last in terms of clarification a study in the proceedings of National Academy of Sciences was just cited and I have to say first of all, no, that is not what it said. Most importantly the authors of that study have recently acknowledged to the rest of the scientific community, or I should say to some members of the scientific community that their central causal claim is unsupported by the data and factually wrong. This committee hearing should not be dumping for bad faith arguments –

REP. NADDLER: Mr. Goff, we’ve heard a lot of witnesses and you’re testifying now about a central causal claim. Could you just tell us which causal claim you are refuting, I mean what you are talking about?

DR. GOFF: The study just cited by Ms. McDonald in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences does not show that white officers are less or more likely to be involved in deadly shootings. It simply does not. It’s a correlational study and the authors themselves have admitted to others in the scientific community that the central causal claim that they make which is that there is not biased in this is unsupported by the data that have been made public and have been publicly analyzed by scholars like Johnathan Momalow at Princeton University. I do not like to be part of anything that becomes a laundry mat for junk science and so I apologize for stepping out of my character to say so.

I would like to thank you for the privilege of being invited to testify. Now I return to my prepared remarks. In my day job I am a professor as I said, I am a nerd at John J College of Criminal Justice which I accepted after receiving tenor at UCLA in the psych department, I as a witness for the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, a member of the National Academies of Sciences Committee that issued a consensus report on proactive policing and I was one of three leads on the recently concluded Department of Justice National Initiative for Building Community Trust and Justice, but I am likely best known for my work with the Center for Policing Equity. For the past decade I have had the pleasure of being in the President of the Center of Policing Equity (CPE), which is the largest research and action organization focused on equity and policing. My testimony today is in that capacity. CPEs host to what is to our knowledge the largest collection of police behavioral data, the National Justice Database funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation.

Today I have been asked to talk about what science has to say about public safety. So what does it have to say? Well first as with all science it is important that we define the problem correctly. We speak only about the role that law enforcement has in keeping communities safe are conversations we’ll never elevate above blaming people or communities for crime rates, public mistrust, or violence. Framing should be public safety not just law enforcement and I cannot echo the comments of Mr. Yost strongly enough. If we’re talking about public safety both communities and law enforcement understand the officers that patrol these neighborhoods need to be of sound mind. They need to have the resources to make sure that mental health and officer wellness are central.

Now having defined the problem as public safety, what are some of the solutions? My colleagues at CPE and at the Yale Justice Collaboratory recently articulated five policies rooted in science and practice called for by the large majority of our law enforcement partners that we believe have the best chance to produce the biggest returns in law enforcement reform. They are from the front to the back end of accountability, a national model policy for use of force similar to the one recently articulated by the Camden Police Department. Previous research demonstrates this can reduce harm both by communities and officers without elevating risk. I see I am out of time because of my impromptu remarks at the beginning.

Those five policies are all also introduced in to the record and I would encourage the members to look at it One last word. Within this we have heard a lot of talk about data. I think it’s important that we move the conversation from data to analysis. My recently released TED Talk this past September 9th, we talked about an initiative called Comstat for Justice, because it’s possible to measure crime, and Ms. McDonald was quite right that Comstat was a revolution in policing and helped to reduce crime across the country but you can measure not just racial disparities but the portion of those disparities for which law enforcement is responsible. Importantly, this initiative at CPE and similar initiatives elsewhere is at the request of law enforcement. They want to know and they want to lead on that and I would be remiss if I got out of here without saying that – or leaving you with the impression there wasn’t already legislation that has been introduced that moves us forward. Obviously the End Racial Profiling Act sets up the infrastructure for that. I apologize for going over my time. I thank you for the invitation and I absolutely look forward to your questions.

DOUG MCVAY: That was Dr. Phillip Attiba Goff, Professor at John J. He is co-founder and President of the Center for Policing Equity.

That’s all the time we have this week. I want to thank you for joining us. You have been listening to Century of Lies. For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay saying so long.

For the Drug Truth Network, this is Doug McVay asking you to examine our policy of drug prohibition, the Century of Lies. Drug Truth Network programs are archived at the James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy.