Consider two recent examples of the resistance to change that politically entrenched organizations put forth, two sides of the same coin, that go together like peanut butter and chocolate. One, which I am dubbing the Freddie Gray syndrome, is the argument that reforms to police aggression leads to more crime and death among the citizens as the police shrink from policing out of liability fear. The other, commonly known as the Washington Monument Syndrome refers to any attempt to cut a government departments’ funding, and it responds not by adaptation, but by showcasing, or even causing, failure in their core mission: try to cut waste in Washington and a sign will appear that the Washington Monument must be closed, somehow, to its owners.

And, boy, did the tax-paying schmoes in New Jersey get a dose of “Monument” this Fourth of July with their Governor’s whalery/trollery stylings of Aristotelian purity: in an attempt to resolve a budget impasse, New Jersey cut off its nose to spite its face when they ruined the State’s most worthwhile thing: the geographical luck of a lovely beach, during the beach-going equivalent of Black Friday for tax collection. The Governor and his retinue were the only ones able to use the public’s property on the celebration of our nations’ independence, and the fight was over the Governor’s (from the party of limited government no less) plan to raid a private company for money to fix a public problem. Try to unboggle the mind from this, while maybe grasping clarity of why so many American companies, now like Chinese ones, fear keeping their money in their own country.

Americans (and Europeans) have correctly politically internalized hatred for their leaders. A stunt like this would embarrass a well-adjusted six year old, but the (once) free people of the politically developed world are fuzzy on the why of the hatred. Part of it is learned helplessness, where the victims lack direct access to their tormentor. Also, the problems are buried in bureaucratic mazes for which few voted. This question of whether Americans can really call themselves free under these conditions is a common theme in these pages, and this author’s most prized rant (the ghost of Thomas Jefferson whispers about how “the tree of Liberty needs blood-watering from time to time,” and what a tree-meal Chris Christie would make).

The scope here is to try to get Americans to imagine all of their leaders wearing a smear of Groucho Marx grease paint under their noses when they wave their cigars, selling these budget-defending tropes, the most ancient, dusty, tricks of power consolidation in their evil spell book. The Chris Christie spectacle is precious, but it’s only a fatter version of what’s in a politicians’ nature, and just what they do, Red and Blue. It helps to know their ways.

Look at the Freddie Gray case and marvel at how the Baltimore Police Department shrugged off national demands for change: they break a nuisance pot-dealing homeless man’s neck, he dies, riots consume the property of their residents, their taxpayers will pay the Gray family a $6.4 million settlement, and none of these facts will touch the institution’s ways of measuring or assigning responsibility. None of the solutions will have costs borne by BPD or its members, none of the solutions will not involve BPD taking a greater share of the tax payers’ pie. Just a quick reminder: your author has been a public servant, saving people’s lives, for nigh thirty years, and has never cost any taxpayer a thin dime.

Here’s how that magic happens: “over-police” and Baltimore PD wins through staffing levels, “under-police” and Baltimore PD wins in their public relations campaign pointing out the preventable crime havoc. “Reform” simply means another revenue stream. Heads the institution wins, tails the taxpayers loose.

Never mind the myriad examples of different policing philosophies worldwide; from “Peel-oriented,” British approaches, to German use of force statistics; where half of the shots their police fire, nationwide (!) are warning shots. Presuming police killing is just part of doing business ignores all evidence to the contrary that shows professional training and culture (and goals) can make all the difference Iceland is mourning it’s first-ever police shooting), while their populace is also heavily armed.

Never mind that Detroit and Chicago are being eaten alive by legacy benefits dolled out to their civil service. Never mind that American cities can no longer afford to just throw money at problems, that efficiency and adaptation are needed, and not only in policing. Mind the possibility that for the first time in American history, we can no longer just expand our way out of a problem; we can no longer count on getting bigger, we must get smarter.

Mind also that fixing these sorts of problems would have to be entirely cultural. And how often has a municipal union’s culture been fundamentally reoriented (LOL)? Culture is driven by goals. If the goal is perverse, no wants for change will purchase: are police departments across the country policing with an incentive to community efficiency using wisdom and judgement? Or are they now the Sheriff of Nottingham for the tax-take? Police departments nationwide get more from civil asset forfeiture than the costs to the nation in all of our burglaries (heads PD wins, tails the taxpayer loses). For all of Baltimore’s activity in “broken windows” policing, it seem “collars for dollars” is now Baltimore PD’s overarching priority: as they focus on collecting “quality of life” fines, Baltimore PD has a murder closure rate of 34%! Of course, one way to deal with the Freddie Gray syndrome would be to return law enforcement priorities to the serious-crimes-first approach of history; but the argument is set up that if they adapt, crime-solving itself will suffer! Wakawaka!

Here is an article from the New York Times, vanguard of Progressivism, criticizing a police work slowdown. Into the murk of media distortion goes the obvious observation that with the police reducing their activities by over ninety percent, with none of the havoc predicted by the Freddie Gray syndrome theory occurring, possibly a re-evaluation of “over policing” is quite reasonable for the taxpayers as well as the community the fines are inflicted on.

Modern media lacks the nuance to pierce the murk as meme distortions go in more than one direction: Police victimization of citizens through extra-judicial murder is really quite rare people of color kill police at a much higher rate and police kill whites at a higher rate. The irony is that bad information/manipulation viral memes affect Police department arguments about use of force the same way they distort the police’s Freddie Gray arguments about their culture and goals (the karma of it would be delicious if not for the broken necks and huge expense). People of color should be pitched in a fury over their being plucked for revenue through chickenshit quality-of-life crime categories. They should be actively furious over their disproportionate victimization under our madcap marijuana laws. Police bleats of “fake news” are rich here.

Asking the police to be wiser and sweeter while on the fleece is crocodile tears.

Taken together the syndromes, and these are just two of a great many budget-preserving devices, show how very hard it is to get inside an organization and make it change. All organisms adapt according to imperatives, not wants and wishes. Other nations accommodated their incarceration and law enforcement resources to the realities of falling crime. In America, falling crime has resulted in escalating incarceration, and one has to question how much of this is just make-work, finding new crimes to pursue in budget-preservation, which are new beaches and monuments to extort: the Freddie Gray and Washington Monument syndromes’ sometimes-lethal wheeze.

Eugene Darden Nicholas

About Eugene Darden Nicholas

Eugene Darden (Ed) Nicholas is from Flushing Queens, where he grew up sheltered from the hard world, learning the true things after graduating college and becoming a paramedic in Harlem. School continues to inform and entertain in all its true, Shakespearean glory. It's a lot of fun, really. In that career, dozens of people walk the earth now who would not be otherwise. (The number depends on how literally or figuratively you choose to add). He added a beloved wife to his little family, which is healthy. He is also well blessed in friends and colleagues.


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