I have friends in the NYPD who describe to me constantly being approached by “youths” that make a finger gun at them and say something like “turn your back on me, piggie, and see what you get.” A lot of the cops have strapped on extra guns (“better to be tried by 12 than carried by 6”), as a result. Anyone who thinks the police can perform their duties objective of threats like this knows little of human nature. It affects them, and so it affects you and me.

I take a back seat to no one in my advocacy for police reform (it’s probably my number one hobby horse in these pages). There is no need to belabor the points here other than to say harvesting the poor for revenue is evil, it is costing us dearly, and for all its protestations of being a liberal city, New York is an egregious perpetrator of the practice.

But this evil cannot be righted in the scope of time needed to bring “normal” police practices to a city being systematically looted and torched.

So, today I look at the practical, real world outcomes of the environment of rage: police are going into self-protective turtle mode, and will not be able to actually police until this is over, if even then. They cannot respond to looters because they need to group together for self preservation. They can chase a looter down only as fast as the slowest in their turtle can move, and only as fast as they can maintain cohesion. A cop alone in this would be in real trouble. I don’t know this for a fact, but in the awful video of the police cars trying to ram barricades, I’d bet odds they were desperate to respond to other officers in trouble (which is an explanation, not an excuse). Imagine the frustration of trying to keep the city safe, which means looking out for each other, and not being able to get there because protesters are deliberately keeping you from moving. This has happened to me (not during this round of unrest), and all you can do is pray for the person you’re trying to get to, and keep your cool against deliberate assaults to it. A few incidents like these and everyone’s nerves are shot. If the police cannot be assured of timely backup, they will hunker down. They will not be able to do normal policing. That means mostly the poorest of the poor will suffer the cost, like they always do. While this is happening, poor women are still getting beat down by their drunk men, the poor are getting their meager things robbed, kids are still getting jumped by gangs. Cops can’t be there.

Without security, we medics can’t get around, and the FDNY won’t be able to get to fires. Incidentally, some fire guys told me a story of them shadowing a guy with a torch, who set every pile of trash on the block alight. No police were available to get him. People huddled in their homes praying that the fires don’t get out of hand will not be glad to die for the cause of George Floyd. They pay their taxes for services and protection, same as everyone else.

With fewer citizens culturally compelled to cooperate with the police, the police must compel more compliance. That will mean force, and forced compliance is always bad and ugly, and sometimes lethal, which will mean more videos, which will be followed by less scope for civility in policing, and so on and on. Less police adjudication will mean more violence as people are then compelled to protect their neighborhoods, businesses and selves from the torch-men.

Less crime should have brought less policing. Policing for the sake of keeping the police busy is the original sin in this, along with using the police to address non-police issues, like illicit drugs and mental illness. On the other hand, civilization is shredded in less than a week without them.

“Goldilocks” policing would be an evolution where they are not incentivized to “productivity,” they are incentivized to look after their homesteads and flocks, and use wisdom and judgement to make things right. We medical folks are incentivized to handle George Floyds as patients. From what I saw on the tape, the approach should have been negotiate with him like he’s a patient, try hard to sweet-talk him, take the time (not that it matters, but it does seem like he was high, or drunk, which means more care needs to be taken, not less). We medical folks can sedate him if necessary, and his underlying medical complaints might be delved into. High on dust and/or alcohol, he might have been having a masked heart attack (which is not to say he was not murdered).

Incentives and culture matters. Police culture treated George Floyd as a problem to be subdued. I treat people like this as patients all day, every day. But in the aftermath of this, police culture will not magically become more humane. Yet, we will still need them.

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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