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That government moves slowly and can be crippled by bureaucracy and caution is a pretty universally accepted fact (shoutout to the “Zootopia” DMV sloths).
Except, government can be plenty nimble.
That was driven home during the first months of the coronavirus pandemic when it suddenly became possible for people, including government employees, to work remotely, after years of institutional objections.
And it was made clear again this week when law enforcement agencies across the county and beyond swiftly banned the use of the carotid restraint – including some that had defended its use aggressively over the last several years. The Sheriff’s Department even banned it after defending the method less than 24 hours earlier.
This wasn’t the first time San Diego government suddenly got something done on the fly in the wake of public outcry over racism.
The city quickly and quietly removed a plaque honoring Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, in 2017 after a white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, Va., and one killed a woman.
It’s not hard to see why this might be the case.
When things are operating relatively normally (did they ever? Am I hallucinating a time when we existed without massive uprisings or a global pandemic?), it’s easy for government to simply go about business as usual and make incremental changes on its usual, drawn-out timeline.
The outcry that followed the Charlottesville episode, and the sustained outcry that has followed the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery has certainly created political cover for politicians to take actions they might not have otherwise. (Though, why local police agencies didn’t feel compelled to ban the carotid restraint following outcry over the local deaths of Earl McNeil and others at the hands of police is unclear.)
Yet the fact that government can only seem to make big change when some sort of massive disruption necessitates it is an indictment – and perhaps an opportunity.
Police departments across San Diego could have banned the carotid restraint at any point. Other departments already had. The city of San Diego could have decided years ago it didn’t want a plaque honoring a pathetic loser and traitor to the United States in the middle of downtown.
Though these last few months have been challenging and agonizing beyond comprehension, it also feels like the public would be served far better if officials pretended they had a global pandemic or an urgent civil rights crisis breathing down their neck all the time.
I hope the news quiets down again, but I hope public officials and journalists behave as if it hasn’t.
The eyes of the world are on public officials – and the media – right now, as protests over police brutality continue. We owe it to everyone to treat the issue with the gravity and action it deserves not just now, but also when no one is looking.
What VOSD Learned This Week
Ironically, protests this week over police’s broad – often unchecked – powers resulted in them deploying even more power over how we exist in public spaces. We explained when and how police determine a protest has become unlawful, and when they can enforce curfews.
A proposal to create a more powerful police oversight group got the endorsement of Mayor Kevin Faulconer this week. On the podcast, I spoke with one of the women leading the charge for that effort. And in a bonus interview, Andy Keatts discussed the measure and other efforts with Councilwoman Monica Montgomery.
And as reform proposals gain steam, it’s important to step back and assess how previous reform efforts have gone. Jesse Marx revisited how the department implemented a set of 40 recommendations from a Justice Department-led review of SDPD policies – and found city officials did very little to ensure the measures were being followed.
State lawmakers, meanwhile, are taking aim at police use of rubber bullets.
Meanwhile, that other crisis that has upended our entire planet, uh, stubbornly continues to exist.
Scott Lewis laid out an impending enrollment crisis facing schools if parents choose to enroll their kids in online charters or homeschool platforms instead of sending their kids to reopened schools or continuing with public schools’ distance learning offerings. San Diego Unified, for its part, is more open to the idea of reopening in some form thanks to a budget proposal this week that would let them keep more funding.
The county put out a complex set of 13 triggers it said it will use to determine whether to move residents back into lockdown to slow the spread of COVID-19. It also announced it will share some of the federal CARES Act money it received with cities throughout the county, based on their population.
What I’m Reading
- Why do the police behave as if they’re untouchable? Perhaps because they’ve been told explicitly to do just that. (The Atlantic)
- This moment is getting a lot of comparisons to 1968. A historian put those comparisons into context; and my friend Jamelle Bouie articulated why the comparison has its limits. (Vox, New York Times)
- This is astonishing: In secret recordings, police officers in Mount Vernon, New York, say their colleagues framed innocent people again and again. The DA knew about the recordings but continued prosecuting them, without disclosing the tapes. (Gothamist)
- This is a good-faith grappling with the two seemingly conflicting goals of staying home to protect people’s health and protesting in the streets to protect people’s health. (Politico Magazine)
Line of the Week
“Sometimes, I can’t help but feel that our grief is all this country will let us own. And though I’d very much like to pass onto you something other than this ghostly pain, America, it’s all you deserve.” – My reaction to the news this week was to busy myself with police accountability journalism, so it wasn’t until I sat with this achingly beautiful piece that I actually cried.