Thursday, April 21, 2022

We’ve Got Trouble


Have you ever heard of the expression, “wrapping yourself in the flag”?  Here’s a useful piece on Idioms Online:

According to the Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms, to wrap yourself in the flag is to make an excessive show of your patriotism, especially for political ends.

With that concept in mind, I’d like to highlight a tactic being employed by Republican candidate for County Executive Allan Kittleman. It appears that his strategy is to wrap himself in the police. Everywhere one turns is a concerned Kittleman calling for more police.

In schools:

On the roads:  

I’ve already talked here a number of times about how multiple studies of school policing have shown that it does not make schools safer, and in fact makes schools less safe for Black and Brown students. But let’s talk about traffic stops.

From a recent article in the New York Times:

“Cities Try to Turn the Tide on Police Traffic Stops: Chiefs, prosecutors and lawmakers are rethinking the value, and the harm, of minor traffic stops like the one that ended in a man’s death in Grand Rapids” - - David D. Kirkpatrick, Steve Eder and Kim Barker

Los Angeles is overhauling its traffic policing, aiming to stop pulling over cars — frequently with Black drivers — for trivial infractions like broken taillights or expired tags as a pretext to search for drugs or guns.

“We want to fish with a hook, not a net,” Police Chief Michel Moore said.

Los Angeles last month became the biggest city to restrict the policing of minor violations. In Philadelphia, a ban on such stops has just taken effect. Pittsburgh; Seattle; Berkeley, Calif.; Lansing, Mich.; Brooklyn Center, Minn.; and the State of Virginia have all taken similar steps. Elsewhere across the country, a half-dozen prosecutors have said they will not bring charges based on evidence collected at these stops.

Officials pushing the new rules cite data showing that minor stops not only disproportionately snare Black drivers but also do little to combat serious crime or improve public safety, and some escalate into avoidable violence, even killing officers and drivers.

Hmm. It seems that there’s actually a very good reason to be reducing traffic stops. Let’s read that bit at the top again:

Cities Try to Turn the Tide on Police Traffic Stops: Chiefs, prosecutors and lawmakers are rethinking the value, and the harm, of minor traffic stops like the one that ended in a man’s death in Grand Rapids

Yet Kittleman keeps selling himself like this:

Is Mr. Kittleman possibly too busy to keep up with current studies in policing?  Or perhaps unwilling to do any rethinking? In a campaign post Kittleman cites an interview with Former Police Chief Gary Gardner (who has not served since 2018) to say that the reduction in traffic stops has led to a decline in morale in the Howard County Police Force.

What about the morale of the Black and Brown residents of Howard County who are disproportionately pulled over in these stops? Has Mr. Kittleman interviewed them as a part of his campaign? 

To sum up: it isn’t true that SROs make schools safer. It isn’t true that an increase in traffic stops makes the roads safer. I do not know whether or not Candidate Kittleman knows this, or whether he has even done the research. I do know that he’s running on this issue and very likely raising money on this issue because it’s great politics. It gets people agitated and fearful and reaches deep down into that emotional place where there’s no room for thinking and weighing the evidence.

And there’s a not too subtle racist dog whistle in all of this. As long as he doesn’t say it out loud, Kittleman gets the benefit of the doubt from those who’ve been angry about a Black man being in charge since 2018, while sounding reasonable and concerned to those who aren’t attuned to the whistle.

Mr. Kittleman used to talk a lot about how it was important for all of us to sit down together and share our differing opinions and become a better community by listening to one another. I don’t know if he doesn’t believe that anymore, or if he just hasn’t been willing to have any difficult and challenging conversations with the kind of people who are adversely impacted by policing in this country and in Howard County.

That troubles me.

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