A Response To Being Called A Terrorist By A Cop

Butch Conway is a friend, and I sincerely hope we remain friends after this. I’ve long admired his work as Gwinnett’s sheriff. But I’ve read his commentary regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, and I believe he’s wrong, both on the facts and on the substance of the concerns of people seeking accountability for the use of force by law enforcement.

Conway is arguing that police are being targeted for violence by the Black Lives Matter movement, and that police have suddenly become unsafe. I believe this to be untrue.

There is no evidence of some systematic change in officer safety because of a nonviolent movement for police accountability. The number of officers killed in the line of duty is likely to reach a historic low this year, even as the number of people killed by police appears to be twice as high as previous estimates.

Any attack on police should be denounced, of course, as the leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement have done. “We’re targeting the brutal system of policing, not individual police,” the statement reads. “We seek a world in which ALL Black lives matter, and racial hierarchy no longer organises our lives or yours. This is a vision of love. As Black survivors of White supremacy, our hearts go out to all victims of violence.”

One might expect any unwarranted use of force by police to similarly be denounced. But that’s not what happens. Excuses and justifications rise instantly, unbidden, because — until now — the judgement of police officers has been considered above question. 

While Conway argues that there are “clear avenues” to pursue complaints about police brutality through legal means, it is the central complaint of the Black Lives Matter movement that those legal avenues have been utterly ineffective. If they were effective, one might reason that disparities in the use of force would have been exposed and eliminated. Alas, no.

It is only now, under massive public pressure, that police officers are being charged with crimes for the kind of unnecessary use of force that has grown routine — and protected — in departments across America.

When he says that “each of those instances involved someone obstructing police officers trying to do their jobs,” he’s simply wrong. Tamir Rice — the child killed by police in Ohio — is merely the most obvious counter-example. Walter Scott was shot in the back by a cop, who planted evidence to avoid prosecution. Only the presence of a hidden bystander with cell phone video led to prosecution.

Are these isolated cases? Perhaps. But less isolated than the lurid murder of a police officer or the widely-reported refusal of services at a Buffalo Wild Wings that Conway refers to as evidence indicting the Black Lives Matter movement as “terrorists.”

Conway is arguing that police acted within policy. The Black Lives Matter movement questions the policies that lead to wide racial disparities in the use of force in the first place. Young black men in particular are 21 times more likely to be killed by police than young white men, according to a ProPublica analysis, though they are not close to 21 times more likely to be engaged in violent criminal activity.

I know Conway. I do not believe him to be a racist, and I have defended him against accusations of such in the past. One need not make sweeping accusations of overt racism to acknowledge the reality of this racial disparity in the use of force. So I understand how this critique of the use of force might rankle.

But it’s real. The numbers bear it out.

The key problem, in my view, is that law enforcement organizations meet these external critiques with less introspection and soul-searching than with deep defensiveness. The power of police ultimately rests with the public’s respect for its authority. The Black Lives Matter movement is a challenge to that authority, in a sense — it challenges police judgment in matters of life and death. I understand how threatening that might be.

Nonetheless, reverence for law enforcement can’t stand between the public and the absolute requirement of a democracy to hold government to public account. We do not — and shall not — live in a police state.

Accountability is not disrespect. Accountability is not dehumanizing, as he puts it. Accountability is not terrorism. Accountability is not hate. And while it may pain some police officers to hear this, accountability is “the structure of a civilized society,” not men with guns, even if they’re working for us.

49 comments

  1. Greg S says:

    Can both of you have some points? He’s right in pointing out the rush to judgement in most of the recent cases and the media’s irresponsible behavior in raising the temperature. But I agree with your set of facts about police murders. The environment is unnecessarily hostile towards police even if it hasn’t yet manifested itself in increased murders. The police need to be held accountable but much of today’s discussion is down right disrespectful and will lead to unintended consequences, see Baltimore.

  2. gcp says:

    Conway never mentions BLM by name but I will. The motives of any group that chants “Pigs in a blanket, fry ’em like bacon,” as they did recently in Minn. should be questioned.

    Have actions and statements by various groups and individuals contributed to the murder of police officers in Houston, NY and recently in Kentucky? Only the murderers can answer that question.

    Meanwhile, we see increased murders among citizens in Baltimore, St Louis, DC and other cities. Atlanta ended 2014 with the highest number of murders since 2010.

    • joejohns says:

      It’s my understanding that that chant was in jest, in the moment…I personally have no idea why such a silly, crass chant would’ve been even entertained. But whether it was or wasn’t, you are taking a chant by a few and using that to demonize anyone and everyone who will ask for police accountability for freedom’s sake; while at the same time demanding that police not be judged by the actions of a few. Seems to me that if group judgement is wrong in regards to police, it’s equally wrong in regards to BLM. And, it is wrong.

      • gcp says:

        “Police accountability” Yes, but not when the call comes from a group that would make such a chant. BLM uses tactics such as disrupting diners in Atlanta restaurants and screaming at politicians. I don’t know that such activity accomplishes anything positive.

          • georgiahack says:

            Um, how about stop shooting people. That is a real solution. It doesn’t have to be couched in big numbers or long winded policy papers. Stop shooting people.

            • John Konop says:

              It is not that simple, poor communities no matter the race face the toughest crime situations. Gang areas are not so simple to police, and keep people safe. Obviously, innocent people are getting caught in the cross fire. How about solutions to lower the tension, reduce gangs……while keeping people safe. Nothing is a 100 percent…

              • georgiahack says:

                So, for folks who did nothing wrong but happen to live in an area with gangs, etc shouldn’t expect not to be shot by the police? That is just silly. No one is saying that the gangs, drugs, violence in some areas are not a reason for concern and action, but to say that those situations have to be fixed before we stop shooting innocent people is wrong-headed.

                • John Konop says:

                  In all due respect, this issue is way more grey….mistakes have been made….yet on the other hand it is a very toxic environment dealing with gangs,and increases chances of tragedies. A broad brush attacking all of law enforcement for the acts of a few is not fair.A 100 percent no mistake is an unrealistic goal, yet we can do reforms to lower the chances…..and solutions needs to be a partnership between the community and police.

  3. George Chidi says:

    … which would still be one of the lowest numbers of murders in 40 years.

    Crime has been falling, generally, for about 22 years, and it has almost nothing to do with either police work or incarceration rates — there’s no statistically correlation.

    The idea that, but for our police, we should be shaking in our boots at being overtaken by crime, is a creation of a media that has grown financially dependent on crime coverage for ratings.

    • gcp says:

      There is statistical correlation. Look at Ga. murder/violent crime rate since enhanced sentencing began under Zell Miller. Almost perfect tracking.

      • George Chidi says:

        Ah … no. That’s not how it works. When crime rates are falling everywhere, including the places without “enhanced sentencing,” it’s inappropriate to attribute it to Miller’s initiative.

          • George Chidi says:

            I don’t actually have one. All the explanations suck. They all break down under examination.

            It’s not incarceration rates. It’s not demographic change. It’s not sentencing. It’s not abortion rates. It’s not the economy. It’s not poverty rates — a correlation, but a really small one. It’s not police tactics. It’s not gun ownership rates. It’s not gun control rates either — also a small correlation, but a tiny one. I would have said unemployment rates once, but that correlation fell apart during the recession.

            It might be a decrease in environmental lead levels, but that feels like blaming the wallpaper for global warming. The environmental changes have been so small, it seems unlikely to be responsible for so large a shift.

            It is a mystery. The entire discipline of criminology has been upended by it. No one has a good answer.

            • gcp says:

              My explanation is incarceration. Ga. total violent crime rate (murder, rape, robbery, agg assault) fell from 704.2 per 100,000 in 1992 to 351.6 in 2013.

              Do you perhaps have an explanation for the increase in murders in various cities this year? If not, well once again, just ignore me.

    • dsean says:

      “The idea that, but for our police, we should be shaking in our boots at being overtaken by crime, is a creation of a media that has grown financially dependent on crime coverage for ratings.”

      This. People all too often forget that the police don’t protect society from criminals, they protect criminals from the rest of society. When policing breaks down, people resort to vigilantism. Having a legitimate and effective police force and legal system prevents that from happening.

      • Bobloblaw says:

        Of course it is incarceration. More people in prison, fewer out in the streets who commit crimes. It is also demographics. Falling birth rates in the 1970s and early 80s and it is also legal ABORTION. Fewer potential criminals were born. It was broken windows policing as well. NYC had over 2200 murders in 1990. Today it is 400-500. Lowering the murder rate in NYC, since it is so big, impacts the national crime statistics by a few points.

  4. joejohns says:

    No freedom-loving person can disagree with this post. Law Enforcement are to be appreciated for the vital role that they play in our society, but they are not lords. It is a blatant power play for any law enforcement chief to demonize citizens for demanding accountability from the government. And people who support such silencing of citizens do so because they feel that by their race, class, or status that they will never be on the receiving end of unchecked police power…until they are.

  5. George Chidi says:

    Folks are asking what policies the Black Lives Matter movement want adopted. They’re calling it Campaign Zero. Here’s a list. I think you’ll find it fairly pragmatic and reasonable.

    • End “broken windows” policing and stop-and-frisk practices, while focusing on connecting police work to mental health treatment. A quarter of police killings started with enforcement of broken windows policies – the cost in lives lost isn’t worth what might be gained in security.

    • Create independent civilian oversight boards with teeth – subpoena power, the ability to recommend punishment, fully-funded investigation teams and lower barriers for reporting misconduct. They’re recommending one investigator for every 70 officers.

    • Better, consistent limits on the use of force. High-speed chases, shooting at moving vehicles, choke-holds, minimum force standards – these are inconsistent across departments. A standard should be established and adhered to … particularly around how force is reported and monitored. Only then can patterns be revealed and incremental improvement begun.

    • Criminal investigation of police use of force has to be independent. Independent prosecutors – perhaps a federal system, outside of the local food chain – along with lower barriers for federal prosecution of local police under civil rights law, may improve accountability. Every state should have a special prosecutor as well, to investigate all cases of serious injury or death at the hands of police.

    • Police should recruit more officers from the communities they serve, and should survey those communities regularly for feedback about performance.

    • Body cameras on every cop, and any cop snatching bystander cell phones for video should be prosecuted and the department open to a lawsuit. Policy about this should be crystal clear.

    • Police training should be consistent, and should incorporate implicit bias and its impact on the use of force. Managing diversity issues, verbal judo and the de-escalation of conflict should be emphasized.

    • Stop policing for profit (an issue near to my heart.) Courts have turned traffic tickets into a trip to debtor’s prison. Police are often pressured to meet ticket quotas, particularly in poor neighborhoods. And civil forfeiture of property … all of this has to stop.

    • No more military gear for cops. We field police, not soldiers. If we treat police like soldiers, they’ll treat the public like occupied territory.

    • Police contracts that give cops rights that the public do not enjoy with regard to a criminal investigation should be rewritten or invalidated. Cops bake 48-hour waiting periods before being questioned into their contracts, and allow for the effective evasion of discipline. End this.

    • Three Jack says:

      Funny, all the demands but no concessions/ideas.

      Where does BLM stand on male black-on-black crime? That doesn’t generally draw media attention so it’s understandable that BLM would ignore arguably the most significant issue facing blacks in America.

      This list is exactly why most folks disagree with BLM. We as a society will never come close to becoming harmonious if every sector wishes to separate based on uncontrollable personal traits from skin color to sexual preference. BLM as a group name is offensive to those of us who believe in the MLK message of judgment by character over skin color. They disparage MLK’s message.

      • George Chidi says:

        I have no responsibility for the clown down the street who decides to shoot someone. He doesn’t work for me. He’s not following my instructions. I don’t pay him.

        I pay cops. As a taxpayer, they’re on the public payroll. Their conduct is accountable to me as a citizen. That is the fundamental reason the Black Lives Matter movement is looking at police, and prosecutors and courts. These entities work for us.

        More to the point: The black community has had reason to distrust police, which appears to some degree to be justifiable, given the close look at public-police interaction of late. The sort of things that people in middle class white neighborhoods would elicit a 911 call for end up being settled with a fist fight or a baseball bat or a gun in poor black neighborhoods, precisely because police cannot be trusted to fairly evaluate facts on the ground.

        Police misconduct contributes to high rates of violence. That relationship has to be rebuilt on a foundation that can be trusted. This is the foundation. Build it properly, and black-on-black crime will fall.

      • George Chidi says:

        Also … what do you mean no ideas? This list is full of ideas, many of which are wholeheartedly demanded by police. An emphasis on training? Most cops I know crave more training — it’s professional development. Cops often want to wear body cameras, simply to avoid spurious accusations of misconduct. Cops like writing tickets about as much as we like getting them. Police are often the first people to talk about how the mental health social services network has failed society. And most cops want it to be easier to kick crappy cops off the force, but are bound by culture to tolerate and support them.

        • John Konop says:

          In all due respect show me a platform BLM is pushing to reform the system? I have seen a few interviews that is always avoided from what I saw. I realize they are changing their website, but nothing is about actual proposals.

          • George Chidi says:

            First, the BLM movement doesn’t care about the race of police officers nearly as much as it does the disparate impact of use-of-force on black people.

            Second, police reform has a direct impact on crime in black communities. Distrust of police — which appears justifiable to some degree right now — contributes to crime. If people felt safe from false accusations and unnecessary violence from the police, they would call them more, which would result in a deterrent effect.

            Third, the whole idea of “black-on-black” crime is rather irrelevant. People commit crime, generally, close to home. Effective segregation means most crimes committed by black people will be on other black people … and most crimes committed by white people will be on other white people.

            Fourth, people can walk and chew gum at the same time. Telling people to address “black-on-black” crime first before addressing police misconduct is just a way to tell activists to lay off. Many people I know involved in the Black Lives Matter movement got started as activists reducing violence in the black community. The movement emerged in part because police reform is intrinsic to that work. We can’t reduce crime in black neighborhoods if no one trusts cops not to shoot someone when they show up, or to arrest the wrong guy because they’re looking for a generic “young black male” suspect, or to generally start beating people’s asses without recourse or apology.

            • Three Jack says:

              Since you say black on black crime is irrelevant, you essentially remove yourself from a serious discussion (like most in the BLM uprising).

              Sherman has a far better understanding than I, so I’ll stick with his firsthand opinion formed straight outta Compton then Stanford.

      • DavidTC says:

        Funny, all the demands but no concessions/ideas.

        Did you just demand *concessions* before *people who are employed by us* stop shooting people?

        The police do not get ‘concessions’. The police are public servants. They either do the job how *we* want them to do the job, or they can quit.

        • Three Jack says:

          Yes DavidTC, concessions. Maybe admissions. BLM places all blame on white cops with demands based on this false premise. Concede that black on black crime is a far bigger challenge facing the black community then focus on that before looking for others to blame.

    • gcp says:

      • Broken window policing also includes 18 wheelers parked in driveway, loose dogs on property, loud parties, trash in front yard… In other words all quality of life issues. PD already works with mental health agencies in terms of Ga Mental Health Act and coordination via local agencies. Disagree with stat that says quarter of police killings in Ga started with broken window policy

      • Some agencies (APD) have civilian review however the ultimate review is the state/federal court system. Also any citizen can make a complaint to a pd. Ultimately if you don’t like how a pd operates, complain to your elected officials. They ultimately decide how a pd operates via appointed pd chief or in some cases an elected sheriff.

      • Once again limits are set by court rulings, state law and departmental policy. If you disagree, complain to elected officials or elect new officials.

      •Many agencies currently use GBI to investigate pd shootings

      •PD would love to recruit more local officers. Unfortunately few qualified individuals apply.

      • No problem with body cams. Once again, get with your local elected officials.

      • All pd training in Ga. must comply with Ga. P.O.S.T standards and already incorporates training in the areas listed.

      • “policing for profit” Once again, check with your local elected officials and lawmakers.

      • “military gear” Ridiculous. You don’t go into a swat or riot situation with Bermuda shorts

      • “48 hour waiting period ” not familiar with that one in Ga.

      I could write pages on this issue but I won’t.

      • DavidTC says:

        Once again limits are set by court rulings, state law and departmental policy. If you disagree, complain to elected officials or elect new officials.

        Psssst…that is exactly what BLM is *doing*.

        Many agencies currently use GBI to investigate pd shootings

        …which doesn’t matter one bit if the *prosecutor* is the same guy who has to work with the police day-in and day-out, and thus is unwilling to actually prosecute anyone. (Or, like with Ferguson and Staten Island, somehow managed to ‘lose the case’ when presenting evidence to a grand jury, despite the fact that a grand jury failing to indict almost *never* happens.)

        Justice demands an adversarial system. Prosecutors are, 99.99999% of the time, on the side of the police, working *with* the police, so it’s not that surprising that the 0.00001% of the time that they’re supposed to be on the *other* side…they don’t behave as if they are.

        What *is* surprising is we’ve had that dumbass system for centuries.

        • gcp says:

          “Exactly what BLM is doing” By anti-police chants and disrupting restaurants ?

          “which doesn’t matter one bit if the prosecutor”. Check with Paul Howard on that one. He prosecuted two officers in recent past, one was convicted, one found not guilty. Also tried unsuccessfully twice to indict another officer.

          Additionally there is always federal option. One of the officers from the Habersham County incident is currently under federal indictment.

  6. Dave Bearse says:

    St. Ronnie began his Presidency with the pronouncement that government was the problem. There was no outcry that his talk was responsible for Timothy McVeigh and others.

    I don’t think police violence has grown—it hasn’t decreased as fast as wanted or possible. And as concerns race, policing and courts haven’t changed as fast as general changes in society over the past 70 years, in significant measure a result of the War on Drugs.

    Conway isn’t a racist, but a relic, as his comments that a judicial system that kills and incarcerates blacks out of proportion to crime is the proper venue to address concerns.

    My own experience with a police officer and court over a moving violation a few years ago personalized the situation for me. The cop negligently wrote the ticket to me, the owner of the vehicle, when I wasn’t even in the vehicle at the time. The cop realized it when I appeared in court. Instead of summary dismissal, the court admonished me I would was only being warned and not fined because of my good driving record (ha!). It’s logical to conclude collusion and corruption when insignificant petty incompetence is handled so—I don’t know what the officer said to the judge in their private sidebar.

    • HueyMahl says:

      Talks like duck, quacks like a duck.

      You know the saying. We can only go by what people say and do, and frankly, Conway’s comments are racist as f**k.

      And a good portion of the police are just like him.

      • Three Jack says:

        You don’t even know the definition of racist. If you did, you would know that BLM is a racist name just as it would be if there was a WLM or CLM uprising.

  7. MattMD says:

    Conway has basically become the Victor Hill of the North Metro.

    This is the same agency that put out a DUI hit job on a county commissioner back in 2010 or so.

    Sheriff offices need to be abolished in large population counties. I doubt that amendment will pass anytime soon.

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