Summer of Protest • A Nation of Laws and Not of Men

Posted In: News, Investigative Reporting,   From Issue 898   By: Greg Schmid, Robert E. Martin, Nathan Collison

25th June, 2020     0

"With bad laws and good civil servants it's still possible to govern. But with bad civil servants even the best laws can't help."   - Otto von Bismarck  

The United States of America has been defined by John Adams' promise of America as "a nation of laws not of men" for over two centuries. This exaltation of the rule of law oversimplifies the reality that laws are interpreted and enforced by always imperfect and occasionally depraved human beings. 

Human beings are both innovative and prone to economic ambition, which makes mankind productive as a whole. However, those traits also exist in public officials with whom we taxpayers entrust the administration of government, courts, policing, and the public treasury. Laws are no better than the human beings we entrust to enforce them, and unchecked corruption only serves to squander the credibility of our public institutions.

This past month has seen major protests throughout the country, and many of those protests have devolved into chaotic street rioting and looting. In Seattle, partisans have literally seized control of an area and claimed it as their own country. This appears to be with the acquiescence of the local government leadership.

And sadly, in other great cities such as New York, Chicago, and Los Angeles, a Bermuda’s Triangle of isolation from Quarantine, the economic devastation of lockdown, and the horror of the George Floyd incident precipitated destructive anarchy and chaos the likes of which these great cities may never fully recover. Just look at Detroit where it took 50 years to recover from the 1967 riots, and still has not totally done so.

On the positive front, progress has been made in Detroit. Back in the days of the ’67 riots only 3% of the police force in Detroit was African-American; and now it is 57%. But clearly new processes for balancing the needs of law and order with civil liberties, while making sure elected officials are held accountable for the powers they delegate to the police and other government actors are essential.

Indeed, 95% of arrests nowadays involve neither victim nor violence and are purely a money-making program for cash-strapped cities and police departments and the private prison industry, including the multi-billion dollar industry set up in the lucrative prison telecom industry; which are other important elements to this story of disparity that we need to examine.

If you have ever read the book George Soros, you will recognize this public “hue and cry” strategy as “coming from above and below,” which he described as a process whereby some elites arrange for mobs to make policy demands in the form of staged protests, then use that mob pressure to recruit other elites to fall in line, who then arrange for more street protests with larger crowds chanting for change, and so on until the original policy goal is achieved.

Moreover, the reality of racism in American does not always mirror the narrative pedaled through the Mainstream Media, such as the notion that police racism is leading to the killing of minorities in telling numbers. Heather Mac Donald of the Manhattan Institute notes that, based on a Washington Post database, police fatally shot nine unarmed blacks in 2019 (and 19 unarmed whites). Based on the numbers of black homicide victims generally (7,407 in 2018), Mac Donald calculates that the fatal shooting of unarmed blacks represents about 0.1 percent of all African-Americans killed in 2019. She bolsters her position by citing studies by the National Academy of Sciences, a Justice Department survey of Philadelphia police practices, and research by a Harvard economist. 

On the other hand, while both violent crime and property crime have been decreasingly steadily since the early 2000's, rates of incarceration have been exploding in the other direction. For most of the 20th century the rate of incarceration in American was roughly 110 per 100,000 people. As of last year that number was 655 per 100,000.  In short, the quantity of prisoners in America seems obscenely high.

As participants in this great experiment we call America, we must try to understand ourselves, and to do so even in the midst of the rancor and uncertainty of cultural unrest. Review Magazine is dedicated to exploring the human condition; warts and all. 

In the following editions The Review  will publish a series of articles on the national policing crisis in America, and how the people of the Saginaw Bay region should react to it. 

As with any credible inquiry we begin with formulating relevant questions of government officials to start an honest dialogue. We have in fact posed a series of questions to the Saginaw Chief of Police and look forward to hearing back from him and publishing his answers. 

We also look forward to hearing from thoughtful people from both the government and private sector to give us your perspective on racism and power in America, and to offer concrete steps for corrective action. Anyone who has anything to say about this is encouraged to email us at   

The first step our team took was to pose the following series of questions to the City Police. We asked the following questions, which we recognize will not be easy to answer:

  1. Why do you think that the recent City Council resolution will do anything to change law enforcement practices, and what, if any, current training or continuing education policies are in place and how is compliance enforced?                                                                                  
  2. What, if anything, was done to address these issues in SPD after the Milton Hall incident, who and how many officers were disciplined, are any of the officers involved in the death of Milton Hall still with the SPD, and if not, where did they go, and what role did the city manager play in the aftermath of the Milton Hall situation, and what, if any, proactive measures did he implement in SPD to address it?
  3. What is the racial makeup of the department, specifically African Americans, and what is the racial makeup of the department relative to management level or superior officers, specifically African Americans?
  4. Do you think it is important to have officers and superior officers who live in the city that they are policing, and How many current officers and superior officers live in the city?
  5. What percentage of the SPD budget, and dollar amount, is spent on de-escalation training?
  6. What is SPD doing to address calls that stem from people with mental health issues, and what is SPD doing to address officer mental health and substance abuse?
  7. What types of non-lethal force are the officers trained in and what access do they have to these types of resources?
  8. What is the recruiting and training process for new officers?
  9. What is the distribution of personnel across the city? I.e., what is the geographical concentration of police presence, or stated another way, what areas are patrolled most heavily?

The City of Saginaw has many more questions to answer too, and police unions need to contemplate whether their aggressive protection of their officer’s jobs actually frustrate internal police reforms by preventing departments from effectively disciplining officers accused of police misconduct.

For its part, the city of Saginaw has already taken positive actions to earn the trust of the citizens. In a recent press release the city acknowledged that “Racism has eroded trust and goodwill throughout our nation. However, we believe the future of policing in the City of Saginaw is ripe with potential. Now more than ever, our policing must continue to place an even greater emphasis on police-community partnerships, and a strong focus on equity, transparency, and accountability.” 

The steps announced included. “working with Saginaw County Community Mental Health Authority to develop training on dealing with individuals who are mentally ill, increased availability of less lethal equipment, as well as the purchase and implementation of body cameras for all road patrol officers.” Actions such as those taken by the officers in Minneapolis are not contemplated by any policy of the Saginaw Police Department.”

These words are just words, and as aspirational as they are, may ring hollow if they are not followed up with actions. We have heard this all before, but when Milton Hall fell in a hail of police bullets the city took what has become the usual route to resolve the matter; they paid off the family with your tax dollars and let time heal the balance of wounds.

Black Lives Matter. They matter a great deal. To this many well-meaning people respond, “yes, but all lives matter.” Well, ok , everyone knows that, but that is not the point right now. Black lives have improved over time, but human nature has prevented us from achieving justice and prosperity regardless of race. Black lives need to enjoy all the privileges of being free Americans. While it is true that many white people in our community live as if they are blind to the color of a person’s skin, and want to believe that everyone is treated equally, the reality on the ground is that poverty in America is a crushing fact of life, and that it leaves many black lives powerless in the face of power too lightly exercised by those with authority. In this sense everyone was failed by the system.

Power transcends racism, but racism is weaponized by power.  

Power over other individuals is at the crux of every sovereign institution in the world, and the weak link in every system of governance.  Philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Those who have been once intoxicated with power, and have derived any kind of emolument from it, even though for but one year, can never willingly abandon it.”

Power is a menace to all humanity when it is abused. Put power in the hands of a typical person, and a significant number of those otherwise normal persons embrace authoritarianism and treat their subjects badly (see - Stanford prison experiment). Our first president George Washington offered this sobering account; “Government is like fire, a dangerous servant and a fearful master.”

The point is that you cannot hope to understand the racial divide if you do not first understand power, and see how it lands on individuals; and you cannot understand power without seeing how racists can use institutional power to keep other people down. 

In this respect it is hard to imagine any solution to racism that involves increasing the power of those in authority; rather a solution must be to limit the power of government so as to reduce the opportunity for people to abuse authority, and to provide training and resources to allow government officials to recognize implicit bias and tamp down the human frailties that make for bad policing and bad governance. 

We don’t intend for this first installment to be a solution to any of our problems. We intend it to be an approach to understanding how to come together as a community to address these issues with love and mutual respect, speaking truth to power, with no sacred cows and no bashing.

Our urgency to address this as a nation cannot be downplayed. The most fundamental element of the social contract between government and the people is cracking: the obligation of government to keep its citizens safe. For that we surrender a portion of our freedom and wealth to government for the collective good.  That arrangement has been recognized as a foundational philosophy of civil society since Thomas Hobbes articulated it over 300 years ago.

We hope to hear your perspectives online, and to study in depth the various solutions being offered by your government.    





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