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America’s Mis-Police State

Summary:
The mass protests sweeping the United States following the death of George Floyd are born of many factors, but chiefly reflect frustration and rage at America's long history of racist law enforcement. Addressing that problem will require reducing the pressures on both urban communities and those tasked with policing them. MILWAUKEE – George Floyd’s death at the hands – and under the knee – of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has triggered a wave of peaceful protests and violent rioting in most major cities across the United States. Caught on video for the world to see, the incident has driven home the perception that African-Americans are excluded from America’s grand narrative of progress, in which

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The mass protests sweeping the United States following the death of George Floyd are born of many factors, but chiefly reflect frustration and rage at America's long history of racist law enforcement. Addressing that problem will require reducing the pressures on both urban communities and those tasked with policing them.

MILWAUKEE – George Floyd’s death at the hands – and under the knee – of Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin has triggered a wave of peaceful protests and violent rioting in most major cities across the United States. Caught on video for the world to see, the incident has driven home the perception that African-Americans are excluded from America’s grand narrative of progress, in which conditions supposedly improve over time.

The data bear out that perception. According to a recent Brookings Institution study, as of 2016, “the net worth of a typical white family is nearly ten times greater than that of a Black family.” And though the US accounts for just 5% of the global population, it is home to 21% of the world’s incarcerated people, one-third of whom are African-American.

Scarcely a week goes by without a new story about African-Americans dying at the hands of police or vigilantes. Each episode is met with media handwringing and calls for reforms of police procedures. But the problem is never resolved, in part because it is actually many problems.

For starters, many Americans have accepted that they live in a winner-takes-all society of deepening inequality. While the wealth and incomes of those at the very top continue to grow, tens of millions of Americans struggle to afford health care, childcare, and other basic goods. This story has been told many times over. But what often goes unremarked is that the responsibility for managing the social costs of this system has been offloaded onto the police.

Generally speaking, most police in urban areas are white and have little or no experience interacting with the populations within their jurisdictions. The familiarity gap is compounded by the fact that one in five police officers is a military veteran who previously conducted violent pacification efforts in Afghanistan or Iraq. These former soldiers have been primed to see the urban populations they police as threats to their own safety, at best.

That, too, is borne out by the data. For example, in Boston between 2010 and 2015, there were

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