To the Editor:
At a recent event at the University of Chicago Law School (FBI head visits U. of C. campus, Oct. 28, 2015), UC Alum and FBI Director James Comey spoke to the audience regarding the “Ferguson” effect, in which police officers pull back from confronting some situations because they fear that they will be videoed by persons with cellphones and have it go viral on the Internet, negatively affecting both their careers and lives. I find this a curious label, especially since this is attributed to a situation that never happened. There is no videoed encounter between former Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson, and Ferguson resident Michael Brown. However, there is plenty of video (journalists would call it “footage”) afterward between protesters and the police, who were armed military-style. Those pictures and videos, along with the justice department’s investigation, in which Mr. Comey’s FBI was also a part of, found systemic abuse of Ferguson’s minority residents by law enforcement, municipal government and the court system. This led to wholesale changes (and a Justice Department takeover) of that city’s, and I might argue many other cities, approach to law enforcement of and police interaction with its minority population.
While he was speaking, I wished he had contrasted that effect with many of the local phenomena that do have evidence to back up assertions of police overreaction and overreach.
Let’s begin with the “Driving While Black” effect, which is a subset of the “Racial Profiling” effect. Had he bothered to reference the data (no video required), he would have seen that the University of Chicago Police Department’s officers stopped far more minority drivers in the recent past, and only when called out on it, they began practicing the “Pull Up Stakes and Go Home” effect, insinuating and promoting the “Whose Gonna Protect You Now” effect amongst the non-campus community.
This is backed up by a recent story concerning a theft in a retail outlet on property previously owned by the university. A call was made to UCPD to report the crime, in which the person was told that UC no longer owned the property, and UCPD officers would not take a police report for incidents on non-university property. This flies in the face of two theories advanced at a September community meeting by 4th Ward Ald. Will Burns and the Chicago Police Department, which I’ll call the “You Can Call Both CPD and UCPD” and the “Hyde Park/Kenwood Are Protected By Two Police Department” theorems. These theorems give way to the “UCPD Selective Policing” effect, one that the Campaign for Equitable Policing (CEP) has been protesting against for years.
In all fairness, First Resident, President Barack Obama, in a speech to the International Chiefs of Police, tried to soothe fears amongst the policing community by saying that a few viral videos of bad police conduct should not tarnish the policing community as a whole. But you can’t really argue that point without bringing up the “Racial Profiling” effect, which to his credit he did. But instead of producing the “Now You Know How It Feels” effect, it all too often produces the “We Can’t Properly Police Without Violating Someone’s Rights” effect, which goes to how we train our police. Until serious, structural changes are made, the “Us vs. Them” effect will continue to dominate policing and delay indefinitely the “Why Can’t We All Just Get Along” effect.
We must continue the push for police accountability, Freedom of Information access laws for private forces such as the UCPD, and proper policing staffing and training from the City of Chicago and CPD, amongst other things, so that we can produce more than labels, explanations and excuses, but positive and long-lasting “effects”.
As for Mr. Comey, maybe his next stop should be to South Carolina, which his FBI has been called to investigate yet another phone-recorded incident, a sheriff’s deputy dragging a high school student across the room from a chair. The Associated Press quotes Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott, regarding the deputy he fired who was involved in this incident: “I can’t fix problems if I don’t know about it,” … “I would say that every citizen with a camera, if they see something that’s going on that disturbs them, they should film it. Our citizens should police us.”
This perfectly demonstrates the “This Is How It Should Work” effect.