from the worst.-FBI-director.-ever. dept
FBI director James Comey is now beclowning himself by endorsing the so-called "Ferguson Effect." Some major US cities are experiencing increases in violent crime, and law enforcement agencies are blaming this on the fallout from the Michael Brown shooting.
Supposedly, law enforcement officers are afraid to do their jobs properly, fearing reprisal, public humiliation or possible prosecution for deploying any form of force. Further extrapolations of the "Ferguson Effect" theorize that the public's respect for law enforcement has fallen so low citizens are now often openly hostile.
It's telling that this is called the "Ferguson Effect," rather than say, the "Garner Effect." Both officer-involved-killings happened within a few weeks of each other and both touched off massive protests. In both cases, grand juries failed to return indictments against the police officers responsible for the deaths of two unarmed black men. However, the shooting in Ferguson lacked a crucial element: a video recording of the incident. In Ferguson, the evidence presented was a mess of contradictory eyewitness testimonies.
In the New York City incident, clear recordings of an NYPD officer choking Eric Garner to death were all over YouTube before the NYPD could even issue a coherent statement. For some reason, it's called the "Ferguson Effect" even though it was NYPD officers who first stated a reluctance to lay down on the job in response to the backlash.
As Comey sees it, the problem (which doesn't actually exist) isn't with police departments. It's with the people they serve… and their unblinking eyes.
He said his conversations with officers often come back to cellphones. He said they describe encounters with young people and their cellphone cameras "taunting" them "the moment they get out of their cars."To put it in the parlance of official police statements: the officers feared for their
"They told me, 'We feel like we're under siege and we don't feel much like getting out of our cars,'" Comey said.
Police have always performed their duties in public, observed by many. But until recently, any footage of these encounters were left to dashcams. In the absence of recordings, it was the public's word against the officer's, and the officer's word usually won out. Now, police officers no longer have the luxury of controlling the narrative. Apparently, it's this lack of control that's preventing them from doing their jobs.
The "Ferguson Effect" narrative goes hand-in-hand with the "War on Cops" -- the bogus theory that cops are being targeted and killed more frequently simply because they're cops. In both cases, there's no data backing up these assertions. Any perceived spike in violence cannot be traced back to law enforcement officers being more wary of deploying force. Even if it could, the problem still lies with the police, rather than the public.
Public servants performing their duties in public should expect to be observed. If officers can't handle the "taunting" of camera-wielding citizens, they should exit the law enforcement business. If they feel imprisoned in their own vehicles by members of the public wielding nothing more dangerous than recording devices, they're not cut out to handle the actual dangers of the job.
Comey's furtherance of this bogus narrative is not just stupid. It's also hypocritical. Constant observation -- a.k.a. "surveillance" -- alters people's behavior. Comey admits as much in his remarks on the "Ferguson Effect."
So the suggestion, the question that has been asked of me, is whether these kinds of things are changing police behavior all over the country.Marcy Wheeler points out the obtuseness of this statement, which highlights the side effect of constant surveillance no government intelligence/investigative agency seems willing to discuss.
And the answer is, I don’t know. I don’t know whether this explains it entirely, but I do have a strong sense that some part of the explanation is a chill wind blowing through American law enforcement over the last year. And that wind is surely changing behavior.
I actually do think there’s something to the chilling effect of surveillance (though, again, what’s happening to cops is targeted, not dragnet). But if Comey has a problem with that, he can’t have it both ways, he needs to consider the way in which the surveillance of young Muslim and African-American men leads them to do things they might not otherwise do, the way in which it makes targets of surveillance feel under siege, he needs to consider how the surveillance his Agents undertake actually makes it less likely people will engage in the things they’re supposed to do, like enjoy free speech, a robust criminal defense unrestricted by spying on lawyers, like enjoy privacy.Law enforcement can dish it out, but it can't take it. That's the true definition of the "Ferguson Effect."