Quest for Wisdom #1 – On Protests and Hijacking

A month ago, protests broke out all over the west, especially the US. And since I’m from Central Europe, I didn’t understand at all what was going on.

And so I started asking people to explain it to me, to help me make sense of the world.

Here’s what I found out:

Lockdowns were really bad.

No matter how I thought about it, the protests following the Covid-19 lockdowns wasn’t coincidental. And not by design, but rather, the lockdowns had a brutally asymmetric impact on the population.

On the example of the USA, the highest-income part of the population was mildly impacted with the Fed printing money like there’s no tomorrow and their financial reserves being able to sustain a temporary hit to income.

The middle class received a harsher impact, with many being laid off, their wages often receiving haircuts, and their entire way of life changed overnight.

But that’s still nothing compared to the cataclysm that hit the lowest-income part of the population. This part of the population works largely in the industries most impacted by the lockdowns.

These people lost their entire way of life, pretty much overnight, often any and all income, and had and often still have no hope of making a new income. A barista cannot go work to a difference cafe when all cafes are closed down by the governor’s order.

The plight of the lowest-income part of the population got further exacerbated by the virus, since lower income implies smaller living space and a higher dependence on public transport, making social distancing all the more difficult.

So, especially the lowest-income part of the population has a really good reason to protest and to loot – their lives were ravaged overnight and no one seems to care.

And this, I believe, was a large reason behind the first-wave looting – or at least was from the start – people can’t live with nothing, especially when they have families to feed, and what are they supposed to do when all jobs where they could earn an honest income were obliterated?

This made sense to me, which is why I stared with my mouth wide open when the protests turned into the call for defunding the police.

Defund the police… really?

The calls to defund/abolish the police made zero sense to me. What especially struck me as strange was that it came from the same political side that likes to push the idea that one doesn’t need a gun because one has police to depend on.

I couldn’t combine these two ideas, so I put an unreasonable amount of effort to try to find someone who thinks abolishing the police is a good idea and talk to them.

I managed, twice, and both conversations were like a copy paste of each other. And what I understood from them both was that the basis for the demand for abolishing the police is an extremely intense desire for revenge.

The idea behind the call is that the police did something bad, therefore it is evil, and thus it needs to be punished for it, as harshly as possible.

My arguments all fell on deaf ears. The emotion behind the desire for revenge in both people I spoke with about it was too strong for them to be able to hear anything other than agreement.

For the record, my argument was that the reduction in policing leads to an increase in crime, especially the violent one (as observable in former CHAZ/CHOP, these days in most major US cities, or in 1969 Montreal’s Night of Terror), so maybe abolishing the police wouldn’t lead to a terribly good outcome for anyone, especially not for the lower income parts of the population that cannot afford private security, unlike the Minneapolis city council.

So, the goal behind the demand is revenge, the punishment of the police for doing something bad, and what happens afterward is irrelevant.

And that’s not a terribly smart policy.

Now, what would make a smart policy?

Academically speaking, I asked myself this question, since the US police doesn’t have a terribly good record in terms of suspect death rate during arrests. And what I found is that the US police is primarily, heavily underfunded.

These are the police expenditures in terms of percentage of GDP (the only usable measure in cross-country comparisons) in Europe:

Source: https://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/statistics-explained/index.php/Government_expenditure_on_public_order_and_safety

And this is the US (this was surprisingly difficult to find, because most statistics about the US police I found are written in absolute terms, rather than as a percentage of GDP, which makes them useless for cross-country comparison):

Source: https://www.cato.org/blog/police-spending-soars-federal-level

From Europe, the most comparable country to the US is the UK, which spends about 1 % of GDP on police (just police, not “order and safety” chapter since that includes courts, which don’t matter in this case), while the US expenditures add up to about 0.9 %.

In other words, the UK spends about 11 % more money on police than the US.

And for Canada, I found the policing cost to be about 1.11% back in 2012, which would be 23 % more than the US does, (source: http://www.pbo-dpb.gc.ca/web/default/files/files/files/Crime_Cost_EN.pdf) – I couldn’t find anything more recent, but the trend is increasing, so it’s likely even more these days.

No wonder the US police has bad performance in certain areas, because the less money is offered for a service, the poorer will the service be. That works in literally every industry, and I don’t see why policing should be any different.

In the light of this, the defund the police cry sounds even more insane – that would be going literally in the opposite direction from where the solutions are, be they a reform of police operations strategy, or some adjustment to qualified immunity, the abolishment of police unions to make it easier to fire the poorly performing policemen, or something else that could actually change something for the better.

All of those would require investment, and often increase in wages since they would mean decrease of working conditions for the policemen, which has to be compensated by an increase in wages, or the best policemen would leave the force.

And this had been, at the start, the message I had heard. But somewhere along the way, it got hijacked.

The hijacking

I haven’t found a better word to call it, but the overall protest message had gotten hijacked somewhere along the way.

What started with calls for a meaningful police reform turned into the calls for defunding of the police, tearing down of statues, desecration of war memorials, and general book burning like it’s 1933 in Nazistic Germany (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nazi_book_burnings).

And this has nothing to do with police brutality.

It actually looks a lot like the times when totalitarian ideologies were pushed around Europe – burning of books, destruction of statues, the removal of all marks of all other ideologies is typical for establishment of  Nazism, Communism/Marxism, or even Islamic Fundamentalism in on the former territory of the ISIS.

All of these ideologies stand on the idea that only this one ideology is the correct one, and all others are despicable and must be destroyed, which they demonstrate by doing so.

Again, this has nothing to do with police brutality or any meaningful reform. And where it saddened me the most was the Black Lives Matters movement.

I believe that the movement started as a purely altruistic initiative, that tried to push for an improvement of how the police treaty their community members. And for years, it was that.

But now, one of the founders went on video saying how they are trained Marxists… and I believe her. She sounded genuine, and hundred percent meant it.

And that’s sad, because what started as a movement for an improvement got hijacked somewhere along the way, making it just another trumpet of a political ideology.

Now, I wanted to end this blog on a positive note, but I admit my research left me sour. The next blog, which I will write in about two weeks, will hopefully have a better ending.

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