What's Wrong With Policing in America?

On April 20th, 2021, former police officer Derek Chauvin was found guilty on all counts for the wrongful death of George Floyd, whose highly publicized death after being pinned to the ground for nine agonizing minutes sparked a new wave of #BLM protests all over the country throughout 2020.

Like everything else in the social media age, the question of policing in America has sadly become yet another theater for our ongoing culture war, rife with the same sort of tribalism, confirmation biases, and all-or-nothing mentalities that have infected every other important social challenge we are facing.

It has become predictably Rorschachian, where everyone sees only what they want to see according to their own political identities, allegiances, and focus-tested narratives. For many this verdict was celebrated as a rare moment of accountability for police officers who have too often circumvented any lasting consequences for their crimes. For others, this verdict represents an all-out assault on civilization itself as it further erodes the “thin blue line” that separates us from total barbarism.

But there are questions we simply cannot answer if we are only taking a partial and partisan view:

  • Why do we see so many cases of apparent police abuse being recorded so frequently, but punished so rarely?
  • What are some possible solutions that can help create more social trust for our police organizations, and a more peaceful society for all of us?
  • What are the dangers of overreacting with the sort of #DefundThePolice and #ACAB (“all cops are bastards”) narratives that we see from the left? What are the partial truths contained within those narratives?
  • Is the problem of policing in America better framed as a “Black Lives Matter” issue, or as a genuine “All Lives Matter” issue?
  • What does an optimal police force look like as a healthy amber social holon, and what is preventing us from creating that healthy (and necessary) structure?

It’s easy to say something like “well, everyone is right” — but when it comes to cases like these, who is more right? After all, we as integralists want to include as many different perspectives as we can into our own, but it also remains true that some perspectives are simply more valuable, more high-resolution, and more true than others. And yet, even the views we regard as being “lower-resolution” can help us identify blind spots in our own perspective, or illuminate more fundamental issues that may otherwise go unnoticed.

Watch as Mark and Corey take a careful look at the Derek Chauvin verdict — and at the state of policing itself in America — as they offer their own personal views and try to sort through the conflicting narratives surrounding this tragically controversial cultural faultline.

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I would like to point out from the start that the preceding quote claiming confirmation bias would carry more weight if there were not dozens of other Democracies without anywhere near the problems we see in Police Forces across the USA.
Confirmation bias only exists when you first have a existing belief or theory and only look at events through that lens. It does not exist when we look through multiple lenses from different points of view and still come to the same conclusion: Police Forces in the USA are much more aggressive than in all but the most brutal totalitarian undemocratic regimes.
If I travel and live abroad and experience dozens of democracies over 10 years that have very few to zero problems with police forces violently brutalizing their citizenry and then move back to the USA and experience police aggression and threatening deadly force for riding a bicycle without a light (for example) - this is no longer anywhere within the realm of confirmation bias, but just plain confirmation.
In this example, it would only be confirmation bias if I and tens of thousands of other Americans did not experience over the top police aggression and threats of immediate violence or deadly force for minor infractions - or if this is also common in other Post industrial (Post-Green) Democracies as well.

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Hello Ray.
Probably most if not all people on this forum agree that there is a problem with policing in America. I know I do. Acknowledging this problem does not need to be based on bias, but there are people who bring bias to that side of the argument. One example from the post is “all cops are bastards” (ACAB). It is fair to say that thinking that ACAB is based on some type of bias, whether that is confirmation or some other type. There are probably cops out there do not abuse their power, but talking about their everyday activities on the news would attract less attention, so we tend not to hear about them much. Instead, we hear more about those who do abuse their power.

Even if the US had noticeably worse police violence than every other country in the world, it would still be possible to exaggerate the issue or analyze it with a biased point of view.

I’ll agree up to this point.
From there we get into arguing against an extreme point, which is a very easy thing to do and makes us feel superior to whoever, but does not really stimulate a deep robust discussion.
What % of people actually promote ACAB and defunding the police? I believe it’s a fringe and a very easy straw man to score points against and make the counter argument seem more reasonable.

I propose instead of the extreme positions that are easily seen as flawed, we turn the discussion toward anti-police ideas that I would argue are common sense or commonly known throughout the United States - but are not true in most other Democracies.

  • The majority of the population to some degree distrust most branches of law enforcement
  • Any competent Lawyer will advise you to never give any information to law enforcement unless absolutely required to do so. Never invite them into your house, never give them any information other than what you are absolutely required to by law.
  • Police are trained to view the general public as hostile to them, even so far as to display the public as the enemy in police academy training and later 1:1 on the street training
  • Police departments and Officers are usually rewarded financially for having extremely aggressive tactics and use extralegal means to protect their own tribe, for example with falsified reports. Many police departments suffer from commonplace corruption and falsification of records.
  • In many departments there is great risk involved in filing a formal complaint against an officer, or at the very least there is no obvious way to go about it.
  • The law enforcement has created their own tribalism where their tribe is above law and morality
    Then add that these are points of concern commonly discussed by well meaning but completely overwhelmed minorities within law enforcement.

I don’t think it’s necessary to exaggerate. The actual every day facts of the matter have reached an extreme point without exaggeration and is part of the public record of cities across the country. When compared to police forces of other democracies the contrast is extreme.

Again - I want to stress that most people did not somehow come up with some kind of unfounded dislike of police because of a political ideology that formed in a vacuum and then after that formed an unfounded bias against police.
No, but that would be convenient.
Many people could very well have a positive opinion of police until having several unpleasant experiences where police were dishonest, overly aggressive, and/or violated their rights. Other people might have grown up with the idea of police as a kind of superhero and then as adults witness story after story in their local or national news.
In my city just recently during covid there was massive overtime fraud to the sum of tens of millions of dollars, which means a large part of the department was violating the law for their own financial gain, and issuing tickets for every minor infraction or even completely bogus tickets. This is following the conviction of the Police Chief married to the County Prosecutor of a neighboring county for framing people they held grudges against. The same and worse stories are repeated again and again across the country to a degree not seen anywhere else in the free world.

I think in the case of the police there is a unique situation. If the garbage man one day goes crazy and dumps your garbage on your lawn - you can clean it up and another garbage man can take it away the next week. It’s just an inconvenience. Or other people in the public trust are under rigorous scrutiny, such as Doctors who often pay out when they make a mistake and even have malpractice insurance just for this reason. But with a Police Officer if they violate the public trust there is often no recourse for the victim, and after decades of bad policy we now have a pot boiling over.

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Thanks for the thoughtful discussion guys, exactly what I was hoping to see :slight_smile:

I agree with Moss that there are plenty of confirmation biases among those who agree that, yes, policing has some major problems in America. I also agree with Ray that, when it comes to the overall quantity of confirmation biases that surround the issue, there are likely a fair number more of them on the “everything’s fine” side.

I think that I was hoping that by mentioning these different confirmation biases, we can all do a bit of shadow work before or while watching the discussion, whichever side of the argument we find ourselves on, in order to better facilitate healthy disagreements and good-faith discussions such as this one.

But in terms of the some of the confirmation biases on the left, I see a few:

  • Reducing the problem to a purely racial/intersectional problem. There is plenty of that to go around, obviously, but I strongly believe those issues are symptoms of more universally broken structures (namely an amber social holon that is not held accountable to orange standards of law and order. We see the same sort of abuses, and coverups of those abuses, among many of these sorts of rigid amber social holons – the police, the Catholic Church, the Boy Scouts, the military, etc.) I think this gives us far more explanatory power than only seeing it through the intersectional lens (even though I also believe there are clear inequities in how these abuses affect particular groups).

  • “Defund the police” as an example of absolutely terrible messaging that the Left allowed to place at its vanguard. Yes, I know most of you don’t literally want to defund or abolish the police (though a shockingly large percentage does – last I heard nearly 1/3 of millennials want to abolish, not just defund, the police, though I have yet to verify that statistic). Which is why these folks need to say what you mean, and not create easy straw men for your political adversaries (“walking into rakes” as I put it in the show :slight_smile: )

  • “ACAB”, which I think is also more prevalent than we might realize (as seen in the number of people who wish to truly abolish the police above). There is a partial truth to this too – it comes from the perception that all cops are complicit when it comes to maintaining that “blue wall of silence” – but I also think it’s a very glib and dangerously low-resolution position that only poisons the discourse. And yet, every video of a cop on reddit will have a long parade of “ACAB” comments, regardless of whether it’s a video of a good cop or a bad cop.

Thanks Ray and Corey! It sounds like we are in agreement here mostly.

To your second comment Ray -
You have very good points here about problems of police in USA, and I agree with these problems as far as I know about them, and I can take your word on the rest. I made my first comment because I interpreted your first comment to mean basically, “Because police violence is a serious problem in America, more than it is in most other democracies, it is not possible for people who say that police violence is a problem here to have confirmation bias in their beliefs about police problems.” Maybe you didn’t mean that, but if you were, that was the only thing I disagreed with.

We all agree we need to reform police, and I think we all agree that there are some people who want police reform who have bias in their beliefs about police, but there is some disagreement about the proportion of biased and non-biased people who want police reform. Either way, the existence of people who want police reform and who are biased about that issue does not mean there are no problems and we should not reform police.

Thanks for the chat, and I think I may be drop out of the convo for now.

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We also need to be historically informed. Some of the earliest origins of American policing were slave patrols. Police abuse, brutality, and corruption didn’t come out of nowhere. We live in a country built on centuries of violent oppression and social control. And this has shaped the world we now live in, shaped the system of power. A good book on this The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander (see my post An Unjust ‘Justice’ System: Victimizing the Innocent).

About the long history, there has been: Indian Wars, land theft, genocide, reservations, convict labor, indentured servitude, racialized slavery, company towns, union-busting, Pinkertons, Ku Klux Klan, lynch mobs, race riots/wars/terrorism, Jim Crow laws, eugenics, unethical testing on poor minorities, bigoted immigration laws, sundown towns, redlining, racialized housing covenants, ghettos, internment camps, racial profiling, McCarthyism, corporate blackballing and blacklisting, police/surveillance state, miliitarized policing, war on the poor, war on drugs, FBI COINTELPRO, etc.

We have to be self-aware of and cautious about our own privilege. Most people interested in integral theory are probably white, middle class, and well educated. We aren’t the typical targets of state oppresson, police brutality, racial prejudice, and ghettoization. And so most of us can’t really understand what the BLM movement is responding to. It’s not personally, emotionally, and viscerally real for those not living it. But that is somewhat changing with smartphone cameras and social media that has a stronger impact in creating awareness.

Nonetheless, I’d agree that some BLM rhetoric can be unhelpful. It’s easy, for example, to portray “defund the police” as extremist and then use that to dismiss a large swath of BLM supporters. But maybe we need to take a more humble approach. When people have dealt with a problem in their personal experience and in their communities, maybe they genuinely do understand the problem better than those of us who are commenting from a safe distance of privilege that disconnects us from the reality on the ground.

We should sympathetically listen to how the defenders of “defund the police” make their arguments, instead of projecting onto them what we think they mean. Part of the problem is that it’s phrased badly. For most BLM supporters, the ‘defund’ part isn’t about taking away all funding to police, as it gets caricatured, but to stop increasing funding and, instead, lowering it back down to the more reasonable levels that were seen in the past. It’s also suggesting that we should take that funding to promote social services, rather than expecting police to be the one-size-fits-all solution to every social ill.

I’m just not sure that we should be too harshly critical in claiming, as corey-devos did, that “defund the police” is “an example of absolutely terrible messaging”. Is it less than optimal? Yeah, I suppose. Is it absolutely terrible? I don’t think so. It powerfully gets a point across, that the police are over-funded. But, of course, it’s always more complicated. Effective communication for social organization and political action, though, requires simplification to create a potent message that is quickly grasped and easly repeated.

The fact of the matter is that the real issues are hard to communicate. This has been largely intentional, as part of what Noam Chomsky and others have referred to as the propaganda model of news media that often only allows repetition of sound bites, catchy phrases, simplifications, and stereotypes. New ideas are hard to communicate in the MSM because they requre explaining theory, terminology, history, data, etc that isn’t already familiar to the host and audience.

We the American public have been kept ignorant and indoctrinated. It’s hard to blame the aspiring reformers for failng the near impossble task of reaching such an audience. Yet, miraculously, the BLM message has somehow been heard, understood, and embraced by most Americans. A supermajority now agrees that there is systemic racism in the police and that they need to be reformed. That is no small achievement, as that supermajorty public opinion has never before existed. The morally strong rhetoric and refusal to intellectually quibble might’ve been a major part of that success.

Besides, it’s probably only a small percentage that ever used the rhetoric of “defund the police”. It was mostly those who wanted to discredit police reform who have latched onto it and then corporate media repeated it ad nauseum, as they tend to do, although that attempt at discrediting seems to have backfred. Anyway, there are surely thousands of people making articulate arguments and trying to promote better ways of communicating, but they are being ignored because that being silenced is central to social control.

If we jump onto those criticisms and dismissals promoted by the powerful, we are simply furthering the problem. We need to learn intellectual defenses and not allow ourselves to be so easily manipulated in these rhetorical wars. We are always working to improve our rhetorical strategies and communicaton skills. And so fair well-meaning critique is always welcome. But politcs on the ground is always messy and imperfect. Maybe the words matter less than the moral force behind the words.

We need new narratives and so do those authority figures who stand in as representatives of our social order. The police are in an impossible position. They are being commanded to serve too many masters, serve too many purposes. With increasing militarized power and aggressive methods, they are supposed to, implicitly or overtly, represent the enforcement of authoritarian statism, capitalist interests, systemic racism, and class war while somehow also “basically being tasked with addressing every social problem that we have”, far beyond mere enforcement of basic laws (NPR CODE SW!TCH interview with Alex S. Vitale, How Much Do We Need The Police?). While being the ultimate symbol and representative of hierarchical power and privilege, they are supposed to monitor traffic infractions, protect communities, uphold individual rights, deal with troubled teens, handle disorderly conduct, help the mentally ill, provide services to the homeless, mediate spousal conflicts, stop child abuse, intervene in alcoholism and addiction, monitor sex workers, act as guards in schools, enforce order in classrooms, and on and on.

The main tool we give the police to deal with this overwhelming and ever growing set of tasks is violence and threat of violence with a gun always at hand — stop the bad guys by any means necessary, in a narrative where all social problems are turned into black-and-white morality judgments. The police are often both the first to be called and the last resort to enact punishment when all else fails. The police are put into an impossible situation. They are asked to carry the entire load of our schizoid society, simultaneously serving authoritarianism and (hyper-)individualism, two sides of the same dysfunctional society of ideological extremism and dogmatic absolutism. It makes no sense. It defies all possibility of sense. So, we end up scapegoating the police when they fail to do the impossible, no different than we also scapegoat the poor and minorities in being victims of the same moral rot that grows like a cancer within our collective humanity.

Such vast areas of modern life have been criminalized. This has placed a large part of the population under the control of militarized policing that must enforce law and order. As communities have disintegrated and culture of trust has weakened, the police are suppose to replace what has been hollowed out, what once made society functional. It’s fucking insane! This is how we end up with more police than social workers, more police than teachers, more police than librarians and coaches and ministers. The police have become the sole pillar that must hold up the entire social order or it will collapse into total chaos and that will be the end of civilization as we know it; or so the story is told in a tone of the fear-mongering. Well, that is asking a lot of police. No wonder they feel stressed out and so often break under the pressure in turning to brutal violence and abuse, not only of citizens but also as seen in the high rates of spousal abuse among police officers.

The police are incapable of even policing themselves, much less reforming themselves. That is because they are forced to try to do what is beyond their capacity. They are violence workers with the mandated power to stop and arrest criminals with the protected right to kill whenever they deem it necessary. “And while we’re not using police to manage slavery or colonialism today,” Alex S. Vitale spoke, “we are using police to manage the problems that our very unequal system has produced. We’re invested in this kind of austerity politics that says the government can’t afford to really do anything to lift people up. We have to put all our resources into subsidizing the already most successful parts of the economy. But those parts of the economy are producing this huge group of people who are homeless, unemployed, have untreated mental health and substance abuse problems. And then we ask the police to put a lid on those problems — to manage them so they don’t interfere with the “order” that we’re supposedly all benefiting from.”

It’s not surprising that the police act dysfunctionally and oppressively in acting on behalf of a dysfunctional and oppressive system. It could not be otherwise. And so we should not be surprised that, when turning police against protesters who are protesting police abuse, it will not turn out well — as Vitale explained: “What we’re seeing is really an immediate escalation to very high levels of force, a high degree of confrontation. And I think part of it is driven by deep frustration within policing, which is that police feel under assault, and they have no answer. They trotted out all the possible solutions: police-community dialogue sessions, implicit bias training, community policing, body cameras. And it just didn’t work. It didn’t make any difference. And so they ran out of excuses. So the protests today are a much more kind of existential threat to the police. And the police are overreacting as a result.”

Policing has not only become our answer to everything but, worse still, our explanatory narrative of everything. And to try to resolve this conflict, we’ve made our problems worse by militarizing the police which ends up conflating military and police, as our society further takes on the characteristics of a fascist police state and hence a banana republic. With each new wave of policing failure, we throw even more policing measures to deal with it. But this is not a problem for the police to take care of. Turning to the police in the first place is the problem. The police are an extreme measure and should only be called upon when all other measures have been tried and failed. Only in immediate situations of violence should the police be the initial course of action. Militarizing the police in treating them as the solution to everything is not only anti-democratic and anti-libertarian but also simply unfair to the police officers themselves who shouldn’t be forced into that position of authoritarian oppressors. All of us as citizens and community members need to take responsibility for having apathetically succumbed to authoritarian realism, of having failed to radically imagine another way.


I’ll “bite” on defund the police:
Currently Police receive much of their funding in the form of weapons, riot gear and military equipment that has nothing to do with crime prevention and everything to do with power and control. Often police departments just find themselves with a windfall of military equipment designed to fight urban warfare, and then they feel the need to find a use for such equipment.
Another aspect of this militarism of the police is funding obtained through the “war on drugs” where law enforcement can seize cash and assets they believe are linked to the drug trade without due process. Just having a large amount of cash is one such “suspicious” activities and there have been documented cases of police just taking sums in excess of $10,000 from people completely unconnected with the drug trade just because having large amounts of cash is probable cause.
Then the drug trade brings up the topic of victimless crimes. The war on drugs is a self perpetuating orobos. The United States learned in the 1930’s that prohibition does not work, but doubled down on drug prohibition with the war on drugs due to the massive government budgets such programs require. Then they were funded by not actually stopping the drug trade, but just seizing enough to keep the self perpetuating loop going. The result is 50 years later we have a prescription opioid epidemic because we funded the police instead of mental and psychological health.
So yes, defund the police first in regards to military equipment that is designed for urban warfare and defund the police’s funding obtained from illegal seizures without due process via the war on drugs. Yes, also defund training programs that are oriented towards suppression of democratic freedoms.
Begin funding instead mental and psychological health programs, including self actualization and self worth programs in public schools.
We saw in 2020 what happens when there is no accountability at the Federal level and the police use this equipment, tactics and philosophy to suppress first amendment rights. In many cities they fanned the flames. “The Police” can only be trusted with democracy insofar as they fear repercussions in the courts.
Defund the Police is only bad if seen as an absolute “all or nothing” position. Logically and and rationally there are huge problems with how law enforcement is funded and what they use the funding for (oppression and perpetuating the crime cycle rather than ).

I’ll also take a stab at ACAB:
I think this has more to do with people identifying their profession as themselves. I think most people in integral do not identify their career as their own personal identity, and at the end of the work day shed that persona and engage in their family and social life as their authentic selves.
But certain careers require or at least strongly encourage people to become their professional personas.
With police we are left with a situation where they are trained to be assholes and bastards on the job, and largely take that on as their identity as part and parcel with being a cop.
Anecdotally, I have met or been friends / acquaintances with many Navy Seals and Special Forces personnel in my life and I have no doubt they’ve killed lots of people and would be scary to meet in a war zone. But they are generally “cool dudes” at a BBQ. It’s almost as if the longer they are in the more well adjusted and even benevolent they become. Also anecdotally, not once have I even met a Police or retired Police in a social setting and thought the same. It’s almost as if the opposite is true of Police Officers - the longer they are in the more unpleasant they are to meet socially. Of course I can’t say “All”, because I’ve socially interacted with few police.
I have been given a break and not ticketed by police officers on the job. I’m not sure where this falls on the range of privilege vs the police being nice. But it only happens if I overtly and vocally recognize the officer’s power and stroke that a little to get out of a $100 ticket. Anecdotally when I’m not in a mood to stoke an officer’s ego - I get the ticket, lol. Only once did me sticking to my rights and not stoking their ego result in the officer calling for backup. (I refused to give her my telephone number, work address and drivers license for a bicycle citation). I often wonder how all these encounters would have gone if I was a different race and/or did not dress and present myself as a member of the White Educated Professional Services class.


great dialogue, not a new issue an evolutionary kind thing and getting more complex as mentioned in your discourse, growing up in the 1960’s with the civil rights movement and anti-war etc, the cops were much more pigs as they were called in those days, there has been progress over the last 50 years or so but some of the old guys like myself cannot forget the violence imposed by cops on not just people of color, but on anyone judged as being the wrong guy in the wrong place at the wrong time. And on the cultural lower left, nothing like the old movie from that time period, “Clockwork Orange” on the manipulation of psychology etc by the system, but then think about the possible future synchronicity when an AI robot properly programmed can be the judge of misbehavior of humans without emotion and based on facts and research and statistics. Having personally been a victim of prejudicial judges in my life, I would definitely choose the future AI robots

You bring up a lot of good points that weren’t covered in my own comment about “defund the police”. The ‘defund’ part, for most BLM activists, doesn’t mean eliminating all funding but merely certain kinds and areas of funding. But it’s equally about better ways we could spend that money for the public good.

The war on drugs and militarized policing has proven a failure for ensuring safety, protecting civil rights, serving the public, and upholding democracy. Instead of repeating failure, why not try something different? The problem is that, for all those failures, it is highly effective social control and that is all the right-wing elite cares about.

Most Americans state they’d prefer to fund rehabilitation programs, rather than vindictive punishments like imprisonment. It’s not only that public good gets ignored in favor of authoritarian social control for its also public opinion that is being dismissed. Even before the BLM movement, the majority of Americans were to the left of the elite on this issue.

It really is one of those topics one can go on and on about. All of this material is covered in books like The New Jim Crow, and I think that book by Michelle Alexander was made into a documentary I haven’t yet seen. There are a bunch of great books out there, but I won’t try to list them.

About ACAB, I honestly rarely hear anyone make such statements. Mostly those who say such things are juvenile trolls on the internet, not necessarily actual BLM activists. Even most anarchists I’ve met are unlikely to make such claims, although there are some that do. I know one angry anarchist who has never forgiven all cops because one cop killed his brother.

Most people, even those critical of the police, realize police officers are individual people. The complaint is rather about a failed system and corrupt culture. Unfortunately, too many cops have internalized that and become identified with it, but not all. The problem is the rare good cops with moral courage who try stop abuse typically get punished by being ostracized or fired.

That understanding is what we see in public polling. What most Americans specifically agree with is that racism is systemic in police departments and that is why reform is needed. The point isn’t merely individual racist cops, much less that all cops are overt racists (ACAB). Systemic racism is much worse than that, which is one of the main issues explored in detail in many books like that of Alexander.

Personally, I’ve never had any problems with cops. I’ve never been harassed, stopped and frisked, or pulled over. I certainly have never feared for my life when interacting with an officer nor felt any need to stroke their ego. I haven’t even gotten a ticket in my entire life.

But the thing is I’m white and grew up middle class. In high school when living in South Carolina, cops didn’t bother middle class white people. We lived in a nice neighborhood and I drove my parents’ nice cars. Police abuse simply was a non-issue for me and those like me. I never thought about the police at all.

Although with a working class job, I now live in a middle class liberal college town in a majority white farm state in the Midwest. Still, it’s basically the same. The cops don’t generally bother people like me. About a decade ago, a police stopped to talk to me once when I was walking late one night, but she had a genuine reason as there had been car break-ins. In no way were my rights infringed and she was perfectly fine in doing her job.

Yet I know that my privileged experience is not shared by all others. In recent years, this county had the second highest racial disparity in drug arrests. Even though whites disproportionately use, carry, and sell drugs, blacks all across the country are arrested, charged, punished, and imprisoned more often for drug crimes.

Interestingly, a book was written about this town, not only about the racial bias in policing but also in media reporting. The book is A Transplanted Chicago: Race, Place, and the Press in Iowa City by Robert E. Gutsche, Jr. Think about that. This is an extremely liberal college town filled with respectable middle class residents who consistently vote Democratic. If racism exists in a place like this, imagine how much worse it is in many other places.

That is what gets my hackles up a bit when “defund the police” and “ACAB” are used to portray the BLM movement as radical and extremist, irrational and unreasonable. The fact is the supermajority of Americans agree with BLM and so this dismissiveness toward public opinion feels intolerable to me. In general, the supermajority is quite leftist, not that you’d know this from the corporate media and corporatocratic two-party system.

It also seems like manipulative rhetoric, whether or not those who repeat it realize it is manipulative, as they may simply be unknowingly pulled into the false and deceptive framing. Here is the problem. By portraying majority positions as extremist, this creates a narrative of false equivalency between BLM and MAGA, a false equivalency repeated not only by Trump and right-wing hacks but too often also repeated by Democrats and the corporate media.

Then those on the right can portray themselves as ‘centrists’ and ‘moderates’. And keep in mind that most DNC elite are to the right of the American majority. This is punching left while pushing the Overton window further right, an old tactic going back to Cold War McCarthyism and redbaiting. The end result is the American public as a supermajority is suppressed and silenced.

This frustrates me, for obvious reasons. Growing up, I repeatedly heard of a right-wing “moral majority”. No one seemed to question this. It was simply taken as a fact and repeated. It was repeated in the corporate media, of course, but also repeated in the Democratic Party and even among leftists. But, in doing research, it’s not clear that a right-wing moral majority ever existed.

This came to my awareness more than a decade ago when I systematically looked at the polling data for myself. I had assumed my views were far left, but it turned out most of my views are near the center of majority opinion. I’ve been following the polls ever since and the American public keeps going further and further left. Even Fox News polls confirm how far ‘left’ is public opinion. But is it really ‘left’ if it is the center of a supermajority? Shouldn’t that be the definition of the center?

Recently, I got back into thinking more deeply about this. Besides reconsidering the Wirthlin Effect of manipulated political identities that worked so well for Ronald Reagan, I looked further into Paul Weyrich, a major figure behind the rise of the New Right and Religious Right. With the funding of brewing magnate Joseph Coors and others, Weyrich helped build the Shadow Network (CNP, Heritage Foundation, etc) that has become powerful. One of the stated purposes was a propaganda campaign to discredit the left.

Weyrich, at the launching of the Moral Majority organization in 1980, publicly admitted to a cheering crowd that the religious right was not a majority and would never win any elections without voter suppression. How is it that the corporate media and corporatist politicians have ignored that? It’s not like any of this data is a secret. And it does show up in occasional news reporting, only to quickly disappear again, but almost never framed in a way to convey its significance.

It is irritating, frustrating, and demoralizing. The right-wing elite push a narrative of a few people on the far right fringe being victims of “cancel culture.” Yet no one talks about the hundreds of millions of Americans on the political ‘left’ who have been so canceled as to not only be silenced but treated as if they don’t exist. Even the simplest of truths have no political power to enforce political will until they gain public awareness and so become a social fact.

The American public never acts like a supermajority because they don’t realize that they are one. But I suppose this is nothing new. The suppression of democracy has been the common theme running through all of American history. An aging Thomas Jefferson privately stated that the republican experiment of governance had been a failure basically because the founders had dismissed democracy, but he believed that republicanism lived on in the spirit of the people.

The challenge is how to awaken the democratic spirit of the people, since it’s been here for centuries, if too often sleeping. The BLM movement, along with its rhetoric, has to be given credit for accomplishing that awakening. As a GenX American, this is the first time in my lifetime when there is not only such a large supermajority of public opinion but where that supermajority has been transformed into a public force, political will, and radical imagination.

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I come from a different perspective on this topic. But I don’t find myself in a polar opposite position of disagreement. You make some good points. And we should always strive to be self-aware and self-questioning about potential biases, particularly in integral communities such as this.

I find myself in a middle position on this particular issue. I don’t think it’s the most optimal rhetoric because of how easily it potentially could be misunderstood and misportrayed, intentionally as a straw man. On that point, you are mostly right. Then again, it’s far from the worst possible rhetoric. In some ways, it might actually be quite effective in pushing the moral agenda forward.

The political right has long dominated by pushing extreme rhetoric of extreme positions. Maybe leftists should try the same. It’s irrelevant what most people think if it can serve to push debate in our ideological direction. We always should make stronger demands than we actually want and expect. Then we can accept lesser offers that, in comparison, will appear mild and moderate, reasonable and acceptable. We have to control the framing.

The fact of the matter is most Americans are already extremely far left compared to the political and media elites. But most Americans don’t realize they are a ‘leftist’ supermajority. By pushing rhetoric even further left, it helps push the Overton window back the other direction, after a half century of being pushed toward far right extremes.

It helps to create a public perception of the supermajority as centrist, not leftist. After all, shouldn’t the supermajority position be the definition of the center of the political spectrum and of public debate? Then and only then can the now obscure supermajority, in being normalized in public perception, be treated as a shared identity and social fact.

We on the left need to learn intellectual defense and rhetorical tactics. We are too often self-defeating in our in-fighting and intellectual quibbling. Sure, truth matters. And, so, there is nothing wrong with debating this topic as we’re doing here. But we need to keep it all in perspective. In terms of effective strategy, we could learn a lot from the right.

As for “defund the police” specifically, I honestly don’t know how many BLM leaders or Democratic politicians have repeated it. A journalist originally latched onto that phrase and brought it greater public attention, as it made for catchy news feed. But, prior to that, was it central to the BLM messaging and public debate?

Anyway, however it became a point of obsession for the news media and Republican Party, it is here to stay as rhetoric to be batted about by various interests. Looking around at the polling, I’m not entirely convinced this is a bad thing. It does seem to be a catchy way of getting at the essence of an otherwise complex subject.

Now the rhetoric of “abolish the police” seems to be simply irrelevant, or at least when simplistically interpreted. Besides, few people repeat it. And most Americans don’t seem to associate it with the BLM message. The average American appears to be intelligent enough to differentiate between demands to reform the police, defund the police (or redirect police funds), and abolish the police.

That said, the polling does indicate some confusion. Almost 1/2 of Americans support redirecting police funds while only 1/3 agree to defunding, even though technically the former is a specific example of the latter. So, obviously, communication could be improved. Nonetheless, the basic message of needed police reform remains a strong supermajority.

Part of the problem is much of the media and political elites refuse or are incapable of being honest about it all. As raybennett made clear, ‘defund’ is not only about direct funding but also indirect funding such as military vehicles and gear. Our federal government should not be subsidizing the militarization of the police in turning our country into a police state. And most Americans are already opposed to a punitive legal system and mass incarceration.

If explained accurately and fairly, most Americans would surely support such defunding. But that honest public debate is never going to happen in the present mainstream controlled by right-wing politics and corporate interests. So, much of the public polling ends up being heavily massaged toward the political right and even then, with often unsympathetic anti-leftist phrasing, a surprising number of Americans still support leftist views.

Then again, changing public opinion to support political reform has always been difficult. The elites will always be resistant and the opposition will always act in bad faith. It’s par for the course. Shifts in understanding can take generations and so it requires patience. That is a point made by Kwame Anthony Appiah, in how the arguments against slavery used during the Civil War era were already widely known prior to the American Revolution.

Such things take time. There is no way of getting around this. But, on a positive note, the BLM can be seen as a continuation of the Civil Rights movement which itself was a continuation of Abolition. It builds up slowly across generations until all of a sudden there is an avalanche of change. From that perspective, we might be at the end point of a larger shift.

Still, framing remains important. We shouldn’t underestimate it. But maybe we shouldn’t rush it either. Views and understandings are quickly being reoriented. It is true, though, that ‘reallocation’ seems to get a more positive response than ‘defund’. It’s hard to know if that represents a permanent attitude or a temporary lack of knowledge about what ‘defund’ means.

In terms of reallocation, it’s interesting to note that a trend toward that began before the George Floyd killing. As others have pointed out, the whole defund/reallocate message is decades old at this point, at least among political activists and reformers, even if most people are only now hearing the message. It’s going to take the American public (along with most politicians, journalists, and reporters) a while to catch up in overcoming a knowledge gap.

Even abolition of police is more complicated when we dig down into the actual debate. Sadly, few Americans are informed about alternative forms of public safety that have been effectively used in some places. One possibility is community policing that would replace traditional policing, although hybrid models could also be developed. Defunding or abolishing the police could actually involve increasing funding in expanding public safety measures. We are only limited by bowing down to vested interests, ideological realism, and paucity of imagination.


So, hate it or love it, as a slogan or an idea, “defund” is driving change because poverty is the key to urban violence. Perhaps this is just the “snappy slogan” we need to wake us up to doing what we should have done half a century ago. US municipal budgets will never be the same again.

But another view is that public dialogue on police brutality presents and normalizes a false choice: where people can either accept policing as we know it or surrender to becoming the likely victims of crime. Justice or safety: Choose one. This narrative misrepresents the data itself. For example, the Gallup poll also found that Black people are more than twice as likely as the average respondent to lack confidence that police will treat them with respect. In other words, if Black Americans had to choose between a system of public safety that dehumanizes them or no public safety at all, perhaps many would choose the former. That isn’t much of a choice.

Likewise, calls for defunding the police advocate building new public safety capacities, not stirring chaos and anarchy. Having come of age under the knee of police aggression, I find this message a powerful one. It offers a language for rejecting the false choice that keeps us hopeless and that numbs us into believing that racial justice is impossible . […]

Clearly insufficient reform measures embraced by prominent Democrats — like anti-bias training, community policing, and de-escalation — convey the same false choice, intended as they are to modify but ultimately preserve policing as we know it. Touting these measures, former Vice President Joe Biden has opposed defunding the police and even promised to expand funding for local departments. Other prominent voices say that police defunding should not entail anything beyond modest funding reallocations. The aim is to put Americans at ease and reassure them that police reforms will amount to something less than a complete system overhaul.

But what if we take seriously the obvious failure of these police reform measures? The brutal response of police to this summer’s protests? The well-documented infiltration of US law enforcement by white supremacists and militia? These sobering realities indicate a system beyond repair. At the very least, an alternative public safety model would involve overhaul: not only shifting overall spending priorities but also doing things like disbanding existing personnel and rehiring under new protocols and expectations and establishing new crisis response teams for problems like mental health challenges and domestic violence.

If we’ve learned anything this past summer, it’s that politicians’ constant reassurances that they are against overhauling the police are counterproductive. Meaningful reform would certainly include sensible and practical measures, but it also calls for a real departure from the status quo. Constant reassurances against overhaul mean that fewer white Americans will be inspired to honestly grapple with their emotional investment in that status quo and their unease about change. They mean that fewer people in communities of color will see a future beyond a system that perpetually fails them. They mean that fewer people across the board will confront and interrogate that pivotal part of the law enforcement apparatus: their own sense of attachment to it. To the ideal of the good cop. To policing as we know it. Because inequality drives crime, our society will possibly see crime rates rising further as the pandemic rages and exacerbates the gap between haves and have-nots. We may be at a critical moment for a course correction in our approach to public safety.

Unlike so many young men and women of color in similar circumstances, my best friend and I were lucky that fateful night to escape with our lives. But the terror I felt then has stayed with me ever since. My experiences have taught me there is no disconnect between the way Black Americans feel about policing and the aims of defunding the police. The radical changes needed to address the former are essentially those for which the latter advocates. Likewise, the question of “defunding the police” is not about public safety versus none at all. It is about who gets to define what is possible. The false choice narrative tells us it is impossible to combine public safety and racial justice. It says we must sacrifice one for the other. It’s really easy to believe it. But it’s pivotal that we don’t. The vision of defunding the police tells us that public safety and racial justice go hand in hand, and both are impossible under the status quo. I find power in that vision because it attests that a better future is necessary. And possible .

The new survey from Monmouth University found that 77 percent of American adults say that “defund the police” means to “change the way the police departments operate,” not to eliminate them. That view is shared by 73 percent of white, non-college educated Americans and two-thirds of Republicans, Trump’s core voters.

Just 18 percent of Americans say the movement wants to “get rid of police departments,” a view shared by only 28 percent of Republicans and 18 percent of independents.

However, a new poll conducted by the research firm PerryUndem shows that when it comes to public opinion, the way people talk about police funding may matter. The poll, conducted among 1,115 adults from June 15 to 17, didn’t ask if people supported or opposed defunding police departments. But it did ask how they felt about redirecting some taxpayer funds to other agencies, so that they, instead of police, could respond to some emergencies. And respondents were receptive: For example, 72 percent of respondents said they supported reallocating some police funding to help mental health experts, rather than armed officers, respond to mental health emergencies. […]

Even when pollsters have asked about cutting funding to police and redirecting it to social services, many Americans balk. In an ABC/Ipsos poll conducted June 10-11, 60 percent of Americans opposed shifting funding from police departments to mental health, housing, and education programs, while just 39 percent supported such a plan.

But the PerryUndem researchers asked the question a little differently: “Right now,” their survey read, “taxpayer dollars for police departments go to all kinds of things police officers are responsible for — from writing up traffic accident reports for insurance companies to resolving disputes between neighbors to investigating murders.”

Respondents were then asked if they supported having some of those taxpayer dollars — and the responsibility that goes along with them — directed elsewhere instead. Most said yes.

In addition to the 72 percent who said they supported redirecting money from police departments to pay for mental health experts, 70 percent said they would support having taxpayer dollars reallocated to “pay for a health care professional to go to a medical emergency, instead of an armed police officer.” And 66 percent said they supported reallocating funds to “pay for a social worker to respond to a call about a homeless person who is loitering, instead of an armed police officer.”

The poll also asked Americans if they would support an option short of full defunding, in which “police could focus on crimes like burglary and murder, and other service providers could focus on emergency calls about addiction, mental illness, and homelessness.” A full 61 percent of respondents supported this option, and just 16 percent opposed it (22 percent said they were unsure).

The differences between the PerryUndem results and previous polling are especially striking among white respondents. Black Americans tend to support police defunding at higher rates than other groups — in the ABC poll, for example, 57 percent of Black respondents supported defunding, compared with just 26 percent of white respondents. But in the PerryUndem poll, a full 67 percent of white respondents supported redirecting funds to send a mental health professional to a mental health emergency, and 64 percent supported reallocating money to send a social worker to a call involving a homeless person (87 percent and 71 percent of Black respondents, respectively, supported these changes).

Some of the differences between the PerryUndem poll and others likely have to do with language. The phrase “defunding the police” has been unpopular in many polls, and the concept of reallocating funding, while more popular, still hasn’t always gotten the support that PerryUndem saw. But when ABC/Ipsos asked about reallocation, the question was framed more generally, in terms of programs, and emphasized the loss to police: “Do you support or oppose reducing the budget of the police department in your community, even if that means fewer police officers, if the money is shifted to programs related to mental health, housing, and education?”

PerryUndem, by contrast, framed the question specifically around who would respond to certain emergencies. Undem believes this matters. “When something is brand new,” like public understanding of police defunding, she said, “the more descriptive the better.”

The PerryUndem poll isn’t the only one in recent weeks to find support for shifting at least some police funding. A Reuters/Ipsos poll conducted June 9-10 found that among people who were familiar with proposals to move police funding into better officer training, anti-homelessness programs, mental health services, and other initiatives, 76 percent supported them.

People of varying racial backgrounds tend to express a positive view of their local law enforcement agencies, according to many polls. And Americans usually balk at proposals to cut basic funding from the police. In an Associated Press/NORC poll last month, when asked simply whether they supported reducing funding for police departments, just 25 percent of Americans said yes, 53 percent said no, and 21 percent said neither, suggesting they hadn’t made their minds up yet.

A Fox News poll taken around the same time asked the question a little differently: Would people support taking money away from police departments and putting it toward “mental health, housing, and other social services?” In that case, 41 percent of voters expressed support, while 46 percent opposed it. Significantly, even though “neither” wasn’t an option, 12 percent of respondents refused to say either way.

With such a large share of the country still figuring out where it stands on the issue, there is the potential for either side to seize control of the narrative. […]

Still, as protests have led to legislative results in some cities, they have also helped shift attitudes. A Siena College poll of New York late last month found that a slim majority of the city’s residents would support a reduction in funding for the police. (The question did not mention anything about redirecting funding toward social services.) When asked directly about “defund the police,” New Yorkers were more split: Forty-one percent supportive, 47 percent opposed.

But when asked if mental health professionals should come along when police officers respond to calls dealing with homelessness, drug addiction or mental illness, almost nine in 10 New York City residents said yes.

In its recent research, the PerryUndem team was struck by how relatively unformed — and therefore influenceable — opinions remained on the meaning, as well as the validity, of calls to “defund the police.” […]

Americans were more likely to say that they interpreted “defund the police” to mean taking some funding away from departments and deploying it in “other ways to make communities safer,” rather than simply removing money that the police need.

But neither position was identified by a majority of respondents, and a significant share said they still weren’t sure how to interpret the term.

Well before protesters recently flooded the streets of America, demanding justice for the death of George Floyd and calling to defund or abolish police departments, several cities across the country had begun shifting resources and responsibilities away from law enforcement to professionals trained to handle emergency calls for nonviolent, crisis situations.

In San Francisco, for example, fewer than 5% of police calls are to respond to violent crimes, Police Commissioner John Hamasaki told Stateline in an email. San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced earlier this month that, along with other changes, the police would no longer respond to noncriminal situations, instead diverting 911 calls to agencies outside law enforcement.

For decades, cities have asked police to manage social problems such as mass homelessness, failed schools and mental illness, said Alex Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College. But it has not worked. The resources that have swelled police departments across the country should be redirected to community-based programs, he said.

“People cycle through emergency rooms, jail lockups and homeless shelters,” he said, “and those problems get turned over to the police to manage.”

Mental health responses can be handled without police if funded and structured well with properly trained and adequately paid professionals, said Amy Watson, a professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago who studies the criminal justice and mental health systems.

But that can be challenging, she said. One of the biggest issues facing community mental health programs is turnover — the pay is low, and people don’t stay.

This takes an investment, she said, which is at the heart of the “defund the police” argument. “We really need to be thoughtful about how we approach this,” she said. “But if we do resource mental health services appropriately, there will be less demand on police to provide mental health crisis response.

“It will not be eliminated, but it could be significantly reduced.” […]

For the past 31 years, Eugene, Oregon, has offered alternative, public-health responses to emergency calls.

Run out of the nonprofit White Bird Clinic, the Crisis Assistance Helping Out on the Streets, known as CAHOOTS, team responds to 911 or non-emergency police calls that may not require law enforcement in the Eugene-Springfield area. Instead of sending police officers, dispatchers send a crisis worker and a medic.

Last year, the team received 24,000 calls. They asked for police backup in 150 cases.

The program is saving local hospitals $4 million every year by providing non-emergency medical care and first aid, said Tim Black, the operations coordinator at CAHOOTS. At the same time, it provides a free service to people in need who would otherwise call a costly ambulance.

Many people in crisis do not need a police officer, he said, but someone to listen or help connect them to services.

“There’s this really tremendous moment that we’re in to talk about something very different for communities’ response to people in need,” Black said. “There are so many different situations where we encounter somebody who is in a profound crisis and it’s all really about unmet needs and lack of resources.”

Black and other members of his team have spoken with people in cities such as Austin, Los Angeles and Oakland, California, about establishing similar programs.

The team also inspired Denver’s STAR program. In 2017, a group of local police reform activists and lawmakers traveled to Eugene to see the program in action. Roshan Bliss, co-founder of the Denver Justice Project, a group dedicated to transforming law enforcement, helped organize the trip. He hopes more cities will act.

“I’m a Black man who’s tired of seeing police hurt people in my community,” he said, “especially when police shouldn’t have been there in the first place.”

The movement to abolish or defund the police is not new. It has been a critical element of the protests that grew out of Michael Brown’s death in 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri. But the death of George Floyd and the protests that followed were an inflection point in this country, making the argument to fundamentally restructure policing more politically tenable, Bliss said, building on decades of activism.

As many other civil rights activists have argued, Bliss said police agencies in this country are rooted in deep-seated racism, established early in this country’s history to track down escaped enslaved persons and bolstered over time to maintain white supremacy.

Police would be needed less, Bliss said, if local, state and federal governments more adequately funded housing, health care and job needs — roots of violence and many emergency calls.

The argument is taking hold. In Minneapolis, where a police officer killed Floyd, the City Council voted earlier this month to disband the Police Department and build a new system focused on public safety. Democratic Mayor Jacob Frey opposed the move, but the Council has a veto-proof majority.

This is a fantastic discussion; thanks to everyone. Perhaps what I’m most enthusiastic about is the attention given to the abusiveness and corruptness of the amber social holon. While Integral has focused for the past several decades to a large degree on unhealthy green (and there are understandable reasons for that), I once heard Ken Wilber say that the amber holon is probably the greatest threat to the world. This has been my view. Both in the U.S. and globally, the rise of bold and corrupt amber-stage authoritarianism based on the rule of a group/party or individual is a serious threat to democracy as well as human and planetary health. If Integral is still aligned with the amber-stage as being “pre-rational,” why wouldn’t we consider this the greatest threat? Granted, some green-stage leftists do regress to amber stages themselves, with a little red violence thrown in, but overall, I don’t see how this is equal to the transgressions in multiple areas of the amber holon.

As for BLM and racism, a quick internet search will show that there is not a whole lot of agreement as to what “systemic racism” is. Some equate it with institutional (also called structural or state) racism, while others claim it is “the value system embedded in a society that supports and allows discrimination,” and is therefore both different and the basis of both institutional and individual racism. Confusing, but what it tells me is that the issue is complexifying, probably as a result of growth in consciousness around race issues. That’s good news.

If one just considers the laws on the books when speaking of systemic racism, then perhaps there is none. But if practices, procedures, and methodologies are considered–in everything from education to banking/finance, housing/real estate, health care, business, law enforcement/judicial system, etc.–then it seems there is minimally institutional racism. And other ‘isms’ as well.

Environmental air quality standards in the state where I live, for instance, are based upon what is considered safe for an 18-year-old healthy male, which excludes children, older people, females, people with respiratory or others illnesses, etc. Sex-aggregated data for the Covid-19 vaccine trials has yet to be fully released; what has been published shows that 45% of the participants in vaccine trials were women (55% male), 61% of vaccine doses given through February were given to women, 79% of adverse side effects occurred in women (per CDC). If medical research is considered a part of the medical system, then there is either sexism in the system, or perhaps just a stubborn and unhelpful pragmatism as medical researchers seek a “uniform cohort of subjects” and females (including female mice!) are often excluded due to hormonal cycles–even when testing drugs designed specifically for women! And yet another example, the U.S. Dept. of Education just this month has issued proposals to update the teaching of American history and civics in schools, to “incorporate racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse perspectives in teaching and learning.” Which is an admission that heretofore, those diverse perspectives have been missing.

As for policing and police violence, some police departments in the U.S. are aligning themselves with the national Campaign Zero and the “8 can’t wait” policing reforms (i.e. de-escalation training, bans on chokeholds and strangleholds, not shooting at moving cars, requiring a warning before firing a gun, use-of-force continuum, exhaustion of all alternatives before shooting, comprehensive reporting by officers whenever they use force or threaten to use force against civilians, and duty of officers to intervene when a fellow officer is getting angry or too emotional or violating laws/regulations.)

A police department in my state that has had policing and police-shooting problems and its fair share of “defund the police” rallies, has instituted a de-escalation training that includes the following: focusing on officer wellness and stress management (which speaks to Benjamin’s points about too much being expected of police), teaching police to not take things personally, teaching when to walk away, teaching how to slow down an encounter, and the requirement that other officers have a duty to intervene when another one is exhibiting volatility. Sounds good; the only problem is the training is only 10-hours long, and seems to me, any one of these topics might warrant a 10-hour training itself. No wonder many trainings don’t “take.”

While attempts at police reform are not the total answer (and many attempts at reform have failed), they are a part of it, and some reforms are happening. Long road ahead.

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That’s because there is not much agreement, much less common understanding, about systems in general. It’s an obviously complex topic. This also goes to difficult issues of collectivities, what it means to have a shared humanity in a shared society on a shared planet. What if human identity itself is thought of in terms of systems and collectivities? That makes me think of the self as bundled, extended, relational, socially constructed, etc. And there is the related topic of hyperobjects, which always makes me wonder about hypersubjects.

By the way, a major hyperobject is lead toxicity specifically and pollution generally. This disproportionately affects minorities. Part of the reason is because toxic dumps are more often placed in poor minority communities because such people have the least power, representation, and voice in our society. They can’t defend themselves and so, as with police brutality, they are the most easily victimized. It’s systemic problems within systemic problems overlapping with still other systemic problems.

This is one small piece of environmental racism. And lead toxicity, as with pollution and climate change, is a great example of slow violence, closely related to hyperobjects. Slow violence is spread across time and a hyperobject is spatially dispersed, which in both cases make them hard to viscerally perceive and often hard to objectively prove. They are most clearly seen across large sets of abstract data, even as they are invisible right in front of you.

Yet they have potent affect on individuals, families, and neighborhoods in concrete ways. Entire communities have been devastated, particularly when intersectionally combined with other factors of prejudice, oppression, and disadvantage. For example, it’s the same populations being poisoned with lead toxicity that also are being brutalized by police brutality, not to mention being trapped in poverty and inequality, along with hundreds of other interlinking conditions.

To give a specific example, consider Freddie Gray as one of the well known cases of police violence leading to undeserving death. Gray and his sister had early childhood lead exposure at toxic levels. Lead toxicity leads to a host of health and behavioral issues — besides conditions like asthma, it can caused neurocognitive stuntng, lowered IQ, decreased impulse control, increased aggression, etc.

Research shows that populations with high lead toxicity result in increased violent crime rates about 20 years following childhood exposure when those children reach adulthood. But those victims of externalized costs of others, instead of being helped and treated and cared for, are further victimized by being criminalized. They’ve often experienced police brutality while still children when they get pulled into the school-to-prison pipeline.

That is how racism works. And the privileged don’t have to ever experience or appreciate or even acknowledge how the system works in benefiting them. The greatest of privileges is being free to be oblivious to one’s privilege.

There are many institutions in society, far beyond police and government. In capitalism, corporations and banks have come to play the role of institutions. Any social structure, from church to family, can be an ‘institution’. Then to speak of ‘structural’ is to be even more broad.

Culture itself as part of social institutions and social structure pretty much can cover all the rest of society. LOL There really is nothing that isn’t a system, an institution, or a structure; or is part of them. This is how, in a historically racist society, racism gets into everything and everyone.

That’s a great example. It’s amusing how certainly truths get indirectly, implicitly, and inadvertently admitted. One becomes sensitive to reading in between the lines.

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Obviously, all this talk of environments, systems, structures, institutions, cultures, etc directly touches upon an integral worldview. And that brings in what I mentioned about hyperobjects and slow violence, not to mention transgenerational trauma and epigenetics. But it also relates to integral thought on identity, the bundled mind, and 4E cognition (embodied, embedded, enacted, and/or extended).

Then the Spiral Dynamics approach can also be included, particularly in terms of developmental privilege. In case, what is it to be developmentally underprivileged for those oppressively not given the freedom, resources, opportunity, encouragement, guidance, modeling, and protection for development? And what are the blindspots of development for those with privilege? As research shows, those lower in society have on average greater capacity for emotionally reading others accurately.

This makes one quickly realize how inadequate is the framing of most discussion on race and racism in both individuals and society. Even most integral people struggle with coming to terms with all of this, even with the tools they have. The problem is that those most affected by the problems typically are those with the least exposure to and familiarity with integral theory and related understandings. On the other side, most people involved in integral theory are coming from a place of relative privilege and so issues of racism (and related classism) are academic, not personal.

Intersectionalism seems like a good general model as a beginning point. This is an attempt to bring together multiple factors in order to understand how the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. But intersectionalism was never developed with integral theory in mind. And so it is inadequate or even problematic in many ways. So, what would an integral approach be?

More importantly, how could minority and poor communities be brought into an integral discussion? It’s not up to us to paternalistically solve the problems of other people’s communities, even as we should all seek common ground and collaboration. As long as integral theory remains isolated, it can’t be a significant force of public good. If we are to talk of a failure of rhetoric, we might be better to look at our own failure in the integral community, rather than scrutinizing the rhetoric of BLM or whatever.

On a practical level, how could integral theory and practice be used to effectively challenge prejudice, oppression, and violence in seeking to promote a better society? Much of this would have to do with changing identities. Buddhism, for example, has both the practice of meditation to undo the egoic mind and the understanding of the bundled mind to offer an alternative.

A racial order and race realism is all about identities. And it’s built on very old ideological systems such as the feudal caste system where peasantry and nobility were portrayed as separate kinds of animals. What tools does integralism have to offer in dealing with systemic changes that are built into collective identities that are socially constructed as part of the entire social order? What would an integral political reform party, an integral protest movement, or an integral revolution (of the mind) look like?

I had a funny thought. Over the generations and centuries, right-wing ideology keeps shifting left. Most people on the political right in centuries past would have openly stated opposition to democracy and support of racism, even slavery. Now few of even the most radically fringe reactionaries would dare to hold such positions. They’ve become disreputable. Most on the political right now would claim to support democracy and be against racism.

It amuses me that we on the left somehow tricked right-wingers into admitting and defending that “All Lives Matter”. Fifty years ago, most conservatives would never had stated that all lives matter, since they openly would have explicitly stated the opposite, that non-white lives don’t matter. Think about that. The position that all lives matter would’ve sounded progressive in the past. But, since public opinion has moved so far left, it now comes across as regressive.

That represents not only a change in opinion but a change in identity. That is what we are dealing with at a most basic level. That is what is at issue with the authoritarian culture of corruption, oppression, and violence in police departments. It only has such power because police become identified with it. We can’t reform police, politics, and society if we can’t reform identity at the level of collectivities, systems, institutions, etc.

From a slightly different perspective, I wonder how social identity in this sense could incorporate understandings from Julian Jaynes theory of the bicameral mind, consciousness studies, voice-hearing research, etc. Jaynes had interesting ideas about how identity involved social authority and voices of authorization. This might help us to think more deeply about language, rhetoric, and metaphorical framings. Added to this could be Lewis Hyde’s view on metonymy, social narratization, and embodied mind.

In the first comment I left in this discussion, I linked to a post of mine about BLM, police, conflict, and reform. One point I made in that post was how people get pulled into scripted roles, behaviors, and ways of relating. But I’m not sure what integralism has to offer in this respect. A deeper approach that comes to mind is something along the lines of Arnold Mindell’s work on conflict resolution, but I don’t know how that is applied at the level of an entire society or an entire city.

Hey Benjamin, I can get behind hypersubjects, or more specifically, a hypersubjectivity that is so massively distributed throughout (and beyond) time and space as to appear to be simultaneously everywhere and nowhere…

I appreciate your passion and your history-and data-informed perspective on these topics. History to me is sort of like a contrail in the air. Its first accounting often appears as a thick thing, then it begins to break apart, disintegrate, followed by another and another and another “accounting.” And like with cloud-gazing, different people see different images and pictures in it, even conspiracies! But it’s good I think that history keeps becoming fuller and fuller, with more perspectives added to the jetstream, so thank you for sharing some of your information here and in the Marmalade article.

You raised a lot of questions around Integralism, and at another time, I might plow into them. But not today. Instead I offer this poem stimulated by your reference to Sitting Bull in the article. Enjoy!


At the end of the film
a brilliant splatter,
Sitting Bull’s force
spilled red on the snow.
Droplets and starbursts
a perfect pattern
of beauty,
a harmonious still,
like a tiny inverse
Milky Way.

Ordered chaos–
exploding supernova,
gunshot at close range.

Abstruse, intact,
kinship with him,
carried like a vessel
of snow-melt,
heavy life-support.
Past life present,
memory of the story lost,
isolated in the spinning
of some black hole.

Binary stars
in the womb,
then half the light.
Full in loss,
full in abandonment.
The father too,

Connect the dots:
soul-lines by design
stopping the world
at points rife with heart
and its absence.
One node bleeding
into the next,
then clotting
until the future
(forsaking friend,
quitting lover,
fill in the bullet)
pulls the trigger
on the past–ohh
the dark matter
hot and cold
of relations.

to the ontological
perfect pattern,
one love,
before and beyond
blood and flesh.

Between earth and sky,
Sitting Bull’s Eagle,
long distance
flying free
in and above
the movie.

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I think this point touches on precisely why Integral is so difficult and evasive, even in a group dedicated to this. It’s very easy to continue the discussion as already framed by those who want it framed this way. You have two choices: Green or Amber. Now let’s discuss them, but let’s disguise the Amber so that it appears to be “Post Green” and somewhat equivalent.

In my mind it’s clear that authoritarianism that uses violence to suppress expression of human rights and freedom of speech is a truly horrifying reality we face with law enforcement across the United States. Regardless of what the “other side” is doing or saying. Yes, violent anarchism is a problem, but not nearly as horrifying as state sponsored and funded real and actual fascism.

Defund state sponsored violent oppression of basic human rights? Well, yes. The United States defunded other countries such as South Africa under apartheid. Why not?
Defund fascism - not an exaggeration but behavior that actually is textbook fascism? Well, yes.

Were all German SS Troops Assholes? I don’t know any of them personally, but probably.
Are all Police Officers Assholes? Well, every time they don riot gear and participate in violent oppression of free speech with rubber bullets, tear gas and batons to commit violent attacks against peaceful demonstrators - it’s hard to see where that isn’t an asshole move.

No offense intended, but the whole discussion in my opinion as it was set up seems to be fragility, white washing and unwillingness to face how bad the state of racial and police affairs actually is in the United States. Let’s discuss the topic, but not actually face any issues that are “low frequency”.

Edit / Added:
Or does the set-up for the discussion have a different and more subtle purpose such as luring in people who might say “Hey, yeah this introduction is talking my language. I think both sides are equally biased! Let me listen to more!”?

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Great discussion here with many excellent points! Just out of curiosity how many of you have actually had personal interactions with police beyond a traffic ticket? Have you ever been arrested? Have you ever had multiple guns pulled on you by multiple police? Have you ever been treated unfairly by police? Have you ever had a positive experience with police in which you felt protected? Have you ever got to know on a personal level a police officer or former police officer?

I can answer yes to all of these questions. Despite being a white male I grew up in a very difficult circumstance living in one of the roughest neighbourhoods in the San Francisco Bay Area in which economic poverty was our reality and violence was an everyday occurrence. Fortunately, I was lucky enough to rise above those circumstances but it left me with some experiences that most of you probably didn’t have. This has given me a unique point of view on this issue. I can not only agree with many points of view I can empathise with others in ways that a “privileged person” simply can’t.

I “feel” what people in marginalised communities are going through because I’ve experienced it and witnessed it. I also “feel” what the cops are going through because I’ve spent time with multiple people that work in Law enforcement. In talking with people about the issues surrounding policing in America they get confused because they feel like I’m defending every side. I don’t defend poor individual or institutional behaviour and will criticise it loudly. What I find myself doing is trying to explain what it would “feel like” to be in the shoes of the person/community experiencing the phenomena, whatever that is from all sides.

Call me crazy but I don’t think that problems are effectively solved from the outside looking in but by real-time interaction with the people and communities that are experiencing whatever problems are occurring. Obviously, we’ve got so many issues that are influencing each other that there’s no “one approach” that will resolve things. There are so many great ideas in the Integral community but I wonder how many of those ideas will actually be able to be implemented in “real-time” on the ground where life actually happens to most people?

I appreciate all of your points of view!
Best regards,


I must admit I enjoy the diversity and strength of views presented here. Many integralists seek common understanding and a vision of unity, particularly as non-violence and non-divisiveness. It’s a way of relating that is familiar to me from having grown up in New Age/Thought churches.

That is a generally beneficial moral impulse and I’m sympathetic to it, but there can be a reluctance among some toward the radical and revolutionary, even more when portrayed as ‘leftist’ in mainstream debate. From my perspective, the radical means getting to the roots and revolution means a return, both point toward what is fundamental or universal.

A bit of conflict, even kind-hearted and well-intentioned debate, is healthy and needed in impelling us toward new understandings that challenge us. That has always been my own motivation. That is my ‘passion’. I want to be challenged to expand my views, identity, and circle of concern.

@LaWanna - Thanks for the poem. Thoughts on hypersubjects could lead in many directions., including as a transpersonal vision. But in a more basic way, a hypersubject could be any shared identity; such as a sense of place and home, kin and community; or even a police department; or, on a larger scale, a ‘race’ or ‘ethno-nationality’.

All hypersubjects are socially constructed and yet also socially real, not to mention psychologically compelling in what makes claims upon us; related to what Louis Althusser called interpellation (to be ‘hailed’) and what Julian Jaynes called authorization. This involves to the power of voice, language, and rhetoric.

I’d go further in suggesting hypersubjects are never separate from hyper objects. They are rooted in concrete world, particularly systems and institutions, probably always with an element of ritual enactment and invocation. We all live in the equivalent of Songline.

When a police officer drives down a street to the sound of official radio chatter, they are bringing forth a particular ideological worldview of authorization. The same is true of protesters marching down a street or an innocent black individual walking down the sidewalk along it. The infrastructure of modern cities are an ideological structure that contains power.

As for history, I could get on board with your view. My own understanding is always shifting, as my knowledge deepens and expands, along with my experience bringing in new focuses and biases. By the way, I have nothing against conspiracies. There are too many unsubstantiated conspiracy theories, but there also more conspiracy facts than most would like to admit.

@raybennett - Your straightforward style is appreciated. You have a way of getting to the point without any fluff. Your comment here reminds me of how typical integral framing and rhetoric may not always be helpful and how integral tools may still be inadequate for these tough societal topics. Like the rest of society, the whole integral community could use some shadow work and good ol’ fashioned soul searching.

To force issues and problems to the surface to be seen in the light, we sometimes need to speak more bluntly to get at raw honesty, something that is rare in a society that has most often sought to avoid these public debates because they are inconvenient and uncomfortable. From a young age, all of us are taught how to politely and quietly talk around these issues so as to not be perceived as problematic or, worse still, ‘radical’.

The rhetoric of false equivalency and false polarization really gets my knickers in a bunch. And a major irritation is how conservatives, right-wingers, and reactionaries (not to mention pseudo-liberals) have come to falsely define themselves as ‘moderates’ and ‘centrists’ so as to push the Overton window further right, in order to suppress and silence the majority; actually, the supermajority.

As you suggest, before we can have meaningful debate that leads to real world results, we’d have to take seriously the problems by first acknowledging how bad they are. With many issues, there are nuanced views and valid points to be made on multiple sides. But when it comes to brutal and oppressive authoritarianism, the morally righteous position is much more clear, even if we disagree about the appropriate response and optimal solutions.

@Brian_Downey - It’s good to hear from someone who has had personal experience with the police issue and so can speak from what is personally real. Your point is in line with some of what I was trying to communicate. I’m in the working class and have even lived below the poverty line, but I’m not a minority and have never lived in a poor neighborhood of militarized or otherwise aggressive policing.

To answer your question, I’ve never been arrested, never had multiple guns pulled on me by multiple police, and never been treated unfairly by the police. I haven’t even had a traffic ticket in my life. My interactions with the police have been rare and usually casual in situations where either I wasn’t the focus of their policing or was treated well and my rights were not infringed. I’ve never feared for my life because of police.

I can give you a concrete example. When I was mugged, I called the police without hesitation. I didn’t worry about being racially profiled and mistaken for a criminal, much less fearing for my life. As a white person in a majority white town that is liberal and middle class, I was in the privileged position of expecting the police to serve, protect, and respect me. It never occurred to me to expect anything else.

I’ve talked to plenty of police over the years. After all, I’m a city worker. But I can’t say I’ve personally known any police all that well. One of my childhood friends is a local cop, although I haven’t talked to him since childhood. The closest I’ve had to personally knowing a police officer is having an uncle who used to be a prison guard — not exactly the same kind of thing.

As to your last point, I totally agree. I said something to that effect. I argued that it isn’t the role of privileged outsiders to paternalistically seek to solve problems in other people’s communities, even as we seek to support, promote, and collaborate with their efforts. If integral theory and practice is to have any effective value toward such issues, it will have to be adopted by people in these communities and adapted to local conditions.

That is where the focus should be. And that is the real challenge/test for the integral community. What role can we play not only in reaching out to others and advocating different strategies but also what can we do in demonstrating integralism in our own communities? Do integralists at present have any “real-time” solutions to racism, brutality, and corruption involving systems of power and institutions of authority? That is left to be seen.


I considered typing out all of my relationships with police, but in the end I don’t think it’s constructive because this is fast becoming an “everybody” problem. The recent COVID lockdowns brought these issues to everyone’s neighborhood, as even people in posh elite neighborhoods had their comfort zone pushed against. There was a story in the news locally where a woman walking her dog in a neighborhood with $5+ million homes got a $5,000 ticket for stepping one foot into a park and thus violating the Mayor’s lockdown orders. There were so many people who got $5,000 COVID violation tickets that a judge just threw all of them out, and now the fraud of our Police Department during COVID is in the public discussion.

I think actual police criminal activity has to be dealt with by an outside force. The oppressed community do not have the power - or they would have addressed it before now, and the police don’t have the desire to fix the problems - or they would have before now.
Criminal activity by the police really is what we are dealing with as a norm for decades. Here in my city it’s finally out in the open and being published by newspapers. Fraud is a crime. Making an untrue statement on a police report is fraud. I would say that crime is rampant in our Police Departments across the country. The crime of fraud is so insidious because it has covered up much darker crimes for decades. I might put my conspiracy hat on and say that here locally it’s only in the news now and being investigated because they gave a $5,000 ticket to a rich woman in the elite social class with political connections - but there it is.

Also in our state news is a story of a Police Chief and his County Prosecutor wife and a few other police officers maliciously conspiring to frame someone because of a personal grudge.


Certainly there are problems that must incorporate outside influences. It’s pretty tricky to get to the heart of a problem from the outside of an institution. I’m not sure how it can be done but there has to be a multi-level approach to resolving these “wicked problems” that we have in our societies. People that are functioning from higher, more expanded levels of development simply have no interest in working in law enforcement. Obviously, most of the people in this line of work are functioning at Amber with some Orange and Red.

I think we may be in for a period of rough waters because transforming police departments is going to require we first do a “cleaning up.” That’s going to have a tremendous push-back. We can already see that. Here in Seattle police response is dismal to many things that aren’t considered “high-priority” in their minds. I run properties and have had to complain to the Seattle police dept for their inept response to things they should’ve responded to. I was told to take it up with my City Council.

Second, we need to revamp the vetting process as well as the educational demands placed upon police officers. This must include educating them on Psychology and especially their own minds and how to manage stress better and even meditation, etc. Unfortunately, we have the issue of the established culture that is deeply ingrained and influenced by less developed levels of mind. That’s going to be where the push-back comes from and will end up being the biggest challenge. I’ve watched these dynamics go on here in Seattle since the WTO protests in 2000.

I think the most important dynamic we must keep in mind is making sure we have as many perspectives at the table at all times and not allow ourselves to polarize into a righteous(I/we know better than anyone else) mindset. That type of dynamic breeds distrust and forces people into their corners and sets the stage for conflict. I’d like to think that “I know better” and in a way perhaps I do but if I refuse to listen and truly “hear” and “feel” what others at earlier stages are expressing communication breakdown is certain and inclusion will never occur.