Pluralistic: 21 Jan 2021

Today's links

NYPD can't stop choking Black men (permalink)

Eric Garner wasn't the first Black man to be murdered in broad daylight by NYPD officers using illegal chokeholds, but his death was a flashpoint for police impunity and corruption, and the chokehold became a symbol for all lethal police violence.

"I Can't Breathe" is Matt Taibbi's outstanding book on the murder, it really conveys just how brutal the chokehold is and why it was banned by the NYPD 28 years ago, and how its routine use today symbolizes the lawlessness of law enforcement.

Chokeholds were big news in 2020, after the broad-daylight murder of George Floyd who was slowly, cruelly, deliberately executed before a crowd of horrified onlookers by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin.

Once again, it's been 28 years since the NYPD banned its officers from using chokeholds, but officers routinely break this rule, despite many initiatives and resolutions intended to eliminate this lethal "submission hold."

In "Still Can’t Breathe," by Propublica's Topher Sanders and The CITY's Yoav Gonen, we get a history of those failed initiatives, in brutal, eye-watering detail. Each failure has its own unique characteristics, but still, a unified story emerges.

NYPD officers use chokeholds because they don't care if they kill people. NYPD and NYC city officials let them do it because they don't care if the NYPD kills pepole.

That's it. It's an absolutely inescapable conclusion.

So the Civilian Complaint Review Board can find that NYPD officers broke the law and used a chokehold, but the NYPD gets to decide what their punishment is, and they have not fired a single officer for breaking the law since Garner's murder.

They don't fire repeat offenders like Officer Omar Habib, who uses chokeholds to punish nonviolent, nonresistign city residents for calling the police "fucking Keystone Kops," like some kind of WWE roid-rage case who sees red when someone calls him names.

This is a cop with 46 brutality allegations in his record, five lawsuit settlements costing NYC taxpayers $200k, and multiple incidents of illegal chokehold use. The NYPD has his back, and he faced no meaningful consequences for a yearslong crime spree under cover of a badge.

Over and over again, New York cops break the law and skip away without consequences. It will not surprise you to learn that for many years, the cops were "tried" in a court presided over by NYPD employees.

Nor that when NYC's council cracked down on police crimes by formally creating a misdemeanor for using chokeholds, they immediately walked back the ordinance so cops wouldn't face consequences.

Nor that the state legislature's law felonizing chokeholds only penalizing a chokehold that ends in serious injury or death – so if a cop gets off lucky and their chokehold doesn't result in death, they get to do it again.

…and again, and again, with the state only stepping in when they snuff out a human life.

Every single time a measure is enacted to prevent chokeholds, the system neutralizes it, redefining what a chokehold is, or keeping the rule intact, but neutering its punishments.

This is how you get statements from NYPD First Deputy Commissioner Benjamin Tucker like: "The prohibition on chokeholds is firm; it shall not be used,… There are those times, and maybe other times, when you can use it, but it is prohibited."

(an actual quote)

Every so often it happens that a cop's use of a chokehold is so egregious that they are convicted and a meaningful penalty is handed down. That happened in 2015, so then-police-commissioner Bratton simply reversed the verdict.

You can and should read the Propublica/The CITY article, because the details are damning and brutal – but in the most important sense (whether they provoked a change in the system), they also don't matter.

The thing that matters about them is that they didn't matter. Cops get to say things like "You need two arms to do a chokehold" and walk away from consequences. They get to claim that "I can't breathe" is a "rallying cry" and not a human being begging for their life.

The conclusion is inescapable. Cops kill people with chokeholds because they don't care if chokeholds kill people. City governments let them do it because they don't care if chokeholds kill.

Not just any people – chokeholds are disproportionately used against Black men.

For all that this inspires hopelessness, it's important work, and it brings us new parts of the story that were previously shrouded in secrecy – thanks to the NYPD disciplinary records that Propublica published this summer:

We already had all the facts we needed to determine that this system needed to be torn down to its rotten foundations and rebuilt, but now we have more, and political will is building.

The NYPD disciplinary files are an ocean of blood, lawlessly spilled under color of law. The only injustice that would be greater than that violence is for us to look away.

Rolling back the Trump rollback (permalink)

Trump was a very specific kind of disaster: a chaos agent, who lacked the wit, patience and executive function to recruit the powerful institutions of the US military-industrial complex to fight his corner.

The kind of guy who demands the impossible and then fires and publicly humiliates any allies who fail to deliver – or dare to contradict him – is not the kind of guy who can build new, enduring, evil institutions.

The best he can hope for is to get some trumpalike goblins into positions of power (where they will replicate his chaos, but without the broad impunity of the presidential office, resulting in a series of resignations and prosecutions), back by executive orders.

The last months of the Trump admin were an orgy of executive branch rulemakings that dismantled public safety, health, labor, anticorruption and (especially) environmental protections.

Trump is a debt kingpin. His MO is running across a river on the backs of alligators, hoping to move so fast that none of them takes a leg: borrow, refinance, restructure, borrow, blow town, borrow, restructure, bribe, blow town.

He's an improviser, a bullshitter, a pantser and not a planner. That's why so many of his worst ideas got turned into regulations at the very end of his term, and that's why they are vulnerable to being swiftly undone by the obscure, rarely used Congressional Review Act.

The CRA allows Congress to void administrative-branch regulations and to prohibit any substantively similar regulation from ever being enacted. It's powerful, but it's almost impossible to invoke, as Jan Ellen Spiegel writes in Yale Climate Connection.

Indeed, the CRA is so baroque that only an absolute dunderhead of a president need fear having their administration's signature achievements being undone by it.

Cometh the hour, cometh the dunderhead.

It would be delicious irony to see the CRA used to undo Trump's planet-destroying environmental regulations. Obama, overconfident of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 race, waited too late to pass many of his regulations, leading to Trump invoking CRA against his end-of-term rules.

Unlike Trump, Obama spread out his regulatory agenda over his whole term, only exposing a fraction of his rules to his successor. Still, the CRA has only been successfully invoked 17 times, and 16 of those were Trump undoing an Obama reg.

1,350 of Trump's regulations are vulnerable to being permanently overturned. In combination with the barrage of firings of high-level Trump swamp-gators and henhouse foxes, using the CRA on these would go a long way to erasing Trump's policy legacy.

YMCA, Trump edition (permalink)

Well, it's not exactly a sea shanty, but this air from a pal who can't post it themself seems very much of the moment:

Old man, 7 million votes down
I said old man, no, you don’t get a crown
I said old man, get your Ass. Out. Of. Town
You’re. Just. A. Bad Loo—-ser.

Old man there's a place you can go
I said old man, its called Mar A Lago
I said old man, though I don’t really know
Whether they want you there

It's fun to stay at the Has-Beens Golf Club
It's fun to stay at the Has-Beens Golf Club
The My Pillow Guy says you’re ok
And you poll well with the KKK!

It's fun to stay at the Has-Beens Golf Club
It's fun to stay at the Has-Beens Golf Club
(Repeat and fade.)

This day in history (permalink)

#15yrsago Disney swaps stock for Pixar; Jobs is largest Disney stockholder

#10yrsago Stephen Colbert on Limbaugh’s ching-chong moment

#10yrsago Colosseum sofa

#10yrsago Sudan’s online guns, tanks and ammo vendor

#10yrsago EFF warns: mobile OS vendors aren’t serious about security

#5yrsago Kathryn Cramer remembers her late husband, David Hartwell, a giant of science fiction

#5yrsago That time the DoD paid Duke U $335K to investigate ESP in dogs. Yes, dogs.

#1yrago Greta Thunberg has a crisply articulated demand

#1yrago “Edge AI”: encapsulating machine learning classifiers in lightweight, energy-efficient, airgapped chips

#1yrago China announces ban of single-use plastic bags and straws

#1yrago When contracting with Chinese manufacturers, it’s very hard to avoid forced labor

#1yrago Riot Baby: an afrofuturist science fiction novella of race, rage and fierce resistance

Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Naked Capitalism (

Currently writing:

  • My next novel, "The Lost Cause," a post-GND novel about truth and reconciliation. Yesterday's progress: 513 words (101557 total).

  • A short story, "Jeffty is Five," for The Last Dangerous Visions. Yesterday's progress: 260 words (544 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

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