The officer who mistakenly shot Daunte Wright now faces a manslaughter charge. What went wrong and what can we do about the future of police practices ?

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The news is aglow these days with bad news about various failings by police in action. Because we at Here and Sphere support police departments, in principle and as a matter of practical politics, we take up the matter of police reform without animus. We want police officers to succeed, not fail. In that spirit, I will proceed as follows.

Obviously I am upset by the accidental fatal shooting of Daunte Wright in a suburb of Minneapolis. As I see it, the entire course of events involving him and police officers from his local department was one long series of practical errors.

First : why was he, the driver of his mother’s car, out for an errand with his girlfriend, stopped at all ? There seems not to have been a moving violation. It is reported that his car had an obstruction in its rear window. I am not persuaded that such minimal violations of some automobile directions call for a police response. If so, the officers could just as well have sent him a citation by e mail (information available in the records of a Stater’s driver license). Surely an officer’s time and attention are better applied to more serious offenses ?

Second : what was the officer who shot him, mistaking her gun for a taser, doing out on patrol as a 26-year veteran of police work ? Why was she not a supervisor or other management ? Tasers didn’t exist when she was in police academy in 1993 or so. Was she trained recently in the use of a taser ? My suspicion is that she was not so trained; that no one thought it necessary to update her training because today’s officers, trained in taser use, know the difference between gun and taser and just assumed that, as a 26 year veteran, so would she.

Lesson : you should never assume.

Third : what happened during the stop of Mr Wright that made a veteran officer want to tase him ? This was an ordinary traffic stop. I grant that officers will tell you that they hate traffic stops because there’s no telling what the stopped driver might do, and because traffic stops are so ordinary, officers can tend to relax — which can lead to a bad end for them. Perhaps the veteran officer had in fact relaxed and was suddenly surprised by something Wright did that she had not seen coming ? If so, that’s no excuse. The officer who loses focus puts both the driver and herself at risk.

The officer, who resigned her position the next day, now faces a pretty conclusive manslaughter charge. The municipality faces loss of reputation and, likely, a huge wrongful death award against it. And Mr Wright is dead at age 21. All because a veteran officer failed what her job requires. I see this as a tragedy for everyone concerned.

All of the above I have written by way of argument for the sorts of reforms I am now going to plead for. These are not necessarily legislation but more in the manner of regulations pursuant to legislation :

( 1 ) police officers should be retrained regularly, so that updates in police tools and procedures can be learned and mastered. There simply can NOT be a possibility of an officer mistaking a taser for a gun. It has happened before; this case is not unique. That adds to the urgency of my suggestion here.

( 2 ) officers should never tase someone unless the situation is out of control. Because a traffic stop of someone whose habits are unknown can put officers on edge about possible bad stuff, officers should conduct the stop from within their cruiser or squad car and approach the driver only if necessary. Writing a traffic citation does not make such approach necessary. The driver’s license and registration info are online and can be accessed by the officer in her cruiser’s computer. All cruisers now have them. If the driver has an expired license or registration, or both, in some States an arrest is called for. In such case, the officer should wait for backup, or if she is accompanied by a second officer, the second officer should stand directly in front of the stopped vehicle while the other officer approaches from the passenger side. That way the officers can control all but the craziest driver.

( 3 ) Officers should patrol with restraint. If they see a driver committing a mere safety equipment violation, as seems to have been Mr Wright’s case, they can check his driver record to see if he is an habitual offender. If not, why stop him at all ? Just send a citation, if you must, by e mail.

( 4 ) A municipality should prepare a code of patrol regulations in writing, supply each officer with one, and require a written exam to see that the officer understands the regulations and how to apply them. This test should be updated and an update exam given and graded.

( 5 ) Officers should make an effort to know personally the community they will be patrolling. The captain in charge of a police precinct should schedule a public town hall in his precinct from time to time, and his community relations officers should diligently attend — and deliver a report at — monthly meetings of neighborhood associations in the precinct. In Boston, these are standard procedure. they should be standard everywhere.

I do not buy the accusations laid against police forces by activists with ulterior agendas. I oppose unalterably calls to defund police forces or to create public agencies whose enabling legislation gives them an accusatory slant. Police are not our enemy. They are doing a job. The doing is only as good as the job description, the regulations, the force’s morale, and the training. Let us focus on the actual problem, not on chimeras invented by agenda groups or by our own quick-reaction anger

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



^^ Mob rule in the French revolution

We in the United States no longer discuss much about the French Revolution, but in my youth, some 60 years ago, it was still an intense topic of recrimination and musts to avoid. It had taken place some 160 years prior, yet we all knew, or were taught, to study its excesses of zealotry and to never forget them as we graduated into our adult lives in and amongst the American public.

There was much to abhor. The king had ruled all France from an utterly. centralized bureaucratic despotism in which some thousands of nobles and their families were exempted from all sorts of taxes, tolls and fees, while the rest of the nation paid every one of them, with some regional exemptions entirely ad hoc and always liable to withdrawal on the whim of a monarch and his few courtier favorites.

Then came the great upheaval; even the minor nobility had had enough; the “national convention” met and began the process of curbing the king and, eventually, abolishing almost the entirety of French custom, law, and culture. The world watched in horror as the convention set up tribunals where, without process of law or a bare sham of it, condemned to death first nobles and priests, then those who opposed the tribunals, then members of the “convention” itself battling to their mutual beheadings at the “guillotine.” Religion was abolished; religious monuments torn down; the graves of monarchs desecrated; the homes of aristocrats burned and looted, their occupants forced to flee or, if caught, imprisoned and in thousands of cases, guillotined. Even the calendar was abolished, the twelve months renamed (Priarial, Thermidor, Vendemiaire, Brumaire, Pluvoise, and the like) and a ten day week imposed. Mob rule terrorized all Paris and many of the provinces. An estimated 40,000 people were judicially murdered, thousands more imprisoned and impoverished, or forced into exile.

It all ended, of course, in a twenty year burst of Napoleon’s kleptocratic, military dictatorship, world war, and the utter ruin of all France and much of Europe. It took a coalition of England, Prussia, Russia, and the “guerillas” (a word then invented) of Spain to defeat him and to restore legitimate government to France — which never recovered its governmental equilibrium, really, until, in the 1950s, General, then President, Charles DeGaulle won ratification of the constitution that ever since has governed French politics and law.

I am hardly the first conservative to make a French revolution allusion to the ominous trends in our nation’s current public life, but the reference has enormous pertinence despite its recent frequency. So, please bear with me.

I do not want to see anything like it befall the United States, yet as I look at events, I see an undertow sucking us in that direction :

( 1 ) the Republican party of Trump attempted a coup d’etat that, had it succeeded, would have begun a civil war at least, just as the storming of the Bastille on July 15, 1789 initiated the French conflict. Much of the Republican party remains loyal to autocracy today — a religious fanatic autocracy supported those whom the media and academic worlds have stamped with the scarlet R of “racist.”

( 2 ) cultural revolutionaries are, if many reports are to be believed, imposing self-loathing orthodoxies and race-based tribalisms on teachers, administrators, and school managers as well as on employees in major corporations, sports teams, and public figures generally where they can. If reports such as this one –>> https://bariweiss.substack.com/p/i-refuse-to-stand-by-while-my-students?utm_campaign=post&utm_medium=web&utm_source=twitter — are at all true, we are well into the fanatic phase of a revolution as ominous as the French one of 230 years ago.,

I have read many, many reports similar to the one I have linked you to. I have not visited campuses to research for myself if they are accurate. yet in my own experience of big city politics recently, I have certainly encountered zealotry of the same type : preachy, condescending, sure of its own utter righteousness and of the perfidy of anyone who in any way opposes it. The zealotry is especially virulent when questions of race are on offer. The preached view — “anti racism,” they call it — is the only correct one and anyone who disagrees the slightest is to be coventried, or worse, as a racist.

That this sort of demand-politics generates enormous push back, does not give them pause. Sure now, via social media, that they can intimidate businesses, faculties, and many politicians, and even economically extort them, the demanders seek to impose their racially sequestered, self-agitated manifestos upon public policy generally.

Fortunately, the framers of our constitutional republic so divided sovereign powers that almost no movement, no matter how zealous or extortive, can overtake the entire system. Trump could not do it, and — so far — his much better organized opposites seem to fall short of their take-overs except at the State level in some States in which they command veto-proof majorities. (Last week in Maryland the zealot legislature enacted, over Governor Hogan’s veto, a bill, much of it unconstitutional, which will make policing almost impossible in that State.) Nor is this zealotry limited to the “left.” Legislatures in some Republican States have enacted bills that would seriously erase the civil rights of LGBT people, or unconstitutionally interfere with women’s control of their own pregnancies.

Tragic mistakes by police as well as police overreaction lead now not to judicious reform, or to fair trials in court, rather than in the media, but to riots, threats, and calls for abolition. Do we have the moral fortitude to say No to these impulsive responses ?

At the Federal level, no such impulse or law sweep seems enactable, yet how close to the tipping point we are ! An unconstitutional voting bill, styled H R 1, fall short of passage only because Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia refuses to abolish the Senate filibuster — guarantor of the legitimacy of minority viewpoints against majoritarian rule — and thus prevents said bill gaining sufficient Yea votes. The filibuster also stands stalwart against the Democratic left’s impatience to pack the Supreme Court with political Justices.

Thank goodness.

Equilibrium, the fundamental societal principle underpinning our Constituition system, is defended by the filibuster as well as by our other obstacles to tyranny : the electoral college, the provision giving two Senators to every State, no matter its population.

Equilibrium breeds and fortifies the freedom of the citizen. It is the Nay to every sort of attempt to curtail diverse opinion. It sanctions multiplicity of method, plurality of policy, and contradiction in the culture. It sanctifies every citizen’s assessment of public experience and wards off all attempts to silence or shame anyone for who he is or what she thinks about whatever he cares to think publicly of.

Equilibrium is the driving wheel of equality. It is the platform of freedom.

Without equilibrium, we are the tools of whichever mountebankery happens to prevail momentarily. One may live for the moment on a dance floor, where the jolt of a beat or the thrill of a riff takes us high, high, high: but public policy is not music, nor is a governmental system a dance floor. We lose sight of this at our peril.

— Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere



As you surely have read, a buzzing beehive of queens is all het up about the new voting rules law enacted in Georgia. The law has several provisions that alter in part — sometimes a small part, sometimes quite major — how elections in Georgia are to be conducted.

Immediately the law was signed — even before — it was being assailed as “worse than Jim Crow.” It is no such thing ! Have we really forgotten what Jim Crow was actually like ?

But is the new law a significant impediment to Black voters registering and voting ? Not that I can tell. It may in fact INCREASE Black voter turnout.

I have read two ( 2 ) major-media articles in which the law’s changes are serially analyzed. Some of the provisions actually make voting easier; some make it harder. the net effect is not much. Let us read them :

First, Stephen Fowler’s article here : https://www.gpb.org/news/2021/03/27/what-does-georgias-new-voting-law-sb-202-do

Next, the New York Times’s analysis : https://www.nytimes.com/2021/04/03/upshot/georgia-election-law-turnout.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes

The Times’s report, authored by election analyst Nate Cohn, suggests that the Georgia law’s tweaks are essentially much ado about nothing. I agree. Under our Constitution, States operate their own elections, subject only to the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. Nothing in the new Georgia law crosses those guarantees.

The law is basically administrative. It alters procedural rules : expands early voting (a device which I don’t like at all, because risks the early voter missing important candidate information revealed after he votes early), changes voting hours, substitutes voter ID for signature on ballots, and limits the number of ballot drop boxes — albeit making them a formal part of the Georgia process rather than a temporary emergency measure. The law also makes it harder for voters waiting in line to receive a beverage, but the new provisions mirror those in other States (including Massachusetts); however, the law also expands voting locations, so as to minimize the length of voting lines.

The Georgia law does do one very troubling thing: it takes election administration away from the Secretary of State — Brad Raffensperger, whom Mr. Trump tried hard to pressure, and giving it instead to a state elections board controlled by the legislature. (Raffensperger is still a board member but without a vote on it.) This is surely a revenge move by Republicans angry that Raffensperger chose integrity over Trump.

I see no way to gloss this over. It taints the entire law and marks its passage as suspect, thus opening the door to the altogether more unfounded objections by Democratic activists.

Why did the Georgia legislature not leave well enough alone ? I’ll let you speculate an answer. I’ve heard several versions. In any case, the State has now achieved the highly unlikely : its elections system was attacked by Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, by Mr. Trump last year, and now by activist Democrats in 2021. Bipartisan consensus !!

that’s quite the trifecta.

Governor Brian Kemp stands in the middle of it all, everybody’s pinned donkey tail. More : his US Senate pick, Kelly Loeffler, was soundly defeated on January 5th by now Senator Ralph Warnock. Is Kemp really that politically stub-toed ? Maybe so. In any case, he now faces an angry Donald Trump AND an even angrier Doug Collins — a former Congressman and Trump favorite whom Kemp passed over for the Senate appointment that Loeffler got — and of course Ms Abrams and now the entire nation’s Democratic wokes. Can Kemp win re-election ? Can he even win a Republican primary ? We will soon know the answer.

But enough of Governor Kemp. The big question is the voting rights situation generally. Set aside the Democrats’ big Federal elections bill, H R 1, of which I wrote in a previous column and whose provisions, overreaching unConstitutionally, cannot pass. I am here thinking of the many States — including Massachusetts — which, setting their own election rules as the Constitution assures them power to do, operate elections under rules stricter than the new Georgia rules and/or which no one seems to complain of. Why not ? Answer : because those States are never in play in a national election. They are either safely Democratic or securely Republican. Thus no one complains when their election rules, no matter how flawed, administer an unsurprising win.

Georgia is different . it was, until last year, a safe republican win in national elections. Republican activists are angry that that safety is now unsafe, just as Democrats are angry that their new Georgia-win accomplishments may be turned back by the State tweaking its rules.

The Georgia brouhaha is not about the election rules per se, its about PARTISAN zero-sum : if you win, I lose; if I win, you lose. Nor is the noise about Black voters per se. If Black voters voted 95 percent Republican, Republicans would be celebrating their turnout surge. The fuss is NOT AT ALL about racial animus. It is about PARTISAN advantage, that and nothing but that.

Myself, I do not like early voting. Not because it favors Democrats, which it needn’t, but because it deprives the early voter of candidate information which may befall after he votes. I don’t like voting by mail either. I want voters to appear personally at the poll on election day appointed. Absentee voting, yes, but limited only to those who CANNOT personally appear at the poll. Voting should require voter effort. Americans fought and died to sure us voting rights. the least we can do in return is to exert ourselves to register and again to vote.

I stand by the above principles.

Election rules are hardly the only field on which today’s partisan hatreds bump and bruise. But election rules are sensitive to those who value our Constitutional republic AND the basic political principle of equilibrium upon which our Constitution’s success rests. The partisan activists of this era seek to up-end that equilibrium. They know not the consequences of their rash radicalism, nor do they care. It is THEY who scare me, a lot more than i am alarmed by election law tweaks, even significant ones.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere