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What the police really believe
Police officers line up by the AFL-CIO building during a stand-off between law enforcement officers and protesters at the Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, on June 23. | Astrid Riecken/Washington Post/Getty Images Inside the distinctive, largely unknown ideology of American policing — and how it justifies racist violence. Arthur Rizer is a former police officer and 21-year veteran of the US Army, where he served as a military policeman. Today, he heads the criminal justice program at the R Street Institute, a center-right think tank in DC. And he wants you to know that American policing is even more broken than you think. “That whole thing about the bad apple? I hate when people say that,” Rizer tells me. “The bad apple rots the barrel. And until we do something about the rotten barrel, it doesn’t matter how many good fucking apples you put in.” To illustrate the problem, Rizer tells a story about a time he observed a patrol by some officers in Montgomery, Alabama. They were called in to deal with a woman they knew had mental illness; she was flailing around and had cut someone with a broken plant pick. To subdue her, one of the officers body-slammed her against a door. Hard. Rizer recalls that Montgomery officers were nervous about being watched during such a violent arrest — until they found out he had once been a cop. They didn’t actually have any problem with what one of them had just done to the woman; in fact, they started laughing about it. “It’s one thing to use force and violence to affect an arrest. It’s another thing to find it funny,” he tells me. “It’s just pervasive throughout policing. When I was a police officer and doing these kind of ride-alongs [as a researcher],you see the underbelly of it. And it’s ... gross.” America’s epidemic of police violence is not limited to what’s on the news. For every high-profile story of a police officer killing an unarmed Black person or tear-gassing peaceful protesters, there are many, many allegations of police misconduct you don’t hear about — abuses ranging from excessive use of force to mistreatment of prisoners to planting evidence. African Americans are arrested and roughed up by cops at wildly disproportionate rates, relative to both their overall share of the population and the percentage of crimes they commit. Something about the way police relate to the communities they’re tasked with protecting has gone wrong. Officers aren’t just regularly treating people badly; a deep dive into the motivations and beliefs of police reveals that too many believe they are justified in doing so. To understand how the police think about themselves and their job, I interviewed more than a dozen former officers and experts on policing. These sources, ranging from conservatives to police abolitionists, painted a deeply disturbing picture of the internal culture of policing. Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images Police officers confront protesters in front of City Hall in New York City on July 1. Police officers across America have adopted a set of beliefs about their work and its role in our society. The tenets of police ideology are not codified or written down, but are nonetheless widely shared in departments around the country. The ideology holds that the world is a profoundly dangerous place: Officers are conditioned to see themselves as constantly in danger and that the only way to guarantee survival is to dominate the citizens they’re supposed to protect. The police believe they’re alone in this fight; police ideology holds that officers are under siege by criminals and are not understood or respected by the broader citizenry. These beliefs, combined with widely held racial stereotypes, push officers toward violent and racist behavior during intense and stressful street interactions. In that sense, police ideology can help us understand the persistence of officer-involved shootings and the recent brutal suppression of peaceful protests. In a culture where Black people are stereotyped as more threatening, Black communities are terrorized by aggressive policing, with officers acting less like community protectors and more like an occupying army. The beliefs that define police ideology are neither universally shared among officers nor evenly distributed across departments. There are more than 600,000 local police officers across the country and more than 12,000 local police agencies. The officer corps has gotten more diverse over the years, with women, people of color, and LGBTQ officers making up a growing share of the profession. Speaking about such a group in blanket terms would do a disservice to the many officers who try to serve with care and kindness. However, the officer corps remains overwhelmingly white, male, and straight. Federal Election Commission data from the 2020 cycle suggests that police heavily favor Republicans. And it is indisputable that there are commonly held beliefs among officers. “The fact that not every department is the same doesn’t undermine the point that there are common factors that people can reasonably identify as a police culture,” says Tracey Meares, the founding director of Yale University’s Justice Collaboratory. The danger imperative In 1998, Georgia sheriff’s deputy Kyle Dinkheller pulled over a middle-aged white man named Andrew Howard Brannan for speeding. Brannan, a Vietnam veteran with PTSD, refused to comply with Dinkheller’s instructions. He got out of the car and started dancing in the middle of the road, singing “Here I am, shoot me” over and over again. In the encounter, recorded by the deputy’s dashcam, things then escalate: Brannan charges at Dinkheller; Dinkheller tells him to “get back.” Brannan heads back to the car — only to reemerge with a rifle pointed at Dinkheller. The officer fires first, and misses; Brannan shoots back. In the ensuing firefight, both men are wounded, but Dinkheller far more severely. It ends with Brannan standing over Dinkheller, pointing the rifle at the deputy’s eye. He yells — “Die, fucker!” — and pulls the trigger. The dashcam footage of Dinkheller’s killing, widely known among cops as the “Dinkheller video,” is burned into the minds of many American police officers. It is screened in police academies around the country; one training turns it into a video game-style simulation in which officers can change the ending by killing Brannan. Jeronimo Yanez, the officer who killed Philando Castile during a 2016 traffic stop, was shown the Dinkheller video during his training. “Every cop knows the name ‘Dinkheller’ — and no one else does,” says Peter Moskos, a former Baltimore police officer who currently teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice. The purpose of the Dinkheller video, and many others like it shown at police academies, is to teach officers that any situation could escalate to violence. Cop killers lurk around every corner. It’s true that policing is a relatively dangerous job. But contrary to the impression the Dinkheller video might give trainees, murders of police are not the omnipresent threat they are made out to be. The number of police killings across the country has been falling for decades; there’s been a 90 percent drop in ambush killings of officers since 1970. According to Bureau of Labor Statistics data, about 13 per 100,000 police officers died on the job in 2017. Compare that to farmers (24 deaths per 100,000), truck drivers (26.9 per 100,000), and trash collectors (34.9 per 100,000). But police academies and field training officers hammer home the risk of violent death to officers again and again. It’s not just training and socialization, though: The very nature of the job reinforces the sense of fear and threat. Law enforcement isn’t called to people’s homes and streets when things are going well. Officers constantly find themselves thrown into situations where a seemingly normal interaction has gone haywire — a marital argument devolving into domestic violence, for example. “For them, any scene can turn into a potential danger,” says Eugene Paoline III, a criminologist at the University of Central Florida. “They’re taught, through their experiences, that very routine events can go bad.” Michael Sierra-Arevalo, a professor at Rutgers University, calls the police obsession with violent death “the danger imperative.” After conducting 1,000 hours of interviews with 94 police officers, he found that the risk of violent death occupies an extraordinary amount of mental space for many officers — far more so than it should, given the objective risks. Here’s what I mean: According to the past 20 years of FBI data on officer fatalities, 1,001 officers have been killed by firearms while 760 have died in car crashes. For this reason, police officers are, like the rest of us, required to wear seat belts at all times. In reality, many choose not to wear them even when speeding through city streets. Sierra-Arevalo rode along with one police officer, whom he calls officer Doyle, during a car chase where Doyle was going around 100 miles per hour — and still not wearing a seat belt. Sierra-Arevalo asked him why he did things like this. Here’s what Doyle said: There’s times where I’ll be driving and the next thing you know I’ll be like, ‘Oh shit, that dude’s got a fucking gun!’ I’ll stop [mimics tires screeching], try to get out — fuck. Stuck on the seat belt … I’d rather just be able to jump out on people, you know. If I have to, be able to jump out of this deathtrap of a car. Despite the fact that fatal car accidents are a risk for police, officers like Doyle prioritize their ability to respond to one specific shooting scenario over the clear and consistent benefits of wearing a seat belt. “Knowing officers consistently claim safety is their primary concern, multiple drivers not wearing a seatbelt and speeding towards the same call should be interpreted as an unacceptable danger; it is not,” Sierra-Arevalo writes. “The danger imperative — the preoccupation with violence and the provision of officer safety — contributes to officer behaviors that, though perceived as keeping them safe, in fact put them in great physical danger.” This outsized attention to violence doesn’t just make officers a threat to themselves. It’s also part of what makes them a threat to citizens. Because officers are hyper-attuned to the risks of attacks, they tend to believe that they must always be prepared to use force against them — sometimes even disproportionate force. Many officers believe that, if they are humiliated or undermined by a civilian, that civilian might be more willing to physically threaten them. Scholars of policing call this concept “maintaining the edge,” and it’s a vital reason why officers seem so willing to employ force that appears obviously excessive when captured by body cams and cellphones. “To let down that edge is perceived as inviting chaos, and thus danger,” Moskos says. This mindset helps explain why so many instances of police violence — like George Floyd’s killing by officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis — happen during struggles related to arrest. In these situations, the officers aren’t always threatened with a deadly weapon: Floyd, for example, was unarmed. But when the officer decides the suspect is disrespecting them or resisting their commands, they feel the need to use force to reestablish the edge. They need to make the suspect submit to their authority. A siege mentality Police officers today tend to see themselves as engaged in a lonely, armed struggle against the criminal element. They are judged by their effectiveness at that task, measured by internal data such as arrest numbers and crime rates in the areas they patrol. Officers believe these efforts are underappreciated by the general public; according to a 2017 Pew report, 86 percent of police believe the public doesn’t really understand the “risks and challenges” involved in their job. Rizer, the former officer and R Street researcher, recently conducted a separate large-scale survey of American police officers. One of the questions he asked was whether they would want their children to become police officers. A majority, around 60 percent, said no — for reasons that, in Rizer’s words, “blew me away.” “The vast majority of people that said ‘no, I don’t want them to become a police officer’ was because they felt like the public no longer supported them — and that they were ‘at war’ with the public,” he tells me. “There’s a ‘me versus them’ kind of worldview, that we’re not part of this community that we’re patrolling.” You can see this mentality on display in the widespread police adoption of an emblem called the “thin blue line.” In one version of the symbol, two black rectangles are separated by a dark blue horizontal line. The rectangles represent the public and criminals, respectively; the blue line separating them is the police. In another, the blue line replaces the central white stripe in a black-and-white American flag, separating the stars from the stripes below. During the recent anti-police violence protests in Cincinnati, Ohio, officers raised this modified banner outside their station. Stephen Maturen/Getty Images A demonstrator holds a “thin blue line” flag and a sign in support of police during a protest outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, Minnesota, on June 27. In the “thin blue line” mindset, loyalty to the badge is paramount; reporting excessive force or the use of racial slurs by a colleague is an act of treason. This emphasis on loyalty can create conditions for abuses, even systematic ones, to take place: Officers at one station in Chicago, Illinois, tortured at least 125 Black suspects between 1972 and 1991. These crimes were uncovered by the dogged work of an investigative journalist rather than a police whistleblower. “Officers, when they get wind that something might be wrong, either participate init themselves when they’re commanded to — or they actively ignore it, find ways to look the other way,” says Laurence Ralph, a Princeton professor and the author of The Torture Letters, a recent book on the abuses in Chicago. This insularity and siege mentality is not universal among American police. Worldviews vary from person to person and department to department; many officers are decent people who work hard to get to know citizens and address their concerns. But it is powerful enough, experts say, to distort departments across the country. It has seriously undermined some recent efforts to reorient the police toward working more closely with local communities, generally pushing departments away from deep engagement with citizens and toward a more militarized and aggressive model. “The police have been in the midst of an epic ideological battle. It’s been taking place ever since the supposed community policing revolution started back in the 1980s,” says Peter Kraska, a professor at Eastern Kentucky University’s School of Justice Studies. “In the last 10 to 15 years, the more toxic elements have been far more influential.” Since the George Floyd protests began, police have tear-gassed protesters in 100 different US cities. This is not an accident or the result of behaviors by a few bad apples. Instead, it reflects the fact that officers see themselves as at war — and the protesters as the enemies. A 2017 study by Heidi Reynolds-Stenson, a sociologist at Colorado State University-Pueblo, examined data on 7,000 protests from 1960 to 1995. She found that “police are much more likely to try to quell protests that criticize police conduct.” “Recent scholarship argues that, over the last twenty years, protest policing [has gotten] more aggressive and less impartial,” Reynolds-Stenson concludes. “The pattern of disproportionate repression of police brutality protests found in this study may be even more pronounced today.” There’s a reason that, after New York Police Department Lt. Robert Cattani kneeled alongside Black Lives Matter protesters on May 31, he sent an email to his precinct apologizing for the “horrible decision to give into a crowd of protesters’ demands.” In his mind, the decision to work with the crowd amounted to collaboration with the enemy. “The cop in me,” Cattani wrote, “wants to kick my own ass.” Anti-Blackness Policing in the United States has always been bound up with the color line. In the South, police departments emerged out of 18th century slave patrols — bands of men working to discipline slaves, facilitate their transfer between plantations, and catch runaways. In the North, professional police departments came about as a response to a series of mid-19th century urban upheavals — many of which, like the 1834 New York anti-abolition riot, had their origins in racial strife. While policing has changed dramatically since then, there’s clear evidence of continued structural racism in American policing. The Washington Post’s Radley Balko has compiled an extensive list of academic studies documenting this fact, covering everything from traffic stops to use of deadly force. Research has confirmed that this is a nationwide problem, involving a significant percentage of officers. When talking about race in policing and the way it relates to police ideology, there are two related phenomena to think about. The first is overt racism. In some police departments, the culture permits a minority of racists on the force to commit brutal acts of racial violence with impunity. Examples of explicit racism abound in police officer conduct. The following three incidents were reported in the past month alone: In leaked audio, Wilmington, North Carolina, officer Kevin Piner said, “we are just going to go out and start slaughtering [Blacks],” adding that he “can’t wait” for a new civil war so whites could “wipe them off the fucking map.” Piner was dismissed from the force, as were two other officers involved in the conversation. Joey Lawn, a 10-year veteran of the Meridian, Mississippi, force, was fired for using an unspecified racial slur against a Black colleague during a 2018 exercise. Lawn’s boss, John Griffith, was demoted from captain to lieutenant for failing to punish Lawn at the time. Four officers in San Jose, California, were put on administrative leave amid an investigation into their membership in a secret Facebook group. In a public post, officer Mark Pimentel wrote that “black lives don’t really matter”; in another private one, retired officer Michael Nagel wrote about female Muslim prisoners: “i say we repurpose the hijabs into nooses.” In all of these cases, superiors punished officers for their offensive comments and actions — but only after they came to light. It’s safe to say a lot more go unreported. Last April, a human resources manager in San Francisco’s city government quit after spending two years conducting anti-bias training for the city’s police force. In an exit email sent to his boss and the city’s police chief, he wrote that “the degree of anti-black sentiment throughout SFPD is extreme,” adding that “while there are some at SFPD who possess somewhat of a balanced view of racism and anti-blackness, there are an equal number (if not more) — who possess and exude deeply rooted anti-black sentiments.” Psychological research suggests that white officers are disproportionately likely to demonstrate a personality trait called “social dominance orientation.” Individuals with high levels of this trait tend to believe that existing social hierarchies are not only necessary, but morally justified — that inequalities reflect the way that things actually should be. The concept was originally formulated in the 1990s as a way of explaining why some people are more likely to accept what a group of researchers termed “ideologies that promote or maintain group inequality,” including “the ideology of anti-Black racism.” Olivier Douliery/AFP/Getty Images A demonstrator walks past a mural for George Floyd during a protest near the White House in Washington, DC, on June 4. This helps us understand why some officers are more likely to use force against Black suspects, even unarmed ones. Phillip Atiba Goff, a psychologist at John Jay and the CEO of the Center for Policing Equity think tank, has done forthcoming research on the distribution of social dominance orientation among officers in three different cities. Goff and his co-authors found that white officers who score very highly in this trait tend to use force more frequently than those who don’t. “If you think the social hierarchy is good, then maybe you’re more willing to use violence from the state’s perspective to enforce that hierarchy — and you think that’s your job,” he tells me. But while the problem of overt racism and explicit commitment to racial hierarchy is a serious one, it’s not necessarily the central problem in modern policing. The second manifestation of anti-Blackness is more subtle. The very nature of policing, in which officers perform a dizzying array of stressful tasks for long hours, brings out the worst in people. The psychological stressors combine with police ideology and widespread cultural stereotypes to push officers, even ones who don’t hold overtly racist beliefs, to treat Black people as more suspect and more dangerous. It’s not just the officers who are the problem; it’s the society they come from, and the things that society asks them to do. While overt racists may be overrepresented on police forces, the average white officer’s beliefs are not all that different from those of the average white person in their local community. According to Goff, tests of racial bias reveal somewhat higher rates of prejudice among officers than the general population, but the effect size tends to be swamped by demographic and regional effects. “If you live in a racist city, that’s going to matter more for how racist your law enforcement is ... than looking at the difference between law enforcement and your neighbors,” he told me. In this sense, the rising diversity of America’s officer corps should make a real difference. If you draw from a demographically different pool of recruits, one with overall lower levels of racial bias, then there should be less of a problem with racism on the force. There’s some data to back this up. Pew’s 2017 survey of officers found that Black officers and female officers were considerably more sympathetic to anti-police brutality protesters than white ones. A 2016 paper on officer-involved killings of Black people, from Yale’s Joscha Legewie and Columbia’s Jeffrey Fagan, found that departments with a larger percentage of Black officers had lower rates of killings of Black people. But scholars caution that diversity will not, on its own, solve policing’s problems. In Pew’s survey, 60 percent of Hispanic and white officers said their departments had “excellent” or “good” relations with the local Black community, while only 32 percent of Black officers said the same. The hierarchy of policing remains extremely white — across cities, departmental brass and police unions tend to be disproportionately white relative to the rank-and-file. And the existing culture in many departments pushes nonwhite officers to try and fit in with what’s been established by the white hierarchy. “We have seen that officers of color actually face increased pressure to fit into the existing culture of policing and may go out of their way to align themselves with traditional police tactics,” says Shannon Portillo, a scholar of bureaucratic culture at the University of Kansas-Edwards. There’s a deeper problem than mere representation. The very nature of policing, both police ideology and the nuts-and-bolts nature of the job, can bring out the worst in people — especially when it comes to deep-seated racial prejudices and stereotypes. The intersection of commonly held stereotypes with police ideology can prime officers for abusive behavior, especially when they’re patrolling majority-Black neighborhoods where residents have long-standing grievances against the cops. Some kind of incident with a Black citizen is certain to set off a confrontation; officers will eventually feel the need to escalate well beyond what seems necessary or even acceptable from the outside to protect themselves. “The drug dealer — if he says ‘fuck you’ one day, it’s like getting punked on the playground. You have to go through that every day,” says Moskos, the former Baltimore officer. “You’re not allowed to get punked as a cop, not just because of your ego but because of the danger of it.” The problems with ideology and prejudice are dramatically intensified by the demanding nature of the policing profession. Officers work a difficult job for long hours, called upon to handle responsibilities ranging from mental health intervention to spousal dispute resolution. While on shift, they are constantly anxious, searching for the next threat or potential arrest. Stress gets to them even off the job; PTSD and marital strife are common problems. It’s a kind of negative feedback loop: The job makes them stressed and nervous, which damages their mental health and personal relationships, which raises their overall level of stress and makes the job even more taxing. According to Goff, it’s hard to overstate how much more likely people are to be racist under these circumstances. When you put people under stress, they tend to make snap judgments rooted in their basic instincts. For police officers, raised in a racist society and socialized in a violent work atmosphere, that makes racist behavior inevitable. “The mission and practice of policing is not aligned with what we know about how to keep people from acting on the kinds of implicit biases and mental shortcuts,” he says. “You could design a job where that’s not how it works. We have not chosen to do that for policing.” Across the United States, we have created a system that makes disproportionate police targeting of Black citizens an inevitability. Officers don’t need to be especially racist as compared to the general population for discrimination to recur over and over; it’s the nature of the police profession, the beliefs that permeate it, and the situations in which officers find themselves that lead them to act in racist ways. This reality helps us understand why the current protests have been so forceful: they are an expression of long-held rage against an institution that Black communities experience less as a protection force and more as a sort of military occupation. David Dee Delgado/Getty Images Police officers often represent more of a military occupation than a protection force for Black communities. In one landmark project, a team including Yale’s Meares and Hopkins’s Vesla Weaver facilitated more than 850 conversations about policing among residents of six different cities, finding a pervasive sense of police lawlessness among residents of highly policed Black communities. Residents believe that police see them as subhuman or animal, that interactions with officers invariably end with arrests and/or physical assaults, and that the Constitution’s protections against police abuse don’t apply to Black people. “[It’s often said that] if you don’t have anything on you, just agree to a search and everything will be okay. Let me tell you, that’s not what happens,” Weaver tells me, summarizing the beliefs of her research subjects. “What actually happens is that you’re bound to get beat up, you’re bound to get dragged to the station. The police can search you for whatever. We don’t get due process, we don’t get restitution — this is what we live by.” Police don’t treat whole communities like this because they’re born worse or more evil than civilians. It’s better to understand the majority of officers as ordinary Americans who are thrown into a system that conditions them to be violent and to treat Black people, in particular, as the enemy. While some departments are better than others at ameliorating this problem, there’s not a city in the country that appears to have solved it entirely. Rizer summarizes the problem by telling me about one new officer’s experience in Baltimore. “This was a great young man,” Rizer says. “He joined the Baltimore Police Department because he wanted to make a difference.” Six months after this man graduated from the academy, Rizer checked in on him to see how he was doing. It wasn’t good. “They’re animals. All of them,” Rizer recalls the young officer telling him. “The cops, the people I patrol, everybody. They’re just fucking animals.” This man was, in Rizer’s mind, “the embodiment of what a good police officer should have been.” Some time after their conversation, he quit the force — pushed out by a system that takes people in and breaks them, on both sides of the law. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
Why China Wants Trump to Win
Like everyone else across the country and the world, China’s leaders are likely watching the contentious presidential campaign unfolding in the United States and anxiously wondering what it means for them. After their four-year rumble with Donald Trump, the Chinese should be counting the months, weeks, days, and minutes to the November election, hoping a (more pliable) Democrat takes over the White House, right? That’s certainly what Trump believes. The Chinese, he tweeted, “are desperate to have Sleepy Joe Biden win the presidential race so they can continue to rip-off the United States, as they have done for decades, until I came along!”That’s not necessarily true. From Beijing’s perspective, while a Democratic presidency may restore a more predictable form of American diplomacy, that may not best serve Chinese interests. In fact, four more years of Trump—though likely packed with annoyances and disputes—might present tantalizing opportunities for China to expand its influence around East Asia and the world.Of course, we can’t know with certainty what outcome China’s senior cadres prefer, or if they even agree among themselves. No candidate should expect an endorsement from People’s Daily. Still, there are clues. In a highly unusual comment, the former Chinese trade negotiator Long Yongtu reportedly told a Shenzhen conference late last year, “We want Trump to be reelected; we would be glad to see that happen.” The president’s tweets make him “easy to read,” Long said, and thus “the best choice in an opponent for negotiations.” In May, Hu Xijin, the outspoken editor of the Communist Party–-run newspaper Global Times, tweeted at Trump that the Chinese “wish for your reelection because you can make America eccentric and thus hateful for the world. You help promote unity in China.” Hu added that “Chinese netizens call you ‘Jianguo,’ meaning ‘help to construct China.’” Long and Hu may not be speaking for the Beijing leadership, but no Chinese official or state-media figure would risk making such statements in public if their views were taboo in the inner circle of power.What gives? Many Americans believe (erroneously) that Trump is the first president to stand up to China. After all, his administration has slapped tariffs on China’s exports, sanctioned some of its most important companies and officials, and pressured Beijing to play fair on trade—and the Chinese want more? Sure, Beijing would much rather have avoided a costly trade spat with its largest customer. But Trump may not strike as much terror in the hearts of Beijing’s top cadres as you might expect.“He has some gut feelings that China doesn’t like, but he has gut feelings China does not really mind,” Minxin Pei, a specialist in Chinese politics at Claremont McKenna College, told me. “He does not really see China as an ideological adversary. Trump can be persuaded if the price is right.”[Read: Don't believe the China hype]For China, that’s key. Although Trump has sometimes acted on political and human-rights issues Beijing finds highly sensitive—most recently, signing legislation to impose sanctions for the Chinese government’s abusive treatment of minority Uighurs—he personally has often appeared disinterested, even dismissive. In a new book, Trump’s former national security adviser John Bolton claimed that Trump told Chinese President Xi Jinping over dinner in Osaka that the detention camps Beijing was building to control the Uighur community were the right thing to do. Trump also recently admitted that he delayed sanctions on officials involved with the camps to smooth negotiations for his coveted trade deal with China.Trump has shown similar ambivalence toward Beijing’s intensifying crackdown on prodemocracy protesters in Hong Kong. The president promised stiff penalties to counter Beijing’s latest move—imposing a national-security law on Hong Kong aimed at wiping out remaining resistance—and his secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, has made bellicose statements and threats over the move. But Trump’s commitment to the Hong Kong cause has often seemed lukewarm. Last year, as millions marched in the city, he sidestepped supporting them, at one point even mouthing the Communist Party’s line by calling the protests “riots” and a purely Chinese matter. “That’s between Hong Kong and that’s between China, because Hong Kong is a part of China,” he said last August.Even on trade—the subject featured most often in his tweets—Trump has proved weak-kneed. Chinese negotiators deftly convinced him to push off discussion of issues most critical to American business—state programs that heavily subsidize Chinese competitors, for example—to a “phase two” of talks, which have yet to materialize. Instead, Trump settled for a narrower “phase one” deal, signed in January, that was centered mainly on large Chinese purchases of American farm produce, but included little to alter Beijing’s discriminatory practices.Trump has done even less to contain China’s growing clout on the world stage. His administration’s disdain for international institutions has ceded influence within them to China—most notably, with his recent announcement of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the World Health Organization. While Pompeo has repeatedly bashed Xi’s pet diplomatic program, the infrastructure-building Belt and Road Initiative, as a dangerous trap to ensnare unsuspecting poor nations, the administration hasn’t bothered offering an alternative. Trump has more aggressively contested Beijing’s controversial claim to nearly the entire South China Sea by increasing the frequency of naval missions sent through the disputed waters to uphold freedom of navigation, but he hasn’t followed that up with any consistent diplomacy in Southeast Asia, and he himself has generally ignored the issue.“China’s leadership is pretty confident that, while they haven’t won the South China Sea, they are certainly winning,” Gregory Poling, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic & International Studies in Washington, told me. Preventing that will require a collective international effort led by the United States, but “you can be pretty certain that is not going to happen under the Trump administration,” Poling said.[Read: Hong Kong is a colony once more]Here lies the main reason Beijing may not mind another Trump term: His style of foreign policy—unilateral, personalized, and fixated on dollars-and-cents matters—has severely weakened America’s traditional system of alliances. While President Barack Obama attempted a “pivot” to Asia, Trump has taken only occasional interest in the region, especially beyond trade and his fleeting dalliances with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un. Beijing has surely noted that Trump has strained relations with America’s two closest allies in the region—South Korea and Japan—with his persistent and petty squabbles over trade and the costs of U.S. military bases in those countries.That suits Beijing just fine. As Washington steps back, China tries to lurch forward. Beijing has become more and more assertive over the course of the Trump presidency. The Chinese propaganda machine is capitalizing on Trump’s woeful response to the coronavirus pandemic to mock the president and American democracy, raise doubts about U.S. global leadership, and offer up China as a more responsible world power. The Global Times’ Hu is having a field day with Trump’s struggles, pouring forth an almost daily barrage of jibes. “You have no idea how to control epidemic,” he tweeted about Trump in June. “If the grumpy America were someone in life, how nasty the person is.” In another, he simply proclaimed, “Washington is rather stupid.” China’s government, with its superior virus-busting skills, “bolstered international confidence in beating the virus,” Liu Xiaoming, China’s ambassador to the United Kingdom recently argued. (Though it is far from clear whether these comments are having a tangible impact on global public opinion, many of China’s diplomats and officials certainly see them as effective.)From China’s standpoint, Trump is not so much tougher as he is different. Previous presidents tried to pressure China within the rules of the current global order; Trump prefers to act outside of that system. For instance, his predecessors turned to the World Trade Organization to challenge China’s unfair trade practices, filing 21 complaints between 2004 and early 2017 (with a strong record of success). The Trump administration, openly disparaging of the WTO, has submitted only two complaints, one of which was a response to China’s retaliation against Trump’s own tariffs. Whereas previous presidents have sought to win over other powers, notably in Europe and East Asia, with similar interests in forcing China to play by the rules, this White House has alienated much of the European Union by threatening hefty tariffs, criticized NATO, and launched personal attacks on some of the West’s most influential leaders. In Asia, meanwhile, he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a pact aimed at solidifying American ties to its allies.In that sense, a president with a more “normal” American foreign policy—in which Washington works closely with its friends and stands behind international norms and institutions—isn’t good for China. The Democratic nominee, Joe Biden, has already vowed to forge a coalition of countries to isolate and confront China. “When we join together with fellow democracies, our strength more than doubles,” Biden argued. “China can’t afford to ignore more than half the global economy.” That, and not Trump, is the stuff of Chinese nightmares.Whoever wins in November, policy toward China isn’t likely to soften. A near consensus has formed in Washington, across the political aisle, that China is a strategic threat to the U.S., and there may be no way to turn back the clock to the more halcyon days of patient American engagement. “There are far fewer doves left, even on the left,” Poling, of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, said. “A Democrat who comes in now is not going to be an Obama Democrat when it comes to China. That is no longer politically possible.”Claremont McKenna’s Pei speculated that some in Beijing may still prefer a Biden victory, if only hoping for a pause in tensions as the Democrats, at least at first, focus on their domestic priorities. But the Chinese, he said, might also come to regret it. “The Trump people believe that the U.S. alone can deal China a fatal blow,” Pei said. “Democrats would likely reach out to allies to form a much more united front against China. If the Democrats succeed, China would be in a much more difficult situation in the long run.”
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Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) (2nd L) is joined by (from left) Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Sen. Ben Sasse (R-NE) for a news conference to unveil the GOP’s legislation to address racial disparities in law enforcement at the US Capitol on June 17, 2020, in Washington, DC. | Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images “I’m a believer in divine intervention. ... I was made Black on purpose and as a person of conservative construct.” Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, the only Black Republican serving in the US Senate, has an additional, unenviable task beyond his usual legislative portfolio: talking to his colleagues, and Republicans in general, about the issues of race and policing with which he has an intimate familiarity. “I, like many other Black Americans, have found myself choking on my own fears and disbelief when faced with the realities of an encounter with law enforcement,” he wrote in an op-ed in USA Today earlier this year, detailing experiences that began when he was 21 and have continued into his time in Congress. Amid the protests over the police killing of George Floyd, he delivered a similar message on the Senate floor, describing a year in which he was stopped by the police seven times. “Just because you do not feel the pain, the anguish of another, does not mean it does not exist,” he told his colleagues. Scott also led the Republican legislative response to Floyd’s death: the JUSTICE Act, the Senate Republican bill meant to address the crisis. The bill, which focused on data collection and called for examining what at-risk communities need most, was blocked by Senate Democrats, who argued it didn’t go far enough. Scott is one of the most interesting people in politics: the first Black senator elected from a Southern state since 1881, the only Black American to have served in both chambers of Congress. There are only two Black Republicans in Congress — Scott and Rep. Will Hurd — and only three Black senators of either party. Sen. Scott and I talked about police reform, qualified immunity for officers and why eliminating it is a “poison pill” for Republicans, race and racism, and our own family experiences of bad policing. He told me Floyd’s death had launched a “tectonic shift on the underlying issue” of police brutality. “I hope that we don’t miss this opportunity” to address it, he said. This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Jane Coaston I want to talk about the JUSTICE Act and some of the criminal justice reform efforts that you’ve been helping to spearhead. But I wanted to start out with a more general question, because I’ve been focused on this issue for a long time and focused on how conservatives have talked about criminal justice reform for a long time. As a senator, as a person involved in this discussion, what do you see as the biggest issue in policing in America? Sen. Tim Scott I would say the biggest issue in policing in America is probably integrity and/or character, from my perspective. Character in law enforcement produces excellent results. The lack of it produces situations that we all come to regret. Jane Coaston Why is data collection — like requiring state and local agencies to provide data on use of force and no-knock warrants — so central to the JUSTICE Act? Sen. Tim Scott I think the more information you have, the better your results, because then you’re sending your resources in the best direction possible. If you look at our bill versus the House bill, what you’ll find is on data collection. We want [data] from serious bodily injury to death, so as to be able to move in directed grants to the places where we need it the most. Ultimately, what both bills recognize is that you cannot change local law enforcement by executive fiat. One of the reasons why in our bill, as well as in the House bill, [they] ban the chokehold on the federal level and not a local level is because we can’t. And so you want to have the data that gets the best [information] for the citizens that the law enforcement agencies on the local level patrol. Jane Coaston So as you mentioned, policing is a local concern, which makes it challenging to take federal action. But what actions do you think such data collection leads to in the future? Sen. Tim Scott I think that proper data collection leads to the best practices that other agencies around the country will be able to adopt. One of the things I would love to have is the best practices from around the country on the variations of the use of force boards. And then you come to the conclusion that here is a force review board that can bring about the best results. When that happens, I think you change the culture of law enforcement, as opposed to almost like a knee-jerk reaction on so many topics. I would rather start collecting enough information so that we are directing resources. My example is that probably more than two-thirds of departments today have already banned the chokehold, so the truth is the more complete the data becomes, the easier it is for us to cite for local departments to end things like the chokehold. And I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re having success now without even passing legislation. I have been advocating on behalf of [body cameras] for five years. And the truth is if we had five years of video stored and accessible, there might be more attention on a number of issues that without that those videos we just don’t know about. So a part of data collection is collecting the videos of these instances and having them made available so that we can do something about it. Jane Coaston Part of the bill is for the establishment of a commission on the social status of Black men and boys. And I have a couple of questions on that. First, why do you think it was important to focus on a community that is arguably overpoliced in many ways and underpoliced in many ways, and not on the people doing the policing? Police brutality and police violence is a cross-racial experience. There have been numerous white and Latino people who have been, in my view, unjustifiably killed by police. So why the focus on this particular community and not on the police doing the policing, so to speak? Sen. Tim Scott We actually do both. So we have the commission on the social status of Black men and Black boys, because we look at the groups in our nation — Native Americans and Blacks have the highest poverty rate of any racial group in the country. So we’re not just studying it for the outcomes of law enforcement. We’re trying to break the pipeline from a criminal justice perspective, the pipeline from a poverty perspective. We established, with the support of the NAACP and other civil rights organizations and police organizations, the National Criminal Justice Commission, and that will study police behavior. And frankly, in South Carolina in 2015, there was a white teenager, I think he was 19 years old, that was shot by police. And so you’re right, the issues are not simply issues with minority communities, this is an issue that really does cross all racial boundaries, but that’s one of the reasons why we have the National Criminal Justice Commission. Jane Coaston Writers like Chris Arnade and others have argued that what many communities experience is simultaneous underpolicing and overpolicing. So what we learned from the Department of Justice after Ferguson was that you had people who committed small offenses, like a broken taillight or turning without signaling, and received big penalties because those require big fines. But then if you call 911, no one responds. Do you think that there’s a way for Republicans to lead on this issue and talk about this kind of simultaneous challenge? Sen. Tim Scott I think this is a way for people of good conscience to lead on the issue, not just Republicans. I say that because all of the issues that you’re describing are issues that are literally local issues and most local governments are nonpartisan. And so your local city council, your mayor, can confront that issue faster than we can from the federal level. But I do think that it’s important for us on the federal level to study the policies and the practices. We can do that through our commission. I would say that no doubt about it, when you look at the tickets written, sometimes you see a disproportionate share [of Black people being ticketed]. All you have to do is go to traffic court around the country and see what you see. So I get your points there. But the bottom line is it’s an issue that Republicans can address, but it’s not actually a Republican or Democrat issue. These are happening in communities around the nation. And most often, those communities are not run by Republicans; they are either run by Democrats or they’re nonpartisan. We should tackle the issue at which level with the government that’s closest to the people. And that would be your municipal and county governments. But we certainly will continue to keep a focus on that, because that’s certainly my personal experiences, part of the reason why I’ve been [working on this] for quite a while. Jane Coaston You’ve talked about being pulled over numerous times with your Senate pin. And I know that’s something my dad’s dealt with it, you know, getting pulled over because he was driving a Miata and that didn’t seem like the right car for him to own. Sen. Tim Scott Exactly, your dad’s experience is my experience. I remember I had my Infiniti G35 sports coupe, all black, tinted windows, four cops surrounding it because the car was “too nice for the neighborhood.” But frankly, when your grandfather loves his neighbors, doesn’t want to move, you go see him wherever he lives, no matter what kind of car you drive. Jane Coaston I wanted to ask one more question about the JUSTICE Act, which is that it contains a provision focused on asking the Department of Justice to create a deescalation training curriculum. Now, Baltimore has seen success with such a program, but because most states leave trainings up to individual police departments, deescalation isn’t commonly taught, which I think puts a lot of people at risk. Because we’ve seen time and time again, these incidents happen so quickly and an incident that wasn’t threatening can quickly become threatening. Why do you think these trainings haven’t been more widely utilized before? Sen. Tim Scott Out of the several hundred law enforcement departments in South Carolina, 118 of those departments have less than 10 people. So when you have fewer than 10 people in a local department, your training, I would imagine, is going to be quite limited. It’s one of the reasons why I focus on providing more grant dollars so that we can induce or compel the behavior that I think is in the best interest of the citizens within those jurisdictions. So in South Carolina, we have one [police]academy. And so some of those departments that are too small to train their officers themselves would then be able to access grants and resources. I think it’s a smart approach realizing that most departments are not like Chicago, Detroit, Charleston, North Charleston, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Cincinnati; most offices are much smaller, and their training budgets are infinitely smaller. And so what I hope to do is take the intelligent approach: figure out the problems, work back to the solution, because that’s the fastest way for me to actually help the departments that are willing. Jane Coaston I want to step back a little bit. How do you think that your peers have shifted on the issues of policing since you joined the Senate in 2013? Sen. Tim Scott When I went to the floor to talk about Walter Scott and then, of course, the shooting in June of 2015, [there was] a lot of sympathy on the floor from Republicans and Democrats but no action from my friends on the other side or my side. What I saw instantly after [George Floyd’s death] was a nation’s response to it, as almost like a tectonic shift on the underlying issue that some of us had been advocating for the last number of years came into focus. I hope that we don’t miss this opportunity that is right in front of them because we’re playing for the ability to write the bill you want after the election. Jane Coaston You’ve been a leading steward for the GOP on issues of race, whether it’s on judicial nominations or even on just talking about your own experiences. Do you feel in some ways responsible for shepherding your colleagues on some of these issues? I know that’s something I’ve had, even at Vox, of just feeling like I need to walk people through ideas that they may not have had the chance to experience personally. Sen. Tim Scott I’m a believer in divine intervention. I believe that the Good Lord himself designed every one of us, and I was made Black on purpose and factually as a person of conservative construct, which I think is, by the way, [similar to] the vast majority of Black people in America. I would say that the ability for me to communicate my personal experience to a broader audience is helpful. When you look at the Senate, I am the only Black Republican, but there are only two Black Democrats in the United States Senate. Jane Coaston You noted that many African Americans hold, I would say, small-c conservative views. They might be more socially conservative or actually more economically conservative. Why do you think that has not translated to support for the Republican Party? Sen. Tim Scott That’s a good question. I think there are several reasons. Number one was the Southern Strategy from the 1970s and early ’80s where you saw the Republican Party use race, at least to me, in a divisive manner. But I would say that when you look at the actual history, we all know about Abraham Lincoln, but frankly during the civil rights era, more Republicans voted for the civil rights-era legislation than Democrats. So we lost a marketing war in the 1970s and ’80s, and we never regained any prominence. I think that’s why the history of who we are and how we vote is critically important as it relates to where we go from here. Black people are very diverse. There’s no monolithic group of thinkers in the Black community. It doesn’t exist. Jane Coaston So going back to talking about the JUSTICE Act, you said that limiting qualified immunity was a poison pill for Republicans. Why? Sen. Tim Scott The bottom line is everybody has a core constituency and our core constituency includes law enforcement officers. That’s typical for Republicans, and frankly, from a moral hazard perspective, most of us as conservatives are very supportive of law enforcement. So not wanting to be stereotyped as a Black man, I don’t knock on the stereotype of officers as being evil and or racist by default. One of the things that I saw in qualified immunity, and one of the reasons why [ending it] could be seen easily as a poison pill, is if you are going to go after character-driven, highly competent law enforcement officers, with the goal of making them more civil, giving them a higher level of responsibility from a civil perspective, you’re actually going to end up in situations where fewer officers are patrolling, as you noted earlier, some of the more challenging communities. And so if you want to have a conversation about restitution and recourse under the umbrella of qualified immunity, I’ve actually said several times, count me in to that conversation, because that’s not about an officer; that’s about a culture, and the way that you make a culture more responsible is making the threshold for suing cities and departments easier because of the egregious acts of individuals. When you make it all about the individual officer, you run good cops out, you make it far more difficult to get anything accomplished, but if the actual conversation is around restitution and recourse, you can change the behavior of all officers, not simply one. If that’s not enough, then I don’t think we’ll get anything done. But if you need 99 percent of what you want in order to make a deal, I guess we’ll just leave the community that’s most vulnerable, vulnerable, because 99 percent is too high of a price to pay. Jane Coaston Do you think that there’s also some people just waiting for the Supreme Court to handle the issue — because the Supreme Court is the entity that invented qualified immunity? Sen. Tim Scott Qualified immunity is really the result of judicial rulings, not the law. So we’ve seen Justice Clarence Thomas and others speaking out about the nature of qualified immunity as we see it. I think you’ll have lots of rumblings for many years. We learned in 2016 that elections have consequences. So in 2020, those consequences might be a majority of people in a position to usher in a brand new approach to police reform that we can’t get done. Now, I would certainly hate to wait seven months to get something done, or you can get 80 percent of what you want now. And if you do win, you can get the other 20 percent, but let’s take baby steps for the communities that desperately need it now and not worry about who gets the victory. The victory goes to the community, not to Democrats or Republicans, but that’s just not how the game is played right now. Jane Coaston We’re in the midst of a very strange moment in which this issue that’s so important, it has been so important to folks like you and other people who’ve been working on this for nearly a decade. We’re also dealing with a pandemic and we’re also in the midst of an election year. So on the subject of criminal justice reform, what comes next in this conversation? Sen. Tim Scott The impetus for change in the criminal justice conversation should start with how do we break the pipeline to incarceration. And to me that starts with education, that starts with poverty, that starts with an awareness and a recognition that we have to get this right 10 years earlier than we are now and not dealing with the outcomes when the cell opens and the inmate leaves. Getting those conversations going is the primary objective, from my perspective, in the next wave of criminal justice conversations. And then the private sector, and I am encouraged by the number of private sector companies that have gone toward “ban the box”, which I think is better done in the private sector. So I would once again like to champion causes [where] we can produce meaningful change in reasonable time. Support Vox’s explanatory journalism Every day at Vox, we aim to answer your most important questions and provide you, and our audience around the world, with information that has the power to save lives. Our mission has never been more vital than it is in this moment: to empower you through understanding. Vox’s work is reaching more people than ever, but our distinctive brand of explanatory journalism takes resources — particularly during a pandemic and an economic downturn. Your financial contribution will not constitute a donation, but it will enable our staff to continue to offer free articles, videos, and podcasts at the quality and volume that this moment requires. Please consider making a contribution to Vox today.
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