New York City subway shooting in Brooklyn on April 12 miraculously
resulted in no
although about 30 people suffered injuries, including 10 from gunshot
wounds. Within hours, a massive manhunt for the shooter was underway,
but in the end it was the suspect who tipped police off and turned
Still, that has not stopped politicians and corporate media outlets
like the Washington
and others from using the shooting to shore up police talking points
and implicitly make the case for more police funding.
Vitale, a professor of sociology and coordinator of the Policing and
Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College, has followed the politics
of law enforcement for years. The author of The
End of Policing—a
book that Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) inadvertently helped
turn into a bestseller
during the recent Supreme Court confirmation hearings of Ketanji
Brown Jackson—explained to me in an interview
that “we’ve seen a big increase in the number of police
on the subway with the new mayor, Eric Adams, and that did not play a
role in preventing this [shooting] from happening.”
New York police, with all the resources of modern technology,
surveillance and weaponry at its disposal, had to embarrassingly turn
to the public
for help. “We routinely overestimate the effectiveness of
policing as a solution to our problems,” said Vitale.
the country, Democratic Party leaders like Mayor Adams are taking
“tough-on-crime” stances, forgetting the horrors of
racist police brutality that had seemed so apparent to the entire
nation only two years ago when millions of Americans protested,
angered by the videotaped police killing of George Floyd in
Francisco Mayor London Breed, who in 2020 suggested
cutting $120 million
from her city’s police budget, ultimately decided to increase
Earlier this year she again requested millions more in supplemental
but then quietly
her request after gleeful coverage by right-wing news outlets about
reversal on the issue.
Los Angeles, mayoral hopeful Karen Bass, known as a staunch
progressive, has also decided to change
on police funding. Bass is running
neck and neck
with billionaire real estate developer Rick
and may be feeling pressure from Caruso’s overt pro-police
Mayor Lori Lightfoot last fall also proposed
increased police funding
after having earlier taken a position to cut funds.
President Joe Biden, who has stated more vociferously than most of
his fellow Democrats that he does
with the idea of defunding police departments, has unsurprisingly
proposed a massive
increase in police funding
in his federal budget for the upcoming fiscal year.
Adams, Breed, Bass, and Lightfoot, all Democrats, are citing rising
crime levels as reasons for increasing police funding, perplexing
left-leaning voters. The Intercept’s Akela
says that this pivot is the result of Democrats’ failure to
make progress on gun control.
there is no evidence that increased policing actually reduces
violence. Indeed, it is quite the contrary. Most researchers and
journalists attempt to correlate increased policing with a reduction
in crime. But few ask whether increased policing reduces violence.
If police are the perpetrators of violence, then increased policing
results in increased violence, as a 2021
by Community Resource Hub and Interrupting Criminalization found.
is related to many factors, and policing is not one of them. Vitale
draws a connection between wealth disparities and the criminalization
of poverty, saying that Democratic mayors “continue to insist
that all local government can do is subsidize the already wealthy in
hopes that they’ll be competitive on the global stage.”
In turn, he says, “this has just produced tremendous inequality
and budget cuts for essential social services.” The issues that
“have resulted from that have been turned into ‘policeable’
problems, and this has just created a vicious cycle.”
have shown that when there are ample resources for community services
such as mental health care, crime goes down. Indeed, in the case of
the New York subway shooting, the suspect has a history
of mental health struggles. If cities responded to mental health
episodes with counselors instead of police, we might well see a
reduction in overall violence.
fact, the city of Denver,
did just that. Over a period of six months, Denver city authorities
dispatched mental health teams instead of police in situations that
warranted such intervention. The experiment was judged a success
given that 750 such calls resulted in zero arrests. In one incident,
a man who was hallucinating had no shoes on in extremely cold
weather. The team that was dispatched gave him a pair of shoes as a
simple first step toward helping him.
the corporate media has relentlessly fed the notion that rising crime
is an indication that more police are necessary. The fact that recent
of high-end luxury stores have gotten so much publicity—from
disproportionate media coverage—has fueled the myth that crime
is out of control and that more police are needed, even though
overall crime levels are not
as they are being made out to be. Critics have dubbed this sort of
media coverage as “copaganda,”
or pro-cop propaganda.
are a lot of factors that drive this conflation of policing and
public safety” and the idea that “policing is the only
tool that’s available to keep us safe,” said Vitale. One
factor is that covering crime and policing offers “sensationalism”
in headlines that drives up corporate media ratings. Additionally,
according to Vitale, “The news media have always cozied up to
police to be a source of information.”
the most important driver of copaganda is what Vitale calls “a
shared worldview” between corporate media, liberal elites, and
police. This view is that “the problems of American society…
[are] problems of individual and group moral failure that are best
addressed through punitive interventions.”
stark example of this can be found in Politico, once a digital
upstart and pioneer of “new media,” today squarely part
of the corporate
about the Los Angeles mayor’s race, headlined “Crime
upstages progressive priorities in Los Angeles mayor’s race,”
featured a large photograph of a homeless encampment by the beach.
The photo made it clear that unhoused people, in the outlet’s
view, are a source of crime.
of seeing the large spike in homelessness as a symptom of an unequal
economy, the phenomenon is being used by politicians and the media
alike to justify increased policing. In fact, as Politico points out
at the very bottom of its story, “crime rates are far below
historic lows and actually dipped in 2020 before the current uptick.”
Shouldn’t that have been the story’s leading point?
sort of coverage is a far cry from the nearly unanimous mainstream
media support for the Black Lives Matter movement two years ago. That
movement called for, and continues to support, a redirection of
police funding toward community services for the unhoused, those
struggling with mental health, unemployment, hunger and other social
problems caused by the current capitalist system.
mainstream media, once they had an understanding of what it was we
were really talking about in the summer of 2020,” said Vitale,
“quickly realized that they were diametrically opposed to it
and have sort of systematically excluded these ideas from mainstream
admit that social problems are caused by the failures of capitalism
would undermine the credibility of the very system that political and
media elites rely on. A police-centric worldview preserves a system
that is designed to produce unequal outcomes.
commentary was produced by Economy
a project of the Independent Media Institute.