How do you write a report about police tactics in response to protests over police racism without ever mentioning racism in your report?
There was just “insufficient training,” we’re told. The police “mishandled” the response. There were “major law enforcement agencies across the country” in total “disarray.”
That’s all it was. Really.
We get to relive scenes of Philadelphia cops spraying tear gas at peaceful protesters who “who had nowhere to go and no way to breathe.” We hear of police in Los Angeles who “were issued highly technical foam-projectile launchers for crowd control,” with no training on how to use them. And Chicago police officers who were “given arrest kits so old that the plastic handcuffs were decayed or broken.”
From the get go, we’re made to understand that now that the The New York Times is on the case, “the full scope of the country’s policing response is becoming clearer.” That police officers nationwide were “poorly trained, heavily militarized and stunningly unprepared.” Their “mistakes transcended geography, staffing levels and financial resources.”
And implicitly, that nothing about the way police responded to Black Lives Matter protesters that had anything to do with racism.
And you better be damn sure that the Times did its homework on this:
The New York Times reviewed reports by outside investigators, watchdogs and consultants analyzing the police response to protests in nine major cities, including four of the nation’s largest. The Times also reviewed after-action examinations by police departments in five other major cities.
There are disturbing pictures. Lots of cool. excised graphics and snippets of revealing internal memos.
It’s a real scandal. The unpreparedness, I mean. Who could imagine our men in blue being so woefully unprepared?
It was really all just a colossal blunder, as the Times patiently explains. They could have done so much better. It was just an “extraordinary law enforcement challenge, experts say, one that few departments were prepared to tackle.” The demonstrations were “large, constant and unpredictable.” If only they’d been better trained, better prepared, they might not have “behaved aggressively,” wearing riot gear and spraying tear gas or “less-lethal” projectiles in indiscriminate ways, appearing to target peaceful demonstrators and displaying little effort to “de-escalate tensions.”
They just didn’t plan well. They “lacked resources devoted to intelligence and outreach that would have put them in better touch with their communities,” you understand.
“American police simply were not prepared for the challenge that they faced in terms of planning, logistics, training and police command-and-control supervision,” said Chuck Wexler, the executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, a nonprofit that advises departments on management and tactics.
It’s all something that could have been remedied—with better planning! Maybe then they wouldn’t have “improperly fired projectiles that hit or nearly hit heads and faces,” because that was sure improper, we admit that.
You have to realize (as the Times’ subheading reminds us), “To be precise takes practice.”
For years, only Los Angeles police who were certified and frequently trained to use a 40-millimeter “less lethal” weapon — usually loaded with hard-foam projectiles — could use it to control crowds.
As a consequence, those so-poorly trained police “may have had insufficient training in how to use the weapons fired into dynamic crowds.”
Most Portland police officers had not received “any recent skills training in crowd management, de-escalation, procedural justice, crisis prevention, or other critical skills for preventing or minimizing the use of force,” the city’s report found.
Let us emphasize, again and again: It was all a failure of training. That’s all. As another Times subheading tells us, “No one knew who was in charge.” They were supposed to have “mass arrests kits,” but those kits were sadly outdated. Who knew?
After all, the Chicago police had sent an email requesting 3,000 more pairs of flex cuffs, but by golly, that email went unanswered!
Thirty-eight paragraphs into a story examining law enforcement’s heavy-handed overreaction to these protests—protests with the very purpose of highlighting racial disparities in policing— and The New York Times “in-depth” report on the police response includes one small, oblique snippet containing the word “racism” or “race.”
The reviews did not examine protesters’ complaints of racial bias in policing. But activists in Indianapolis told reviewers they wanted an acknowledgment by the department that systemic racism exists. The Portland Police Bureau said it was planning anti-racism training for all officers.
Gosh, you’d think that racism might be a factor in the way these protests were handled.
You’d never know it from this report. Not one word about how the nature of the protests themselves may have impacted law enforcement’s response.
No, it was all just poor planning. The cops will do better next time.
Thanks so much for your report, New York Times.