Sunday, December 29, 2019

Some Nuanced Thoughts on Protecting Jews via Police

NBC News, which as a mainstream media source Is Not Covering Violence Against Jews(tm), has an interesting article up discussing how the Jewish community in New York is assessing calls to increase police presence in Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods as a means of combating rising antisemitic violence:
Audrey Sasson, executive director of Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, or JFREJ, a left-wing "movement to dismantle racism and economic exploitation" based in New York City, said deployment of more police would be an understandable reaction — and one that would worry her.

"Of course, we all need to feel safe. That's fundamental, and there is no arguing with that," Sasson said. "But how do we get there?"

Sasson said that her group is multiracial, as is the Jewish community at large, and that many Jewish people wouldn't feel safer with a greater police presence.  
"Right now, the tools we have for safety [are] more police and more guns," Sasson said, "but the question for me is how can we build other tools?" 
Those tools, according to Sasson and JFREJ, include making sure the Jewish community is in a coalition with other targeted communities, having a better system for reporting violence that doesn't rely so heavily on police, creating community-led transformative justice projects and implementing non-punitive and restorative-oriented approaches to violence. 
Sasson acknowledged that the vision is a long-term one, and she does not discount the desire for more police from people living in fear after "the whole holiday was marked by attacks." [emphasis added -- DS]
This is good, and I dare say snaps my long streak wherein everything I've ever read from JFREJ is neither bad nor good but "meh" (Mazel Tov!). The reason I like it is because:
(a) It does not disparage those Jews who desire police protection in the immediate term, or suggest that it reflects a failure of solidarity on their part to desire this solution;
 (b) It acknowledges that viable alternatives to police protection need to be built -- that is, they do not exist now -- and that this construction project is has a long-term time horizon attached to it.
Those twin acknowledgments are, I think necessary if the critique of "more police" is to have ethical traction. Without them, the objection to more policing sounds like a demand that Jews place our lives in the hand of vague feel-good bromides about "community building" or some such that have all the practical bite of a consciousness-raising bed-in project -- and if we don't accede to the demand we're basically giving into our inner-fascists. I think Sasson is read properly in tandem with Eric Ward:
"You can't tell a community that is being physically assaulted that they can't increase law enforcement response but then offer them nothing in response," Ward said. 
Still, Ward, who has studied anti-Semitism extensively, acknowledged that it's not that simple. 
"We know increased policing brings increased racial profiling," he said, adding that high police presence to protect Jews "is likely to be seen as feeding into black and Jewish tension."
Ward is, I think, making the same point as Sasson, just with the opposite emphasis. Telling Jews "how dare you ask for more police" when there isn't any practical, immediate-term alternative isn't going to be received well, and reasonably so. That's true even though, as Ward also points out, there are real costs to the "increased policing" proposal -- including costs along the very dimension its nominally supposed to help (tamping down on intra-group tensions and hostility). There's legitimate space to critique the "more police" response -- but it has to come with enough humility to acknowledge that there's ample reason to be skeptical of the existence of viable alternatives in the short-term.

Ultimately, my view on this is basically that of Batya Ungar-Sargon: Whatever my intuitions are on the wisdom of this strategy, I should defer to the people on the ground. Of course, the people on the ground will themselves often have divergent takes. But one suspects the consensus that will emerge will lie somewhere in between "abolish the NYPD" and "send in the National Guard."

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