Could the trial of Derek Chauvin be a turning point in America policing?

The criminal trial of Derek Chauvin, a white Minneapolis police officer, who is accused of killing 46 year old African-American George Floyd, is important on so many levels for different constituencies in the United States and elsewhere.

For the family and friends of Floyd, and the majority of African Americans in this country, the trial is an opportunity to get justice from a criminal justice system that has for too long treated people of color as second class citizens. By the same token, we also know that over the past decade, many of the trials of white police officers, who were criminally charged in connection with the deaths of unarmed African-American men and women, under questionable circumstances, and with what appeared to be incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing, led to acquittals.

For the news media, the trial of Chauvin, provides another contentious public circus to cover. Now that former president Trump, and many of his enablers have temporarily faded out of the public spotlight, the media, in particular cable tv, needs a crisis du jour and the trial in Minneapolis is conveniently presenting one to focus on. Our reporters and talk show hosts have been interviewing a litany of experts with an array of qualifications who have attempted 24-7 to dissect the nuances of the Chauvin trial, and shared their interpretations about the evidence presented, how it was introduced, the choice of witnesses, and the quality of the lawyers performances during the trial.

For the activist public, especially those who have banded together under the Black Lives Matter banner, the trial represents another opportunity to demonstrate their opposition to controversial police actions that were prominently displayed during last spring’s street protests and again, after many of the recent deaths of innocent African Americans in this country under questionable circumstances. If the jury returns a verdict of not guilty you can almost be guaranteed that there will be riots in many cities in the United States.

For politicians, at all levels of government, especially those in leadership positions, with police departments in their purview of direction, trying to balance demands by activists to defund the police and at the same time balance state, county and municipal budgets will be highlighted by this trail.

For police officers the trial is an additional test to see whether their fellow law enforcement professional is going to finally be convicted. It may reinforce their feelings of alienation as demonstrated, by the so-called Ferguson effect, that the judicial system no longer has their back. But for the police, especially the leadership in the United States, I believe that it will be an additional wake up call.

For police unions, the trial should be a wakeup call. The legitimacy of these organizations has been slowly waning over the past few years. They can no longer uncritically support officers who have a record of abuse. States like Maryland, for example, are making sweeping changes to laws affecting how police go about doing their jobs, stripping controversial protections that police officers once enjoyed. Other jurisdictions will try to emulate.

For foreigners, gazing in on the United States, the trial and its ultimate verdict is and will be a poignant indicator of how our country, that prides itself on being a liberal democracy where the mottos “justice for all” and “justice is blind,” deals with white privilege and confronts not only the current manifestations of racism, but its racist past.

Photo credit: Lorie Shaull
A protester holds a George Floyd sign outside the Hennepin County Courthouse in downtown Minneapolis, Minnesota

Taming the devil you know: The White House’s ambitious agenda to make good on their promises to the left and bring Trump supporters into the fold

Biden, Harris and the Democrats ran a political campaign not just to oust former reality television star and occasional President Donald Trump, but to implement a series of bold changes that in principle both the left and the right could agree on.

Their main strategy, over the past three months appears to be maybe we can’t convince the 74 million who voted for Trump using philosophical or ideological arguments, but if we can significantly slow down the rate of infections and deaths from COVID-19 by getting shots in arms, and enable Americans to finally send their children, who have been bouncing off the walls for the past year, back to school, and finally go back to work (not to mention get that long yearned for tattoo, and drink themselves silly at the local bar), then maybe the Dems aren’t so bad after all.

And it appears that not only is the White House making good on the ambitious plan of vaccinating 150 million Americans in the first 100 days, but they are surpassing it. Moreover they are firing up a “once-in-a life time” infrastructure bill that is designed to put many Americans back to work, to rebuild crumbling roads, highways, and bridges, construct out of date transportation centers and systems, and usher in a green economy.

This approach has nothing to do with doubling down on educating the public in critical thinking skills, civics classes, nor implementing proportional representation.

The unveiling of these plans does not mean that Republicans have finally given up with their quest to dominate the political landscape of Washington and beyond. While the Jim Jordan’s and Louie Gohmert’s of this world may be relatively silent, the Republicans are trying to press their ideological agenda at the state level through a series of voter suppression bills introduced in jurisdictions where they have control.

Trump and his most visible allies, like those in the Freedom Caucus, have not completely melded into the background and gone back to their farms and communities as the original framers of the constitution envisioned. Republicans, at least in terms of their outward political communications, have temporarily adopted the stance of “He who learns to walk away gets to fight another day.” They are planning for the next round of elections. And just because one of their star sycophants, and DUI evader, Matt Gaetz is now sinking as fast as a mafia or drug gang informer outfitted with a pair of concrete shoes, who has been just thrown into the East River, this just means that the news and social media spot light is off the more crazy Republicans for a while.

And yes there will be the Joe Manchins’ and Susan Collins of this world, but their voices are not that strong these days.

The Freedom Caucus or some post Trump reboot lurk in the background. They will try to breath new life into the culture war machine if not just before the midterms, then in 2024. How do we know this. Our history tells us so.

To the extent that the Democrats can achieve their impressive agenda, the more difficult it will be for loyal Republicans, and QAnon conspiracy believers who have benefitted from the Dems initiatives to vote Republican. This will also depend on the ability of the Dems to convince them that they were responsible for their economic and social well-being.

But the hard work of rolling up ones sleeves is what needs to be done. The money still needs to go out to the states and not be siphoned off by make work and boondoggle projects that either waste taxpayer money, or are window dressing for corrupt schemes. Yes, the Dems are going periodically stumble and fall, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Photo credit outtacontext
“Exhibit A: Proof of Sedition, remix”

Parking, power, and externalities

It’s a simple fact of life. People need and want to get places, and unless they walk everywhere, we need somewhere to temporarily or permanently store the objects that they use to assist them getting to their destinations.

Some of those items (e.g., bicycles, hover boards, razors, roller blades, and skateboards) are relatively easy to store, where as others (e.g., buses, cars, planes, and subways) are more difficult.

Over the past century, in modern cities, the horse and buggy gave way to public transit systems with buses, trams, streetcars, and subways and to private vehicles and taxis (and now Ubers, Lyfts, etc.), the latter of which dominate most urban landscapes. These vehicles are a blessing and a curse. They cost lots to operate, and create plenty of externalities (e.g., pollution, etc.).

If you are a driver and/or a pedestrian then at some point in time you are going to have to deal not just with vehicles in motion, but with parked cars. Parking a vehicle not only represents a place to temporarily store your valuable material possession, but this act is imbued with lots of other subtle considerations.

In many respects parking is often a contest, exchange, or game bounded by subtle forms of power, and contests over private and public urban space. This is played out and/or decided in questions like: where will we allow vehicles to park?; what types of vehicles will we permit to park?, when will we allow them to park?; should we charge them to park?, how much should this cost?, etc. etc.?

For example, when we talk about parking, we need to consider the size of the vehicle. This is especially noticeable when one travels outside of Canada and the United States. In general, it’s easier to park a car in European countries where the majority of cars are small versus the big gas guzzling cars on this side of the Atlantic.

Alternatively, many cities have very difficult to negotiate street parking restrictions at certain times of the day. In the morning during rush hour, the city will ticket cars that are illegally parked during the prohibited times, and within minutes they may be towed off to an impound lots deep in the suburbs. Although this is supposed to generate income for the city, many, often poor people, are unnecessarily victimized by this practice.

Eventually tickets accrue and the owner of the vehicle may determine that it is not worth it to pay off the fines, towing charges and storage fees, just to get their car out of the impound lot.

In the meantime, most cities enable car owners to park their cars at the side of the road, sometimes for a fee, to take up space that would otherwise be used for vehicular traffic. This public space costs money to maintain, and it is paid through tax dollars.

Moreover, many European cities (in countries like Germany, Italy, The Netherlands, Spain, etc.) have purposely constructed or financed above ground or underground parking garages, and restricted vehicular access to certain streets by closing off retail and business areas and creating pedestrian malls. (Both solutions to deal with traffic, the congestion that parking creates, and other externalities).

As we move into the post COVID-19 world, where some progressive municipal councils and leadership have temporarily turned some downtown streets into pedestrian malls, and enabled restaurant owners to have temporary outdoor structures on the streets (and the inevitable increase in electric vehicles), now is a good time to reevaluate not just the role of mobility solutions, but where we allow vehicles to park, and what kinds of externalities this situation creates.

Photo Credit: Andrew Duthie
Parking Behind the Highland Park old municipal center