Friday, February 28, 2020

Blue Bias: An Ex-Cop Turned Philosopher Examines the Learning and Resolve Necessary to End Hidden Prejudice in Policing

(c) Charles D. Hayes

Finally, after a half century of reflection and four years of writing and obsessive rewriting, I’ve just published Blue Bias: An Ex-Cop Turned Philosopher Examines the Learning and Resolve Necessary to End Hidden Prejudice in Policing. In preparation for the flak I’m going to be getting from politically hard-right conservatives, I recently re-watched all five seasons of The Wire, written, produced, and directed by David Simon. To those who don’t understand the problem of drugs and intercity poverty, Simon says watch the series, and if you still don’t get it, watch it again.

The Wire, of course, is fiction, but it is in my view a masterpiece of insightful social commentary. Our criminal justice system is an unmitigated disaster, yet what is required to fix it is amazingly simple but over the moon expensive.

America’s inner cities need a Marshall Plan that includes compensation for systemic unemployment caused by decades of racist oppression, from the end of Reconstruction, to Jim Crow, to redlining, and current recognition of the transformation effects of digital app technology on employment. The expectation that traditional employment opportunities are going to spring up en masse in inner cities in enough numbers to solve inner-city employment without a formidable investment is pure fantasy.

The moral objective of policing must be to make communities safe, not play a numbers game based on the pretense that the numbers are more important than the people served. If you want to assess the quality of community policing, numbers are less important than the feelings of being safe, less important than the people who live there actually feeling safe. When the citizens in poor neighborhoods feel protected from bad actors and oppressive policing, the goal will be reached, but not until then. 

Worse, local politicians often fund their government on the backs of poor citizens, by focusing on traffic tickets and misdemeanor fines that have nothing whatsoever to do with safety, but everything to do with a funding arrangement that effectively turns petty crimes into felonies. And while their police officers are tied up with minor incidents to raise revenue, they aren’t available when real emergencies occur.  So, in a nutshell, over-policing leads to under-protection. 

And of critical importance, the problem of racial bias in policing won’t be solved until it becomes commonplace that police officers and the general public have a much better understanding of how our minds work with respect to implicit bias.

If the current level of misunderstanding about how bias works had been the plan of saboteurs to confuse us, it would be hard to figure out how to do a better job, if the objective was to bewilder and mystify.  I can say this much without worry of being incorrect: If you haven’t studied the subject of racial bias intensively, you can’t be objective about it. It’s just not possible. 

What makes these problems so infuriating and existentially sad is that we have known since Reconstruction what is necessary to address systemic racism and inner-city poverty, but the inevitable greed-based corruption that comes with the ambition exhibited by hierarchal governmental authority is damned near impossible to correct across the board, and David Simon’s series makes this point crystal clear. 

I had made up my mind that I was going to shelve this book project if we didn’t retake the House of Representatives in 2018. Now I must contend with the possibility of promoting a work on police reform in the event of Trump being reelected, since it seems that doing so would be sort of like spitting into the wind.

But after some serious reflection, I realize that this kind of thinking is misplaced, because I believe that most of the police officers in this country and most of the public servants in the Justice Department are well intentioned; most really do want justice for all, but the bureaucratic mess that has been created by partisan politics represents a staggering obstacle.

When you think of the irony in the fact that at the very time when we have a serial sexual predator in the White House, that there would be so many positive results stemming from the #metoo movement, that perhaps the same principle can be applied to Bill Barr’s right-wing politicization of the Justice Department, and we can improve policing in the shadows of tyrants, whose call for law and order has more to do with repressing minorities in what they view as a deserved punitive comeuppance, than anything to do with justice. 


The paper version of Blue Bias is available now on Amazon and a Kindle version can be preordered with a release date of March 31st. If you are an Amazon Prime member, I believe the Kindle edition will be free. This was an expensive book to produce. I have more than 10k invested in the bibliography alone, and there are well over 600 endnotes.

I’m encouraged that some of the readers of the manuscript who adamantly opposed me on some issues said that, despite their disagreement, Blue Bias is a pleasurable read. I took this to mean they were talking about clarity and it being easy to understand. If you should read it, I would be very much interested in your thoughts. I believe Blue Bias offers the best explanation of how bias works than any I have ever read, and recommend it for that reason.