In the previous two installments of this series, I discussed parallel processes I see in Israel and in California: rising crime rates and resulting miseries within underserved communities–Arab-Israeli towns and villages, and Black communities in Bay Area cities (disproportionately affecting these communities both in terms of perpetrators and victims). In the first installment, I showed that these issues have yielded calls from “inside the house” to improve police response to crime rates. In the second installment, I discussed a curious difference: the Arab Israeli calls are monolithic and they demand solidarity from allies in securing police presence and protection, whereas Black American calls–the recent NAACP letters in Oakland and San Francisco–are heavily contested and far from representative of the defund-abolish-dismantle-repeal sentiment. I proposed a few differences between the two scenarios and concluded that the problem is one of intra-movement politics.
In this last installment in the series, I want to posit two additional issues: one of timing and one of civic expectation. The first is, in some ways, a continuation of the argument I made in my article Bad Role Models, in which I discussed American influence on Israeli criminal justice. In that article, I showed how criminal justice developments in the U.S. migrated to Israel through a process of elite networking, often with a delay of 15-20 years, to the point that Israel implements American policies long after empirical evidence already undermines their merit or efficacy. I listed four developmental stage: the rise of American criminal justice as a model of influence; the “decade of rights”, inspired by the mistaken perception in 1990s Israel that American criminal justice is pro-defendant; the “law and order period” in the 2000s, in which Israel adopted victim rights and anti-sex-offender paradigms that were already being eschewed in the U.S.; and the “era of contrition”, in which new Israeli elites, who learned about mass incarceration in the U.S., started chipping at the punitive block.
My friend and colleague Hagit Lernau thinks that the Arab Israeli faith in policing as an answer to violent crime might be temporary, an echo of the period in the 1980s and 1990s in which Black politicians and police chiefs in D.C. wanted massive police intervention in the crack epidemic. In Locking Up Our Own, James Forman found great empathy for these Black power brokers, even though, as an abolitionist, he disagrees with them. He does not think the crime problem was exaggerated or did not exist–he fully admits that the calls for more policing came out of real distress that was grounded in fact–even as he rejects the premise that aggressive enforcement could have improved things.
To understand Hagit’s argument, let’s locate Forman’s politicians and cops along a timeline. Their preoccupation with internal community problems of crime can be seen as a retreat from Martin Luther King Jr.’s general message of a great project of equality, as well as from Malcolm X’s general message of militant opposition to white supremacy, toward sectorial interests of personal safety within Black cities and neighborhoods. This retreat, which happened in the 1980s-1990s, can be seen as a harbinger of the Arab-Israeli retreat from full commitment to the idea of Palestinian liberation/independence toward sectorial interests of citizens within the 1967 borders. If so, we might expect that the later developments in critical race perspectives on criminal justice–the academic concerns about police oppression and race and their migration to the mainstream of the progressive movement–might eventually make it in Arab-Israeli societies, perhaps through a process of elite networking (or through some other process) and we simply have to work through the delay. But eventually the moment of yearning for police will pass, and we’ll be in a defund/dismantle/abolish/repeal moment in Israel, too.
Here’s another theory on how this could happen: Perhaps, as in the case of D.C., the disillusionment that accompanies massive, oppressive police presence will cool the population’s enthusiasm for enforcement. A couple of weeks ago I talked to a friend who is a police detective investigating serious crimes, including in Arab-Israeli towns and villages. My friend tells me that, as soon as a serious crime is committed in a village, the police’s modus operandi is to send in border patrol officers, who proceed to harass and humiliate everyone around them and make life in the village unbearable. Unsurprisingly, after a few weeks of this, the officers who want to actually solve the crime encounter a wall of silence and mistrust. It is only a question of time until this realization becomes generalized and the community nationwide will stop calling for the police to help.
Which brings me to my second point, the issue of civic expectation. The famous serenity prayer invites us to have the wisdom to tell apart things that can be changed (and require courage) from things that are immutable (and require serenity.) The Forman moment, as well as the current moment in the Arab-Israeli crime prevention movement, assume that crime-ridden streets can be cleaned and that the erosion in public safety can be stopped, or even reversed, if the Israeli government wakes up from its appalling neglect and acts. The Defund movement makes the opposite assumption: nothing good can come from police intervention, so they might as well stay out of it and leave us to resolve the crime problem through non-criminal-justice means. I think both perspectives miss out on an important dimension: it doesn’t just matter how much policing is taking place, but also what kind of policing.
William Muir’s 1977 classic Police: Streetcorner Politicians offers a matrix that characterizes police officers based on their psychology. Muir is interested in two dimensions: the officer’s proactivity and their worldview. These create four types of cops.
Out of these four, Muir’s preference is for the professional, whom he sees as an energetic, passionate problem solver who has compassion for their community. But preferring the professional to other types depends on the extent to which one believes that cops can still have a tragic/empathetic approach to human nature and the human condition. People who assume that all cops are cynical about the people they serve face a choice between enforcers and avoiders and might prefer avoiders. People who believe that some cops can be professional and compassionate, will prefer professionals to reciprocators.
If Muir’s typology is not applied to individual cops, but rather to hypothetical cops as “ideal types” of what we would and would not like to see in the streets, I think the best way to understand the Arab-Israeli call for help is as a call for professionals, not for enforcers. Which raises the question, given that we pay taxes so that we can have police services, why not insist that the force hire professionals rather than enforcers? Why give up and settle for avoiders, or for shrinking the force (and its utility) altogether? How much despair people experience and, consequently, how much they believe that they can have the police force they deserve, could be (as I argued in the previous installment) a function of where they live or (as I argue in this installment) on what moment we are in.