Taxpayers are paying double for police brutality settlements thanks to local governments buying bonds from Wall Street to cover payouts. San Diego cop watcher Kat from Irate Productions discusses recent police harassment of unarmed residents.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Taya Graham: Hello, my name is Taya Graham and welcome to the Police Accountability Report. Remember, this show has a single purpose, to hold the politically powerful institution of American policing accountable. To do so, we take a critical look at both the institutions and the political economy, which bolsters it. And today, our focus will be on one of them, Wall Street. We are going to examine how the epicenter of capitalism makes money when police behave badly. But before I get started, I want you watching to know, that you have evidence of police misconduct, please email it to us privately at email@example.com, and please like, share, and comment on our videos. You know I read your comments and appreciate them. You can also reach me directly @tayasbaltimore on Facebook and Twitter.
Now we have a stark example of how the psychology of policing continues to bolster an ad-hoc surveillance of space and the indiscriminate use of violence. But you might be asking me now, “Taya, how can this keep happening in a country with a Bill of Rights that prides itself on free association and the privilege to come and go as one pleases? How did we get here?” Well, that’s where the hidden cost component comes in, because all the aforementioned issues cannot persist without help, and that help comes in the form of money. And in this case, the source of cash is America’s predominate financier of inequality, Wall Street.
It may seem odd that the capitalist cartel, which brought us the great recession, rampant speculation, and predatory hedge funds would be involved with policing, but following the logic of late-stage capitalism, it makes perfect sense. As we’ve noted before on the show, the rise of income inequality and the increase in aggressive policing have risen in tandem. The war on drugs and the increase in poverty have flourished, as police have gained nearly absolute powers to seize property, invade our homes, and make unnecessary arrests. All of this is heighten and divide between the rich and the poor. And no one does better when that divide widens than Wall Street, which is why this report has come to our attention. It’s a study of so-called brutality bonds. Debts issued by the cities to pay for police brutality cases. The report was issued by the Action Center on Race and the Economy, a think tank that works to hold Wall Street accountable for social and racial justice.
In it, they examine bonds issued by 12 American cities, which they contend were primarily used to pay for police brutality settlements. Some cities were large, like Chicago, but some were small, like Lake County, Indiana, which the report says borrowed $11 million to pay for past brutality settlements. The reason the study is so critical is that it makes a connection between Wall Street profits and bad behavior by police, but it also shows just how profitable law enforcement can be for some, and why the law enforcement industrial complex is fueled, not by the desire for public safety, but for cash. Stephen, how does this study make this connection?
Stephen: Well, the study looks at 12 cases of cities that are varying sizes, not just big cities like Chicago, but small cities like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. They look at how the cities have borrow money, go to the bond markets, sell bonds with interest, in order to finance police brutality settlements. In some cases, it’s just money that replaces money in the general fund, so it can be hidden. In other cases, like Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, a small city, it’s because the city’s liability insurance didn’t cover the settlement of four or $5 million. But what’s really revealing about it is that these 12 cities, the report calculates, could end up paying up to $1 billion in fees just to finance these issues. I mean, as we all know, municipal bonds have 20, 30 year maturity rates, so the interest is paid out over and over. It’s like taking a mortgage on your future.
What the report points out is it’s not just brutality settlements they’re losing, but these brutality settlements are being monetized by Wall Street for profits for investors making the burden even worse on the people who can least afford it. Back to you, Taya.
Taya Graham: Now, as we do on this show, we like to get perspectives on weekly topics from other cop watchers. It’s a tradition that has put us in touch with people like Otto the Watchdog, James Freeman, and Blind Justice. But today we have a first, our first female police activist. Her name is Katherine, also known as IRATE Productions, and she built a successful YouTube channel, not just watching cops, but she’s been fighting for justice across a variety of issues, including housing and incarceration. Kat, thank you so much for joining me today.
Katherine: Thank you so much for having me. I think it’s really important to highlight that it’s not just a cis hetero male fields, that there are many non-males in the streets fighting for our siblings, and our community.
Taya Graham: Today we discuss how Wall Street is profiting from city’s brutality bonds that Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and even Bank of America have found a way to rake in profit from police brutality to the tune of billions of dollars in profit for these investors, while taxpayers continue to lose their hard earned dollars. Does this information surprise you?
Katherine: You know what, I don’t seem surprised, at all. It’s one of the basic things that police are known for, to protect and serve private property and the ruling class, and to generate revenue. Their unions are so strong that there is no accountability. It’s interesting that they’re being covered whenever they make a mistake and yet we’re still paying. I think the majority in San Diego it’s about 50% of the budget for the city. And it’s fire and rescue, and very little amount is to the actual fire department. Most of it does go to police. It’s their money maker. Whatever they can do to keep the machine going, because they’re the first on the line to funnel people into criminalization, the prison pipeline, massive debt people are owed, not only their time, their lives, but money, as well.
Taya Graham: We already know that there is profit in law enforcement and in the prison industrial complex, whether it’s confiscating properties and asset forfeiture, or making money off prison labor. Why do you think there’s so much money to be made in fining and incarcerating people?
Katherine: I think, going back to the roots of slavery and how much money was made off of the backs for slave labor. Now, it’s a new form.
Because of the 13th Amendment, it gives the exception of except a punishment for a crime. We have people… It’s a big money maker to incarcerate, but it’s also a big money maker for those type of factory workers. And so, if we’re talking about labor, we obviously need to talk about the slave labor still going on in the prison systems, the revenue that’s generated for the ruling classes, the Wall Streets, the elites, and how they’re just looking to strip. It’s a slow genocide.
Taya Graham: Now, let’s talk a little bit about officer discretion, an issue that is even more important now that an arrest could lead to catching Coronavirus. This discretion is supposed to allow officers to make a judgment call between walking away from a possible misdemeanor, or making the choice to fine or even arrest someone. We have a video from your channel showing one officer’s discretion, and his choice to arrest the woman walking her dog. Tell us about what we’re seeing in this video.
Katherine: There is one of our cop watchers that lives on the beach. Obviously, she wasn’t expecting to film, but the one black woman that you’re able to see with a dog, was actually arrested. The police responded that she wouldn’t answer questions, which you don’t have to answer questions. They could have easily told her that you need to leave the dog. Obviously, they could have walked away. There’s definitely that double standard. So when you watch the video, when you see how many white people are around, when you see how many people are violating multiple orders, and they’re constantly giving, and it’s because of the racism. It’s because of the colorism.
Taya Graham: Essentially, a woman walking her dog is arrested by, at least, five police officers, thrown face down in the ground, and is taken away to be incarcerated. Now, we don’t have all the information, but doesn’t seem to you there could be another way to handle the situation without risking this woman’s health and liberty?
Katherine: Yes, absolutely. Police could have easily given her the prompt that she needs to leave with her dog, like many other white people they direct to. The fact that there are so many people on that beach, there’s many different ways the police can handle it. Again, they did make the case that she wasn’t answering questions. You do not have to answer questions, if you’re detained. I don’t know why that’s a double standard, because you have these… It’s mind blowing that the disparity that many communities of color, impoverished communities we’re talking about, the police treat us different.
Taya Graham: As some who has engaged in protest during the pandemic, are you concerned, at all, that that COVID-19 regulations will interfere with our ability to dissent and gather, protest, and exercise our first amendment rights? That law enforcement could use the new regulations to shutdown protests that they don’t agree with?
Katherine: Absolutely. There was a protest that happened a short while ago. I’ll send you the information, but it was to the Otay Mesa Detention Center, and there were many officers who were citing people because of expired registration, or a bullhorn violation, because somebody was using a bullhorn. There was another caravan. These are all caravan protests. They weren’t people that were standing, mobbing on a street corner, 300 deep, no masks, not obeying, hogging the sidewalk. These were protestors who were strategically taking a better route to protest, which is what we started to do with the caravans.
Taya Graham: So it’s clear, we have a dilemma in this country. On the one hand, we value freedom of expression and movement, civil rights, and privacy. But on the other hand, we have constructed an industry predicated upon, in part, infringing upon those same values for profit. The report on brutality bonds makes this clear, that even bad policing can be a cash cow, especially for those least likely to bear the brunt of it. This creates a troubling paradox. Wall Street bankers safely ensconced in high rise office suites collecting fees to charge impoverished cities for borrowing money to compensate victims of police malfeasance. The economic elites profiting off the malaise of law enforcement that are safely removed from its consequences.
It’s funny, because the stewards of capitalism like to extol the virtues of personal responsibility. They love to celebrate the power of free markets. But so much of their wealth seems to be tied to an imbalance of social power. So much of their profit comes from avoiding consequences, not embracing them. In this case, to profit off the violation of the civil rights of the less fortunate, even as they all received immunity for the crimes they committed. It’s not just hypocritical, it’s antithetical to their creed, and reveals, through a crystal clear example, the relationship between profits and privilege, wealth and inequity. How the system itself is not a free market, or a competition of ideas, but a wealth extraction conveyor belt that moves money and resources from communities that can least afford it.
Think about it, if the system made sense, if capitalism was so productive, then it would be police borrowing money to pay for brutality, not the impoverished residents of strapped cities. If the markets were really the key to efficiency, and if personal responsibility really was the ultimate value of capitalism, then it would be generous police pensions that would, at least, share some of the burden of funding claims for cops’ bad behavior, but that’s not what’s happening. As we’ve stated in our show before, we have to question why this illogical imbalance persists. Why can’t we come up with more proactive solutions and pragmatic policies to address this fundamentally flawed disconnect?
At the beginning of the show, we talked about the idea of police pathos in American culture. How we are fed a constant stream of cop-a-ganda through nightly TV shows and political rhetoric. How this pathos leads to an apportioning of space through force, and how that power has led to over policing that has, in a sense, infiltrated our civic lexicon. It’s worth noting that the men who shot and killed Ahmed Aubrey have argued that they were trying to make a citizen’s arrest, a legally questionable concept that all of us, in some form or fashion, are endowed with police like powers. It’s a troubling notion, if it’s true, because it demonstrates the point we’re trying to make. The freedom and civil rights we espoused to embrace cannot be reconciled with the idea that all of us have the power to adjudicate justice on the spot. We cannot all be imbued with the pretense of omnipotent law enforcement, if we want to preserve civic engagement and the right to participate in a democracy.
We cannot continue to fund and bolster a system that extinguishes all of our rights, liberties, and freedoms under the auspices of a single dominant idea, the power to police. I want to thank my guest, Katherine, of IRATE Productions, for taking a moment to stop in her rent and mortgage strike to speak with us. Kat, thank you so much for joining us.
Katherine: Thank you for having me. Prayers to your family that are in the medical field, as you’re telling me. Hope that’s okay to mention.
Taya Graham: And, of course, I have to thank intrepid reporter, Stephen Janis, for his investigative work on this piece, as well as his writing and editing. Thank you so much, Stephen.
Stephen: Taya, thank you so much for having me. We will continue to investigate the hidden costs of policing.
Taya Graham: And, of course, I have to thank friend of the show, Nollie D., for her support. Thank you Nollie D. And I want you watching to know that, if you have evidence of police misconduct or brutality, please share it with us, and we might be able to investigate. Please reach out to us. You can email us tips privately at firstname.lastname@example.org, and share your evidence of police misconduct. You can also message us at Police Accountability Report on Facebook or Instagram, or @eyesonpolice at Twitter, and of course you can message me directly @tayasbaltimore on Twitter and Facebook. And please like and comment. I do read your comments, and I appreciate them, and I try to answer questions whenever I can. I’m Taya Graham, your host of the Police Accountability Report. Please, be safe out there.
Host & Producer
Taya Graham is an award-winning investigative reporter who has covered U.S. politics, local government, and the criminal justice system. She is the host of TRNN's "Police Accountability Report," and producer and co-creator of the award-winning podcast "Truth and Reconciliation" on Baltimore's NPR affiliate WYPR. She has written extensively for a variety of publications including the Afro American Newspaper, the oldest black-owned publication in the country, and was a frequent contributor to Morgan State Radio at a historic HBCU. She has also produced two documentaries, including the feature-length film "The Friendliest Town." Although her reporting focuses on the criminal justice system and government accountability, she has provided on the ground coverage of presidential primaries and elections as well as local and state campaigns.
Stephen Janis is an award-winning investigative journalist whose work has been acclaimed both in print and on television. As the Senior Investigative Reporter for the now defunct Baltimore Examiner, he won two Maryland DC Delaware Press Association Awards for his work on the number of unsolved murders in Baltimore and the killings of prostitutes. His in-depth work on the city's zero-tolerance policing policies garnered an NAACP President's Award. As an Investigative Producer for WBFF/Fox 45, he has won three successive Capital Emmys: two for Best Investigative Series and one for Outstanding Historical/Cultural Piece.
He is the author of three books on the philosophy of policing: Why Do We Kill? The Pathology of Murder in Baltimore; You Can't Stop Murder: Truths About Policing in Baltimore and Beyond; and The Book of Cop: A Testament to Policing That Works. He has also written two novels, This Dream Called Death and Orange: The Diary of an Urban Surrealist. He teaches journalism at Towson University.