The Top 5 Places To Live In The USA If You Want To Get Cancer

The EPA began a study in 2014 called the National Air Toxics Assessment.

The study evaluates chemical emissions in all areas of the country and makes an assessment of the overall risk of cancer for each locality based on the presence of those chemicals. The chemicals are known carcinogens that are used or have been used in various industries and released into the environment, fun things like tetrachloroethane and trichlorophenol.

The study gives an estimate of how many people per 1 million in a given area would get cancer if they lived there. The (relatively) safe range is considered to be under 100 in 1 million. If you look at their handy GIS mapping tool you’ll find that much of the coasts and the south falls into the 25-50 in 1 million range while if you live farther north you enjoy a 6-25 in 1 million chance of getting cancer.

In addition, they have data on there that tells you the level of hazard in your area for other maladies unrelated to cancer. These are respiratory, neurological, liver, kidney and immunological issues among other things. This data is conveniently tucked away in some very large spreadsheets.

The top five compiled here are mostly in this position due to the heavy release of a compound called Ethylene Oxide EtO. The chemical is commonly used in the production of other chemicals as well as in the sterilization of medical devices and it is also extremely toxic. In 2016 the EPA introduced revised estimates that raised the risk of cancer from exposure to EtO by 60x.

Let’s get down to it though. The top five places to live in the USA if you want to get cancer*.

#1 St. John The Baptist Parish, Louisiana

Coming in at number one is St. John The Baptist parish. In some areas of this parish you have a 1505 in 1 million chance of getting cancer. That’s 15x more than the 100 in 1 million where the EPA draws the “bad” line.

Located in between Baton Rouge and New Orleans this area is home to fun places to visit like the Belle Terre Country Club. While you’re there you can check out the nearby LaPlace Oil and Gas Field or the Bonnet Carre Oil and Gas Field.

The EPA data is divided by FIPS codes that section off the named counties into smaller more easily organized areas. This means that St. John The Baptist is actually made up of a dozen different FIPS codes all of which appear in the top 50 FIPS codes on the list when sorted by Total Cancer Risk.

#2 St. Charles Parish, Louisiana

It’s probably not a coincidence that St. Charles parish is the next door neighbor of St. John The Baptish Parish. You have an 808 in 1 million chance of getting cancer in some areas of St. Charles parish. Those areas appear to border the ironically named Good Hope Oil and Gas Field.

#3 Lehigh County, Pennsylvania

Taking a break from Louisiana we head over to Pennsylvania and Lehigh county. Among other cities Lehigh county encompasses Allentown, made famous by Billy Joel in his eponymous song and also includes the town of Bethlehem where the Bethlehem Steel Corporation was founded. Though Bethlehem Steel ceased operations in 1995, heavy industry and pollution continue as in some areas of Lehigh county you have a 596 in 1 million chance of getting cancer.

#4 Kanawha County, West Virginia

Encompassing Charleston, the state capital of West Virginia, Kanawha county also has areas where you have a 366 in 1 million chance of getting cancer. A Union Carbide plant has been labeled as responsible for releasing Ethylene Dioxide across the area and even had a 2019 class action suit brought against them over the issue. Union Carbide is most famous for being the cause of the Bhopal disaster.

#5 Harris County, Texas

Harris County comes in fifth with a 348 in 1 million chance of you getting cancer in some areas. Though it seems that state regulators in 2019 were considering raising the acceptable levels of exposure to Ethylene Oxide so they might be moving up the list.

Note: The EPA released an update in 2018 indicating that some of the affected areas noted above had some pollution sources either mitigated or removed, but it’s quite likely that this is not the case according to this article from the Intercept.

*The EPA data is divided up by FIPS codes, which uniquely identify certain geographic areas. These areas can divide named counties into smaller areas, we’ve taken the first named counties on the cancer risk by source group sheet after sorting by total cancer risk to obtain the data used here.

The Babylon 5 Guy?

I’m reading J. Michael Straczynski’s autobiography Becoming Superman. It’s a really entertaining book for many reasons that I won’t elaborate on too much so as not to spoil it, but I highly recommend reading it.

I came to this paragraph in the book where JMS reflects on his work on the comic book The Amazing Spider-Man.

The relaunched Amazing Spider-Man performed beyond Marvel’s expectations and helped set the stage for their recovery as a company. I would stay on to write seventy-four consecutive issues, one of the longest runs in the character’s history.

The conclusion he makes here that his Amazing Spider-Man helped set the stage for their recovery is objectively true, but it made me recall how I personally found out about his conversion to comic book writer. To make sense of that story though I need to go back a bit.


I was born in 1974 in Honolulu, HI. I grew up in Kaneohe, HI on the windward side of Oahu.

Despite the amazing scenery and fantastic weather growing up on Oahu had its drawbacks for a kid labeled as the haole and when those pressures became too much to deal with I often found myself turning to reading to pass the time on my own. My first choice was always comic books and my collection began with fits and starts in the late 70s, but then accelerated in the 1980s as I became a regular at one of the local comic book stores called Jelly’s.

The first time I visited Jelly’s the store was located on the corner of Kapiolani and Keeaumoku and I was overwhelmed. I had collected comics intermittently via spinner racks at local stores so there were many gaps in my collection where stories were incomplete and I had no idea how they ended. Comic books of the time were very thorough at summarizing events in previous issues so missing the beginning or the middle of a story was not usually a problem, but missing the end left you hung out to dry. When I realized I could find all of those endings in this store it was such a relief. I didn’t have to go all over the place looking for bits and pieces of treasure, I had fallen ass backwards into a room full of it.

The first back issue I bought was Legion of Super-Heroes 294, the conclusion of The Great Darkness Saga by Paul Levitz and Keith Giffen. While other missing endings I found were sometimes disappointing compared to the stories I had dreamed up in my head this was one of the ones that delivered the goods. When I discovered the Marvel Universe series that was essentially an encyclopedia of Marvel characters and their histories I was absolutely blown away that something like that existed and made it my mission to collect them all.

By the time I was in the 8th grade Jelly’s had moved to a different location at 404 Pi’ikoi St and I was taking the bus there from school on a weekly basis to pick up new comic issues. Jelly’s was not just a comic book store. They also had games, books and music and so it was a cornucopia of delights for a nerd like myself. I would wait there for my father to pick me up after he finished work.

Though I took it for granted at the time, Jelly’s took the unusual step of bagging all the new comics prior to putting them out on the shelves. I’ve been to few stores since that bagged new issues. Jelly’s also didn’t really go for pull lists and whatever was put out was first come first served and so every Friday (new comic book day in Hawaii) I would show up right after school and wait impatiently for the comics to be bagged and put out.

I was an intelligent, but obnoxious child and I often crossed the line from smart to smart ass when talking with the employees, but one fellow that I remember well dealt with my social inadequacies with great patience and kept me coming back. His name was Percy.

We became acquaintances if not friends and after I showed up regularly for a time he gave me a card that entitled me to a 10% discount on new comics purchased from the store. The card was good for a year and I could get another one after it expired. For a comic nerd like myself this was one of the most significant things I ever got from someone and I treasured this privilege like no other. Whenever Percy was around I tried to talk with him about comics, bothering him to no end. Among other things he recommended Lone Wolf and Cub to me back in those days when it was newly brought to the USA and I foolishly eschewed it as I was dedicated to super hero comics.

I spent many years going to Jelly’s for comics, but when college came around in 1992 I moved quite far away from Hawaii to attend the University of Connecticut at Storrs. I found a comic store within walking distance of campus and continued my collecting during this time, but as the 90s rolled on it became clear that comic books were in a bit of a slump. While the artwork evolved tremendously due to the influence of creator titles the market became flooded and the writing suffered. By the time graduation rolled around in 1996 I had become a bit disenchanted with comics and as I entered the working world and started dating I also found I had different priorities and so I stopped collecting.

Fast forward to the year 2000. I was living in Connecticut near my Aunt who I visited on a regular basis. She had divorced and was dating a man who had several sons, one of whom was a comic book fan much like myself and when he found out I was also a fan he encouraged me to get back into certain stories that I had missed. This fellow later published his own comic book series through Image and Dark Horse and he also became a comic book writer for DC and Marvel.

The first title he recommended was The Golden Age by James Robinson, a title that I overlooked during my collecting days. He had a good eye and after I picked up the trade paperback I realized I was missing out on some really great work.

By this time the graphic novel had become a much more prevalent sight in regular book stores. You could walk into any chain book store and pick up a variety of collected stories from Marvel and DC. I resolved only to buy these collected works rather than get back into the weekly grind of collecting.

That didn’t last.

By the time 2003 rolled around I was edging back into buying individual issues.

In December of 2003 I took a trip back to Hawaii to visit my parents. Despite some ups and downs Jelly’s still existed at the time having moved out to a location in Pearl City. While the building was different, the feel was the same. There was never anything fancy about Jelly’s. It was always setup in a barebones warehouse. The product was the decoration.

As I perused the shelves I came upon someone I recognized. He was a bit more gray, but it was definitely Percy. I approached him and said hi. I could tell he didn’t fully recognize me. I had come pretty far from that bespectacled little shit I once was. I was a much bigger bespectacled shit that was probably unrecognizable from a decade prior when I last saw him.

Despite the perceived lack of recognition he was unfailingly polite and helpful. I told him that I was getting back into comics and asked him if he had any recommendations.

“Yes! You have to read The Amazing Spider-Man!”

“Really?” I was somewhat skeptical as most mainstream titles were a bit tepid when I left the scene.

“Yes! It’s by this guy J. Michael Straczynski,” he tells me as he leads me over to the shelves and starts handing me books.

“J. Michael Straczynski? The creator of Babylon 5?” I asked somewhat incredulously and stupidly. Really, how many J. Michael Straczynskis can there be running around out there?

(Side Note: I am a huge B5 fan. When TNT started rerunning them I even taped all of the episodes on VHS to have them for posterity. This was right at that time when you still ran the risk of never seeing a show again after it was broadcast on television and I couldn’t take that risk for B5. I even taped them in SP for better quality so I had a lot of VHS tapes of B5 at one point.)

Percy didn’t really get the B5 connection, “I don’t know about that, but it’s the best comic out there right now.”

So, I bought the books and Percy was right. That J. Michael Stracynzki really does know how to write a comic.

The Normalization of Cruelty

Matt Taibbi recently posted a story about a man named Chris (a pseudonym) who took out student loans starting in 1981 that left him in $79,000 of debt at an interest rate of 9% by the time he graduated from law school. Through a series of misfortunes and admitted mistakes on his part Chris got behind on his loan payments. Once he began making good on his debt he was already in the hole for penalty fees that are required to be paid before any money is put against the principal balance.

Chris as of 2020 is 59 years old and has paid $190,000 on his original $79,000 debt. He still currently owes $236,000.

That this is seen as anything other than usury at this point is astonishing, but in the comments of the story the response to this situation is an equal balance of agreement and dissent. There are many that see this as a game that Chris has played badly and lost, but they fail to see that the game is rigged in favor of the corporations and institutions generating these loans. They also point and laugh at Chris for his misfortune and proclaim that Chris is stupid and lazy for getting into his current situation and deserves what he gets.

I find the entire situation to be laughable. Why? Because all of these whiners borrowed money to get a college and advanced degrees. One would think they’d be smart enough to read the papers they were signing so that they’d understand what they were committing to.

“Rick”

You wrote an entire article about someone that admittedly created his own problems. The day I pay for someone else’s student loans is the day I stop paying taxes.

“Commentorinchief”

Pay your damned bill, Chris. When you can employ 10s of 1,000s like Ford and GM, maybe we can talk, otherwise, you’re a slacker – knowing it’s half the battle.

“neillhere”

The abject subservience to corporations in these comments and the complete lack of empathy for the individual is appalling. For all they give back, corporations enact a huge toll on society. The environmental destruction created by corporations and the costs to clean up toxic waste and the human lives affected by it alone are staggering. The individuals concealed behind the legal fiction of a corporation never bear responsibility for their actions and yet Chris is expected to bear the full brunt of his mistakes without any recourse.

Chris isn’t even trying to shirk responsibility for his mistakes. He admits to them fully and yet these people look at him with his hand out asking for assistance and not only refuse to help, they kick him when he is down. They deride him and call him names. All this because of laws made up by politicians to favor the corporations that get them elected.

These commenters consider Chris a loser in this game and they don’t even care that the game is rigged as long as they aren’t being affected. They speak about fairness to themselves and to corporations, but when considering the fairness of Chris’ situation they are completely unwilling to see any compromise. This is the definition of hypocrisy.

Chris has paid more than double his original principal back to the lender in this case and yet these people would have the lender continue to extract funds from Chris until the day he dies. This is capitalism.

We Can Enforce The Law Without Tyranny

When police abolition is discussed the first question brought up by most is fear based. Who will stop the murderers and rapists? Or in other words who will exercise force to make people submit to the rule of law if we no longer have police?

That this question comes up in this way so often speaks to the propaganda around the police and the notion that violence is the means to an end for the majority of conflict resolution. At the same time, it would be naive to assume that enforcing the law never requires force. The question then should be asked, when is force being legitimately applied and why does that justify the abolition of our current system? To answer this we need to look not only to the history of policing, but to the history of our government and its origins in the writings of John Locke.

John Locke

Locke was a philosopher in the 17th century who wrote a number of important works. In the political realm his most famous work is The Second Treatise of Government that arguably forms the basis of both the US Declaration of Independence and the original US Constitution.

In the Second Treatise, Locke forms the logical basis for the separation of church and state as well as that of legitimate government. Locke postulates that humans in nature exist in a perfect state of equality, liberty and executive power. They only subordinate these natural powers to the legislative power of society with the intent to better preserve themselves, their liberty and property. To do so with any other intent would be irrational.

Sect. 142. These are the bounds which the trust, that is put in them by the society, and the law of God and nature, have set to the legislative power of every commonwealth, in all forms of government.First, They are to govern by promulgated established laws, not to be varied in particular cases, but to have one rule for rich and poor, for the favourite at court, and the country man at plough.

The trust people put in government to subordinate themselves to laws that could lead to their own death is based on the firm promise that those laws will be applied fairly and equally.

Locke also states…

…wherever the power, that is put in any hands for the government of the people, and the preservation of their properties, is applied to other ends, and made use of to impoverish, harass, or subdue them to the arbitrary and irregular commands of those that have it; there it presently becomes tyranny, whether those that thus use it are one or many.

When people address the issue of pervasive police violence and corruption abetted either fully, partially or unwittingly by the government they are referring to tyranny.

Sect. 202. Where-ever law ends, tyranny begins, if the law be transgressed to another’s harm; and whosoever in authority exceeds the power given him by the law, and makes use of the force he has under his command, to compass that upon the subject, which the law allows not, ceases in that to be a magistrate; and, acting without authority, may be opposed, as any other man, who by force invades the right of another.

In many areas of the country, the police no longer exercise authority derived from the rule of law, they exercise it solely by force. The reason is that people living in those areas no longer consider police authority to be legitimate due to their continuing excessive and egregiously malicious use of their powers. This hampers enforcement of the law across the board, because even non-violent offenders consider themselves at risk of death and act appropriately within that belief.

Locke also tells us why this sort of tyranny does not cause the dissolution of government very often and also why the riots we are seeing are a sign of how bad things have become.

Sect. 225. Secondly, I answer, such revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs. Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected; and without which, ancient names, and specious forms, are so far from being better, that they are much worse, than the state of nature, or pure anarchy; the inconveniencies being all as great and as near, but the remedy farther off and more difficult.

The public is willing to put up with a lot of stupidity from government. Government can screw up on the little things and people won’t revolt, but when they screw up on the big things over and over again people rise up. The response we are seeing on the streets is based in pervasive abuse of the system by those that are supposed to govern it.

Locke even tells us he doesn’t have the answer on handling resistance of illegal force (essentially what we see as protesting and rioting), because if you let it get to that point you’re a fucking idiot.

Sect. 209. But if either these illegal acts have extended to the majority of the people; or if the mischief and oppression has lighted only on some few, but in such cases, as the precedent, and consequences seem to threaten all; and they are persuaded in their consciences, that their laws, and with them their estates, liberties, and lives are in danger, and perhaps their religion too; how they will be hindered from resisting illegal force, used against them, I cannot tell. This is an inconvenience, I confess, that attends all governments whatsoever, when the governors have brought it to this pass, to be generally suspected of their people; the most dangerous state which they can possibly put themselves in, wherein they are the less to be pitied, because it is so easy to be avoided; it being as impossible for a governor, if he really means the good of his people, and the preservation of them, and their laws together, not to make them see and feel it, as it is for the father of a family, not to let his children see he loves, and takes care of them.

The Conflict That Keeps The System In Place

It’s easy to see why people are upset and that the obvious solution is to have police do the right thing, but there is a conflict that we refuse to acknowledge. The conflict results from the exigencies of capitalism. Police started as a way for those in power to enforce unfair and unjust practices on laborers. In the South, modern police arose from slave patrols, while in the north police forces were created at the behest of merchants to control labor unrest in the face of “riots” (protests and strikes in actuality) over appalling working conditions.

The nature of modern policing in the USA is based on this origin and it has never really changed. We’ve thrown good on top of bad for so long that it’s hard to see to the rotten core of policing anymore, but it’s there and it’s the reason why we need to abolish them and find something different. We can legitimately exercise force to require people to submit to the law only when we have removed the gross excess of tyranny imposed upon them by those chosen to enforce the law.

Reform won’t work, but abolition will.

A recent article on ForeignPolicy.com entitled “I Abolished and Rebuilt the Police. The United States Can Do the Same.” by Georgia’s ex-President Mikheil Saakashvili makes claims that it has trouble backing up with facts.

Defund, Reform, Abolish

Before examining the article, there needs to be clarification around the terminology being thrown about. There is a misunderstanding around whether “defund the police” means to reform them or abolish them. This is an actual disagreement on the liberal side.

For instance Christy E. Lopez writing in the Washington Post links defunding to reform, while Mariame Kaba writing in the New York Times links defunding to abolition.

At the same time Fox News conservatives want defund to mean abolish, because they claim police abolition is the same thing as anarchy. This has centrist liberals scrambling trying to claim defunding is definitely reform.

The reality is that abolition does not mean a descent into anarchy. Police abolition does not mean abolishing laws or law enforcement. It means dismantling a system of oppression that has affected both blacks and whites for over a hundred years.

Abolition Is Not Reform

The article by President Saakashvili rather than a tale of abolition is actually a lesson about why reforming our system has never worked and will never work.

Distrust of police is symptomatic of a widespread sentiment: The system is built to protect the interests of elites. If we could solve this problem in Georgia, so can Americans. With that said, reform in any society is a continuous process because backsliding is always a danger. In the seven years since I left Georgia, the current ruling party has done nothing but erode the institutions that my government built. Approval of police dropped precipitously from 87 percent to 59 percent following the violent dispersal of peaceful protests in Tbilisi last summer.

President Saakashvili did not abolish policing in his country. He reformed the existing system putting it back together in much the same fashion while attempting to root out the more extreme elements of corruption. He is correct in that the system is built to protect elites, but he did not eliminate that failing, he put back that same core system and the result is the “violent dispersal of peaceful protests” he mentions.

Police Are Corrupt Because The Police System Is Corrupt

Policing both here and in Georgia is a symptom of a larger problem. For much of the late 1800s and early 1900s we existed in the same state as Georgia did before their reforms. Modern organized police in the USA originated as a way for merchants to keep their workers (or slaves) in line and have the public pay for it. Police were part of corrupt state and local governments that ran crime operations alongside actual government giving their organizations a veneer of respectability. Probably the most well known of these political machines was Tammany Hall. Police were the muscle behind political power and mostly they went around putting down “rioting” as the elite termed it, which was actually laborers protesting and striking against horrific working conditions.

When Prohibition started, corruption of the system became universal. With thousands of speakeasies in most major cities it was a given that police could not enforce the law. Power shifted away from political machines into the hands of bootleggers giving rise to the myth of the gangster. These gangsters did the same business the machines were doing, but without the veneer of respectability. Police at this point became little more than enforcers for the people that would pay them the most.

Police over the years have been given more jobs (most of which they should not be doing) to assuage the public as to their existence, but at the same time, as we see in the reaction to the current protests, their real role is still to enforce the will of those in power using extreme violence.

This is what President Saakashvili either failed to understand or is just being dishonest about. His police force received training from the USA.

A new force was built around new recruits.[3] The United States State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law-Enforcement Affairs has provided assistance to the training efforts.[5]

He took the model of policing we have used for over a hundred years and tried to place some level of accountability on top of it, but the reality is that doesn’t make the police accountable to the public, it makes them accountable to the politicians who are beholden to the rich. You still have heavily armed police available to be used at the discretion of the powerful to put down the public and that is what happened in the recent Georgian protests.

Abolish The System

The only real solution to the policing problem is to abolish policing as we know it and make changes to the system that creates the “criminals” we are putting in prisons by the millions. Again, this is not an abolition of law or law enforcement, this is a rejection of the way we currently go about law enforcement. This is also an economic choice more than anything. If we choose to pay people a living wage, give them a clean environment and affordable healthcare both mental and physical we will largely eliminate the need to put down the “riots” of society.

We can start by giving away all of the jobs police do that could be done better by some profession other than a police or at the very least by someone that isn’t heavily armed with a blank check to kill anytime they feel threatened.

  • Direct traffic or organize parade routes
  • Issue civil citations.
  • Assist people in mental or physical health emergencies.
  • Defuse a violent situation or deal with those that intend to hurt people.
  • Investigate sexual assault and domestic violence issues and support survivors.
  • Deal with substance abuse issues.

Once police stop doing these jobs we can pretty easily evaluate whether we need a heavily armed paramilitary organization to operate on a wide scale across our country. If anything, there will need to be a small force in each urban area that continues to react to violence (police don’t prevent violence) because we won’t deal with the incredibly easy access to firearms in this country.

That said, if we don’t deal with income inequality and the rest of the societal issues mentioned above then there won’t be a police force in the country that can stop people from burning things to the ground.

Why we should consider police abolition rather than reform.

Most of this article is excerpted or grossly lifted from this well sourced analysis by Dr. Gary Potter.

The cry to defund the police brings widespread skepticism and confusion on both sides of the police brutality issue. Defund on the liberal side to many means reform, but to others it means abolition. Conservatives have seized on this idea that defunding is abolition to scare the public into thinking that anarchy is the real goal. They are taking advantage of the fear of blacks and the poor that has been perpetuated in this country since the Civil War ended. The reality is that abolition is not that scary. It doesn’t mean abolishing laws or law enforcement and it might be the only way to solve the problem of policing.

In my previous article I laid out some of the reasons why we can and should abolish the police based on a podcast from Intercepted. To further understand why reform won’t work, we have to understand why all the reform attempts made in the hundred plus years since professional police were created have failed. To do that we have to go back to the beginning and look through the history of policing.

The Beginning of Modern Policing

Modern policing in the USA takes form in the 1830s and by the 1880s most major cities in Northern states have municipal police forces in place. Prior to this, policing in the north is largely informal and reactive with public watch systems and private-for-profit policing the norm in these cities.

These “modern police” organizations share similar characteristics:

  • They are publicly supported and bureaucratic in form
  • Police officers are full-time employees, not community volunteers or case-by-case fee retainers.
  • Departments have permanent and fixed rules and procedures, and employment as a police officers is continuous.
  • Police departments are accountable to a central governmental authority

Policing in the Southern states begins differently. It starts as slave patrols that capture escaped slaves, terrorize slaves to deter revolts and deliver summary justice. These police evolve after the Civil War with new tactics to control freed slaves and enforce Jim Crow laws.

The Reason For Modern Policing

Modern police evolve in the 1880s as a response to “disorder.” Disorder is defined at the time by mercantile interests, those with the money and influence over political forces to effect change. Social control is the goal. To ensure a stable and orderly workforce and the maintenance of what is referred to as the “collective good.” These mercantile interests also want to divest themselves of the cost of protecting their own enterprises and move those costs to the state.

In the late 1800s, without any laws governing worker’s rights, there is gross exploitation of labor from the profit-based production system. Workers are subject to long hours, dangerous working conditions and low pay. The only available method for workers seeking redress is what the economic elites refer to as “rioting,” which is actually the nascent form of union strikes. The modern police force is created and authorized to use force to quell these protests under the guise of maintaining the rule of law, rather than doing the bidding of the economic elites.

The Dangerous Classes

A fundamental change in society has to come about to accomplish this goal. The core of this arises via the concept of “dangerous classes.” The suggestion is that public drunkenness, crime, hooliganism, political protests and worker “riots” are all the product of a biologically inferior, morally intemperate, unskilled and uneducated underclass. This underclass is easily identifiable as it is largely made up of the poor, foreign immigrants and blacks.

At the time, consumption of alcohol is widely believed to be the major cause of crime and public disorder. The irony is that widespread consumption of alcohol is facilitated by the mercantile interests that set up the police department in the first place.

This change in how we perceive the crime problem, as resulting from “bad” individuals rather than socioeconomic conditions persists today and is one of the fundamental issues with policing in general. Previous to this, crime is dealt with reactively, in response to a specific criminal act. With a defined set of “bad” actors comes the idea that crime can be prevented by subjecting everyone to surveillance and observation. This leads to the insertion of police forces into everyday life.

Here is a description of the work of a typical urban police force of the late 19th and early 20th century.

  • Police systematically take payoffs to allow illegal drinking, gambling and prostitution
  • Police organize professional criminals, like thieves and pickpockets, trading immunity for bribes or information.
  • Police actively participate in vote-buying and ballot-box-stuffing.
  • Police drink while on patrol, they protect their patron’s vice operations, and they are quick to use peremptory force.
  • Police engage in strike breaking through forced dispersal of workers using extreme violence.
  • Police engage in strike breaking via vague “public order” and vagrancy law arrests to round up large numbers workers.

This is the core of the issue that we have with police. They started out as a corrupt and flagrantly brutal enterprise run by local government beholden to economic interests and they have never really changed. The only difference is that until the advent of widely available video cameras their flagrant brutality was not on display and could be swept back under the covers.

Reform

The first cries for reform begin nearly as soon as the modern police force is created. Reform efforts arise as investigative commissions usually, as today, in response to outrageous acts of criminality by police.

Examples of specific outrages leading to the formation of investigative commissions:

  • The formation of a prostitution syndicate by Los Angeles Mayor Arthur Harper, Police Chief Edward Kerns, and a local organized crime figure, combined with subsequent instructions to the police to harass this syndicate’s competitors in the prostitution industry.
  • The assassination of organized crime figure Arnold Rothstein by police lieutenant Charles Becker, head of the NYPD’s vice squad.
  • A dispute between the Mayor and District Attorney of Philadelphia, each of whom control rival gambling syndicates and each of whom use loyal factions of police to harass the other.

Reform Committee History New York City

  • Lexow Committee (1894) – Investigates police involvement in gambling prostitution and extortion. Finds that it requires a bribe of $1,600 to be promoted to sergeant and up to $15,000 to be promoted to captain.
  • Curren Committee (1913) – Investigates police collusion with gambling and prostitution.
  • Seabury Committee (1932) – Investigates Prohibition-related corruption.
  • Brooklyn grand jury (1949) – Investigates police involvement in gambling payoffs.
  • Knapp Commission (1972) – Investigates corruption related to gambling and drugs.
  • Mollen Commission (1993) – Exposes massive drug corruption, organized theft by police officers, excessive use of force and use of drugs by the police.

Conclusion

Despite the continuing professionalization of police forces, changes in organization structures and the exposure of widespread corruption by regular investigations year after year, decade after decade, nothing ever really gets fixed by reforming the police.

The reason is that the police, as they exist now, are not actually necessary for the functioning of a fair and equitable society.

Police are a response by political and financial elites to the unfairness that they have posited is deserved by the poor and marginalized. They do not prevent crime. They are there to put down dissent and revolt both at the micro and at the macro level. That is their primary function and it has not changed since their inception. Every other duty we have given them that seems positive (that someone else can and should be doing better) is to mask this issue and to ensure compliance.

Reformers point to removing the relatively recently established laws around police conduct and lack of accountability as the solution. This will not change the situation, it will just change who gets to make the excuses and who takes the blame.

This article has been edited to change the title and clarify the intent as advocating abolition while clarifying some of the terms used.

Abolish The Police – It’s more realistic than you think

Many people are conflicted regarding the issue of defunding the police, some conservatives see it as a call to abolition, and anarchy. Many liberals think it is a call for reform and this makes sense to a lot of people, because most have never known any other way of doing things. This is entirely understandable given the inertia of the system, but police violence has been going on for decades with promises of reform yet the same things keep happening.

Some liberals see defund the police as a call for abolition without the ensuing anarchy claimed by conservatives. On a recent Intercepted podcast with Ruth Wilson Gilmore the case is made for abolition. Ruth Wilson Gilmore is a scholar, prison abolitionist and author of Golden Gulag, a comprehensive analysis of prison expansion in California that hits from all sides, sociological, economic and political. It’s not an easy read, more like a textbook, but it is incredibly well researched and detailed. I’ve attempted to summarize and paraphrase details from the podcast in this post as they illuminate some cogent points about the need or lack thereof for police.

What Jobs Do Police Really Need To Do?

The point that always comes up when people mention defunding the police is who will save us from criminals? Dr. Gilmore is not naive. She realizes that not all problems can be solved without force, but the podcast makes a good point about how necessary force is to do the majority of the jobs we have assigned, somewhat arbitrarily, to heavily armed police.

  • Direct traffic or organize parade routes
  • Issue civil citations.
  • Assist people in mental or physical health emergencies.
  • Defuse a violent situation or deal with those that intend to hurt people.
  • Investigate sexual assault and domestic violence issues and support survivors.
  • Deal with substance abuse issues.

Take away all these jobs that can be done better or at least as well by someone other than a heavily armed policeman and you are left only with what Micol Seigel terms violence work. If it’s not clear from the past few weeks, police are hired to produce violence and “spectacular dominance that forces us to submit to an uneven status quo.” They do that with the full support of the law.

Police Combine Warfare Against Communities with “Lawfare” That Protects Them

In Graham vs Connor (1989) the Supreme Court lowered the bar substantially for an officer to excuse any use of excessive force. The court decided that if an officer acted reasonably, given the circumstances of the situation, then they could not be prosecuted. They specifically indicated that “the ‘reasonableness’ of a particular use force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, rather than with the 20/20 vision of hindsight.”

The result is that if an officer says that at the time he killed someone he feared for his life, he walks. It doesn’t matter if the other person had no weapon at all, it’s all determined by the cop’s point of view at the moment the incident occurred. This test is not difficult to pass legally, even without the additional protection of the blue wall of silence. Now, consider that the person we are talking about who feared for his life is the one that is heavily armed and in almost all cases more heavily armed than the people they are dealing with.

The Politicians That Are Supposed To Reform Police Are Using The Same “Lawfare” To Protect Corporations

Bipartisan criminal justice reform does not work. It purports to be able to separate the people that should be punished from the people that should not be punished while also identifying “the people we are afraid of” within the former group. This sets them up for perpetual punishment, while the low hanging fruit are given some sort of relief such as decriminalization, house arrest or e-carceration.

At the same time, the politicians that are participating in these bipartisan reforms are constantly trying to remove responsibility from corporations for their harmful practices if it can’t be proved that they engaged in these practices knowing and intending to harm people. When a corporate entity in Flint poisons the water that the people drink, they can’t be held responsible if they didn’t intend to poison the water with the knowledge that people would die.

Essentially, this lack of accountability is endemic to the system and we are expecting the same people that continually perpetuate it to fix it.

Conclusion

Once we give all of those jobs listed above away to other professions (or create new ones to do them without being heavily armed) what do we need police to do? In reality, almost nothing. Having more police doesn’t reduce crime and they kill three people a day on average here in the USA. The only thing left is violence work. If we do need a direct violent response to a situation then it would be much safer to create a very specific profession that just does that and make their use highly restricted and accountable.

This article has been edited to change the title and clarify the intent as advocating abolition while clarifying some of the terms used.

Defund the police – The ambiguous messaging has multiple possible outcomes

Ambiguous messaging seems to be the complaint around the Black Lives Matter movement. We’ve arrived at the question of what does “Defund The Police” mean?

Take away what money?

Defund implies taking away money, but then the question becomes how much money? All of it? Some of it? Also, when one refers to “the police” this is not the same as saying “the FBI” or “the CIA.” There is no overarching organization across the country that is responsible for police. Each state, city, county or town has its own police force. There could be areas where everyone is happy with how their police department works, but there could also be areas where the police department has totally failed such as it did in Camden, NJ.

In that example the city defunded their entire police force and replaced them. The police department was part of the crime problem, with rampant corruption and a lack of oversight. Defunding them was the only way to fix the problem. The key point is that money flowing into departments from government is what keeps them going. Governments can cut that off in part or in whole to either influence them or remove them.

Police should not police themselves

The core problem with policing as it applies to Black Lives Matter is a lack of civilian oversight. Police departments that do not agree to make their policies and personnel records subject to civilian oversight and give those civilians the power to remove problem officers should be defunded and disbanded. Put another force put in place that will be subject to that oversight.

Oversight allows revision of tactics. Defund racially biased and ineffective policies like stop and frisk and broken windows. Remove military hardware and unnecessary SWAT teams from police departments.

Despite all of those options, there are still some that will say that we should defund police entirely, across the board. Dealing with crime is obviously the main concern when anyone mentions defunding the police and while there are models for community policing it’s unlikely that major cities will be able to completely rid themselves of police.

The system fuels distrust

It’s important to understand that defunding the police is a solution to police criminality. It doesn’t address the systemic issues responsible for crime, which in general are poverty, income inequality, lack of healthcare, lack of education, crumbling infrastructure and the drug war. Changing how police operate does not fix these problems. Only changing the laws to make things more fair and equitable will do that.

The rich and corporations influence politicians to make laws that keep taxes low for them while at the same time taking full advantage of government infrastructure and services. Many governments that do not have enough revenue use civil statutes as a regressive way to support infrastructure and services without raising taxes. The police enforce these statutes as part of broken windows policing. The financial burden of these policies falls disproportionately on the over-policed poor. Unable to pay the fines that fall on them the poor are subject to modern day debtors prisons. There can be no public trust with the police if they or those in power over them derive their revenue either directly or indirectly from citations the police give out. For this same reason, the abolition of civil forfeiture must take place.

A failed policy

When no one can pay the civil penalties, these policies fail. Infrastructure crumbles due to lack of upkeep and services cannot be funded. This results in poverty spreading which creates more crime. The solution to crime in this model is policing. Tough on crime laws come into play at this point. The prison industrial complex is fed with the lives of the poor.

This is where we are today. The 80s and 90s saw prisons sprout up in towns across the USA touting the virtues of secure jobs to places divested of manufacturing and farming income. Laws to fill those prisons proliferated. Now, the USA houses 25% of the world’s prison population while having only 5% of the world’s population.

Lyndon Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty in 1964. His vision did not include the USA leading the world in imprisonment of the poor.

Defund The Police – The System Revolts

Now that protests seem to have reached their zenith in the wake of George Floyd’s death the question becomes, what next? Numerous articles have started addressing the idea of defunding the police and what that means. There are those that would be willing to defund police without any planning at all because they have never had police or the justice system in general do anything positive for them. Even though the justice system is permeated by horrible bias and a lack of accountability at every level, at the same time we will soon see a host of different actors engage to defend it at all costs.

The reality is that we are fully capable of defunding police departments across the country and we should if they continue to refuse to agree to meaningful reforms. There’s the rub though. Will the current police organizations actually agree to meaningful reforms? And even if they do, how do we ensure those reforms are actually implemented? In many cases meaningful reforms would constitute an end to the profession as most of them know it and police unions are dead set against reform.

Meaningful reforms would give the public oversight into police behavior and their dealings with the public. The public do not trust police to enact reforms on their own and they do not trust the politicians currently in office to oversee the process. At minimum a neutral third party is needed in each area to review all complaints against police so that we would no longer have to find out after an officer kills someone that they had eighteen complaints filed against them and multiple incidents of deadly force. Past records need to be examined by a third party and that third party should be empowered to remove dangerous offenders from the profession. In addition, most police would need to give up the military hardware that has been supplied to them over the years and shut down unnecessary SWAT teams.

In some areas it’s unlikely that the police will be willing to agree with these reforms and in those cases they should be defunded and replaced with law enforcement that agrees to the public’s terms unconditionally. Police in many areas have become a gang. That many will lie, cheat and steal to protect their own is a given when covering up murders is commonplace. They use gang tactics as part of policing both the public and their own to enforce their blue wall of silence. That this propensity for shielding themselves from responsibility has a name should be abhorrent to anyone interested in justice.

The reason any of this is unlikely to happen is because the ruling class has no problems with the way the system runs now. The rich have no actual issues with our justice system. They don’t deal with police except from a position of power. When they are charged with a crime they largely never go to prison. Even in cases where a rich person is actually convicted of a crime they have often ducked accountability for years due to their wealth and power and in general unless they piss off other rich people they can get away with almost anything. Our own President has been embroiled in scandal for nearly his whole life and is currently using the Covid-19 crisis bailout as a personal slush fund.

The other problem is that the prison system is a massive multi-billion dollar a year industry. A product of tough on crime liberals like current Presidential candidate Joe Biden and former President Bill Clinton dedicated to funneling poor people into cages. This system will revolt in numerous ways to any changes that remove people from those cages. It will sow fear and discord among the populace to keep the system in place. It’s a great tactic and it has worked for a long time. The reality is that the USA owns 25 percent of the world’s incarcerated while having only 5% of its population and this is accepted by those in power.

Can we defund/reform the police? Absolutely. Will we do it? Hopefully it won’t take an armed uprising to accomplish it.

Retail and Service Workers Need to Unionize

Grocery store and retail employees are dying from Covid-19. None of them are getting paid enough for this sort of risk or have the benefits to cover them if they get sick. Even if they are given those benefits right now it won’t make up for a lifetime of not having them. The reason these workers have no voice is that they have consistently voted against unionizing in these industries across the country.

People lament the exit of good paying manufacturing jobs from the USA, but they fail to realize that the only reason those jobs paid well and had good benefits was because of unions. Before unions those jobs were worse than what are available now in retail and service. Manufacturing workers were often subject to extremely dangerous working conditions and long hours for low pay and no benefits at all. No retirement plan, no health insurance. Until 1938 their kids probably worked those jobs as well.

When people organized during the late 1800s the corporations called on armed goon squads to beat down union members, organizers and strikers. These people weren’t just risking a job to organize, they were risking their lives.

Yet today unions get a bad rap all around. Corporations and their political mouthpieces in the government have made unions out to be full of swindlers and con men with links to organized crime that are out to cheat laborers. When Reagan busted PATCO back in 1981 that opened the floodgates for corporations to throw labor under the bus. Reagan’s action cost the government billions of dollars, far more than PATCO had asked for in their negotiations, but he got away with it because corporations loved it.

As union membership waned in the 1980s, those decent paying jobs were shipped off to other countries. Why is this the case? Dean Baker in his book Rigged: How Globalization and the Rules of the Modern Economy Were Structured to Make the Rich Richer explains how the game is set up.

The conventional story is that we lose manufacturing jobs to developing countries because they have hundreds of millions of people willing to do factory work at a fraction of the pay of manufacturing workers in the United States. This is true, but developing countries also have tens of millions of smart and ambitious people willing to work as doctors and lawyers in the United States at a fraction of the pay of the ones we have now.

Gains from trade work the same with doctors and lawyers as they do with textiles and steel. Our consumers would save hundreds of billions a year if we could hire professionals from developing countries and pay them salaries that are substantially less than what we pay our professionals now. The reason we import manufactured goods and not doctors is that we have designed the rules of trade that way. We deliberately write trade pacts to make it as easy as possible for U.S. companies to set up manufacturing operations abroad and ship the products back to the United States, but we have done little or nothing to remove the obstacles that professionals from other countries face in trying to work in the United States. The reason is simple: doctors and lawyers have more political power than autoworkers.

…The loss of manufacturing jobs also reduced the wages of less-educated workers (those without college degrees) more generally. The displaced manufacturing workers crowded into retail and other service sectors, putting downward pressure on wages there.

Having worked in retail both as a grunt and as a manager I can tell you from personal experience, major retailers are deathly afraid of unionization. Walmart has closed stores that have unionized. They eliminated butchers from 180 stores when one store’s meat department unionized. They settled for up to $640 million in 2008 for failing to pay workers overtime. They will literally lose billions just to avoid paying labor fair wages. They are not alone.

Corporations overall dedicate billions of dollars each year both towards lobbying for laws that weaken labor as well as paying for the services of companies that actively work at discouraging organized labor.

The only way to get labor back in a position where it can be effective is to have the majority of workers in these industries in a union, because that is the only way labor will have a voice in politics. There is no hope of electing someone that is sympathetic to labor and having them act on those promises without the political firepower to back them up.