If It’s Wednesday, We Like the Feds (Update)

The Department of Justice issues two reports, one condemning the police in Ferguson, Missouri, for racism, and the other concluding that its investigation did not support bringing civil rights charges against Police Officer Darren Wilson for killing Michael Brown, or as Paul Cassell victoriously proclaims, he was right all along and Wilson’s been cleared.  Both are all over the news, and need not be repeated here.

What’s astounding about this is how the Department of Justice’s reports are applauded, embraced with love and blind acceptance, because . . . we trust them so completely.

What happened here?  How did the DoJ, the very same DoJ that is the subject of such anger and derision from its abusive prosecutions to its deception and duplicity in the care and feeding of constitutional rights, suddenly become the font of truth and trustworthiness?

This isn’t to say that the reports are wrong, or baseless.  As David Menschel twitted, “It’s almost like US DOJ read @radleybalko in WaPo and @ArchCityDefense‘s white paper and simply adopted the analysis.”  It’s that the DoJ confirmed our belief that the cops in Ferguson are as bad as we thought they were.  Hooray!  We were right all along! 

If this strikes you as too much like Cassell’s view, tough nuggies.  After all, when the DoJ confirms our bias, then truth has won. When it confirms his, then he’s just delusional, particularly since the finding that the evidence doesn’t support prosecution isn’t at all the same as Wilson being cleared.

What do we make of the Department of Justice, whose report about the bad cops of Ferguson is accepted as gospel when it suits our sensibilities but is otherwise a den of legal iniquity when they run roughshod over the Constitution?  Is it still a great report when it’s written with unclean hands?  Or is it a great report only because we agree with it?

For as long as I can remember, the feds were exalted as having great integrity when it came to assessing the performance of lesser law enforcement agencies.  Indeed, whenever some local police department, Ferguson for example, engages in conduct that gives rise to cries of racism or brutality, the next cry is for the federal government to investigate these outrages.  Save us, feds, from these vicious cops.

And to add to the mix, the solution following a federal investigation is federal oversight.  We applaud the Department of Justice for stepping in, overseeing the conduct of local police who can’t be trusted to conduct themselves lawfully on their own.

Why?  Why do we suddenly repose miraculous trust in the federal government to perform with a level of integrity and concern for our welfare, our protection, our rights, when it comes to smacking around the abusive and racist local police, while we simultaneously have a laundry list of evils perpetrated by the feds on their own turf?

Which is it?  Are the feds the good guys or the bad guys?  Are they better than local cops, but not otherwise trustworthy, or do they somehow magically shift shape when it comes to handling issues of racism and brutality by someone else, even if they can’t manage to clean up their own mess?

Or is it just according to what day of the week it is, because there doesn’t seem to be any principled basis to conclude that the feds are entirely worthy of our trust one day and are utterly lacking in integrity the next?  And why doesn’t this seem to trouble anyone else?

Stories about these reports can be found everywhere today, yet the same voices that are regularly critical of the feds suddenly adore them.  Now whose integrity is on the line?

Update:  And if the problem was unclear, this from the Washington Times:

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. is enjoying a tidal wave of laudatory press coverage for his activism on the Ferguson, Mo., shooting and subsequent protests. In the 1990s, though, Mr. Holder ignored plenty of cases of District of Columbia black cops killing unarmed black civilians — even when policemen lied about the shootings.

Mr. Holder was appointed in 1993 by President Clinton as U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. At that time, D.C. police were killing more civilians than any other large city police force, based on population. The number of killings by D.C. police quadrupled between 1989 and 1995, when 16 civilians died as a result of police gunfire.

This isn’t exactly a strong qualification to throw stones at Ferguson.

34 comments on “If It’s Wednesday, We Like the Feds (Update)

  1. William Doriss

    I expect there will be a ton of comments on this one. Can’t wait!
    We know who will be “policing” the commenters,… while trying to
    raise much-needed revenue at the same time. Ha.

    1. SHG Post author

      I suspect that there won’t be many comments at all. More importantly, I suspect the people for whom this post most applies will not have much of an interest in introspection. We shall see.

  2. Hal

    Not trying to be the grammar and spelling police, but shouldn’t “delusion” be “delusional”?

  3. BJC

    I thought about this inconsistency, and for me it comes down to that, because the only thing that DOJ is doing is trying to reform the police department, the usual angles of federal gross overreach aren’t there. No poor or mentally ill people are getting entrapped into crime, the DOJ isn’t seizing anybody’s property, no politician is being tried just before his reelection, there’s nobody being charged with Sarbanes-Oxley for throwing away a fish or with obstruction for misremembering what they had for breakfast the first time the FBI stopped by, etc.

    I am open to revising my view if it turns out anything like that did happen.

  4. Keith Lynch

    I think it makes perfect sense to cite federal government reports
    when arguing with people who trust the federal government (which most
    people with power and influence still do), even if you believe the
    federal government lies constantly about everything. Similarly, it
    makes sense to cite the Bible when arguing with Christians and to
    cite L. Ron Hubbard when arguing with Scientologists, even if you
    believe that what you’re citing is complete nonsense.

    1. SHG Post author

      And another whoosh. Had your scenario been the subject of the post, your comment would be absolutely appropriate. But that’s not what this post is about.

  5. David M.

    This occurred to me back when we were debating DOJ rape statistics with Barry Deutsch.

    To me, it boils down to: if you can check someone’s methodology, you can make an informed decision on whether or not to believe their conclusions. This is as true for the feds as for anyone. (And if they refuse to detail their methodology, people like Francis Walker pounce and I get very suspicious.)

    Though the source of a report can be important information, stopping once you’ve heard it and refusing all further critical thought seems like a poor approach.

    But it’s popular, so – yeah, when this is your decision-making process, and a source you’ve learned to hate publishes content you approve of, I guess you’re likely to end up a hypocrite. It seems unreasonable to expect people to develop critical analysis skills on the spot when ignoring the past is an option.

    1. SHG Post author

      Yup. My sense is the report on racism is accurate because it conforms with information from people I trust, like Radley and Arch City Defenders. But this goes further, where we keep turning to the feds for solace whenever the locals are killers. Why do we keep dipping in this poisonous well? Why do we think the feds, who can’t keep their own house clean, can clean other people’s houses?

      1. Patrick Maupin

        > Why do we think the feds, who can’t keep their own house clean, can clean other people’s houses?

        Perhaps it’s a shoemaker’s children problem.

        Or maybe the entire DoJ really is as bad as some of their recent excesses would indicate. In which case, a reasonable reading might be “Gosh, the behavior in Ferguson was so egregious that even the feds have a problem with it!”

        1. SHG Post author

          Or perhaps it’s easier to call the other guy ugly than admit that you’re also ugly. There are a lot of possibilities along the cute spectrum, but which one are you ready to bet your life on?

  6. glasnost

    Why do we trust the NFL to correctly referee football games when they have a history of covering up player misbehavior, financial scandals, and exploitative practices?
    Answer: Because the NFL has a vested interest in successfully performing this task. Performing it helps them, rather than hurts them.
    Most people and organizations resort to dishonesty in the defense of their interests and assets. This doesn’t correlate to serial dishonesty, i.e. constantly lying about everything they do, just because they can.
    Goldman Sachs is very dishonest about their investment strategies when targeting their marks, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to casually lie about how you’re supposed to use their website to make trades.
    To complete the metaphor, the Feds have nothing much to gain by lying about the Ferguson, MO police department. It means nothing to them. So why lie? All the risk is on the lying side (being contradicted by independent investigation).

    That’s one reason.

    Secondly, you’re pushing a broader implied case here about why it’s actively wrong to trust the DoJ here, because it validates the an organization that shouldn’t be validated. But frankly, there’s no possible replacement for the feds. They’re the only one who can credibly wield a big enough, yet nuanced enough stick to actually improve that department. You can’t do it. A mob can’t do it. The Bill Gates Foundation can’t do it. There’s no other cavalry.

    So it’s natural to trust the govt here because the report is basically a giant signal that “we agree this is bad”. The factual details in the report don’t really matter. The ones that matter have been conclusively and credibly established by others. It’s easy to trust them because they’re just repeating stuff we already know. The important information of the report is that the feds believe the third parties reporting all the bad stuff happens. And that’s believeable b/c it’s consistent with Fed behavior on these matters under the Obama Admin.

    1. SHG Post author

      There is absolutely nothing in your very long comment that reflects intelligent thought. The NFL gets to referee its own games because they’re NFL games. They don’t get to referee USFL games. Your analogy is ridiculously bad.

      There is no possible replacement for the Feds? So what? And that’s false. We have trusted organizations, and so we trust them. Some people trust the feds, which is fine. The point of the post is to question why people who historically do not trust the feds do so when it confirms their bias and serves their interest. They can’t only be trustworthy then you like the outcome and scum-sucking liars when you don’t.

      And as to your next comment, which I’m deleting, no, it’s not the same as David Duke promoting the existence of gravity.

    2. Myles

      “To complete the metaphor, the Feds have nothing much to gain by lying about the Ferguson, MO police department. It means nothing to them. So why lie?”

      That’s exactly what prosecutors say to the jury about why they should believe the cop.

  7. Pingback: DoJ won't charge Darren Wilson, excoriates Ferguson in report - Overlawyered

  8. DW

    I very rarely have a nice thing to say about the DOJ, but I have to applaud the move they made here.

    As Scott has pointed out in the past, the protests and riots aren’t about Michal Brown, they are about a decades long pattern of abuse and malice. Similarly, the cops see Darren Wilson as sybolizing scapegoated cops, a stand up guy who is just doing his job, and everyone hates him for no reason. (For the record, the cops are some combination of disingenuous and delusional)

    What the DOJ has done here is attempt to get out of this without causing trouble. Anyone who knows anything about the the federal government knows that they’ve never let “technicalities” (such as facts, evidence, or the constitution) get in the way of a good prosecution. Not charging Wilson is a choice, and it’s one they’ve made to appease law enforcment by not coming down on an individual cop. Instead they called out the organizational structure that was the real cause of the last 6 months of turmoil. Doing this will go a long way in taking the wind out of the sails of the protesters and critics, and while it won’t win them any favor with cops, it won’t outrage them either.

    As for why everyone is so happy that the DOJ comes in to fix a police department? It’s because they’ve been quite happy to throw their weight around with local departments, and force them to adopt standards that they themselves would never comply with. The big bullies in the local PD get sorted out by the much bigger bullies in the DOJ. It’s kind of like seeing that kid that beat you up in school catch a beating from his stepdad. By no means “good”, but oh so cathardic.

    1. SHG Post author

      Have you given any thought to the local police departments that are under DoJ supervision? How has that worked out? Do we have DoJ to thank for having cleaned up all racism and brutality in police departments nationwide, because of they’re the big kid who showed up to beat of the bully?

      It all sounds fine, until you apply the slightest scrutiny. So tell me how that’s working out for everybody? Are we happy with the guys count-stacking guns and applying 17:1 ratios for crack to fix racism and brutality by those local bullies?

      1. DW

        Never said it was good, it was politically prudent, well played, and I’ll take it over the current alternative of doing nothing.
        In terms of outcomes on Ferguson, this was the best we were going to get, and I’d rather the DOJ make Ferguson PD miserable than give them their tacit approval by not issuing a damning report and eventually supervising the department. You and I both know that that’s about the most severe consequence for a misbehaving department. The story never ends with all the cops benig led away in cuffs or the administration being replaced with people who will respect the constitution and actually supervise the street cops.

        If I could wave a wand and end the drug war I would, but that won’t happen until it becomes a political liability to support the drug war, and that can’t happen until the baby boomers start dying off in meaningful numbers.

        For this day in 2015, I’ll consider it a win that there will be any consequences. We can go back to criticizing the DOJ for being Knights Templar on Monday.

  9. Bartleby the Scrivener

    I tend to think the federal government as a whole are the ‘not great’ guys, because while I think they tend to mean well, I don’t think they generally accomplish well, and there’s enough of them that aren’t good at all to make the lot of them rather suspicious.

    However, that they’re generally not great doesn’t mean they’re always wrong…it just means it sucks to admit when they do something we like because it might sound like an endorsement of everything else they do.

    1. SHG Post author

      The alternative to “not great guys” isn’t always wrong. But you’re on the right track, I think. They can do something right without our having to elevate them to sainthood.

  10. SamS

    Just because the DOJ produced two decent reports does not mean it was “applauded, embraced with love and blind acceptance.” I didn’t read any articles that were that enthusiastic. My analogy is that the DOJ is like the C-, D+ student who for once turns in a solid B assignment. Accept the work for what it is, say “good Job” but expect he’s going to go back to form in the immediate future.

  11. John Barleycorn

    On more than one occasion you have concluded that it was time for oversight from the DOJ, or ponderd “where is the DOJ”. I think the last time was in Professor Longhair’s neighborhood via the guy in Louisiana serving papers on a cop and his long ride on the justice train before being able to get off the train without being incarcerated or being shot for resisting arrest.

    Nobody gives a shit and would use their worst enimies personal diary to further their cause on the national stage esteemed one. Besides hypocrisy is a prerequisite to scoring an interview in the national press isn’t it?

    You can leave your hat on but sooner or later the DOJ, local police departments, and even your guild, prosecutors and judges definitely included, are going to have to buy a new pair of boots.

    Even people that watch the six o’clock news and read the NYT are starting to notice that although that dried manure and blood might “look good” chances are the manure is the result of being too lazy to dig a new hole for the outhouse and not working hard to clean out the barn and the blood is almost certainly not from an honest days work out castrating calfs but almost certainly the literal or figurative blood of another soul picked out of the heard for the ride in a wayward attempt to modify the herds behavior seeing as how castration is still off limits.

    I the meantime, I will be up here in the cheap seats drinking beer and eating peanuts while pencilling out the script for the Third Branch Awakening porno series in the margins of the program and drawing up action figure heros in mustard and a black sharpie on hot dog wrappers wearing flip flops waiting for someone on the inside to write a report or better yet start a committee.

    It’s an odd sort of grief when you start to realize small “a” anarchists don’t break windows, chant slogans, or intimidate but are increasingly the only ones trying to build shit or put in an honest days work but it beats bemoaning the architecture of the official knots that are increasingly being designed to be untieable.

    I hate flip flops! But I will keep wearing them until it becomes fashionable to wear them while testifying in front of a congressional committee who’s members are all wearing those shinny black wingtip boots that will be appearing in full page adds momentarily in the pages of the NYT.

    P.S. Relax fashion is a bitch but you have to ride out the cycles.

    1. SHG Post author

      When I say, “where is the DoJ,” it’s my way of noting their absence, as in, “and once again, the DoJ is nowhere to be found.” It’s not a compliment.

      1. John Barleycorn

        Yeah, I figured that but nonetheless I know you hold out some hope in your dreams for the Justice Department. They do indeed have the tools if they could only figure out what the tools were. designed for. But I guess they would have to dust them off first and that assumes they could even find them buried in the basement.

        Ramsey Clark wouldn’t have-nothing on you. Except he could dress I guess.
        Attorney General would suit someone of your tender but not ancient years.
        It is a shame that the small “a” anarchists probably won’t becoming into fashion until just about the time you are slightly more on the descending side of the ancient curve.

        You never know tough… In the meantime “Fuck The DOJ” is rather fun to say but something tells me the herds in the street are going to need a little more assistance connecting the dots before that phrase catches on.

        P.S. If Hillary or Jeb invite you to the inaugural ball don’t forget to wear your flip flops.

        1. SHG Post author

          I don’t think either will invite me, but if I do, I will get black, patent leather flip flops to go with my tux.

  12. Jack

    I think it is just power dynamics – the feds are more powerful than the local or state police. Who the hell else is going to reign in the local or state police if not the feds? There is simply no other choice.

    Someone can bully you occasionally, and you will fear them. But, if they beat down someone who constantly bullies you, you are going to cheer for them while they do it, even though you will fear them again as soon as the ass kicking ends.

    1. SHG Post author

      Of course. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Except when he’s also my enemy. The math is easy, as long as all those nice folks who are kissing ass today remember whose ass they’re kissing.

  13. Peter H

    One thing I think is that the DOJ is very large and not a monolith. The civil rights division has different institutional norms and biases than the antitrust division or the criminal division. I think it’s reasonable to trust a report from the civil rights division more than one from the criminal division, all else being equal.

    1. SHG Post author

      You make the best argument I’ve heard yet. Whether it’s a sufficient distinction isn’t clear, but you certainly have a point that civil rights isn’t criminal and shouldn’t be tainted by criminal’s failings.

    2. Bartleby the Scrivener

      This is really great and helps me overcome the feeling of cognitive dissonance I was experiencing.

      Thank you.

  14. Neil

    This is the kind of problem you run into if you don’t keep your tinfoil hat properly calibrated.

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