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I first spoke to Phillip Atiba Goff, the writer behind today’s Op-Ed, “The Dystopian Police State the Trump Administration Wants,” in 2014, a couple of months after Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo. I was writing about race and politics for Vox, and Phil was the expert on implicit bias in policing everyone wanted to interview.
That’s because Phil, the director of the Center for Policing Equity, pioneered scientific experiments that exposed how our minds — yes, that includes the minds of police officers — learn to associate Blackness and crime in ways that can have deadly consequences. As he has long acknowledged, that’s certainly not the only problem with race and policing, but it’s one that attracted a lot of attention in the wake of Brown’s death.
In the years since I first interviewed him, a lot has changed. Back then, Black Lives Matter was considered “controversial.” Now it’s written on the floors of N.B.A. courts and in the Instagram captions of major brands. And anyone who watched footage from this summer’s protests or heard Daniel Cameron, the Kentucky attorney general, explain why Breonna Taylor’s killers won’t be charged in her death knows the problems run much deeper than “a few bad apples.”
When I received an email from him with the subject line, “The dystopian future of policing,” it really caught my attention. I don’t think of Phil as someone who’s very dramatic, but here he was giving readers this warning:
Since this spring, when Americans watched George Floyd take his last breaths as Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on his neck, we’ve borne witness to the worst that this country’s criminal justice system has to offer: continued extrajudicial killings, failure to hold officers accountable and state-sponsored violence against those standing up for justice.
It’s hard to imagine that things could get worse. But draft recommendations from a Trump-appointed policing commission prove that they could.
I encourage you to read his piece about the recommendations and how life for many people in this country would change if they were to become law. As he puts it, they “provide a frightening window into the administration’s vision for law enforcement.”
Phil makes clear that a judge recently ordered the commission to halt its proceedings and, even if it’s eventually allowed to continue its work, many of its recommendations are not the kinds of things that a president could carry out alone.
But the fact that this is what the Trump administration envisions for the future of policing feels significant. As Phil writes, “These recommendations could become an actionable blueprint for the kind of dystopian policing that many — especially those who have never experienced state violence themselves — thought we could never see in the United States.”
I feel comfortable saying if he is worried, you should be too.
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