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“An Outlier For All The Wrong Reasons”: What America’s Gun-Toting Cops Look Like To The Rest Of The World

From protests in Washington, the police shooting of an unarmed teen in suburban St. Louis looks tragic. From rallies in Los Angeles, the death of a man caught selling cigarettes in New York City looks baffling. From inside churches in Chicago, the police shooting of a black child with a toy gun in Cleveland looks heartbreaking.

Still, there’s often a weariness to these responses, a sense that excessive police force is both shocking and predictable at the same time. Which is why it’s helpful, every now and then, to remember what all of this looks like from abroad.

The Economist this week has penned a blunt editorial that captures how much of the rest of the developed world views the American criminal justice system and our particular brand of policing: “In many cases,” the U.K.-based magazine writes, “Americans simply do not realise how capricious and violent their law-enforcement system is compared with those of other rich countries.”

We forget that other countries (the U.K. included) often police without firearms at all. We don’t realize that other parts of the world maintain public safety without the high costs of over-incarceration. We don’t know — in a country where we’re bad at keeping such stats ourselves — that police killings of any kind are exceeding rare elsewhere.

From that foreign perspective, this is what our system looks like:

Bits of America’s criminal-justice system are exemplary—New York’s cops pioneered data-driven policing, for instance—but overall the country is an outlier for all the wrong reasons. It jails nearly 1% of its adult population, more than five times the rich-country average. A black American man has, by one estimate, a one in three chance of spending time behind bars. Sentences are harsh. Some American states impose life without parole for persistent but non-violent offenders; no other rich nation does. America’s police are motivated to be rapacious: laws allow them to seize assets they merely suspect are linked to a crime and then spend the proceeds on equipment. And, while other nations have focused on community policing, some American police have become paramilitary, equipping themselves with grenade launchers and armoured cars. The number of raids by heavily armed SWAT teams has risen from 3,000 a year in 1980 to 50,000 today, by one estimate.

Above all, American law enforcement is unusually lethal: even the partial numbers show that the police shot and killed at least 458 people last year. By comparison, those in England and Wales shot and killed no one.

The U.S. is an international model in a lot of ways, the magazine points out. But this is decidedly not one of them.


By: Emily Badger, Wonkblog, The Washington Post, December 12, 2014

December 15, 2014 Posted by | Criminal Justice System, Police Shootings, United Kingdom | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So Much For The Nation’s Falling Stature”: Unfortunately For Conservatives And Mitt Romney, Reality Keeps Getting In The Way

A few weeks ago, as part of a larger condemnation of the Obama presidency, Mitt Romney insisted the last five years have been awful for the United States’ stature around the world. “It is hard to name even a single country that has more respect and admiration for America today than when President Obama took office,” the failed candidate said, adding, “Our esteem around the world has fallen.”

For the right, this is a common line of attack. Tea Party favorite Ben Carson recently argued, “Russians seem to be gaining prestige and influence throughout the world as we are losing ours.” Former Vice President Dick Cheney said on “Face the Nation” a month ago that America’s willingness to keep our commitments has been “in doubt for some time now” around the globe “because of the policies of the Obama administration.”

Unfortunately for conservatives, reality keeps getting in the way. Zack Beauchamp reported this morning:

American foreign policy may look like it’s in shambles sometimes, but the world doesn’t seem to think so. According to Gallup’s US Global Leadership Project, a gigantic survey of over 130,000 people in 130 countries, approval of the United States’ leadership bounced up five percentage points in 2013. That’s a lot.

Gallup used its survey data to estimate the percentage of people in each of these 130 countries who say they approve or disapprove of “the leadership of the United States” – basically, of President Obama.

Though there are, not surprisingly, broad regional differences, I found it interesting that in Asia, support for U.S. leadership is stronger now than at any time during either the Obama or the Bush administrations.

The only continent in which U.S. stature has seen a decline is in Africa, but even here, approval of the United States is higher than anywhere else.

What’s more, Gallup also found, “The world felt a little better about U.S. leadership last year, giving it the highest global approval ratings out of five global powers, including Germany, China, the European Union, and Russia.”

Sorry, Mitt.

The political world can, of course, have a debate over why U.S. stature appears to be improving abroad. Beauchamp makes a persuasive case that it’s the result of several factors, including improved European economies, a declining U.S. drone war, and improved relations with Central America.

We can also have a discussion about where the nation’s reputation would be now were it not for the hit we took during the Bush/Cheney era, when the United States’ reputation suffered an actual, not an imaginary, blow.

Regardless, it seems hard to take seriously the assertion that “our esteem around the world has fallen.”


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, April 11, 2014

April 12, 2014 Posted by | Bush-Cheney Administration, Foreign Policy | , , , , , , | 1 Comment


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