Another special-needs mom making a difference:
For those who care about the problem of police violence and abuse, this may be the most important story of the decade. Maybe longer. Last week, Tom Woods interviewed Dale Brown, founder of the Detroit Threat Management Center. In case you don't have time to listen to the entire 39-minute interview, here are some highlights.
Essentially, the DTMC has done what libertarians like Murray Rothbard and David Friedman have long been saying could be done: They have turned the provision of public safety into a profitable business model, and they have done it in some of the worst neighborhoods in the country. The results have been incredible: According to Brown, crime has dropped dramatically in the areas where they work, and all without the loss of life to their staff or anyone else.
Brown moved to Detroit from Ann Arbor in the early 1990s. He was surprised to find that police in detroit behaved more as predators than protectors, that they were only interested in incarcerating as many people as possible, not in preventing crime.
"Law enforcement at that time was very fixated on one thing," he says, "imprisoning every single African American that they could."
Brown, who had been training volunteers, went into one of Detroit's worst neighborhoods. Dubbed "Crack Alley", it consisted of about ten apartment buildings and, according to Brown, about 100 aggressors, or 25% of the population. "There were hundreds of people who needed help," he says. "I couldn't get the police to help them."
So Brown went to the building owners and made them an offer: In exchange for one free apartment in a building, he would train and install one person to protect that building.
"Every day there was a home invasion," says Brown. "Every month there were murders. This is in one square block. From the day I started, there was only one more home invasion - I caught them - and there were no more murders from the day I started."
"So building owners suddenly went into the black for the first time in 20 years, because no-one moved from the buildings and everyone paid their rent. All of a sudden, as a result of people paying their rent... these corner stores, liquor stores, laundromats, all the places started to flourish because they had more customers."
Brown stresses that his methods minimize violence.
"When we first started, we were very gun intensive. This, I thought was the best approach. I was a soldier... I'm going to use superior violence of action to change human behavior... What I found out would work better was cameras."
"...my ultra-violent viewpoint was wrong... a gun was not the answer in those situations."
"Believe it or not, violent criminals hate video cameras because it takes away anonymity, and proves that they're the ones doing something... I slowly changed out, over many years, from guns to cameras. A broke camera was more effective at getting rid of drug-dealing gangs than actual guns."
The methods he uses are diametrically opposed to those used by the police:
"Think about everything you think about in terms of law enforcement and we do the exact opposite. So a police officer thinks you're a threat, so what they do is pull you over. If we think you're a threat, what we do is we pull up to you and talk to you. If a police officer thinks you're a threat, what they do is stay back away from you and pull out their gun. What we do is get so close you can't get pull out your gun. A police officer believes you're a threat so they begin to talk to you in an autocratic, aggressive fashion. What we do is build a psychological bridge to explain to you that there is no need, there's no option for violence, there's no opportunity, and there's nothing to gain. So you must leave now, and I'm letting you leave. My staff is letting you leave. You can simply go."
"Now this works in any situation where the human being is attempting to achieve something. Now when it's psychological, meaning the person is not thinking well, they're on drugs or they're in pain... we're able to read their body language ahead of time, and know that they're about to draw their weapon... ...we're able to take them into custody and take them down without injuring them and without letting them pull out their gun."
"Again, we're in Detroit. This is not theory. This is what we do. This is why none of my staff members are dead."
Brown dispels some common misconceptions about effective policing:
"There are about 2,000 law enforcement officers in Detroit now," he says. "They call it 'woefully understaffed.' There were (about) 7,000 officers in the 60s and 70s, where there was also riots and a lot more violence perpetrated against civilians... More cops did not add more of a profitable outcome, more of a prosperous community, more of a safe community..."
"Arrest powers have nothing to do with safety," says Brown. "Any citizen can take someone into custody if they commit a violent act. That has nothing to do with arresting."
The difference, of course, is that unlike police officers, an ordinary citizen will be held accountable for their actions:
"(I've learned better ways of crime prevention) because I have to," says Brown. "I'm accountable. I have no qualified immunity. That means, if I put my hands on someone it has to be legal. There has to be a way for me to explain it as a civilian. As a result, we've had no court date in 20 years. No lawsuits... in 20 years."
Brown says his methods are "a completely new paradigm in public safety - and it works, and I can prove it."
"Look at crimemapping.com," he says, "you will see an extremely low amount of crime anywhere that we work."
"Wealthy people get wealthier when there is less death, carnage, lawsuits, injuries and incarcerations on their property... they like my peaceful approach because it means more prosperity for them. But my focal point was community and family safety."
"We are not a non-profit. We are a for-profit corporation that is altruistic," he says. "We help people who do not have money for free, and that's a volunteer effort, by myself and my bodyguards. And that's why I make sure I don't have mercenaries."
"Prosperity driven by the prevention of violence in non-violent ways..."
"What does that mean? When a nurse came home with her child, when an elderly person got off the bus, that meant they didn't feel terror."
"...it's sustainable because it's profitable."
Another reason for the DTMC's success:
"We don't get involved in drugs and other issues that are non-violent. We focus on just violence."
"I create prosperous outcomes over and over again, without lawsuits, without injuries, without death, no killing unarmed people," says Brown. "These deaths are avoidable. These deaths that you're hearing about... they ARE avoidable."
You can listen to the entire interview here.
My long-time friend and colleague Krishna Purr has started blogging over at UrbanYogini.com. As you probably already know, Krishna Purr is a well-known teacher and speaker, with several lifetimes worth of insights into living a spiritually centered life, improved human (and feline) relations and even politics. He is perhaps best known as the spiritual advisor to Urban Yogini. Here, Krishna discusses "Elections and Nothingness", and he tells me he's working on another piece about the dangers of GroupThink.
Check him out.
Full disclosure: My husband works for Twitter, although not in a department that deals with this kind of thing. I know this because whenever I come to him with something I’d like him to “tell his friends at Twitter about”, he looks at me like I’ve put my clothes on inside out. Which, to be honest, is always a possibility.
Twitter is in trouble. I know this because I’ve seen our stock value plunge to about a third of what it was when my husband joined the company. Also because I don’t live under a rock. Obviously Twitter needs to grow its user base. And it needs to find ways to improve the user experience, make it more rewarding and more responsive. But there is another problem that is getting a lot of attention right now, one that if handled the wrong way, has the potential to sink the company: Finding the right balance between free expression and protecting users from abuse.
Of course the way I just framed that problem is idiotic. Because there is no “right balance”. There is no single solution that will please everyone or be right for everyone. Why? Because everyone is different. All of Twitter’s users are different - they have different tastes, different interests, different capabilities, different levels of tolerance for words and ideas that are different from their own... and different thresholds for being offended.
The dilemma is this: How does Twitter satisfy its users’ desire for free and open communication (kind of its core business), while also protecting its users from having their feelings hurt so badly that they no longer want to engage or be in the Twitter verse?
To imagine that there is one solution that will be right for everyone - or that can be imposed upon everyone whether it is right for them or not - is to think like a politician. Politicians are in the business of forcing solutions on people. They are in the business of deciding whether everyone gets chocolate or everyone gets vanilla. They are not in the business of meeting people’s needs - not really - because they don’t have to be. Politicians and the people who work for them are going to go on making money whether their constituents are happy or not, because they simply take the money. Nobody has a choice about funding the political business model, because that model is based on force. But advertisers do have a choice about advertising on Twitter, and users do have a choice about whether they engage on Twitter, and because of this Twitter cannot afford to think like a politician.
So here’s what Twitter needs to do. And now that I write it down, I realize how obvious it is and am certain that someone at Twitter has already thought this through and that they are well on their way to implementing it. So good. Everything’s going to be fine then. But here it is just in case:
Twitter needs to have different “modes” of interaction, based on the sensitivities of its users. There should be an “anything goes” mode, in which all speech is tolerated (excepting of course speech that is clearly illegal, including death threats, etc.) At the other end of the spectrum should be a “kittens and rainbows” mode. This would be the ultimate “safe space” - perhaps even safe enough for children. And in between, one or two other modes suitable for adults but with an understanding that only respectful, non-offensive communication will be tolerated.
There would be one “default” mode - probably, “anything goes” but with some prohibitions on what most people consider to be “hate speech”, etc. People who want more “protection” can select to only participate in one of the “safe space” modes. (Perhaps: “Safe”; “Safer”; “Safest”.) They will not see any posts from the less safe modes, and can choose whether or not their posts will appear to those in the other modes.
People for whom even the restrictions on “hate speech”, etc. are too stringent can choose the “anything goes” mode - but then they don’t get to complain about the content they see.
Obviously people would only be allowed to participate in a given “mode” if they follow that mode’s guidelines. Violators would be kicked back to the default mode for a period of time, or indefinitely, depending on the degree and frequency of the violation.
Markets are about providing choices. If Twitter decides to deprive all of its users of a venue for speaking in a way that offends some of them, then other platforms will move in and offer that choice, providing more open venues. But this doesn’t need to happen. This doesn’t have to be a dilemma for Twitter. The company does not have to decide whether all of its users get chocolate or whether they all get vanilla. It can allow users to choose their own flavors. And if it’s going to survive, it’s going to have to.