The Lowell Police Department Is Not Donald Trump’s Immigration Gestapo

In response to the Trump administration’s assault on immigrant communities in the United States, a group of concerned Lowellians organized a City Council petition to adopt a Trust Ordinance, modeled on that of Boston, directing the Lowell Police Department not to comply with immigration detainer requests except in cases of serious violent crime. I spoke in favor:

Good evening Mr. Mayor, City Councillors, and Mr. Manager. The last time I was before you, it was to oppose a brutal dictator who was attempting to impose his agenda within Lowell, to the detriment of the relationship between Lowell’s immigrant community and the local government. Well, here we are again.

I am here tonight in defense of community policing in Lowell, which is under threat as it has never been before. A quarter century ago, the Lowell Police Department set out to find a better way to protect our community while developing positive, cooperative relationships with the residents of neighborhoods like the Acre, the Lower Highlands, Lower Belvidere and Centralville. Rejecting the failed “occupying army” model of policing in the aftermath of the L.A. riots, a visionary leadership helped develop and implement a system that delivered. They adopted tactics such replacing anonymous cruiser patrols with officers walking regular beats and becoming familiar figures in the neighborhoods. The officers worked to increase positive, friendly interactions with the police, especially among young Lowellians. They trained and learned deescalation tactics, and to remain polite and professional during confrontations, as opposed to just asserting their power and demanding compliance. And it worked. Lowell saw its crime rate plummet throughout the 1990s, while at the same time the police improved their image among the city’s youth, and its diverse immigrant communities. A quarter century of commitment to community policing principles have brought us to where we are today, and that is a very good place. A strong bond of trust exists between Lowell’s police and its residents.

But now, due to developments beyond our control, we find that relationship threatened by federal immigration policy. People in this city are afraid, and they have reason to be afraid. The new administration in Washington is seeking to coopt local police into a federal “Deportation Force,” and threatening to withhold federal funding if we do not comply. We need to make the right choice here. If Lowell allows itself to be bullied into betraying the very communities the LPD has worked so hard to build relationships with, we will flush 25 years of committed community policing work down the drain in six months. As for the argument that “legal immigrants” have nothing to fear, it turns out that people don’t like it when you deport their aunts and brothers and neighbors, or rat them out to those who do. People also don’t like to be stopped and investigated and questioned by police, even if they eventually let you go. Those aren’t positive interactions that build relationships. The are frightening and intrusive interactions that destroy relationships.

I understand that there are a variety of opinions in this city, in this chamber, and probably even among this body about federal immigration policy, and I can live with that. But what we need to insist upon is that federal immigration policy remain federal. The police in Lowell cannot become de facto immigration officers, or it will destroy everything they have worked so long to achieve.

The City of Lowell loves community policing, and it loves federal money. Man, do we love federal money! And for years, the two went hand in hand. We got federal money to do community policing; yay! But now, we may have to make a choice, and God help us if we make the wrong one. If this city loses some funding, we can buckle down and pick up where we left off in four years. But if we sell out the immigrant communities in this city for 30 pieces of silver, they will remember. Their children will remember. We will destroy the community policing relationship for generations, and we will be back to the days of teenagers throwing bottles at police cars. I urge this body to take the opportunity tonight to reject that path – to give clear, unequivocal guidance to the LPD that they are to continue to adhere to the values that have served this city so well for so long. Thank you.

The decision of the Council was to submit the matter to the City Manager for a report. Most of the Council appears to view the issue as, in Councillor Mercier’s words*, “a solution in search of a problem.” And, indeed, the Lowell Police Department** has for many years had an informal policy of not even collecting immigration status information from suspects, or anyone else for that matter. The majority of the councillors made it clear that they are in agreement with the LPD’s policy, or at least give them the well-earned benefit of the doubt. If their position is that want to eat their cake and have it too – that is, to have the policy without making it official and endangering federal funding – I can respect that. Still, the proponents will have achieved a win, even without the ordinance passing, if the Council and Manager confirm their support for the LPD’s practices, and the LPD itself is sent the clear message that the Council will have their back on this matter.


*To the “Socialist Alternative” fellow I met in the hall: there is really no call to be interrupting Councillor Rita Mercier as she is speaking from her chair in the council chamber. She has more than earned the right over the years of her public service to speak her mind.

**I owe Police Chief William Taylor an apology. Sir, I have slandered you in my mind. During the process to choose the chief, I was hoping that Arthur Ryan would be elevated, or perhaps Acting Chief Deb Freidl would be given the post permanently, since I trusted them to vigorously pursue a community policing strategy, while I considered Taylor more likely to backslide. His tenure in office, especially his response to the immigration issue, has proven me wrong. Chief Taylor, you are a true successor to Ed Davis.


The punishment the Commissioner of Football imposed on Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – the loss of their 2016 first-round draft pick and the suspension of Tom Brady for the first four games of the season – did not prevent the Patriots from running up a record that guaranteed them home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, or from winning Super Bowl 51. As far as I can tell, the effect on the Patriots was:

  1. Their 39-year-old quarterback was four game fresher than each of his playoff opponents.
  2. Jimmy Garopollo is the hottest player on the trade market after having showcased himself during Brady’s absence, while the performance of Jacoby Brissett backing up Garopollo gives the team a high degree of confidence in him as their second-string QB.

Hey, ref, can you check out this sanction? It feels a little soft to me.

The Rise of Fascism

Two factors that historians and political scientists often cite to explain the rise of fascism are economic dislocation and loss of prominence on the world stage. For example, Germany lost World War I, compelling it to cede large amounts of its territory and its overseas colonies. During the period of the Weimar government, the nation experienced depression economics, hyperinflation, deindustrialization, and widespread unemployment. To link the economic and geopolitical factors together, we have the Treaty of Versailles, in which the war’s victors imposed massive reparations on Germany (draining money from the economy and eventually leading the government to deliberately and massively devalue its currency in order to make the payments lower in real-dollar terms (real-mark terms, I suppose), leading to runaway inflation, and the ceding of industrial areas from Germany to France.

Russia under Vladimir Putin is generally considered to be on the continuum of fascism, though not as extreme as the Third Reich – either full-fledged fascism, or some sort of fascism lite. During the 1990s, the Soviet Empire collapsed. Russia lost control of the rest of the Soviet republics, as well as its allies around the world. It was reduced from the status of a global superpower to, by the end of the decade, a regional power in decline. Economically, the post-Soviet pre-Putin saw its gross domestic product per capita decline by almost half, producing a situation so dire that life expectancy in Russia actually declined in the 1990s, not recovering to its 1990 level until well into the first decade of the 21st century. To tie the two factors together, one of the causes of this decline was the harsh shock therapy economic reforms imposed on the country by the west.

When looking at the two cases, we can see that the forces in Russia were similar in kind to those in Germany, but to a significantly lesser degree. Their economy declined, but not the levels of desperation during the worst of the Weimar years. They suffered a significant and damaging loss of international power, but nowhere as bad as the lass of a world war imposed on Germany. And as one might predict, the fascist government of Germany was proportionally more vicious at home and imperialistic abroad than the of Putin’s Russia. To date, anyway.

So, what about America? During the 1990s, with its Soviet rival defeated, the United States rose to a status that has been described as “sole superpower” or “hyperpower.” There was nowhere on earth that wasn’t in the American sphere of influence, and no nation or even combination of nations could hope to challenge us. Since 2001, however, we have been in geopolitical decline. The rise of China has created a peer, or perhaps near-peer, military and economic competitor. Russia has reasserted itself on the global stage. Militant Islamic groups conducted mass-casualty attacks on American soil. And those are just the wounds inflicted on us from outside. A series of self-inflicted wounds, from the invasion of Iraq to the debt ceiling debacle of 2011, have reduced our global standing in the political, military, and economic spheres. The spread of technology, media, and ideology have increased the capacity of substate organizations and small states to resist coercive actions by large outside powers. Where once our military could stop a close Russian ally in Eastern Europe dead in its tracks with impunity, or defeat and subjugate Iraq, today we see similar efforts in Syria and Iraq founder, and the American ability to influence events fade. It is important not to overstate things – our geopolitical “decline” has knocked us all the way back to a mere global superpower, like we were during the Cold War. Just as Russia’s global fall was less painful than Germany’s, ours has been of much lesser scope than Russia’s.

And then there is the American economy. The Great Recession was the most dramatic example of American economic decline, but the culmination of longstanding trends of wage stagnation and deindustrialization – at least on the jobs side – have hollowed out cities and entire regions. Again, it is important not to overstate the case. American unemployment in the recession peaked at 10% and fell steadily thereafter, to a level below 5% today. American economic troubles are comparable to our geopolitical troubles: most countries in the world would trade places with us in a heartbeat. Nonetheless, there has been decline.

Germany-Russia-America. Hitler-Putin-Trump. In hindsight, the growth of a less-severe form of fascism in the United States should not have come as this much of a surprise. And now that the jackboots have stepped across the threshold, people seeking to understand what is happening should acknowledge the parallels in both the causes and the likely results. Unfortunately, lingering bitterness over the Democratic primary has led some Democrats to overlook, or even renounce, the long-understood link between economic disruption and a growth in support for fascism. Hopefully, this will be a short-lived problem as time passes.

Speaking of the Crumbling Democratic Blogosphere…

At some point, it is going to become necessary to think about the policies and actions of Donald Trump in terms other than the opportunity their announcement  provides to express bitterness that Hillary Clinton was unpopular among left-wingers. If, for example, your reaction to the proposal to bring back torture is, first and foremost, a sarcastic “But her emails,” you have lost the fucking point.

I understand that Clinton’s most devoted online supporters are a few months behind  some of us in the grieving process, but it’s time for political writing to be about politics and policy again. You’re not going to resist Trump by indulging yourself this way. You’re not even going to sooth your feelings.

Was It Over When the Germans Bombed Pearl Harbor?! Bad History and Bad Advice for Democrats

Over at Daily Kos, Joan McCarter has a piece titled Democrats Are Not Following the Successful Republican 2009 “Oppose Everything” Playbook. Her argument, which echoes commentary from many Democratic sources, is here:

Congressional Democrats aren’t going to do what Republicans did in 2009, and what many progressives have called for. They’re not going to oppose everything. That’s true of progressive leaders like Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Sherrod Brown, who have announced they’ll vote for Ben Carson as HUD secretary, as well as of the party’s leadership. Instead, Democrats are focusing on specific fights:

She later doubles down on this argument, demanding that Democrats adopt the non-strategy strategy “fight all the battles.” In addition to the obvious problem of trying to fight all the battles – A telling metaphor: has there ever been a military that refused to choose where and when to fight, and instead took up the fight everywhere that the enemy chose, that did not end with disastrous defeat? – this argument has another hole in it: her history is a myth. The Republicans didn’t oppose every nominee in 2009, or even most of them; they focused on specific fights.

Let’s take a look back at confirmation votes in 2009, keeping in mind that there were 40 Republican senators:

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: 94-2
Secretary of the Treasury Tim Geithner: 60-34 (10 Republicans in favor, about a quarter of their caucus)
Attorney General Eric Holder: 75-21
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar: Voice vote (Meaning, no Republicans challenged it)
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack: Unanimous voice vote
Secretary of Commerce Bill Richardson: forced to withdraw due to federal investigation.
Secretary of Commerce Judd Gregg (R): Withdrew under pressure from Republicans
Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke: 96-0
Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis: 82-17 (after making hay for weeks over some minor tax problem)
Secretary of HHS Tom Daschle: forced to withdraw for tax thingy
Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sibelius: 65-31
Secretary of HUD Shaun Donovan: Unanimous Consent

I could go on – and on, and on, and on, since the pattern holds throughout the Senate confirmation period – but the point is pretty clear. The Republicans’ strategy in 2009 did NOT include voting against all cabinet nominations at the beginning of Barack Obama’s term. In many cases, all or virtually all of the Republican Senate voted for the nominees. Call Joan’s history “fake news.” Call it “alt facts.” The one thing you cannot call it is true. (At the time I’m writing this, her diary is six hours old, and has not been updated or corrected in any manner. She’s letting the bogus history stand. This bothers me. We’re supposed to be the reality-based community.)

Contrary to the blogger’s assertion, what the Republicans actually did in response to Obama’s cabinet nominations was “focusing on specific fights” – that is, executing exactly the strategy McCarter denounces the Democrats for doing. They put their energy and messaging into stopping people like Daschle, Solis, and Richardson, each of whom had some individual bad story for the opposition to get their teeth into. They did not simply vote against every Obama nominee, or even most Obama nominees, just because they were Obama nominees.

If McCarter wishes to argue that the Democrats should do something entirely unprecedented in American history and implement the novel strategy of bloc voting against every single cabinet nomination, she should make the argument for why they should take such an unheard of step. (She doesn’t, in either piece; the entirety of her argument is that it worked for the Republicans.) What she cannot do is assert that the  Democrats are failing to follow some successful Republican obstruction strategy. The Republican strategy in 2009 was to make hay of the problems of individual nominees, not “universal obstruction.” If Ms. McCarter is so impressed by how the Republicans handled cabinet nominations from Obama, she ought to come up with a strategy around the actual facts of the matter. Instead, she chooses to push some alt-history and waggle her finger at Senate Democrats for no good reason.

I assume most people are familiar with the old computer-programming term “GIGO.” Garbage in, garbage out. The Democrats are not going to come up with an effective political strategy for resisting Trump and the Republicans if they substitute alt-facts for reality.

Let Them Not Say

The Academy of American Poets features Let Them Not Say by Jane Hirshfield, written in 1953, as its poem of the Day for January 20. 2017. It seems fitting.

Let Them Not Say

Let them not say: we did not see it.
We saw.

Let them not say: we did not hear it.
We heard.

Let them not say: they did not taste it.
We ate, we trembled.

Let them not say: it was not spoken, not written.
We spoke,
we witnessed with voices and hands.

Let them not say: they did nothing.
We did not-enough.

Let them say, as they must say something:

A kerosene beauty.
It burned.

Let them say we warmed ourselves by it,
read by its light, praised,
and it burned.