Predatory Administrative Violence in The Lawrence City Commission
In June of 2020, amid international uprisings against police and state power, the Lawrence City Commission began to pay lip service to a popular public demand: divest from policing and invest in social services. This came after their previous vote to spend $19.9 million on a new police headquarters, which recently opened in December. That decision circumvented a citywide vote in 2014 which rejected a proposed sales tax increase to fund the new headquarters.
This reflects a pattern in The Lawrence City Commission: appeasing public opinion with progressive messaging while enacting harmful policies for our vulnerable community members at the administrative level.
Today, The City Commission continues to demonstrate its affinity for excessively funding the LPD with its “traffic enforcement campaign.” As abolitionists, who believe in the practical project of building a world without police and prisons, we will always strategically oppose expansion of police funding and the construction of new, arbitrarily-conceived civil laws. So, let’s break down exactly how and why this new campaign is an example of the Lawrence City Commission’s habitual acts of predatory administrative violence.
Breaking It Down
“Starting Monday [February 7th, 2020], police will begin pulling over drivers who exceed the new 25 mph speed limit as part of a $40,000, three-month traffic enforcement campaign. Senior Project Engineer Dustin Smith said in an email to the Journal-World that the first six weeks of the campaign will focus on educating drivers about the speed limit change, but that police could still potentially issue some tickets during that time.
‘Although the initial enforcement effort will be focused on education, officers will have discretion to also issue written warnings or citations,’ Smith said.” (via LJ World)
Police departments frequently use the cover of “education and public safety programs” to justify funding expansion and over-policing. This is a common, nationwide practice that city administrators are familiar with. Any increase in police contact (and, by extension, police violence) in the coming weeks will be ignored, as the city and police department already have a mutual expectation of harsher citation enforcement.
“To provide more targeted enforcement, the city has been collecting speed data on neighborhood streets at several locations throughout the city, according to a city staff memo. The memo states that the areas with the lowest compliance rates will be analyzed to determine the specific time of day that the violations are happening, and officers will focus their enforcement efforts accordingly.” (via LJ World)
This practice is known as predictive policing and has been the subject of many human rights research campaigns. By analyzing geographic disparities in “rates of crime,” police departments develop data-driven enforcement strategies that rationalize excessive policing of predominately Black and poor neighborhoods. The incorrect assumption in the supposedly scientific methodology of predictive policing is that neighborhoods are not disparate in race, class, or any other number of factors. But they are. They are in Lawrence, and they are in most cities in the United States. The harm of this campaign will be disproportionately borne by our most vulnerable community members.
“The City Commission voted in October  to approve an ordinance to reduce the speed limit on residential streets from 30 mph to 25 mph and to spend $220,000 for the design and installation of the approximately 1,000 signs. The program also allocated about $130,000 for the traffic education campaign and $40,000 to enforce the new speed limit, for a total of about $390,000 for the program.” (via LJ World)
During a pandemic, while our neighbors are evicted and our loved ones get sick, the city elects to spend nearly $400,000 on a “traffic education campaign.” By allocating funds to the police department and its traffic law infrastructure, the city of Lawrence reveals its true spending priorities. The city would rather progress its neoliberal taxation policy, through fees and fines, then directly assist our community members.
Why is this Predatory?
Small city budgets, like that of Lawrence, KS, are increasingly reliant on revenue from fees and fines administered by police citations and arrests. Instead of investing in life-affirming, economically-stabilizing infrastructure, like housing, food, and mental health, the city invests in its police department. The police department in turn extracts money from poor people, people of color, and other oppressed groups, through misdemeanor fines and cash bail.
As this practice perpetuates itself, police departments begin to literally manufacture new crimes to meet the demands of city budgets which are dependent on punishing their citizens. This is exactly what The Lawrence City Commission has done: concocted an entirely new traffic standard, seemingly arbitrarily, which will produce an increase in traffic citations and a correlated increase in city revenue — by fining our community members.
Why is this Administrative?
It’s often easy to blame police departments and police unions, with their culture of white supremacy and vigilantism, for the harm that policing causes. It’s true that these organizations are intrinsically violent and aggressive. But, as radicals, we know that it’s important to grasp the root of the issue. This is not the work of a rogue police force. This is a strategic project imagined by the Lawrence City Commission. This is a financially-incentivized plan, concocted and voted on by local politicians, to increase citations and fines by creating new civil penalties.
When we talk about systemic injustice, this is what we’re referencing: the systems and methods through which administrators can create legal infrastructure that’s exploitative, discriminatory, and harmful.
Why is this Violent?
We do not want more police contact for our neighbors. Research shows that police violence is more correlated with the frequency of police-civilian contact that the actual policies and practices of police depts.
Racist police assault often occurs during routine traffic stops. In May of 2018, an LPD officer shot a Black man while attempting to issue him a citation for failing to wear his seat belt. We want an end to police violence, so we want an end to police contact. This campaign justifies more police contact, with a total of 615 hours of overtime granted to Lawrence police for enforcement of the new speed limit.
WE DON’T WANT MORE MONEY FOR OUR POLICE DEPARTMENT, WE WANT MORE MONEY FOR OUR HOUSELESS COMMUNITY
200 of our houseless community members currently live in temporary emergency housing under the city’s winter shelter program, but ”its not clear where the participants will go when the programs close their doors” (LJWorld). Money that is going to traffic enforcement campaigns could be used instead to subsidize permanent housing for our houseless neighbors, creating a healthier, stabler, and more liberated community. This is just one example of how the city could better prioritize its budget to serve the urgent needs of our community rather than expand its police budgets.
We want the LPD demilitarized, defunded, and abolished, because we know that we keep us safe.
Story by Lex Moulton. Opinions expressed here are only that of the original author.