in Reflections

Felons and Pensions

In America today, it’s impossible to indict a cop.

No probable cause exists.”

Don’t Shoot Coalition has issued a statement in response to the Grand Jury decision not to indict. All Americans should read it and seek to understand the positions it puts forth. Young people (who face the risk of police violence) visiting their families for Thanksgiving should steal the remote and insist that no one is allowed to watch the Eagles/Cowboys until everyone reads this text. School teachers should read it in school with their students.

It’s very simple. It’s polite and respectful. It’s accessible. Direct. And, in America, utopian.

Don’t Shoot’s vision for police practices is based on the concept that the role of police is to defend the safety and constitutional rights of the citizens they serve, and in which the first priority is preservation of life.

The document clarifies that now that the Grand Jury process is completed, Don’t Shoot Coalition will seek “a thorough Federal investigation of possible criminal violations by Officer Wilson” and the Ferguson Police Department.

Following the Grand Jury announcement, the Don’t Shoot Coalition has also restated four of their demands as “immediate priorities.”

– Establishment of an independent county-wide Citizen Review Board to review serious complaints of police misconduct, make policy recommendations and report on the activities of departments. For such an entity to be effective, it must independently commissioned and empowered with adequate funding, subpoena power and access to Internal Affairs files.


– Strengthening Missouri’s racial profiling bill to include repercussions for departments that have demonstrated patterns of racial profiling or failed to comply with the law.


-Expanding Missouri’s training requirements for officers to include mandatory in-service training on topics such as: interacting with people with mental illnesses, use of force, responding to sexual assault, unarmed combat, conflict resolution,
anti-racism and other critical issues.


– Revision of Missouri law to allow individuals with prior felony convictions to serve on juries.

Since Monday night, protests have spread across the country.

Protesters on the street, and citizens at home, and workers at work, and families at the Thanksgiving meal, should be discussing and expressing these demands across the country.


Felon” is a word with a gall. It is applied to one who commits a felony. Many Americans, addled by television, often use “felon” interchangeably for “convict”: properly speaking, a misdemeanor conviction does not make one a felon. The root of felon is bile, (though there is an interesting alternative theory rooted in fellare), which has two unequal connotations in English. On the one hand, cheeky, bold, audacious, shameless. On the other, bitter, spiteful, malicious, venomous.  Before the discovery of the New World and the establishment of Empires, the felon was a wicked man, was the Devil, or a stand-in for the Devil. In the age of Empire, the felon becomes a devil, alternatively bold or malicious if White or Native, Loyal or Renegade.

“pension” is a payment, rendered, the rent. Who is paying the pension and towards what end? In the Old World, the Church pensioned her clerics worthy of benefices with property and rent. Crowns, similarly, would provide regular payments to nobles and favorites to enable them to maintain their status. (TARP was arguably a form of Royal Pension in this mold.) Guilds paid pensions collectively, a form of annual “splitting up the bill”, to pay for general expenses. This is how municipal taxes are ideally portrayed. Civil Service in the age of Empire secularized pension into “an annuity or other periodic payment made, especially by a government, a company, or an employer of labor, in consideration of past services or of the relinquishment of rights, claims, emoluments.” Pension also once indicated a type of boarding house for those retired collectors of public annuities. Today pensions (always in the plural) often indicates the $20 trillion (2008 estimate from Morgan Stanley) held in pension funds, which denote “any plan, fund, or scheme which provides retirement income.



The lifetime exclusion of felons from jury service is the majority rule in the U.S., used in thirty one states and in federal courts. The result is that over 6% of the adult population is excluded, including about 30% of black men. (Figures from 2003)

The parallel issue of felon disenfranchisement has drawn considerable scholarly attention, despite its lower, declining, and less racially charged numbers. The racial composition of juries has been widely discussed in the literature as well. By contrast, felon jury service has been almost entirely ignored, despite a mass of legislation and appellate litigation, and despite glaring racial disparities. – Brian Kalt, “The Exclusion of Felons from Jury Service

That fourth demand, the redressing of jury prohibition for convicted felons, is one that could make indicting an officer not-impossible.


That second demand is reaching for a way to create collective repercussions.  It’s pretty unspecific. Activists should be thinking about the specifics. How do communities institute repercussions? What forms could they take? Is the State a meaningful recipient of this demand? Or is it better to work at the Municipal level?

In September, the Baltimore Sun published the result of their investigation of police brutality in Baltimore. One of their surprising findings was that the allegedly “broke” city had paid $5.7 million in settlements to victims of unlawful or excessive force by police.

The Washington Post followed up with a quick tally of a few other large cities and found that American cities are paying hundreds of millions of dollars to clean-up for police misconduct.

In theory, the cost of these lawsuits — which are of course ultimately paid by taxpayers — are supposed to inspire better oversight, better government, and better policing. – Radley Balko

In this supposed Great Recession, with cities going bankrupt, emergency managers, and the US Postal Service constantly being threatened with the guillotine, it is hard to fathom why police departments are not forced to pay the cost of these settlements.

There is a very simple demand which could put institute collective repercussion:


Let the police “stand together” not just by destroying evidence and intimidating witnesses, but by paying the costs that they have been passing on to taxpayers.




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