Pluralistic: 07 Apr 2021

Originally published at: https://pluralistic.net/2021/04/07/cruelty-by-design/


Today's links



Leaked NYPD "goon squad" manual (permalink)

In New York City, the summer 2020 #BLM uprising became a grotesque spectacle, as legions of ultraviolent cops committed mass-scale, criminal human rights violations, spawning a new subgenre of viral video: the NYPD BLM violence video.

During and after this period, public attention focused on the systemic nature of the NYPD's lawlessness, like the fact that the cops' disciplinary records were held secret, obscuring the repeat offenders.

Indeed, Propublica's brave publication of these records demonstrated that the force is riddled with violent, habitual sadists.

https://pluralistic.net/2020/07/27/ip/#nypd-who

Propublica did incredible work, showing that cops who commits a strings of violent human rights abuses and cost the taxpayer vast fortunes in legal settlements aren't disqualified from promotions – these monsters constitute the NYPD's top brass.

https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/10/booksellers-vs-big-tech/#50a

Propublica also delved deep into the NYPD's sham of a disciplinary process, for example, documenting the continued use of illegal choke-holds by officers, primarily against Black men, and how police officials did nothing to enforce their own policies.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/01/21/i-cant-breathe/#chokeholds

All of this leads up to impunity. As Propublica went on to report, out of the hundreds the NYPD officers caught on video committing crimes against protesters, only two were brought up for discipline, despite video evidence and eyewitness reports.

https://pluralistic.net/2021/03/18/news-worthy/#nypd-black-and-blue

The cherry on the cake: last month, Propublica revealed the existence of a secretive, tax-funded slushfund that pays out millions to hire white-shoe lawyers to defend the cops who are so dirty the city refuses to defend them:

https://pluralistic.net/2021/03/26/overfitness-factor/#heads-you-lose-tails-they-win

Latent in all of this discussion is the assumption – on the part of NYPD critics and apologists – that the cops who commit these crimes are breaking their own rules. But as it turns out, that's not true.

Today, The Intercept published the leaked, secret, destroy-after-reading procedural manuals for the NYPD's Strategic Response Group, an ultra-secretive good squad formed by former chief Bill Bratton in 2015.

https://theintercept.com/2021/04/07/nypd-strategic-response-unit-george-floyd-protests/

We don't know how big the SRG is – it's a secret – but we know that its inaugural budget was $13m in 2015 and today, it's nearly $90m. As Alice Speri and John Bolger write, the crimes we witnessed last summer are literally straight out of the SRG's playbook.

That thing where bike cops kettle a group of protesters, hoist their bikes up to their chest, forming a moving fence, and then beat the shit out of protesters as they advance? That's not the result of undertraining – it's a maneuver they regularly drill.

When the BLM uprising began, the NYPD's chief and commissioner both pledged that the SRG – theoretically designed to maintain order during mass riots, not political protests – wouldn't be involved.

They lied.

"Investigators found a disproportionate number of SRG officers accused of wrongdoing to have exceeded their legal authority, when compared with the wider department."

Despite its $90m budget and estimated 700 cops, it's not clear why SRG exists at all. The NY AG's office said SRG shouldn't be used on protesters because they're supposed to fight terrorism, but the NYPD already has an expensive, heavily resourced Counterterrorism Bureau.

One thing we do know about the SRG: they have a huge intelligence wing. Before deployments, SRG officers are briefed on "group size, planned arrests, key members of the protest group, and the group’s hierarchy," and other intel. They go in with a plan.

That's the point: the violence isn't the result of rogue cops ignoring their training. It's the result of cops doing exactly what they're trained to do.

If you doubt it, read the manuals.

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20584527-strategic_response_group_guide

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20584526-srg_field_force_modules

https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/20584525-srg_bike_squad_modules

Learn about the Bike Line Arrest Manuever, or BLAM, in which officers "shout 'BLAM! BLAM! BLAM!' as they advance," and "[take] control of subjects head by clinching your hands and arms behind the head of subject and bringing head against your chest."

This is exactly what Human Rights Watch documented in their report on a Jun 4, 2020 "planned assault" in the Bronx. NYPD Commissioner Dermot Shea called the chaotic violence of that assault as "a plan which was executed nearly flawlessly." He wasn't lying.

https://www.hrw.org/news/2020/09/30/us-new-york-police-planned-assault-bronx-protesters

The authors warn that any reform that results in disbanding the SRG won't be enough: the NYPD has a long history of dissolving its most criminal units and then reforming them with a new name, new insignia and even bigger budgets.

They give the final word to Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform, who says that the real problem isn't the SRG, it's "the hyper-militarization, the hyper-aggressive policing tactics. That's not an SRG problem only, that’s an NYPD problem"



Door Dashers organize app-defeating solidarity (permalink)

"Gig economy" is a polite term for "worker misclassification" – a way to violate labor law by pretending that your employees are actually independent contractors.

Unsurprisingly, the companies that cheat their employees also cheat their other suppliers. Doordash spent the entirety of the crisis preying on beloved, endangered local restaurants with a string of outright frauds:

https://pluralistic.net/2020/09/19/we-are-beautiful/#man-in-the-middle

By colluding with Google, Doordash was able to interopose itself between restaurants and diners, making it nearly impossible for us to transact together without giving Doordash a cut that exceeded the restaurant's margin, making every order a money-loser.

The grimly hilarious part is that Doordash also lost money – billions! – during the crisis. They lost money while driving restaurants to bankruptcy. Small wonder we cheered whenever a viral story of a restaurateur turning the tables went viral.

https://pluralistic.net/2020/05/18/code-is-speech/#schadenpizza

Why do investors pump billions into a money-losing enterprise? They're betting that a pile of shit this big must have a pony under it somewhere. Specifically, they're betting that Doordash can squeeze its workers and other suppliers so hard that they begin to turn a profit.

Doordash isn't exactly subtle about its plan to attain profitability by destroying its suppliers. When all the restaurants have been driven to extinction, it plans to replace them with "ghost kitchens."

These are airless shipping containers filled with people who used to own restaurants who have to pay Doordash for the privilege of turning out meals for delivery:

https://www.businessinsider.com/doordash-ghost-kitchen-silicon-valley-chick-fil-a-photos-2019-11

Ghost kitchens are the terminus of all gig economy delivery plays, not just Doordash. If anything, the Ubereats version is even more sinister, as you'd expect from disgraced former Uber CEO Travis Kalanick, who's heading it up:

https://www.vice.com/en/article/qjpgd7/the-mystery-of-fcking-good-pizza-travis-kalanick-cloudkitchens-future-foods-delivery-restaurants

The other cost-center for Doordash is its workforce, the misclassified employees that it pretends are contractors. Again, the writing was on the wall here from the beginning. From day one, Doordash engaged in utterly shameless wage-theft:

https://www.mselaborlaw.com/news/doordash-pay-25-million-tip-theft-lawsuit

Doordash, like Uber, lures workers in with high initial rates, subsidized by its investors' cash. This is Doordash's version of the Amazon flywheel: more drivers mean faster delivery means more orders means more restaurants dependent on Doordash means more drivers.

Then, as its suppliers become dependent on the company, it tightens the screws. Hundreds of thousands of Uber drivers discovered this the hard way when their wages were suddenly, unaccountably slashed, as Uber slashed the investor subsidy that lured them behind the wheel.

Two of those drivers were Dave Levy and Nikos Kanelopoulos, who met when they were both Uber drivers and made the jump to Doordash together. Now that Doordash is slashing their wages, they're determined to fight back, using the lessons they learned in the Uberpocalypse.

As Brody Ford writes for Bloomberg, the two have founded a driver solidarity movement called #DeclineNow, which calls on drivers to reject jobs that offer rates so low that drivers could actually lose money on them.

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-04-06/doordash-workers-are-trying-to-game-the-algorithm-to-increase-pay

The pair have observed that the Doordash system functions as a labor auction: if a job doesn't attract a driver, the job is republished with a higher rate, and a higher one, and a higher one, until a driver bites.

There are few enough drivers in their home area of Lehigh Valley, PA that they say they've been able to effectively raise wages for all drivers, and the #DeclineNow forum they run has 40,000 members.

The squirming awkwardness of the company's spokesdroid is delicious, as Doordash insists on the fiction that drivers are contractors who can take jobs or not, while simultaneously detailing all the ways the app punishes drivers who don't take these money-losing jobs.

The company has to walk a fine line: bursting the illusion that its employees are really contractors – say, by firing them for refusing jobs – would waste the millions they spent passing California's Prop 22, a worker misclassification initiative that cost $200m all in.

But they have other tricks up their sleeves: for example, the company withholds the amount tips you offer when you order your food. That means that a $3 job might be worth $3, or it might be worth $13 with tip. Drivers call Doordash "Tony's Casino" in homage to CEO Tony Xu.

Every gig economy company is a mirage in search of a monopoly. Any concessions the workforce wins are an existential crisis for these money losers, which is why Uber is once again planning to hide job payouts from drivers until they accept the work:

https://www.sfchronicle.com/business/article/Uber-may-stop-letting-drivers-see-destinations-16078491.php

One dirty trick Doordash hasn't tried (yet): antitrust. You see, once workers are misclassified as "small businesses," any effort to raise their wages is legally indistinguishable from forming a cartel to raise prices, one of the few antitrust areas the DoJ still punishes.

If you're a driver, customer or citizen, you can sign onto this change.org petition in support of a (laughably, sadly) minimum standard of decency in the company's dealings with its drivers:

https://www.change.org/p/doordash-doordash-must-address-declinenow-raise-base-pay-and-improve-dasher-relations



This day in history (permalink)

#10yrsago Class war comics: Scrap Iron Man versus international capital https://chinamieville.net/post/4406165249/rejected-pitch

#5yrsago The US Government’s domestic spy-planes take weekends and holidays off https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/peteraldhous/spies-in-the-skies

#5yrsago To understand the link between corporations and Hillary Clinton, look at philosophy, not history https://www.thenation.com/article/archive/the-problem-with-hillary-clinton-isnt-just-her-corporate-cash-its-her-corporate-worldview/

#5yrsago Fearing the Pirate Party, Iceland’s government scrambles to avoid elections https://theintercept.com/2016/04/07/icelands-government-tries-cling-protesters-pirates-gates/

#5yrsago Why 40 years of official nutritional guidelines prescribed a low-fat diet that promoted heart disease https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/apr/07/the-sugar-conspiracy-robert-lustig-john-yudkin

#1yrago A farewell to APIs https://pluralistic.net/2020/04/07/analprinting/#web-2.0-RIP



Colophon (permalink)

Today's top sources: Richard King (https://twitter.com/graphiclunarkid), Slashdot (https://slashdot.org/), JWZ.

Currently writing:

  • A cyberpunk noir thriller novel, "Red Team Blues." Yesterday's progress: 1090 words (52999 total).

Currently reading: Analogia by George Dyson.

Latest podcast: Past Performance is Not Indicative of Future Results https://craphound.com/news/2021/03/28/past-performance-is-not-indicative-of-future-results/
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