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Shields and Brooks on Americans’ changing views of policing

Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the latest news, including the impact of widespread protests on American society and politics, what makes members of Generation-Z different from their predecessors and how the movement for racial equity is affecting President Trump’s reelection campaign strategy.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Now we turn to the analysis of Shields and Brooks. That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks.

    Hello to both of you.

    And let's talk about the young voices we have been hearing.

    David, Generation Z, the youngest generation, we have just heard them say, in effect, we don't — in effect, we're not going to take this anymore. We — things have to change.

    Can they make a difference with our help or without it?

  • David Brooks:

    We have to realize how different their mind-set is than those of us in older generations.

    If you ask people my age or people in the Boomer generation or in the Silent Generation, are most — are people around you trustworthy, a majority of people in my age group say yes. If you ask Gen Z, are most people trustworthy, 65 percent say no. If you ask them, are most people selfish and out for themselves, 73 percent say yes.

    And why is that? Because they have been raised in a society that they feel has been untrustworthy. They have had — they have seen the financial crisis. They have seen the Trump. They have seen continued racism, climate change.

    And so their sense of alienation and disillusion with society at large is what we just heard. And so it's a much more radicalized and much more activist generation. And so they're seeing the world very differently than generations above.

    And we see that in every workplace. And so they certainly have the motivation to do a lot. One thing I think I worry about is a real dislike of hierarchy, of organization, of authority.

    And if — I don't think, unless — you can do permanent and institutional change unless you're willing to build institutions with leaders and hierarchy and authority structures that will last for year after year. And that's something that's so far been missing from most of the modern social movements.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Mark, do you hear messages, voices coming from this younger generation that you think can end up making a difference in the future?

  • Mark Shields:

    I sure do, Judy.

    As a member, hard as it might be to believe, of the Silent Generation, the generation that wore T-shirts that were white…


  • Mark Shields:

    … as (AUDIO GAP) message on them, I stand in awe of their intensity, of their passion, of their sense of urgency and their sense of justice.

    While not disagreeing with David's point, it just — I think, to hear that sense of impatience for justice is, frankly, encouraging and even inspiring.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, David, when you combine them with all the other voices we have been hearing in recent weeks, whether having to do directly with what happened to George Floyd, whether it's about police reform, is the political ground shifting?

    Do you sense that things are actually going to change around police reform, around, you know, policies that people are saying we have had enough of?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, there's certainly been a shift in attitudes.

    This has been a remarkable week in shifts of attitudes. If you ask people, do you support the Black Lives Matter, most people said no. And now, by 29 percentage points, they say yes.

    If you ask people, what do you fear more, police violence or the violence of the rioting and looting, they say, I fear police violence more by 2-1. If you ask people, are black people treated unfairly and abused unfairly by the police, after Eric Garner was killed in 2014, only 33 percent said that. Now 58 percent say that.

    So, we're seeing dramatic shifts in public opinion as regard to the African-American experience. And that has been one of the positive developments. I think the second positive development is just the peaceful protests. The protests have gone more peaceful as they have gone along, and the protesters have done a better job of quelling violence than the police.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And so, Mark, when they talk about defund the police or abolish the police, are these things that could actually happen?

    We see Democrats coming forward with all sorts of reform proposals, Republicans holding back. We think we're going to hear more from Republicans in Congress next week. What do you see as the real pressures that could lead to change?

  • Mark Shields:

    Well, I don't minimize in any way, Judy, the importance of nomenclature and naming in any political debate.

    It is no accident that much of the resistance to the Affordable Care Act was centered around the term death panels, if you recall, that somehow people were going to be sent off to meet their maker by some unnamed anonymous medical group who would meet and decide their fate. Totally unfair, inaccurate, but it's got a lot of traction.

    And how you speak — and that's why I say, defunding the police, does it mean disbanding the police? Does it mean, in fact, transferring the obligations that police carry today, who are — really do carry enormous, awesome responsibilities of dealing with people who are homeless, people who are on opioids, people with addiction problems with alcohol and drugs.

    They really do have enormous responsibility. But if it becomes — and I am rather cheered that the Democrats have not gone for the bait in any way. And I think, quite honestly, it's been a miscalculation the part of the White House on this issue, that, somehow, Donald Trump could roll back to reelection on a law and order basis.

    But I don't in any way minimize that this is a very explosive situation still.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So — and David, in terms of what really could change, I mean, we're seeing a willingness to accept, for example, bringing down Confederate monuments, changing the names of military bases, except for the president, who said he doesn't want to see this happen.

    But is it your sense that people are willing — you mentioned the polls, but does that — is that going to lead to legislative change, policy change that will be seen in the African-American community as something that's meaningful?

  • David Brooks:

    Well, if you use the phrase defund the police, you're not asking for change. That's — to me, it's just a terrible slogan. It's counterproductive because it makes everybody think, I'm going to have no police. That is not what the American people want.

    After Ferguson, they asked African-Americans worldwide, Gallup did, do you want a greater police presence in your neighborhood or less? And right after Ferguson, they want greater police presence. And that's consistent with poll after poll after poll. People want a greater police presence, because more police leads to less crime, which leads to less contact, which leads to less violent encounters, which leads to less incarceration.

    People generally like the police, but they want it done differently. And I do think there's a possibility to get real changes in that. It's interesting how much even small reforms can make. The communities that have banned the choke holds and strangleholds have seen dramatic declines in these kinds of abusive things.

    Even a city that said that, when there's a chase, the cop running after the person is not going to be the first one to touch the suspect, somebody else is going to touch the suspect, that alone sharply reduces the number of violent encounters.

    And so these sort of things can be done reasonably easily. The harder thing on the police front is changing the corporate culture. We have somehow gotten the world where the police are basically like the military. They go to boot camp like the military. They dress more like the military.

    They have sort of a warrior ethos in some of the departments. And changing that corporate culture can be done. It's been done in Camden and Newark and other places, but it has to be done in cities across the country.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And picking up, not just on that, but on the point about a push to get rid of Confederate symbols, Mark, do you see that happening, where — I mean, is it — are we now at a moment, a turning point, if you will, where the things that people accepted before are just not going to be accepted anymore?

  • Mark Shields:

    I think we are, Judy.

    And I think the resistance, strangely enough, is centered right in the White House. I mean, it's no accident that a Republican Senate committee this week voted to move ahead on the removal of the names — of changing the names of American military bases, which were named, let it be noted, long after the Civil War, but obviously an attempt, just like those statues were, to reestablish the proper order that existed before the Civil War.

    And they were in Southern states. Whether it's Rucker, Alabama, or Hood in Texas, they were all named for the Confederate generals. And I think what you have on the statues is an ongoing discussion and movement, including the secretary of defense, a Republican, and the secretary of the Army, McCarthy, who is a Republican.

    And the stoutest resistance is not from the Daughters of the Confederacy, but Donald Trump in the White House, who said there will be no changes. And I, quite frankly, think this is a total miscalculation on the part of Donald Trump, the president, and his reelection.

    It is not 1968, when Richard Nixon could run to — and run successfully on law and order. Richard Nixon was the insurgent. He was the challenger in 1968. The Democrats had been in power for eight years. There were 110 American cities that had gone up in flames; 16,000 Americans had died in Vietnam that year, and 590,000 Americans were there in an unpopular war.

    I mean, the law and order campaign had a traction and a believability, which it does not now. And I think, quite frankly, there's a serious mistake that we in the press make, and I have made it myself. When someone wins an election, he or she is a genius. And someone loses, they're obviously a dunce.

    And we were willing to give Donald Trump all sorts of credit by, he has this intuitive connection with the American people, he knows what's going on, that that's how we won in 2016, because we didn't see him winning.

    And, quite frankly, he got 40, what, 5, 6 percent of the vote, and that's it. And, if anything, he's getting a lot less now. And I really think it's a miscalculation.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And, finally, David, the president's decision to hold this big campaign rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on June 19, the — which is the anniversary of the massacre of blacks in that city, coupled with the convention, half the convention in Jacksonville, Florida, what do we make of this?

  • David Brooks:

    A couple of weeks ago, we talked about Trump talking about Henry Ford, and I gave Trump the benefit of the doubt, thinking he didn't know — he was ignorant of Henry Ford's racist ideas.

    Well, I was wrong about that. He had a full familiarity. He — when it comes to that kind of thing, he has a Ph.D.

    And so I assume Donald Trump knows what June 19 is. And I assume that, in the gigantic advance team that it takes to put a convention together, there's somebody who knows what June 19 was. And somebody knows what Tulsa means.

    And so I have to think that — and even if they didn't know, they know now, and they could make a change. And so this is just putting a thumb in the eye of basic decency, as far as I'm concerned.

    And you just show respect to your neighbors. How much of this is not — it's clear. If your neighbor doesn't like a Confederate Flag that used to represent slavery, then take it down. If your neighbor doesn't like you hosting a thing on June 19, don't do it. It's just basic citizenship.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The end of quite a week in American life, in American history.

    David Brooks, Mark Shields, thank you both.

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