Trump’s attorney general threatened to withdraw police “protection” from Black communities – but, of course, no such thing exists.
Attorney General William Barr created quite a controversy with his comments about community support for police departments. “And they have to start showing, more than they do, the respect and support that law enforcement deserves. And if communities don’t give that support and respect, they might find themselves without the police protection they need.” His words were condemned but unfortunately most of his critics were angry for the wrong reasons.
There is little benefit to the public in the way law enforcement officers work in this country. They rarely protect the public from violence. Most of their activity consists of finding any and every reason to put black people behind bars. The police are the 21st century slave patrol, giving comfort to white Americans who want to keep black people under physical control. We would be fortunate indeed if we were to lose police “protection.” The carceral state is a huge money making industry, with police and others in the field earning higher salaries than they would otherwise and a prison system that finds myriad ways to make profits off of black and brown bodies.
The idea of abolishing the police should not be considered strange or outlandish. Doing so is a necessity and police departments prove it themselves every day. In New York City six black and Latino officers who served in the subway system filed a discrimination lawsuit against the NYPD. One stated in an affidavit that he retired because, “I got tired of hunting Black and Hispanic people because of arrest quotas.” The officers say that their commander told them, “You are stopping too many Russians and Chinese” and “You should write more black and Hispanic people.” In the past two years 90% of those arrested for fare beating in the New York transit system were black or Latino. The two groups comprise a little more than half of the city’s population.
It is rare for the police to be caught explicitly stating what everyone knows to be true. Despite what the attorney general says, they do not deserve respect or support. They deserve scorn and the people deserve protection from their violence and threats of violence.
The police are and will remain a menace unless and until we have true community control over their operations. At the very least they are a nuisance who issue summonses covering all manner of infractions. At their worst they have quotas to make arrests, as the NYPD officers charged in the lawsuit. If they decide to kill they do so with complete impunity.
The NYPD officers were ordered to arrest black and brown people who didn’t pay the subway fare, which is now $2.75. No one should be arrested for stealing this small sum of money. But it is quite clear that America’s twisted version of justice is maintained by this racially based overreach. Making black and brown people the primary targets of law enforcement is the system’s very reason for being.
A few days after the attorney general made his comments the country saw the very worst example of policing run amuck. Four people died in Florida when police used excessive force to apprehend two burglars. The men carried out a jewelry store robbery and hijacked a United Parcel Service truck in their escape attempt. Police indiscriminately fired shots in rush hour traffic which killed not only the burglars, but also the UPS driver and a bystander.
Barr’s critics accused him of threatening to take police away from people who protest against them. If that is what he meant we should keep protesting and hope that they leave our neighborhoods right away. The reaction to Barr’s stupid words should be a call to publicly declare that police abolition is all to the good and that it must be a conscious and consistent demand.
Police brutality continues because many people support it, including the useless black misleadership class. Florida Congressional Black Caucus member Alcee Hastings had this to say after the incident. “My heart aches for the victims, their families & all who were affected by the deadly shooting that took place in Miramar. I’m thankful for the rapid response & professionalism of our first responders who were on the scene. Gun violence should have no place in our community!” It is bizarre that he would thank the first responders whose actions created the bloodshed.
In the fight for control of the police we will have to fight Hastings and his ilk too. But that is always the case. The people must make their own demands knowing that their politicians often work against their interests. That reality plays a part in this struggle. The next time Barr or anyone else speaks of communities losing the police, we must reply that this imagined threat is in fact our goal.