“I think you make a lot of valid points in your blogs,posts, etc., but hatred toward a group of individuals is contradictory to the cause. The majority of police officers are amazing at what they do and serve and protect us daily while risking their lives. ” Fuck. The. Police. ” is not an inclusive comment. We also don’t have all the facts here.”
I received this comment today in response to an article I shared on Facebook last night regarding the murder of a deaf man of color by police in Oklahoma City, and I added the comment “Fuck. The. Police.”
Let’s clarify something. When I say “Fuck the police,” I’m not talking about individual people. As a related aside, we keep hearing about “good police” but where are these good police when Black people are being murdered by their “bad apple” brethren? Where are they when nurses are being assaulted for doing their jobs (legally)? Where are they when a Black man is beaten in Charlottesville in the parking garage next to their station?
No, when I say “Fuck the police,” I mean the racist system that protects its racist members from punishment when they murder Black people. The racist system that white people jump up to defend daily the moment another Black person is murdered by a cop. The racist system that was created to enforce racism in this country.
As the United States was founded on slavery and racism, there is racism buried everywhere and in all institutions. As the decades and centuries have gone by, the overt racism has been papered over with “politically correct” sensibilities and Jim Crow becomes stop and frisk.
Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—, n—, n—.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—, n—.”
So let’s talk about the founding of the police in the US. Slave patrols were the early incarnation of police forces and has clearly racist beginnings (Victor E. Kappeler). Kappeler says, “Slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order and to assist the wealthy landowners in recovering and punishing slaves who essentially were considered property.”
You can check out 1850 Slave Patrol vs 2015 Law Enforcement if you want to read the full text of the Fugitive Slave Act. Go on and read it, I’ll wait.
After the abolition of slavery, the slave patrols transitioned to enforcing the Black Codes, which had previously been Slave Codes that states reworked “in order to regulate the behavior of free blacks in ways similar to those that had existed during slavery” (Angela Y. Davis, Are Prisons Obsolete?, p.28) This included things like vagrancy, unemployment, and just being plain ol’ being “offensive.” These laws resulted in a huge influx of Black men into the penal system, which turned into chain gangs and the convict lease system: in other words, a new form of slavery. (Davis)
After Reconstruction, most of the Black Codes were dismantled but then they just got reworked into Jim Crow laws, which police helped to enforce. One only need to look at pictures from the 1960s and the Civil Rights era to see how invested police were (are) in maintaining racism.
Look at the pictures of cops spraying high velocity hoses at Black children. Look at the cops siccing dogs on protestors. Look at them beating people exerting their rights to peaceful assembly. This section of US history is very well documented so you can SEE the racism in practice. The Jim Crow era of enforcement is still seen in operation today (Maggie Ybarra).
Skip forward just a few years to Nixon and Atwater and the Southern Strategy. This is where we start to see the rise of the militarized police force, the same force that just years before was beating Black people for daring to ask for actual equality.
“In the 10 years between 1966 and 1976, criminal justice expenditures increased at the rate of five times what it had increased in the previous decade. In the 10 years between 1965 and 1975, the number of police grew by roughly 40 percent nationally. In 1974, $15 billion was spent on criminal justice, 57 percent going directly to police expenditures. On the federal level, President Nixon put in place the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration to funnel large amounts to local police agencies. Between 1968 and 1972, this federal agency received $1.5 billion in federal funds, including $850 million in 1972 alone.” (Eugene Puryear)
We now know that the War on Drugs was an explicitly racist program. From John Ehrlichman, Nixon’s Domestic Affairs Advisor and Watergate co-conspirator:
“The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people. You understand what I’m saying. We knew we couldn’t make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin, and then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities. We could arrest their leaders, raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did.” (Dan Baum)
A recent example of racism in policing is how the opioid epidemic is being treated versus how the crack epidemic was treated.
“[T]he crack epidemic, because it largely hit black, urban communities, was often framed as a drug problem of “other” people. The problem in much of the public eye, in fact, wasn’t that people were suffering from crack addiction, but that people’s crack addiction and the black market for crack led to crime and murders that could, in turn, damage white communities. So the focus fell on controlling crime — and that led to more punitive “tough on crime” policies, largely affecting communities of color. … Consider the media coverage of the crack versus opioid epidemics: While the crack epidemic gave rise to headlines like “New Violence Seen in Users of Cocaine” in the New York Times, the opioid epidemic has led to sympathetic headlines like “In Heroin Crisis, White Families Seek Gentler War on Drugs” in the same newspaper 28 years later.” (German Lopez)
What is the difference between the two epidemics? One group is the socially dominant group (whites) and is deemed worth of redemption and saving, while the other group (Blacks and minorities) was criminalized.
Cardozo School of Law professor Ekow Yankah says, “Today, police chiefs facing heroin addiction are responding not by invoking war, but by trying to save lives and get people into rehab. Suddenly, crime is understood as a sign of underlying addiction, rather than a scourge to be eradicated.” (Amanda Mester)
And this isn’t even touching the “modern day” problem of police murdering Black people. In 2016, police killed 309 Black people (Mapping Police Violence). Truth is, it’s been happening all along but now it’s making news and suddenly (white) people are starting to pay attention.
How many cops have been directly linked to white supremacy, just in the last few years? There’s the small-town Oklahoma police chief who resigned. There are two in Florida who were outed as KKK members. This guy in North Carolina who attended a KKK rally. This Philadelphia cop who both has a Nazi tattoo and does Nazi reenactment. Here’s one from Nebraska. And Alabama. And Texas. And the nation’s capital. I found all these from just ten minutes of searching on the internet, and I promise that’s just the tip of the racist iceberg in police.
Racism in policing is not a bug, it’s a feature.
It’s doing what it was always meant to do. The FBI warned over ten years ago of white supremacists infiltrating police institutions and now we’re seeing them come out as it is suddenly “safe” for racists to spew their hatred.
While there might be “good” people who are police officers, the institution of the police is based on racism. So let me say it again for those in the back,
P.S. I synthesized this piece from a lot of things I’ve read over the last year. If you think a piece deserves credit in what I’ve written here, let me know. It’s very possible I read it and absorbed it without realize it and I want to give credit where it’s due, especially to writers of color whose work is regularly dismissed until a white person comes along and rewrites it. (Yes, I realize that statement includes me and this piece right now.)