Growing up, I had never seriously thought about police or their role in society. I grew up in a suburb of Boston with minimal police presence; mostly I didn’t think about the police. When I did, I believed the TVs, newspapers, and schools: police are the “finest,” the “bravest,” there “to protect and serve” us.
In the past year, many who previously thought the police were on our side have begun to question what they’ve been told because they experienced or saw brutal police repression of the Occupy movement.
But, while many were shocked at the brazen brutality, police violence in the United States is a daily experience for both people of color and the poor.
In New York City, this is partially accomplished through Stop-and-Frisk. One of the common justifications for the disproportionate percentage of stops of black and Latino New Yorkers is that this merely reflects the concentration of Stop-and-Frisks in high-crime precincts that are majority black and Latino. However, the East Side of Manhattan and Greenwich Village are both just 8 percent black and Latino, yet over 71 percent of stops in both neighborhoods were of blacks and Latinos. The same is true of four other precincts as well. I believe the term for that is “racial profiling.”
Defenders of police might say, “Police are just doing their job.” And they are, but their job isn’t to protect us, it’s to protect the state and themselves. That explains the bare-faced retaliation that activist Jazz Hayden is suffering at the hands of the NYPD. Another article I wrote goes into detail, so I’ll give you the short version here. Hayden has been videotaping police conduct in Harlem for 4 years — a right that Attorney General Eric Holder recently reaffirmed. Last year, two cops whom he’d previously videotaped stopped him, remarked, “We know you,” and illegally searched his car. They charged him with felony possession of two dangerous weapon, which carry potentially 2 to 7 years in prison, each. The weapons? A penknife and a commemorative mini-replica baseball bat. These cops are trying to silence Hayden, pure and simple.
But, while the state will lock up and brutalize activists as they become a bigger threat, the state constantly locks up, brutalizes, and even murders people of color and the poor, whether or not they are actively fighting for their rights. Michelle Alexander recently broadcast this truth in her secular bible for the movement, The New Jim Crow. Two and a half million people in cages and 5 million on leashes, and most of them are people of color, disproportionately for drug offenses — this despite the heavily documented fact that drug use and selling are practiced at similar rates among whites. Clearly this isn’t about protecting regular people, this is the state preemptively demobilizing any movement for racial or economic justice, maintaining the permanent underclass of poor and under and unemployed people of color and dividing the working class. Like every war, the “War on Drugs” is really a “War on People.”
This War on People doesn’t just lead to incarcerations that cripple families and incomes, it also leads to murders. In just the first six months of 2012, every 36 hours police, security guards or vigilantes killed a black man, woman, or child.
Almost all of these murderers never even face charges, let alone any meaningful punishment. Only sustained protest results in justice. The most famous case this year, George Zimmerman’s murder of Trayvon Martin, took four months of mass mobilizations and international media for charges to even be filed.
It’s even harder to win justice against the police because it exposes the state’s hypocrisy. It takes immeasurable courage and tireless organizing, and right now we have living examples of this just 45 minutes from Columbia in Constance Malcolm and Franclot Graham, parents of Ramarley Graham, an 18 year-old murdered by police in his own bathroom. Just getting one officer indicted took months of weekly vigils, press conferences, legal pressure, and he was only charged with manslaughter.
I went to the indictment. There were more than 60 police spending their day off at court to support Haste. They laughed, joked and applauded as Richard Haste walked out. Applause. For a man who clearly wrongfully murdered an 18 year-old boy.
No matter what NYPD commissioner Kelly and Bloomberg say, they do not care about violence in black communities – if they did they would pursue real crime-prevention policies, like creating jobs, not cutting and gutting public-sector jobs which are disproportionately held by blacks and women, and opening more schools instead of closing them.
But it’s clear our leaders don’t and won’t do what it takes to end this violence, so like the Ramarley Graham’s parents, we have to take our own action. Everyone who wants a more just and less violent world must organize to fight against police violence, against state racism, and for the real changes that will end violence—jobs, housing, education, and more. We have to mobilize for protests like the Graham’s vigils, Jazz’s court rallies, against school closings and budget cuts that destroy necessary public services and public-sector jobs. We must organize in our neighborhoods, in our unions, and in our schools to put an end to this daily brutal violence and to replace it with a community that cares for one another.