The cops at a Long Island, New York, pro-police event “laughed and cheered” when President Trump urged them to brutalize immigrant prisoners – “animals,” as he called them. Then, caught in mid-guffaw, the supervisors and flaks for the bad boys and girls in blue struggled to straightened out their faces and disavow Trump’s remarks.
“What the president recommended…is not what policing is about today,” claimed Steve Soboroff, a civilian commissioner of the Los Angeles Police Department, which is forever situating police brutality somewhere in the past.
“The president’s comments stand in stark contrast to our department’s commitment to constitutional policies and community engagement,” said New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison. His city took until last December to reach a $13.3 million settlement for Katrina-related police murder and maiming of civilians.
The International Association of Chiefs of Police hastily restated its policy “that any use of force is carefully applied and objectively reasonable considering the situation confronted by the officers” – a statement that sounds very much like the standard legal defense presented in the miniscule fraction of police brutality cases that actually go to trial.
The police department in Suffolk County, where Trump gave his speech, was compelled to allow federal oversight of its treatment of Latino immigrants in 2013, including claims that the department “discouraged Latino victims from filing complaints and cooperating with the police, and failed to investigate crimes and hate crime incidents involving Latinos.”
A former Suffolk County police chief was recently sentenced to almost four years in prison for beating up an immigrant who stole pornography and sex toys from the chief’s car. But, Trump’s spittle was barely dry on the podium before the department declared, on Twitter: “We do not and will not tolerate roughing up of prisoners…” The department “has strict rules & procedures relating to the handling of prisoners… Violations of those rules are treated extremely seriously.”
Democracy Now! trotted out Maya Wiley, the chairwoman of New York City’s Civilian Complaint Review Board. Wiley bragged that her panel is “one of the oldest civilian oversight bodies in the country, and certainly the largest” – which simply means it has been party to more police murders of civilians than any similar body since its beginnings in the 1950s.
The New York Times exploited Trump’s bestiality with an editorial in praise of the police. “Law enforcement’s backlash against this speech says something about how forward-looking police officials think about their responsibilities,” wrote the Commissars of Capital at the Times.
In this narrative – shared by virtually all corporate media, but rooted nowhere in reality – the police are in a perpetual process of reform. Trump is trying to drag the cops back into a savage past that they are valiantly attempting to escape. The editorial suggests “the president might bear this in mind the next time he opens his mouth on this subject.”
Trust and safety?
The problem with the criminal justice system, according to both the Times and New York police review board chairwoman Wiley, is a lack of trust between the police and the community.
“Enforcement strategies based in brutality make it difficult to solve crimes – because they alienate communities from the law, making it harder for officers to do their jobs,” according to the Times.
Wiley is most concerned about “safety.”
“One of the ways we create safety is that we have better relationships between police and community, the community trusts police, they’re able to come to police,” she said.
Power and democracy
If only more “trust” could be created between “the community” and the armed, coercive forces of the state, everything would be lovely. Questions of power and democracy do not enter the corporate equation – including corporate “reformers.”
Maya Wiley speaks of the inability of police to “do their jobs” when communities feel alienated, assuming that their “job” is to provide “safety” to the community. But that is like saying the job of prison guards is to keep inmates safe, rather than keeping them in captivity.
The real issues are power and democracy; the democratic exercise of power by the people of the community.
Democracy demands that a self-determining people define “the job” that the police are hired to perform, and that the community have the power to hire and fire security personnel. When security regimes are imposed on a people by outside forces, it is repression, an injustice that must be resisted. No justice, no peace.
When Trump blows his whistle to incite the police to further crimes of repression, the more calculating corporate forces seize the opportunity to set the bar of “reform” even lower.
The people are conditioned to equate justice with a lessening of instances of police brutality and blatant disrespect – but not with community power over the police.
They are discouraged from demanding that the police be directly accountable to the communities they patrol.
Instead, the people are told to concentrate on the methods used by police to impose “order” in the community. Instead of “Power to the People,” the demand becomes, “Please don’t hurt us too badly.”
So-called “community policing” is a gimmick and diversion. As Mumia Abu Jamal, the nation’s best known political prisoner, puts it: “Body cameras? Training? BS. Nonsense. Done. It is a bourgeois mirage.”
A coalition of New York-area organizations is pushing an expansion of the immigrant-based “sanctuary cities” concept to include the historical victims of economic and police repression in the United States.
“Where,” they ask, “is the sanctuary for folks impacted by the War on Drugs, racial profiling, or police violence? Where is the sanctuary for people with convictions?”
Among the demands of the “Freedom Cities” campaign are “Community Control,” to “gain real control of the institutions that people interact with daily, including police and other public agencies;” and “Community Defense,” to “establish systems of self-defense in neighborhoods to protect rights and dignity.” Elements of Black Lives Matter have taken similar positions.
The Black Is Back Coalition for Social Justice, Peace and Reparations, which is holding a national conference in Chicago this weekend, last year ratified a 19-point National Black Political Agenda for Self- Determination that calls for Black Community Control of the Police:
“We demand the immediate withdrawal of all domestic military occupation forces from Black communities. This democratic demand assumes the ability of Black people to mobilize for our own security and to redefine the role of the police so that it no longer functions as an agency imposed on us from the outside.”
True community control of the police means the abolition of the outside-imposed force and termination of its mission of mass Black incarceration and the containment and terrorization of the Black community.
However, the domestic “army of occupation” cannot be expelled through simple protest actions, or by episodic rebellions. It must be displaced and replaced by people’s security organizations that are deployed and strengthened over time.
Self-determination is hard work. Body cameras and “community policing” schemes don’t get us there. Neither does cursing Trump.
Glen Ford is executive editor of BlackAgendaReport.com. E-mail him at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com.