“Oh Karen… I couldn’t sleep. The George Floyd video has gotten me so disturbed and distraught.. I must do something. The police department needs to hold the cops bad actions accountable. This injustice is systemic and deeply rooted like you mentioned before. I don’t want to sit idle. I feel like not doing anything is being complicit to injustice. I want to do something.. 😔😭 I’m sick of crying about injustice and tyranny. I want to do more. What can we do, Karen? Sorry so early in the morning but I just need to reach out to you about this.”
-received by text early today
White Americans: we burned 3rd Precinct down because we are complicit in police murdering Black people.
We don’t care enough about police accountability to even keep an official count of how many people police murder each year. The British newspaper the Guardian monitored news nationally through 2016, calculating that we allow 1000+ Americans- the majority of whom are white- to die each year at the hands of police.
But I’m sure there’s many more murders in rural areas, on Native American reservations and far from cameras that are not even counted.
Some police murders are recorded on video.
Only a handful of officers are successfully prosecuted.
In most police murders, the officers get put on paid leave, they take their kids to Disney and lay low while the police union hires an attorney to represent them.
The District Attorney- sometimes years later- declines to prosecute. Then the Police Oversight Commission considers whether to fire them, generally deciding not to.
The killer cops return to the force and go on with their lives, retiring with their pensions.
The jurisdiction settles with the victim’s family, who are left to grieve for the rest of their lives.
This is our tax dollars at work!
If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention!
Why is it like this?
The Problem: Origins of police departments. Police are a sui generis racist institution rooted in the runaway slave patrols and militias that removed Native people and killed them. From colonial times all white men in slave states had to serve on the patrols and militias for a period of time each year. KKK and white supremacists have continued to infiltrate law enforcement, all the way up to the present.
The Solution: We cannot incrementally reform a sui generis racist institution. We need to abolish police. Shrink what we have now down to zero and replace with a Community Justice Corps without guns.
The Problem: Standard for Excessive Use of Force. The 1989 Supreme Court decision Graham v Connor held that policing is an inherently dangerous job and it’s not up to the courts to second guess an officer’s judgment. Therefore the standard to determine whether police use of force is excessive is:
“whether the officers’ actions are “objectively reasonable” in light of the facts and circumstances confronting them, without regard to their underlying intent or motivation. The “reasonableness” of a particular use of force must be judged from the perspective of a reasonable officer on the scene, and its calculus must embody an allowance for the fact that police officers are often forced to make split-second decisions about the amount of force necessary in a particular situation.”
This makes District Attorneys disinclined to prosecute killer cops, because it’s an almost impossible standard to meet. If the cop says “I was scared so I shot to protect myself,” that’s enough to justify the use of force, as long as a reasonable officer would agree.
The Solution: States and localities can set higher standards, requiring minimal force, as San Francisco and the state of California have. We need Federal legislation increasing the standard for use of force, and more Supreme Court Justices like Sonia Sotomayor to overturn this decision.
Yet how many elected officials can you name who are demanding greater accountability for police? They are few and far between. We, white people, need to demand our public officials change use of force policy.
The Problem: District Attorneys’ structural conflict of interest. District Attorneys rely on police officers to prosecute cases. Therefore they have a built in disincentive to prosecute cops and generally maintain a cozy relationship with them.
The Solution: Create a statewide Special Prosecutor exclusively dedicated to prosecuting killer cops.
The Problem: White women seeking attention, pro police bias, anti-Blackness. Amy Coopers and Permit Patties treat police like concierges, setting the police up to attack innocent people. Folks who serve on juries tend to be older, white, homeowners with strong pro police bias and anti-Blackness, disincentivizing prosecutions.
The Solution: White folks need to stop calling the cops on Black people, stop being pro-police and anti-Black.
The Problem: Police unions’ power. All police pay union dues that is used to hire attorneys to represent police who face discipline. Police unions organize with prison guard unions and give donations to elected officials. They ally with other unions to pressure elected officials to pass pro-police policies, including budget increases, head count increases, militarization, prison building, etc.
The Solution: To hold police accountable, we must end police unions. I am very pro union EXCEPT police unions because they are a huge impediment to accountability.
Don’t forget who endorsed Trump in 2016: the National Fraternal Order of Police (union of police unions), the Border Patrol Union, the NRA, and the KKK, one big venn diagram of angry armed white men and their wives seeking to preserve their position, power, and control.
An idea a friend who is a police officer shared with me is that many police do not like the police unions and would not be members if they could obtain legal insurance elsewhere. At work, you are offered health insurance options and you can choose the best for your family. If police could choose legal insurance options (pay dues to the union and protect violent cops) or have another form of legal insurance (and a bump at retirement if they never needed to use the insurance because they never needed representation), cops who do not want to protect bad cops would not be forced to do so.
Eroding police unions is a step forward to abolishing police.
The problem: White people’s complacency with police brutality.
The solution: White people have to become willing to intervene in police interactions with people of color. Watch, record and physically intervene when necessary.
The bottom line, in the immortal words of Frederick Douglass, “power concedes nothing without a demand.”
If we want to end police murder, it is going to take tremendous organizing and building political power to countervail the police. The police are not apart from us, they are a part of us, and unless and until we change, they are not going to. We will be most effective if we activate locally, unite with our neighbors, and hold our local public officials and police departments to account. We will be most effective when we use our white privilege to intervene and disrupt police violence. We will be most effective following the leadership of longtime activists. We need to listen to them, respect them, shield them, pay them, and do exactly what they tell us to do.
Just because it’s hard, does not mean it’s impossible. But we have to fight for it as hard as Black women have been fighting for it since our country’s founding.
Please white people, let’s honor George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and Attatiana Jefferson and countless others by rising up in their names. Here are some great organizations and books to get you started: