Friday, April 10, 2015

We've Got to Get Beyond the "National Conversation" About Police Violence to Action

The United States has been engaged in a "National Conversation" about police violence and murder since last August when Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson gunned down an unarmed black youth named Michael Brown.

This "conversation" has been driven and moderated by the media, a media which is fully in the hands of the Powers That Be and which determines the course of "discussion." The People are permitted to participate in the "discussion" so long as they adhere to the rules set by the media moderators. When they operate outside those rules, they are ignored, and so they are not part of the "discussion."

I've wondered why, during the course of this ongoing, rolling "National Conversation" the initial police killing and protests in Albuquerque in March of last year, in which an illegally camping mentally ill man named James Boyd was ruthlessly gunned down by two APD snipers, has been all but disappeared from the "discussion."

The issue of police violence and murder became nationalized due to the killing of James Boyd last year, but you hardly ever hear about it these days, and it isn't part of the overall "discussion." The activists who were determined to cause fundamental changes in the way the police in Albuquerque behave -- and so enable Albuquerque to become a model for police reform in the rest of the country -- have largely either shut up about it or have moved on to other projects.

Meanwhile, the "National Conversation" about police violence continues, as more and more Americans are killed by police -- still at the consistent rate of about three a day -- and hundreds and hundreds are assaulted and abused as part of routine policing. When these incidents of violence and death are particularly egregious and caught on video, there is a momentary shift in the "conversation" to focus on this or that incident. But on the whole, little seems to change. Police violence and killing continues as the "conversation" rolls on.

The "conversation" is in essence a stalling tactic used by elites and their allies to ensure that the status quo is maintained -- or that the appearance of the status quo is maintained while adjustments in the way Power is maintained are made behind the scenes. The "conversation" exists primarily to divert attention from the necessity for Action.

Two recent incidents of police violence have caused slight shifts in the "conversation." In one, the video of the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC, caused a remarkable action by the local PTB: they arrested the officer who killed Scott and charged him with murder one, an almost unheard of action against a police officer in the performance of his duties.

In the other, the apprehension and savage beating by sheriff's deputies of a man who fell off a stolen horse in the hills above Apple Valley, CA, has caused the typical action of police departments when confronted with video evidence of apparent misconduct: an acknowledgement that the "video is disturbing" (ie: the video is disturbing, not the actions of the deputies caught on video), and the incident will be "thoroughly investigated," which typically means exoneration of the officers involved in the incident -- due to internal, unknown and unknowable policies and procedures that authorize such violence against non-resisting suspects. Happens all the time.

Sadly, in the Apple Valley incident, the local ACLU issued a mealy-mouthed and useless statement acknowledging the authorization of the use of force by law enforcement -- an authorization that may or may not have been exceeded in this case. There was no real attempt by the local ACLU to hold police accountable for the violence documented in the video. Just as a side note, San Bernardino County was the site of sheriffs deputies burning alive Christopher Dorner who dared to point out the inherent racism and violence of the LAPD and took matters into his own hands to settle some scores after he was dismissed from the force.

The tendency in the "National Conversation" about police violence is to cast the problem/issue in racial terms, even though the issue is (IMHO) more a matter of class than race. Race enters into the picture through class, not independently, at least for the most part. Yes there are racists in police departments all over the country, and some of those departments operate from a racist basis. But the focus on race to the exclusion of class or other aspects of modern policing suggests that the issues of police violence and murder can only be solved by solving the inherent racism of American society (as teacherken suggests in this essay at dKos.)

Well, no. That's a further distraction -- perhaps one of the worst going -- because "solving" the inherent racism of American society is not something that can or will happen anytime soon, if ever. In fact, racism is so deeply ingrained in American consciousness and subconscious that it probably can't be solved short of divine intervention.

What can be solved and what must be solved through persistent action is the problem of police violence and murder which seem to be universal in American policing -- but aren't quite.

I mentioned the uproar in Albuquerque that followed the egregious police killing of James Boyd in March of last year, and how that uproar seems to have dissipated or disappeared. Something else has changed, though. The killing stopped. Well, mostly stopped. There has been one killing by APD since last July. I believe there have been three killings by Bernalillo County deputies in the unincorporated areas, and two by State Police in the outlying areas since last July. Though it is still too high, that's a remarkable reduction in the rate of police killings compared to previous periods, and it happened because of concerted public action and the determination of certain segments of the Powers That Be to conduct a thoroughgoing reform of the Albuquerque Police Department's policies regarding violence and use of lethal force.

The first thing to do was to stop the killing.

It really is that simple. The order must go out to STOP THE KILLING.


Both of these actions can be taken almost instantaneously if there is the will -- and the order -- to do so. It does not mean that the inherent racism of American society is cured or even addressed. But it does mean that the violence and killing perpetrated by police (which is one aspect of inherent racism) is curbed, and at least for a while, the other social and cultural problems can be dealt with.

The actions that caused such a steep reduction in police killings in Albuquerque are mirrored in some other cities such as Oakland, CA. The lesson is that the police can unilaterally stop killing and stop being violent assholes, and the world won't come to an end, the Apocalypse isn't any more nigh than it ever was.

The further lesson is that police violence and killing simply isn't necessary -- let alone desirable -- for a civil society to function. When police are responsible for a double digit percentage of homicides in this country (as they are), then a big part of the problem is the police themselves, not the criminal element they are supposedly protecting the rest of us from.

The public needs to mobilize against police violence and murder, but in some ways the "conversation" prevents mobilization. It's by design, of course. Those who benefit from the status quo of violent policing  and all of its many subsidiary aspects, including mass incarceration and the criminalization of whole categories of the population, will do practically anything to prevent the disruption of that status quo. But at times and in certain places, the People combined with the operators of the structures of Power can not only disrupt the status quo but institute a new status quo in which official violence on the part of police is curbed and the constant litany of killing by police is suppressed.

Those who benefit from the status quo include the media -- which is driving and moderating the "National Conversation" about violent policing. It's time to get beyond the "conversation" to action, and if that means that protests intensify and actions become inconveniences, so be it.

The killing by police must stop.

The violence by police must be curbed.

It's really that simple.

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