Against the Current, No. 186, January/February 2017
“I’M NOT ANTI-POLICE, I’m anti-police brutality.”
I’ve heard this phrase or some variation of it from Beyoncé, Al Sharpton, Marilyn Mosby, and countless activists who feel the need to clarify the fact that their condemnation of police brutality does not mean they are anti-police.
I have even made this statement a few times while talking to people about my reasons for being active in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. That was before I realized that policing is brutality.
The I’m not anti-police stance would work if, and only if, police brutality could be separated from the nature of policing. But it can’t. That’s because the major purpose of policing is to maintain the supremacy of the ruling class.
An armed guard is necessary for upholding the dominance of the minuscule ruling class over the rest of populace. And as the armed guard of the ruling class, the police can and must use force against those who are seen as a threat to those in power (i.e. poor, Black and brown people) in order to quell dissent.
Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, the author of From #BlackLivesMatter to Black Liberation, asserts that “The police function to enforce the rule of the politically powerful and the economic elite: this is why poor and working-class communities are so heavily policed.” (108)
Although most law enforcement officials do not join the force thinking that their job is to serve the interests of society’s most powerful, that is, essentially, their duty. They are called in to brutally suppress political uprisings, from Watts (1965) to Ferguson and everything in between.
They are assigned to occupy and surveil working class communities of color and to keep poor, Black and brown people in a constant state of terror so that they know to stay in their place.
From aggressively enforcing the post-Civil War Black Codes, Jim Crow laws, racist drug policies and discriminatory immigration legislation, to violently breaking up protests and union strikes, the police continuously illustrate that their primary purpose is to serve and protect the white supremacist, capitalist power structure.
A Systemic Function
Police brutality is the byproduct of the racist, coercive institution of policing. The daily, unjustified murders of numerous unarmed Black and brown people by law enforcement officials across the nation are a form of terrorism by this is what will happen to you if you disobey. To reduce the issue of police brutality to the intentions of individual officers is to ignore the basis of policing. As James Baldwin expressed in “A Report from Occupied Territory,” which appeared in The Nation in 1966, “They are present to keep the Negro in his place and to protect white business interests, and they have no other function.”
When I say that I am anti-police, it does not mean that I think all police officers are bad people. Again, this is not about individual police officers, and it’s not as simple as good cop or bad cop. I am merely recognizing that the institution as a whole has been an instrument since its inception for the subjugation of poor, Black and brown people.
I cannot ignore the role of the police in exacerbating mass incarceration, criminalizing poverty, and tyrannizing people who presumably threaten the ruling class. I cannot ignore the role of the police in attacking, jailing and killing freedom fighters from every progressive and revolutionary social movement in American history.
The police, in short, are agents of a deeply racist organization designed to enforce complacency and to protect the powerful. No amount of reform or training can fundamentally change an institution that exists to oppress. This is why I am anti-police.
© 2017 Against the Current
January-February 2017, ATC 186