A culture of lawlessness defines the U.S.’s law enforcement.
In the midst of a global pandemic, the death of George Floyd ignited a firestorm on the streets of America against recurrent and unjustifiable killings perpetrated by police officers. Many mainstream commentators derided the riots by protestors and the violent response by law enforcement. Yet such derisions fail to consider the hegemony policing institutions hold both over state sanctioned violence and local politics. Moreover, such rioting by protestors often follow years of community-wide abuse at the hands of police officers and after all other avenues of institutional recourse have failed. While the failure of officers to abide by departmental policies is often noted in post-mortem inquiries, what is often not considered during officer-involved killings is the institutional culture of policing agencies. The killing of George Floyd and many others reveals that these killings and resulting protests are not just isolated incidents or one-off violations of agency policy. Rather, they are indicative of a systemic culture that has consumed law enforcement agencies.
Despite the alleged dominance of the so-called “community policing” paradigm, wherein policing institutions are seen as integral to solving community problems and not just stopping crimes, what truly lies at the core of modern-day policing is the “warrior cop” mentality. This mode of thinking espouses that police officers are the only line between social order and chaos, best exemplified by the often-cited “thin blue line” rhetoric seen amongst pro-law enforcement supporters. This mentality is instilled into officers during their training both before and long after earning a badge. Police officers spend hundreds of hours in virtual and physical training teaching them to respond to mundane yet potentially violent interactions, essentially priming them to violently overreact to most of the calls they receive while on the job. As opposed to being trained as servants to the community, law enforcers are trained much like soldiers about to be shipped off to occupied lands. Lastly, officers that do speak out against or question this culture often face retaliation from their peers.
However, it is important to note that this is not just a mentality; police officers have the tools to back up their violent mindset. The warrior cop mentality has been bolstered in recent years by the surplus military hardware offloaded into American communities. Policing agencies—even those as small as a handful of officers—have received helicopters, mine-resistant personnel carriers, and tank-piercing rifles. With such armaments, one would think that America is an occupied state. In truth, it certainly resembles one. Foucault’s boomerang has made its roundabout to every community in America in that the imperialist tactics practiced abroad by the US military have returned home in the culture and practices that have engulfed law enforcement agencies. Every individual, barring those from select bourgeois demographics, is treated with a gaze of suspicion. Police actively target and profiteer off even innocent Americans through the abuse of asset forfeiture laws, profits which then go on to fund the weapons of war filling American communities and training that furthers this mentality. Despite what their badges suggest, these warriors neither protect nor serve our communities—they plunder them. The only solution to abate ourselves of these gangs is to divest all power from them.
Calls to defund the police rightfully accompanied the sorrow and anger over Floyd’s death. Unfortunately, such a stance starkly contrasts the liberal-minded and meager reforms that often accompany these killings. Our job as socialists is to educate the public about the damage policing institutions do to our communities, damage that no amount of reform can nullify. By educating our community, we can rally supporters against this abusive institution. After all, police are not only a tool of the capitalist class, but they also threaten the power of working-class organizers. This is especially true at the local level. Local law enforcement often request military equipment for the supposed purposes of fighting gangs or perpetuating the War on Drugs, but more often than not these tools of war are employed on organizers fighting to better our communities as the recent wave of protests have shown. While law enforcement are notably effective at lobbying local county and city councils for more resources in response to sensationalized crime rates, their scaremongering tactics can be countered by revealing the true cost of their inefficient operations. We can also persuade community leaders by showing them what our communities are losing by investing so heavily in the police in the first place. While local government’s budgets have been constrained in recent years, the budgets of police departments have soared while other government services flounder. Social services largely affected by the politics of austerity—public schools, community centers, and social welfare agencies—could all greatly benefit from the reallocation of funds from defunct police agencies. More funding could also be provided at the federal level in that grants that currently fund police agencies could instead be directed towards other local social services. All of these services not only actively reduce crime, but, more importantly, they also actively address the root causes of crime. However, effective grass-roots organizing is key to ensuring that calls to defund the police are more than just a slogan.
By locally organizing, DSA members can exert a large degree of influence over local budgets and work to reallocate funds from police departments. But this influence can only come about if we focus our efforts on dominating local political arenas (i.e. DSA members obtaining local offices and pressuring community leaders). This movement is not just about abolishing policing institutions; it actively challenges hegemonic views on criminality. It also advocates for more humane and effective ways to deal with crime. While acknowledging the need for a national dialogue, what this movement truly needs is a successful example to point to. And with national crime rates at historic lows, what better time is there to experiment with defunding our militarized police forces and reinvesting those funds in our communities’ futures.
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