I don't know any cops. I see them on the street but usually they don't see me, because I don't fit the profile of the people they target for harassment, kidnappings, and murder.
Maybe you know some cops? A few weeks ago I was discussing the New Jim Crow with two friends, women who also want to see a fast end to the institutional racism in the US that preys on people of color to fill its prisons, ghettos, and morgues. I made the totally uncontroversial statement that all cops are bastards, only to remember, as I spoke, that one of my friends is the daughter of a cop.
I did not take back my statement, or apologize, but I did listen as she described her cop father: a man, she said, whose inclinations were anti-racist, toward genuine public safety, toward justice, who complained (at home) about dirty deeds on the force.
A few days later, cops in Anaheim, California executed Manuel Diaz in the street. Diaz, a 25-year-old community member accused of no crime, was shot from behind, as he ran with two other men in the opposite direction of the armed men trained to kill who were chasing him. Diaz was unarmed. After hand-cuffing him, police shot him in the back of the head at close range.
Members of that same police force responded to the families, who assembled in the neighborhood to demand justice, just like a bunch of cowardly bastards, firing bean bags from shotguns, firing rubber bullets, and letting loose an attack dog. The small, unarmed crowd included infants.
These cops then offered cash in hand to people in the crowd for their cellphones, presumably to dispose of the evidence of their disgusting crimes, which anyway found its way to network news and the Internet. Within 24 hours, these same cops murdered another community member, Joel Acevedo.
"Known gang members" is the way the police force, and the compliant media, justified these murders. "Police involved shooting" is the way the press describes them, and the numerous other acts of lethal, extra-judicial aggression this particular police force has committed in 2012.
Here's a reminder: so far, this year, a person of color is murdered by the state or its vigilante proxies every 36 hours in the US. I don't have the exact numbers for when American cops initiate beatings, sexual harassment, sexual assault, public humiliations, violations of privacy, threats, thefts, kidnappings and so forth. You can look up the numbers on incarcerations for non-violent offenses, for the way folks are kidnapped from their communities and stripped - with classless, colorblind laws that target people of color and the poor - of their rights to work, receive public assistance, vote.
And since I began this piece, I read of Chavis Carter, a young man who was stopped by cops in Jonesboro, Arkansas, searched multiple times, handcuffed, and thrown in the back of a police car. At some point after this, a bullet entered his right temple and killed him, and the pigs say it was a suicide. These cops are bastards.
What does it take for a cop to not be a bastard? To denounce, loudly and clearly, this kind of behavior. To refuse to participate in it. To refuse to protect the State from the people it is entrusted to serve. To refuse to protect corporations from people protesting their misdeeds. To refuse to protect private power, period. To recognize the functional difference between municipal police and the military.
Want to be a hero to the community? Escort vulnerable folks, without a gun. Be helpful, without a badge. Be responsible, without a uniform. But if you wear a uniform, if you wear a badge, if you carry a gun, know that the State no longer sees you as an individual, but as a weapon yourself. That's how it uses you, that's how it dispatches and discharges you. Know that many of the rest of us see you that way too, and with good reason.
If you wear a uniform and a badge, if you carry a gun, go ahead and demand accountability from the force, see how far that gets you. Remember that you are supposed to serve the community, not the force. Remember that the mass incarcerations and killings by police are done in your name and that, wearing that uniform, we see you as duplicate expressions of the same idea. Are you a weapon against us? What are you a weapon for?
If the cop in your life is still a cop, it means that he (or she) has not threatened the good ol' boys club with demands for accountability, but really it means that he (or she) hasn't risked job and benefits in a society that criminalizes joblessness and health problems. It means that they collude (actively, or by their silence) with other members of the force to alter or hide evidence of police crimes. It means they go out on the street, trained to kill, with weapons loaded, knowing damned well that we live in a society that targets people of color, youth, and poor folks, and have the temerity to expect respect, even praise.
I am about done writing when I read another story about murderous cop bastards, this one out of New York City, where the mayor brags "I have my own army in the NYPD, which is the seventh biggest army in the world." Two days ago a swarm of these forces loyal to arch-plutocrat Bloomberg confronted Darrius Kennedy in Times Square. I am going to go out on a limb and say that a reasonable response to being confronted by multiple armed killers is to protect yourself. Kennedy pulled a knife and started to back away. I suppose Kennedy had mental health issues, and if this society cared to address them, it wouldn't shoot him dead in broad daylight.
Ten shots, I think I read, to slow down this one agitated man, from a police force well practiced at containing thousands of Occupy Wall Street activists at a time for the past year. Brave? No. Accountable? No. Just? Not at all.
Again, what were these cops a weapon against? Who were they a weapon for? Here is an account from social justice activist Kelly Rose Pflug-Back, who writes that
"Some political prisoners are arrested for staging public demonstrations that address poverty, and some are arrested for living in poverty. Some actively protest social inequality, while others turn to drugs or alcohol because they can no longer bear the brunt of this inequality."
Will we live in fear of the State's municipal police forces or will we demand accountability and exact justice from them? Are all cops bastards? Let the bravest ones lay their weapons down, step forward, and prove otherwise.