All the faces above were killed by police officers.
Growing up, you were probably taught that the police are good guys. But when it comes to the Black community, the numbers suggest otherwise. Over the past few months alone, a few high-profile incidents have sparked uprisings around the world:
Ahmaud Arbery was shot and killed by two white vigilantes while on a jog near Brunswick in Glynn County, Georgia. The police department once employed Gregory McMichael, one of two suspects in Arbery’s death – giving them a good reason to cover up the crime. It wasn’t until almost two months after the shooting, the release of a video showing Arbery’s death and public outcry that the McMichaels were arrested in May.
Breonna Taylor was asleep in her Louisville home when three police officers forced their way inside and “blindly fired,” killing her following what her family calls a “botched” raid at her home.
George Floyd died Monday in the city he moved to for a better life, his last moments caught on video. While being arrested, Floyd was held down by a Minneapolis police officer’s knee.
The video shows Floyd pleading that he is in pain and can’t breathe. Then, his eyes shut and the pleas stop. He was pronounced dead shortly after.
The three names above join a long and ever-growing list of Black children, women, and men who have been killed by law enforcement.
And if you are Black, you have a far greater chance of being killed by the police than any other group. In fact, Black men 2.5 times more likely than white men to be killed by police, according to 2019 research estimates.
Whether you are compliant or not, whether you are well dressed and articulate or not, and whether you are law abiding or not, if you are Black you are in danger. Ironically, sometimes non-compliance can save your life, as seen in the video below.
In the video, Ed Truitt was complying with police orders to vacate an area when a cop attacked him with guns drawn. Because he refused to move his hands to deactivate his car, he took away the most common excuse police have for opening fire.
If lessons of the past tell us anything, its this…
Think about every encounter you have ever had with the police. Was it because they were there to help you? To prevent a crime as it happened? To make sure your neighborhood was safe?
Or did they pull you over to issue you a citation and a demand for you to pay a fine? Did they show up long after the crime had been committed only to do nothing about the incident? And have you asked yourself why the communities with the most police patrols are also the most dangerous?
The reason is simple: If you are Black, the police are not here to protect and serve you.
In fact, almost every Black encounter with law enforcement falls under three primary categories: catch and release, catch and kill, or catch and confine.
Catch and Release
A growing body of evidence indicates that local police departments are increasingly being used to provide revenue for municipalities by imposing and collecting
fees, fines, and asset forfeitures.
In a report titled Exploitative Revenues, Law Enforcement, and the Quality of Government Service, New York University researchers cited a U.S. Department of Justice investigation into the Ferguson, Missouri police department following the death of Black teenager Mike Brown.
Investigators concluded that a key driver of the behavior of the Ferguson police was the desire to generate municipal revenue by issuing traffic tickets and imposing fees.
These practices are by no means unique to one particular city or state or even nation. Census of Governments data from 2012 shows that about 80 percent of American cities with law enforcement institutions derive at least some revenue from fees, fines, and asset forfeitures.
The numbers are harder to come by in other nations that either do not track such data or refuse to disclose it.
What this study reveals to us is the fact that police work as a revenue generating arm of state and local governments, and Black civilians are caught, fined, and released more than any other group.
Catch and Kill
Rutgers University found that police shootings are a leading cause of death for young American men.
Police are given a license to kill in the Black community, and any offense – perceived or real – committed by a Black civilian can be a death sentence.
Remember Eric Garner? The crime for which he was sentenced to death was selling cigarettes.
Then there was Ariane McCree who was shot and killed by two Chester Police officers in South Carolina after being detained for allegedly shoplifting at a Walmart.
And then there was Chavis Carter a 21-year-old African-American man who was found dead from a gunshot while handcuffed in the back of a police patrol car on July 29, 2012, was ruled a suicide by the Arkansas State Crime Lab. He was in the passenger seat of a vehicle when police detained him for marijuana possession.
Even when police commit crimes like those above, the small group of people they work with and for are there to protect them. This is why the killers of George Floyd were able to evade justice for two months, and why all of the officers responsible for the death of Freddie Gray were acquitted.
Catch and Confine
Even if you are fortunate enough to survive a police encounter, the criminal justice system does not work in your favor.
The practice of catching and confining Black civilians is known as the new Jim Crow – a term coined by Michelle Alexander in her book of the same name.
The New Jim Crow exposes a caste-like system in the United States that is maintained by the prison industry that has resulted in millions of African Americans being prosecuted, incarcerated, and locked into a permanent second-class status.
Fundamentally, The New Jim Crow speaks to the use of prosecution as a weapon of white supremacy and a solution to ‘the Negro problem’ presented in the face of the abolition of slavery.
White abolitionists and slave owners alike raised the question of what was to be done with the hundreds of thousands of Black men, women, and children if and when they were set free.
Using ‘public safety’ and ‘law and order’ as a campaign platform, Blacks were painted as criminal elements within society setting them up as political targets. This gave birth to the infamous ‘Southern Strategy’ — a political tactic designed by American Republicans to increase political support among white voters in the South by appealing to racism against African Americans.
So Who Do Police Really Work For?
Before you learn the truth about who the police really work for, you must understand how power works within nation-states.
In the example of the new Jim Crow above, it was the Republican party that engineered the system of mass incarceration that is devastating the Black community. And therein lies the answer to the question of who police really work for.
Fundamentally, the primary goal of a powerful group is to remain in power. Not to serve the people and not to make the people’s lives better. But to stay in power.
Once an individual or a group comes to power, they can then make or enforce rules that benefit them and their interests. These rules can cover immigration, how certain groups are taxed, where that tax money goes, and who can participate in the political process.
Police are used to carry out the will of the ruling class. They ensure that the new taxes fines, and fees are collected from the people on behalf of the group in power. The police ensure immigration is kept in check. They ensure that government or private business property is protected. And they ensure that threats to power are checked.
In other words…
And if you think this situation is unique to the United States, you are wrong.
Right now in Brazil, police are on a rampage. As the nation struggles with the Coronavirus pandemic, a photographer laments “Instead of sending doctors and nurses to protect residents from Covid-19, the government sends police, bullet-proof vehicles and helicopters to kill us…We are tired.”
Since the beginning of the year, nearly a thousand Black souls in Brazil were lost to police activity. Many blame this explosion in death on Brazil’s Trump-like President.
Even China is taking a page from the white supremacist playbook by opening police stations across the African continent (source). These stations are in place to protect Chinese citizens and interests in the Black countries within which they reside.
If the role of the police is to protect and serve the power structure, and if that power structure demonstrates its hatred of Black civilians as a group that should be fined, killed, or confined, then there are only two solutions – and neither involve protesting:
1. In the words of Journalist James Wilt, we can “ensure such killings never happen again, by abolishing the police and replacing it with truly life-sustaining services that build a better world for all.” Of course, this would mean also removing the ruling elite that allow police to operate without accountability.
2. We answer the age old question of whether we remain integrated or we begin the difficult but necessary task of separating from abusive relationships and building a new homeland where we can live peacefully.
The answer should be clear to every Pan-African. For if Martin Luther King Jr. understood that we were integrating into a burning house, would it make any sense at all to let the flames continue to consume us?