We’re not yet ready to deal with the question of police violence. It might seem strange to say this. Police violence has been getting a great deal of attention, so why are we not yet ready?
We have yet to identify the root of the problem. Black Lives Matter is not fundamental to this. It explains nothing. It is a grand gesture that comes after the failure of so many “thoughts and prayers” to a benevolent God.
Even though only a gesture, Black Lives Matter is a wondrous one. It has inspired Blue Lives Matter and All Lives Matter, each worthy of examination.
Blue Lives Matter must mean, if it means anything at all, that for centuries Blue Lives have been oppressed, exploited, and punished severely for their innocence.
All Lives Matter must mean, if it means anything at all, that Black Lives should be eternally grateful for living in a benevolent country under a benevolent God.
No, we’re not yet ready to deal with police violence because of the body camera. It’s a great trick. And all the time we were watching without noticing that its marvelous restraining effect is directed at us. It restrains us from looking deeper. Did we think that the tools of the surveillance state, used against us, would now be directed against “them”?
We’re not yet ready because of police sensitivity training, another trick designed to restrain us. If training for sensitivity actually worked, you could beat someone until their morale improved.
We’re not ready because of the restraining effect on us of police department oversight, police commissions, police disciplining, suspensions and firings. Black Lives Matter knows this. And Black Lives Matter feels this.
Crimes are perpetrated from above as well as below. From criminology, let’s apply motive, means, and opportunity from a top down perspective to arrive at something fundamental to police.
First, motive. What is the motivation of and for the police? Protecting and serving the public is the public relations approximation. Something else is responsible for its existence. Police serve the state as agents and, as such, are instruments of state power.
This is not to say police perform no positive role for the people they have power over. They do, but the power imbalance is fundamental. People have no control over police. The job of the state, and thus the police as agents, is to control the population.
The reason police can act with relative impunity is that those over them — courts, judges, prosecutors — are also agencies of the state and perform the same function. That of protecting the state from internal disorder. The police are put on the front line of state defense. They play a role in protecting the public, but they serve one master.
Then there’s means. The ability to intimidate with the projection of force. The possession of deadly weapons and instructions on how they’re used.
And opportunity. Police look for it. Part of the job.
Now, assuming any of this is true, it is not the police that must change. It is the state. The police will be just as violent as the state. Just to make this easier, I will dissociate America’s violent foreign policy from the violent domestic policy, and speak only of it in brief outline.
To reduce police violence, reduce police weaponry with disarmament being the end goal. Too fantastic, some will say! Then only criminals will have guns. Naturally, those guns will have to go also. All guns not suitably licensed for specific hunting purposes will have to go.
What about Second Amendment proponents and those fearful of an armed government coming after them? More than a good question, it’s the question! The state has to disarm itself in tandem with the population. A schedule is drawn up so that as the population is disarmed, corresponding and proportional disarming of the state and its police are disarmed.
The only way to get guns out of citizens hands is to convince people that they no longer need them. The state, by disarming itself in tandem, has gone some way toward this. To actually get guns out of the hands of all actors, good and bad, is bound to be incomplete. Gun and ammunition manufacturing and distribution could be halted by edict on grounds of national health and welfare emergency.
Appropriate monetary rewards could induce the return of arms voluntarily. Where it will be involuntary, as it surely will, a show of unarmed force in conjunction with the new paradigm and the promise of no conviction will convince some.
If the state was willing, an action like this could take place and would have a positive effect on public safety. But it’s based on a fragile premise. That the state is willing. We haven’t seen evidence of this. Further, the state would have to enlist the backing of major, private corporations that will have to see some benefit to them.
It’s high probability stuff that something like this would work, with a low probability of it being undertaken. Pressure must come from below. But if the Black Lives Matter movement counts for anything, it is revealing that traditional and current measures to curb police violence are all low probability stuff. Stuff we shouldn’t be wasting our time on.
That we are wasting our time on it is an indication that police brutality is not — repeat not — a serious problem for the state. Police violence can only be lessened through the radical means of removing their protection from above, thus removing their impunity. Only the state can do this.
James Rothenberg, of North Chatham, writes on U.S. social and foreign policy.