The last few years have been fascinating for a number of reasons, but one that’s really caught my attention is the way conservatives and their media have completely abandoned even the pretense of honesty, integrity, and a desire to make things better. I think the leaders and news outlets know that their base are so isolated from reality that they can tell them whatever they want, and they’ll just believe it. One of the best examples of this is their response to calls to defund the police. There are, of course, lies about what that phrase means, but I think those pale in comparison to the lie that the police have already been defunded, as though the slogan itself were some form of incantation that made it so. In case you’re not certain of the numbers, the agenda proposed by the Defund movement has been adopted by precisely zero cities. Some toyed with the idea, but overall, funding for police seems to have increased, rather than being reallocated to reduce the pressures that drive crime. .
These days I don’t really like the concept of “insanity”. It’s a dismissive over-simplification that I believe does more harm than good. That said, there’s a popular saying – that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. I mention it because it’s brought up in the video below, and because that certainly seems to be the cycle that our leaders are trapped in. It’s as if they lack the ability to conceive of any response to unrest beyond increasing the number of soldie- sorry, police officers, and giving them more money. Never mind the killings, maimings, torture, theft, sexual assault, and harassment that all come from cops, we just have to have more cops, and then they can police the police! That always works, right? We just need the right reforms.
Well, no. Reform doesn’t work. I feel confident in saying that, because it’s been the primary approach for decades, and things have not improved. I also don’t buy that this is a new problem. It may be getting worse, with increase police militarization, and increased police protections, but cops have always been like this in the United States. Still, reform is a popular talking point, and our leaders don’t actually want the police to change in any significant way, so they will keep leaning on it, no matter how rotten it is. That’s why I want to share this video from Skip Intro, using the cop show We Own This City as a lens through which to examine police reform, and why it fails:
I also want to highlight a more blunt point made by writer Robyn Pennachia – police already know it’s bad to beat people to death. They aren’t robots that just don’t have the right programming. They are people with their own thoughts and opinions who routinely choose to beat people to death, or to shoot them, or to maim them, or to steal from them, or to plant evidence, or to rape them. They already know that that stuff isn’t allowed, and they do it anyway. Reform cannot work because police don’t want it to work, and actively fight against it. Giving them new rules won’t help, because they already break the rules that they have.
It’s worth noting that the Memphis police department enacted a series of reform measures back in 2020 following the murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. It was part of a program called “8 Can’t Wait” that aimed to reduce police violence by requiring certain things of police officers during stops.
- Ban chokeholds and strangleholds
- Require officers to de-escalate situations, where possible, by communicating with subjects, maintaining distance, and otherwise eliminating the need to use force.
- Require officers to give a verbal warning in all situations before using deadly force.
- Require officers to intervene and stop excessive force used by other officers and report these incidents immediately to a supervisor.
- Ban shooting at moving vehicles
- Establish a Force Continuum that restricts the most severe types of force to the most extreme situations and creates clear policy restrictions on the use of each police weapon and tactic.
- Require officers to report each time they use force or threaten to use force against civilians. Comprehensive reporting includes requiring officers to report whenever they point a firearm at someone, in addition to all other types of force.
Like most flavors of police reform, these measures presume that the police officers who kill do so only because they simply don’t know what else to do, because they haven’t been trained to do anything else. It presumes that they won’t use a chokehold if they are told to not use chokeholds. It presumes that if we just tell police officers “Hey, stop murdering people who are no kind of actual threat to you,” they will stop doing that. It assumes a certain amount of good faith that is not necessarily applicable to the kinds of police officers who kill people.
You know what the number one “deterrent” is to people committing crimes? It’s not long sentences, it’s not harsh prison conditions, it is certainty that they will be caught. This also applies to police officers in a systemically racist society who shoot or kill people to death.
If these officers didn’t know that what they are doing is wrong in these situations, they would also do them when dealing with rich white people. They’d act the same way when television cameras are rolling. They don’t. If this were the only way they knew to handle these situations, if all they needed was better training and more funding, they would never bring White mass murderers in alive. They do. Quite often, in fact. When was the last time police beat a mass murderer to death? Or a serial killer?
They know it’s wrong, they do it anyway, because they think they won’t get caught. They do it because power corrupts.
And because power attracts those who would abuse it.
Likewise, I think many of the rich and powerful people who advocate for “reform” already know that it won’t work, at least for the change wanted by the general public. They don’t want that change. I think that they want the police to keep the people in line, regardless of what the people want. There’s a paranoid part of me that worries that this continued ramp-up of police and the military isn’t actually about current conditions, but rather about future conditions, as the planet warms and capitalism continues to grind the masses into the dirt.
That’s why I’ve been convinced that the change we need has to come from us. We need to organize and build collective power, because the systems in place are designed to resist this kind of change no matter the cost. As with climate change, even if we don’t have a perfect solution, we sure as hell know how we could make things better, and yet “we” (the people in power) refuse to do it. All we have is us.
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