The PBS news program Frontline has been examining policing in the US and the efforts at reform. In a new episode released just this week The New Yorker magazine reporter Jelani Cobb goes back to the town of Newark, NJ where he grew up. He had gone there a few years earlier after the Obama administration had placed the city police under a consent decree following widespread abuses and ordered various reforms and appointed a monitor to oversee them.
He visited the city recently to see what had changed since then. He spoke with people like the city’s major Ras Baraka (the son of Amiri Baraka) with whom he had been friends with back in his school days, the city’s public safety commissioner, and the police chief. What he saw gave him some hope that meaningful reform is possible
However, the worst person in the program was the police union chief. Jelani Cobb showed him a video of police giving a horrific beating to a man, even hitting his head on the sidewalk after he had been subdued, and asked him if it was justified. The union chief said that it was.
It is becoming increasingly clear that police unions have become one of the biggest obstacles to police reform. They are some of the most reactionary organizations in the US, going beyond perfectly legitimate activities such as fighting for salaries and benefits for their members to covering up, justifying, and excusing the worst acts of police brutality, and opposing any meaningful attempts at improving things.