by : Frederick Foote ((Header art by Alex Nabaum.))
A meditative essay about race, violence and law enforcement in America today…
It is my assumption that there are systems of repression, degradation, and profit masquerading as criminal justice systems in this country. Law enforcement, judicial systems employees, attorneys, prison construction and management industries, and state and local governments each have a vested interest in keeping these invidious systems in place, if not growing. I further assume that these counterfeit justice (or injustice) systems target black, brown and poor communities. Furthermore, I believe we all have a moral and legal obligation to oppose such systems.
Historically, and unto this present day, violence has been employed as the government’s preferred method of dealing with aboriginal resistance, racial and labor unrest, and challenges to the status quo internally and externally. In this way, law enforcement has a license to kill with impunity and immunity from prosecution and this amounts to a long history of state terrorism against people of color.
Those who are willing to admit that there are problems with the American law enforcement systems often respond with the idea that a few rotten apples in the barrel make all of the good apples look bad. This “rotten apple” theory is not applicable to our systems of injustice. “[The] Adult correctional systems supervised an estimated 6,851,000 persons at year end 2014.” This scale of mass incarceration, based on racial and income bias, is not the result of a few bad apples. It is the political, economic and social goal of this country to incarcerate or place black, brown, and poor people under the control of the injustice systems in these enormous numbers.
The number of law enforcement stops and contacts of young African-American and Latino males is astonishing. In 2011 the New York City Police Department stopped people on the streets 685,000 times ((The number of stops has been reduced dramatically since then, to 22,939 in 2015 as criticism of the practice has increased. However, stop and frisk problems still exist in New York and other major US cities.)). This is not the work of a few bad apples. Law enforcement officers have a long history of lying for each other and covering up each other’s misdeeds. Their Code of Silence is a no snitch policy that may be stronger than the no snitch street code found in many urban cities. This, again, is not the work of a few bad apples. This is a collection of rotten to the core systems.
Another component of the “bad apple” argument is that aside from the few “bad apples,” the rest of the police are performing in an admirable matter. In a system of mass incarceration that disproportionately destroys black, brown and poor lives and communities, it is inconceivable to think that enforcing and participating blindly in this brutal, racist system is performing admirably.
These prosecutions and persecutions on political, profit and racial grounds are crimes against humanity. During the Nuremberg Trials, a series of military tribunals held by the Allied Forces after World War II, the principle that we are legally accountable for our actions even if we are following the law was examined. “The fact that a person acted pursuant to order of his Government or of a superior does not relieve him from responsibility under international law, provided a moral choice was in fact possible to him.”
Slavery in the United States was a constitutionally based and government supported system of labor exploitation and human degradation. Despite the lawful nature of slavery, it was questioned for its legality and morality. Each of us is responsible for the consequences of our actions in systems of slavery or mass incarceration. To work in a racist system as obviously oppressive as the United States criminal injustice system and not protest the principles, practices and results of the system is not working admirably. It is, in fact, being an active and aware supporter of racism and oppression.
The President of the United States calls for peaceful, non-violent protests if we must, in fact, protest. It is ironic that President Obama, the champion of drone warfare which violates international law and national sovereignty, calls for nonviolent protest. Every drone assassination has the potential to promote more violence. The call to the protesters from the United States, a country that is the greatest arms merchant in the world today, for non-violence is cynical and hypocritical. There is no similar call or mandate directed to the law enforcement purveyors of violence in our communities.
It would make more sense to direct the pleas for non-violence at the extraordinary violent activities of our government agencies.
Our history is an unbroken trajectory of racial oppression in the United States of America. The nature and intensity of the suppression waxes and wanes but it is always there. The problem is white racism. Many pundits will argue that it is far more complicated than that, and it may well be. However, the first step is realizing, defining and accepting the nature and scope of white racism. I do not see this nation ready to move forward with this inquiry now or in the near future.
For decades some have suggested a national discussion on race and racism. However, I suggest that more practical steps should precede any such dialogue. The stop and frisk laws of this country need to be further modified so that black and brown males feel free to walk the streets of their communities without being detained and assaulted by law enforcement officers. Such a change may be seen as a show of good faith by those in power.
Let us proceed to national discussions on these issues at the same time as we rectify some of the obvious wrongs that make the systems of injustice so odious. Let us change the laws to integrate convicted felons back into society, to promote their education and training, to provide gainful employment, to assist them in finding public housing, and to encourage them to vote.
Let us substantially reduce the prison population prior to any discussions.
Let us immediately change the laws that lead to draconian sentencing.
Let us start today providing adequate resources for those accused of crimes to defend themselves.
Let us end the placement of law enforcement officers in elementary, middle and high schools and remove existing police from these schools.
Once we progress on this path of changing a few of the obvious wrongs in the injustice systems, discussion becomes a more meaningful prospect. Without these kinds of initiatives and changes our government’s words are just as trustworthy as our treaties with the Native Americans.
There are literally hundreds of calls for healing. Most of these calls are from establishment sources both black and white. It is difficult for the healing to begin when new wounds are inflicted daily.
A more reasonable and appropriate order is for the state and federal agencies to end their murderous acts and pervasive abuses. And that those who break the law receive equitable punishment on both sides of the blue line.
Only then can the healing begin.