Mikhail Tillman, Rise! Magazine
The killings of innocent civilians by the police have not slowed down even with a few highly publicized instances causing outrage and protest across the country. One might wonder what caused the apparent dramatic increase in police violence that has caused the issue to be discussed like never before. In truth, there has been no spike or even moderate increase, what’s happening is that business-as-usual is no longer being stood for. The data shows that everyday police killings take a staggering number of innocent lives. The killing, though prevalent, is far from indiscriminate. The Black Lives Matter movement is a response to the ongoing violent oppression of the working class, primarily among the black community, by the police. While the name of the movement itself highlights an aspect of the police violence, cops being more likely to target non-whites, the criticism is left less useful than it could be because of a lack of understanding of class and its relationship to race. It can be easily seen that the rates of innocent black people being killed are disproportionate, but because of the blinders that have been forced onto every part of the lower classes the element of class is left under-discussed. We all know that this aspect exists, but it’s kept intentionally under the surface. No one would be surprised to hear that the number of poor blacks killed is far greater than the wealthy. There have been a number of suggested ways to fix the police force, but they all fall woefully short of what’s necessary and the idea of “fixing” it misses the point entirely.
The Role of Race
The racial aspect of police violence is impossible for any reasonable and not reactionary person to deny, but it’s only part of the larger cause. Race happens to be the most immediate sign of class that the police recognize. It’s not an issue of individual racist cops or even racist institutions, the institutions are racist insofar as race confers with class. If the police were to execute a white person, which they still often do, there’s a higher chance that this person may be rich or influential. Even if they weren’t, the ruling class is composed mostly of white people, and they’d be aghast at thinking there was a chance at their family or themselves being targeted. The predominantly white ruling class would not only be shocked, but they’d have the political power to change the situation. If police violence was as severe to the white population as it is to the blacks, it wouldn’t be for very long. A recent picture of the senator Rand Paul with his colleagues illustrates this point stunningly, a sea of powerful white faces. The picture spawned outrage and calls for more minorities in government, but this solution has the same problems as the similar fixes for police brutality. The white faces are engaged in a role, that role being maintaining the status quo of the people at the top of society remain there and those at the bottom are pushed down. The police force is the arm that does the pushing. Even if you had a police force composed entirely of black officers, violence would continue to be dished out disproportionately to black citizens. In the same way, if the ruling class was composed of mostly black members, the police violence would be directed at whatever races the poor were composed of. The shape and color of the hammer does not change its purpose. Dress up the hammer however you want, but it will continue to drive nails.
Don’t be fooled, police violence is not going to stop with policy changes, sensitivity training, an offender database, or any other liberal reform that’s been proposed. Police violence is too deeply intertwined with the specific nature of the American capitalist state. It’s important for the proletariat to know that they should remain meek, because if they show any signs of getting uppity they will be put down. The police are the guardians of capital. They are the ones that will respond when we occupy the factories. They guard the houses and communities of the rich, while they patrol the houses and communities of the rest of us. Police violence cannot be reformed away because they are serving the purpose they’re meant to. That is justice in a capitalist system, protection of the top layers of society and control of the bottom. They take the police, like the army, from the ranks of the proletariat. The bourgeoisie relies on us to enforce their will and they sow the seeds of hatred between us by giving some of our ranks special privileges and scraps of authority. Police are the middle managers and bureaucrats of force. In a perfect world, they could simply be shown the error of their ways and be brought over to the cause of our liberation which is their own liberation. Though we need to focus on reminding the police of their class origin and their class function, we cannot ignore the role that they play. We need to shift the discourse away from individuals and towards the system. The only way to coherently do that is through the critique of capitalism.
An Explosive Reaction
The targeting of police officers in the Dallas shooting this past July was the spontaneous explosion that comes from an ever building pressure for the poor and exploited communities. People are pushed and shoved day in, day out. They’re harassed and threatened at work, they see their quality of life stagnate and decrease along with their pay. They feel the growing insecurity of capitalism in crisis. Every day their ears are filled more and more with the cries of the reserve army of the capitalists. Outside of their places of work float the malevolent spirits of those people who want their jobs. Be it immigrants who the bourgeoisie tell us are coming over the border to replace them, or the workers closer to home that has been forced out by the contraction of the economy. After work, they are harassed and threatened by the police. They live every day with the knowledge that they could at any time be summarily executed without even the benefit of the corrupt and rigged criminal justice system. The pressure continues to build as their standard of living continues to decrease. The reports of senseless murder by the authorities come in every day. Eventually, it becomes too much and people explode. It’s true that on an individual level what happened in Dallas was a tragedy. The cops that were killed were indeed people with families. What the media fails to look at is their larger role and their status as an oppressive force. The shooter didn’t intend on killing individuals, he was not angry with or threatened by individuals. The shooter was attacking, and as he saw it, defending himself against the role the police play. It would be irresponsible to endorse the lone and terroristic actions of the shooter in Dallas, but the motives can be easily understood. Nothing is gained by relegating him to the role of violent loner and nut. If real change is to be made it is going to be made with the coordinated and organized action of the proletariat as a class.
There’s a reason the citizens of the United States are so protective of their rights to own firearms; they don’t feel safe. They fear gun control, and rightfully so. To think that some of the people they intend to defend themselves from are going to get wise and go house to house collecting their only means of defense. The guns are not at issue, the fact that people feel it necessary to own and use them are. When liberals talk about banning certain firearms they are talking about banning a perceived solution and not about getting rid of the problem. Certain sectors of the government propose chipping away at that safety net that people think they have in a gun. The reason that mass shootings of various kinds don’t elicit a strong push for gun control is that people are less afraid of being killed in one of these attacks than they are at the lack of a defense. We focus on the civilian mass shootings as a tragedy that needs to be addressed with radical change, whereas we look at the institutionalized mass shootings perpetrated by the police as something to be addressed with moderate liberal reforms. It’s often said by the right wing that if you ban guns you’re only taking them away from the honest citizens and not the criminals. There’s some truth in this because the biggest criminals will be left with a monopoly on firearms. As long as the cops have guns, we need them too. As long as the capitalist system threatens us with violence, we need to be able to have the same recourse.The problem arises when individuals rather than organizations take action in an attempt to defend themselves.
Terrorism gains our cause nothing, and in fact is a step backward when it comes to convincing the public that change is needed. The media will spin the story and proliferate it in a way that further reinforces fear of not the system, but their fellow people. The news feeds on fear and dutifully regurgitates it, resulting in a sort of mass paralysis. The world outside the living room begins looking more and more frightening and it becomes apparent that there’s no one you can trust but yourself. The paranoia and fear that builds from these news stories result ironically in more instances of people exploding and causing those very news stories. As individuals holed up in our living rooms we can do nothing. When we fear our fellow workers and ignore the system we stare down the cat and turn away from the tiger at our backs. If we can no longer trust the police to protect us and our communities, we must take the job into our own hands. Not as cowboys, but as communities. We must organize if we wish to protect ourselves. We must protect and make use of our rights to firearms in a constructive manner. I once heard a liberal criticizing the conservative stance that gun ownership reduces crime by saying something along the lines of “if that’s the case, would you support the government going into poor, crime filled neighborhoods and providing them with firearms and training?” Clearly the conservative would say no, and the whole discourse shows the limited nature of the liberal and conservative approach to gun violence. Neither the liberal nor the conservative would support the idea of the poor being armed and trained because that is a direct threat to their capitalist system. What the way towards socialism offers is the unthinkable: a solution.