The System That Creates & Necessitates Police
Our revolutionary outrage and organizing must be aimed at dismantling the system
Columbus has seen two wildly unjustified and highly publicized police killings of Black men in the last month:
Casey Goodson, lawfully armed, carrying a Subway sandwich, and walking into his family’s house
Andre’ Hill, unarmed, visiting a friend’s house and working on his car in a nondescript suburban driveway
The overwhelming focus at all levels of media coverage has been on the guilt or innocence of the law enforcement officers that killed these men - Sheriff’s Deputy Jason Meade and Officer Adam Coy. Personally I hope they are both arrested, indicted, and found guilty of serious charges related to these killings. However, the coverage of these two law enforcement officers is a downstream symptom of a structural feature endemic to our sickened society that localizes right/wrong, guilt/innocence, and responsibility at the level of the individual person while ignoring and often denying the deep systems of power that frame and configure our reality and produce a falsely delimited set of choices from which an individual person may choose.
As one example in a sea of examples I want to briefly talk about Dave Grossman. Dave Grossman is also an individual person and certainly not The Problem himself but he has gained notoriety and widespread acclaim within law enforcement circles as the person who trains all levels of law enforcement on what he calls “killology” and he is instructive as a guide to how police think about themselves and their work. Grossman claims to have completed trainings for every federal law enforcement agency, every branch of the military, and cops in all 50 states. He is a celebrity in the world of law enforcement and his basic teaching is this: Cops are increasingly under siege like never before and must develop a Warrior mentality that facilitates their ability and readiness to kill at any time. I can’t stress the degree to which this thinking is MAINSTREAM within law enforcement agencies - these kinds of trainings are funded by law enforcement unions and considered an informal expectation for how officers will act in the field. Police don’t hide this stuff, this is not a secret. For police there is always an ‘us’ (the police) and a ‘them’ (everyone else who, it must be assumed, could be an imminent threat) that is entirely and forever separated (by the threat of state legitimated violence) via a thin blue line.
I remember attending a work training that happened to take place at a County Sheriff’s office and there was a sign hanging on the wall in a public area that anyone could see that said something like “The most important thing is getting home safely at the end of the day.” On one level this may seem anodyne but if you think about it for more than 2 seconds you will realize how deeply perverse this is - these are public servants who ostensibly claim to serve and protect everyone and the public good but also claiming that the most important outcome each day is their own safety. What that sign is really saying is that if it comes right down to it and they feel threatened at all then they won’t hesitate to choose ‘us’ over ‘them’ (you).
Let’s put all of this together. We have a deeply institutionalized system of legitimated state violence handed off as a sacred trust to policing agencies that have descended from roving gangs of slave catchers and whose primary function today is to serve and protect the property and interests of (mostly white) capital and perpetuate the extant, unjust distribution of that capital. We have allowed for and strengthened the ability of these law enforcement officers to unionize, thus expanding their ability to protect their own narrow interest of prioritizing ‘us’ at the expense of the rest of society. And we have allowed these officers to formally internalize a concept of themselves as Warriors who are constantly threatened and under siege and at war with the community around them. Now mix in 400 years of white supremacy, racialized violence, and a deep association of Black-ness with criminality and danger.
My point is that there is no mystery as to why Sheriff’s Deputy Meade and Officer Coy did what they did. Their choice was both simple and obvious - of course they shot to kill, of course they chose ‘us’ over ‘them’, of course they felt threatened because they have been told over and over again that they are threatened. The actions of these two officers are the natural and necessary outcome of the institutionalized societal structures that we have allowed to come into existence and perpetuate over time. Every single law enforcement officer in the entire country is a threat to do the same thing and almost assuredly will do the same thing given the right circumstances - not because they are each individually bad people but because they are products of a system that will recreate this outcome ad infinitum until the system itself is dismantled forever.
There is only the most tenuous, conditional, and localized form of ‘justice” available to the families and the community via the prosecutions of Meade and Coy. And that is still worth pursuing, but only as a means rather than as an end unto itself.
The larger end of our revolutionary outrage and organizing must be on dismantling the deep, mostly invisible power structures of society, which are comprehensively shaping us and reproducing vast oppressions and injustices while being steadfastly denied as important or even existent. Until we dismantle those systems we will continue to be eternally angry at the tide destroying our sand castle while lacking any sense that the moon exists or that its gravitational pull will ceaselessly continue producing tidal forces.