Regulating the Police

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By Bilal Dabir Sekou

The city was devastated by fire, looting, and violence. Federal troops were called in. The year was 1967. The place was Detroit. Forty-three people died, most of them African American. As the embers cooled, President Lyndon B. Johnson established an 11-member commission chaired by Governor Otto Kerner, Jr., of Illinois. The job of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders (popularly known as the Kerner Commission) was to find out “What happened? Why did it happen? What can be done to prevent it from happening again and again?”

The commission investigated 24 disorders in 23 cities and determined that poverty and racism created the conditions for urban unrest, and police actions triggered the outbreak of violence in half the cities. The report identified 12 grievances: police practices; unemployment and underemployment; poor quality housing; inadequate education; ineffectiveness and underrepresentation in the political system (the proportion of black representation in local government was substantially smaller than the black proportion of the population); and discriminatory administration of justice. Sound familiar?

 

After the fatal shooting of unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown last summer by a white police officer led to demonstrations and unrest in the St. Louis suburb of Ferguson, Mo., an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice (the “Ferguson Report”) found that the Ferguson police department repeatedly violated the constitutional rights of African Americans by engaging in “revenue-driven policing.” This meant “a pattern of stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause in violation of the Fourth Amendment.”

 

The municipal court exacerbated the harm. According to the report, “Minor offenses can generate crippling debts, result in jail time because of an inability to pay, and result in the loss of a driver’s license, employment, or housing.”

 

The unrest in Ferguson, a string of police killings of unarmed black people, and uprisings in Baltimore, Md., have sparked a national debate about race and law enforcement. The “separate and unequal” societies identified by the Kerner Commission still exist. Bringing about change will not be easy.

 

The key historical role of the police has been to regulate class conflict by preserving the access of elites to basic resources, protecting private property, and controlling the labor force. In African American communities, the police have always been the coercive arm of the government charged with the responsibility of social control, not with the duty of serving and protecting them.

 

What is needed is an entire reorientation of law enforcement in the United States. The first step is to hold police officers accountable when they break the law. In cases involving a police shooting, a special prosecutor should be appointed to conduct the investigation. Civilian review boards should be independent and have authority. Second, police departments should demilitarize. Third, we should replace the war on drugs with a war on poverty and inequality. Police disproportionately harass and arrest black and brown women and men for largely nonviolent offenses. We should invest in job training and job creation, provide equal educational opportunity, provide a guaranteed minimum income, assure the right of workers to organize into unions, make available universal childcare, and stabilize and strengthen neighborhoods by eliminating post-industrial blight.

 

Socialists must continue to march alongside social movement activists under the banner of campaigns such as #Black Lives Matter and #We Can’t Breathe and support groups like the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, the ACLU, and Color of Change. White people must make these campaigns a priority. Majority white organizations such as DSA should partner with groups like Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ), “a national network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice.”

 

Sekou6.jpg Bilal Dabir Sekou is an associate professor of political science at the University of Hartford, Department of Social Sciences, Hillyer College. He can be followed on his blog, Racial and Class Discourse from an Ivory Tower in Connecticut. (www.racialdiscoursect.com).

 

This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.