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

May 25, 2017
· 38 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 48 rsvps

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 93 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 26 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.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.