I’ll cut to the chase: Police departments exist to beat the hell out of Black people. If Black lives are to matter in the USA, then policing in its current incarnation has got to go.
There is not a single era in United States history in which the police were not a force of violence against black people. Policing in the South emerged from the slave patrols in the 1700 and 1800s that caught and returned runaway slaves. In the North, the first municipal police departments in the mid-1800s helped quash labor strikes and riots against the rich. Everywhere, they have suppressed marginalized populations to protect the status quo.
So when you see a police officer pressing his knee into a black man’s neck until he dies, that’s the logical result of policing in America. When a police officer brutalizes a black person, he is doing what he sees as his job.
That is why — across the country — police departments and the criminal justice system are so well-funded. I don’t mean to pick on Georgia here because the data is the same across the country, but why should any state spend $5 billion on police and incarceration when the state’s crime rate has declined 30% in 30 years, and while assistance for needy families has dropped by 80% to balance the state’s budget?
We don’t have a crime problem that justifies those budget priorities. Rather, we have a Black population deemed a threat to be suppressed by any and all means necessary; poor White families caught in the line of fire be damned.
During the height of the COVID-19 crisis, everyone was talking about the lack of protective gear for nurses and doctors on the front lines. Yet now, at every rally protesting police brutality, we see police decked out in military gear prepared to inflict violence upon peaceful demonstrators. These are ethical choices made by government leaders about the allocation of scarce financial resources.
We must understand budgets as moral documents.
State murders of Black people are routine. This happens every day, and it continues to happen after weeks of protests following the murder of George Floyd. It is a habitual national practice that cannot be addressed with marches.
I want to share a story about a Black person’s encounter with the police. There’s no murder here, no torture, no crowd begging an agent of the state to stop killing a citizen. There’s just the everyday violence the state intentionally inflicts upon Black people via physical, emotional, and financial harassment whenever we venture out of doors.
A friend (whose Facebook nom de guerre is Oshun IyaIbeji Shango) posted her experience with the police and granted permission to share it publicly, unedited:
When Kephri was a newborn baby, I moved from Georgia to Texas. I kept my Georgia driver’s license. About a year later, the license was expiring. I decided to have my license renewed in Georgia because I wasn’t really sure at that point where I wanted to live.
I took the opportunity to take Kephri with me to Georgia since none of my friends had seen him since he was a few weeks old.
Once I landed in Georgia, I went straight to the office to have my license renewed, which I did uneventfully.
A few days later, I went to a Superbowl party with a few friends and early in the night, we decided to leave. We were in two cars trailing each other.
On my way out of the subdivision, I noticed a police vehicle parked across the street where a heavily wooded area met the street. His car was tilted to the right with his two left wheels on the pavement and his two right wheels on the gravel.
We made eye contact.
I stopped at the stop sign leading out of the division and turned left. The police car immediately followed me, turning on his lights.
A young, white cop with steel blue eyes, blonde hair in an army buzz cut (I was in College Park which is an area that is about 98% Black, so it was clear he was out hunting) who was clearly on steroids and overcompensating for his small 5’2 frame with weightlifting approached, telling me to make sure my hands were visible.
He said he pulled me over for failure to stop at a stop sign. He and I both knew that we made eye contact as I sat at a full stop at the stop sign.
This fact went unspoken.
I handed him my driver’s license as directed. He asked for my registration and I told him the car was rented. He asked for the rental agreement and I couldn’t find it, but I told him that I had the agreement in my email.
He refused, took my license and went back to his car before coming back and asking me to step outside because I was under arrest for driving a suspected stolen vehicle and driving with a suspended license. He said my license had been suspended for 7 years for non-payment of a ticket in Alabama.
Me: “Officer, you can see the renewal date on my driver’s license. I just renewed it two days ago. They wouldn’t have renewed it if it was suspended. Also, I keep a scanned copy of all my paid tickets, so I have a copy of that receipt here as well. This car is not stolen. I have a copy of the rental agreement in my email.”
Cop: “That’s for you to figure out, CRIMINAL. Not me. Tonight, you’re going to jail. If you don’t like going to jail, you should pay your tickets and keep your rental agreements available.”
Now I’m hysterical and angry.
Cop (*gesturing to 1 year old Kephri in the backseat*): “You need to call somebody to get that kid and be here in 5 minutes or I’m calling CPS.”
I frantically call my girlfriend that I had been following out of the complex. She didn’t know I had been stopped and she turned around immediately.
I was booked, fingerprinted, and I sat in a holding cell overnight. My friend sat in the waiting area all night until they told her I could be bailed out the next morning.
Knowing well how the police and court system worked in Georgia, I called a lawyer- a round, greasy haired, unkempt, past middle aged white dude who looked like he wore the same suit all week.
$750 retainer for researching the suspension and 1 hour of court time. It’s all I could find on such short notice, so I bit.
In the interim, I’m trying to locate the rental car that the police had towed. He wouldn’t allow anyone else to drive it because he “suspected” that I stole it.
5 days and 3 dozen phone calls later, I locate the car. It had not been towed to the lot that the police gave me for reference. The rental car agency had to pick up the car- they wouldn’t allow me to. That took an additional 3 days.
Impound, towing and storage fees: $900.00.
The rental car agency placed me on the “Do Not Rent” list even tho I covered all the fees because the police report stated I was driving with a suspended license. I didn’t know this would come back to haunt me 10 years later when I got a new job and the company I was hired for exclusively used that same rental car agency.
A few weeks later, I returned to Georgia for court.
Plane ticket- $500.
I sat in the crowded courthouse and surveyed the room. All Black people. Every single person packed into the courtroom was Black with the exception of the judge and police officers there to testify.
I stood in front of the judge and the prosecutor, hoping to get my money back. Instead, the prosecutor informed me that my license had been suspended *retroactively* a few days prior. Georgia was backlogged and they made the suspension active for the date the ticket should have been paid 7 years prior, but it had just been entered in the system days before.
She acknowledged that the ticket had been paid, but said that it was my job to notify the state of Georgia that I had paid the ticket and since I did not, the suspension stood, but
she would do me a “favor” and drop the stolen vehicle investigation and reduce the charge to “driving without a license”.
If I did not agree to this, I could have a court date set which would take place in EIGHT MONTHS- and during that time, my license would remain suspended.
I rented cars weekly with my job, so I had to take the deal.
I learned that the license I had just renewed was null and void and I would have to pay to get a new license, which included a “reinstatement fee” since my license had been suspended in addition to other costs.
I learned later that the police were not legally able to enforce stop sign infractions on private property, so the stop was illegal.
If I had not been able to afford those costs, I would have been in jail longer, gotten harsher charges and harsher consequences.
This interaction with the police was actually one of my more “favorable” interactions. Other times, I had weapons drawn on me during a routine traffic stop, I had police in Appalachia follow me in the pitch black darkness of the mountains during icy weather, calling for backup and drawing weapons when I finally stopped in a well-lit, public space.
In the Poconos, I got lost and the GPS signal was lost so I asked an officer for directions. He refused to give me directions and instead demanded to run my driver’s license to check for my criminal history and warrants.
On the track between Mesquite, Nevada and Las Vegas, the same narcotics officer stopped me EVERY WEEK for three weeks on my way to the airport and searched my vehicle with drug dogs.
The police are NOT in place to protect me.
I learned that extremely young and extremely often.
Do NOT ask me what I will do without the police.
Honestly, I’m really not picking on Georgia.
I share this story not because it’s unusual but because it’s well-told. I’ve had these experiences too. Any Black adult in the country could tell a similar or far worse tale. This is par for the course, what we call in my neighborhood “the Black tax.”
Police officers, when they’re honest, admit their role in collecting the Black tax. This must-read from Officer A.C.A.B. (short for All Cops Are Bad) says good people join police departments and are transformed by training into bad actors because capitalism and the policy of White supremacy demand police brutality. He argues that reform isn’t possible and that the only solution is to abolish policing.
Retired Detroit police chief Isaiah McKinnon has seen it all, for decades, inside and out. His prescription? Reorganize police budgets and restrict police unions.
One thing seems clear to me — police departments have more money than they need to keep our neighborhoods secure. We can safely #DefundThePolice.
I don’t fear rampant criminality or the other hysterical claims. Camden defunded its corrupt police force years ago and built in its place a community policing solution that its citizens love. There’s been recent progress in other places:
- Minneapolis is proposing to defund its police.
- San Francisco is sending unarmed social service responders, rather than police, to certain 911 calls.
- Philadelphia is voting ‘no’ on a proposed budget increase for its police department.
- Portland cut $15 million from its police budget.
Notably, on Juneteenth, the progressive governor of Colorado signed a crime bill into law removing qualified immunity from police officers, making it easier to prosecute criminal cops.
This can and should happen in every state, but it shouldn’t have to. It should be federal law. But only state and local governments can defund their police. We must redirect police department budgets to social services now, and make #BlackLivesMatter to this country for the first time in its history.
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