For those of us who stand unapologetically against police brutality, harassment and abuse, we’ve been finding ourselves on the defensive over the past week in the aftermath of the mass shootings of police officers, earlier in Dallas and yesterday in Baton Rouge. Both of these mass killings, it should be noted, were carried out at the hands of former military personnel who’d been deployed on combat missions in either Afghanistan or Iraq. Neither of them, despite what the talking heads masquerading as level-headed journalists in the corporate media are implying, claimed any affiliation with the Black Lives Matter movement. One of them even appeared in a video prior to his death asserting he was not affiliated with or representative of any organization. Both did however claim to be motivated by the recent spate of police killings of unarmed Black people in the United States, but that hardly ties them in any way to the protestors who’ve bravely taken to the streets across the nation to raise their voices against the incredibly unjust, crooked and corrupt “criminal justice” system. If the two snipers, Micah Johnson in Dallas and Gavin Long (aka Cosmo Setepenra) in Baton Rouge truly are representative of an organization or institution, it’s certainly not BLM; it’s the United States military. Isn’t it ironic that both men, while serving the interests of the U.S. government in its “War on Terror”, were lionized as “heroic patriots” when shipped overseas to snipe down and slaughter Iraqis and Afghans in their homes? Yet when they returned home only to use those same brutal tactics on American police officers they suddenly became “bad guys” and “crazed monsters”. Does that mean they were good guys as long as they were killing Afghans and Iraqis, but bad guys only when they killed American cops? Being that these two men were trained by the U.S. government to kill their enemies, isn’t it possible that they came to view the police as being more of an enemy to them than the Iraqis and Afghanis they were originally trained to target?
This brings me to a rather unpleasant conversation I had today with someone who, for the sake of anonymity, we’ll call Jack. For some odd reason Jack likes to continuously bring up these shootings of police while assuming that everyone around him is going to agree with him that there’s some sort of war on police officers who are being unfairly targeted when all they’re trying to do is “keep us safe”. He bombards me with pro-police rhetoric, expecting that he will receive no pushback. He should know that I am not one to bite my tongue when it comes to such topics. Jack began this conversation by stating that President Barack Obama is a hypocrite for decrying the slaying of police officers because, in his view, “Obama needs to get off his ass and do something to protect the cops.” (Personally, I feel the President has done far too much ass-kissing when it comes to police, all to no avail as it turns out. Most police and the police unions will always despise Obama not because of anything he’s actually done, but because in their warped worldview his mere presence will always represent a nail in the coffin of white supremacy.) From there the conversation went as follows.
Me: What exactly do you want [Obama] to do?
Jack: Instead of allowing these people to riot he should institute a curfew in those areas and declare anyone out past the curfew will be arrested and put in jail.
Me: That’s ridiculous.
Not only is such a scenario not constitutional, legally akin to martial law and a form of collective punishment, it’s not even clear to me how this is supposed to make anyone less likely to want to hurt a police officer; but back to the conversation.
Me: Maybe if the police were actually held accountable for once, there wouldn’t have to be any “riots” in the first place.
Jack: The police didn’t do anything wrong. The guy reached for an officer’s gun!
Me: Which guy? Which case? This is about a lot more than just one person. In fact there are more than 1,100 such deaths every year.
Jack: So what? Statistically more people are killed by gang members. [Insert typical ‘but black people kill black people too’ dribble here…]
Me: Those gang members you speak of are not being protected by the law.
Jack: But gang members protect each other!
Me: They are not an arm of the state.
Jack: Caleb, you just think that everything the police do is wrong.
Me: I don’t have to discuss this with you.
Jack: Yea, so get over it!
Me: You’re the one who keeps bringing it up!
There are two things that really struck me about this conversation. First, there’s the almost reflexive response anytime there’s pushback against police injustice to bring up so-called “gang-affiliated” or “black-on-black” crime. Ignoring for a moment the fact that the police are the most violent organized crime syndicate/ gang in the country, it’s also statistically the case that Americans are 58 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than either a foreign or domestic terrorist. In the case of Black men, who are 9 times more likely than other Americans to be killed by a police officer, the probability is even greater. Yet this doesn’t prevent people from constantly invoking the fear that they might become the next victim of an ISIS terror attack. Are people not supposed to stand up and speak out against terrorism, simply because they’re more likely to be killed by police? The second thing that struck me about this conversation was how representative it is of the ways in which, time and again, society feels the need to lecture oppressed and disadvantaged people on how they are “allowed” to react and respond to their oppression. Meanwhile the oppressor is never told that they must stop oppressing. Instead, they’re commended and hailed as “protectors” who are “just doing their job” and “working to keep us safe.”
In closing, I’d like to end with an excerpt from an incisive piece written by Andrew Kahn in the aftermath of the Dallas killings. Titled “Wipe the Tears with a Clenched Fist”, in the piece Kahn pleads the case of the oppressed and delivers an impassioned defense of the right to resist in the face of adversity.
“Whether or not these cops were ‘nice’ is beside the point – when a community or people is oppressed on a daily basis by a systematic institutionalized state that sends blue uniforms to oppress, blue uniforms are seen. The Jewish rebel in the Warsaw ghetto didn’t see the Christmas gift the Nazi stormtroopers gave his child or the bended knee of the Nazi police officer at church on Sunday morning. The Jewish rebel saw the brown shirts and saw an agent of repression. And for those who have been oppressed for 400 years and for whom blue shirts represent summary execution for breathing, what difference does it make if that blue uniform is an umpire in a Little League? 400 years of dehumanization must be countered with forgiveness? When Blacks are seen as merely their skin color, why are police supposed to be seen as more than their uniforms? Dehumanization over 400 years has consequences.”