Why all Cops Are In Fact Bastards
By Imani Beckett
It is no secret to anyone that is somewhat left-of-center that police abuse is a serious issue. Police have a long history of brutalizing Black and Brown people at a significantly higher rate than whites and disproportionately arrest them for committing petty crimes. At the same time, they fail to investigate homicides and rapes in the Black community. Still, most liberals are seldom willing to criticize the institution of the police. Many claim that most police are “good people” who are just “doing their job,” and these abuses are only the actions of “a few bad apples.”
The fundamental flaw in liberal thinking about police brutality is that it assumes that the police were created to protect the population and serve justice. I mean, their motto is to “protect and serve.” This line of thinking supposes that the police’s purpose is to keep people safe and views police brutality as deviations from their otherwise noble and important service of protecting the community from crime and keeping everyone safe. Many who hold to this view believe that if only we had more body cameras and more black cops, maybe if we did more to crack down on racism as a society, or if we had better training, the police would become a just and valuable, crime-fighting institution.
The main problem with this way of thinking is that it completely ignores why the institution of the police was created and how it is meant to function under capitalism. Despite what we’ve been told our entire lives, the police weren’t created to protect and serve everyone. They weren’t created to prevent violence. And they certainly weren’t created to deliver justice. Instead, the police were designed to protect the interests of the upper class and the majority population from working people and minority groups.
The first police force in the US was created in 1844. The stated goal of the organization at the time was to protect the population; however, the only thing they protected was the monetary interests of the upper class and the cultural sensibilities of the majority population. Throughout the 19th century, the US saw a significant influx of immigrants from Germany, Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe who brought with them cultural practices that were different from those of the already existing population. Rather predictably this influx of new immigrant groups, this led to a nativist backlash. The dominant population began demanding more laws to crack down on the public behaviors of these immigrant groups.
The industrial revolution also happened during the 19th century, which created the factory system that gave birth to the capitalist work dynamic that we know today. Under this system, workers were subjected to awful conditions and had to band together to form labor unions to advocate for their rights. At the time (and still today), factory owners had immense political influence and had a strong incentive to suppress union activity. Unsurprisingly, this led to the police playing a significant role in breaking up strikes and protecting the private property of big businesses.
When we realize the police as an agency were created to control minority populations and protect the rich, we shouldn’t expect that same institution to protect minority groups and lower-income people today.
The police’s job is to protect the status quo no matter what; this means that regardless of the opinions of individual cops, they are still required to enforce laws that disproportionately hurt, black and brown people. For example, during the 1960s, the police were still required to enforce segregation and attack civil rights protestors. Today the city of Los Angeles, along with many other municipalities, has laws that make it illegal for homeless people to sleep on the street or in their cars. Based on their position in the current system, it is the police’s job to arrest homeless people on the street and conduct sweeps on encampments, despite those sweeps having horrible effects on homeless people. Police are also required to enforce the war on drugs, a campaign that was created to specifically target Black people (and to a lesser extent, leftists). When Stop and Frisk was in place in New York, the police choose to stop and search, predominantly Black and Brown individuals.
Laws that criminalize homelessness don’t protect anything other than the property values of businesses; in fact, they tend to make homeless people less safe. The war on drugs only serves to criminalize and subjugate black and brown people. Stop and Frisk didn’t keep Black and Brown people in New York safe. When these working people become fed up with these laws, the police are still required to suppress riots. The police act as a liaison between those who have power and those who don’t, they are quite literally controlling the working class and oppressed populations to continue the social order that favors the well off and powerful. In order to believe that the police protect most people, you must also think that the current system protects most people.
Even though this isn’t the fault of individual cops, the police’s job is to protect the current system—a system that leftists seek to overthrow, which means that under capitalism, the police will always be the enemy of those who fight for justice. If we ever want an institution that deals with crime in a just manner, we must also change the current system to one that doesn’t require its enforcement body to enforce classism and racism. As long as we have an unjust political and economic system, we will have an unjust police force.