Our Revolution Arlington
Statement on Racial Justice and Police Reform
June 6, 2020
“A riot is the laguage of the unheard.” – MLK Jr., September 27, 1966
Fifty-two years ago, in the wake of mass riots related to the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., the Johnson administration impaneled the Kerner Commission to report on the causes of urban disorder. The commission made a number of recommendations for responding to the unrest, especially in Black communities, such as making more investments in education and housing and creating more occupational opportunities. Under pressure from Congress, however, the Kerner Commission also recommended increasing the size and firepower of urban police, and that seems to be the only policy that the U.S., state, and local governments have pursued with any consistency and vigor. The Kerner report notwithstanding, the Johnson administration’s main institutional legacy with respect to responding to urban unrest was the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration, whose primary purpose was to upgrade police power by funding sophisticated police technology and strategies. Meanwhile, the other recommendations of the Kerner Commission fell by the wayside and a report by the Economic Policy Institute marking the fiftieth anniversary concluded that “while African Americans are in many ways better off in absolute terms than they were in 1968, they are still disadvantaged in important ways relative to whites, [and] in several important respects, African Americans have actually lost ground relative to whites, and, in a few cases, even relative to African Americans in 1968.” In essence, as police budgets have ballooned since the 1970s, Black communities have continued to bear the brunt of racist policing and an unending cycle of cuts to social programs.
While the media have disproportionately focused on rioting and looting by some elements of the now nationwide racial justice protests, the steady stream of social media videos of police officers ramming protesters in vehicles, indiscriminately attacking protesters (and journalists!) with pepper spray and exerting excessive force has captured what can be described only as a police riot that is intended to stifle dissent and prevent any challenge to the narrative that police exist to serve and protect us. But there is actually little irony involved in police responding to protests over police brutality with more police brutality. The police as an institution has always functioned primarily to protect the private property and the interests of the upper class, which within a highly racialized capitalist America has meant it is inherently a racist organization. The precursors to modern-day American police departments include violent slave patrols utilized in southern states before the civil war (because racialized chattel slaves were considered property) and organizations like the Texas Rangers, considered the first state police organization, which are named after a group of white men of the same name who slaughtered Comanche Indians in 1841 to steal indigenous territory and expand the frontier westward. As such it has never made sense to talk about “good cops” versus “bad cops”. It is an institutional problem situated within a wider system of unequal social relations.
While there will always be serious limits to reform within the context of a racialized (and gendered) global capitalist system, we must still push for meaningful changes at every conceivable level so as to mitigate the harm being done to the most vulnerable communities. Moreover, reform must be imagined at a level much higher than the structure and function of the local police department. Black lives are subject to both direct and indirect violence, whether it is the silent violence of environmental racism that poisons their communities or the implicit bias of health care providers that leads to worse medical outcomes for them – particular for black women. The disproportionate representation of Blacks among the victims of the COVID-19 pandemic merely reflects the sum total of these disparate but cumulative factors of systemic racism and exposure to the aforementioned forms of violence. In that regard the call to defund the police and abolish prisons envisions not just a world without heavily armed state agents with a license to kill and without the warehousing of millions of human beings in cages, but having the resources currently allocated for those things redirected to long neglected investments in those communities: essentially, reparations and a just transition to a new, sustainable political economy.
As such, we join with the Movement for Black Lives in calling for the following responses to America’s heretofore insurmountable problem with police brutality and mass incarceration, particularly against black and brown bodies:
- End the war against Black people;
- Divest from the police and prisons and invest in Black communities;
- Make reparations for past and continuing harms;
- Provide coronavirus relief for communities;
- Ensure economic justice;
- Respect the rights of protesters;
- Ensure community control.
As the racial justice protesters have been intoning in unison on the streets “No Justice, No Peace”. Until we make systemic changes to dismantle the white supremacy status quo, there should indeed be no peace.
In solidarity with the risen and remembrance of the fallen,
Our Revolution Arlington