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The Black Struggle Against America’s Deification Of Police

We’ve all but memorized the agonizing spectrum of formulaic reaction that follows each state-sanctioned extrajudicial execution of Black persons. By the time you read this article, there will be another hashtag we’ll spread, and another vigil we’ll see.

As of July 6, there have been 569 documented police killings, including—most recently—Alton Sterling and Philando Castile.

Sterling, a 37 year-old father of three, was attacked by Baton Rouge officers Blane Salamoni and Howie Lake in front of a convenient store while selling CDs with permission from the owner. He was shot multiple times in the chest and was left to die on the ground.

Thirty-two year-old Castile’s death at the hands of Minnesota police officer Jeronimo Yanez was livestreamed on Facebook by his fiancée, Diamond Reynolds—all while her 4 year-old daughter sat in the back seat of the vehicle.

Reynolds’ calm demeanor, described as haunting by those who’ve viewed the footage, likely saved her life. According to Reynolds, Castile was shot multiple times by Yanez after the officer was told that he had a weapon, with the required permit to carry. Castile was still wearing his seat belt when Yanez fired on him. The couple was allegedly stopped for a busted tail-light, and prior to the fatal encounter, police frequently targeted him. In recent years, Castile had been pulled over 52 times.

The language employed in defense of policing has afforded police officers and police departments a unique status in society, one which brings with it—among other things—almost complete immunity from legal repercussions, save for what civil lawsuits victim’s families are able to lodge against their departments and cities.

The application of qualified immunity, which is used in order to protect law enforcement officials from liability, is among a number of ways civilians are blocked from obtaining justice through the court system.

In 2014, the United States Supreme Court upheld the qualified immunity of law enforcement. This ruling was based in part on a case involving the killing of Arkansas resident Donald Rickard by West Memphis Police.

Rickard led police officers on a high speed chase. Three shots were fired at his vehicle, and after continuing to drive, Rickard soon crashed. Despite this, West Memphis police unloaded 12 more shots into the car, killing not only Rickard but his passenger. Rickard’s daughter later sued, citing excessive force, but the Supreme Court ruled that not only were the actions taken against Rickard justified, but the officers involved were immune from a lawsuit.

The immunity privilege afforded to law enforcement goes well beyond legal entitlements. It is a part of the way they are characterized by their own departments, and by society itself.

According to an entry in The Encyclopedia of Police Science, Donald J. Weisenhorn writes that the rise of the police as a military force has even translated into the adoption of military customs: “[T]he military uniform has been joined in law enforcement by other military traditions such as close-order drill, replacement of nineteenth-century police titles with army ranks and insignia, shoulder patches, the use of military salute as the proper courtesy to a superior officer, and even traditional military funeral for those felled in the line of duty.”

The deification of police officers is part of American consciousness—a part of greater American identity.

This worship of police officers, and of their use of force, has led to the recent adoption of the “Blue Lives Matter” slogan.  The long-held belief that officers symbolize a “thin blue line,” one that protects civilians from criminals, or maintains order, is possibly the clearest example of this deification.

In the historic United Nations “shadow report” We Charge Genocide, submitted in 1950 to the UN General Assembly by the Civil Rights Congress, the authors argue, in part, that “the racist theory of government of the U.S.A. is not the private affair of Americans, but the concern of mankind everywhere.”

As the report’s title suggests, the authors charge the United States, specifically the federal, municipal, and state governments, with the genocide of African Americans:

The genocide of which we complain is as much a fact as gravity. The whole world knows of it. The proof is in every day’s newspapers, in every one’s sight and hearing in these United States. In one form or another it has been practiced for more than three hundred years although never with such sinister implications for the welfare and peace of the world as at present. Its very familiarity disguises its horror. It is a crime so embedded in law, so explained away by specious rationale, so hidden by talk of liberty, that even the conscience of the tender minded is sometimes dulled.

Citing Article II of The Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (CPPCG), the report highlights beatings, framings, and killings of African Americans by the police, with assistance from “sham legal forms and legal bureaucracy”:

Once the classic method of lynching was the rope. Now it is the policeman’s bullet. To many an American the police are the government, certainly its most visible representative. We submit that the evidence suggests that the killing of Negroes has become police policy in the United States and that police policy is the most practical expression of government policy. [emphasis added]

According to research submitted by Cody T. Ross and published in 2015 by PLOS One, which is described as the world’s first multidisciplinary open access journal, there is evidence of “significant bias in the killing of unarmed Black Americans relative to unarmed white Americans”.

The report shows that—on average—”the probability of being [black, unarmed, and shot by police] is about 3.49 times the probability of being [white, unarmed, and shot by police].”

“[A]nalysis of police shooting data as a function of county-level predictors suggests that racial bias in police shootings is most likely to emerge in police departments in larger metropolitan counties with low median incomes and a sizable portion of black residents,” the report states, “especially when there is high financial inequality in that county.”

Despite evolving methods of violence, organizing against the pervasive state-sanctioned policy of executing Black people continues, becoming more creative and confrontational in response.

One example is the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP), which was established as a vehicle to help push law enforcement agencies into being held accountable for their crimes.

Most recently, the APTP and Frisco 500, another organization fighting police brutality, put together a solidarity march in Oakland, which led to a complete shut down of Interstate 880 for four hours.

Direct action is their method, and the method of similar projects and organizations,  and it’s working.

In light of unwavering state repression, specifically and overwhelmingly  targeting Black people, and in light of evidence showing that police officers are more likely to use force against them, numerous groups and organization throughout the United States engaged in direct action this past weekend.

We must unite, and above all else, we must organize.

Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen speaks at a public meeting at Hostos Community College. (Photo by Brandon Jordan)
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Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine

Roqayah Chamseddine is a Lebanese-American writer, published poet, and journalist, whose work can be found at