In response to the most recent case of police brutality in the United States, I have written this memorandum to compile my opinion as well as plan of action. My first civil order addresses the authoritarian and fascist nature of the U.S. police force: I condemn the illegal and illegitimate practices of the police. I join in the dissent carried out by the Black Lives Matter (BLM) advocacy group and its other auxiliary entities.
On May 25, 2020, the world witnessed a video recording of a black American man lying motionless underneath the knee of a white police officer. As seen in the video, 46-year-old George Floyd begged for his life and repeatedly said, “I can’t breath.” Derek Chauvin, the officer who handcuffed and then restrained Floyd on the ground, did not lift his knee until medical responders intervened. Floyd’s life is another entry in the books of a very long list of lethality perpetrated by the police. Floyd’s life sparked widespread outrage, and protests erupted across all 50 states in the country. (Cheung) Our government, and by extension our police, should be afraid of the people. If the police truly feared the people they swore to protect and serve, why are civilians protesting them? Why are they marching through the streets, carrying signs that read, “Defund the police,” or, “Abolish the police”? Civilians are mobilizing, more recently through the organization of BLM, because the police has been guilty of violently perpetuating systemic racism. In order to understand how the police reinforces systemic racism, one must examine how systemic racism came into existence in the United States.
CONCEPTUALIZING SYSTEMIC RACISM
Since the establishment of this imperfect Union, legislation and social customs in the United States maintained separation of peoples based on race. (Harari 158) Even with the ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, economic and political disadvantages faced by black Americans operated as a self-reinforcing cycle of cause and effect. This vicious circle generated cultural prejudices against black Americans, which fueled the implementation of even more discriminatory laws and social customs by (coincidentally) white Americans. The result was black Americans lived in a perpetual state of oppression under constant surveillance of the police. A 2015 report by The Sentencing Project supports this claim of excessive policing in neighborhoods of color: “The criminal justice system’s high volume of contact with people of color is a major cause of African Americans’ disproportionate rate of fatal police encounters, as well as of broader perceptions of injustice in many communities.” Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC), particularly underprivileged BIPOC, have been bearing the brunt of police brutality in the United States, but every U.S. resident should find the increasingly unchecked behavior of the police concerning.
ROLE OF POLICE IN A RESTLESS COUNTRY
Throughout every major social movement that attests to the democratic greatness of the United States, the police have consistently behaved as the opposition. The motive of the police during those defining moments, was to always protect property and the status quo, but not the lives of civilians demanding liberty. Even in 2020, observe the June 1 convergence of local and federal security forces in Washington D.C. at Lafayette Park. Security forces dispersed peaceful demonstrators using rubber pellets and gas canisters. These demonstrators were present in solidarity with the BLM cause. Still, security forces cleared the way for President Donald J. Trump, accompanied by the nation’s top military leaders, to approach St. John’s Episcopal Church for a photo op. (Dalton Bennett) Minutes before entering the park, President Trump had conducted a press conference, during which he declared, “I am your president of law and order.” (Veronica Bravo) In summary, the police had aggressively quelled a mostly nonviolent BLM protest, so that the president of the United States could have photographers document him standing in a public space where there was no longer any civil dissent. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser called the acts of the law enforcement “shameful”. In response to the unprovoked event, Mayor Bowser named the two blocks of 16th street in front of the White House “Black Lives Matter Plaza”. (Dwyer)
Defenders of the police have insisted on judging the police individually, vouching for the “good” officers. However, such an approach belittles the service, because it is an institution of professionals. If incidences of police brutality happened in separate, isolated environments then one can assume such occurrences need personal or surgical solutions. However, these injustices have persisted for far too long, especially in communities of color. The BLM movement is not a critique on the “good” police officers, but a condemnation of the “bad”, the “insidious”, the “vile” members of law enforcement. The rampant cases of racist policing indicate a systemic problem, a problem with the organization—even with the presence of blameless leaders. If the leadership has a structural issue, then highlighting those few service members who have not committed any crimes is useless, because doing so will not ensure the prevention of future atrocities at the hands of the police.
BREACH OF SOCIAL CONTRACT
All governments are inherently oppressive—even the most capitalist and democratic governments. (Encyclopaedia Britannica) Each citizen and resident of the United States have offered their explicit and tacit consent for such an apparatus to exercise leadership. One must review the political legitimacy of this social contract whenever the ruling body betrays the will of the common people. Likewise, one must assess the legitimacy of the police whenever their conduct breaches the trust of the public. The onus is on the police to prove their worth, because the electoral and judicial systems already allow for the police to exist, even without direct consensus from the masses. Many citizens have bought into the mythology that the absence of police or government influence will result in chaos or anarchic discord, but that logic is mostly conceptual or theoretical. The actual breakdown of the United States’ social order occurred when corruption took hold of the agencies with monopoly on violence. The real mayhem began when a state, supposedly built on principles of equality and justice, witnessed the dominant class terrorizing the less powerful using tyrannical policing. The peace a lot of citizens enjoy in this country then, is an illusion, because a fraction of her citizens experiences that tranquility, while the rest do not. In a democracy, when only some of the people are safe from state brutality, no one is safe, because not everyone is safe. The people must ask themselves then, does everyone benefit by maintaining the status quo? If the police enforce different laws unfairly, defend different peoples unfairly, and punish different peoples unfairly, then what kind of stability are the “protected” clinging onto? Since those possessing the right to carry out force offer no authentic peace or security, one cannot help but reconsider the viability of disrupting normality.
Riots in response to police brutality and racial injustice is justifiable ethically and morally when one considers the generations of authoritarian policing in communities of color and the working class. The role of BLM protests is to hold leaders (who have sworn to protect and serve the people) accountable for their misconduct. Some of the more verbose media personalities have lazily equated stolen products, loss of profits, or burnt properties to murdered people. However, I wager, the more pressing matter is the agencies exercising force have savagely and illegitimately taken civilian lives, specifically black lives. Putting attention to the damages caused by rioters is peripheral at best, meaning those details are by far the least significant facts of the moment. What the United States ought to focus on is the function and purpose of the BLM network. Additionally, the United States must reflect, “How can we as a nation ensure safety for BLM members as they march in the streets, who then get detained by the very authorities they are dissenting?” Instead of feeling confounded by the inevitability of civil disobedience producing needless destruction, the country should remember, these destructions come deficient to an already broken system, which has ravaged countless human lives for many, many years.
I have a moral obligation to demonstrate support for the cause of racial justice and the BLM organization as much as possible. Therefore, I pledge to enact the following long-term plans:
Whenever possible, I will attend rallies demanding racial equality, equity, and justice.
I will donate to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for an indefinite length of time every month for an amount of 25 dollars.
I will appreciate more cultural texts produced by people of color. Additionally, to the best of my ability, I will advocate for and protect cultural texts produced by people of color.
I pledge to enact the following short-term plans:
I will join the Black Austin Rally and / or the March for Black Lives on June 7, 2020, at the Huston-Tillotson University, Austin, Texas. The event lasts from 1 to 5 p.m. I will conduct an after action review (AAR) detailing my observations and thoughts at the Black Austin Rally.
Cheung, Helier. “George Floyd death: Why US protests are so powerful this time”. 8 June 2020. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).
Dalton Bennett, Sarah Cahlan, Aaron C. Davis, and Joyce Lee. “The crackdown before Trump’s photo op”. 8 June 2020. The Washington Post.
Dwyer, Colin. “‘Black Lives Matter Plaza,’ Across From White House is Christened by D.C. Leaders”. 5 June 2020. National Public Radio.
Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Social Contract”. 9 August 2019. britannica.com. 13 June 2020.
Ghandnoosh, Nazgol. “Black Lives Matter: Eliminating Racial Inequity in the Criminal Justice System”. Washington D.C.: The Sentencing Project, 2015.
Harari, Yuval Noah. “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”. London: Penguin Random House, 2011.
Veronica Bravo, Karl Gelles, and George Petras. “How police pushed aside protesters ahead of Trump’s controversial church photo”. 11 June, 2020. USA Today.