DOJ "reforms" are a smoke screen covering up systemic complicity with law enforcement.
Police killing Black and Brown people hasn’t let up even though the public's attention may have been diverted from it as a constant nationwide tragedy for which the federal government shares responsibility. Despite this, the feds have been working hard on reformism that will outfit the Democrats with something to campaign on in the next presidential election.
The radically spontaneous uprisings in response to the murder-by-cop of George Floyd in Minneapolis that rocked the entire country during the spring and summer of 2020, compelled a response from the feds. Any response by the feds, however, can’t address the root causes of the problem. So Biden’s DOJ is doing it’s part to dress up the empire in a costume of genuine responsiveness to police reform.
Earlier this year there was the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021, which will not address the role and function of the settler colonial occupation force known as the U.S. police or curtail the brutal repression leveled by them against Black and Brown people. The bill actually manages to funnel more federal dollars to state and local cops and reinforces the misnomer that the issue is just “a few bad apples”.
Last Tuesday, September 14th, the Department of Justice (DOJ) announced a supposed new policy on the use of chokeholds and “no-knock” entries. They are effectively the same old limits in new clothes, as they still allow the practices whenever “deadly force is authorized.” But the cops kill most of us by gun, with 604 civilians having been fatally shot in the first six months of 2021, with Black people making up 108 of them, even though Blacks make up a significantly lower percentage of the population. Statistica.com reports: “In 2020, there were 1,021 fatal police shootings, and in 2019 there were 999 fatal shootings. Additionally, the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans was much higher than that for any other ethnicity, standing at 37 fatal shootings per million of the population as of September 2021.” The stats however don’t appear to account for Indigenous or Native American people.
New policies are not binding legislation. And besides this, overwhelmingly the cops who are killing us operate at the state and city level, which would still be out of the jurisdiction of any new DOJ policies or legislation. By their own admission, their concern is not that U.S. police are killing and maiming settler colonized people at obscene rates. Instead, according to Attorney General Merrick B. Garland, the “central mission” is “[b]uilding trust and confidence between law enforcement and the public…”
They are failing even at this mission. According to In the nation’s capital, Washington D.C., activists recently took to the streets after DC cops shot 5 people in the last 5 months:
George Watson, August 31, 2021 - “34 yo Black man with a toy gun is shot and killed by MPD”
Antwan Gilmore, August 25, 2021 - “27 yo Black man with a gun is shot by MPD while sleeping in his car”
Vedo Hall, May 24, 2021 - “26 yo Black man with a gun is shot by MPD while in a violent domestic dispute”
Terrance Parker, April 30, 2021 - “36 yo Black man with a gun is shot by MPD while in his apartment”
Noah Green, April 2, 2021 - “25 yo Black man with a knife shot by MPD in a parking lot”
Clearly limiting on no-knock entries and chokeholds, and only at the federal level, won’t address the problem. The core issue is rooted in the role and function of the police, as an extension of the state, in enforcing the law and order of capitalist, settler colonialism.
Settler colonialism criminalizes the very survival of poor Black and Brown people. Because of the white supremacy inherent in settler colonialism, simply fleeing, let alone defending one’s self, from the notoriously and unreasonably brutal police can get you killed. Or even the harmless act of sleeping in your own car. Corporate news media and politicians’ myopia on only the sensationalized cases of police killings, helps to keep the public’s focus away from the essential solutions; shifting power to the people. Poor Black and Brown working class people, whose human rights are most impacted by the police, must take power from the oligarchs.
Eliminating what is known as “qualified immunity” - a legal doctrine that keeps police officers safe from civil lawsuits - is gaining steam. It is argued that ending qualified immunity would be a deterrent for police not to commit homicidal acts of brutality. Lawyers orientated in the Radical Black Tradition - not the Ambulance-chasing, Black death-commodifying parasitic types - contend that, while qualified immunity could certainly help build case law and evidence known as legal discovery for criminal prosecutions to get real justice for families and victims of police brutality, it most likely would not be a deterrent for police. This is corroborated by the fact that the murderous brutality we face at the hands of police has existed as long as the police themselves, way before qualified immunity.
Furthermore, even without qualified immunity, the monetary awards won in civil suits are paid by taxpayers, ironically the same victims of the police offences.
We have to begin to accept the premise that, in the U.S., Black and Indigenous people make up a domestic colony. The only just solution to colonization is decolonization. Decolonization means self-determination. Community control over police (CCOP), achieved and carried out by colonized and oppressed people on local levels is the power shift needed to destroy the power of police unions and legally expel the now militarized “popo” from our blocks. We can then replace them with a force that the organized community itself envisions, reimagines, and implements in its own interests.
Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and on the Coordinating Committee of the Black Alliance for Peace. He is also co-host/producer of the WPFW radio show and podcast Voices With Vision.