Washington DC, Mayor Muriel Bowser, President Joe Biden, and Wilmington DE Police Chief Robert Tracy at the White House on July 12, 2021 (Photo: Sarah Silbiger/UPI)
The same people who wanted to defund policing voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden. But Biden not only rejects cutting police budgets but announced a proposal to give police departments $30 billion. Once again, a mass movement died at the hands of electoral politics.
There is no better contemporary proof that reformism is poison to social justice, than what has happened to the demand for “defund the police”. This emerged as a slogan amidst the George Floyd uprisings. In many ways Donald Trump’s militarized police crackdown on the mobilizations actually served to embolden them.
But the indignation the people felt in the face of Trump's bombast was quickly exploited by corporate media cheerleaders of the Democratic party wing of neoliberal settler-colonial duopoly to win control over the US presidency and both legislative branches of government. The Democratic party is notorious for exploiting left leaning but essentially reformist mobilizations. The Biden-Harris campaign platform played up a “police reform” that hijacked much of the political logic of those calling for defunding the police. While Biden, at the same time, made it perfectly clear that if elected he would not defund the police but would instead do the opposite.
Currently moves are being made on federal and local levels to beef up police departments nationwide with a simultaneous and all out media blitz to discredit the demand to defund police. Biden’s administration recently proposed a budget that would allocate at least $30 billion in new police spending. At the same time capitalist media manipulates concerns about violent crime and demonstrably false notions that police prevent crime and are under obligation to do so. In most incidents of violent crime, police are responding after it has already taken place.
This week the Mayor of the nation's capital, Muriel Bowser, zealously announced a budget that would re-fund and expand police ranks to 4000 over the next decade, after the city trimmed the police budget 2 years ago in response to the George Floyd uprisings.
In his March 1, 2022 State of the Union address, the 1994 crime bill sponsoring President Biden declared, “We should all agree: The answer is not to defund the police. The answer is to fund the police.”
While it is important to remember that police do not prevent crime, it is just as important if not crucial to understand the root causes of the low level crimes plaguing US settler colonial society. Low level crime is a product of a class based society that perpetuates despair and frustration.
US settler-colonial institutions of policing are themselves a human rights violating industrial complex yielding huge superprofits. Policing as a whole consists not only of the courts, prisons, the US Department of “Injustice,” it has internationally reaching tentacles like the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). It consists of unions, fraternal organizations, and associations like the Fraternal Order of Police, National Association of Police Organizations, and the International Union of Police Associations (IUPA, AFL-CIO). IUPA is actually chartered by the AFL-CIO. These uphold the facade that police are laborers who deserve the legal rights of workers.
In actuality policing under the oligarchy of capitalism serves to repress the working class and their interests and in the US this includes preserving the white supremacy of US settler colonialism.
Charisse Burden-Stelly, co-coordinator of research and political education for the Black Alliance for Peace, called out the Biden move in an interview with NBC News saying, “He’s trying to convey that he’s tough on law and order, that he’s supporting policing, which is a slap in the face and a complete disregard for the people who are organizing on the ground, primarily people who have a history of being brutalized by police and continue to be so.”
This slap in the face demonstrates the impotency of demand slogans like “defund the police” in a white supremacist society.
When we start from the premise that the enclaves where Black people live fit every characteristic of a colonized people then the logical objective is decolonization. Consequently a demand slogan is not actually something you expect the colonizers to adhere to. Demands must reflect the conditions under which we live and call for peoples-centered solutions.
The purpose of the demand slogan should not be to get the oppressor class to do something they will never do. Its purpose is to politically educate and galvanize the oppressed masses into radical protracted organization for power; the ability to envision, directly enact and implement policies in the interest of the colonized and the ability to protect this outcome. This is decolonization and anti-capitalist revolution.
Non-profit logic will have us believe that a demand must be something winnable in the short term, meaning something those in power will concede to. Such logic assumes the legitimacy of the oppressive ruling white supremacist capitalists.
Demand slogans must be incorruptible. As an example, freedom fighter and former Black Panther Party leader Dhoruba bin-Wahad explained the difference between imploring slogans like “Black Lives Matter”” or defund the police” versus the radical call for “power to the people”. Black Lives Matter is susceptible to corrupting by declarations like “All Lives Matter” or even, “Blue Lives Matter.” There is now even the Blue Lives Matter Act, making the assault of a police officer a hate crime and thus a federal offense.
But for the oppressors to say “power to the police” would, on its face, be ridiculous when referring to an institutional force that already has the ultimate power to take our lives extrajudicially with impunity.
Advocates of defunding police describe the strategy behind it to be divesting funds from police departments and reallocating them to non-policing forms of public safety and community support, such as social services, youth services, housing, education, healthcare and other community resources.
Lost in this description is the “who” that would enact, implement, and protect such a reallocation that is diametrically opposed to the neoliberal logic of this society and the settler colonial oligarchy.
The neo-fascism that now defines the US needs to both bombard the public with confusion, while also imposing a censorship of the truth and people’s centered analysis. It is in a state of desperation and must hide this fact from the people, among whom it has lost all legitimacy.
The US settler colonialist regime promotes the "need" for beefing up its domestic police forces (bemoaning the intracommunity violence caused by its capitalist white supremacy) in the same way it promotes the "need" to increase its global militarism; to fight violent terrorist extremist caused by its military occupations and exploitation.
Moves to channel more funds to police in the midst of this economic crisis must be seen for what they are: acts of desperation by a system in crisis and opportunities to organize Black and Brown working class to further delegitimize the rulers and their system.
People(s)-Centered Human Rights framework and demands expose the contradictions and provide a local foundation for community base-building work that addresses the material and political needs of Black and Brown people. It is not based on advocacy but on building community control of all the structures and institutions in our communities. It is self-determination in practice - including building self-governing community councils.
Netfa Freeman is an organizer in Pan-African Community Action (PACA) and on the Coordinating Committee of the Black Alliance for Peace. Netfa is also co-host/producer of the WPFW radio show and podcast Voices With Vision.