Why Are the Police Like This?

(Photo by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Alex Gourevitch in Jacobin:

The police are out of control. They murder unarmed, poor, disproportionately nonwhite people with near total impunity. They provoke protests, antagonize protesters, arrest journalists, and violate civil liberties. They torture detainees and run black sites for interrogations. Their unions protect them from accountability, demand special legal protection, and undermine the political authority of any mayor, governor, or public figure that even mildly criticizes them. They refuse to collect and share national data on how often, when, and against whom they mete out violence while on the beat. They reject the minimal requirements of a democratic society to know how they operate.

The police have become an independent, organized body that relates to the public more or less the way an occupying army relates to the native population. How did they get like this?

Excellent work has shown how the police preserve racial hierarchies, in part by using force disproportionately against minorities, especially black people. The police were central to W. E. B. Du Bois’s theory of how the ruling class used racial ideology to divide workers who shared economic interests. As recent protests have awakened the public to this “social control” function of the police, they have also opened up the space to ask a basic question: why are there police in the first place? What interests do they serve, and why have they become so militarized?

More here.