At the core of the nation’s struggle between law enforcement and police reform is the issue of race. The issue is largely black and white, quite literally. With each police shooting race flares; routinely the broad cry of “racial reconciliation” surfaces in some form as a solution to the specific problem of policing. But the rift between black communities and law enforcement cannot be solved in that way. Racial reconciliation between blacks and whites–including largely white power structures like law enforcement– in America is simply not possible and time wasted. To “reconcile” means to make friendly again. Reconciliation requires us to have been friends, have a falling out and then get back together. In the American context, when were blacks and whites ever friends? If we are to make progress on the issue of race and ultimately police reform, we must scrap the quest for reconciliation and chart a completely new course.
It is without question that Philando Castile and Alton Sterling would be alive if they were white. They simply were not. They belonged to a race of people who began their sojourn in America not as friends of the white colonists or the white power structures established to protect them. All this was for the benefit of one race, at the expense of another. This extended to law enforcement, naturally. The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 brought this dynamic into perfect clarity. In essence, law enforcement across the nation were now absolutely tasked with finding and returning anyone suspected to be a slave. People living in free states were bound by law to uphold the subjugation of another race or risk the wrath of the criminal justice system. When were we friends? From there it is not difficult to understand how the KKK and other entities committed to white supremacy made a practice of infiltrating local police departments and using them to inflict racial violence.
A good example is that of Goodman, Chaney and Schwerner, the three civil rights workers brutally murdered in 1964 in Philadelphia, Mississippi. The Mississippi Sovereignty Commission–a sort of state level FBI hellbent on maintaining white supremacy–passed along information to local law enforcement about the men and the car they were driving. The local Deputy Sheriff stopped the men and was later among the group charged with their murder. That Deputy Sheriff was also a member of the KKK. These are the roots of our law enforcement institutions. These are not roots of black liberation but those of violence toward black bodies. It was so from the beginning, there is nothing to reconcile. It is no wonder that the “War on Drugs” and a host of other matters of enforcement are plagued with bias and brutality toward communities of color. The roots are bad and yet we are trying to prune the tree.
There has never been a friendship to reconcile between black and white in America and that includes our law enforcement agencies. Yes, there are an untold number of individuals of the two races who are friends but the two masses are quite separate and have lived in a nation that only knows subjugation of one to benefit the other. This has been true in every area of policy and naturally our nation’s institutions and that includes the police. From day one the goal was not black liberation but subjugation and that demon remains, in need of exorcising. The answer is not more failed attempts at reconciling what never was but to start with mutual acknowledgement. The nation’s law enforcement apparatus must start by acknowledging the humanity inherent in each citizen, be honest about the conditions they live under and be willing to accept a new mandate. It must be a mandate and course of action democratically constructed by the people and only enacted with consent of the people. The system was broken by design. It’s time to tear it up and start over.