Police Racism in America
thesis- class based differences exist, in America class is drawn on lines of race, and if the premise that policing is essentially constructed as a way to manage labor and maintain a productive society is accepted, then logically the police as an institution are racist
Structural racism is a system in which governmental policy, cultural production, institutional policies, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate group inequity along lines of race. This understanding of racism allows the critically minded reader to analyze the advantages that have historically come with “whiteness” and the disadvantages that are now historically bound up with “color” and how they have endured, changed, and adapted throughout history. This is not an individual practice, but a complex social phenomenon which is bound up with the society we all live and work in at every level. It is not something people or institutions “choose” to do. From here, it is important to understand some of the actual realities of this institutional discrimination.
Racialized communities experience poverty in totally different conditions from white communities. Although on some levels there may be more poor white people in America, poverty is more concentrated in communities of color. As Paul Jargowsky notes in his book Architecture of Segregation “…more than one in four of the black poor and nearly one in six of the Hispanic poor lives in a neighborhood of extreme poverty, compared to one in thirteen of the white poor,” This means that poverty is reproduced more easily within these environments, and ways to escape it are systematically limited not by individual faults, but rather because of the intense pressures of life in late capitalism. The lack of access to public services which are generally a jumping off point for social advancement means that there is almost no way to escape the deeply concentrated and often government enforced poverty for racialized communities.
These conditions are materially enforced through exclusionary zoning laws, housing market discrimination, and even how public housing is constructed. The middle class and rich could flee to the suburbs while the poor (disproportionality non-white) were forced to stay in spaces which would continue to decay as the government neglected them and enforced a variety of cost-cutting measures which would make life even more difficult. This is where the police come in.
Police officers engage in racism in such patterns that “bad apples” cannot be blamed, but rather the overall system of policing. In New York City, according to the NYCLU, in 2012 the NYPD stopped and frisked 685,724 New Yorkers, and of these New Yorkers, 87% were black and Latino. Even after reforms, 22,939 New Yorkers were stopped in 2015, and the shift in racial discrimination was tiny. Only a 5% decrease. 83% of those stopped were still black or Latino. While yes, more officers should be held accountable for their extra-juridical murders of people of color, this alone will not solve the problem. Police departments often see poor and racialized neighborhoods as “warzones” which they are meant to occupy, Darren Wilson after all called the neighborhood in which Mike Brown was killed a “hostile environment”. This sort of militaristic language coming from police officers reflects training that reinforces a racist world view and maintains the police’s nature as a fundamentally anti-black organ of power. The most well-known police strategy to tackle crime is known as “broken windows”, institutionalized by NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton. This is the idea that police will project more authority and cut down on serious crime if they make sure that even smaller crimes do not go unpunished. This has been adopted in police departments across the US, and almost every police commissioner has had some sort of familiarity and tutelage from Bratton. Whoever is to replace Bratton won’t change anything, because almost any qualified individual in the US will have learned their policing strategy from Bratton and his cohort. A Newsweek article shows that the NYPD had a clear racial prejudice shown in its actions, black people and Hispanics accounted for some 80% of total misdemeanor arrests.
In a complicated and well detailed breakdown of racial bias in police shootings, Cody Ross claims that “There is no relationship between county-level racial bias in police shootings and crime rates (even race-specific crime rates), meaning that the racial bias observed in police shootings in this data set is not explainable as a response to local-level crime rates.” American police are routinely criticized internationally for their militarization, lack of restraint, and undeniably racist patterns of law enforcement. This is, as Cody Ross shows, mathematically demonstrable. Poverty is not only racialized, but those communities of color forced into it are absolutely unfairly over-policed and subjected to racist law enforcement practices almost everywhere in America. The police essentially function to maintain the deep inequalities in American society at gunpoint. Although the problems are deeper than just police departments, of course the business and financial monopolies as well as policymakers and government officials have a vested interest in the maintenance of racialized poverty in America, police should not go without blame. As demonstrated by the example of Bratton’s legacy of “broken windows” theory, police departments are perfectly capable of reproducing racism all on their own, and the fact that there has been almost no criticism of these practices from police unions, or even individual policemen, demonstrates mass complicity in a system of intense violence, racism, and anti-poor action.