It’s been determined that Eric Garner’s death was a homicide, and now our wait to see if the officer will actually be charged begins. Much ado was made of the illegal chokehold administered on the man, as it was pretty much the only avenue we had of seeing the officer face repercussions. Aside from the explicitly illegal method of force, the murder was pretty much par for the course. Eric Garner’s fate is, like most killings and brutalities committed by police, the result of standard operating procedure. What else should we take from the non-apologies and excuses, flat-out statements that officers “acted in accordance with department policy” in response to their disregard for human life and suffering?
Last year, Trayvon Martin’s killer George Zimmerman was found not guilty. And while the verdict is ridiculous, it’s the truth that to everyone’s knowledge, Zimmerman acted in accordance with the law and the verdict was legally “right.” So the issue isn’t “Is this lawful,” or “Are the cops following the rules?” The issue is “This is lawful. The cops are following the rules. I’m going to scream myself to sleep.” In Garner’s case, the chokehold actually was a violation of the law, as chokeholds have been disallowed by NYPD policy since 1993. But even here, we grasp at straws, any foothold to prove that this time, the bullying and murder of a black man was against the rules.
Cops breaking rules isn’t the problem, it’s our pathetic solution to cops themselves. That’s sick. So fuck the rules. The broken guidelines of a violent and racist institution should mean nothing to us. Our goal shouldn’t be to pass out yellow and red cards to individual officers, it should be to change the game. The institution of police, the justice system, and the prison system are fully ingrained in our society, and fully broken. They will never be meaningfully reformed. As a country, we need to divest from all three.
Police Do Not Deserve Your Respect
I hate to sound trite, but “To Serve and Protect” is an egregious lie of omission. Police have no duty to protect you, reader, according to Warren v. District of Columbia. Police failed multiple times to respond to a home invasion, allowing three women to be raped repeatedly over the course of a day. The men subsequently rear-ended and then viciously beat another man during their escape. The police were sued by the victims, but the suit ended in the department’s favor.
“…court also concluded that [Miriam] Douglas failed to fit within the class of persons to whom a special duty was owed.”
Not to make too much of the word “class,” but what exactly does that mean? Who is owed a “special duty” by police to do what is advertised? At best, they’re talking about citizens who police were specifically ordered to watch over. In practice, we see the rich served much better. Again, not to make too much of the word “class.” Not too much. Your life and well-being are not a cop’s responsibility. Their responsibility is to their district at large. The only time police are in dereliction of their duty is when they don’t show up to respond to disruptions of the state’s workings. In other words, protests, demonstrations, large events, riots.
What is the role of police is in these instances? To keep the peace, make sure nobody is being hurt. That’s rarely necessary. What happens when the state is questioned? When the draft, the democratic process, when globalized capitalism and corporatism are protested peacefully?
“Police sacrifice their right to be treated as individuals at the point that they sign up to be tools of oppression and a readily mobilized force to defend capitalist class interests and whiteness. Police are not people, they are embodied politics and power.”
Police are employed to protect the strong from the weak. To keep everything working as it should. Keep the poor in their place. Keep black and brown people from stepping out of line. Everything else is secondary. People need to be aware of what being a police officer means. And once you know that, well, you can go ahead and be a police officer. Free country. You belong in a garbage bin, but go ahead.
The Justice System Fuels the Prison Business
America has a biblical thirst for blood and vengeance. We gleefully sentence criminals to the worst prison system in the developed world, and with such fervor that we don’t notice just how many people are going away, or the suspiciously high percentage of non-whites incarcerated. But who benefits from that? Well, aside from white supremacy, for-profit prisons benefit. The prison industrial complex benefits. Prisons have to be built by someone, someone has to get paid. Prisons have to be maintained, prisoners have to be fed, toiletries have to be stocked, programs have to be funded. Imprisoning so many millions of Americans costs the taxpayer money, but that money doesn’t just evaporate.
With prison profiteering the institution that it is, the justice system is explicitly untrustworthy. States have an incentive to put people in prison that has nothing to do with justice or keeping order and peace. Crime and punishment have become capital. Big money has an interest in increasing incarceration levels (which are already the highest in the world by a horrifying margin), no interest whatsoever in reducing crime, and a powerfully negative interest in reducing unfairness in the justice system.
“Management & Training Corp. threatened to sue the state. A line in their contract guaranteed that the prison would remain 97 percent full. They argued they had lost nearly $10 million from the reduced inmate population.”
See also the Kids for Cash scandal, where judges dealt directly with for-profit correctional facilities and were paid to sentence children to kid jail, which despite the cute name is notorious for physical and sexual abuse. Justice is now just the name of an industry, and a parasitic one at that.
Eric Garner is One of Millions
So all this makes it all the more revolting that people are still giving police the benefit of the doubt and accepting “they broke the law” as an excuse for the maiming and killing of petty criminals. In Eric Garner’s case, he was being arrested for selling single cigarettes. That’s about as petty as you can fucking get. A cop could straight-up murder you and probably get away with it. They shouldn’t get the benefit of the doubt from us when their supervisors and coworkers bend over backwards to excuse and cover up every wrong thing they do. Why should you make allowances for these people when they’re already so roundly defended by the media and their privileged legal status as law enforcement? Meanwhile, Eric Garner would be page-foured if there wasn’t video evidence of his murder.
Garner was put in an illegal chokehold, but a ton of people, including cops, are jumping all over the fact that the cause of death wasn’t his throat being crushed or from asphyxia from the hold. See: the posts on officer.com. I could quote one, but then you might think I’m cherrypicking. Pretty much every single post there is crowing that the cause of death was, essentially, Garner didn’t cooperate with the force of nature that is the NYPD, which has no responsibility or morality aside from its regulations. Even supporters of police see them as an amoral destructive force.
It’s deeply depressing that instead of insisting that Garner’s killing was wrong, the conversation is all about how this or that aspect of it was illegal. Is that as far as we’ve gotten as a society? Arguing that police should be subject to the law the same as anyone else? We don’t need police. We need people who do what Americans think police do. We don’t need the justice system. The justice system has never been about right and wrong, anyway. We need morals. Community. Prevention. Care. These harmful institutions aren’t going to just go away. As a country, we need to let them know they aren’t welcome. It’s past time to end our worship of law and order.