Over the last several years police departments known for using lethal force against oppressed peoples have faced civil rights investigations by and consent decrees with the Justice Department.
Nonetheless, violence by the police against the people has continued and even worsened. The recent public slayings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice and others have shown that the federal government is incapable of reining in local cops.
The Defense Department and Homeland Security have even facilitated the rapid militarization of the police, supplying lethal weapons, body gear and armored vehicles to police throughout the country.
When the Obama administration called for body cameras on police officers during the Dec. 1 White House summit, it was already superfluous. That same week a New York grand jury refused to indict even one police officer under investigation in the choking death of African-American Eric Garner in Staten Island.
Eric Garner’s killing was videotaped, yet the police involved in the fatal attack — as well the emergency medical technicians who refused to provide life-saving assistance to Garner — were neither indicted nor disciplined. Current New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, who presented as a progressive during his 2013 campaign, appointed William J. Bratton, one of the architects of the “stop-and-frisk” and “broken windows” theory of policing as the chief law-enforcement commander.
Detroit under federal consent decrees
The city of Detroit is a clear example of federal government failure. Since the 20th century’s Great Migration of African Americans and the rise of the labor movement, police suppression of the people has become well enshrined in Motor City’s political fabric.
In July 1967, amid deteriorating conditions involving residential segregation, institutional racism and police brutality, Detroit’s African-American masses rose up in the then largest urban rebellion in U.S. history. Police repression subsequently escalated, with the expansion of tactical mobile units and eventually the dreaded decoy unit known as STRESS (Stop the Robberies Enjoy Safe Streets), which killed 33 people during 1971-73.
With civilians gunned down by cops beginning in 2000, the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division began a three-year investigation, resulting in a consent judgment with Detroit. This led to 11 years of monitoring by several private firms overseen by a federal judge, but police killing of civilians continued and even intensified. The private monitors abused tens of millions of local tax dollars without recommending termination or prosecution of any of the killer cops.
On May 16, 2010, after Detroit’s seven years under two consent decrees, a police raid at the wrong address resulted in the shooting death of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones on the city’s eastside. It took public pressure to get the white cop, Joseph Weekley, indicted on charges of involuntary manslaughter and reckless discharge of a firearm. Even after two trials Weekly remains free and on the city payroll.
The much talked about Board of Police Commissioners has been stripped of the limited authority it had since its creation under the City Charter of 1974. The board was enacted at the same time as the city’s first African-American Mayor, Coleman A. Young, came into office. The board has largely served as a venue for filing complaints about police misconduct, leading to virtually no disciplinary actions.
What will end cop terror
Other cities such as Cleveland — where 12-year-old Tamir Rice, who was playing with a toy gun in a public park when he was gunned down on Nov. 22 by the police — Cincinnati, Los Angeles and Philadelphia have experienced similar federal involvement which has not halted the misconduct and brutality. Objectively through its policies, the White House, the Pentagon, along with the courts from the federal level down to local judicial systems, categorically defend police officers in situations related to violence against African Americans, Latinos and others.
Only rebellions and mass demonstrations have pushed the question of police violence against the people to the forefront of political discussions in the U.S. Only militant demonstrations against the blatant killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., have forced the government and corporate media to acknowledge these issues.
Police agencies operating under the U.S. capitalist system function exclusively on behalf of the corporations and the repressive state. Decades of “reforms” through “training programs” and federal investigations have not changed the situation in the least.
In order to eliminate police misconduct and brutality, it is necessary to transform the state apparatus through the transfer of wealth from the ruling class to the workers and the oppressed. This can only be carried out as a result of the seizure of political power by the majority within this society.