After a two-year investigation of Louisville, Kentucky, police — prompted by the murder of Breonna Taylor on March 13, 2020 — the U.S. Department of Justice published its findings March 8.
According to the New York Times, “In a damning 90-page report, investigators painted a grim portrait of the Louisville Metro Police Department, detailing a variety of serious — at times shocking — misconduct.”
The DOJ document gives detailed descriptions of a “pattern or practice of conduct” of the LMPD, formed in 2003 as part of a consolidated city/county government incorporating the city of Louisville with Jefferson County:
“LMPD uses excessive force, including unjustified neck restraints and the unreasonable use of police dogs and tasers. LMPD conducts searches based on invalid warrants. LMPD unlawfully executes search warrants without knocking and announcing. LMPD unlawfully stops, searches, detains and arrests people during street enforcement activities, including traffic and pedestrian stops.
“LMPD unlawfully discriminates against Black people in its enforcement activities. LMPD violates the rights of people engaged in protected speech critical of policing. Louisville Metro and LMPD discriminate against people with behavioral health disabilities when responding to them in crisis.”
While this may be “shocking” to an establishment capitalist mouthpiece like the Times, these scenarios are all too familiar to Black Lives Matter activists throughout the U.S. — and in most of the world.
The Louisville report asserts: “Most Metro employees and LMPD officers are dedicated public servants who work hard to promote public safety.” Yet these “dedicated public servants” all belong to organizations — mislabeled unions — that operate to protect violent cops from disciplinary actions. They rally together when one of their own is charged with misconduct, even when fatalities occur.
Reform or abolition?
Also familiar to the anti-police brutality movement are reports and recommendations by the DOJ, often leading to a consent decree, which the Times indicates will likely follow the investigation of the LMPD. These consent decrees mandate certain reforms, such as improved training of officers, stronger policies on excessive use of force, and more effective investigations of complaints and civilian oversight.
Other cities’ experience indicates that Louisville Metro residents are unlikely to see much change from DOJ-mandated reforms.
As far back as 1979, the DOJ filed a first-of-its-kind lawsuit, charging Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo and 18 other city officials with allowing numerous abuses by police including 162 killings in the previous eight years.
The DOJ said then that the pattern of excessive force in Philadelphia “shocks the conscience.” But two years later, in December of 1981, Mumia Abu-Jamal was brutalized by police following his arrest. His commentaries before his arrest had frequently condemned Rizzo and the Philadelphia Police Department.
In March 2015 another DOJ review of the PPD revealed a force that routinely shoots civilians, is inadequately trained and lacks a transparent review process of police-involved shootings. Then-Mayor Michael Nutter appointed a panel of “experts” to oversee implementation of the DOJ recommendations. Nothing came of it. In 2020 Philadelphia police were among the most violent in repressing protests over the death of George Floyd.
A consent decree was in place by the DOJ in Cleveland in 2014, which among other things created a Community Police Commission. Yet there has been little change; a federal judge, who has the power to end the consent decree, extended it for two years in September, stating the Cleveland Police Department “has not yet achieved substantial and effective compliance at this time.”
The investigation that led to this consent decree followed the 2012 slaying of Timothy Russell and Malissa Williams, when Cleveland and East Cleveland police fired 137 bullets into the unarmed couple’s car. Two years later CPD officers shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice; prosecutors declined to charge the officers involved. Since then, those murdered by CPD include Desmond Franklin, a 23-year-old father of four fatally shot in 2020.
In November 2022 city voters passed Issue 24, which creates a Community Police Commission that will not go away if the consent decree is ended. But now the CPC is at risk of being defunded by Cleveland City Council.
Philadelphia and Cleveland provide two of numerous examples of ineffective federal mandates for police reform.
The question not asked — and therefore unanswered — why are police departments across the country, who we are taught are responsible for enforcing the law and protecting peoples’ rights, so routinely violating those same rights with impunity?
The truth is that the police do not exist to uphold anybody’s legal, civil or Constitutional rights. They are part of the repressive capitalist state apparatus, which is an instrument of class rule created by and for the wealthy.
The DOJ’s “damning” report is but another argument for the only true means to halt police terror: ABOLISH THE POLICE!