The myth of the "good cop"

Protests have continued across the country following recent instances of police brutality. How can we end such a systemic issue?

Noah Wright is a sophomore constitutional democracy major at MU. They are a guest opinion columnist who writes about politics for The Maneater.

As protests have erupted across America in response to the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd and other displays of police brutality in recent months, many have called for peace amidst the rioting.

A popular position among white moderates is that Derek Chauvin, one of the officers who killed Floyd, must be brought to justice alongside the other “bad apples” in the American police force. This seemingly social justice-oriented view ignores the systemic problem of racism and white supremacy in our justice system and the immoral henchmen who enforce it: the police.

To understand how we got to a militarized police state, we must look at the history behind the structure of American police departments. The modern police force can trace its ancestry back to colonial slave patrols that emerged in the 18th century. These patrolmen hunted escaped slaves and maintained southern order on slave plantations. Slave patrols continued their policing work until the end of the civil war. Slavery was formally abolished with the passing of the 13th Amendment. This came with a notable exception, slavery and indentured servitude would remain legal “as a punishment for a crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted.” This loophole paved the way for the mass incarceration we see today.

When Reconstruction began, slave patrols rebranded and founded watch groups and early forms of policing. The laws these groups enforced were the Black Codes and Jim Crow laws that established segregation in the South. In northern cities, municipal police departments began to form as a way to keep order. This, of course, had less to do with order and more with controlling the lower-class black people in these areas. Following the strides of the civil rights movement in the 1960s, the American political establishment looked for a way to tap into white reactionary fear about social equality. Politicians could no longer overtly push racist policies, but could implement policies that targeted people of color in practice, under the name of law and order.

This was backed by Democrats and Republicans, from the start of the war on drugs to the tough on crime bills of the 1990s. By creating laws throughout the 20th century to target minorities, America was able to keep a consitutionally sanctioned slavery: the prison system. The police then retained their original purpose; the enforcement of white supremacy in America.

When videos emerge that are as shocking as that of George Floyd’s murder, many “woke” white Americans act surprised and rightfully demand justice. However, the truth is the police act in accordance with how the justice system in the United States was designed to work. No number of good cops could ever change the fact that the system they work to uphold is one of white supremacy and built on countless black bodies.

The phrase “good cop” is an oxymoron. There is no morality in choosing to work in the field of state-sponsored violence. Time and time again police have displayed that the only thing they “protect and serve” is the political power of the white ruling class, and the protection of their capital interests. This is nowhere more apparent than with the current rhetoric surrounding looting as opposed to the deafening silence in regards to the war crime that is the police using a chemical weapon, tear gas, on peaceful protestors. In addition, four centuries of racial oppression has left a staggering wealth gap between white and black families. By fervently protecting wealth and property, which is overwhelmingly possessed by white families, police ensure that white Americans retain their unmatched political and economic power.

In order to end the systemic issue of police brutality, the system must be uprooted. The police force across America must be completely abolished and replaced from the ground up. Dissatisfaction with the entire system was conveyed in Minneapolis, when protestors burned down a police precinct. This kind of direct action was condemned by many white liberals who have faith in electoral politics to solve social issues. However, this subgroup fails to understand what the protestors made clear: a police force that has always been used to enforce racism can not be reformed, it must be destroyed.

This radical idea has actually been tried and tested across many minority communities in America who police and protect themselves, such as the Muslim patrol that protects Brooklyn Mosques. In addition, these groups can provide social programs that directly aid the impoverished and empower minority communities, as done by the Black Panther Party. We must completely rethink the way we deal with crime in society and address the root issue, poverty, instead of its symptoms. With a community watch approach, we can ensure safety and reduce crime. This was also proven three years ago when the New York Police Department went on strike, and crime rates went down.

White people, including myself, need to use our privilege to dismantle these systems of oppression. We should follow the lead of white protestors in Louisville who formed a human shield in front of black protestors to protect them from the police. If you can’t protest yourself, donate to Black Lives Matter and other organizations fighting for an end to the police state.

We must create spaces in activist circles for black leaders. Instead of trying to show the world on social media just how not racist you are, amplify black voices and leadership. Call out racist family members and friends and show them a better path. Join the protests in Columbia, and become a member of a social justice organization on campus. The most important thing to do is to not remain silent. Stand with those fighting the oppressors.

Edited by Sofi Zeman | szeman@themaneater.com

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