Scary stuff in St. Paul
The recent attack on St. Paul mayoral candidate Melvin Carter III by the St. Paul Police Federation can be categorized as police violence in another form: slander, intimidation, and bullying. The police in this instance smeared and attacked a candidate because they disagree with his platform on police reform.
Operating like organized vigilantes, the Federation wrote an 800-word letter accusing Carter of being irresponsible because he didn’t know the serial numbers on guns stolen from his home. The letter, in essence, attempted to turn the victim into the criminal by implying that he should not have had guns in the first place and that he was somehow at fault for them being stolen, while also implying that his stolen guns are responsible for a recent St. Paul crime spree.
In the letter posted on the Federation’s Facebook page its vice president, Jim Falkowski, who is also a St. Paul police commander, said the burglary put “two more guns and more bullets on our streets at a time when our city is seeing tragic levels of gun violence.”
The accusations were spurious and much ado about nothing, but they served the purpose of trying to taint Carter’s candidacy, apparently because he proposed very basic police reforms. These are the reforms that caused the police to turn Carter III’s victimization into criminality; under the title “Community First Police Reform Initiative.” Carter proposed:
- keeping the St. Paul civilian review board “civilian-led, rather than police-driven.”
- to “direct the board to present an annual public report on complaints and their outcomes, including demographic and geographic trends, investigation lag times.”
- “Saint Paul police reflect and respect all Saint Paul communities. Increased training opportunities, reformed hiring practices, and better opportunities for community input.”
- to “invest in public resources like recreation centers, libraries, and parks that strengthen community bonds and give young Saint Paul residents the opportunities they need to succeed.”
Why would the police have a problem with such reforms? After all, aren’t they there to “serve and protect” the public. Shouldn’t they have an interest in serving and protecting the public to the best of their ability?
The only logical reason police would have a problem with these moderate proposals is if there is more to the job than they claim. The proposals would be a problem if part of their job is to reinforce the stereotypes and prejudices and pecking order of the society. The proposals would be a problem if their job is to “serve and protect” the property and interests of industry, corporate America and the “One Percent.”
The proposals are a problem for the police because they would interfere with their ability to continue to paint certain communities as more criminal than others. As this case indicates, not only do the police serve the interests of the power structure and the social, political and economic status quo; they are also an institution unto themselves.
The Police Federation, in this case, has acted like a gangster organization ignoring and operating outside of the rules of election decorum. Even the established power structure had no leverage, no organized means to reign them in.
The mayor politely asked the Federation’s board to resign. The newspapers shook their finger at them. Even in the midst of this condemnation, the president of the Federation got in a few parting shots.
In his insincere, strange and backhanded non-apology (it’s likely this doesn’t fit the definition of an apology), Federation President David Titus still held out that Carter was guilty of “inconsistencies.” He wrote that “Melvin Carter’s campaign has asserted that the Saint Paul police department are racists. This is something we categorically deny and find offensive.”
The so-called apology reiterated the point of the poison letter, implying that the increase in crime in St. Paul was partially due to the candidate’s missing guns, not so subtly suggesting that Carter is unconcerned with the public’s welfare.
“In no way were we implying these guns were used in the commission of a crime, rather that we need a Mayor whose priority is public safety,” Titus concluded his (not an) apology. The implications of this smear campaign ought to make everyone sit up and pay attention.
It’s important to note that the bourgeoisie press ran pictures of Titus in civilian clothing in an apparent attempt to separate the Police Federation from the police as an institution. But they are not separate, which is why this incident should cause alarm. Titus and his police are not civilians — they are a law unto themselves.
The times have led some people to conclude that we are living under fascism. While that is up for debate, this should be viewed as an example of proto-fascism. It should be used to better understand the real role of the police, especially by those who think the problems of police violence and over-policing and disrespect can be solved by having innocuous community meetings with the cops, or meetings with their leaders over tea and cookies.
Justice, then peace.
Mel Reeves welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.