The political terrain of anti-Black policing

 

MSR Editorial

By Luke Tripp

Guest Commentator

Black bodies have been made to signify criminality, a threat and a menace to society by the American government at all levels. It logically follows that these bodies (male, female, young, and old) will be harshly and brutally assaulted by the law enforcement forces of public safety (police).

The continuing and pervasive practice of the extremely aggressive policing of Black people is a manifestation of the fear and contempt that the White power structure and White American culture have of people of African ancestry. A militant, well-organized, and highly politicalized Black community is necessary to curb anti-Black policing.

Recent mobilizations of the Black community in reaction to the shooting deaths of unarmed Black men demonstrate that we can have an impact on the course of actions by officials of the criminal justice system. The brutal police killing of Michael Brown has sparked the mobilization of millions who are morally outraged because Brown symbolized the targets and victims of the deeply racialized U.S. criminal justice system.

This case is socially and politically explosive. To understand the social and political dynamics of this case, we have to focus on the centrality of race and the criminal justice system. Americans profess to believe that the rule of law should be applied equally to all citizens regardless of race or status. Yet, it is beyond dispute that the criminal “justice” system functions from start to finish (definitions of crime, investigation, arrest, charging, conviction and sentencing) in a racially biased way.

Social scientists and criminologists determined through statistical analysis that in the majority of violent Black-versus-White encounters, Blacks are presumed to be the aggressor in the general crime storyline; the roles of Blacks and Whites have already been prescribed. The White character is the good hero and the Black character is the violent criminal.

Adapted to the killing of Michael Brown, the racial scenario is this: White police officer is portrayed as a fair-minded public servant who is authorize to protect and serve the public, while Michael Brown represents a violent Black thug who poses a threat to public safety. Every Black male, young and old, is stigmatized as a potential or actual threat or menace to society.

The vast majority of Black men have had a negative encounter with the criminal justice system, including Martin Luther King, Jr. The social structure of racism is predicated on stereotypes based on the appearance of our bodies. Negative stereotypes and anti-Black prejudices shape the discrimination that makes the everyday lives of Black Americans painful.

Anti- Black stereotypes are derogatory beliefs and cognitions and feelings of antipathy toward Black people. They are used to discredit, vilify, persecute, dehumanize and target Black people, and they become toxic when supported by White power and dominance.

The Michael Brown case is especially painful for Blacks. On a daily basis, Blacks feel the stress and insecurity largely caused by White police officers and hostile Whites. The Michael Brown case reveals more about the criminal justice system than it does about the killer Darren Wilson.

 

Militarization of the police force 

The militarization of the police force in terms of army weapons, military tactics, and special assault units has been a long-term trend since the urban rebellions of the 1960s. The display of naked military-style intimidation against protesters for social justice in Ferguson, Missouri in the wake of the shooting death of Michael Brown is an example of the extent to which the police departments across the nation have been militarized with equipment from the U. S . Department of Defense.

This militarization is a manifestation of strategic planning of the government to control Black people. The war on drugs serves as the rubric under which anti-drug laws and administrative policies have targeted Black people for marginalization and criminalization.

Through the criminal justice system many Blacks are denied basic citizenship rights (the vote, student loans, public housing, etc.). The criminal justice system has become a dominant presence in the lives of Black males. It impacts employment, housing, family formation, and political participation.

The social, economic and political consequences of stigmatizing and criminalizing Black males have seriously weakened the social fabric of the Black community. Racism divides and dehumanizes groups. Resisting racism is an act of liberation.

Rallies, marches, forums and petitions are moves to empower ourselves to dismantle racism. The struggle for justice in Ferguson is the political terrain of the struggle against racial oppression.

 

Dr. Luke Tripp is a professor of the department of ethnic and women’s studies at St. Cloud State University. He welcomes reader response to lstripp@stcloudstate.edu.