Trump, the new standard-bearer for police reform?
The national rebellion has been going on for a month, without the ruling class being able to regain control of the situation.
The repression has been bloody, with eleven confirmed dead, hundreds injured and almost 10,000 arrested during the month throughout the country. The recent murder of Rayshard Brooks in Atlanta has once again intensified the clashes. In Southern California, there are demonstrations demanding clarification of the deaths of two Black workers who have been found dead, hanging from trees in cities in the area. In Seattle, the six-block area controlled by protesters around police headquarters is maintained.
The rebellion has highlighted the reality of police violence and its racist and class oppressive orientation. An average of 1,000 civilians is killed by the police every year. Police murder is the sixth most common cause of death for Black youth. Almost all of those killed are below the poverty line.
The U.S. police make 10 million arrests a year. It's by far the country with the highest percentage of incarcerated population. The number of prisoners has quintupled since the 1970s, marking a huge militarization of society, aimed almost exclusively at the working class. Black people are the most convicted of common crimes and receive the longest sentences, making them a third of the prison population, while they make up 13% of the general population.
The lack of accountability is also enormous. According to data from mappingpoliceviolence.org, out of 7,663 cases of civilians killed by police forces in the United States between 2013-2019, only 95 cases resulted in trials and 48 in convictions. The police unions are a huge network of political and economic influence, which has systematically orchestrated to defend these conditions of impunity.
It is against this huge complex that the revolt is directed. The local expression of the imperialist domination apparatus that patrols the entire world.
Trump a reformer?
Trump found that the direct confrontation with the rebellion had led him into extreme isolation. After his disavowal by the Pentagon, President George W. Bush has refused to support Trump in November and former candidate Mitt Romney has marched in his state with the Black Lives Matter flags. Faced with this situation, he has decided to perform a new spin that part of his cabinet had been promoting.
A week after the Democratic caucus in Congress presented a moderate package of police reforms in order to try to make use of the movement in electoral terms and, at the same time, to demarcate from the demands that the movement actually makes, Trump decided to issue an executive order, taking several of the points proposed by his opponents, trying to one-up the debate in Congress.
The order provides for limiting federal funds to local departments that do not prohibit chokeholds, unless the officer declares that their life is in danger; that provide training in non-violent conflict resolution tactics. It also creates a register of violent police officers. The conditional funding cut was the proposal that Democratic candidate Joe Biden has been walking around with in the media, and the register was proposed by Senator Kamala Harris, who is mentioned by many as his vice presidential candidate. It also proposes the creation of interdisciplinary teams to respond to cases where complaints are linked to mental health problems, drug addiction and homelessness, another proposal that "progressive" reformers have been putting forward these days.
The Democrat project contains a few more points. Like the Republican one, it proposes the mandatory carrying of cameras during police procedures. It restricts the use of forced searches (like the one used in the operation where Breonna Taylor was killed). It restricts, but does not cancel, the delivery of military weapons to the forces, which worked under Obama and acquired enormous proportions with Trump. It proposes to change the basis for a conviction for police abuse to cases where officers who violate constitutional rights should be prosecuted not for "knowingly" but for "reckless disregard". It modifies, but does not override, the conditions of qualified immunity, a legal doctrine that protects police officers from prosecution for their actions in the performance of their duties. However, the Republicans have declared this point unacceptable. The Supreme Court voted against revising this doctrine in its rulings at a meeting last week.
Biden has not only opposed the defunding proposal, but also proposes a $300 million increase to the police budget. In fact, in the budget debate that will follow in the coming weeks, it is the Democratic Party that will defend the police budget and the possibility of increasing it, in the face of tax cuts in this and other areas that Republicans will put on the table.
Trump has relied on the extreme commitment of the Democratic establishment with the repressive system to show that he is willing to issue reforms very similar to those they propose. Trump has not become a reformer, but shares with his opponents a defense of the status quo, of the repressive capacity of the state, and of limiting reforms to the most cosmetic level possible.
The impact of the rebellion has also led to an array of local reforms of varying order. From convictions for "aggravated strangulation"; to the creation of inquiry offices for deaths at the hands of the police; requirements that courts publish racial and demographic data on their convictions for minor crimes; the requirement of camera use by police officers; the publication of police disciplinary files; a ban on hiring police with prior misdemeanor histories; budget reductions for local police, with a commitment to direct those funds to projects in poor communities or communities of color; a ban on the use of tear gas; hiring of unarmed professional teams to handle complaints that do not involve immediate danger.
The most extreme case is the announcement that the majority of the Minneapolis City Council claims to have resolved the dissolution of the police department, which continues to function, while a year of transition has been given to discuss how it should be replaced.
There is enormous confusion in the media, generated intentionally, around the scope of the slogans that are raised in the movement. The demand for the abolition of the police and prisons has been replaced by the demand for defunding, supported by the Democrats’ left wing and part of the fighting movement that, in turn, seeks to be replaced by the leadership of their party for "better investment in security".
Senator Kamala Harris has said she supports defunding, as long as it is understood as redirecting them to other programs that improve security. Democratic Socialist Ilhan Omar has said that the "cancer" of the Minneapolis police department should be replaced by another security force. The progressive messiah, Bernie Sanders, has rejected any defunding, maintaining his demand for higher wages for officers.
There is also diversity among those who are calling for the abolition of the police institution. Some are just reformers seeking radicalized expression. Christy Lopez, a law professor quoted by Vox.com, in a survey of various abolitionist references, sees compatibility between partial reforms and an abolitionist approach that "restores public security" because "the police have too many tasks". Another person quoted, Jenn Jackson, of Syracuse University of Political Science, rejected the path of police reform, showing that it has led to one failure after another.
The more in-depth views are linked to establishing direct control of security on the part of oppressed communities. This perspective has as a precondition the defeat of the imperialist state, which has developed this huge repressive apparatus to exercise its authority inside and outside the country.
Frank Chapman from the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression describes how there is a Black-led people's rebellion in the country and that "until the Black and colored communities get control of the police, they're going to keep killing us with impunity". Max Rameau from the Pan African Community Action also argues for community oversight of the security forces, saying that "the youth are imagining a world where these tremendous institutions of imperialism and the police state have disappeared". (both on the Black Agenda Report site).
There is a vanguard that is denouncing the attempts to dilute the rebellion. Trump's Bonapartist project involves the development of a police state. It must be defeated now, and not wait until November. The militarization of society is a product of the collapse of an entire political and social regime in the context of historical capitalist decay. To defeat it, the movement will need to discuss a program that puts forward a way out of all the social and economic disaster being imposed on the population and a comprehensive reorganization of the country on new social foundations.
In this context, the investigation and conviction of those responsible for the thousands of police crimes perpetrated in the country are the starting point for advancing the necessary debate on how communities can manage their security without oppression or violence. This requires the dismantling of the repressive apparatus. There is an urgent need to build on the momentum of the rebellion to demand the immediate release of the 54 political prisoners who have been held for decades, including Mumia Abu Jamal and Leonard Peltier.
Long live the people's revolt against the imperialist power of the United States!