Police brutality in 2014

GarnerPhoto by Alice Peck

Trying to read the faces of the cops encircling Foley Square last night was as useful an exercise as trying to formulate a political philosophy from the slogans being chanted and waved around me on placards would have been. Demonizing all cops is as useless as angelifying them; the same goes for their victims.

The problem isn’t whether this cop or that cop is a racist or this victim or that victim is a good citizen or a thug–it’s whether the criminal justice system is delivering anything remotely equitable, whether the net product of the police is service and safety or oppression and terror.

But of course it’s both. Watching the video of the cops standing over the prostrate body of Eric Garner doing absolutely nothing to help him is horrific. They are swaggering brutes, and they are wearing very different faces than the guys standing around Foley Square last night were–or the Brooklyn beat cop who rang my doorbell 25 years ago to ask me how I was doing and tell me that the guy who’d pistol-whipped me had been arrested and indicted.

Racism is a huge factor in our current crisis, of course, but so are our absurd drug laws. And so is economic inequality. As the unskilled white working class continues to devolve into a virtual underclass, they’ll learn this. Staten Island’s Oxycontin problem is a case in point (“from 2005 to 2011, according to city health statistics, as fatalities from overdosing on drugs decreased citywide, the death rate from opioid overdose on Staten Island nearly quadrupled, leaving it more than three times that of the Bronx”–New York Times).

When I was in college, they taught me that FDR saved capitalism by giving the working class such a big stake in the economy. I suppose that was true up to a point, but racism, xenophobia and cognitive dissonance probably did more.

I wonder if historians will see the rise of the Tea Party, Occupy Wall Street, Alex Jones’s John Birch-style populism, Glenn Beck gold bug-ism, and the post-Ferguson protests as part of a continuum, rather than opposing tendencies.

If I was a Communist, I might see that as a good thing.


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