Black Agenda Report’s Glen Ford challenges Obama and Justice Department’s solutions to police murder and violence: Calls for “Black Community Control of the Police!”


 

The Obama administration shot double-barreled blanks in its response to the Black Lives Matter movement, “Both the Justice Department’s action in Ferguson and the Task Force report are indicative of the ineffectuality of what passes for criminal justice “reform” in 21st century America.” The Mass Black Incarceration State is incapable of meaningful reform. What’s needed is Black community control of the police.
 
 “The presidential task force’s grab bag of suggestions seeks only to make the Mass Black Incarceration State more palatable to the victims.”
 
For public relations effect, it was supposed to be a one-two punch. The Obama administration this week released an interim report of its Presidential Task Force on 21st Century Policing, including 63 recommendations to improve police-community relations.
 
Two days later, the U.S. Justice Department concluded that the Ferguson, Missouri, police department has engaged in a “pattern and practice” of discrimination against Blacks.
 
The twin announcements were designed to blunt African American anger over the Justice Department’s refusal to bring civil rights charges against the cops that killed Ferguson teenager Michael Brown and New York father Eric Garner, or to prosecute Florida vigilante George Zimmerman for snuffing out the life of Trayvon Martin, three years ago.
 
In fact, however, the presidential task force’s grab bag of suggestions seeks only to make the Mass Black Incarceration State more palatable to the victims, leaving its monstrous core mission intact, while the threat to bring down the federal hammer on the Ferguson police department is devoid of even symbolic value – too weak to qualify even as a token effort.
 
What the Obama administration is demonstrating in its attempt to deflate the emerging Black Lives Matter movement, is that the rulers of the United States have no intention of dismantling the permanent Black counter-insurgency regime – the New Jim Crow, as Michelle Alexander calls it – that was instituted two generations ago in response to the Black liberation movement of the Sixties.
 
Obama’s Task Force, co-chaired by Charles H. Ramsey, the Black police commissioner of Philadelphia, envisions policing in the 21st century as perfecting the same mission as in the 20th century.
 
“The rulers of the United States have no intention of dismantling the permanent Black counter-insurgency regime.”
 
Police are urged to “minimize the appearance of a military operation” – but the essential military, counter-insurgency nature of police operations would continue. “Soft look” uniforms are encouraged, with riot gear to be removed “as soon as practical.”
 
But, armies of occupation are not defined by the style of their uniforms, but by the mission they are assigned to carry out. U.S. police were organized as armies of Black community occupation back in the Sixties, when the Black Panther Party for Self Defense coined the term.
 
Toning down the Fallujah-look doesn’t change the nature of the mission. Soft-look uniforms don’t alter the objectives of the Mass Black Incarceration State; they only obscure the State’s intentions.
 
The prompt removal of riot gear after a long day of brutalizing protesters – as commissioner Ramsey’s cops were successfully sued for perpetrating when he was chief of police in Washington, DC – does nothing to mitigate police criminality.
 
The Task Force assembled a variety of somewhat useful measures, most of them worthwhile on their face, but none of which, alone or in combination, will lift the police-prisons boot from the neck of Black America.
 
The White House panel suggests that independent prosecutors be required when police kill or injure civilians. But, if those prosecutors operate under the same legal assumptions as rank and file prosecutors – including Attorney General Eric Holder, himself – that give cops practical impunity to murder Black people, then special prosecutors are of only marginal value.
 
“Armies of occupation are not defined by the style of their uniforms, but by the mission they are assigned to carry out.”
 
Another recommendation calls for the collection of more data on shootings and deaths at the hands of police. But Black Richmond Congressman Bobby Scott’s Death in Custody Reporting Act was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Obama in December.
 
Actually, the legislation became law under the George W. Bush administration, but was allowed to expire for lack of interest in 2006. Without question, the national government is obligated, as a civilizational necessity, to at least keep track of its citizens who are killed and injured by agents of the State.
 
But, the collection of death metadata doesn’t alter the relationship between Black people and police, nor does it vouch for the truthfulness of the reports, or trigger any corrective response. In the law’s current form, failure to report statistics to Washington could result in loss of federal funds – but it doesn’t stop the cops from lying about the facts of the deaths.
 
The panel suggests tying federal funding for local police departments to “diversity” in law enforcement hiring. Most Black folks – but not all – favor hiring more Black cops. However, the Mass Black Incarceration State has been quite successful in integrating Black officers and prison guards into service to its mission.
 
The system works just fine with Black officers on the beat, or in the top brass. The system nurtures killer cops of all colors.
 
“The collection of death metadata doesn’t alter the relationship between Black people and police.”
 
The report calls for an end to police quotas for arrests or tickets. But few police departments admit to using quotas. New York City stuck by the lie, even as stop-and-frisk numbers rose beyond half a million a year – a volume that could only be achieved under the most intense pressures of strict and escalating quotas.
 
But, a focus on elusive quotas misses the point. Every single police department in the country, large and small, arrests and tickets disproportionate numbers of Black people. All the constituent parts of the Mass Black Incarceration State are dedicated to the same mission, whether they employ hard-number quotas or not.
 
Which brings us to the Justice Department’s probe of the Ferguson police force’s “pattern and practice” of bias against Blacks, prompted by the protests against the shooting of Michael Brown.
 
The feds found that, during the period from 2012 to 2014, Blacks accounted for 85 percent of those whose vehicles were stopped by cops, 90 percent of persons ticketed, and 93 percent of people arrested, in a city that is 67 percent Black. Eighty-eight percent of citizens subjected to police use of force were Black.
 
Other studies showed there are three outstanding warrants for every Black household in Ferguson, buttressing the contention that Ferguson has become financially dependent on revenue from fines.
 
The Justice Department demands that Ferguson change the way its police and courts operate, or face federal suit. In practice, this will ultimately be settled by a consent decree agreement, much like the more than 20 such decrees Eric Holder has obtained against localities during his tenure.
 
Philadelphia, where Task Force co-chairman Charles Ramsey is police commissioner, was among those cities. Yet, the ACLU last week charged that Philadelphia’s police department has continued to stop tens of thousands of people on the city’s streets, most of them Black, in clear violation of the 2011 consent decree. Meanwhile, Commissioner Ramsey, wearing his Task Force hat, says he is “very pleased” with the interim report, and plans to implement some recommendations, immediately.
 
“The system nurtures killer cops of all colors.”
 
If cops like Ramsey are pleased, then the Task Force report represents no threat to the Black Mass Incarceration State (or The New Jim Crow).
 
Although some activists on the ground report that the imposition of consent decrees sometimes has a cautionary effect on local police behavior in the short term, the longer term effects are marginal, and recidivism is certain.
 
The Justice Department didn’t break new ground with its findings on Ferguson. Eleven Black plaintiffs filed suit against both Ferguson and nearby Jennings, Missouri, this year, demanding damages for the cities’ predatory arrest, jailing and ticketing practices.
 
A state study that predated the Michael Brown shooting showed that many small towns in St. Louis County stopped Black motorists at far higher rates than whites.
 
The truth is, every city and town in the nation – every single one! – would register a similar pattern. Mass Black incarceration, with all its feeder systems, is the universal policy of the United States – North, South, East and West, in states and localities with both large and small Black populations, whether Democrats rule, or Republicans.
 
The Justice Department’s selective consent decrees do not alter that reality one iota, in either the targeted localities or for the tens of thousands of police departments that are never subjected to outside oversight.
 
Both the Justice Department’s action in Ferguson and the Task Force report are indicative of the ineffectuality of what passes for criminal justice “reform” in 21st century America. The Black Mass Incarceration State is a massive human rights violation, half a century old, constantly generating the full range of atrocities against the targeted Black population.
 
The regime’s criminal justice system does not consider the abuse of Black people’s human rights to be crimes, at all. Rather, the system’s purpose is to abuse, contain and control Black people.
 
“Mass Black incarceration, with all its feeder systems, is the universal policy of the United States.”
 
If police abuse of Black people were considered to be a crime, then the American philosophy of justice would demand draconian penalties to set harsh examples for offenders, as it does with other crimes against persons. Instead, Black people get empty symbolism and modest consent decrees.
 
The struggle to make Black Lives Matter must become a conscious battle against the Mass Black Incarceration State. What is needed – as the Black Is Back Coalition has articulated – is Black community control of the police, in which “it is the community that will hire, fire and determine the training of the police.”
 
The Obama administration wants better relations between the police and the Black community, which translates on the ground as enhanced police infiltration of the community for the purpose of a smoother-running police state and greater Black willingness to obey police commands.
 
That ain’t freedom. That ain’t even citizenship. That’s the community relations of a prison.
BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be
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