Black and brown and LGBTQ and so many other people know this already: What we call “policing” in too many places in the United States might more properly be called “government-sponsored terrorism.” For what else is the purpose of the way in which police around the country have responded to anti-racism and anti-police violence protesters than to try to make them cower before their helmeted, riot-geared presence? To terrorize them into giving up the protests? What we’re seeing in video after video from the last week plus of protests is terrorism in action on a large scale.
We shouldn’t have to see a video of cops pulling black people out of protests to beat them for talking shit at them or of cops pepper-spraying peaceful young women, sometimes in custody, directly in the face or of cops shoving over an old man because he approached them to be outraged. It’s obvious in so many interactions with the police that we’ve reached the saturation point of where it’s just not surprising. What is surprising is that we’re finally getting the genuine uprising that was necessary to change the public’s perception of the cops, a reckoning that we’ve needed for decades, if not over a century. Finally, we’re seeing the public shift to “Ok, we’ve given these motherfuckers too much power.”
Police around the country are taking advantage of the curfews imposed in different cities as an excuse to terrorize protesters. As we’ve seen in Minneapolis (where George Floyd was murdered), Los Angeles, Washington, DC, and Seattle, police are using tear gas (which can kill people with asthma and other respiratory ailments), flash grenades, rubber bullets (which are not benign and can cause lasting damage), batons, and even police vehicles to subdue, disperse, or arrest protesters. Journalists have been attacked by cops. Medical personnel have been attacked by cops. Now, in DC and elsewhere, law enforcement officials aren’t even identifying themselves. That’s scary shit because who knows what right-wing cosplaying fucknuts will join in.
In New York City, where the police have gone what we can politely call “fucking batshit,” the cops have engaged in “kettling” protesters, which means essentially pinning them between buildings on a block, for instance, sealing off exit paths, and preventing anyone from being able to leave before heading in to beat the hell out of people for being out after curfew. As the New York Times explained about Wednesday night at 8:45 p.m., “For the next 20 minutes in Downtown Brooklyn, officers swinging batons turned a demonstration that had been largely peaceful into a scene of chaos.”
Think about that for a moment. For the crime of being out 45 minutes past curfew, you get assaulted and maybe arrested. The fucking stupidity of the curfew aside, how about handing out tickets, huh? Or, even better, how about just waiting out the protest and letting everyone go home?
The method of using overwhelming force in pretty much any situation is garbage. Look at the video of Mia Wright and her family in a parking lot in Chicago. They pulled up to go to a mall, but when they discovered the mall had been looted (and why wasn’t it roped off?), they turned around to leave when the car was confronted with a police officers in riot gear. Soon, a dozen cops were there, and they smashed the windows of the car, dragged Wright out by her hair, and an officer kneeled on her neck, on the ground, with glass digging into her eye. Yeah, really. And they took her to the station and charged her with being “assembled with 3 or more persons for the purpose of using force or violence to disturb the peace.” All four people were in the car and leaving, but, you know, they were doing it while black. Oh, and while she was in the police station, a cop called her a “fucking savage.”
A dozen officers for disorderly conduct isn’t policing. It’s terrorism. There was no attempt to de-escalate, no attempt to reason, no attempt to do anything but enforce the will of representatives of the state on the bodies of black people. And watch the cops when they’re doing this shit. They are gleeful. They love it. They get off on it. They want us to fear them.
This is what we get after years of the militarization of police forces in training and equipment. It’s a transformation of policing that is rooted in racism, since the biggest expansion of this militarization happened because of the crack epidemic and the paranoia over gangs. And because of 9/11, which the reaction to was also rooted in, you know, racism. But one factor that is often left out here is this change in policing was made in large part because of the madness of the National Rifle Association in assuring that citizens would be armed with bigger and deadlier and more guns.
Ultimately, we’re confronting something we should have confronted long, long ago: that this is a failure. That it’s all a failure, from the policing to the gun laws to the failure to root out racism and white nationalism (especially in law enforcement) to the ludicrous idea that the United States has ever dealt with its greatest sins. And the failure to do that has allowed the terrorists free rein, except now they are meeting a force that is fucking tired of feeling terrorized, tired of being victimized, and tired of shit not changing. The cops are learning that you can’t do the shit you’ve always done when everyone has a camera. Instead of trying to solve shit, the police are amping up their terrorism.
Frankly, the restraint of the protesters against the cops has been remarkable.
Editor’s Note: This essay originally appeared on May 6, 2020 on The Rude Pundit, a website featuring commentary by Lee Papa. It was reproduced here with the consent of Mr. Papa.