Vigilantes and law enforcement groups have long worked together to create and protect the racial order in the United States.
But race is a social construct, and social constructs have social histories. Our The first place generating criticism is in financial commitments. Companies in the U.S. pledged a collective $50 billion to various racial initiatives (Financial Times), an unprecedented response to social issues (Washington Post). But, research indicates that only $250 million has actually been spent or committed to a specific initiative (Financial Times). William Cunningham, the chief executive of Creative Investment Research, who published the study, notes that until those funds are actually spent, there’s no reason they couldn’t be retracted or allocated to another initiative. Another survey found that tech companies that made commitments have 20% fewer Black employees on average than those that didn’t (Bloomberg), adding more skepticism to some organizations’ intentions.
Today is the first day of a series of actions organized by the Cops Off Campus Coalition, a network of students, educators, staff, and community members passionate about abolishing policing at all levels of education. I chatted with Alecia Harger (she/they), a sophomore at UC Berkeley and representative for both UC Berkeley Cops Off Campus and the transnational Cops Off Campus Coalition. We discussed today’s Day of Refusal, Abolition May, and the significance of getting cops off of campuses.
Law and Order. CSI. Hawaii-Five-Oh. American Sniper. TV shows and movies about law enforcement and the police permeate the screens of Americans across the country. Media portrayals about police officers, detectives, judges, crime fighters, and more firmly implemented into the cultural lexicon. Just because they are on TV does not mean that these shows exclusively exist for entertainment. Many shows actively depict criminal justice without showcasing the many ways it harms the lives of communities of color. These shows often work to bolster law enforcement in the eyes of white supremacy while simultaneously reducing compassion for the disproportionately Black victims of its system.
Conversations around police reforms sometimes highlight specific illegitimate acts by police officers. But law enforcement ignoring the law en masse raises deeper questions about the legitimacy of an institution with a long history of racism and brutality.
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Citizen is a privately-owned “public safety” app that reports neighborhood crime to residents. It has 5 million active users, more App Store downloads than Twitter (Forbes), and is backed by venture capital firms like Sequoia Capital, which is also investing in heavyweights like Cisco, Instagram, and YouTube (Sequoia). It’s a rebrand of an app called Vigilante, which actually encouraged users to go after suspected criminals (Tech Crunch). After the Pacific Palisades fire last month, Citizen sent the full name and photo of a suspected arsonist to 860,000 users. Citizen put a $30,000 bounty on this man, who was unhoused (Oaklandside), and, as in its days as Vigilante, encouraged its users to “get out there and bring this guy to justice” (Vox). As it turns out, he was innocent.
Hate crime charges serve as a sentencing enhancement when someone acts with bias while committing a crime. This bias must be against members of a protected class – such as a specific race, religion, or sexual orientation – and it must be a motivating factor for the crime (Time). It seems reasonable that a crime is more odious if it occurs solely because the victim is a member of an oppressed community.
If you’ve participated or watched protests unfold in cities across the country this past year, you may have noticed that law enforcement looked more like members of our military than neighborhood police. And that’s intentional, as, over the past decades, the U.S. has made it easier for law enforcement to access surplus military equipment for everyday use.
The death has been referred to as an “accidental discharge.” But there is nothing accidental about the death of an unarmed Black man by law enforcement. Our system is designed to maximize interactions between Black and brown people and police officers, which all but ensures that harm will happen. This is enforced through the practice of over-policing, initiatives that have justified increased levels of policing for the sake of the greater good, but often with adverse consequences (Scientific American).