Getting the Police Issue Right

The main limitation of most liberal and left critiques of the police state is that these are primarily limited to dubious killings of civilians, racial disparities, and official forms of “police misconduct” as conventionally defined. And usually, these critiques are limited to the municipal police. That’s a start but nowhere near enough. Some further left critics also include the class dynamics that are inherent in the police state. That’s an advancement to the next level but still not nearly enough. We need a critique of the police state that is more in line with the kind of critique we might have of the Third Reich, the USSR, or perhaps contemporary China. I don’t think the US is presently as bad as any of those three but that’s the direction things are headed, not the other direction.

Criticisms of murder-by-cop, official forms of police misconduct, racial disparities, class disparities, and the excesses of municipal police should only be part of a much, much larger critique that includes state police (which provide support for municipal police and work in tandem with federal police), the array of federal alphabet soup agencies (FBI, DEA, BATF, etc), the “criminal justice system” (neo-star chamber) at every level (local, state, and federal), the legal racket (lawyers as a state-empowered guild), the prison-industrial complex (both its “private” and “public” components), overcriminalization at every level (and not just conventional “victimless crimes” but hyper overregulation as well), and the ways in which these things transcend boundaries of race, class, religion, politics, culture, etc.  Of course, such a critique will be infinitely strengthened with the addition of a critique of imperialism and the military-industrial complex.


Now that folks are coming around on the idea that law enforcement needs serious structural transformation in this country, let’s make our argument a little more robust.

The tiniest fraction of people get killed by police. It is not useful to think of this problem as one in which there is any real likelihood of being gunned down. At least from the perspective of intellectual integrity (whether it’s useful for the masses to see it that way, is another question).

The problem with the term “police brutality” is that it has multiple meanings. From a police officers perspective, something that you regard as police brutality is in fact, them just doing their job. They believe they are doing the right thing, the best they can. And they probably carry some moral justification around with them that’s not dissimilar to yours. I am not talking about the instances where among LEOs it would be regarded as excessive force. It’s way less likely for law enforcement to act with impunity than it is for them to do what they think is right.


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