One thing that we learned from the anti-police riots last year is that the state/ruling class/power elite generally prefers to co-opt and absorb protest movements rather than engaging in large-scale direct repression. Remember that corporations and banks were adopting BLM symbolism as their own, and conducting seminars on critical race theory, while the military-industrial complex overruled Trump’s desire to call out the army to suppress the rebellion. Such an approach allows the state to retain a greater aura of legitimacy, quell civil unrest, and create a pretext for cracking down on terrorism by blaming the unrest on fringe political and social groups who are ostensibly unrepresentative of an otherwise virtuous protest movement.
During the unrest, I predicted that if the Democrats won the election, they would likely attempt to create a ruling class unity regime that moves to complete the totalitarian humanist revolution that has been brewing for quite some time, while seeking to strengthen state security services in the name of controlling terrorism. The riot at the Capitol on January 6 created a perfect pretext for doing just that. Everyone from Trumpists to anarchists seems to now be on the homeland security radar.
A significant increase in crime has taken place during the past year for predictable reasons: the economic as well as psychological effects of the pandemic, and large-scale civil unrest. At this point, it is necessary to examine the relationship between the increase in crime, the anti-police movement, and how the state will likely use the former to co-opt the latter.
The increase in crime has a range of causes, but it would be foolish to say that a pullback on the part of the police in response to the anti-police riots and protests has not been at least a partial contributor to the spike in crime rates. A similar situation occurred in the 1960s and 1970s. Crime was at an all-time low in the early 1960s, followed by a massive increase in crime during the period between the late 1960s and early 1990s. Criminologists still debate the reasons for this. Potential causes that have been cited range from decreased social stability following the cultural upheavals of the late 60s/early 70s, the growth of the illegal drug trade, the impact of Nixon’s and Reagan’s “war on drugs,” the growth in the number of “crime age” people (young people in their teens, 20s, and 30s), familial instability, rising unemployment rates in poor communities, the de-institutionalization of the mentally ill, and a number of other factors. However, at the time, it was widely perceived that court rulings expanding the due process rights of the accused (e.g. Miranda), less aggressive policing following the riots of the 1960s, more lenient penalties for crimes, etc. led to the massive increase in crime during that era.
“Law and order” politicians and political groups greatly exaggerated the degree to which the criminal justice system had been liberalized in the 60s and 70s. But it was true that increases in crime led to public calls for greater law and order which, along with the anti-drug hysteria of the 80s and 90s, led to a massive wave of repression, strengthening of criminal laws, greatly increased incarceration rates, militarized police forces, etc. “Law and order” types attribute the decline in crime between the mid-1990s and the late 2010s to be the result of the expansion of the police state, although the real reasons seem to be a bit more mixed (e.g. aging population, higher abortion rates in the 70s and 80s leading to fewer “crime age” people in the 1990s and 2000s, stabilization of illegal drug markets, gentrification leading to less concentrated poverty in inner cities and the dispersal of the poor population, shifting cultural attitudes such as more young people wanting to avoid the violence that plagued their parents or older siblings’ generation, etc.).
Nevertheless, it is likely that increased regard for civil rights concerns in the 60s and 70s did indeed lead to a “police pullback” in urban areas, particularly those with large minority populations, and a corresponding increase in crime. For example, a common police practice during this period was to simply attempt to steer crime away from more affluent, middle class, “respectable” neighborhoods and business districts and towards poor communities, to the point that residents of poor, urban, largely minority communities would complain about police indifference and lack of responsiveness to homicides and other violent crimes in their communities. We should remember that the anti-crime and “war on drugs” efforts of the 80s and 90s were frequently supported by civil rights organizations and liberal politicians at the time. For example, the Harlem Peoples’ Association supported Nelson Rockefeller’s strict anti-drug laws with mandatory minimums in New York in the early 1970s.
We are likely to see a repeat of this process in the future. The anti-police movement has been directed primarily toward municipal police. Unfortunately, minority civil rights organizations in the US have long had a preference for federal law enforcement over local law enforcement. The obvious reason for this is that during the pre-civil rights era, local police departments and sheriff’s departments in the South would be run by overt racists, with the police and Ku Klux Klan often having overlapping membership. The federal police such as the FBI was viewed as a bulwark against racist-terrorist organizations, and the federal government was viewed as the protector of civil rights against racist local communities, a perception that largely continues, however myopic it may be.
Categories: Police State/Civil Liberties