My Mom, an otherwise sunny person who takes a great interest in all things, would curse while driving. When I say curse I do not mean an f-bomb here, an a*hole there. She let out a barrage of insults that would make a sailor blush. I was horrified. I never, ever wanted my mother to chaperone my fellow classmates for fear of her driving induced tirades. Whenever I tried to admonish her she would smile as if suppressing a chuckle and shrug her shoulders. Never once did she try to justify her actions, simply accepting it as necessary. I was so flummoxed by this response I would throw up my hands in exasperation and sigh. My mother is a generous and deeply kind person whose fierce temper only flashed on the road. She saw it as her right to vent her frustration, which began and ended in the car. My parents didn’t allow us to curse but they also didn’t stop us if we’d reached a recognizable level of frustration and provided our cursing wasn´t an outright attack. I love cursing, it dissipates anger in a way that few things can. Screaming out a few well-chosen expletives is a mini-catharsis, that releases built-up energy. Like a sudden summer storm once the fury´s unleashed blue skies and sunshine return. Cursing out a driver should never be confused with road rage. Road rage is pent up anger left to fester that explodes in a fury of actions that could range from rolling down the window and screaming a few choice words to deploying a weapon to intimidate or threaten another driver. My parents instinctively understood cursing as a harmless but powerful method to work out whatever was bothering us.
In 1988 NWA wrote F*ck Tha Police, a song cursing the police for the harassment they faced on a daily basis. It was not the only song to express this sentiment but it was the one that caught the most heat because the explicative was aimed directly at the source of their anger. The backlash was swift, leaders and politicians beside themselves with indignation, weighed in on the egregious use of the f-bomb condemning them as if they had hurled a molotov cocktail at a police station. All they were doing was speaking out against police brutality, specifically the state-sanctioned socially acceptable harassment and murder of Black people. Instead of being an opportunity to examine what those young men were talking about it became the pretext to shut down their voices.
This story illustrates why my parents' unique flexibility around cursing was so wise and compassionate. They never questioned our right to be upset. They wanted us to understand the difference between expressing that frustration and attacking someone. F the police is not aimed at one police officer but is aimed at the entire institution. NWA´s lived experience of aggressive policing led them to the conclusion that policing was a force designed to terrorize and humiliate them into submission. In the condemnation, this salient observation was conveniently overlooked in favor of politeness. Politeness is a pretext to silencing deployed by a society interested in preserving its power. When we express our discomfort with someone’s anger and question the way they decide to express that anger without any attempt to understand it we are prioritizing so-called social civility over their safety.
The reaction is based on a now questionable assumption that the police are here to protect and serve. Funny how the benefit of the doubt is always extended to institutions especially if young Black people sound the alarm. It turns out they were right. The entire history of policing in the US is one long story of preserving racial hierarchies, union-busting, and enforcing the rule of law on behalf of the elite. At no point in our nation’s history has law enforcement ever been about protecting non-white bodies. Here´s a brief run-down slave patrols and slave catchers in the South, policing immigrants and workers in the North. The White power elite used working-class/poor whites to preserve racial hierarchy among whites. WASP cops against the Irish (paddy wagons anyone?), the Irish against workers, Poles, and Italians. All built around the premise that certain populations can only be managed by force, an idea straight outta enslavement and colonialism.
We were conditioned to believe. We are surrounded by a plethora of cops shows. By showing tough but stern cops and more women and POC law enforcement gave us the illusion that the police force was some sort of multiracial utopia. Which fostered an unabiding trust in most of us. Even many people of color whose lived experience was the opposite. They still thought of the police as a benevolent organization whose mission really was to protect and serve us.
That unabiding trust meant big money. Over time we have siphoned damn near all of our public funding, some of which was earmarked for social services, into the police. So that a trigger happy, entitled police force could also manage homelessness, deal with mental health crises, drug addiction, and rescuing cats in addition to over-policing non-white communities.
But wait, there´s more. The federal government also began equipping our local police force with military-grade gear and training them in military tactics. Training began in the 70s under Nixon but by the 80s fueled by Ronald Reagan’s War on Drugs funding went into overdrive. However, the alarming gear we see today is a result of another war, the post 9/11 War on Terror. That said in 1999 as a participant in the WTO protests in Seattle I witnessed first hand very scary looking unidentified troops rolling in and using tear gas or something like it which made many of us quite ill. And so, for at least the last 20 years our friendly police force has been morphing into a proto-military outfit featuring we, the people as the enemy.
Black and Latinos have been talking about and organizing against police violence for decades. Riots have been springing up with alarming frequency. People have begged and cried only to be called criminals. Every effort has been made to reform the police and they have resisted at every turn. They have created an untenable, toxic relationship built on fear and intimidation.
F*ck the police.
Then people around the world watched the brutal murder of George Floyd by the police and something clicked. People so deeply horrified by the brazen act began to listen.
There are two formerly radical ideas first presented by grassroots activists which now seem like reasonable alternatives they have always been.
Defunding the police to reinvest in communities
This means, identifying police spending that can be shifted towards specific, targeted community interventions without coercion, violence, and racism. Otherwise known as funding social services for vulnerable populations.
Did you know the federal government to date has given 6 billion dollars worth of military equipment to 1,000 police programs? Equipment such as night scopes, camouflage combat fatigues, and flash grenades. To what end? This seems like a no brainer but fewer voices are talking about it. The idea: stop federal funding/gifting and prohibit police departments from purchasing military gear.
A thousand people die each year at the hands of the police, 60% of whom are unarmed.
Seriously, f*ck the police.
We need to do both defund AND demilitarize the police.
And it just might happen.
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