Every time racial disparity is invoked as the lens through which to see American inequality, the overwhelming role played by the increased inequality in the American class system is made invisible. And this is, of course, true on the right as well as the left—think of all the conservative commentators defending the police by invoking the spectre of black-on-black murder. And then think of the widespread agreement among criminologists that the Gini coefficient “predicts murder rates better than any other variable.” Conservatives who try to blame black crime on race and liberals who try to blame it on racism are both missing the point. If you want to distinguish between the left and the right, the relevant question is not what they think about race; it’s what they think when race is taken out of the equation.
In order to show that race—which is to say, the confrontation with blackness—and not something else prompts the interaction, the poem’s early scenes happen within the domain of the professional managerial class. The salience of the assault, whether psychic or physical, depends on a prior sense of wellbeing among those who are reasonably well off. Rankine also notes that this sense of wellbeing is illusory—the “eternally stupid or everlastingly optimistic” outlook of highly successful black people who continue to play the game.” These assaults are not merely inconveniences but potentially life and death matters.
All of this is to say that we cannot solve the problem of police violence by avoiding the problem of poverty. Yet this is exactly what the “defund” solution threatens to do. In a remarkable twist, liberal militants have embraced austerity as a solution for local government. Slashing police budgets has been so widely accepted on the Left that criticism of it—on welfarist grounds, policy implementation, or simple political commonsense—has been labeled reactionary or racist. The reality, as I have tried to show, is that if defunding the police were to result in fewer beat cops, more poverty wages for officers in already poor districts, less police training and effectively no change in the presence of guns or the rate of poverty, then the defunding “solution”—for all its radical rhetoric—would likely result in more, not fewer, incidences of police lethality.
The key number, however, is this: Only 7 percent of Massachusetts’s residents are black, yet they constituted 35 percent of people killed by cops. African Americans therefore appear in Massachusetts police homicide stats at five times the rate, or with 400 percent greater frequency, than do they appear in the state’s total population count. Now we are beginning to see where the national average comes from.
The call to defund or abolish the police is a gift to the right. We need instead a series of radical reforms along with enhanced training, closer supervision, and democratic accountability. We should be looking to models that work rather than engaging in fantasies about civil patrols and communal policing, which will ultimately mean an expansion of private guard labor and private policing, unaccountable to public oversight.
By decriminalizing minor infractions and offering alternatives to police interactions, including utilizing technology to overcome unnecessary, unsafe, and costly traffic stops, the U.S. could improve safety outcomes. Instead of a call to #defund law enforcement, let’s question where funding comes from in order to restructure it and create a better public safety infrastructure.
As others here have said, the primary function of the police is to protect property rather than people. More specifically, it is to contain and repress the anxiety and anger caused by economic desperation. It is also to clear out low-income areas for gentrification, and broadly to police the borders between higher-income and poor parts of town. As the economy gets more unequal and a growing proportion of people fall into increasingly desperate economic straits, more and/or more aggressive policing is needed to accomplish this goal.
It’s 100% true that cops in our society are on what I would say is the wrong side of basically everything politically. But that’s actually true of a lot of occupations. Coal miner’s living depends on extracting carbon from the earth that poisons the entire world, but disproportionately so members of their own class, to enrich a small number of ruthless plunderers.
Black Lives Matter sentiment is essentially a militant expression of racial liberalism. Such expressions are not a threat but rather a bulwark to the neoliberal project that has obliterated the social wage, gutted public sector employment and worker pensions, undermined collective bargaining and union power, and rolled out an expansive carceral apparatus, all developments that have adversely affected black workers and communities. Sure, some activists are calling for defunding police departments and de-carceration, but as a popular slogan, Black Lives Matter is a cry for full recognition within the established terms of liberal democratic capitalism. And the ruling class agrees.
Despite its proponents’ assertions, antiracism is not a different sort of egalitarian alternative to a class politics but is a class politics itself: the politics of a strain of the professional-managerial class whose worldview and material interests are rooted within a political economy of race and ascriptive identity-group relations. Moreover, although it often comes with a garnish of disparaging but empty references to neoliberalism as a generic sign of bad things, antiracist politics is in fact the left wing of neoliberalism in that its sole metric of social justice is opposition to disparity in the distribution of goods and bads in the society, an ideal that naturalizes the outcomes of capitalist market forces so long as they are equitable along racial