Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Third Edition)

Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Third Edition)


“Should become mandatory reading for all police academy students.”—Damon Woodcock (Ret.), Portland, Oregon, Police Bureau“A well-researched, historically grounded, and mordant critique of American policing past and present.”—Christian ParentiEven critics have a difficult time imagining a world without police. But just what is the role of police in a democracy: to serve the public or to protect the powerful? Tracing the evolution of the modern police force back to the slave patrols, this contr…

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New Ferguson Videos Show Darren Wilson After Fatally Shooting Michael Brown(r/news)

If you think the media is responsible for the racial dynamic in this shooting, then you just don’t understand the extent of this problem. The individual races of the cop and the decedent are not likely the core of the outrage here. It’s about the fact that our society utilizes so many resources disciplining and surveilling black people that it results in a culture of racial profiling and dehumanization which has institutionalized their harassment by the cops. This results in people of color being killed or brutalized with regularity. Black people are not morons incapable of making informed decisions about what methods of political action are necessary whether or not the media is pushing an agenda. Mass “unrest” is extraordinarily complex.

From the Kerner Commission in 1968 after a slew of race riots including Rochester, Watts, Philadelphia, and Detroit:

> Our examination of the background of the surveyed disorders revealed a typical pattern of deeply-held grievances which were widely shared by many members of the Negro community. The specific content of the expressed grievances varied somewhat from city to city. But in general, grievances among Negroes in all cities related to prejudice, discrimination, severely disadvantaged living conditions and a general sense of frustration about their inability to change their conditions. Specific events or incidents exemplified and reinforced the shared sense of grievance…With each incident, frustration and tension grew until at some point a final incident. Often similar to the incidents preceding it, occurred and was followed almost immediately by violence. As we see it, the prior incidents and the reservoir of underlying grievances contributed to a cumulative process of mounting tension that spilled into violence when a final incident occurred. In this sense the entire chain—the grievances, the series of prior tension heightening incident, and the final incident—was the “precipitant” of disorder.. . . .Almost invariably the incidents that ignites disorder arises from police action. Harlem, Watts, Newark and Detroit—all the major outbursts of recents years—were precipitated by routine arrests of Negroes for minor offenses by white officers. . . .The police are not merely a “spark” factor. To some Negroes police have come to symbolize white power, white racism and white repression. And the fact is that many police do reflect and express these white attitudes. The atmosphere of hostility and cynicism is reinforced by a widespread belief among Negroes in the existence of police brutality and in a “double standard” of justice and protection–one for Negroes and one for whites.

From Our Enemies in Blue:

> Of the instances of police violence I discussed above—the shootings of Timothy Thomas, the beatings of Rodney King and Luis Milton Morales, the arrest of Marquette Fry, the Killing of Arthur MacDuffie—any of these may be explained in terms of the actions and attitudes of the particular officers at the scene , the events preceding the violence (including actions of the victims), and the circumstances in which the officers found themselves. Indeed, juries have frequently found it possible to excuse police violence with such explanations. The unrest that followed these incidents, however, cannot be explained in such narrow terms. To understand the rioting, one must consider a whole range of related issues, including the conditions of life in the Black Community, the role of the police in relation to that community, and the history and patterns of similar abuses.

So if you’re actually interested in understanding what’s going on in Ferguson you need to understand several things.

  1. The relationship between the police and the black people in Ferguson is inherently antagonistic because much of the revenue that is generated is a result of quality of life fines such as traffic tickets and the like as a result of white flight during and since segregation which prevents municipalities from having access to other forms of revenue generation. As a result a lot of stuff that would go unnoticed in white neighborhoods doesn’t in Ferguson.
  2. The police department in Ferguson is 94% white despite the fact that the city is 67% black further inflaming the notion of the police as an oppressive, occupying force.
  3. The unemployment rate in Ferguson was almost three times higher than the national average in the most recently available data, which contributes heavily to civil unrest.
  4. In addition to the now infamous beating of Henry Davis, the police in Ferguson have a reputation for unnecessary aggression and there is a general disdain among blacks toward them for that reason.
  5. Instead of simply being transparent about how they were disciplining the officer, the Ferguson Police Department willfully withheld his name for a week and made sure to release a video of the decedent appearing to commit a crime, likely to pollute the jury pool if there was to be one. This reinforces the idea they’re trying to prevent accountability for their officers when and if they make egregious errors, as opposed to being open with the people they’re charged with policing about how they’re handling an issue that has enraged certain sects of the population.
  6. The police also likely further inflamed the community with their heavy handed response to policing (i.e. repression), which radicalized certain protest groups, generated the media response that has made this incident an international sensation, and put these larger issues even more into the public consciousness.

It’s easy to blow the racist dog whistle and say that “thugs” are just rioting and make facile, reductive arguments about what’s happening in Ferguson, but the reality is that there is nothing at all surprising about the huge divide in opinion on this shooting and its larger resonance. White communities generally have a totally different type of interaction with the police than black ones, and as such it’s very difficult for them to imagine a cop being forceful and unnecessarily violent with a citizen, while it doesn’t surprise many black people at all to think a cop grabbed a guy and choked him for not obeying fast enough. Just like many whites mistakingly thought that the Rodney King riots were all about that one recorded beating and the acquittal of the officers involved, few knew about [Operation Hammer](, the shooting of Latasha Harlins, and the fact that of 2000 complaints filed against the LAPD for excessive force from 1985-1990 less than 2% were considered valid by their internal affairs department. Complaints against police brutality have been central complaints of black people since the Civil Rights Movement. MLK even mentioned it twice in his “I Have A Dream” speech.

If people are serious about understanding what’s going on in Ferguson, they need to understand a lot of things about how racism currently works in American society. Individual cops need not be racist when the institution of the police enforce laws along racist lines. They are considered the vanguard of structural oppression, and represent the strong arm of the laws that are the result of huge public policy failures (such as the revenue generation fiasco I mentioned above) that are directly descended from segregation and slavery. You have to be seriously deluded to believe that the people of Ferguson just got really mad after one black kid was killed. But keep your smugness and racist hive mind analyses of the uproar among primarily black people this has instigated. I’m sure you’ll be scratching your head the next time some other town no one’s heard of explodes after another black person is beaten or killed by the police.

TL/DR; Nope. Mass civil unrest can not be summed up in sound bites. Race relations in the US have a long and complicated history. Read and make an informed opinion or don’t run your mouth.


Thanks kindly for the gold(s)! My first ever! I’m adding some new observations below. Tried to add them in this post, but it was too long.

EDIT 2: I also think the governor preemptively declaring a state of emergency will become a self fulfilling prophecy. The public officials in Missouri seem single minded in their determination to careen this tragedy into absolute catastrophe. I see several comments questioning the efficacy of violence in enacting social change, but I would challenge people to question what courses of actions are available if and when it is the state itself (which unfortunately determines what is and isn’t a crime) that is criminal.

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Book Author

Kristian Williams

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1 Revised

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South End Press

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Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America (Third Edition)

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New Ferguson Videos Show Darren Wilson After Fatally Shooting Michael Brown

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