Police Misconduct Is Not (Usually) About Race

Much and more has been discussed in recent months regarding the alleged racist nature of police incidences that result in the abuse or deaths of civilians, notably exemplified of late by the case of Eric Garner in New York City. This assumed premise of racial prejudice on the part of police, however, is a fundamentally mistaken presumption. Or at least, any real racist perspective(s) on the part of police is nonetheless irrelevant to the core causation of the incidences themselves.

There can be no doubt that racism exists in so-called “White America” even today, just as there can be no doubt that it exists within what might be called “Black America,” or within any other demographic community that one wishes to examine. This is not likely to ever change so long as freedom of thought, for good or ill, is still allowed. But police misconduct is most often about a different kind of prejudice altogether, that of class – of the fundamental struggle between the government and the governed – an institutional prejudice that is specifically characterized by elitism, entitlement, and the state’s “above the law” and “do as I say, not as I do” nature.

If the United States were a virtually homogenous society, say very nearly entirely Asian for example, virtually every historical and modern such case study suggests that instances of questionable conduct on the part of government authority, such as that associated with Garner’s death, would still take place. One needs to look no further than China, North Korea, Iran, Pakistan, or any number of central African nations to observe that unethical behavior on the part of state actors and agents is not unilaterally partnered with racism. There certainly was no discernable racism to blame for the Ruby Ridge encounter, during which two innocent victims were killed by law enforcement and then systematically blamed for their own victimization, without ever being able defend themselves.

Understanding this dynamic, it becomes clear that Eric Garner was not assaulted because he was black, as some suggest. He was not assaulted because he allegedly committed a crime of any significance, as many others imply. He also is not dead simply because he was physically unhealthy, as still others have tried to scapegoat. He did not deserve to die simply because some argue he was a nuisance to certain special interests in the community or because he reportedly had a history of criminal activity (none of which were capital offenses).

This man was assaulted and is now dead because he dared challenge the nature and reasoning behind the officers’ decision to harass him over a frivolous issue, something the ruling class rarely tolerates – by their own acknowledgment. The state, and by extension the police, demands obedience and submission, even when clearly in the wrong and the aggressor in an encounter, and when challenged on this state agents very often respond exceedingly violently. The fact that they get away with this more often than not on the grounds of having a “tough job” or some other such excuse further enables the behavior to continue and, indeed, grow. There is a word we are all familiar with that characterizes this behavioral structure: bullying.

Some have come close to properly characterizing the truly deeper issues at play in Garner’s case, but none so close as his own daughter. When asked if she thought the circumstances surrounding her father’s death were about race or racism, she replied

I really doubt it. It was about the officer’s pride. It was about my father being 6’4″, 350 pounds. And he wanted to be, you know, the top cop that brings this big man down. Because he is just big. … Being that my father was black and the officer was white, I mean that’s different races. But as far as the situation, I can’t really say it’s like really like a black and white issue. It is about, you know, the police officers and abusing their power.                                                                                  

Of course, Garner’s death is not just about the police themselves but more so about the inherent nature of Big Government. It is about the ruling class misappropriating and misusing the state to create and enforce frivolous and arbitrary laws that eventually criminalize everyone – subsequently resulting in necessarily unequal application of those laws in variously prejudicial ways. This unethically broad criminalization levies punishments that many times lay outside of the law and is nearly always disproportional to the alleged crime committed in the first place (i.e., since when does the state’s interest in preventing selling goods to willing consumers, even illegally, warrant death or even violent aggression?).

Rather than racial animosity, per se, the state’s abuse of power finds its roots instead in the aspect of the human condition known as libido dominandi, and is fostered and encourage by another fundamental aspect of Big Government – lack of true (and equitable) accountability. Different rules, different standards of conduct, and an entitlement culture that insist that because police officers’ jobs are hard and dangerous, they should be allowed more leeway than the rest of society when mistakes or outright misconduct occurs, are the hallmarks of the class prejudice that characterizes all aspects of Big Government. In this context, police are not the only government agents guilty of libido dominandi, but because they are the front-end to the public for enforcement of policy and they are the direct wielders of the state’s violence against its citizens, they are arguably the most egregious violators of the public trust when individual or collective misconduct transpires.

The late great science fiction author Frank Herbert noted that

All governments suffer a recurring problem: Power attracts pathological personalities. It is not that power corrupts but that it is magnetic to the corruptible. Such people have a tendency to become drunk with violence, a condition to which they are quickly addicted.

People such as Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson make their livings by stoking racial hatred. Without such hate, they would find themselves irrelevant and literally unemployed. But these points are not why their interpretations are inaccurate. These two men are wrong simply because they misinterpret – innocently or not – the praxeology of state actors and the depth of the available evidence. This distinction does not diminish the tragedy of Eric Garner’s death, or the need for justice to be served, but it is critically important to understand if real accountability for the state and its agents are to be ever achieved and sustained.

Thus the solution to all of this is accountability – public and equitable – plain and simple. While many ignorantly salivate at the opportunity to blame Garner for his own death, it is nonetheless clear that he could and maybe should have handled his part in the situation differently/better. But what cannot go ignored is that his arguable mishandling of the situation led to no one else being harmed, while the officers’ mishandling of situation resulted in one more life unnecessarily lost. Garner allegedly broke the law by selling untaxed cigarettes and paid for it with his life. No one can say he was not held accountable, if extremely so. Officer Pantaleo broke the law by assaulting Garner with a chokehold, and subsequently killing him, and he is walking free today. This cannot be the basis for any real definition of equitable accountability.

The nagging reality is that police officers are human beings like anyone else, and are certainly not above human fallacies or inherently magnanimous simply because they wear a state-issued uniform. It is precisely because they are agents of the state, and thus must necessarily wield violence toward the populous in their professional activities, that they must be held accountable publicly when incidences such as this occur. Being publicly held to a high standard of conduct and accountability is the only thing that can foster confidence, credibility, and trust that justice is being served, even when bad things happen as they surely will from time to time even in the best of cases.

I was of the opinion that mandatory body cameras were the answer to most questions of police misconduct, providing a clear means for protecting both the civilian from officer bullying and the officer from frivolous or otherwise unfounded allegations. But in the wake of the decision not to indict Officer Pantaleo in the face of such video evidence, I certainly cannot now be sure that cameras will appreciably make much difference in this environment. Until the people (i.e., juries) stop giving police a disproportional benefit of the doubt and start treating them like everyone else – which is to say, potentially fallible human beings – and examine the evidence objectively and fairly for what it is, there is no indication that these types of incidences will taper anytime soon.

In the end it does not matter why state-sponsored misconduct occurs, at least insofar as a question of accountability is concerned. Pundits who posthumously employ the ad hominem against Garner to justify the grand jury’s lack of indictment, or Panteleo’s actions for that matter, are very much akin to people who blame rape victims for their own assaults. Yes, it is true that potential victims can do many things along the way to avoid finding themselves in situations of victimization, but this point does nothing whatever to alleviate the victimizer’s responsibility, or the onus of accountability for his/her decisions and actions.

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