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Law Enforcement Continues the Racist Legacy it Was Born From

By Ben Luongo

The killing of George Floyd has put on full display the persistent and overt racism present in America’s law enforcement. The way in which he was murdered typifies the gratuitous violence that white officers use on a daily basis against black men. The police always deploy force disproportionately against minorities, and that force is often deadly. Black men make up only thirteen percent of the population, but they constitute a quarter of the people shot and killed by cops. This makes them three times more likely than white people to be killed by police, despite the fact that white people are more likely to be armed.

The brutal and oppressive racism in the police force has led activists and political leaders in recent years to call for police reform. Those calls have reached new levels following the murder of George Floyd. One example is Joe Biden who said on a live-stream last week “It’s time for us to face that deep open wound we have in this nation. We need justice for George Floyd. We need real police reform.” Other examples include the founder of Utah’s Black Lives Matter, Lex Scott, who recently called for certain measures such as “data collection, de-escalation training for police, implicit bias training for police, less than lethal weapons for police.”

These are reasonable measures and we should seriously consider them. However, it is important that we not place complete faith in the promise of reform and that we remain open to alternatives to law enforcement. The reason for this is that the police have major structural problems which may be too deep-seated for modest reforms to solve. The idea of reform assumes that a system functions largely as it should aside from a few noticeable flaws. Whatever those flaws are can be corrected, or reformed, by implementing simple adjustments to improve how the system functions. As this relates to police reform, it assumes that police are a vital part of law enforcement and that we can fix the problem of racism to ensure that policing is more just and fair.

There are two issues with this view, however, which exposes the limitation of police reform. The first is that it assumes police are somehow a natural fixture of modern society that play a necessary role in maintaining order. This just isn’t the case. In reality, today’s institution of policing is a rather recent historical development emerging out of modern changes of property relations and white supremacy. As a result, policing continues an outmoded legacy of social order which serves very little purpose for our modern society. This brings up the second issue: because the police are rooted in racist and classist modes of social order, white supremacy may be a built-in feature which cannot be expunged from the institution of police.

One has only to consider this history in order to realize that the police were never intended to serve and protect people. Instead, they were designed to protect the property and economic interest of white elites and slave owners. Two related points in American history exemplify this.

The first can be found in 200 year-old methods designed to control and repress slave populations. As historian Salley Hadden writes in Slave Patrol, “the new American innovation in law enforcement during the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries was the creation of racially focused law enforcement groups in the American south.” As the south began to industrialize, slave owners found new lucrative opportunities in “renting out” their slaves to employers in the city. This meant that slaves spent more time away from their owners who were used to monitoring their every move. White people grew fearful of the opportunities this provided for slaves to organize and revolt against their masters. As a result, the state instituted race-based forms of legal repression called slave patrols. These slave patrols, as Robert Wintersmith rights, “scoured the country side day and night, intimidating, terrorizing, and brutalizing slaves into submission.”

Today’s police also has its origins in 19th century class struggle and how American cities in the north used state violence to repress and control immigrants and the working poor. As historian Sydney Harring writes in Policing a Class Society, “The criminologist’s definition of ‘public order crimes’ comes perilously close to the historian’s description of ‘working-class leisure-time activity.” As rural peasants migrated to urban areas looking for work, city and business leaders worried about the rise of “disorderly conduct,” which was essentially code for worker strikes, riots, and other kinds of collective activity. Cities stopped this kind of activity by hiring watchmen, which were groups of men who often resorted to extreme forms of violence in order to keep the peace. They slowly morphed into municipal police departments in the mid-19th century as states began to centralize power.

In general, the origins of the police reflects an oppressive history of white and propertied elites protecting their interests by controlling black people, immigrants, and the working poor. As a result, our modern society has been saddled with a paradigm of social order which reflects the interests of white supremacy and private property. Just consider how white cops brutally murdered George Floyd after receiving a report of him allegedly purchasing merchandize with counterfeit money. We like to think that, after two hundred years, today’s police academy reflects more modern values of justice and equality. While social institutions do evolve throughout history, however, they rarely abandon the legacy they were born out of. The structures of power that gave rise to the police simply reproduce themselves in new ways that make the paradigm of police violence more acceptable. In today’s context, this takes form in a racist discourse that justifies police brutality against the backdrop of “super-predators” and “thugs” that threaten social order.

Quite frankly, the idea that cops prevent crime is a myth that Americans should disabuse themselves of. Not only has the overall number of cops declined for the past five years, but the ratio of police per citizen has dropped for the past two decades. During this time, the number of violent crimes have actually gone down. This shows quite clearly that social order is not maintained by police. Instead, we need to recognize that social stability is rooted in racial equality regarding issues in housing, education, health, and employment. Just like the police, however, each of these issues continue an insidious and persistent legacy of racism which still haunts black Americans today. The best way to address these injustices is to take resources wasted on police reform and redirect it to rebuilding our communities.

Consider the fact that Minneapolis spent just over a third of its general fund ($163 million) on police. The general fund refers to discretionary spending which could very well have been spent on a more constructive community-based initiative. For instance, Minneapolis has the fourth highest unemployment gap between white and black residents in America. Imagine how that money could have be spent on closing that gap. It’s these kinds of investments which are necessary for erecting a fair and just society.

Ultimately, we need to adopt a new paradigm of social order, one that doesn’t rely on reforming the police. The problem of racism is far too entrenched and widespread for police reform to solve. Correcting this requires that we rebuild and restore the lives of black Americans which the police, up to this point, have only ruined



By Chairman Shaka Zulu

Lots of people aren’t familiar with the term “bourgeoisie” or for that matter with thinking in terms of the different classes—even though we live in a class-based society. Moreover, we live in an epoch of history that is based upon class exploitation  and class dictatorship. In this “Epoch of Exploitation,” there have been different ages each with their own distinctive class structures based upon the relationship each class had to the mode and means of production.

These can basically be defined as: Slavery, Feudalism, and Capitalism. In each of these periods, there was an exploiting ruling class, an exploited laboring class, and a middle class. Under slavery, there were Freemen as well as Slaves and Slave Owners. These might even be slave traders or hired men of the slave owners.

Under Feudalism, the lower class were the Serfs or poor peasants, and the ruling class were the landed nobility, the Lords, and Ladies. The middle class were the Burgers or Bourgeoisie, who lived in independent towns or burgs, which were centers of trade and manufacturing. These “freemen,” who governed their towns more or less democratically, waged a struggle with the Lords to maintain their independence and this culminated in a wave of Liberal Bourgeois Democratic Revolutions that overthrew Feudalism and replaced kingdoms with republics.

The bourgeoisie became the new ruling class and the petty bourgeoisie (little capitalists) became the new middle class, and a new class–the Proletariat—the urban wage workers and the poor peasants were the lower class. As the Industrial Revolution took off, the bourgeoisie got richer and the petty bourgeoisie more numerous, while the proletariat were formed into industrial armies to serve in the struggle with Nature to extract raw materials like coal and iron ore and transform them into steel and goods of all type.

In this Bourgeois Era, the bourgeoisie reconstructed society in their own image and interest. Under this Bourgeois Class Dictatorship, the state exists to maintain the inequality of the class relations and protect the property and interests of the ownership classes. Bourgeois Democracy is basically a charade to mask over the reality of class dictatorship. The masses may get to vote, but the ruling class calls the tune. Money talks and the government obeys.

The charade is for the benefit of the Petty Bourgeoisie who are the voters and hopers that the government can be made to serve their class interests. The dream that they will one day climb into the upper class and share in the privilege and opulence motivates them to subordinate their own class interests to those of the bourgeoisie. A greater challenge to the bourgeois class dictatorship is getting the working class to adopt its world view and politics that clearly do not serve their interests.

This is where the middle class are of use, and where some proletarians find their niche and a point of entry into the petty bourgeoisie as promoters of bourgeois ideology and politics. I’m talking about all manner of jobs and positions from union boss to preacher and news commentator to teacher. These hacks and hucksters sell us the illusion that this is the best of all possible systems and all is right with the world so long as we do as we are told.

They serve the ruling class by playing the game of “divide and rule” and throwing water on any sparks of resistance. They feed the masses disinformation and “fake news” and feed people’s idealism and false hopes to prevent them from identifying and thinking about their true class interests.

The job of our Party is to help the masses cut through this BS and to arm the people with an understanding of revolutionary science on which our political-ideological line is based. We call this Pantherism, and it is based on application of revolutionary science—dialectical materialism—to the concrete conditions we face in the 21st Century.

We make no bones about it, we are revolutionary socialists determined to bring the Epoch of Exploitation to and end and empower the common people. In other words to advance the evolution of human society to Communism.


Shaka Zulu is chairman of the New Afrikan Black Panther Party’s prison chapter.