The Hunger Gamerization of American Police and the CommunityDr. Jason Michael Williams I Criminal Justice I Commentary I December 31st, 2014
On December 20th, 2014 in the late afternoon social media and television news stations were flooded with reports regarding the execution of two NYPD officers . Later into the day Mayor de Blasio held a press conference where NYPD officers protested his presence by turning their backs to him. One lesson that stems from this atrocity is that all lives should matter, including both officers and innocent civilians. As a result of conflict, both sides (police and community) have had to taste the unnecessary flavor of premature death, and for what? In response to the shooting of the two NYPD officers, Charlotte Schnook made a compelling argument on Facebook:
" Marxist gate keeper theory: police are the enforcers of the hierarchy, and the more abusive the hierarchy gets, the more abusive the police will get, thus the conflict between the proletariat and the law enforcement will snow ball.
You take a job in which you maim, execute and abuse working people, eventually one will treat you the same. Is it horrific? Yep, but revenge has never been pretty…
The police can either stop this abuse of people, or EXPECT this to become more common because folks aren't sitting ducks forever. "
Although some may take issue with the argument being made by Charlotte, I believe she is making a profound point. Charlotte is, in effect, describing the extent to which American policing to many communities of color and increasingly others have become tyrannical and hyper-repressive. There had been other op-ed articles on the illegitimacy of policing, however, what these articles fail to take into account is the extent to which police illegitimacy has long been a factor in the Black community. This tumultuous relationship between police and Blacks does not exist in a vacuum like so many are painting it out be. In fact, according to many criminologists and police scholars, American policing began in the South with the slave patrols (Balko, 2014), and yet like then, today, the response to the outcries of Blacks on this issue is non-acknowledgement and condemnation-on par with the story line of "The Hunger Games," no?
The sole duty of the slave patrols was to maintain white supremacy to the detriment of the Africans who were enslaved and denied their humanity- point blank! If a discussion is to take place regarding the tumultuous relationship between Blacks and the police, it must begin there. It must start with the fact that much as not changed-that, in fact, when police officers are in communities of color the feeling is still very much like the slave patrol. Moreover, today police resources and power are still disproportionately situated within communities of color; meanwhile criminals in Washington, D.C., on Wall Street, and other corporate criminals go unnoticed and unaffected by justice. This unwillingness to focus police resources on other areas of crime is also observed via the FBI uniform crime report which seems to purposely focus solely on what may be considered street crime-not white collar or political crime, the crimes of which do the most harm to the public (see also, Friedrichs, 2003).
This concentration of police power within communities of color is on par with the theme of "The Hunger Games" in the sense that these repressed communities see the cops as the gatekeepers of the elite. They do not recognize the police as a legitimate force there for their protection, and their viewpoints ought to be acknowledged. Thus, the police officer's job (to them) is to enforce often racist and classist laws (among others) for the sole purpose of maintaining the alignment. The results from these practices are further used to legitimize the subordination of the affected groups at the behest of the ruling class which subsequently maintains superiority (see Giuliani's remarks on Black crime).
In fact, this is the primary reason why victims of state violence are immediately vilified and made to appear as if death was deserved (e.g., as in the case of Brown, Myers, Garner and countless others). Official statistics are rarely used to address crime problems forthrightly, but are rather used as mechanisms of justification for majoritarian trickery that masquerades as justice for all. Meanwhile, communities of color are being torn apart by a "justice system" that is obsessed with delivering rigid and unremitting punishment more than anything even remotely related to the word justice. One can walk into any American inner-city and see these results for himself.
Surprisingly after the Ferguson decision there seem to have been an uprising in consciousness surrounding the nearly tyrannical power of American police in communities of color and the near illegitimacy and outright silliness of the American justice system. People from all walks of life are protesting in defense of the notion that #BlackLivesMatter and these protests are disrupting business as usual. These protests have angered police unions across the nation, thus sending the message that certain people have not the right to protest and exclaim freely in America that they too matter, that the continued murdering of innocent Black lives at the hands of the state should be unacceptable in a free society. Hunger Games-like?
Nevertheless, it should be noted that the murdering and brutalization of Black bodies with impunity is as American as apple pie. America has a history of tolerating such brutality, and this history has yet to be confronted because the ruling elite has decided that it does not matter. This devaluation of people's feelings and experiences is what gives rise to Katniss Everdeens (the victor in The Hunger Games). The systematic exclusion of the repressed will almost always lead to conflicts and catastrophe on both sides as witnessed with the shooting of the two NYPD officers. The question is how does a civilized society respond to this?
Additionally, Charlotte's argument is rooted in histories of physical violence against the marginalized and the utter reckless indifference of the ruling class against excluded communities since the beginning of American civilization. This hegemonic destruction of marginalized experiences, bodies, and voices disguised as justice and fact is unhealthy and an affront to democracy and basic human decency. The current conflict is symbolic of the bottom having had enough. The bottom is reacting to an authoritarian body in ways that describe their lack of hope. Case in point: The gentlemen who decided to kill the two NYPD officers was not only acting in his lonesome, but clearly he was a young man without hope, and one affected by police violence. Society should focus on what created his hopelessness. Or perhaps society should wrestle with the fact that a Black is killed by an officer every28 hours. Or that since 911, there have been more police killings of civilians than soldiers killed in the Iraq War. Hunger Games?
The question that lingers now is whether or not society will respond in a manner on par with the ruling elite in The Hunger Games or a manner consistent with democratic values. The test of America sits before us right now as the world watches in disbelief while American exceptionalism is steadily torn to pieces due to socially manufactured poisons that this nation has yet to confront. The shooting of the two NYPD officers should be condemned, but it should not hinder the change needed in the American criminal justice system, otherwise there will likely be more casualties. Both sides have much to lose, and with that said a change must come if the legitimacy of law enforcement and justice is ever to exist for all in this nation.
A version of this article was published on Truthout. Permission to reprint granted by author.
Friedrichs, D. (2003). Trust criminals: White collar crime in contemporary society, 2nd ed. Beverly Hills: Wadsworth.