Police Culture in the United States

The call to defund the police ignores a fundamental structuring principle at work in the collective mindset of policing, and that is the culture of policing in the United States.

Any call for reform that ignores this also risks ignoring the values and traditions that feed and legitimate police violence, and the silence from within their ranks regarding racist brutality.

Ignoring this means that police culture, like any culture, will tend to persist. It won’t change just by defunding police departments, yet that sudden injury risks alienating them from the necessary service they provide to society.

A recent and drastic historical example of cultural alienation is our illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003, when Paul Bremer defunded and  “fired” the four hundred thousand trained soldiers from Saddam Hussain’s army.  Many of those military men years later ended up joining the ranks of violently anti-American ISIS.

So, the sudden “defund police” idea could be more troublesome than protesters may think. Their unqualified reaction to villainize all police is a mistake, because only a small minority of police officers is committing crimes.  Without knowing it, what protesters are condemning is police culture, and changing that culture will take more than the blunt hammer of sudden defunding.

Already we’re witnessing the angry pushback from various police departments around the country. And they have a point because most of them are good working people not engaged in killing or abusing black and brown citizens. So, changing police culture will require smarter and longer-term solutions.

Instead of defunding police and portraying them all as criminals — bad branding — the better idea out there is that of making conditional some of their funding to new codes of conduct. Putting new strings on their budgets.  And in that process also bringing new insights that will be at the foundation of better conduct going forward.

The lynching of Mr. Floyd will forever remain the unspeakable act of racist depravity it was, and the perpetrators deserve everything I hope will come to them. But as a country, we cannot make lasting national policy from inarticulate national rage.  We need a greater understanding.

Again, it is crucial we recall Iraq and Bremer’s imperial arrogance which was ignorant of local history and culture. Instead of possibly recruiting Iraq’s military for good work on our side, his firing of Hussain’s entire army contributed to the eventual growth of ISIS.  And to this day, Bremer still defends everything he did in Iraq. It is the acme of hubris never to admit one’s mistakes.

And he sure made a catastrophic mistake when he said to that prestigious and trained army of almost half a million military men “You’re fired!  Go find another job. We’ve taken over your country and now you’ll surrender your weapons and go away!”  And so they did — only to see many of them reappear years later in the ranks of ISIS, an organization so specialized in anti-American sentiment that in 2014 it broke all ties with al-Qaeda for not being committed enough in that regard.

This history suggests that whether it’s police or army troops, the generic humiliation and firing of weapons-trained people who have been serving society albeit imperfectly, risks making for more disorder down the road.

Instead of the  “defund police”  drive pursued with so much energy, a smarter limit-setting for police needs to be done in a realistic, organized, and feasible way. Rage won’t bring lasting change.

Rage may bring revolution, but violent revolutions are wild fires that burn everything equally, the good with the bad.  The smarter ways to bring about a successful revolution require strategy and patience because culture dies hard.  Throwing bricks at windows, setting fires, and demanding all police be abolished are counterproductive.

Something to consider is that police exists mainly to protect private property. In other words, to safeguard the haves from the have-not’s.

So a bigger fish to fry would be checking the greed of unregulated Big Banks which concentrate most of the private property in the world in the hands of very few people. That tiny hyper-propertied minority always buys police and security protection, a real necessity after trampling the vast majority of the working people around the globe.

How so?

A deal-breaker condition before financiers commit to making meaningful foreign investments is their preemptive requirement that those governments guarantee them no increase of the minimum wage in their countries over some a number of years.

Changing THAT is indeed a bigger war we have to fight before we can have a better world.  That war is bigger than the war against the police, important as that is.

We need to keep both those wars in view at the same time, because the knee on the neck of the workers of the world is the top-down demand from Big Banks to perpetuate non-living minimum wages.

This is the continued lynching of the little people by the mighty, and it’s been going on for so long that most workers no longer see it. They’ve normalized being in perpetual debt as part of life.  Their indentured servitude to the banks has vanished from view.  But they certainly feel the abuse, even if they have no language with which to articulate it.

The chronic pain of non-living wages is a force of nature, and when that natural force combines with access to internet, it becomes the world-wide factory of rage and misery that we live in.

Different from antiquity, today we have the technology and the resources to fix much of this unnecessary poverty and hunger, yet we don’t.

The big players at the top are not fixing world hunger and squalor because they’re insulated from all that.  So they have the time and the option to remain consumed by the pursuit of their own ever-greater self-enrichment. Their idea of world power also includes the agenda to stop the browning of America.

The financial elites sometimes do “charity” because it can be a tax advantage,  bring publicity and  feel-good photo ops, and also for the pleasure of actually giving something back. But you can see none of their charity ever changes the structure of the rentier economy they keep gaming, as they sever themselves from all social cost and consequence.  They dodge accountability and evade taxes.

The financialized economic system they built for themselves has resulted in grotesque and unsustainable levels of social and economic inequality that require policing.

Their rentier system of exploitation hails directly from our history of exterminating most Native Americans, and then buying millions of slaves over centuries. Slavery enriched our ancestors so much that they fought an utterly devastating Civil War trying to preserve it. This history remains either unknown or not accepted, and it is at the root of what’s happening today.

The police works mostly to check transgressions against private property, so an important reason for its existence is protecting the haves from the have-not’s. Private property in itself is not the problem at all, but the excess of it is because it turns society into a zero sum game.

So if people want to have at the police, let them also have at those for whom the police mostly works, so that as they push to defund the police they also remain aware about pushing to “defund” through taxation, the immense hidden loot the pirates of high finance keep stealing from the common good.

Just recently they walked away with the first four-plus Trillion dollar rescue package under the cover of Covid-19. None of that went directly to the people who need it.  Never mind their 1.8 Trillion dollar tax cut of 2017. Or the Thirteenth Amendment of the Constitution which permits the slavery of felons behind bars, and the full-retail sale of their products, a silent sideline enriching many of our biggest and most proudly American corporations. The jailed felons are mostly black and brown people.

If we’re out to defund the police, we should also be out to ban that horrible exception in the Thirteenth Amendment that hasn’t ended slavery for well over a million black and brown people doing forced labor behind bars.

If we’re out to defund the police, we should also be out to tax the colossal financial gains of Wall Street which are now stashed away in tax heavens.  This country made them rich, then they ran overseas with the money, killing American jobs for cheaper ones abroad.  So much for the “job creators”.   I doubt anyone will ever change the Big Bank culture of ruthless usury served with skin-deep gentility.  They are well dressed and well-mannered cannibals devouring today the patrimony of the unborn generations of the 99 percent.

If we’re out to defund the police, we should also be out to restore the progressive tax structure we had between 1945 and 1975, when proven regulations were still in place. Those regulations today would help curb the social carnage inflicted by the fraction of the one percent whose greed and racism have become overwhelming over the last forty years.

If we’re out to defund the police, we should also be out to denounce the monarchs of finance who owning so much of society’s resources have now also co-opted police and other security to enforce over us their “law and order” culture. That culture mostly protects their kind, not the poor, not the black and brown, and not the forgotten ones who disappear every minute with no one watching.

A wider context of history and culture could help clarify and make more effective the current drive to defund the police.