White Tears Trump Justice: On the Persistence of the Racist Police State

Photograph by Nathaniel St. Clair

*This essay, like my forthcoming CounterPunch+ review of Andreas Malm and the Zetkin Collective’s book White Skin, Black Fuel: On the Danger of Fossil Fascism, was written before the news cycle was taken over by the imperial “Ukraine Crisis.” One of the functions of war hysteria is to create a giant atavistic and nationalist fog that erases public attention and consciousness regarding underlying social, political economic, and environmental oppression within and across nation states. The reigning oppression and exploitation structures – themselves the taproot of war, imperialism, and empire – of course do not actually go away amidst international conflict. They just get more lost in translation than usual. The racist police state war on Black America – cleverly labelled “Operation Ghetto Storm” by the Malcolm X Grassroots Committee years ago– will continue apace during and after the latest imperial drama.

“Almost Every City Has a George Floyd” – and a Milton Hall

I almost never cease to be stunned by the white racist violence of the U.S.-American criminal justice system. Last fall we learned from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) that police violence killed more than 30,000 people – two people per day on average – between 1980 and 2018. Horrible enough in and of itself, the police state’s body count was very disproportionately Black and nonwhite. The IHME found that:

‘Black Americans were 3.5 times more likely to be killed by police than White Americans. Indigenous and Hispanic Americans were almost twice as likely to be killed by the police than White Americans. Police violence against Black people was higher every year from 1980 to 2018 than it was for white people in the United States. Since 1980, this racial disparity has remained largely unchanged. All of these statistics really outline the systemic racism that is driving police violence in the US. Police violence is a public health issue. Violence is a public health issue. And systemic racism is a public health issue.’

Beneath the statistics lay horrific individual stories, like those of Milton Hall and John Deng. A video taken by shocked bystanders shows at least seven Saginaw, Michigan cops gunning down the homeless Hall in a shopping plaza on July 1, 2012. The killers launched an appalling 46-shot fusillade after the mentally disabled and terrorized Hall lunged with a small knife at a police dog snarling at him from more than ten feet away. On May 29, 2020, just days after the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the Michigan ACLU remembered Milton Hall’s “firing squad execution”:

‘Mr. Hall was homeless, middle-aged and mentally ill. He posed no imminent threat of harm to police officers or anyone else as he yelled at the sky while standing in the middle of a parking lot… Nevertheless, officers called to the scene shot a total of 46 bullets at Hall because of what they claimed was a fear that he would use a pocketknife that he brandished when a leashed police dog barked and snapped at him from a distance that was far beyond Mr. Hall’s reach. …. His death could easily have been avoided had police officers tried to de-escalate the situation peacefully, rather than ramp up tensions and rushing to end the situation in an unconscionable way.’

Three years to the day before Milton Hall’s open-air shopping plaza execution, the white Johnson County, Iowa sheriff’s deputy Terry Stotler ran across an Iowa City scuffle in which the young Sudanese man John Deng brandished a small knife against the drunken white man John Bohnenkamp. Bohnenkamp had just emerged from a tavern to viciously attack Deng for dropping bottles taken from a garbage bin in a downtown parking lot. The deputy took out his .40-caliber Glock pistol and killed Deng on the spot while Bohnenkamp screamed “shoot him!” Following the usual practice, the Johnson County state’s attorney later exonerated Stotler in a cursory “investigation.”

No criminal charges were ever filed in connection with the killing of Milton Hall, whose killers were exonerated by county prosecutors and the Obama Justice Department. During the Beautiful George Floyd Uprising of 2020, the Black Lives organizer Michelle McCoy noted that “almost every city has a George Floyd, and Saginaw’s is Milton Hall.”

Some big cities like Chicago have dozens of George Floyds and Laquan McDonalds and Rekia Boyds and Tamir Rices and Mike Browns and Eric Garners and Freddie Grays and Breonna Taylors and Adam Toledos (killed by Chicago Police while raising his hands in surrender last year) and…the list goes on and on in the depressing roster of those liquidated by “Operation Ghetto Storm.”

I heard John Deng’s name (which I had tried for years to keep alive in Iowa City) called out and saw it spray-painted during and after a tense Black Lives confrontation with the riot-equipped Johnson County Sheriffs right in front of their jailhouse days after the George Floyd lynching.

“The Difficulty of Reducing Such Incidents Despite Sustained Public Attention”

The murderous racist police state assault hardly ceased after 2018, or after the George Floyd uprising. According to the Washington Post two weeks ago, U.S. police used their guns to kill at least 1,055 of their fellow Americans in 2021. By the Post’s reporting:

‘Police shot and killed at least 1,055 people nationwide last year, the highest total since The Washington Post began tracking fatal shootings by officers in 2015 — underscoring the difficulty of reducing such incidents despite sustained public attention to the issue… Despite setting a record, experts said the 2021 total was within expected bounds. Police have fatally shot roughly 1,000 people in each of the past seven years, ranging from 958 in 2016 to last year’s high. Mathematicians say this stability may be explained by Poisson’s random variable, a principle of probability theory that holds that the number of independent, uncommon events in a large population will remain fairly stagnant absent major societal changes.’

Most of the police killings follow traffic stops, mental health checks, public disturbances, non-violent offenses, and incidents where no crime is even alleged.

We can be as certain as Poisson that the stark racial disparities in who cops kill remained intact “despite sustained public attention to the issue” through 2021. Last December 28th, Newsweek published a full list of the names and locations of 200 Black people killed by police officers in the U.S. in 2021. According to Mapping Police Violence (MPV), a nonprofit that collects data on fatal citizen-police encounters, Black people comprised 27 percent of those killed by police in 2021 even as they made up just 13 percent of the U.S. population. While they are 1.3 times less likely to be armed than white people, MPV found, Blacks are three times more likely to be shot dead by police. “They are being killed at similar rates to previous years, Newsweek observed, “despite a national reckoning sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and other Black people.”

By “sustained public attention to the issue” and “national reckoning,” the Post and Newsweek are of course referring to the heightened political awareness given to the lethality of U.S. racist policing by the giant summer 2020 protest wave that followed the horrifying murder of the Black man George Floyd by the white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin: the Beautiful Uprising that provoked the fascist President of the United States Donald Trump to call for the deployment of the US military to defend the “great” white nation. The heightened awareness has garnered very little for the cause of racial justice. It’s good that Floyd’s sadistic lyncher – his horrific 9-minute crime captured on a cell phone video and viewed the world over – got sent away for decades. But nothing much has changed in police behavior. As the Post reports:

Advocacy for policing overhauls has intensified since the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer in 2020. More than 400 bills were introduced in state legislatures last year to address officers’ use of force. Police departments increasingly partnered with mental health experts to respond to people in crisis. Cities established civilian review boards for use-of-force incidents…(and)…None of it decreased the number of people shot and killed by officers last year (emphasis added)…Franklin Zimring, a law professor and criminologist at the University of California at Berkeley, said “The good news is, things aren’t getting an awful lot worse,” Zimring said of the 2021 total. “And the very bad news is that they’re not getting better, either.”’ The demographics of the people fatally shot have remained largely constant…’

As many of us expected would be the case, the conviction and sentencing of Chauvin for the savage murder of George Floyd was a one-off. It’s great that Chauvin was sent away but the point is not just to prosecute and convict a few killer cops like Chauvin, Jason Van Dyke, and Kim Potter (more on the second two below) but rather to stop the lethal racist police state machine, still set on kill and maim.

Minneapolis-St. Paul No Less

Remarkably enough, two of the most provocative post-Floyd killings of Black people by white gendarmes have taken place in and around Minneapolis, ground zero (thanks to the Floyd killing and video) for the 2020 uprising. The white suburban 26-year veteran Minneapolis-St. Paul- area police officer Kim Potter “accidentally” slaughtered the young man Daunte Wright for driving while Black during the nationally publicized Chauvin trial in April of last year. And earlier this month, as if the murderous Breonna Taylor no-knock raid (heavily featured in the George Floyd Rebellion) never took place, the Minneapolis Police Department carried out the savage  no-knock execution of the 22-year-old Black man Amir Locke.

The killing of Locke, like that of Philando Castille – shot to death by a trigger-happy white suburban Minneapolis-St. Paul police officer during a traffic stop after announcing that he was in possession of a legally owned firearm in July of 2016 – is like something walking off the pages of historian Carol Anderson’s powerful 2021 book The Second: Race and Guns in a Fatally Unequal America. Anderson shows how the United States’ constitutional “right to bear arms” has always been about the violent enforcement of white supremacy and does not apply to Black self-defense. Locke was coldly slaughtered because he picked up his legally owned handgun, barely awake nine seconds into a police raid that broke down his front door – a brazen violation of both his Second (gun) Amendment rights and his Fourth Amendment “right of people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizure.” The venerable U.S. common law “Castle Doctrine,” upholding a citizen’s right to defend their own with force, did not apply to the still half-asleep Locke, who had every reason to think he was experiencing a home invasion.

Speaking to the press about her son’s execution, Amir Locke’s mother Karen Wells recalled how she had given him the lecture that Black parents have to deliver to their children, males especially: “If you are stopped by the police, make sure that you give them everything that they need and live to see another day. Make sure that you come back home.” Wells was proud of Amir for obtaining a gun permit and learning how to use his weapon, but she was concerned that white police would shoot him if they saw him with it: “I actually worried about him encountering the police. And not the way that he encountered them on February 2nd, but just, like, if he had his weapon, if he ever got stopped and pulled over on the side of the road. … My fears have always been something that dealt with the police department,” she said.

Ms. Wells knows that the Second Amendment isn’t for Black people in the minds of white cops, many of whose white members backed (and still back) the openly lawless “law and order” racist Donald Trump.

Second Amendment Hero KK Kyle and His White-Nationalist Champions

Did I just write “legally owned firearm,” “Second Amendment,” “lawless ‘law and order,’”, and “Donald Trump” in the same essay sub-section? The loathsome orange beast, some may recall, embraced the white Amerikaner teeny bopper Kyle Rittenhouse after the Trumpist, cop-fan youngster came to Kenosha during a Black Lives protest alongside other fascist paramilitary wannabes with a fully loaded and illegally owned AR-15 – a military assault weapon, not a pistol – and killed two people who tried to disarm him. Trump would make a special stop in Kenosha on the last night of the 2020 presidential campaign – a signal of the white nationalist mayhem he was ready to unleash to try to stay in office. Rittenhouse would go on to find other white male protectors and champions: a racist clown of a cookie magazine-reading Kenosha County judge who threw out even the illegal gun charge against the teen fascist and helped steer Rittenhouse’s subsequent murder trial to full exoneration; Tucker Carlson, the nation’s leading fascist propagandist (the wannabe Joseph Goebbels of the 21st Century), who championed “KK Kyle” on his influential Fatherland News’ Hate Hour; and the repulsive palingenetic racist Charlie Kirk, the demented fascist Eraserhead who is leading the charge to erase slavery, Jim Crow, and racist police brutality (among other things) from the record and teaching of American history.

Northern Man, Better Keep Your Head

Please note the northern geography here. With all due respect for slavery and Jim Crow, Neil Young was wrong to hook American racism so strongly on “Southern Man” in 1970. That was two years after Chicago Mayor Richard J. Daley told his cops to “shoot to kill” Black rioters following the racist execution of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Black northerners at that time and from long before told stories about savage white violence, including police terror, not just in big, ghettoized cities like Chicago, Detroit, Milwaukee, and Minneapolis but across hundreds of small northern “Sundown Towns” reaching up through rural Minnesota and the Dakotas. The fascistic Amerikaner state of Iowa, home to the highest per capita Union Army volunteer enrollment rate during the American Civil War, is now right up there with the former Confederate states when it comes to racist white nationalism. Racist country music fans and Confederate Flags are common in the rural North, where little enthusiasm remains for the cause of the Union Army and the Great Emancipator Abraham Lincoln. Not that more than seventeen people in South or North Dakota could tell you when the American Civil War – or World War II for that matter – took place or what it was about.

An Absurd Racist Death Zone: the US Senate

Is Washington, currently obsessed (along with the reigning mainstream media) with imperial dangers in Eastern Europe (while working to increase eco-cidal US gas exports to its “NATO allies”), doing anything to address this racist cop madness? Do you know any other good jokes? Readers may recall the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2021. The legislation, designed to roll back combat police misconduct, excessive force, and racial bias in policing, passed the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives on a mostly party-line vote. It was of course blocked by members of the white nationalist Amerikaner Party of Trump (the Republifascist Party) and a small number of racist Democrats in the social justice and democracy death zone that is the pathetically filibusted and absurdly malapportioned and right-tilted US Senate. Under rules promulgate by and for 18th Century slaveowners and merchant capitalist for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare, slightly populated and virulently racist white and right-wing states like Wyoming (home to 576,851 people/91.4% white and 0.96% Black), Alaska (733,391/65% white and 3.2% Black), North Dakota (779,094/87% white and 4% Black), South Dakota (886,667/84% white and 2% Black), Montana (1,084,225/89% white and 0.5% Black), West Virginia (1,793,796/93% white and 3.69% Black), Idaho (1,839,806/90%white and 0.69% Black), Nebraska (1,961,504/87% white and 5% Black), Kansas (2,937,880/84% white and 6% Black), Iowa (3,190,369/90% white and 3.7% Black) and Utah (3,271,616/86% white and 1% Black) have the same number of (extremely powerful) representatives (two) as do far more diverse, liberal, and progressive states like California (home to just under 40 million), New York (20 million plus), Pennsylvania (13 million), Illinois (just under 13 million), Georgia (10.7 million). And North Carolina (10.4 million). If liberal and diverse California had the same populace-to-representative ratio in the Senate as Wyoming, it would have 134 US Senators. If it was a separate state with the same populace-to Senator ratio as 91% white Wyoming, the one-thirds white/Black/Latino city of Chicago would have ten representatives in the absurdly powerful upper chamber of Congress.

Five Years for Voting (Crystal Mason) vs. Three Years for Racist Slaughter (Jason Van Dyke)

Did I just mention Chicago, a city whose police union is headed by an open fascist clown (the despicable Trumpist and January 6th enthusiast John Catanzara) and whose mayor, the conservative former federal prosecutor and corporate attorney Lori Lightfoot (who used to side with police in use of force cases under the second Chicago mayor named Richard Daley) has tried to withhold videos of “wrong raids” inflicted by the city’s racist police on Black citizens? Readers may recall the chilling video (I won’t link it here) of former white Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke savagely pumping sixteen bullets into the body of the Black teenager Laquan McDonald in the Back of the Yards neighborhood on October 20, 2014. Getting that video – probably the most graphic visual evidence of racist police murder prior to the George Floyd killing – into public view was a struggle in and of itself, its cover-up and belated release leading to major Black youth-led protests and to the welcome de facto resignation of Chicago’s neoliberal racist “Mayor 1%” Rahm Emanuel. It got so good that the legendary asshole Emanuel couldn’t cut a ribbon at one his beloved and newly opened charter schools without hearing Black kids chant “Sixteen shots and a cover-up, sixteen shots and a cover up!”

The cold-blooded racist killer Van Dyke just got out of prison after serving a mere three years for his blood-curdling and sociopathic act. US prisons within and beyond Illinois are loaded with disproportionately Black people serving long sentences for nonviolent property and drug crimes. At a protest calling for federal civil rights prosecution of Van Dyke outside the Chicago Federal Building three weeks ago, I met a sharp young white man who has done a decade behind federal bars for leftist political hacking. Ten years for anti-imperialist Internet activism and three years to a fascist pig for sadistically slaughtering a Black teenager, smoke rising from each new shot.

Some CounterPunch readers may have heard about the case of Crystal Mason, a Black woman from Texas sentenced to five years for “illegally voting” even though she didn’t know she was ineligible when she tried to participate in “American democracy by casting a ballot in 2016. Six years ago, Ms. Mason was on supervised release, similar to probation, for a federal tax felony. Unaware of a viciously racist Texas law prohibiting felons from voting until their entire sentences are finished Mason marked a ballot in the 2016 presidential election at her mother’s urging. During her 2018 trial probation officials testified that they never told Mason she could not legally vote. A racist Texas Appeals Court ruled this defense “irrelevant” and upheld the absurd conviction and half-decade sentence imposed on Mason for voting. As Mason said in a statement two years ago, “A punishment of five years in jail for doing what I thought was my civic duty, and just as I was getting my family’s life together, is not simply unfair, it’s a tragedy.” It was a tragedy and a symptom of life in a nation loaded with red states going full-on white nationalist and neofascist.

Crystal Mason was sent away for five years – two more years than the racist killer Van Dyke (currently employed by the fascist Chicago Fraternal Order of Police) – for the crime of voting while Black in a state that has reached new heights of racist voter suppression.

Sixteen Months and a Crying Game

And now we have the sixteen-month sentence, far below state guidelines, granted to the killer of Daunte Wright, the white police officer Kim Potter, by the racially insensitive Hennepin County judge Regina Chu. It’s not just the low sentence that grated on Wright’s family and supporters and on anti-racists around the world. It was the nauseating tone, visage, and emotion displayed by Chu as she handed down her incredibly light punishment. “I recognize,” Chu intoned, “there will be those who disagree with the sentence. That I granted a significant downward departure does not in any way diminish Daunte Wright’s life,” Chu said. Further: “And to those who disagree and feel a longer prison sentence is appropriate, as difficult as it may be, please try to empathize with Mrs. Potter’s situation. As President Barack Obama once said, ‘learning to stand in somebody else’s shoes, to see through their eyes, that’s how peace begins. And it’s up to you to make that happen.’” Chu teared up during the sentencing. “Officer Potter made a mistake that ended tragically,” Chu said. “She never intended to hurt anyone. Her conduct cries out for a sentence significantly below the guidelines.”

Regina Chu entered the Racially Misdirected Sympathy Hall of Shame by literally crying out with compassion for Daunte Wright’s killer right in front of Wright’s mother. All the judge’s misty-eyed empathy was focused on the tragic plight of Kim Potter, not on the grievous loss experienced by Wright’s family. It was a disgusting performance made more worse by Chu quoting the vacuous imperialist neoliberal and white-pleasing racial accommodator Barack Obama[1] and claiming that Potter never meant “to hurt anyone.”

Potter “never intended to hurt anyone”?! Officer Potter pulled Wright over basically for driving while Black and then tried (she claims) to zap him with a taser. She tried to tase Wright in a rolling car, a problem for others in the automobile’s path (by the way). Tasers have a long record of fatal use by police.

The Right and Wrong Kind of White Woman Tears

The quote of last week goes to Daunte’s mother Kate Wright, who is white. Ms. Wright responded to Chu’s dismal ruling and lecture by saying “the justice system murdered him [Daunte] all over again.” After accusing Chu of being taken in by Potter’s allegedly coached and weepy apologies and asking why her own tears didn’t seem to merit equivalent from Chu, Kate Wright delivered the moral coup de grace: “This is the problem with our justice system today. White women tears trump – trump – justice. And I thought my white woman tears would be good enough because they’re true and genuine.”

Kate Wright has the wrong kind of “white woman tears” – the kind forged in love for people of the wrong color in the land of chattel slavery, Jim Crow, racist mass incarceration, ghettoization, and continuing racist police brutality. Karen and Kim (Potter) tears right, Karen Wright tears wrong. So says Amerikaner Big Brother.

I wonder if Ms. Wright meant to capitalize the word “trump” the second time she used it in that statement. If so, it would have been appropriate: the nation’s 45th president was and remains a longstanding drop-dead Black-hating racist who made repeated calls as president for police to crack down violently on inner city Black communities.

One of Murder Victim Breonna Taylor’s Home Invaders is Being Tried…for Endangering a White Family Next Door

Also offensive to racial justice supporters is the current trial of the white former Louisville police officer Brett Hankinson. Hankinson is one of a group of cops who conducted a murderous and mistaken no-knock raid on the home of the young Black woman Breonna Taylor in March of 2020. When Taylor’s boyfriend responded to the home invasion by exercising his Second Amendment and Castle Doctrine rights, officers launched a 32-shot fusillade, killing Ms. Taylor in her own apartment.

What is Hankinson being tried about? Reckless endangerment of a white family that lived next door to Taylor. The trial rubs new salt in the wounds of the Black Lives movement, whose demand for the criminal prosecution of Breonna’s killers was notoriously shot down by the right-wing Black Republican Kentucky Attorney General Daniel Cameron in September of 2020. The “Uncle Tom on Steroids” Cameron helped spark significant demonstrations around the country – I participated in two large Chicago protests (one on the South Side and one in the Loop) – by claiming that officers “were justified in their use of force” when they murdered Breonna Taylor.

No criminal charges have ever been filed for the racist police state murder of the young Black Louisville woman and paramedic whose name millions of social justice protesters chanted during the long hot summer of 2020. Hankinson could serve a brief sentence for “recklessly endangering” a white family that lived adjacent to the Taylor raid.

Just Plain Old Genocidal

The call to end racial disparity in police conduct fell on deaf ears when it came to the two white New Jersey cops caught on tape last week responding in a curious fashion to a mall fight between two teenagers, one Black and the other outwardly white (if part Pakistani). One of the cops put the nominally white kid on a couch and told him to chill while the other cop jammed a knee into the back of the clearly Black kid, cuffing him on the ground. The first officer added her knee to the subjugation of the Black youth. Even the “white” teen was taken aback, holding up his hands and asking to be detained. “I don’t understand why they arrested him and not me,” he said. “I say, that was just plain old racist.”

The comments sections on Chicago area news websites reporting Jason Van Dyke’s release and the Kim Potter sentence have been loaded with eliminationist statements from white people who think that white cops do humanity a service by exterminating young Black males. That’s just plain old genocidal. We may have underestimated the menace afoot in late-fascising Amerika. Untold masses of mentally and morally ill white folks here are ready not merely for fascism but for white power genocide.


+1. Who can ever forget how Obama, the re-branded US-American Empire’s New Clothes, the self-designated chief US-imperial drone assassin, put himself in the shoes of the Muslim and Arab children he and his beloved Superpower butchered – like the dozens of Pashtun minors his bombers blew to bits in Afghanistan’s Bola Boluk in May of 2009 – in the Middle East and Southwest Asia? (Obama and his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton shamefully blamed the deaths in Bola Boluk on “Taliban grenades.”) Anti-racism discredits itself and dangerously de-legitimizes the struggle for racial justice and equality in the eyes of many when it hitches its star to the tokenish placement of Black and brown faces in high places in a capitalist, sexist, racist, and imperialist system that oppresses humanity at home and abroad.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).