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The Will of the People

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Albert Burneko is speaking some truth. Because the American justice system is not broken. It’s working just as intended, to use violence against people of color. This is a system that goes back to slavery and has routinely both used violence as part of a state mechanism to ensure racial inequality and covered up for those using violence against people of color for any number of reasons, from slavery to lynching to cops wantonly killing red, brown, and black people.

The murders of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Sean Bell, Amadou Diallo, Sam Shepherd, and countless thousands of others at the hands of American law enforcement are not aberrations, or betrayals, or departures. The acquittals of their killers are not mistakes. There is no virtuous innermost America, sullied or besmirched or shaded by these murders. This is America. It is not broken. It is doing what it does.

America is a serial brutalizer of black and brown people. Brutalizing them is what it does. It does other things, too, yes, but brutalizing black and brown people is what it has done the most, and with the most zeal, and for the longest. The best argument you can make on behalf of the various systems and infrastructures the country uses against its black and brown citizens—the physical design of its cities, the methods it uses to allocate placement in elite institutions, the way it trains its police to treat citizens like enemy soldiers—might actually just be that they’re more restrained than those used against black and brown people abroad. America employs the enforcers of its power to beat, kill, and terrorize, deploys its judiciary to say that that’s OK, and has done this more times than anyone can hope to count. This is not a flaw in the design; this is the design.

Policing in America is not broken. The judicial system is not broken. American society is not broken. All are functioning perfectly, doing exactly what they have done since before some of this nation’s most prosperous slave-murdering robber-barons came together to consecrate into statehood the mechanisms of their barbarism. Democracy functions. Politicians, deriving their legitimacy from the public, have discerned the will of the people and used it to design and enact policies that carry it out, among them those that govern the allowable levels of violence which state can visit upon citizen. Taken together with the myriad other indignities, thefts, and cruelties it visits upon black and brown people, and the work common white Americans do on its behalf by telling themselves bald fictions of some deep and true America of apple pies, Jesus, and people being neighborly to each other and betrayed by those few and nonrepresentative bad apples with their isolated acts of meanness, the public will demands and enables a whirring and efficient machine that does what it does for the benefit of those who own it. It processes black and brown bodies into white power.

That is what America does. It is not broken. That is exactly what is wrong with it.

I’ve read a number of people, including in comments here, say this is really about out of control police more than race. That’s just not true. Yes, police can be out of control against anyone they don’t like, including white kids protesting. But the large majority of the time, the people suffering this violence are people of color. When it happens to white kids, you hear about it. Hearing about the routine violence against black, brown, and red people hardly ever reaches the national consciousness, although we are obviously in a period of an uptick of protest against it. From its very founding, the United States has been predicated on racism. We see it in any number of metrics–poverty, housing, sentencing guidelines, education, etc., etc. And we see it in police violence. This is a racist nation and it continues to be a racist nation. It has always used police forces to commit violence against people of color and it continues to use police forces to commit violence against people of color. Things have changed, slightly, but the fundamental issues of inequality in American history remain central to the nation.

And by the way, happy 45th anniversary of the Chicago police shooting Fred Hampton in his sleep.

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