Police brutality is terrorism

Terrorism: the use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims.

I don’t like violence. I think everyone has a moral responsibility to avoid it wherever possible, to the degree that doing so does not enable greater violence.

I think most people agree with that – it’s uncontroversial to say that someone who shoots and kills another person is a murderer… unless the person they shot and killed was about to kill or injure a lot more people.

Here’s the thing, the police state kills people literally every day. In fact, American police kill far more frequently than police in any other industrialized country.

Cops and their apologists will make excuses for this by talking about how dangerous policing is and how cops fear for their lives. In point of fact killings of officers have been historic lows for decades. In total, 34 cops were killed in the US in 2013, 50 in 2014. From 2007 through 2016, the highest number of police officers shot to death on duty was 73 in 2011.

Being a logger, fisherman, farmer, bartender, taxi driver, steel worker, electrical line worker and a long list of other professions are all more dangerous jobs. Pizza delivery drivers are twice as likely to be killed on the job!

Meanwhile, the Washington post found over a thousand civilians were killed by police in 2019.* That wasn’t an anomaly, in 2017 they killed 1146. In fact, police killing is a major cause of death for young men – and young black and native men in particular.

Police killings – even clearly unjustified ones caught on camera – are very rarely subject to professional sanctions, let alone criminal charges. Typically they get a few weeks of paid leave and either go right back on the job or go to another department and continue on as if nothing happened. Bartenders are more likely to be violently killed on the job, but no one would ever go to a bar again if American bartenders killed a thousand people every year! So why do we tolerate it from people who are supposed to be public servants?

Officer Chauvin had 18 different complaints against him for excessive force. Why was he on the job?

The answer is simple: police brutality mostly doesn’t target white people (unless they are deaf or autistic or….), and so no matter how many peaceful protests there are, nothing changes. For days, weeks, months, decades, nothing changes!

The commonly accepted definition of terrorism is that it is violence directed against a group or group in the pursuit of political ends. Police brutality in America clearly fits this definition.

Mass violence – over a thousand deaths)

Inflicted on a group – working class people and working class black and native people in particular

For the pursuit of political ends – the maintenance of a radically unequal distribution of wealth and a racial caste system.

Terrorism is the only way to accurately describe it.

This is not small scale violence either. Let’s compare it to the most-talked about terrorist attack in recent US history as an example – the Sept. 11th attacks in 2001 that killed just under 3,000 people. At an average death toll of ~1,000 people a year, we’ve suffered the equivalent of more than SIX Sept. 11’th attacks since 2001.

That doesn’t even touch all the people who weren’t killed but were racially profiled, harassed, arrested, wrongfully convicted or forced to accept a plea bargain, beaten, humiliated, and dragged through courts with the choice between outrageous legal fees and inadequate defense, or had careers and lives ruined or derailed by false charges. It doesn’t touch all the sons and daughters who watched their parents humiliated and abused, the parents crying for children they will never see again, the friends and family who had the light stolen from their lives.

Black and Native people have bourn the overwhelming brunt of that trauma – and it’s not just because of the openly white supremecist groups that have infiltrated american police departments for years. In point of fact, the history of American policing is inextricably tied to the history of slavery and racism in America.

At the same time, police brutality isn’t limited to people of color – other disproportionately targeted groups include deaf people (who get shot with some regularity for not responding to verbal commands), autistic and other nuerodivergent people, religious minorities, and LGBTQ people – never forget that Stonewall was a riot against police brutality! Even poor and working class white people are not immune. Belonging to two or more of those groups just puts you more at risk. Deaf people of color are in real danger during virtually every interaction with police. and trans people of color like Tony Dade are even more in the line of fire.

If, after September 11th, America was entitled to wage almost two decades of war – killing uncounted numbers of people and leveling multiple countries in the process – what are oppressed people in America entitled to do in retaliation for thousands of people needlessly and callously brutalized and murdered by police?

Think about that before you answer.

*Addendum (added in 2021 a year after initially publishing this): New research suggests that more than 50% of police killings in the US go unreported. So the real number of death is likely closer to 1500-1600 a year.

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