Stop Kidding YourselfThe Police Were Created to Control Working Class and Poor People

Sam Mitrani
Sam Mitrani is an Associate Professor of History at the College of DuPage. He earned his PhD from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2009 and his book The Rise of the Chicago Police Department: Class and Conflict, 1850-1894 is available from the University of Illinois Press.
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In most of the liberal discussions of the recent police killings of unarmed black men, there is an underlying assumption that the police are supposed to protect and serve the population. That is, after all, what they were created to do. If only the normal, decent relations between the police and the community could be re-established, this problem could be resolved. Poor people in general are more likely to be the victims of crime than anyone else, this reasoning goes, and in that way, they are in more need than anyone else of police protection. Maybe there are a few bad apples, but if only the police weren’t so racist, or didn’t carry out policies like stop-and-frisk, or weren’t so afraid of black people, or shot fewer unarmed men, they could function as a useful service that we all need.

This liberal way of viewing the problem rests on a misunderstanding of the origins of the police and what they were created to do. The police were not created to protect and serve the population. They were not created to stop crime, at least not as most people understand it. And they were certainly not created to promote justice. They were created to protect the new form of wage-labor capitalism that emerged in the mid to late nineteenth century from the threat posed by that system’s offspring, the working class.

This is a blunt way of stating a nuanced truth, but sometimes nuance just serves to obfuscate.

Slave patrol badge, 1858. Slave patrols to hunt down escaped slaves were the original police in the South.
Slave patrol badge, 1858. Slave patrols to hunt down escaped slaves were the original police in the South.

Before the nineteenth century, there were no police forces that we would recognize as such anywhere in the world. In the Northern United States, there was a system of elected constables and sheriffs, much more responsible to the population in a very direct way than the police are today. In the South, the closest thing to a police force was the slave patrols. Then, as Northern cities grew and filled with mostly immigrant wage workers who were physically and socially separated from the ruling class, the wealthy elite who ran the various municipal governments hired hundreds and then thousands of armed men to impose order on the new working class neighborhoods.

Class conflict roiled late nineteenth century American cities like Chicago, which experienced major strikes and riots in 1867, 1877, 1886, and 1894. In each of these upheavals, the police attacked strikers with extreme violence, even if in 1877 and 1894 the U.S. Army played a bigger role in ultimately repressing the working class. In the aftermath of these movements, the police increasingly presented themselves as a thin blue line protecting civilization, by which they meant bourgeois civilization, from the disorder of the working class. This ideology of order that developed in the late nineteenth century echoes down to today – except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers.

Chicago police cast themselves as the defenders of civilization for a society ordered by capitalist premises. After Haymarket in 1886, they contended that they stood between civilization and anarchy.
Chicago police cast themselves as the defenders of civilization for a society ordered by capitalist premises. After Haymarket in 1886, they contended that they stood between civilization and anarchy.

Of course, the ruling class did not get everything it wanted, and had to yield on many points to the immigrant workers it sought to control. This is why, for instance, municipal governments backed away from trying to stop Sunday drinking, and why they hired so many immigrant police officers, especially the Irish. But despite these concessions, businessmen organized themselves to make sure the police were increasingly isolated from democratic control, and established their own hierarchies, systems of governance, and rules of behavior. The police increasingly set themselves off from the population by donning uniforms, establishing their own rules for hiring, promotion, and firing, working to build a unique esprit des corps, and identifying themselves with order. And despite complaints about corruption and inefficiency, they gained more and more support from the ruling class, to the extent that in Chicago, for instance, businessmen donated money to buy the police rifles, artillery, Gatling guns, buildings, and money to establish a police pension out of their own pockets.

There was a never a time when the big city police neutrally enforced “the law,” or came anywhere close to that ideal (for that matter, the law itself has never been neutral). In the North, they mostly arrested people for the vaguely defined “crimes” of disorderly conduct and vagrancy throughout the nineteenth century. This meant that the police could arrest anyone they saw as a threat to “order.” In the post-bellum South, they enforced white supremacy and largely arrested black people on trumped-up charges in order to feed them into convict labor systems.

The violence the police carried out and their moral separation from those they patrolled were not the consequences of the brutality of individual officers, but were the consequences of careful policies designed to mold the police into a force that could use violence to deal with the social problems that accompanied the development of a wage-labor economy. For instance, in the short, sharp depression of the mid 1880s, Chicago was filled with prostitutes who worked the streets. Many policemen recognized that these prostitutes were generally impoverished women seeking a way to survive, and initially tolerated their behavior. But the police hierarchy insisted that the patrolmen do their duty whatever their feelings, and arrest these women, impose fines, and drive them off the streets and into brothels, where they could be ignored by some members of the elite and controlled by others. Similarly, in 1885, when Chicago began to experience a wave of strikes, some policemen sympathized with strikers. But once the police hierarchy and the mayor decided to break the strikes, policemen who refused to comply were fired. In these and a thousand similar ways, the police were molded into a force that would impose order on working class and poor people, whatever the individual feelings of the officers involved.

Though some patrolmen tried to be kind and others were openly brutal, police violence in the 1880s was not a case of a few bad apples – and neither is it today.

Much has changed since the creation of the police – most importantly the influx of black people into the Northern cities, the mid-twentieth century black movement, and the creation of the current system of mass incarceration in part as a response to that movement. But these changes did not lead to a fundamental shift in policing. They led to new policies designed to preserve fundamental continuities. The police were created to use violence to reconcile electoral democracy with industrial capitalism. Today, they are just one part of the “criminal justice” system which continues to play the same role. Their basic job is to enforce order among those with the most reason to resent the system – who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people.

A democratic police system is imaginable – one in which police are elected by and accountable to the people they patrol. But that is not what we have. And it’s not what the current system of policing was created to be.

Sam Mitrani, The Rise of the Chicago Police Department, will be released in spring 2015 from University of Illinois Press
Sam Mitrani, The Rise of the Chicago Police Department, will be released in spring 2015 from University of Illinois Press
Graffiti, location unknown.
Graffiti, location unknown.

If there is one positive lesson from the history of policing’s origins, it is that when workers organized, refused to submit or cooperate, and caused problems for the city governments, they could back the police off from the most galling of their activities. Murdering individual police officers, as happened in in Chicago on May 3rd 1886 and more recently in New York on December 20th, 2014, only reinforced those calling for harsh repression – a reaction we are beginning to see already. But resistance on a mass scale could force the police to hesitate. This happened in Chicago during the early 1880s, when the police pulled back from breaking strikes, hired immigrant officers, and tried to re-establish some credibility among the working class after their role in brutally crushing the 1877 upheaval.

The police might be backed off again if the reaction against the killings of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, and countless others continues. If they are, it will be a victory for those mobilizing today, and will save lives – though as long as this system that requires police violence to control a big share of its population survives, any change in police policy will be aimed at keeping the poor in line more effectively.

We shouldn’t expect the police to be something they’re not. As historians, we ought to know that origins matter, and the police were created by the ruling class to control working class and poor people, not help them. They’ve continued to play that role ever since.

  • Tillmann Puschka

    basta.

  • Tillmann Puschka

    basta.

  • Krystal Wilson

    The Police are turning into a Military complex that will turn against us when it benefits them.

  • Edward C

    The author brings up some great points. Although police have in fact been around for thousands of years. The first “modern” police force was in 1667 in Paris.

    There’s also some opinion which I don’t agree with “Their basic job is to enforce order among those with the most reason to resent the system – who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people.” Many arrests of black people are from police calls. They originate in black on black crime. The police get called in.

    Eric Garner was not a stop and frisk. The police were called about him selling cigarettes outside of stores. In fact the order to take down Eric Garner was done by a black female police sergeant. The original video showed this – but conveniently the internet version had it edited out.

    Tamir Rice?? A black man called the police. He said he told the dispatcher the gun might be fake. So if he knew it was a fake gun and it wasn’t a kid then why did he call the police? He didn’t know it was a fake gun – it “might” be fake. If he did know it was fake he would likely have said something to the kid to stop bothering the other kids. Instead he called the police because the gun might be real.

    So while there are problems within the system that need to be fixed. I do agree that people do sometimes get treated differently based on race and class. Instead of finger pointing I think it’s better to figure out how best to have everyone solve the problem together.

    • Joe Shmoe

      Eric Garner was not a stop and frisk, true. But I have seen nothing in the hundreds of articles I’ve read about the incident that the altercation stemmed from a police call about selling cigarettes. Please point me to any information you have about this supposed police call complaining of illegal cigarette sales. From what I’ve read, officers involved themselves in a street fight that Garner was also involved in– most witnesses say he was actually breaking the fight up. As he was known to police and had been arrested several times for earning his living on the black market selling cigarettes, the cops treated him the way they treat all “habitual offenders,” with elevated aggression and excessive force. The color of the officers involved has no bearing on whether the officer was “enforc[ing] order among those with the most reason to resent the system – who in our society today are disproportionately poor black people.” All cops, regardless of their race or ethnicity, work for the ruling class, and the sympathies of the ruling class are firmly aligned with the often misplaced concerns of the middle class and wealthy white populations in this country. Nor does the fact that a black person alerted police to Tamir Rice invalidate the racist and overzealous nature of the police response. Even those regularly victimized or intimidated by an oppressor want to believe that the police are there to protect and serve them.

    • Nicko Thime

      “Eric Garner was not a stop and frisk. The police were called about him selling cigarettes outside of stores.”

      http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/nyc-crime/wife-man-filmed-chokehold-arrested-article-1.1893790

      • Joe Shmoe

        Correct. DeBlasio’s appointees tasked their force with cracking down on low level victimless crimes like loosie sales. 311 was called in March to report a public nuisance about someone named Eric selling cigarettes. Most likely that call– several months earlier from an unknown source, was about Eric Garner. The actual event of the man’s death did not result from someone calling the police to come arrest a guy selling cigarettes. A guy who sold cigarettes who may have been the same guy about whom a “concerned citizen” called 311 several months previous was murdered. Stop and frisk and police murder of unarmed black men are two separate but related issues.

      • Joe Shmoe

        Correct. DeBlasio’s appointees tasked their force with cracking down on low level victimless crimes like loosie sales. 311 was called in March to report a public nuisance about someone named Eric selling cigarettes. Most likely that call– several months earlier from an unknown source, was about Eric Garner. The actual event of the man’s death did not result from someone calling the police to come arrest a guy selling cigarettes. A guy who sold cigarettes who may have been the same guy about whom a “concerned citizen” called 311 several months previous was murdered. Stop and frisk and police murder of unarmed black men are two separate but related issues.

    • leroy

      how do you know the tamir rice caller was black? i haven’t seen that specified anywhere, just googled it and came up with nothing

    • leroy

      how do you know the tamir rice caller was black? i haven’t seen that specified anywhere, just googled it and came up with nothing

    • leroy

      how do you know the tamir rice caller was black? i haven’t seen that specified anywhere, just googled it and came up with nothing

    • leroy

      how do you know the tamir rice caller was black? i haven’t seen that specified anywhere, just googled it and came up with nothing

    • leroy

      how do you know the tamir rice caller was black? i haven’t seen that specified anywhere, just googled it and came up with nothing

    • Sean Jackson

      American police however (which is what this entire post was about) are only 180 years old or so. And the article is very apt in describing the reason for which they were generally created. And what is your point about “black on black crime” black people call the cops for the same reason whites do. And like whites they don’t want the cops randomly beating, shooting, or robbing them because of there skin color. Can’t solve the problem if the system responsible and those who support it refuse to hold people accountable.

      • Edward C

        Sean the history of police departments depends. Some cities are only 100 years old and their police forces are only that old at most. Some cities like NYPD had a police force before the US even existed. In NYC they started their first night watch in 1625 when it was New Amsterdam. Philadelphia started keeping records of police officers killed in the line of duty in 1828; but the force was around much longer.

        The article is not an apt reason for why the police were created. Were the police violent in the incidents the author cited in the Chicago riots in the late 1800’s? Yes they were. That’s how police treated rioters in many cities. But they didn’t create the police for the purpose of controlling the masses. they created the police departments to keep the peace. At times people rioted, if the police came and the crowd attacked the police they got beat down. You wouldn’t get away with spitting in the cops faces then either. At times when riots were bad they called in the Army to assist, as the author mentioned. When the rioting was over they pulled the troops back out of the city. But the Army wasn’t created to control the masses either.

        My point about the black on black crime is simply that police make these arrests based on calls they receive. While there is a higher percentage of black arrests in comparison to other races; the vast majority of arrests (not all) started with 911 calls. I agree 100% that black people make the same calls that white people do. No one (except the criminals) wants people being beaten, shot or robbed by police or criminals. It’s no secret that studies show that in general white people tend to trust cops more than other people. But when you break it down by cities vs. suburbs, most suburbanites tend to trust cops more than city dwellers. In fact minorities in the suburbs often trust police more than white people living in the cities. That’s why I don’t think the police were designed to control the masses at all; many of the wealthier people tend to live outside of cities these days and probably have no idea what people living in the city have to deal with.

        Based on the figures released from the Obama administration. From 2003-2009 we averaged 600-700 arrest related deaths per year and about 31% of those who died were black. 95% were men: http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/ard0309st.pdf . That number declined up until 2013 when we had only 400 arrest-related deaths and only 24% (96) were black. Arrests have also dropped from over 15 million per year down to 12.5 million per year. But meanwhile the media began focusing on recent events and not in the past. It gives the illusion that the numbers had been increasing instead of going down.

        The author here simply tries making a point to he pushes in his book. He researched one police department (Chicago’s) from 1850-1899 and decided he was going to apply this to every police department in the country. Ironically he didn’t go back to the official formation of the Chicago police department in 1835 or the fact that Chicago stated as a military post in the late 1700’s and eventually evolved into a city – but was initially policed by the military even before that.

        However as I pointed out, and it sounds like you agree, we need to figure out how to change the system and have everyone working together. I know some people get afraid to call the police because they don’t know how the officer will act when he or she arrives. Then you have officers worrying if people will treat them with distrust and possibly start screaming at them and calling them racists when they arrive. This makes for a tough situation. Some cities tend to do things better than others these days. can we apply those ideas to other cities? Are body cameras a good idea? What else can be done? If everyone works together we might be able to start fixing things.

  • CP

    Fantastic post. A good corrective to Ta-Nehisi Coates’s nonsense:

    http://portside.org/2014-12-26/blue-lives-matter

  • TeacherTurner

    Thank you for the article. It seems very intuitive. However, Dr. Mitrani does not cite a single source, neither primary nor secondary, to support his thesis. Although I am inclined to share his view, the argument presented would be better supported with citation of sources from which he obtained historical facts concerning the organization of law enforcement in the United States and British colonies in North America.

  • TeacherTurner

    Thank you for the article. It seems very intuitive. However, Dr. Mitrani does not cite a single source, neither primary nor secondary, to support his thesis. Although I am inclined to share his view, the argument presented would be better supported with citation of sources from which he obtained historical facts concerning the organization of law enforcement in the United States and British colonies in North America.

    • Guest

      Sam Mitrani, Reforming Repression: Labor, Anarchy, and Reform in the Shaping of the Chicago Police Department, 1879-1888, Labor Summer 2009 6(2): 73-96.

      • Rosemary Feurer

        Thanks. Mitrani’s book is one very good source, and he lists other sources in that book.

  • Joe Shmoe

    Terrific article. A succinct explanation of the history of our society’s underlying criminal justice problem. American ignorance about the true nature of our police forces is ingrained more deeply in our culture than all other modern “democracies” because of our peculiar resistance to class consciousness. Police kill people in America at an exponentially greater rate than police in other countries kill members of the public, yet in most countries, especially western Europe, where variety of political views are allowed in local and national government, dissent is much more tolerated (even culturally celebrated) than in the US. Years of schooling, two party corporate political theater, and media exposure indoctrinate us into a black and white, good vs. evil view of society in which the police represent the good and necessary protection from the “other.” The first step is educating the growing numbers of those who emotionally reject the ruling class’s police state as to the true nature of the struggle. The next step is bringing a more nuanced discussion to the public as a whole. I’m a pessimist. I see no hope in changing anybody’s mind any time soon. The cops will continue to kill the poor with impunity. Politicians will continue to demonize those who question the legitimacy of the police state and will continue to support greater and greater violent police suppression of dissent.

    • DHFabian

      It’s a good article, but written from the middle class point of view, which inevitably results in a limited perspective. I rather doubt that the police question the job and economic status of those they target; the only exception would be those who are obviously desperately poor and homeless, and today’s Americans don’t care about them, anyway. I would argue that the greatest divide is class, not race. This generation has been fine with beating/killing the very poor (most of whom are white) for years, whether by police or citizens. Imagine the response to: “The Lives of the Poor Matter”? We can discuss this further when readers finally stop laughing at the very idea.

      • Sam Mitrani

        We are divided by class and race — I agree, though I think it’s pointless to argue which is the greater division. But these divisions are not just ideas — they are realities, that can’t be overcome by convincing people to respond differently to slogans, but only by attacking the realities, which certainly include the way the police treat all kinds of people. It’s silly to argue there isn’t racism against black people in policing today — though I agree that lots of poor white people get caught up by the “criminal justice” system too.
        Also, “today’s Americans” include more than 300,000,000 people. They care about all kinds of things. Many of them are themselves desperately poor. Many hold all kinds of contradictory ideas. I certainly wouldn’t try to sum up what they all care about, or believe that what they care about can be accurately measured by what the media reports, or by what gets upvotes on reddit.

        • There IS racism against people of colour in policing today – but it’s not the only oppressive ideology at work. Treating it as if it is – which what many what you call ‘liberals’ in the U.S. (Here in the UK I’d be called one of them too) is a grave error. For example, the Ethan Saylor case is one that parallels Eric Garner’s, but there has not been the public outrage there should be (Ethan was white and disabled). It was a black woman police officer who threw (white?) quadroplegic Brian Sterner out of his wheelchair in Florida, though the rest of the police who didn’t bat an eyelid were racially and ethnically diverse. My particular interest in recent years is how, in both the UK and US, police are emptying their guns into family dogs, mostly bullbreeds, and how reporting of this is done in such a way as to defend police’s actions, which may be functioning as a way to make police gun-using more acceptable to the public (especially in the UK), on the back of the irrational moral panice about so-called ‘pit bulls). Even white ‘middle-class’ enabled males are not escaping police oppression. There are dots to be joined up, and understanding the function of the police, which is not what most of us are led to believe, as this article so well explains, is an urgent need. It explains why recruiting more racially, ethnically and class diverse officers isn’t ‘the cure’ either. Indeed such officers are then co-opted into the oppression of their own (and other) groups.

    • Sam Mitrani

      I’m actually an optimist. I agree things for most people are getting worse, and that the state’s solution is generally more violence. I also agree that we have a great deal of political theater that justifies that violence (including all the police shows on TV). But I am not convinced that most people actually buy it, or that they necessarily need to be educated. Privileged, middle class suburbanites, yes — but I don’t think a change will come from them or from the politicians who demonize those of us who question the legitimacy of state violence.
      I think this problem is and has always been linked to the broader problem of a society organized around exploitation — and a change will come from the exploited, when they decide they’ve had enough and once again fight in their own interests in a big way. That’s certainly not happening now, but I have no doubt that it will again.

      • OP (deleted facebook and disq)

        Several beers later and I am reading your response to my post. Thank you for taking the time to read it and I am happy to read your thoughts on the subject! I’m glad to hear that there is some optimism out there. I’m trying to get out of the habit of waxing too philosophical on the internet (and recent legal threats and threats of violence against myself and friends of mine who belong to the same online communities will force me to debate these ideas in the “real world” going forward…) But I still hold that education is key to changing the violence and exploitation inherent in the cultural and political dynamic of this country. We are a nation force fed mythologies about the philosophical underpinnings of our founding, expansion, and rise to dominance. Regardless of who hears these myths, we all subconsciously internalize them to some degree, whether we intellectually know that the ideas are bullshit fairy tales. We are told that we were founded by righteous, freedom loving protestants who established a “city on a hill,” that we value equality, respect individualism, that our society is the epitome of meritocratic distribution of wealth and above all and most importantly: that regardless of our failings, our guiding principles as outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights may be up for a limited interpretation, but it is those very principles that “make us great.” So, you can have a young black kid who knows that the US is not a meritocracy, who knows that equality and freedom are just words, but still she will more often than not direct the systemic societal inequity inward. She thinks she is not good enough, she deserves her lot, she was not smart enough to take advantage or even find the opportunities that everyone believes exist if one is just motivated enough. Maybe she will will pacify herself through what she considers her uniquely American ability to express her individualism in quasi-political and ultimately impotent. “At least I am still free to wear a ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt and that will in some small way help bring attention to the issue of police violence against minorities. Thank goodness that at the very least we live in a free country that respects our individual rights to protest, “etc… Or maybe she will just choose to believe the self-made man myth and pursue wealth to the exclusion of all else. It seems to be what most people do, after all. Similarly you can have a privileged white male who feels personally attacked by the suggestion that the perfect country he loves has been ruined by discontents who want “special treatment.” But both (who represent just two points of view) will more often than not seek to change the current imperfections in the system by attempting, through social media or less frequently face to face communication or protest (or even for some strange reason by voting),to align mainstream opinion with an idea of their own most perfect vision for the country. But only in so far as it jives with the already entrenched corporate and government bureaucracy (lest they find themselves alienated imprisoned or shot) and is in keeping with what they feel, for example, the Constitution SHOULD have meant…

        Sorry to ramble… Here’s who I am and what I think needs to be done. I am a poor, white, 37 year old male working class slob. I’m a high school dropout. I’ve been unemployed for years. Dad was a crackhead, mom was a nurse who worked 60-80 hrs/week to keep a roof over our heads. Yet I acknowledge my white privilege and I am outraged by the prison industrial complex that murders black and brown folks by the hundreds each year and ruins the lives of countless others…

        I want a very modest revolution, not my own personal vision of Utopia. I want the government of the United States to be rebuilt in the mold of real modern western style democracies that have a history of respecting human life more than they respect their own mythologies, and at least as much as they respect profit motive. The only way to do this is to have a convention, rewrite our body politic to incorporate human values and true protections from exploitation. This requires at the very least proportional representation of various political points of view in the government as opposed to the first past the post voting system currently in place that always results in two political parties beholden to the same powerful interests.

        None of this change can happen when people think this is a great country despite its flaws, just like police reform can’t happen when people think police are great despite some individual officers who may have flaws.

        Maybe things will get a little better as our economic downturn forces a reevaluation of the financial cost of the police state? Who knows.

        Too long. Didn’t Read…

      • OP (deleted facebook and disq)

        Several beers later and I am reading your response to my post. Thank you for taking the time to read it and I am happy to read your thoughts on the subject! I’m glad to hear that there is some optimism out there. I’m trying to get out of the habit of waxing too philosophical on the internet (and recent legal threats and threats of violence against myself and friends of mine who belong to the same online communities will force me to debate these ideas in the “real world” going forward…) But I still hold that education is key to changing the violence and exploitation inherent in the cultural and political dynamic of this country. We are a nation force fed mythologies about the philosophical underpinnings of our founding, expansion, and rise to dominance. Regardless of who hears these myths, we all subconsciously internalize them to some degree, whether we intellectually know that the ideas are bullshit fairy tales. We are told that we were founded by righteous, freedom loving protestants who established a “city on a hill,” that we value equality, respect individualism, that our society is the epitome of meritocratic distribution of wealth and above all and most importantly: that regardless of our failings, our guiding principles as outlined in the Constitution and Bill of Rights may be up for a limited interpretation, but it is those very principles that “make us great.” So, you can have a young black kid who knows that the US is not a meritocracy, who knows that equality and freedom are just words, but still she will more often than not direct the systemic societal inequity inward. She thinks she is not good enough, she deserves her lot, she was not smart enough to take advantage or even find the opportunities that everyone believes exist if one is just motivated enough. Maybe she will will pacify herself through what she considers her uniquely American ability to express her individualism in quasi-political and ultimately impotent. “At least I am still free to wear a ‘Black Lives Matter’ shirt and that will in some small way help bring attention to the issue of police violence against minorities. Thank goodness that at the very least we live in a free country that respects our individual rights to protest, “etc… Or maybe she will just choose to believe the self-made man myth and pursue wealth to the exclusion of all else. It seems to be what most people do, after all. Similarly you can have a privileged white male who feels personally attacked by the suggestion that the perfect country he loves has been ruined by discontents who want “special treatment.” But both (who represent just two points of view) will more often than not seek to change the current imperfections in the system by attempting, through social media or less frequently face to face communication or protest (or even for some strange reason by voting),to align mainstream opinion with an idea of their own most perfect vision for the country. But only in so far as it jives with the already entrenched corporate and government bureaucracy (lest they find themselves alienated imprisoned or shot) and is in keeping with what they feel, for example, the Constitution SHOULD have meant…

        Sorry to ramble… Here’s who I am and what I think needs to be done. I am a poor, white, 37 year old male working class slob. I’m a high school dropout. I’ve been unemployed for years. Dad was a crackhead, mom was a nurse who worked 60-80 hrs/week to keep a roof over our heads. Yet I acknowledge my white privilege and I am outraged by the prison industrial complex that murders black and brown folks by the hundreds each year and ruins the lives of countless others…

        I want a very modest revolution, not my own personal vision of Utopia. I want the government of the United States to be rebuilt in the mold of real modern western style democracies that have a history of respecting human life more than they respect their own mythologies, and at least as much as they respect profit motive. The only way to do this is to have a convention, rewrite our body politic to incorporate human values and true protections from exploitation. This requires at the very least proportional representation of various political points of view in the government as opposed to the first past the post voting system currently in place that always results in two political parties beholden to the same powerful interests.

        None of this change can happen when people think this is a great country despite its flaws, just like police reform can’t happen when people think police are great despite some individual officers who may have flaws.

        Maybe things will get a little better as our economic downturn forces a reevaluation of the financial cost of the police state? Who knows.

        Too long. Didn’t Read…

        • Sam Mitrani

          Not too long — I did read.
          Two quick comments: First, I don’t think the other western style democracies are ultimately any better or fundamentally different — they’re just less powerful, and in some cases have a greater tradition of working class struggle.
          Second, I’d like to see those changes too — but I think it would take a very big revolution to get them! In the short run, the more people to do demand jobs, social services, decent pay, and that the police back off, the better.

        • Sam Mitrani

          Not too long — I did read.
          Two quick comments: First, I don’t think the other western style democracies are ultimately any better or fundamentally different — they’re just less powerful, and in some cases have a greater tradition of working class struggle.
          Second, I’d like to see those changes too — but I think it would take a very big revolution to get them! In the short run, the more people to do demand jobs, social services, decent pay, and that the police back off, the better.

          • bryanro

            It won’t be that easy. The as of yet so-called unknown request of the protesters, Justice, for those of you just tuning in, will only be answered in a court of law. wherein the quantified measure of “what is just” may be applied to convict crimes of injustice, while upholding the law.

          • bryanro

            It won’t be that easy. The as of yet so-called unknown request of the protesters, Justice, for those of you just tuning in, will only be answered in a court of law. wherein the quantified measure of “what is just” may be applied to convict crimes of injustice, while upholding the law.

      • jemcgloin

        It’s beginning to happen now. The movements for economic, environmental, and social justice are growing, and cooperating.

      • addictedtoreason

        Did you ever think it’s not getting worse, that the public is fed a on 24 news cycle plus if you add in the bombardment of social media, you are getting a skewed sense of reality. Look at the real stats on crime for the last 10, 20, 30 years.

  • Guest

    Terrific article. A succinct explanation of the history of our society’s underlying criminal justice problem. American ignorance about the true nature of our police forces is ingrained more deeply in our culture than all other modern “democracies” because of our peculiar resistance to class consciousness. Police kill people in America at an exponentially greater rate than police in other countries kill members of the public, yet in most countries, especially western Europe, where variety of political views are allowed in local and national government, dissent is much more tolerated (even culturally celebrated) than in the US. Years of schooling, two party corporate political theater, and media exposure indoctrinate us into a black and white, good vs. evil view of society in which the police represent the good and necessary protection from the “other.” The first step is educating the growing numbers of those who emotionally reject the ruling class’s police state as to the true nature of the struggle. The next step is bringing a more nuanced discussion to the public as a whole. I’m a pessimist. I see no hope in changing anybody’s mind any time soon. The cops will continue to kill the poor with impunity. Politicians will continue to demonize those who question the legitimacy of the police state and will continue to support greater and greater violent police suppression of dissent.

    • DHFabian

      The catch is, it appears that there’s nothing we can do about it.

  • I.P Enrile

    That graffiti with the “To Serve and Protect the Ruling Class” was from the Philippines courtesy of the militant youth group ANAKBAYAN (Sons and Daughters of the People)

  • I.P Enrile

    That graffiti with the “To Serve and Protect the Ruling Class” was from the Philippines courtesy of the militant youth group ANAKBAYAN (Sons and Daughters of the People)

  • I.P Enrile

    That graffiti with the “To Serve and Protect the Ruling Class” was from the Philippines courtesy of the militant youth group ANAKBAYAN (Sons and Daughters of the People)

    • DHFabian

      Ever since the 1980s, the middle class overall has been quite supportive of militarizing the police.

  • The flaw in your analysis of the relatively recent cop malfeasance uproars is that the ONLY cop killings that MSM, Obamanations and Sharptonites object to are when the cop is WHITE. Recently ignored were the killings of “unarmed” Cameron Tillman, Shelly Frey, Gilbert Colllar, and Dillon Taylor.

    • frosty dufour

      We live in an increasingly authoritarian police state. Color in the US has always been a convenient distraction from underlying issues involving economics and capitalism. In other words, in America race SELLS. That’s why those who produce every type of media latch onto it – it’s a reliably divisive, high emotion issue.

    • Nicko Thime

      Obamanations?
      Yeah, we all know he’s Kenyan, muslim communistic expialadocious. Your white sheets need cleaning, they are stained with tea.

      • jeff725

        I don’t think that’s tea. :)

        • such as you are the bigot …. only caring about a cop killing when the cop is white. … Plainly racist……………..

          • jeff725

            Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much?

          • jeff725

            Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much?

          • jeff725

            Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much? Repeat yourself much?

      • such as you are the bigot …. only caring about a cop killing when the cop is white. … Plainly racist.

      • such as you are the bigot …. only caring about a cop killing when the cop is white. … Plainly racist.

      • such as you are the bigot …. only caring about a cop killing when the cop is white. … Plainly racist.

        • Nicko Thime

          Fugoff. You are a moron.

    • Ronald Pires

      The flaw in your analysis is that neither the MSM, Obama, nor Sharpton choose who crowds gather to protest about. Local people do, using whatever criteria they feel appropriate..

      • such as you are the bigot …. only caring about a cop killing when the cop is white. … Plainly racist. xxxxx

  • oprichniki

    An accurate description. A limited number of sheriffs are rejecting the tyranny. We do not need government goons with guns protecting the 1%.

    • disqus_mbkF20E77K

      The sad part is, I feel like the 1% will always have the money to hire goons with guns.

  • DHFabian

    Would this be news even to our (myopic) middle class? Could be, there’s actually a bigger agenda. Each time in the past that the richest few were able to take power over our politics and policies, the poor and middle class, workers and the jobless, ultimately united to push back — to everyone’s benefit. That can’t happen today. The middle class were pitted against the poor, workers against the jobless. Divide and conquer.

  • Chris Herz

    The police know their duty. Defend the .01% at all costs.

  • Chris Herz

    The police know their duty. Defend the .01% at all costs.

  • southtpa

    stop and frisk worked. it had a high success rate, better than I’ve ever had throwing a plug. the term sometimes used is “like fishing in an aquarium”.

  • southtpa

    stop and frisk worked. it had a high success rate, better than I’ve ever had throwing a plug. the term sometimes used is “like fishing in an aquarium”.

  • Jon Brown Fambrough-Stone

    Great article!

  • Red Robbo

    One point not made clear in this article is that Police are members of the working class.

  • Red Robbo

    One point not made clear in this article is that Police are members of the working class.

  • Red Robbo

    One point not made clear in this article is that Police are members of the working class.

    • … and of ethnic diversity. Indeed incidences of abuse/brutality are carried out by police of colour as well. That’s the ingeniousness of the whole system and how it serves to co-opt members of disadvantaged groups into their own oppression, it can be argued.

    • … and of ethnic diversity. Indeed incidences of abuse/brutality are carried out by police of colour as well. That’s the ingeniousness of the whole system and how it serves to co-opt members of disadvantaged groups into their own oppression, it can be argued.

    • … and of ethnic diversity. Indeed incidences of abuse/brutality are carried out by police of colour as well. That’s the ingeniousness of the whole system and how it serves to co-opt members of disadvantaged groups into their own oppression, it can be argued.

    • Tom Alter

      Though not stated directly, I think Mitrani’s article makes it clear that the police are NOT members of the working class. The police may come from the working class, but once they enter the police force they leave the working class and act against the working class by serving the ruling class. This is different from the military as Mitrani shows through the origins of the police.

  • Red Robbo

    Police are workers. They like the vast majority of society need to work in order to live. Yes, they have been used to break strikes but some have used the strike weapon themselves. The nature of their work does not excude them from other members of their class. The is also true of those who form the vast bulk of the military. Should they leave, these workers need to find employment elsewhere. in order to support themselves, one of many problems not experienced by the 1%..

  • SocraticGadfly
  • [email protected]

    This is a very interesting article. It is differently true that we must defend the working class, the poor, and black people.

  • Anand

    but they all come from the families of working class only…they are ignorant of their nature of duty and they need to be educated and not treated as enemies, they are one crucial part of the ruling system (i dont believe in “classes” they are myth) and when a change of that system is targetted, the support of this group is highly valuable…making them consious about their role and turning them to the masses side is a great strategy, One Step Forward Two Steps Backward! And one More thing the whole history has proved Same Police will be used to Suppress dissent and all opposition to Politburo Rule of communist govt. Every body uses them, and some times these same communists can be much ruthless and hence hated by the public more than in a democracy…State never withers, It becomes dictatorial and maniacal in Commie Govt…

  • NAVORD

    The police exist to protect the government and enforce it’s laws. If this was only about capitalism then the author’s needs to explain the Soviet Union,Cuba, North Korea and other non-capitalist economies that have the SAME issue with police and the population..so GOVERNMENT is the problem..if business use government to protect their own interest then that is not capitalism that is crony capitalism

  • Henry Goodson

    The Youth Today Don’t wanna know their past or study history -that why after 50 years (Malcolm) nothing much have changed.

    What you need to realized that the majority of the KKK have just taken off their sheets and but on the Blue And taken over the justice system.

  • Ben Brucato

    This historic trajectory accurately captures what happened in France, Britain, Germany and other early nation-states. In the United States, however, if we are to talk about the “creation” of the police institution, this story is incomplete and largely inaccurate. It recreates the standard narrative from criminology and criminal justice that the U.S. police institution is an isomorphic one that followed the same path and organizational structures as European counterparts. This is inappropriately Eurocentric. In the U.S., police emerged in the first decade of the eighteenth century to capture escaped slaves. These were models imported from the Caribbean with influence from the Spanish paramilitary Santa Hermandad. Within just about 15 years, the mandate of these patrol groups shifted from capturing Blacks off the plantation to intensive surveillance within the plantation and slave settlements to prevent insurrection. When you take this as the point of creation and take this to be the primary influence that continues across centuries, a very different story is told: we see that U.S. police is an exceptional institution with analogs that are few, and are particular to settler states with a clearly marked and dispossessed population (e.g., apartheid South Africa, post-WWII Palestine). See my article “Fabricating the Color Line in a White Democracy: From Slave Catchers to Petty Sovereigns.” https://www.researchgate.net/publication/269998697_Fabricating_the_Color_Line_in_a_White_Democracy_From_Slave_Catchers_to_Petty_Sovereigns

  • Cat

    Thank you

  • Police fan

    Stupid article. I firmly believe that the Police do not and never have oppressed black folks. All these supposed cases of police abuse do not stem from racism as most of y’all suppose. Rather they stem from the Officers desire to defend him or herself so that they can go home alive at the end of the shift. Now, before y’all pull the race card on my comment I want you to stop and think for a moment, do you really trust in these liberals who keep dragging racism into everything? If you do then I can’t say anything that will help your mental state.

    • Bill Johnson

      you use the term “race card” and expect to be taken seriously?

  • John Novak

    “except that today, poor black and Latino people are the main threat, rather than immigrant workers”

    I stopped reading.

    I’m a low income white person and low income white ABSOLUTELY *ARE* More likely to be beaten and killed by a cop than a “middle class” white person is. THIS IS NOT A FACT WHICH SHOULD BE IGNORED OR OBFUSCATED.

    This fact currently IS being ignored/obfuscated.

    This is a problem.

    PS I admit white privilege exists, however, ECONO-CLASS ALSO EXISTS! (If I just said “class” you smartasses would chime in with but…but…race is a form of class! So I said “econoclass” for you picky losers, now STFU!)

    I actually feel HORRIBLE about having to type this because I don’t want people to feel like I’m disrespecting black police brutality victims. It hurts having to take away from black police brutality victims, but white ones HAVE to be mentioned SOMEWHERE (Consider that those white ones WERE probably killed as a result of them being low-income or homeless).

    I REALIZE that the average black person is “More likely” than the “average” white person to be a victim of police brutality.

    However, that does NOT mean black police brutality victims should be the ONLY ones we remember, and the bodies of white police brutality victims should be pissed on.

  • 4thaugust1932

    They knew this trick back in the time of Roman Empire.
    Bread and Circuses: bribe the population with free bread and distract them with circuses whilst the rulers do whatever they want.

  • 4thaugust1932
  • maggiehohle

    I’m just now reading this post, in July of 2016. Thank you for writing it. The National Guard are also the guard of the moneyed classes, as we know by the way they are brought in to break strikes. Thank you for your scholarship. My father, Bill Kinser, taught graphic design at U of I and many other state universities, and studied the use of visual metaphor and visual messaging, particularly in the Third Reich, but this is an article he would have loved, RIP.

  • Fred Brown

    This is such a bullshit article ! It’s not that more black men are abused or shot by police, it’s just that, that is all the media shows. Ever since the treyvon Martin case, rating sky rocketed, and so the media focuses on these stories… Also I would like to know what “unarmed black men” ? The Ferguson incident involved a criminal trying to take the cops gun, Yet we defend the criminal who had just robbed a store, rather then the cop defending his life…The Freddy grey case involved just as many black officers as white officers, so where is the racism ?? The media paints a black and white photo, and people like you eat this bullshit up.. The there are 3 times more incidents involving police shooting white people, yet none of these stories are covered in the media… We have “black lives matter” which is a hate group, blaming white people and the white government for EVERY problem black Americans face, most of which is faced by all Americans regardless of color… A hate group is a group or organization that advocated hostility (opposition or unfriendliness) of members of another race, religion, or nationality, yet it’s made out to be some positive movement, stirring up violence, and destruction as well as segregating this country perhaps more then ever before ! “Black lives matter” capitalizes on the fears and feelings of African Americans and in result causes more harm then good ! Since when did we start cheering for the criminals in this country ?? Th problem isn’t the police the problem is people like you… If there is a problem with corrupt cops, it’s a problem all around, not for any specific race ! If you don’t want to get arrested don’t break the law, don’t want cops to chase you then don’t run, if you don’t want to get shot, then follow their orders and don’t resist !! Yet we choose to believe these short videos filmed by those against police, which only ever shows the after math of the incident and NEVER shows the full story… People blame police in general, what about those who do their job right, those who have children, and wives and family’s, are being shot for the actions of others ! That’s called stereotyping ! Would it be justified for me to blame all African American’s for the murders, or robberies of a few black men ? No ! Would it be justified to blame all Muslim’s for terrorist attacks ? NO ! Yet some how it’s justified to blame ALL police for the actions of a few officers ! It’s the system that allows those corrupt cops to get off Scott free, it’s the system that people should take action against ! Think about it, with all the killings on both sides, and the destruction of numerous cities, and the uproar the media has caused (painting a one sided view of things) why hasn’t our government done ANYTHING to help the situation or to calm things down, or anything ??? It’s not like this stuff just started happening, so why is it that all of a sudden all you see on then news are These stories lately ? Why is it that only 22% of police shootings involve African Americans, and 60% involve white people, yet I haven’t seen ONE STORY involving a white person being shot by cops ?? The media is controlled by the government, I mean think about back when they were covering the Ebola virus here in America it was all you heard on the news, and people’s started to freak out, and then one day NOTHING , you never heard about it again, as if it never was even a thing, this is the government shutting the media up, yet they have allow one sided stories and views to be projected throughout the cou try painting a picture of racism, and corrupt police, yet like I said have shown no other stories involving ANY other race… If people don’t wise up, there will be a civil war, and when OBAMA declares martial law, we will all be screwed ! They want to take out guns away, (because guns shoot people, all by themselves) which leave sue defenseless… Obama passed a bill allowing our U.S military to act on U.S soil, against U.S citizens, and the bill also supports martial law (why would he need that, with everything else going on, this was his concern?) Our government has ordered billions of rounds of less lethal ammunition, but why ?? Just a year or so ago, there was a story about the military taking children out of school for an excessive without the parents permission, to act out a scenario of angry parents trying to get their children who had been put in a fenced in camp… Why would they need to take children away form parents, and why would they need to fight them off ??.. I feel like this all is just to blind us form what really going on, and when we finally catch on it will be to late ! We have BILLIONS of people in this cou try, yet a few videos surface, showing African Americans being shot and things by cops (never showing the whole story) and everyone gets in an uproar like all cops are going around killing blacks !! They are here to protect and serve, not to die ! Yes deaths sometimes happen, when your a cop, but if it comes down to you or the other person it’s going to be the other person ! If you go on YouTube you can find numerous cases involving white people as well, it’s not a one way street like its made out to be, police shooting involving blacks just gets more media attention, that’s all it is ! So please don’t support a one sided view and justify it with the past, that’s dead and buried ! No-one alive today was a slave yet i hear people claiming this that and the other reminds them of slavery lol… ?? What do you know about slavery ? The only things people today know is what they’ve seen in movies and read in books !! But hey a few incidents occur out of the billions of people in this country, and we all seen a few short videos showing only the aftermath of the cops actions yet we don’t know the whole story, so let’s bring up the past to justify it all, and stereotype all police as racists, out to kill blacks… ??? Wow this is called delusion !

  • disqus_mbkF20E77K

    Sort of heavy-handed, don’t you think?