The System That Killed Alton Sterling and Philando Castile Cannot Be Reformed

By Aislinn Pulley on July 8, 2016



Protesting police violence after Alton Sterling was killed in Baton Rouge. Photo: William Widmer

There are moments when atrocities are so horrendous that they paralyze. I am feeling that sense of immobility now.

I already knew that on average, a Black person is extrajudicially murdered by the police or a vigilante every 28 hours in the United States, thanks to a study by the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement. I had yet, however, to witness this fact in real time, until yesterday.

Yesterday, the world watched the horrendous police murder of Philando Castile take place mere hours after the videotaped murder of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, became public. For the first time, a police murder was livestreamed on Facebook. That reality is simultaneously astonishing and sickening.

President Obama responded to both killings with a statement that included mention of his task force on policing. He said, “two years ago, I set up a Task Force on 21st Century Policing that convened police officers, community leaders and activists. Together, they came up with detailed recommendations on how to improve community policing. So even as officials continue to look into this week’s tragic shootings, we also need communities to address the underlying fissures that lead to these incidents, and to implement those ideas that can make a difference.”

This statement exemplifies how incapable the government is of ending police killings. It problematically tasks communities with finding the solutions to a state-created problem, while tacitly implying that the issue of racist police violence is rooted within our communities themselves. The culminating assertion is that it is the community’s responsibility to implement answers to these “underlying fissures” in order to “make a difference.” While this is true, it is true for reasons not intended by the president. It is always our duty to free ourselves. Our freedom will not be willingly granted by the state. Freedom is always forced. It is always asserted and taken. However, the president’s statement tacitly implies that communities experience this level of police violence due to conditions for which they are at fault, thus criminalizing and blaming victimized communities.

The government’s response to this crisis of public disapproval at police violence and killing is to convene a study/task force/benign body of appointed persons, release findings and then assert that change has occurred. This method of performance is used to ease mass anxiety because it appears to be “doing something.” But we must ask, what is the government doing? What have such appointed bodies accomplished? Have they ended police killings? Have police been held accountable for murder?

We can look to Rekia Boyd, Justus Howell, Ronald Johnson, Freddie Gray and Mike Brown for those answers. No. The killings have not ended. Police have not been held accountable for murder.

Why is violent policing a seemingly necessary component of the functioning of the United States?

We must face these hard truths if we are serious about ending this misery.  If we understand that the US police evolved from slave patrols, then we can understand how police became the violent state units they are today. The police were formerly the protectors of the slave system, and they are now the protectors of the ruling powers. Their main societal role is to keep order against the reactions that inequalities produce within our society. What this means is that poor communities that are disenfranchised by high unemployment, lack of access to quality education, health care and affordable housing are violently patrolled because these conditions produce social unease. The police’s role is to contain this unease. This unease will increase where the gap between the haves and have-nots is widest. The question then becomes not how do you reform a system that is meant to suppress, but rather, can it be reformed at all?

Aislinn Pulley is an organizer with Black Lives Matter Chicago

“Copyright, Reprinted with permission”

Source: Truthout