Chicago · Criminal Justice · Police Violence · Racism

Reform is Not Enough

Last week the U.S. Department of Justice released their findings after a lengthy investigation of the Ferguson Missouri police department, which was initiated after the murder of Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson. The damning report confirmed what people in Ferguson have been saying for a long time, that the Ferguson Police Department and city officials criminalized the city’s majority Black residents in order to generate revenue for the struggling municipality. Excessive and frequent fines, fees, imprisonment in city jail, and aggressive and violent policing disproportionately impact Ferguson’s Black community. But as many people have stressed, Ferguson is not an outlier, it’s the norm, not just in St. Louis, but in many other cities across the nation. The court system of Jennings Missouri, next to Ferguson, has almost all black defendants, whom are routinely jailed for failure to pay minor traffic fees; and three and a half miles away in Florissant, police stopped Black motorists at three times the rate of their population in 2013 (Robertson, Campbell, Shaila Dewan & Matt Apuzzo, New York Times, http://www.nytimes.com/2015/03/08/us/ferguson-became-symbol-but-bias-knows-no-border.html?_r=0).

Here in Chicago, a youth-led, grassroots organization, We Charge Genocide, documented and collected testimonies of youth of color who have been targeted by police. Compiled into a report called Police Violence Against Youth of Color, a WCG delegation presented their findings to the United Nations Committee Against Torture in Geneva Switzerland. Black Youth Project 100 (BYP 100) and Communities United are calling for Chicago’s Mayoral candidates to end policies that racially profile and criminalize Black youth, specifically ending the arrests of Black youth for low-level marijuana offenses. Despite a 2012 ordinance to only ticket people for possessing low-levels of marijuana, Black people are still disproportionately arrested and convicted (The Chicago Reader).

In Miami Gardens Florida, which is just 18 miles from Miami Beach, where I will be vacationing in a few weeks, a city of 110,754 people, the police regularly stop and frisk thousands of Black residents, including youth and senior citizens. An investigation by Fusion found that between 2008-2013, 56,922 people were stopped and frisked, resulting in zero arrests. Every Black person is assumed to be a suspect, even if they are as young as 5 years old. Safe Streets/Strong Communities, a New Orleans organization that works on police reform, has documented the racist policies and practices of the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD). From The Nation, “In Louisiana and Washington State, for instance, those convicted of a crime are ordered to pay court and processing fees that can add up to hundreds or thousands of dollars.” From not investigating sexual violence crimes, police brutality, and corruption, the NOPD has shown blatant disregard for the Black residents of New Orleans.

Racist police policies and practices are not the result of just a few “bad apples“. Racism and anti-blackness is built into the structure of modern policing. It is systemic, and no amount of “reform” will end it. Ending police and prisons is the only to get our country on a path to where Black (and queer, trans, etc.) lives matter.

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