Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Blue Lives Matter is well written and thought provoking as usual. However I find myself in the unusual position of disagreeing with him. In the opening paragraph he says:
The killing of police officers is not only the destruction of life but an attack on democracy itself. We do not live in a military dictatorship, and police officers are not the representatives of an autarch, nor the enforcers of law handed down by decree. The police are representatives of a state that derives its powers from the people. Thus the strong reaction we have seen to Saturday’s murders is wholly expected and entirely appropriate.
Theoretically speaking he is correct but I think practically speaking, actually existing American democracy is far from what he describes. We don’t live in a majoritarian democracy. Police are representatives of a state that derives its powers primarily from a heavily manipulated and ill-informed voting class, corporate interest groups and wealthy donors. Corporations and organized interest groups spend billions on propaganda and bribing (read quid pro quo) politicians. In turn politicians do policy favors for interest groups and corporations who help them get elected. I think he is more correct when he says:
The idea of “police reform” obscures the task. Whatever one thinks of the past half-century of criminal-justice policy, it was not imposed on Americans by a repressive minority. The abuses that have followed from these policies—the sprawling carceral state, the random detention of black people, the torture of suspects—are, at the very least, byproducts of democratic will.
This seems more accurate to me. The primary interests to which the government is beholden are not generally seeking the promotion of civil rights. It’s also well known that the upper echelons of American society are predominantly white. As such it’s not at all unreasonable to think that a general disregard among white people for the plight of black and brown people in this country could be translated into implicitly racist policy if the corporations and interest groups are composed primarily of white people. This is not to say that there is a smoky back room full of old white men conspiring to keep minorities down. It’s simply pointing out that the powers that be have no real interest in a fair and efficient legal system.
I also have to ask what alternative is there to police reform? I don’t recall there having been a national referendum on militarizing the police. I don’t know the exact causes of the militarization of American police but I imagine it did not began with tough on crime policies. No I think it more likely that this trend began with the Patriot Act and the constant use of fear to quiet the public. Scaring the public is an effective tactic to get them to stop asking questions. However that rhetoric trickles into the ears of police departments around the country. They in turn start equipping for a war. Regardless, the police in this country are too violent, plain and simple. (However I can’t help but think that the police wouldn’t be so violent if there were not a large amount of weaponry in circulation – after all you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight.)
To finish this very short response, the strong reaction we saw to the murder of two police officers is entirely appropriate, but the system they were part of upholding is not entirely appropriate. If you think remaining cognizant of this state of affairs in the face of their deaths is wrong I believe you’re mistaken.