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When will we stop centering cop voices: Confronting the White Liberal view of Policing

August 2, 2020

We are a little more than 2 months removed from the May 30th uprising in Grand Rapids, where thousands of people descended on the downtown area to protest against  the police murder of George Floyd.

During the past two months there have been ongoing protests, marches and vigils in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. There has also been a significant campaign, involving numerous groups, to Defund the GRPD. None of this pressure seems to be going away anytime soon and institutions are feeling tremendous pressure to deal with institutional racism and White Supremacy.

Amidst all of this, the GRPD and the Grand Rapids Police Officer’s Association (cop union) has pushed back against any significant calls for reform, accountability and for departmental defunding. So why provide the police in the Greater Grand Rapids area a forum to continue to push back against community demands? Why do groups always feel the need to center the voices of law enforcement?

This is exactly what a group that supposedly works on police/community relations is doing on Monday night, as they host a forum that will center cop voices. The group known as ALPACT – Advocates and Leaders for Police and Community Trust – is hosting an online event on Monday, from 6:00 – 7:30pm, where six law enforcement agency heads will be provided yet another opportunity to present their take on the current political climate. The forum is entitled “Behind every mask their is a story,” which is a very misleading title, since this forum will not be centering public voices, but the voices of those who are attempting to suppress any and all public resistance to police violence, particularly police violence against the Black community.

The panel will be moderated by someone with ALPACT and the GVSU Police. The panel includes six law enforcement agencies leaders, including GRPD Chief Payne, someone from the Michigan State Police, the Kentwood Police Department, the Kent County Sheriff, the Wyoming Police Department and the Grandville Police Department.

Now, this is a 90-minute forum that will feature six cops who get to “share their stories.” Why? Why is this moment, with everything that has been taking place around the country and in Grand Rapids, why provide yet another forum for cops to tell us what to think?

According to the ALPACT Facebook page, it says this about the group: 

GGR ALPACT examines issues affecting police and community relations and ensure equitable enforcement of laws to build trust.

This description of the organization is essentially the White liberal view of the relationship between the police and the public. In this version, we are to believe that the police exist to protect and serve the public, that they are a force for good, even if at times they make mistakes or we find out that there are a few bad apples in police departments.

This view of the police is part of the problem. First, it completely ignores the history of policing in the United States and the reasons why police departments were created. According to the book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, by Kristian Williams, policing in the US was always about power. In the South, policing began as a function of “slaves patrols,” where armed men were tasked with hunting down and capturing those who were enslaved, and bringing them back to whichever plantation they escaped from. In the North, policing was created at the same time that political machines were developing and the police departments acts as tools for those political machines. Overtime, police departments have been used to manage populations and to suppress dissent.

Second, the White Liberal view of policing is problematic because it ignores the fact that police departments are designed as a system of oppression. As Alex Vitale, author of the book, The End of Policing, states in the chapter entitled, The Police Are Not Here to Protect You:

The problem is not police training, police diversity, or police methods. The problem is the dramatic and unprecedented expansion and intensity of policing in the last forty years, a fundamental shift in the role of police in society. The problem is policing itself.

Well-trained police following proper procedure are still going to be arresting people for mostly low-level offenses, and the burden will continue to fall primarily on communities of color because that is how the system is designed to operate – not because of the biases or misunderstandings of officers.

A Third reason why the White Liberal view of policing is problematic is that it wants to believe that if we just sit down and talk to cops we will have a better understanding of how they do their jobs and we will be able to assist them in preventing crime. While this may be true on a superficial level, where community members provide information to cops to prevent petty crimes, it fails to understand the power dynamics that exist. Policing is about protecting systems of power, which are also primarily systems of oppression. For example, if a Property Management Company, which charges outrageous rental fees, is confronted by a tenant or a tenant union, who do you think the police will protect? Institutions can exploit and oppress people all they want and when people engage in organized resistance, the police are always there to protect those with power and those who are exploiting and oppressing people.

Think about the deliberate harm that Wolverine Worldwide has caused to thousands of people and their health. If you were to deliberate poison or attempt to poison someone and the police were around, you would be arrested and maybe even beaten in the process for doing so. However, a corporation can poison thousands of people and the police will not be arresting them or beating them in the process. Sure, corporations like Wolverine might have to pay fines, but these are legal inconveniences that are nothing like what Black communities face on a daily basis.

Lastly, the White Liberal view of policing in this community is problematic, because it says that trusting the police is more important that solving systemic problems. Doing the work of trying to get the public to trust the police is a false solution, not only because it ignores the real function of policing, it also demonstrates that the White Liberal view of policing is about the normalization of the oppression of Black people.

For those who are fighting against police violence, those wanting to Defund the Police and those who embrace an abolitionist view of policing, we have to come to terms with the fact that the White Liberal view of policing is the dominant perspective on policing. Therefore, resisting police oppression will inevitable lead to resisting White Liberalism.

To join to zoom call for the ALPACT forum go to https://us02web.zoom.us/…/tZctcuysqDsjG9Cdv_b0BXVLyJLQjc0GY.

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