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GRIID Class – The Function of Policing in the US and how we can work towards a world Without Police: Part II

January 25, 2022

For the second session, we read chapters 4 and 5 from Kristian William’s important book, Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.

Chapter 4 is entitled, Cops and Klan, Hand in Hand, which deals with the historical legacy of the relationship between cops and White Supremacist groups. This chapter begins right after the Civil War, with the creation of groups like the KKK, which were a direct response to the efforts during the Reconstruction era. 

Williams looks at how the former slave patrols were now formalized police groups that did whatever they could to prevent the Black community from gaining any kind of legal and economic rights. The author also presents how state legislators passed Black Codes, which were designed to “regulate” those formerly enslaved and to impose segregationist policies. Williams offers numerous examples of riots that were organized by white people against Black populations, seeking to intimidate, harass and do direct bodily and economic harm to the Black community. In some cases the police did nothing to intervene, and in most cases the police led the riots against Black people.

In the 20th Century, this relationship between the KKK and the police was revived with the second wave of the Klan beginning in the 1920s. This relationship flourished during the Civil Rights era, as cops in both the north and the south were active members in the Klan, with the author giving examples from Alabama, Mississippi, and Michigan. In numerous instances, the FBI even used KKK informants to gather information of Civil Rights activists. 

In another part of Chapter 4, the author shows how the practice of racial profile by police, became even more institutionalized means of monitoring, harassing and arresting a disproportionately hight number of Black and Brown community members.

Chapter 5 is entitled, The Natural Enemy of the Working Class, deals with how police forces have always been used to not only policy working class people, but have been used by the Capitalist Class to suppress worker demands and worker uprisings.

This chapter makes it clear that with the industrial revolution in the US, with more and more factory workers or workers in the mining sector, police and other security forces were used to suppress worker demands and worker-led strikes. Williams makes it clear that law enforcement agencies targeted labor organizers and always worker in cooperation with the Capitalist Class to suppress any kind of labor uprisings. The author gives examples of the IWW, the Bread & Roses campaign, the 1934 strike wave and many others, always demonstrating how cops worker in the service of capital. 

Even though most labor unions became more business-friendly throughout the 20th Century, there were always insurgent worker movements, like the United Farm Workers and those that became more radicalized after the passage of NAFTA and other trade policies. The anti-Globalization Movement was also targeted by the cops, especially during the late 1990s through 2001, before the movement was derailed because of 9/11. 

In week 3 of the class, we will finish our reading and analysis of what the US system of policing does to suppress movement work in general, using several different readings. One important reading we will be using is an essay about how US police agencies adopted a counter-insurgency model used by the US State Department and applied it to insurgent movements in the US.

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