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Police Reforms will never stop the cops from murdering people in Grand Rapids

April 25, 2022

On Friday, MLive posted an article with the headline, Momentum for police reform returns to Michigan Legislature following Lyoya killing.

The article is what we have become accustomed to when it comes another Black person has been killed by cops. People, especially those in power, are scrambling to address the pain and anger that communities are experiencing, by talking about and maybe passing more bureaucratic laws that have no real impact on reducing the harm that police departments do all over the country.

In fact, the first person cited in the article essentially says the same thing about no real change coming with reforms: 

“Now we do all these B.S. bills in this place about police. But we never do any that actually matter because, yet again, a Black man, Patrick Lyoya, is dead. Murdered at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and to serve us… I am so sick and tired of this crap,” said Sen. Erika Geiss, D-Taylor. “We are tired.”

Later on in the MLive article it states: Civil rights advocates and local activists have called for reform within the Grand Rapids Police Department in the aftermath of the shooting. While it is true that some local groups are calling for police reform, there are numerous groups that are calling for a more systemic change around community safety, groups such as DeFund the GRPD and Voices of the Revolution. 

The problem with this type of reporting is that MLive (and other news agencies) completely ignore those calling for more radical change and the spend the rest of the article quoting State Legislators along with listing various legislative proposals they have introduced that do nothing more than offer weak reforms to an institution that was formed to act as Slave Patrols in the 19th Century US. 

No matter how many tweaks or reforms are made around the issue of policing in the US, the laws are primarily designed to protect the police and provide them with tremendous power. We have to remember that police departments are an integral part of existing governments, whether we are talking about the federal, state, county of city governments. Police Departments don’t operate outside of these government bodies, they merely act as an enforcer of the laws and ordinances of the communities they operate in. Therefore, governments, at any level, are not going to make the necessary changes, systemic changes, that would eliminate police departments unless they are forced to do so by the public. 

Another way to think about police reform efforts, which have been going on since police departments were founded, is that no police reforms have never ever stopped cops from killing people. Alex Vitale, author of the important book, The End of Policing, states: 

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.

Police reforms are also designed to either preserve the system of policing or to expand the system of policing, according to Philip McHarris, who teaches in the African American Studies Department at Princeton University and a contributing author in the book, Violent Order: Essays on the Nature of Police. When police reforms are instituted, it often means more training, more documentation, hiring more people or using newer technology, all of which actually expand the scope of what police departments do. 

However, in the larger social context, policing is at the forefront of enforcing order in a society fundamentally shaped by structural inequality. As a result, policing disproportionately harms marginalized communities. This is precisely why movements calling for the defunding of the police and the abolition of police are primarily led by Black, Indigenous and Latinx communities. 

As I mentioned in a recent article, we should not be seduced by reformist promises when it comes to policing, instead we need to inform ourselves and build movements to dismantle policing, defund policing and abolish policing.

No amount of training, cultural sensitivity workshops, de-escalation tactics, body cameras, or other police reforms have ever prevent the police from intimidating, harassing, arresting, beating or murdering people. 

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