There is a tendency, when examining police shootings, to focus on tactics at the expense of strategy. One interrogates the actions of the officer in the moment trying to discern their mind-state. We ask ourselves, “Were they justified in shooting?” But, in this time of heightened concern around the policing, a more essential question might be, “Were we justified in sending them?” At some point, Americans decided that the best answer to every social ill lay in the power of the criminal-justice system. Vexing social problems—homelessness, drug use, the inability to support one’s children, mental illness—are presently solved by sending in men and women who specialize in inspiring fear and ensuring compliance. Fear and compliance have their place, but it can’t be every place.
He goes on to present an interpretation of ‘authority’ and ‘power’ that intrigues me, but that I haven’t quite accepted:
In his 1953 book The Quest For Community, conservative Robert Nisbet distinguishes between “power” and “authority.” Authority, claims Nisbet, is a matter of relationships, allegiances, and association and is “based ultimately upon the consent of those under it.” Power, on the other hand, is “external” and “based upon force.” Power exists where allegiances have decayed or never existed at all. “Power arises,” writes Nesbit, “only when authority breaks down.”
African Americans, for most of our history, have lived under the power of the criminal-justice system, not its authority. The dominant feature in the relationship between African Americans and their country is plunder, and plunder has made police authority an impossibility, and police power a necessity.
I agree that police authority in the Black community is an impossibility, but for whom is police power a necessity? Why? He hints at these questions in closing:
A reform that begins with the officer on the beat is not reform at all. It’s avoidance. It’s a continuance of the American preference for considering the actions of bad individuals, as opposed to the function and intention of systems.
The whole article (as always) is worth a read.
I have been thinking about individuals and systems and individuals in systems a lot lately. But the line in that one movie, ‘Remember who the real enemy is’, rings a little tinny when I play it back. Because, as much as I detest the hero narrative, that story of The One, The Savior, I know that, on some level, individual people – one person and another one person and another one person – make conscious decisions and take very specific actions to interrupt the corrupt (unjust or monetized) processes of dehumanizing systems.
I like thinking of fatigue as a form of corruption; it means that restoration is fundamental for life, a given. I also like to think of isolation as a form of corruption. When I look at rows of lonely palm trees spaced in even meters one from another, and then, across the street, in an ‘abandoned’ space, I see clusters of heterogeneous green, I know that nothing in nature was meant to be alone for too long, and that no ‘kind’ should be completely separate from any other ‘kind’. Adjacency – perhaps even outright intermingling – is the natural order of things.
Of course, in times of threat, in times of famine, in times of disaster, in times of war, the natural order of things is necessarily suspended.
You’ve been in fear, starved, devastated, and fighting for your lives for a very long time, then, haven’t you, America?