I have a running joke with the opinion editors of The Michigan Daily that they never use the titles I send in with my articles. When I finished my last piece, I titled it “Fuck the Police” as a joke — it was not meant to be used in print or online, but that’s the title that ran. That being said, I am not blaming my editors for a title that may have offended some. I wrote it, I sent it in and, therefore, any offense taken or any anger generated should be directed at me and only me. Furthermore, this is not an apology. I don’t just stand by the Daily, my editors and my title, but I stand by the legitimacy of the phrase “fuck the police.”
When the rap group N.W.A. released their infamous song in 1988, they were not trying to be controversial or attract attention. “Fuck tha Police” expresses much of the outrage felt by the Black community in post-civil-rights America, where racism and discrimination has largely shifted to the “colorblind” criminal justice system.
As I stated in my previous column, my criticism and distrust for police is not rooted in a hatred for individual police officers, the overwhelming majority of whom are decent people of integrity. My distrust in police is rooted in a hatred for the policies that dictate their actions.
As Michelle Alexander describes in her book, “The New Jim Crow,” federal, state and local policies incentivize and enable police to disproportionately criminalize Black men in urban areas. Though minorities and whites use drugs nearly the same rate, more than 80 percent of “stop-and-frisks” by police in New York are of Blacks or Latinos. Police perform as many stops on Black New Yorkers as there are Black people in New York. They assume guilt rather than innocence, filling required quotas instead of helping people in the most crime-ridden areas. This seems to be the norm in most of the United States, where the prison population has more than quintupled in the last 30 years, with nearly half of those incarcerated being Black.
While other factors play a role in the racial disparities of the criminal justice system, the majority of the blame still falls on the shoulders of police. By focusing on quotas, targeting poor, African American areas and failing to address the inherent anti-black biases in individual officers — including officers of color — police overwhelmingly target minorities for arrest, throwing them into the merciless depths of the criminal justice system. The high sentences and overwhelmed attorneys don’t help, but the fact of the matter is once you’re in court, your chances of getting away without a conviction are slim no matter who you are. Once someone is arrested and charged, the turning gears of the criminal justice system are hard to stop.
After the shooting of Trayvon Martin, dozens of individuals wrote testimonials about “the talk” that Black parents often feel compelled to have with their sons. My father had a similar sit down with me a handful of times as a teenager, but he never had to tell me that the color of my skin made me a target for police. He never once mentioned that police would look at me with extra scrutiny, assuming I’m a criminal because of my hair, and he never had to emphasize that because of the way I choose to dress, I have to remain calm and move slowly or I may catch a bullet.
Individual police officers are not bad people, just like any other group of Americans. But like everyone else, they follow their boss’s orders and act on imperfect, human impulses. The only differences between police and everyone else are their badge, their gun and their authority to use both. No law enforcement body will ever be perfect, but with one in every three Black men in America going to prison, the United States criminal justice system has proven itself an utter failure.
Even as a privileged, white male I will never be able to see a police officer or squad car without being overcome by anxiety — I cringe trying to imagine what goes through the heads of my friends of other identities in the same situation.
These feelings do not highlight something wrong with us, but rather point out the massive flaws with police in America. Police policies are a driving force for racial and social injustice, and this was evident long before N.W.A. released their infamous anthem.
Until law enforcement shows that its true interest is in promoting public safety rather than attacking people of color, me and countless others will continue to say it loud, say it proud, and say it with plenty of justification: Fuck the police.
James Brennan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.