Black people trust white liberals

Liberal and racist in Minneapolis

Even after the violent death of George Floyd, the majority of white Americans trust the police - because they secure their privileges

by Richard Keizer

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Minnesota has a liberal image. In 1984 it was the only state to vote against Ronald Reagan's re-election. The last Republican presidential candidate to win Minnesota was Richard Nixon in 1972. To this end, the state on the border with Canada sent a number of important left-wing politicians such as Eugene McCarthy, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale and Ilhan Omar - the first of two Muslim women in the House of Representatives - to the two houses of Congress.

Against this background, the murder of George Floyd by four police officers and the subsequent massive civil protests and isolated outbreaks of violence could appear surprising. But for attentive residents of the twin cities of Minneapolis and Saint Paul, the riots were by no means unexpected.

When it comes to education, satisfaction, and income, Minnesota ranks first among the US states. The Democratic Governor Tim Walz also referred to this after a night of rioting, but only to immediately qualify: “All these statistics are correct if you are white. If it's not you, we're at the lower end of the scale. "

Minnesota ranks 39th out of 50 states for the percentage of African Americans with college degrees, 45th for the percentage of black people in paid work, and 48th for the percentage of black people who live within their own four walls . A white family makes an average of $ 99,500 a year, a black family 28,500.

The inequality gap has opened across the United States since the 1970s. The coronavirus shows us once again that the life expectancy of blacks is significantly lower than that of whites due to racist inequality. But the virus has also put a disproportionately large number of African Americans out of their jobs, and blacks are particularly affected by school closings. One more reason to take to the streets every night. As is usually the case during such riots, the mostly peaceful demonstrators mainly damaged shops in their own neighborhoods; The only unusual thing this time was that some expensive shopping and nightlife areas and banks that were further away were also attacked.

Racist police violence also reflects inequality in the most glaring way. In the United States, police are usually run by the city or county government, not the state or government of Washington. In the twin cities, too, blacks are repeatedly killed by police officers - for example Jamar Clark 2015 and Philando Castile 2016, whose murderers were acquitted.

These cases are part of a long history of police harassment and assault. Although only 40 percent of Minneapolis' residents are People of Color (PoC), they make up 74 percent of the victims of police violence. According to a study commissioned by the State Public Defender's Office, three out of four police-controlled vehicles are driven by black people, even though their proportion of the population is only 19 percent.

Given the enormous discretion of the officials, any nullity can serve as a pretext for a police search. For most African Americans, there is no question that, at the wheel of a car, the color of their skin (driving while black) alone makes them suspicious. The distrust of the police goes back a long way. Black Americans never tire of remembering that the police, at least in the southern states, arose from patrols whose job it was to capture escaped slaves.

In the meantime, the police union in Minneapolis has become the main target of criticism. Its chairman, Lieutenant Bob Kroll, binds its members by sabotaging all attempts by Democratic mayors to hold violent officials accountable. Or, as the current mayor Jacob Frey puts it: "For years, the police union and laws that make it almost impossible to hold police officers accountable have thwarted attempts at reform."

Frey and his former police chief Janeé Harteau blame the union for ensuring that violent police officers cannot be fired because every complaint has to go through a union-negotiated arbitration process. It mostly falls back on decades-old precedents in which the officers were always certified to have acted in self-defense.

Derek Chauvin, the squad leader who put his knee on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes, has been a cop for 20 years. Over the years, 17 complaints of misconduct have been filed against him, with only one on trial in 2007 for violence on duty. 16 of them were not disciplined; Due to a contract between the city and the trade union, the public is prevented from seeing the details of these procedures.

Of the three other police officers who watched Chauvin idly, two had been on duty for less than a year. Six complaints have already been filed against the third, Tou Thao, five of which have been resolved. Thao was one of two officers on trial in 2017 for beating a prisoner who was handcuffed. While the city settled the case by paying $ 25,000, Thao was covered by the union and the incident did not result in any disciplinary action whatsoever.

Union chairman Kroll, who appeared at a mass event with Donald Trump in 2019, said Liberal Democrats in the city government stabbed the police in the back if they refused to counter the violence in the city with bolstering the police force. This type of bunker mentality can be found among many police officers in the United States, who tend to distrust the political left. Whenever the police superiors set up programs to train officers in de-escalation techniques or to reduce “unconscious prejudices”, the union takes a stand against it.

When the city government decreed that the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) officers should live in the city themselves so that they would treat its residents with more empathy, the police lobby succeeded in having the law overturned at the state level. 92 percent of the police on duty in Minneapolis live outside of it.

Something similar happened when Mayor Frey banned military hand-to-hand combat training from police training in 2019, which teaches budding police officers to perceive every black citizen as a threat. Kroll demonstrated his resistance to the ban by offering voluntary training on the union side under the so-called Killology program, which is supposed to take away the scruples of police officers about killing. There will be no de-escalation with the MPD, explained Kroll: “You want to teach them to duck out, but that is against their nature - that's where a large part of the tension among the cops comes from the fact that they no longer have the opportunity to meet someone to snap and say, take it easy, or you will end up in jail, and if need be, with force. "

Kroll described George Floyd as a "violent criminal" and the demonstrators as part of a "terrorist movement". His troops are loyal to him. In the last union elections he had no opponent, and he chose his successor himself.

Major unions in Minnesota and other parts of the US have since signaled that they want to distance themselves from the police unions. In this assignment of blame, however, it is easy to overlook how closely the police and trade unions are interlinked; after all, it is the police who elect their representatives. Bob Kroll is about to retire, but union culture is unlikely to change in Minneapolis or anywhere else - at least not as long as violence and racial prejudice are not excluded from police hiring practices.

In Minneapolis there is now a growing movement of activists and members of the city council who want to cut the police budget under the motto “Defund the police”. With reference to this slogan, some are calling for the police budget to be cut in favor of social workers and mental health care; Organized locally (community-based), one could react to a multitude of family and social problems with such a low threshold. With this approach, the MPD would still remain responsible for violent crimes. More radical voices are calling for the complete dismantling of the existing police force and a fresh start from scratch - an approach that excites some, but above all scares whites across the state.1

A second strategy emerging is to dissolve contracts that the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis Schools, Park Administration, and other institutions have entered into with the MPD. The police patrol at sporting events at the university, intervene in incidents of violence in schools and provide security at concerts. Because these sideline jobs are often off-duty, many civil servants use them to top up their annual income averaging $ 60,000.

The possible termination of these contracts shows a willingness to act on the part of the establishment that has surprised all observers, even if it does not go far enough for the activists. In order to continue to get this easily earned extra income, the police might be willing to make concessions when renegotiating the contract, which has now expired, which Kroll has so far blocked.

Third, Governor Tim Walz has tasked the Minnesota Human Rights Officer with an investigation into the police's discriminatory use of PoC. Since the state is above the city, the commissioner can order specific changes or even temporarily take over the supervision of the police and the union.

When police officers in the United States kill an African American, they are rarely convicted. This is exactly what the Black Lives Matter movement wants to change. The list of victims won't end with George Floyd; In the weeks since his murder, other names have already been added, such as Rayshard Brooks, who was shot twice in the back by a police officer in Atlanta.

Whether blacks in the US, migrants in Europe, indigenous people or the homeless - modern capitalism, combined with contemporary nationalism, has undermined our understanding of citizenship and human rights. The idea that there are categories of dispensable people has established itself on a broad basis: people whose lives can be wiped out by the state with impunity.

A fundamental “anti-sociality” is assumed to these people, whether it is the homeless who have to be removed from the cityscape, the migrants, who in the first generation fail to learn the language of their new home, or the people of color who have the nerve to question the cultural superiority and supremacy of whites.

For this reason, even the video of Derek Chauvin kneeling on George Floyd's neck for almost nine minutes may not be enough to convict him and his three cronies. The slightest misdemeanor, traces of drugs found in Floyd's body during the autopsy, or the attempt to pay with a counterfeit $ 20 bill are enough for the majority of whites in America to label the victim as a criminal; and a black man who has broken the Narcotics Act or simply failed to pay a fine is considered worthless.

But even if the police are found guilty, whites from both the liberal and the conservative camp continue to see only isolated cases. You will not stop trusting the police because they protect the lifestyle of the white middle class. And this is where Minneapolis hardly differs from New York, Paris, Sydney or Rio.

1 Mayor Jacob Frey spoke out on June 6th at a demonstration against the liquidation of the police. On June 26, however, the Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted for a change to the city charter that could pave the way for a dissolution of the MPD; see Minneapolis Star Tribune, June 27, 2020.

Translated from the English by Robin Cackett

Richard Keizer is Professor of American Studies and Political Science at Carleton College, Minnesota. He lives in Minneapolis.

Le Monde diplomatique, July 9th, 2020, by Richard Keizer