Friday, October 24, 2014


Harry Targ
Over the last several years the criminal justice systems at the federal, state, and local levels have threatened the basic rights of citizens, particularly people of color and youth. These violations of equal treatment under the law have included:

-a “national epidemic” of police and vigilante killings of young African American men, for example Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis in Florida, Eric Garner in New York, Oscar Grant in Oakland, California, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, John Crawford III in Dayton, Ohio, Vonderrit Myers Jr. in St. Louis, and Ezell Ford in Los Angeles

-the mass incarceration of people of color such that, as Michelle Alexander has reported in her recent book, The New Jim Crow, more African Americans are in jail or under the supervision of the criminal justice system today than were in slavery in 1850;

-the institutionalization of laws increasing surveillance;

-and the passage of so-called Stand Your Ground laws, justifying gun violence against people perceived as a threat.

On August 9, 2014 unarmed nineteen-year-old African-American Michael Brown was shot multiple times by a Ferguson, Missouri policeman. In response to the collective expression of community outrage that followed, the local police initiated a multi-day barrage of tear gas, strong-arm arrests, and the threatening of street protestors with military vehicles and loaded rifles. The images on television screens nationwide were of a people under assault. The fear that young African American males in Ferguson have historically felt every time they stepped into the streets of their city was heightened by the killing of Michael Brown.

Significant events since the police murder have been protests, the visit to the Ferguson community by Attorney General Eric Holder and national mobilizations in Ferguson and around the country. Subsequent to that police killing, many more African American men have been killed by police officers across the nation.  However within the last few days “testimony” leaked from the grand jury investigating the police crime has appeared in the St Louis Post-Dispatch and Washington Post that promotes a narrative that the police officer who murdered Brown was acting in self-defense.

Along with police killings other police abuse occurs regularly. In Hammond, Indiana, on September 24, 2014, an African American women, who was the driver of a car and mother of two children in the back seat, and an adult male friend in the front passenger seat, was pulled over by a police officer for a seat belt violation. Fortunately nobody died, but the policeman drew his weapon and shattered the automobile’s front side window. The policeman had ordered the male to roll down the window, tasered and then arrested him while the seven year old daughter of the driver cried in the back seat. Subsequently Hammond authorities have defended the conduct of the police officer.

In a recently released study, journalists discovered that between 2010 and 2012 young Black males were shot to death by police 21 times more than young whites. Their data was limited to those two years because earlier information accumulated by the FBI was incomplete. Prior to that time police departments had not filed required reports when police used force.

Even though data is partial, Professor Colin Loftin, co-director of the Violence Research Group, University of Alabama, said, “No question, there are all kinds of racial disparities across our criminal justice system.” (Ryan Gabrielson, Ryann Grochowski Jones an Eric Sagara, “Deadly Force, in Black and White,”, October 10, 2014).

A growing body of evidence suggests that the criminal justice system administers justice in an unfair way--from general police/community relations, to trials and incarceration, to the use of violence and deadly force against minority youth.

While police are supposed to serve the interests of the communities in which they work, compelling evidence suggests that, to the contrary, force is used to stifle dissent and challenge assertions of political and cultural autonomy. The data overwhelmingly supports the conclusion that police systems are institutionalized forms of racism.

In response to racist police violence the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, a branch of the National Alliance founded in 1973, has been working to “stop police crimes,” establish “prison reform,” and to oppose the incarceration of persons wrongfully incarcerated including political prisoners.

The CAARPR has proposed the establishment of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC) for the city. According to the plan, the city would create an elected CPAC which would oversee the personnel and policy of the police department. CPAC would appoint the Superintendent of Police, revise rules for police practices, investigate police misconduct, investigate all police shootings, and provide for transparency in investigations. The central premise of the CPAC idea is that the police exist to serve the community not oppose it.

Real community control of police and the criminal justice system is basic to any democracy. Along with the generalized declining perception by Americans about the legitimacy of political institutions, minorities and youth see the police more as an occupying army than a force for protecting the safety, security, and independence of members of their community.