The image of a police officer torturing and executing a black man in Minneapolis was horrifying. It was not the first, and regrettably will not likely be the last, in spite of the outrage it generated. Most similar killings in Canada are not caught on video. Life is sacred. Black lives are sacred. Why do our police forces act as if black and indigenous lives don’t matter as much?
As with many festering problems in our societies (and I include Canada which is different but similar) a big part of the heart of the problem is capitalist culture. Racism could only endure for hundreds of years because it remains a deeply held part of our culture.
The wealth of Canada and the US was born in slavery and the theft of indigenous lands. Both slavery and seizing indigenous land required deep cultural beliefs that were racist. Justifying evil actions can only take place by building cultural myths that excuse them, and a huge part of those cultural beliefs rest on the claim that enslaved and indigenous people are inferior. Those beliefs are compounded by our capitalism built on the foundation of slavery, land theft and colonialism.
- organize society and the use of nature around serving capital,
- sanctify the growth of capital measured by GDP,
- define freedom as the absolute right to accumulate capital, and finally,
- combine that with the belief that people always act in their own self-interest, (with greed as a driver of ‘progress’),
………. Do not expect a good outcome.
Capitalism is a system where the highest good is the growth of capital, not the wellbeing of people. People are to be used, and where possible exploited, in the service of capital. Racism and sexism simply makes the use of some people more profitable. It is the only reasonable explanation for why racial minorities and women are paid less. In a capitalist culture these ideas are accepted as the ‘realistic normal’ and ‘above question’. Racism is part of the capitalist normal. Part of the white population is also exploited in the pursuit of profit. Racism helps channel the rage and despair of poor exploited whites toward black and racialized groups rather than against billionaires. Think Trump.
The destructive outcome is deepened by the common capitalist belief that people are wealthy because they deserve it and the poor are poor by their own fault. The job of the police in such a society is to protect the wealth, especially that of the wealthiest, from the needs of other 90%, especially those who are inferior and who claim a fair share they do not deserve.
The culture of racism is amplified because a small percentage of those attracted to police work are wounded, insecure and angry bullies for whom walking around with a gun and a night stick is not a form of self-protection but a threat. In some police forces, this threatening minority is seen as ‘the effective, tough officers, the leaders we need’. Our society further compounds this by the almost universal exoneration of any police officer guilty of excessive force, brutality or murder. We must not confuse our duty to protect those who sometimes risk their lives to protect us with a grant of freedom to do violence with automatic exoneration. These exonerations do not protect police, they simply generate fear and distrust among the people they are commissioned to serve and put all police at greater risk.
Millions of people on June 1 saw a woman kneeling in the street, with her hands in front of her face, getting kicked in the face by an approaching officer. Will this brutal act be punished? Not likely, but it is in the real interest of every ‘peace officer’ that it is indeed punished.
I was deeply moved by the account of one police leader who went to the demonstrators and told them he was there to be with them and joined the demonstration. In another brief video clip a white officer spoke gently and put his arms around a black man overcome with grief to comfort him. In yet another, a group of National Guard members went down on one knee in solidarity. These were ‘peace officers’. This is what we need rather than the hatred and violence spewing out of the White House which poisons the US, Canada and the world. One can only hope that more and more peace officers and military officers and public servants will simply respond to orders to be racist, violent, cruel and do evil on behalf of the White House with the word “No”.
The timidity of our government, cowering inside our houses of Parliament, lacking the courage to stand up to bullying and cruelty or call a lie a lie, is not anything to admire. Canada and the US are neighbors and need to a nurture friendly relationship. Alas, we are too afraid of what their government might do. Our response to evil actions should not be strained silence or mimic the threatening bluster of the bully. It needs to be a quiet, clear and respectful ‘no’, whenever possible coordinated with other like-minded nations. Force, violence and intimidation are the tools of bullies. Cowering empowers billionaire bullies and leaves their racism unchallenged. We too must learn to say “no” to racism and all other evil.
Part 2 to follow