“The alms are only for the poor and the needy, and those who collect them, and those whose hearts are to be reconciled, and to free those in bondage and the debtors, and for the cause of Allah, and (for) the wayfarer; a duty imposed by Allah. Allah is Knower, Wise.” [Qur’an 9:60]
When I reflect on this verse, I ask myself “who is in bondage, or enslaved today?” Is this verse even relevant to Black America today? And I started thinking about my personal interaction with the police and the prison industrial complex. As long as I can remember, black people and the police has had an antagonistic relationship. Now that we have cell phones with cameras, much of the violence done by police on so-called Black and Brown folks have been captured on video. But these hostile interactions between Black people and police has existed since the creation of the police in the 1700s.
I do recall the police beating of Rodney King by the police in March 1991. George Holliday,( just someone having fun recording with his new video camera) caught on tape the savage beating by several police officers of an unarmed black man called Rodney King (1).
The term might not have existed at the time, but this was the world’s first viral video, as well as an early example of citizen journalism, becoming a symbol of police brutality and sparking the worst race riots in US history in Los Angeles a quarter of a century ago.
But since camera phones have become commonplace, and there are cameras everywhere (inside and outside of buildings, on police cruisers, on police vests, etc…) Now these beatings are caught more frequently and more often and I think we are becoming more desensitized to it.
But there is a lot that is not caught on camera. Like the stop and frisk policy of police officers of Black and Brown people. Stop and frisk is when a police officer pulls you over on a suspicion of illegal activity going on. Where there are Black and Hispanic majorities, so too is there increased stop-and-frisk activity. And Yes, the correlation of race is not causation, and it is totally unreasonable to suggest that race does not play a part in the implementation of the stop-and-frisk program.
Stop-and-Frisk abuses corrode trust between the police and our communities, which makes everyone less safe. No research has ever proven the effectiveness of the stop-and-frisk regime, and the small number of arrests, summonses, and guns recovered demonstrates that the practice is ineffective. Crime data also do not support the claim that cities (like New York) is safer because of the practice. While violent crimes fell 29 percent in New York City from 2001 to 2010, other large cities experienced larger violent crime declines without relying on stop and frisk abuses: 59 percent in Los Angeles, 56 percent in New Orleans, 49 percent in Dallas, and 37 percent in Baltimore (2). Thus it baffles me why president Trump is calling for the return of Stop and Frisk to curb gun violence in Chicago.
And there other non recorded activities like police harassments, and even guns being pulled on you for no reason at all. I recall making a left turn on a yellow light on Florence Ave in Los Angeles a few years back. A motorcycle cop, officer Garcia, pulled me over and approached my car with his gun drawn. Keep in mind, there were three cars behind me that made that same turn. I just knew I was going to be shot. I didn’t resist, I didn’t argue, I didn’t have any warrants or anything like that. People always say, you won’t get shot if you comply. I was complying but this cop was threatening my life with a gun in my face. I had to use verbal judo to get out of this situation. Did he have reasonable cause? I think not.
What caused me to write this peace was a discussion I had with my wife (who is a member of Black Lives Matter). Despite understanding that Black people having an antagonistic relationship with the police. I wanted to believe that not all police were bad. That there were some good police. Occasionally we get news reports of police helping people, throwing baseballs with inner city kids, saving someone’s life. To me this was evidence of the good cop or great P.R. (Although I can't recall having a positive interaction with them). There had to be some good cops. Then two thoughts came to mind: Mass Incarceration & Slave catchers.
In her book , "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness", legal scholar Michelle Alexander writes about the reversal of the gains of the civil rights movement in the 60s. She says that although Jim Crow laws are now off the books, millions of blacks arrested for minor crimes remain marginalized and disenfranchised, trapped by a criminal justice system that has forever branded them as felons and denied them basic rights and opportunities that would allow them to become productive, law-abiding citizens. She says: "People are swept into the criminal justice system — particularly in poor communities of color — at very early ages ... typically for fairly minor, nonviolent crimes," she tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "[The young black males are] shuttled into prisons, branded as criminals and felons, and then when they're released, they're relegated to a permanent second-class status, stripped of the very rights supposedly won in the civil rights movement — like the right to vote, the right to serve on juries, the right to be free of legal discrimination and employment, and access to education and public benefits. Many of the old forms of discrimination that we supposedly left behind during the Jim Crow era are suddenly legal again, once you've been branded a felon." Civil Rights have been undermined by the mass incarceration of black Americans in the war on drugs.
She continues..."Today there are more African-Americans under correctional control — in prison or jail, on probation or parole — than were enslaved in 1850, a decade before the Civil War began. There are millions of African-Americans now cycling in and out of prisons and jails or under correctional control. In major American cities today, more than half of working-age African-American men are either under correctional control or branded felons and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives."
Here is what Michelle Alexander said that blew my mind:"Federal funding has flowed to state and local law enforcement agencies who boost the sheer numbers of drug arrests. State and local law enforcement agencies have been rewarded in cash for the sheer numbers of people swept into the system for drug offenses, thus giving law enforcement agencies an incentive to go out and look for the so-called 'low-hanging fruit': stopping, frisking, searching as many people as possible, pulling over as many cars as possible, in order to boost their numbers up and ensure the funding stream will continue or increase." (3). Hence they are the modern slave catchers.
These same so-called “good cops” participate in the criminalization of Black people, in fact they receive financial incentives and are promoted based on their number of arrests. Where are all of these good cops speaking out against the building more prisons? Where are they speaking out against police profiling, stop and frisk, police harassment, police shootings of unarmed black men, and police beatings? If these good cops are silent on these issues then they are complicit. To quote Desmond Tutu:
“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.”
Martin Luther King said:
“He who passively accepts evil is as much in it as he who helps to perpetuate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”
So silence is complicity. If you see or know a so-called “good cop” and he is silent on these issues, he is just as guilty as the bad cop. Hence there are no such thing as a good cop.
I really started to think about this while having a discussion with my wife. She had a more of a mistrust of the police than I. I wanted to believe that there are some good cops out there. And was ready to argue her down on this point. She pointed to a Black Lives Matter event where they camped in front of the Los Angeles City Hall to demand that Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck to resign or be fired for police bias and racial profiling.
The Los Angeles Police Commission has investigated 1,356 allegations of police bias, including racial profiling from 2012 to 2014, and upheld zero of them, according to the LA Times (4).
Hence I would go to the Black Lives Matter campsite to support their cause, although not a member, and offer protection for my wife. Although there were no “trespassing laws” or “loitering laws”. The cops kept harassing the encampment. They kept making up new rules daily to end or mute the protest. Even threatening to arrest folks. And I recall some of the “Black officers” assigned to the camp, did express their support of the cause but stated “they were just doing their job”. These are the “good cops” we speak of. Because of a check, although they supported us morally, they were on the side of injustice based on their inaction and complicity. You can’t stand before Allah with the excuse that you were just obeying orders.
What really occurred to me as an epiphany while talking to my wife, was that there were no such thing as a good versus bad slave catcher. They were all bad, no matter how well they treated the slave. They supported white supremacy, back then in the form of slavery. Even though the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution abolished slavery and involuntary servitude, it made an exception, you could still be enslaved as punishment for a crime. So even today, although we are supposedly free, by locking us up wholesale still makes us slaves. And the modern police force are the slave catchers.
The United States has more people in prison than the rest of the world combined. According to the US Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), 2,220,300 adults were incarcerated in US federal and state prisons and county jails in 2013 – about 0.91% of adults (1 in 110) in the U.S. resident population. Additionally, 4,751,400 adults in 2013 (1 in 51) were on probation or on parole. Although we are only 13% of the population we are, as so-called African Americans, are 40% of the prison population (5).
The police force historically started off as a slave catchers. In the South the economics that drove the creation of police forces were centered not on the protection of shipping interests but on the preservation of the slavery system. Some of the primary policing institutions there were the slave patrols tasked with chasing down runaways and preventing slave revolts, Potter says; the first formal slave patrol had been created in the Carolina colonies in 1704. During the Civil War, the military became the primary form of law enforcement in the South, but during Reconstruction, many local sheriffs functioned in a way analogous to the earlier slave patrols, enforcing segregation and the disenfranchisement of freed slaves (6). So we have to ask ourselves, were there such a thing as a good slave catcher? Most people would say no. But now that slave catchers are now called police officers (and some are Black & Brown, or Christians and Muslims), we give some them the honor of being called “ Good cops”. I'm here to tell you there is no such thing.