We’re ‘anti-police?’

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We’re ‘anti-police?’

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Last week, SLU student and UNews contributor Nathan Rubbelke wrote an article on collegefix.com about the monument to be erected that commemorates the “Occupy SLU” protests and the “Clock Tower Accords.” In the headline of that piece he writes, “Saint Louis University to Erect Monument Honoring Anti-Police Protest.”
Reading the headline of this shared article on social-media , I couldn’t help but let out a groan. I’m not groaning about the commemoration of the statue; in 40 years this protest is going to be lauded by SLU in the same way that racial integration and the first “Occupy SLU” in 1968 is now. No, I groaned because a college-educated student at SLU called this movement “anti-police.”
Our movement can and should be called many things: disruptive, powerful, emotional, fractured, budding, often inclusive, centered on black lives, intersectional, sustainable, varied, exhaustive and beautiful are but a few of the many ways to describe this movement.
“Anti-police” is one way to describe this movement, but it is largely inaccurate at best, and just plain dangerous at worst.
There are some activists and allies that are “anti-police.” They have advocated for the dissolution of police organizations, offering up several solutions in its stead such as decriminalizing most crimes and unarmed mediation and intervention teams. These ideas should be given more consideration as an alternative to a police force; just because many of us have never experienced an alternative to police, doesn’t mean that the “paradigm is inescapable” (Jose Martin, Rolling Stone, Dec. 16, 2014).
However, I consider the majority of us to understand the realities that reforming the police is much more politically viable than the institution’s removal. I think if we are to be labeled “anti-police”, we should at least get an addendum. Many of us are not “anti-police”: we are against a police force that is not representative of the populace; we are against a police force that resorts to violence to maintain “order”; we are against a police force that disproportionally stops, arrests and kills people of color; we are against a police force that doesn’t discipline its most aggressive and violent officers; we are against a police force that is above the law and the citizens they’re supposed to protect and serve.
Because we advocate, testify and demonstrate for a better police force doesn’t make us “anti-police”. In a talk during last year’s Black History Month by acclaimed sociologist and race theorist, Michael Eric Dyson criticized the work of President Barack Obama. He stated that his criticism did not come out of disdain or hate, but out of love. “I criticize [Obama] because I love him.”
Now, for many of the activists in this movement- themselves victimized by police violence and harassment- that same level of love I just described simply does not apply. As a benefit of my whiteness, I have never feared the police. I loved and admired my police officers growing up. Retired St. Peters police officer Tom Forgue and I call each other “buddy ‘ole pal.” SLU DPSS officer Andy Messina and I exchange Colbert jokes. They are good people, as are most police officers. But even good people have biases. When a person with biases is given a gun or tear-gas cannon, placed in high-pressure situations and always has the “law” to protect them when mistakes are made, there is an opportunity for excess at best and state-complicit violence at worst. When you combine such excess with American law enforcement, an institution historically steeped in the oppression and violence against people of color, the opportunity is realized far too often.
For black and brown people to stare at past and present injustices, to see clearly their ancestors, sisters and brothers’ blood staining the institution of law enforcement and say, “I want to help make you better,” is an act of love. From such a historical context, that statement can derive from nowhere else but love.
To call us “anti-police” is also dangerous. It is dangerous because such a statement paints us in a diametric struggle against the police. It accounts for none of the ambiguity I just described. It also allows people to hold “pro-police” rallies. I hate to break it to them, but they’re not “pro-police,” they’re pro-status quo, and we should know by now how dangerous the status quo is for people of color.
It is disappointing to see students from a Jesuit university do so little to try to understand us. To call us “anti-police” is lazy.
To label us as “anti-police” reduces us. Labeling us “anti-police” solidifies, from the casual onlooker’s perspective, a position of opposition and conflict between our selves and the police.
People should not be against us for demanding the police to treat all people with respect and professionalism, regardless of their identity. People should not be against us for demanding the police to be subject to the same laws as other citizens are subject to. People should not be against us for demanding justice.