In just the last few days the New York Times carried 3 major stories that were prominently headlined. The first read: On the Trail of a Death in Baltimore-- Family Is Left in the Dark After a Teenager is Fatally Shot by the Police. Another one read: Where Police Cameras and Web Users See and Are Watching You --- Police Secrecy Law Unchanged. And the third read: Despite Vows after Eric Garner's Death, the Disciplinary History of Police Officers Still Cannot Be Disclosed.
These are just the tip of the iceberg of stories --- the few that eventually gain national and international notice.
And of course there are the countless daily cases that never see the
journalistic light of day that many of us never become aware of --- even in our local communities.
In the face of a society that increasingly finds itself incapable of bringing about a progressive and transformative world of radical love, economic and political justice, more and more of us --- disproportionately poor and people of color --- come up against an increasingly technologically militarized, over-policed criminal justice reality. Increasingly, these forces seem to be operating to manage or make sure that true radical and progressive yearnings never come to fruition.
These structures and policies included and continue to include blatant acts of police brutality and killings, punitive cruelties of mass incarceration and solitary confinement, and racially, class directed polices such as stop and frisk, wars on drugs and broken windows.
These practices continue to wreak havoc and misery on millions of people's lives as well as increasing strains and pressures on the lives of many police themselves as they're thrust into impossible situations. Further disrespect for the police and the law itself is a byproduct of this toxic interactive brew that many politicians and law and order authorities are slow to realize.
It was not until the 1830s that the idea of a centralized municipal police department first emerged in the United States. More than a hundred years earlier, in 1704, the colony of Carolina developed the fledgling United States' first slave patrol which consisted of roving bands of armed white citizens who would stop, question, and punish slaves caught without a permit to travel. The way the patrols were organized and maintained provided a later framework for preventive (rather than reactive) community policing, particularly in the South.
More modern centralized and bureaucratic police departments have focused on the alleged crime-producing qualities of the so-called "dangerous classes" --- the economic underclasses. They came to believe that crime could stop before it started by subjecting everyone to surveillance and observation.
The concept of the police patrol as a preventative control mechanism
routinized the insertion of police into the normal daily events of everyone's life, a previously unknown and highly feared concept in both England and the United States. Patrols in the North also became useful for breaking up labor strikes and those who were agitating for better working conditions and rights of collective bargaining.
Our guest on the Radical Imagination today has been in the forefront and cutting edge for criminal justice and police reform for over 40 years in New York and around the country, fighting to assure that repressive, outrageous and fear-based criminal justice and police practices and trends don't become acceptable, routinized and the new normal.
He's been an activist, community organizer, educator, political policy
advocate and political candidate. He's served as the Executive Director of the Correctional Association of New York, progressive candidate for mayor of New York City in 2017 and founded the Police Reform Organizing Project (PROP). PROP has dedicated itself to exposing discriminatory and abusive practices of the New York Police Department that routinely and disproportionately effect our city's low-income communities and people of color. He's what Cornel West would call a long-distance love warrior - attempting to build a world where justice would be what love looks like in public.
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