Revolutionary Worker #900, March 30, 1997
There is a phrase--one small phrase, two words, with which the masses of people are assaulted day in and day out--the masses of people are bludgeoned with this phrase repeatedly, adding insult to horrendous injury time and time again. This phrase is "justifiable homicide." When the state comes down and murders one or more of the masses--and in everyday life this is usually at the hands of the police-- it is called "justifiable homicide." This happens over and over and over again, and when do the authorities not declare it "justifiable homicide?" Almost never.
Now, when outrageous, egregious examples of this are brought into the light of day--for example with the video of the Rodney King beating--the basic masses exclaim: "See--this is what we have been talking about, and some people said we were lying or exaggerating but there it is." And some of those "some people"--that is, some among the middle class (forget about the ruling class) do come out with backward shit even in the face of glaring evidence like this of what the nature and role of the police is: "Well, yes, that looks bad, but we have to keep in mind that the police have a difficult and dangerous job, and there are a lot of cops who are killed in the line of duty, too."
The cops just trample on the rights of people every day, they brutalize people every day, and they murder people day after day--it's all "justifiable." And many times, after they have murdered somebody in cold blood, they will turn around and insult and even brutalize the family and friends of the person they have murdered! But every time a cop gets killed, they will have a great big ceremony and bring out thousands of cops from all over. They will have 77-gun salutes. They will rant and rave about how horrible it is for the cop to be killed in the line of duty, how dangerous a job it is, how thankless of a job it is--they are that "thin blue line" out there in society, blah, blah, blah.
But a question we have to come back with is this: when the police murder one of the people, how many times are they convicted of a crime? How many times are they even charged with a crime? How many times does an inquest, or a judge, or a grand jury declare that no wrong has been done, that it is all "justifiable homicide"? How many times has that happened? Too many to count. And how many times has the reverse happened? How many times has it happened that somebody who killed a cop was not charged with and convicted of a crime, if they survived the "search and destroy" of the massive police manhunt? Can anybody think of even three cases of this kind?
But, again, how many times does it happen that the cops kill somebody and a judge or a coroner's inquest or whatever does not say "justifiable homicide"? And, even in those very rare instances where cops are indicted and tried for killing someone, how many times are they charged with murder instead of a "lesser charge"? How many times are they convicted? How many have gotten the death penalty, even in the most obvious and outrageous cases of cold-blooded murder?
How many times does the legal system suddenly work in favor of the defendants, in these rare cases where defendants are cops accused of brutalizing or murdering basic people? (And where are the "victims' rights" choruses when these defendants get off easy, or get off altogether?!)
Why is it that in these cases, and not as an exception but as the general rule, the "line-up" in the court is the cop's "defense team," a "referee" (judge) who is actually playing for the cop's "defense team" (whose rulings and whose whole attitude and demeanor slant things in favor of the defense), and then a "prosecution defense team" which suddenly seems to have forgotten how to prosecute? Why in these cases do we see a prosecution which very rarely brings the highest possible charges and which frequently indicts only one or few of the many cops who took part in brutalizing or outright murdering someone; a prosecution which often brings cops who were involved but not indicted as witnesses who give testimony favorable to the cops on trial, and on and on--in short, a prosecution which prosecutes reluctantly and weakly and which crafts its case in such a way that it actually leaves huge openings for and aids the cop's defense?
Right there, in the answer to these questions--in the contrast between how the system moves when the police kill somebody, versus how it moves when the reverse happens--the class relations and the nature of the state stand out very starkly.
This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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