Obama Addresses Police Forum:
Cosmetic Changes, Increased Repression

October 26, 2015 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us



On October 22 Barack Obama participated in a Criminal Justice Reform Panel sponsored by The Marshall Project. The panel was chaired by Bill Keller, the former executive editor of the New York Times, and included “law enforcement leaders,” Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck, and U.S. Attorney for Colorado, John Walsh.

Obama’s remarks were widely reported as defending the slogan “Black Lives Matter” and calling for significant reforms in policing and the legal system. Obama did acknowledge that what he called the “problem of racial justice or injustice in the society” has been “a running theme in this country’s history for a very long time.”

What is the reality here? What is the “specific problem”?

Obama poses the problem as society’s need to “reduce crime and violence and making our communities safe.” He speaks of the “disproportionality” of the criminal justice system that has resulted in the mass incarceration of generation after generation of Black youth.

But that is not the actual problem. Why are so many Black youths arrested? Why are hundreds of thousands of Black youths locked up in prisons? Why are so many Black people constantly harassed by police, picked up for minor violations, and forced to live in impoverished social conditions where there are crumbling schools, no jobs, little or poor health care, overcrowded, decrepit housing?

Black people are arrested, convicted, brutalized, murdered, held for months and years in city and county lock ups, and sent to prison for decades at far higher rates than white people. The root problem is that the 400-year nightmare of Black peoples’ brutal oppression has been foundational to America, since before it was a country to this day. And in fact, today that situation has escalated to the level of slow genocide that could become fast genocide.

Nothing Obama said, the few cosmetic changes he offered in sentencing and in developing “community policing,” in any way challenged that. In fact, his remarks and the program he advocates would do just the opposite: strengthen the police’s ability to carry out repression and brutalization of people for whom this society has no decent life to offer, now or in the future.

Obama and other members of the ruling class he represents are deeply concerned about the exposure of and, even more, the resistance to, this country’s police and criminal INjustice system that have spread throughout society. They are very concerned that the image of the U.S. as the self-proclaimed homeland of “democracy and justice” is being undermined worldwide. In a period of increasing global challenge to U.S. dominance, it is being shown to be a bottomless source of blatant discrimination, unpunished police violence, and systematic legally enforced persecution of Black people.

One section of the rulers is determined to make some cosmetic changes that enable it to better carry forward a program of more intensified repression, defense of murdering and brutalizing cops in any and all circumstances, and an unhindered program of mass incarceration of Black and Latino people. Obama and others, mainly Democrats, think that some changes in police training, and a less blatantly discriminatory set of legal policies, are necessary. And then there’s the Republicans.

Obama’s program would include the involvement of “community leaders” in working out “solutions” with the very police and political officials carrying out the attacks upon the people. Obama concluded his remarks by saying, “It’s incumbent then on the activist to also take seriously the tough job that police have. And that’s one of the things that the post-Ferguson task force did. We had activists who were marching in with Ferguson police chiefs and law enforcement, sitting down and figuring this stuff out.”

This is putting  reality and truth on its head. What if people in Ferguson hadn’t courageously risen up and rebelled and gotten the attention of the world? Michael Brown would be one more Black youth murdered by the police, and forgotten by all but his family and friends. What if people in Ferguson had sat down to “reason things out” with the murdering cops instead of persisting in their demand for justice in the face of tanks, tear gas, the National Guard, and vicious police attacks? Would there have been the outpourings of protest against police brutality that pulsed and grew across the country for months last year? Would the whole world have come to see how systematic and deeply engrained the brutality and murder of Black people is in this country?

When the youth of Baltimore rose up demanding justice for Freddie Gray—so the police murder of this young Black man would not be ruled “justified” as so many others are—Obama called them “thugs.” Fact is, those youth did more to do something positive about police terror and mass incarceration than a billion appeals to the powers-that-be, let alone marching with police chiefs.

Obama attended this forum on the 20th anniversary of the National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of Generations and in the midst of Rise Up October to STOP police terror. What he is doing is the opposite of all that. He spoke before an audience of police officials and prosecutors who have been not only the enforcers but the architects of a system of “criminal justice” that has resulted in millions of people being imprisoned, thousands murdered, and countless thousands brutalized and terrorized by the police. As Radley Balko, author of the book Rise of the Warrior Cop, said, this was like “convening a panel of dogs to discuss the threats to squirrels.”

Obama was trying to convince the audience of police and legal officials to make some adjustments in how they enforce the oppression that is increasingly being exposed before the entire world for the systematic brutality and outright murder of Black people it is. He is also trying to convince the many middle-class people who have been roused to question and protest the white supremacy and the injustices that characterize this society, that he is acting to make the system more fair and equitable, while ensuring that their “safety” is paramount. He is doing this for the purpose of sustaining this oppression, and this system.

No. This system has white supremacy deeply embedded in its structure, its functioning. It has no solution to the relentless oppression it has enforced for hundreds of years. It has no future to offer the youth of today and future generations. Its leaders, whether Obama and the Democrats or the Republicans who oppose them, do not have any interest, desire, or ability to change that in any meaningful way.

What is needed from the people is not helping the enforcers of repression to better carry out a slow genocide that could become a fast genocide.

Carl Dix of the Revolutionary Communist Party emphatically expressed what is urgently needed: “When you’re up against a genocide, and that IS what we’re dealing with, you don’t ask the people presiding over it to make some changes to smooth out the rough edges of that genocide or to slow down its intensity. You act to STOP it.”


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