by Jalil Muntaqim/FreeJalil.com
To lose a child under any circumstances is heart-wrenching for any parent. This is especially true when it is done by a representative of government. When the police kill, particularly a child, more specifically a man-child of color, it raises many questions about justification. As the rash of such police killings has created a national debate, it is important to recognize law enforcement in America has evolved into a militarized institution. Like many American institutions, it has been awarded with various forms of immunity, a type of exceptionalism. The contradictory dichotomy between becoming a hero or villain is based on the intent of the police officer who takes a civilian life, and how the law interprets that intent. The problem is that, when a person takes and passes the civil service exam and is sworn in as law enforcement personnel, they are granted the presumption of immunity. Yet the philosophy endemic and common to all law enforcement agencies is that they are guardians of a social order, as defined by law. Impressed upon this philosophy is the evolving of an ideology and a culture that reinforces an ideal, almost a belief system. Such a belief system creates a socio-political environment of a “them” and “us” paradigm, setting them apart and above the civilian population. Here is where the problem begins, which is especially significant when the horrific history of race is added to this evolving institutionalized culture. Just as all police officers are not villains or heroes, the culture of the blue-line makes it difficult to distinguish them apart, especially when they consistently rally around each other whether right or wrong. Within a known racially biased judicial system, they in essence protect the ideal of their immunity and the sanctity of their institutionalized culture.
It is with this understanding that a mother must know when they lose a child to a police shooting, it is more than the individual cop they have to confront, it is the culture and institution that they represent. In this regard, while it is not necessary here to offer insight into the well-documented historical relationships between the system of slavery and the development of the police system, I must quote from Steve Martinot, White Identity, Constitutionality, and its Double Legal System, where he recounts:
“ Both the police and the impunity of slave masters belong to the same paradigm of dual system of law, sanctioned by the law, in producing the subjection of people of color. What contemporary juridical procedure has done, by valorizing police impunity, is to regenerate the double system of law of the slave system … Thus, both manifest the component elements of white racial identity: paranoia … violence …, and white solidarity …”
Hence, the reality of the situation is our community is not confronting individual cops or police agencies, but a historical cultural dynamic that has been institutionalized, not unlike the prison industrial complex and the school to prison pipeline as trinity of repression. It is apparent that these oppressive conditions are not circumstantial, it is policy driven and codified in law. For example, the well-known disparity in sentencing for crack possession compared to cocaine possession, or the number of Black folks stopped and arrested for marijuana possession compared to white folks being stopped and arrested. As a recent Times/CBS poll discovered, 45 percent of Black people, compared to 7 percent of white people, believed they had experienced a specific instance of police discrimination because of their race. Such is the case that 31 percent of white folks recognize police are more likely to use deadly force in Black neighborhoods than in white neighborhoods. If there is to be a remedy to this national problem, it is essential that mothers of children lost to unjustified police shootings create a national database to identify the extent of the problem. To ensure a national dialogue on this problem demands congressional hearings on how best to de-centralize and de-militarize police forces across the country.
In this way, this struggle has the potential to demystify the invincibility of the police culture of impunity and immunity. Obviously, this debate needs to strengthen the argument the police are to represent the interests of people above the profits of the capitalist system. Essentially, mothers who have lost children to police killings and the community must take a position that law enforcement is not above the law. Secondly, passing a civil service exam does not exempt law enforcement personnel from prosecution for the unjustified killing of innocent civilians. Since the culture of law enforcement supports the impression they are above the law, people must argue that legislation be passed that community review boards have investigative and subpoena power, and are capable of demanding the prosecution and/or firing of police officers who have been found to violate people’s civil and human rights. In this way, the community, especially mothers of lost children, will be able to take control of the narrative in defining the relationship between the community and law enforcement. This may seem extreme; however, Martin Luther King, Jr. is reported to have instructed: “The question is not whether we will be extremists but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice, or will we be extremists for the cause of justice?” I believe all will agree there is nothing more extreme than the unjustified killing by police of Black children and men.
I am sorry for all the losses of these children, and Black boys, based on the failure of the Black Panther Party to pass on to the next generation lessons from the COINTELPRO onslaught on the BPP. It is extremely unfortunate that such an important institution (police force) embedded in our community maintains a culture that seemingly epitomizes a “them” and “us” dysfunctional relationship. Obviously, community policing, in which police officers live and work in the community, would be best to engender a better relationship with law enforcement. But because of all that has been expressed above, the potential for that to happen is a far-fetched ideal. However, the fight for community policing empowers the community to take control of crime and punishment in the community. We can only hope that by virtue of mothers’ losses and the struggle to remedy such tragedy, we will win a more improved and appreciated relationship by lessening dependence on the police, and not cultivate negatively perceived belief in the police as an occupying force to keep the natives in control.
I would like to close by making one other observation. There is a need for the inhabitants of our community to take control of the community to lessen the need for police patrols. Street violence and drug dealing that puts everyone’s lives in jeopardy, including cops, is the responsibility of the community. This is a collective failure, despite all of the political and socio-economic policies and decision-making that reinforce impoverishment, joblessness, homelessness and hopelessness … crime in the community is a principle enemy. Collectively, we must confront Black-on-Black crime to preserve the future of our youth. This means that our youth must be recruited and trained to become community activists in the fight opposing political policies that disenfranchise and impoverish the community. The Black Panther Party for Self-Defense held that criminal activity in the community was reactionary, and potentially counter-revolutionary. We have lost several generations since the COINTELPRO destruction of the Black Panther Party to prison and the grave as a result of police repression. We must make every effort as part of challenging the current wave of police killings to eliminate the need for police entrenchment in the community. This requires the community’s responsibility to end Black-on-Black crime.
This is the hard discussion that must be held as part of the national debate to eliminate these police killings, further eliminating the need for the overwhelming police presence in the community. A Mother’s loss of a child to police or street violence makes this demand on all of us, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. instructed:
“ Every step toward this goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”
The First Line of Defense IS Power to the People!
Fist Up! Fight Back!
Remember: We Are Our Own Liberators!
Jalil A. Muntaqim
Jalil Muntaqim is a former member of the Black Panther Party and the Black Liberation Army. He is a political prisoner currently locked up in Attica Correctional Facility. He was one of many activists targeted by the FBI’s COINTELPRO (Counter-Intelligence Program) during the 1960s-70s which led to his current incarceration. He is the author of We Are Our Own Liberators: Selected Prison Writings.