Runaway Slave Patrol Badge and Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Badge.
Runaway Slave Patrol Badge and Riverside County Deputy Sheriff Badge. (source:pinterest.com)

S. E. Williams | Black Voice News

“Every year we must remind successive generations that this event triggered a series of events that one by one defines the challenges and responsibilities of successive generations. 

Al Edwards

When a societal and institutional reckoning on policing was called to the fore in the wake of George Floyd’s unconscionable murder a year ago, few, if any, communities across the nation had clean hands when it came to the all too frequent use of excessive force by police against Blacks and other people of color, including right here in the inland region.  

Calls for changes in policing is a long simmering issue, refueled each time another Black body lies in the street of some “baseball and apple pie” American city.

After each single event that manages to  garner national attention—among the thousands that occur across the country every year, the push  for change burns bright and then fades to a simmer before turning to ash like traditional fireworks on the 4th of July, that is, until another, highly publicized occurrence ignites another call to action.  

What should not be forgotten however is outside the media spotlight, when the nation moves on to the next thing, the push for change in communities like the inland region never completely falls away, people continue working to transform the process.

Meanwhile, whenever the pressure for change gets too intense—as it did in the wake of Floyd’s murder, elected officials and others in power contrive to say the right things, offer just enough nuance to forestall any meaningful action. All the while, aggressively pushing against any meaningful, substantive changes. Their resistance is bolstered by police unions with deep pockets.

Even in those breakthrough moments when changes do occur around the edges, like with body worn cameras for example, the rules are nebulous, and police agencies freely opt out.

The bottom line of my argument is, everyone knows that from the time of “slave catchers” and “paddy rollers” to the birth of the Ku Klux Klan where police wore badges by day and robes by night; to today where some members of police agencies are accused of trading uniforms for MAGA hats when not on duty—those sworn to protect us too often place their hatred and desire for total control above all else, including Black lives or any life for that matter, that threatens their “will to power.” Nothing changes, not even their badges—what a legacy!  

Riverside Sheriff Deputy Badge (source: wikimediacommons.com)

I criticize the actions of these individuals without equivocation and to those who would say, “It is only a few bad apples, and I should qualify my criticism by saying something like, ‘Of course, this is not true of all police.’ I respond, “That, of course, is a given. Just as clearly as it should be a given, that not all Black people are criminals. So, why do police and deputies so often treat us like we are?”  

Blacks are stopped more, injured by police more, killed more, arrested more, charged with more crimes, charged higher bail, convicted more, sentenced longer, given the death penalty more often, and serve longer periods of probation than any other group and yet, we use drugs at a similar rate, resist less, are least likely to be stopped for traffic violations and more likely to be stopped for what is called “reasonable suspicion.” We are also searched more, even though we are far less likely than Whites to be found with contraband.  

So, it is an insult to hear police say, we should not lump all officers together when it is clearly true that is exactly what they do regarding Blacks.

For these reasons and others, I continue to be incredulous regarding the inaction of those who “currently” have power to make  change and their pretense of shock and dismay over calls to defund the police especially when they know full well the intent is to redirect funding from local police to local community groups more focused on healing a community than traumatizing it.

I applaud those across the inland region and across the country who continue to show up at board or council meetings to make their voices heard and demand change—those who recognize much of the heavy lifting must happen at the local level.

On Juneteeth as the nation marks the delayed end to slavery in the State of Texas it is important to remind ourselves that although chattel slavery ended, involuntary servitude did not, begging the question, “How free are we?”

The U.S. Constitution under the Thirteenth Amendment and 48 states including California, still have involuntary servitude as punishment for crimes, enshrined in their constitutions.

As such, a nation that built its wealth on the commodity of slavery–a nation that built a fail-safe into its Constitution to preserve vestiges of slavery as “involuntary servitude,” a nation that then set about criminalizing and imprisoning the descendants of those chattel slaves to make them involuntary servants,  a nation whose wealth and world renown is partly rooted in its ability to manipulate the pricing of commodities by leveraging involuntary servitude–would be willing to deconstruct a system of policing that helps fuel this economic engine is incongruous, making it difficult to dismantle.  

This reality is what makes putting pressure on local elected officials and working with police agencies and sheriff departments to reimagine policing so critical—they are the “tip of the spear” so to speak, holding the line against change.  

It begins with city councils and county boards that have the power to enforce change because they  control budget allocations. It includes police chiefs who are appointed by mayors and approved by city councils, county sheriffs who also serve  as coroners (and determine the cause of death in use of force cases}; district attorneys who ultimately determine who is charged with what; judges who reign like lords in their respective court rooms, and of course, police officers and deputies who interact with the public and make the arrests that fuel the system.

Most elected officials tied in one way or another to criminal justice from city councils to board supervisors to county sheriffs/coroners, to district attorneys and judges, are elected with the help of police unions, and those who are not elected—like local police chiefs—are appointed and approved by those who are. Why? Job security for police and deputies? To influence policy?

The struggle for change continues to be long and arduous and it is important to understand what is happening to Black people in America today is a continuation of the nation’s second greatest sin of chattel slavery, the first being the near annihilation of this land’s native people.

Policing in America, however, is destined to change. Policing in America must change–things always seem impossible . . . until they are not.

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real. 

S. E. Williams is editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News.