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'They Think We Are Animals': How America's Police State Controls Black People

Racism in America's police force is linked to cops' role as keepers of the status quo in an unequal society.

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In came Police Commissioner Bill Bratton with the “broken windows” theory. The premise of "broken windows" is that abandoned urban space invites worse crime, so a building with a broken window invites more vandalism, then squatters, then drug dealing, until it becomes a crack mansion. Broken window calls for ramped-up policing of smaller, quality-of-life crimes. 

In reality, "broken windows" provides ideological justification for cracking down on low-level dealers and working-class people. CompStat managing used weekly reports to find the “hot spots,” which were inevitably black, Latino and poor. These areas flooded with police patrols. Drinking on the stoop, washing car windows at the intersection or smoking a joint got you busted.

An era of gentrification was upon the city. Neighborhoods that had been off limits were now open to investors. Rents went up. New stores came in. New people came in until the city is what it is today, large swaths serving as a playground for the transnational capitalist class. 

So every day, in the city streets, blacks, latinos and the poor are fondled and pushed around by cops. It's a "natural" site because the classic image of the black “brute” has been transformed into the ghetto thug.

In May 2012, New York City Council members met with Police Commissioner Ray Kelly and questioned him on stop and frisk. They said their constituents felt “under siege.” He shot back, “What I haven’t heard is any solution to the violence problems in these communities -- people are upset about being stopped, yet what is the answer?”

Tricky Math

In 2010, secret recordings were smuggled out of the 81st Precinct in “Do or Die” Bed-Stuy by officer Adrian Schoolcraft. Printed in the  Village Voice , the transcripts show bosses ordering street level cops to “pay the rent,” parlance for issuing tickets, summons and making arrests. Precinct bosses showed the inflated numbers to upper management as proof they were working hard. But when actual crimes were reported, officers were told to aggressively question the victims and downgrade them.

Putting “paper” on people and suppressing reports of real crime created statistics for politicians to trumpet how safe the city was on their watch. Under the veneer of First World professionalism, New York shares an ugly dynamic with Third World cities. If you are working class, poor, colored or foreign, you essentially have to pay the cops off. Except in our city, the money doesn’t go into their pockets but to the state in the form of a ticket.

People are being “mugged” by cops. And if you have a ticket you can’t pay, you get a warrant you can’t avoid and when caught, you’ll go to jail. The poorest people in the city are paying for their own oppression.

What's Thug Got To Do With It?

His name was Ro’. I first sensed him in the panicked eyes of my neighbors. My block is a live wire of spoken and unspoken messages; I was told in their suspicious glances and fast walk-away that the new tall black man was trouble. When I got to my building, the DJ who lived downstairs was standing at the doorway with a small knife in his hand.

“What’s going on?” I asked.

“You see that nigga over there,” he jutted his chin to the new guy. “His name is Ro’. Just came back from prison and he’s trying to hustle people, yelling that his bike was broken and they gotta pay to repair it.”

Every time I saw Ro’, he was more raggedy and hungry. My last memory, he jerkily walked along the street like a puppet with invisible strings yanking his limbs. One foot was bare; the other had a dangling slipper. And his eyes seemed to bob in a sea of chemicals. The men on the street shot him hard stares. He vanished afterward, maybe dead or in jail or rehab. I didn’t care which, I was just glad he was gone.

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