John Whitehead's Commentary
Don’t Just Blame the Cops: Who Is Responsible for America’s Killing Fields?
“I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today: my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”—Martin Luther King Jr.
The latest shootings—in Texas, Minnesota, Louisiana, Illinois, New York, Missouri and every other state in the nation—are symptomatic of a psychotic outbreak by a nation that has been waging a war against its own citizens for too long.
We have long since passed the stage at which a government of wolves would give rise to a nation of sheep. As I point out in my book Battlefield America: The War on the American People, what we now have is a government of psychopaths that is actively breeding a nation of psychopathic killers.
We’re getting distracted, people.
Instead of focusing our ire on the architects of the American police state, who are responsible for turning the streets into mini-war zones, we’re getting distracted by the many voices eager to play the blame game by pointing their fingers at someone else.
Police groups are blaming President Obama and the Justice Department for failing to prosecute “cop killers.” Texas Republicans are blaming the Black Lives Matter movement for fomenting a “war on cops” mindset. Gun control advocates are blaming “gun lovers and their mouthpieces at the National Rifle Association” for America’s gun violence, reasoning that if all Americans were unarmed, police would not have to treat them as potential threats.
News outlets such as Rolling Stone and Mother Jones have concluded that racial bias is to blame for the “disproportionately high number of African-Americans among police shooting victims.” The Drug Enforcement Administration has suggested that illegal steroid use could be responsible for “police officers who exhibit rage, aggression and/or poor judgment (all symptoms of possible steroid abuse) in confrontations with citizens.”
Human Rights Watch blames police misconduct and excessive use of force on a systemic lack of accountability within law enforcement agencies and the criminal justice system. And civil rights advocates are blaming police militarization and the abundance of laws (overcriminalization) pushed by lawmakers for the nation’s over-policing, over-jailing and over-killing.
Yet in the midst of all this finger pointing, no one is stepping forward to take responsibility for the violence that is tearing the nation apart, deepening racial tensions, heightening police tensions, justifying all manner of civil liberties abuses, and pushing us ever closer to a state of lockdown.
Shame on President Obama for not taking personal responsibility for the blowback resulting from America’s endless wars abroad, the militarization of local police, and the ramifications of allowing police to use battlefield equipment such as drones, assault weapons, tanks, etc. How telling that the first domestic killing of an American citizen by a drone (in this case, a bomb-equipped police robot) should be carried out during the final term of a president whose targeted drone killings abroad have resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent civilians.
Shame on Congress and the countless federal and state policy-making bodies for not taking responsibility for the overabundance of laws that have turned law-abiding citizens into criminals and police into the inflexible enforcers of a legal code that benefits the corporate elite at the expense of the working classes.
Shame on Corporate America, particularly the military industrial complex, for not taking responsibility for having militarized America’s police forces and subjected its citizenry to the tyranny of a heavily armed police state.
Shame on the various government agencies, from the FDA and Social Security Administration to the Department of Education, for not taking responsibility for ratcheting up tensions by using military firepower to advance their bureaucratic agendas.
Shame on Republicans and Democrats for not taking responsibility for having sidelined legitimate matters of concern such as police misconduct in favor of party politics and campaign contributions from special interest groups and unions.
Shame on the courts for not taking responsibility for allowing government agents to hide behind the shield of qualified immunity, rather than being held accountable for their actions.
Shame on law enforcement agencies for advancing the notion that the lives—and rights—of police should be valued more than citizens. Shame on them for not taking responsibility for allowing blind allegiance to the so-called “thin, blue line” to trump the constitutional rights afforded to every American equally.
Shame on communities for not taking responsibility for using SWAT teams that are armed to the teeth and ready for action to deliver mere search warrants, terrorizing and killing American citizens.
Shame on those who embrace violence as an answer to what ails America for not taking responsibility for their part in contributing to an environment that is growing increasingly tense with every new shooting. It’s a vicious cycle in which the police are becoming more hypersensitive, twitchy and quick to shoot at the slightest provocation, and the populace is growing more fearful, outraged and unconvinced that if they “just obey,” all will be fine.
Shame on the religious community for not taking responsibility for its deafening silence in the face of what can only be termed evil, despite its historic lineage of dissenters such as Jesus, Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr. who dared to speak truth to power.
Shame on white Americans, black Americans, brown Americans and every other skin tone in between for not taking responsibility for their part in allowing racism, prejudice and bigotry to dictate justice in America.
And shame on so-called “patriotic” Americans who equate good citizenship with blind obedience to government authority and adulation of the military for not taking responsibility for holding their government officials accountable to the nation’s founding principles. Remember, “we the people” were entrusted with the power to make and unmake the government whenever it ran afoul of its primary purpose, which is to protect our lives, freedoms and property.
Clearly, there’s more than enough blame to go around, but the real question is what can “we the people” do about it? What can average Americans do to stay alive and counter the violence being inflicted on our communities? What can you do to push back against the power of the police state?
For starters, let’s all agree that violence can never be the answer. Violence will only give rise to more violence.
Stop buying into the “us vs. them” rhetoric being pushed by politicians, police unions and those who use the race card as a justification for bloodshed. No matter what color your skin is, what politics you subscribe to, how much money you’ve got, whom you love, where you live, whom you worship, what school you attend, where you work, or any other superficial label that is used to divide us: we all bleed red.
Put your prejudices behind you and stop dealing in stereotypes. Not all police are bloodthirsty. Not all young black men are thugs. Not all people who challenge government authority want anarchy.
In a police state, you’re either the one with your hand on the trigger or you’re staring down the barrel of a loaded gun. In other words, we’re all in this together. The oppression and injustice—be it in the form of shootings, surveillance, fines, asset forfeiture, prison terms, roadside searches, etc.—will come to all of us eventually.
Stop allowing yourself the luxury of distraction and the sin of neutrality. These things happen—the madness and the mayhem—because good people stood by and did nothing.
The only real power we have to push back against the police state is as a unified body.
So what can you do on a practical level?
For starters, find common ground on the issue of gun control, especially as it pertains to government agents. Demilitarize the police. It’s worked in other countries.
Demand that police be held financially responsible for official misconduct.
Put your taxpayer dollars to work for you instead of against you for a change. Tell your elected representatives to stop investing in militarization, wars and weaponry that will only be used against you eventually. Instead, apply the same funds being wasted on endless wars abroad on badly needed infrastructure here at home. By putting more Americans to work rebuilding our communities and our economy, we’ll also strike at the heart of the poverty that drives crime.
Get informed about the workings of government. Get outraged about the corruption that has rotted our republic from the core. Get vocal about the need for transparency, accountability and reform. There are so many issues in need of attention. Pick just one to start with and raise hell about it. For instance, why has the government been spending three times more on jails and prisons than schools for the past 30 years?
Finally, take it upon yourself to interfere. Pay attention to what’s going on around you. Use those cell phones that are never far from your side and record police interactions in order to hold them accountable to playing by our rules, the rules of the Constitution. Most important of all, take a stand for freedom and humanity. “Neutrality,” as Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel reminded us, “helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe.”