(NBC) - Police brutality is a consequence of a capitalist society organized to funnel massive amounts of wealth to a tiny class, while keeping millions in poverty.
A growing chorus of voices has been identifying police unions as the key obstacle in the way of meaningful police reform. During a few days in June, the New York Times, Washington Post, CNN and even the New York Daily News all ran pieces decrying the role of these unions in defending brutal cops.
Police unions often defend brutal and murderous cops and resist reforms. For instance, Chicago’s Fraternal Order of Police President John Catanzara threatened to bring charges within the union against any police officers who kneel with protesters. In Minneapolis, police union President Lt. Bob Kroll has called protesters terrorists, becoming a lightning rod for criticism of unions around the country.
But focusing on police unions provides political cover for the very people who run these brutalizing police departments and raises the real question: Why are so many police so brutal to begin with? And why does so much of their brutality fall on the Black population?
From its beginnings, the U.S. developed as a capitalist country, organized to produce profit for those who already have wealth, by exploiting the labor of others. Where there has been a wage labor system rather than slavery, those with wealth have always needed a surplus force of laborers. When there is a high demand for work, members of this reserve army of labor may be hired, but when that demand dries up, they are usually let go.
The existence of this reserve labor force, while necessary for capitalism, creates all kinds of social problems. It directly led, in the 19th century, to the development of an armed police force, charged to protect the property and interests of the wealthy and to deal with all the other social problems created by this system, from homelessness to addiction to murder.
As the country developed, one group after another arrived in cities and competed against the rest for scarce jobs. Slavery and its aftermath ensured that the Black population was always at a disadvantage in this competition, bearing a disproportionate brunt of this society’s social problems: unemployment, low wages, decrepit housing, underfunded schools and police violence.
This police violence is much bigger than the actions of killer cops like Derek Chauvin or his accomplices. It is central to the daily activities of the police who are “just doing their jobs.”