Thursday, June 11, 2020

How Racial Disparity Does Not Help Make Sense of Patterns of Police Violence


nonsite |  But, when we step away from focus on racial disproportions, the glaring fact is that whites are roughly half or nearly half of all those killed annually by police. And the demand that we focus on the racial disparity is simultaneously a demand that we disattend from other possibly causal disparities. Zaid Jilani found, for example, that ninety-five percent of police killings occurred in neighborhoods with median family income of less than $100,00 and that the median family income in neighborhoods where police killed was $52,907.
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What the pattern in those states with high rates of police killings suggests is what might have been the focal point of critical discussion of police violence all along, that it is the product of an approach to policing that emerges from an imperative to contain and suppress the pockets of economically marginal and sub-employed working class populations produced by revanchist capitalism.

There is no need here to go into the evolution of this dangerous regime of policing—from bogus “broken windows” and “zero tolerance” theories of the sort that academics always seem to have at the ready to rationalize intensified application of bourgeois class power, to anti-terrorism hysteria and finally assertion of a common sense understanding that any cop has unassailable authority to override constitutional protections and to turn an expired inspection sticker or a refusal to respond to an arbitrary order or warrantless search into a capital offense. And the shrill insistence that we begin and end with the claim that blacks are victimized worst of all and give ritual obeisance to the liturgy of empty slogans is—for all the militant posturing by McKesson, Garza, Tometi, Cullors et al.—in substance a demand that we not pay attention to the deeper roots of the pattern of police violence in enforcement of the neoliberal regime of sharply regressive upward redistribution and its social entailments. 

I’m not much given to autobiographical writing, least of all as a mechanism for establishing interpretive authority, even though I recognize that that pre-Enlightenment ploy has become coin of the realm for the “public intellectual” and blogosphere bloviator stratum.
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I’m still not going to natter on about my racial bona fides; I’ll leave that domain to the likes of Mychal Denzel Smith and Ta-Nehisi Coates, for whom every sideways glance from a random white person while waiting on line for a latt√© becomes an occasion for navel-gazing lament and another paycheck. (A historian friend has indicated his resolve, when white colleagues enthuse to him about Coates’s wisdom and truth-telling, to ask which white college dropouts they consult to get their deep truths about white people.) I just wanted to anticipate the reaction and make clear that I recognize it for the cheesy move that it is.