Police State USA

Police State USA

By David Runciman and Catherine Carr

We talk to Adom Getachew, Jasson Perez and Gary Gerstle about the politics of protest and the politics of policing in America. What does 'Defund the Police' mean in practice? Is the current crisis likely to empower or curtail the surveillance state? How are the current protests different from ones we've seen in the past? And where Minneapolis leads, will the world follow? Plus we talk about the implications of the protests for the November elections.

Talking Points:

The ‘defund the police’ movement has gained a lot of ground in the last few weeks.

This movement wants to defund and disband the police and invest resources in things that get at the roots of harm and violence in communities. Minneapolis already had a successful campaign to divest. Local organizations knew how to relate to a spontaneous rebellion and use that energy to push the agenda. Other cities will have to figure out how to do this in their organizing communities. Alternatives to policing exist but they are chronically underfunded.

We associate the last 30 years with state shrinkage, neoliberalism, and disinvestment from public goods, especially education, but there has been an ongoing increase in police spending.

The pandemic—and a growing sense that we don’t have basic public necessities—has led people to question the normalcy of increasing police spending.Growing expenditure has not really helped the communities where violence persists. Police have failed on their own terms.Cities are also paying out a lot on police misconduct cases.

There are two things going on: historically recognizable violence, but also the risk that this movement empowers the move toward technological forms of violence. 

Big data police tech presents itself as the solution to racist policing and police brutality.Demands to defund the police must be coupled with restrictions around private policing and surveillance. 

The American federal system is set up to stymie change, so moments like this are rare but important.

It starts from the outside—from protests—and then the elite begin to rethink their role in the regime.

Are there any useful historical analogies?

Gary thinks the labour uprisings of the 1930s, which pressured FDR to make a leftward turn, more closely parallel what’s happening now than 1968. The scale and depth of this—and the level of public support—are unprecedented.The uprisings of 1968 generated a particular elite response. The movement for black lives is responding to the world that comes out of 1968 and the 50 year bipartisan consensus on policing that emerged from that moment.

Trump is an incumbent and this happened on his watch. That’s different from the 1968/Nixon story.

What will the Democrats do? And how far will they go to meet the demands?What is the vector through which protest politics gets channeled to become a mechanism for generating policy? In the absence of organized labour politics, there are no clear mediating institutions. The pandemic presents a risk: if there is another spike, Trump will blame protesters. 

Mentioned in this Episode:

Eyes on the Prize (documentary)David’s LRB review of Rahm Emanuel’s book, The Nation CityThe Politics of...
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