All Lives Matter: Against Double Standards

Spectrezine is aimed at the European progressive movement. Our site critiques, above all, the European Union and its member states. However, this article by Victor Wallis, though it focuses on events on the United States involving extremes of police violence, should lead us to ask ourselves – are things so different in Europe?

People speaking for the victims of police violence have unreservedly condemned the recent killing of two New York City police officers. People speaking for the police or for local governments never condemned the killings of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, or any of the other unarmed black men or boys that police have killed.
A double standard is obviously at work here. Those who protest the actions of killer-cops get at best mixed reactions from public officials. After Michael Brown was executed with his hands up, a grieving community was met not with official condolences but with the provocative deployment of militarized police units. And after Eric Garner was suffocated under a pile of cops, the indictment that came down, albeit for an unrelated infraction, was aimed at the video-photographer who recorded his desperate pleas for air.

By contrast, the police in all public statements express automatic solidarity with one another, no questions asked.  They are upheld in this by the judicial system, which turns the usual indictment-process upside down when the defendants are police officers.
These regular institutional responses imply that violence exercised by the police is somehow more acceptable than violence directed against the police.
New York Mayor De Blasio, under intense criticism from police organizations, declared that an attack on police officers is an attack on all citizens.
Why was it inconceivable for him to say something similar when Eric Garner had the life squashed out of him before all our eyes? or when the grand jury, a few months later, refused to indict NYPD officer Pantaleo and his cohorts for that act?
Why should everyone be expected to identify more with fallen police officers than with their victims? This is where we confront the structural underpinnings of police violence.

While the victims of the police are ordinary human beings (even though not treated as such), the police are the armed enforcers of a system of privilege. Although their stated role is to protect all of us, their real role skews this function in such a way as to assure that fear is drummed into any sector of the population that is seen as a potential social threat.  See this article

The culture that underpins this role has endowed the police with impunity for actions that go far beyond what is necessary to meet the formal requirements of their occupation. Thus, it was one thing to arrest Eric Garner; it was quite another to maintain the pressure on his windpipe when he could no longer breathe. This recalls the bullet pumped into the back of Oscar Grant (also recorded on video) after he had already been subdued by several officers at an Oakland transit station in 2009. Such actions, as Steve Martinot showed in an April 2013 article, fit into a long history of racist terror.
The inevitable news stories about the personal pain of survivors – given media prominence only when police are the victims – are true regardless of who has been killed. Why should the suffering caused by racist cops be less universally felt than the suffering caused by a troubled individual who goes on a personal vendetta that ends up targeting random police officers?
The point is that all lives matter. The reason for the slogan “Black Lives Matter” is that this general principle is far from being universally honoured. We know this also because of the many expressions of support that were received by Darren Wilson after he killed Michael Brown.
When De Blasio said that protests should be suspended out of respect for the slain police officers, one could well have asked why, when cops earlier had killed defenceless black men, public officials (at every level) did not call for a similar show of respect to the communities that mourned them, but instead confronted those communities with heavy weaponry.
Fortunately, many people are becoming aware of the grotesque power-imbalance reflected in these morally inconsistent responses. If such practices are to cease, however, it will be necessary to go far beyond attaching body-cameras to the police or having the same political leaders appoint “independent” prosecutors. There will need to be a radical change in the power-configuration of this society. Part of the process of achieving this will be acknowledging the criminality of currently accepted practices and understanding the history on which they are based.

This is an expanded version of a column posted on December 22 at Open Media Boston. The author is managing editor of the journal Socialism and Democracy, which in November 2014 published a special issue, “The Roots of Mass Incarceration in the US: Locking Up Black Dissidents and Punishing the Poor,” co-edited by Mumia Abu-Jamal and Johanna Fernández.  The author of this article, Victor Wallis, also wrote on this issue for Spectrezine  in August 2014. See “Behind US Police Terror”


Photograph  is by Edwin Lee - 'Get that baton outta my face!' 
MayDay 2004, Dublin