Accept That Police Are Not Our Friends

The most recent and tragic story of police violence against a defenseless African in Memphis, Tennessee, U.S. is yet another triggering event for the African masses everywhere on earth. It’s especially triggering to this author for multiple reasons. First, my daughter and only child is currently a graduate student in Memphis and the ancestors know that I count the days until she can finish her studies and be closer to us. My other reasons for being triggered may also be emotionally based, but there is significant objective analysis to justify those concerns.

The first of these concerns is the constantly superficial and dishonest method in which these incidents are dominantly portrayed within the capitalist media. It’s always the same nonsense regurgitated over and over again. African people who either work as police, are related to police, or know police, come out from under every rock to say over and over again that “not all police are bad!”  Or, as I heard one African woman whose husband was a police captain somewhere put it, “my husband is Black, not blue.”  The other headache-producing phenomenon that surfaces after each shooting or beating is the tired refrains that come from so-called African community leaders, the police leadership themselves, and even the families of the shooting victims. They are shocked and as the mother of the African killed in Memphis said over and over in her statement: “where was the humanity in those officers?”

Then, there is the consistently injected weak analysis that seeks to somehow justify police terrorism against us when the perpetuating police are African, as is the case in this Memphis incident. People point to this as if they are doing anything besides giving our revolutionary analysis of police a boost.

At some point in history, when we do not know because we cannot predict the future, but whenever it happens, whether this year or 50 years from now, it will not be soon enough, we as a people will have to take accountability for some of this suffering we experience. What is meant by this statement is that there have been plenty of us on the radical left within the African community who have been talking about police terrorism for decades, centuries even. We have talked and written extensively about policing as an institution emerging from the chattel slavery system. We have expounded repeatedly about the terror directed against us being a result of the systemic requirement of the capitalist system to ensure the African masses stay repressed (and how police exist specifically to maintain that repression). And, we have explained in great detail, over and over again, that the nationality of the police officer is 100% ill-relevant because we are talking about that systemic institution of repression against our people. 

And you cannot argue that this work has not penetrated deep among our people because the seeds of this consciousness have emerged even within popular capitalist culture on a consistent basis. The number of motion pictures that demonstrate police corruption are too many to name and movies like “Boyz in the Hood”, a 30+-year-old movie, clearly articulated the uselessness of African police officers in creating safety for the African masses. Yet, despite all of this, there are still so many of us who absolutely refuse to accept reality. In fact, we can say with relative confidence that unless most of us personally experience police terrorism against us or our families, we refuse to accept that this is a problem we have any responsibility to do anything about. Far too many of us in 2023 still believe that the road to progress is lined with us integrating into police departments when incidents like Memphis clearly show us that this strategy is not working.

We could talk in detail about so many things about this latest incident and any other incident, but the bottom line is our people have to at some point take responsibility for recognizing who we are in this system. We have to take responsibility for waking up from this fantasy that we wish to believe that we have the “rights” that everyone else has. That we are free in these societies. 

From the perspective of this author, it’s far past time for us to take the kid gloves off with our people. As someone who has offered free self-defense training and political education about who we are in this society for years, only to have most people ignore those efforts, it’s becoming more and more difficult to not shake my head when these attacks continue to happen against us. For those of us who preach organization until our throats are sore just to have most people dismiss us in their pursuit of capitalist integration, it’s time for you to be accountable to yourselves and our communities.

Don’t misconstrue what is being said here. Our job is to wake up our people and regardless of how many of us remain asleep, we will continue to do our work, but it’s time for that work to take on more militancy. This liberal “I can be on the side of African people and still support police” insanity needs to be called out at every turn. The right-wing and its racist analysis talking points (i.e. we are only concerned about police shootings against us and not violence in African communities) needs to be shut down among our people. And, we need to start calling out this malaise that dominates our existence until something happens to you and your family. Because at some point, if you continue to ignore reality, you have to take some responsibility for what happens. So, let’s reiterate some key points again. The police are never our friends. Those institutions were never created to serve us anywhere on earth. They exist to serve the interests of international capital. And, any African, other people of color or working people period, who join those institutions are doing nothing besides allying themselves to those anti-people institutions. In other words, where is the massive outcry from African police about the corruptness of policing institutions?  We are not talking about quiet off-the-record confirmations of things we already know. We are talking about active resistance to the repression their jobs perpetuate against us. That resistance doesn’t exist so stop talking about African police because they are worthless to us. 

Start paying attention to sincere efforts to provide our people with the tools to organize ourselves to protect us because those efforts are truly all we have and it’s really all that we need. The only thing lacking with those efforts is that most of our people don’t support them. It’s time to change that once and for all. There is any number of independent organizations that have programs that speak directly to how we organize against police terrorism. The All African People’s Revolutionary Party, Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, Nation of Islam, Black Alliance for Peace, etc. Join those organizations and/or start one of your own that has a political education program that educates about the role of police in protecting the capitalist system and how we organize against them. 

If our people continue to ignore these resolutions while operating as if calling 911 is your primary protection plan for your loved ones, then you are the one who becomes responsible when those terrorists that you called come and create even greater trauma for you and your family. We can do so much better. The only thing stopping us is us.

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Ahjamu Umi is revolutionary organizer with the All African People's Revolutionary Party, adviser, and liberation literature author.