Winston Heckt, Staff Writer
I really wanted the “Police and Black Men Project” panel at the Nobel Peace Prize Forum to be good. I really wanted to hear some real solutions to ending police brutality in Minneapolis. Instead, the panel was a bad joke, a hollow examination that entirely missed the mark.
According to their handout, the panel met biweekly for 18 months with the goal to “forge connections between Police officers and African American men that can lead to better partnerships for community safety and law enforcement.” I was skeptical about the project from the start, and when I read the handout, I knew this panel was full of shit. In describing the history and underlying causes, the handout has no mention of racism, slavery, white supremacy, the prison industrial complex, the war on drugs, Jim Crow laws or even police brutality.
When the panel opened to questions from the audience, the first question was from a Black woman asking why no Black women were involved in the panel. Seeing how there are more Black single mothers because of the overrepresentation of Black men in our prisons, she said their perspective ought to be included. I agree. Professor Bill Doherty responded by saying they had decided to just focus on the relationship between police and Black men. So, Black women’s voices somehow weren’t relevant.
The next question came from me, and I pressed them on why they hadn’t touched on any of the aforementioned factors. One of the cops answered by telling me to trust that they had talked about it, and Doherty chimed in that they weren’t included on the handout because it was supposed to be a brief overview. I didn’t ask it at the time, but I wonder: is the six-letter word “racism” too long and in-depth to be included on a handout about police brutality? I find it very telling that on the handout, their first order of importance is to change the narrative followed by bringing people together around a shared value of safety, with the last step in their plan being a focus on structural reforms — of which no actual reforms are offered. In my mind, that order is entirely backwards. Instead of fixing the problems to result in a better relationship between police, Doherty and his panel seem satisfied to spout out some vaguely blue-lives-matter bullshit about how individual cops want safe communities without addressing systemic racism and the actual function the police have in our society.
The modern day American police force is born of slave patrols, Jim Crow, and the loophole in the 13th amendment that allows for a person to be a slave so long as it’s punishment for a crime. Slavery is alive and well in the U.S. with more Black folks currently in prison than there ever were enslaved in plantations. That’s why the largest prison strike in U.S. history just happened. Slavery never ended, and the police function to continue the supply of slaves. That’s why I distrust the police — not because of some misunderstanding about a shared goal of community safety. Doherty and his panel are so far off base that it’s almost funny. Funny, if not for the 646 people already murdered by police this year and the 2.3 million people currently held in the criminal justice system.
This article first appeared in the Friday, September 21 edition of The Echo.
Photo taken by Winston Heckt.