Guest columnist Felix O’Connor: You are not immune to ‘copaganda’

  • Northampton Police Station

Published: 7/10/2020 4:13:04 PM

In a classic whitewashing misrepresentation of Martin Luther King Jr., former Northampton police officer Andrew Trushaw quotes MLK’s “Loving your Enemies” sermon in his recent guest column. (“We, the police, want change,” June 18).

This misrepresentation turns the issue into “fighting hate” rather than fighting against white supremacy and the systems that are rooted deeply within it (enter policing).

I think a much more relevant MLK quote is from his 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail: “I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Council or the Klu Klux Klanner, but the white moderate who is more devoted to ‘order’ than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says ‘I agree with you in the goal that you seek, but I can’t agree with your methods of direct action’; who paternalistically feels he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by the myth of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait until a ‘more convenient season.’”

The “white moderate more devoted to ‘order’ than justice” sounds like a fitting categorization of someone whose job for 44 years was to uphold so-called “law and order.”

A couple of weeks ago, I was on a call around defunding the police that opened with the question, “when was the first time you realized the police were not your friends?” Most of the answers ranged from age 5-20 (my own being around age 7 or 8) and laid out example after example of personal anecdotes of police violence and misconduct. Quite a few people answered that it was the Los Angeles riots following the beating of Rodney King that opened their eyes.

Anyone who thinks that anti-police sentiment is “all of a sudden” (Police Chief Jody Kasper’s own words) have not been listening. Not only is painting this as something “new” ahistorical, but saying that “this has caused quite a bit of concern in our building about who’s going to have jobs and how we’re going to be responding to calls” and “what happens if our staff levels drop more” is blatant fear-mongering. It is manipulating the public.

Three of the people laid off from the Northampton Police Department were still in the academy, one person resigned of their own accord, and the department won’t fill an already vacant position. In addition, the “school resource officer” has been removed from the schools and placed in a cruiser. This results in a net loss of zero active officers.

One of the most infuriating (and at times, heartbreaking) things to hear in response to calls to defund or abolish the police is that those calling for it don’t care about the safety of others — like Trushaw’s statement, “I hope you can look in the mirror and be proud of when there is a victim of your move to get the police back for the bad some cops have done.”

This is not about “getting back” at the police, throwing public safety to the wind, or revenge, but rather the opposite. People are calling for this because they care deeply about other people enough to want a world in which public safety actually means safety for everyone. No one is immune to copaganda — we’ve all watched and internalized media that paints police as not only necessary, but of vital importance — as heroes, necessary for “public safety.”

This is about wanting to create a world in which violence and coercion aren’t the tools used to enforce so-called public safety. This is about breaking the idolatry of the hero.

And that is why if the “cops want change” then they should quit their jobs. We want to defund and abolish the police so that we can free up the resources to address the root causes of crime and to ensure safety and security (and food and shelter and education) for all. To work together to keep everyone safe.

What’s so bad about that?

Felix O’Connor lives in Northampton.

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