“Like the possibility of arrest, the threat of violence is implicit in every police encounter,” writes Kristian Williams in Our Enemies in Blue. “Violence, as well as the law, is what they represent.” This acclaimed and influential book, now in a revised and updated new edition, draws on history and detailed research to make a provocative but convincing argument about the nature of law enforcement in the United States. Click here to order your copy today by making a donation to Truthout!
The following is a Truthout interview with Kristian Williams, author of Our Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America.
As our nation moves forward to rebuild the trust that has been lost, Williams addresses the nature of law enforcement and its relationship to non-negotiable force and those who abuse it.
How might that relationship affect the way forward?
MARK KARLIN:Your book, Enemies in Blue: Police and Power in America, is nearly six hundred pages, thoroughly documented and cogent. Let’s start with the word “power” in your title. Given the recent technological advances that have documented police murders, beatings and violence, a lot of attention has been focused on individual police officers. However, who do you argue is the power that condones the abuse of police powers?
KRISTIAN WILLIAMS: Enabling individual abuses, there are the other officers who don’t report it, the supervisors who fail to discipline subordinates, the commanders who set policy, the prosecutors who refuse to press charges against cops, the mayors and city councils who fund police departments but don’t provide for meaningful oversight, the legislators who pass laws criminalizing poverty, the federal officials who provide military hardware to local departments – the list could go on. The point is that there is a whole apparatus at work, keeping the police on the streets doing what they do. The responsibility for abuses, then, lies at least as much with the institution as with the individual cops.
The problem isn’t just that certain cops overstep their bounds. It’s that there are systemic biases, such that the police tend to behave in ways that favor powerful group and harm marginalized groups. Policing, and the abuses of police power, tend to reflect and reinforce social inequalities. So long as that’s the case, powerful people don’t have a lot of reason to hold the police in check.
How does racism and the treatment of people of color as disposable people by the police fit in?
Since the origins of the institution – before the modern municipal police, in fact; since the time of the slave patrols – the cops’ main job has been the control of people of color, and the black population especially. That was true under slavery, and segregation, and it’s true now. The law has changed, but white supremacy persists, and the police function has remained remarkably stable. It is hardly surprising, then, that the police watch, harass, stop, search, arrest, hurt, and kill people of color at a scandalously disproportionate rate.
Read the entire article HERE.