“This is not about cameras and re-training and chokeholds — this is about how we restructure our society, and the valuing of Black life.”

— Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, April 20




So far this year, U.S. police have killed 319 people; by the time you read this, our “public safety servants” will have killed even more citizens whom they are sworn to serve and protect. U.S. cops are trending at killing about 1,000 people every single year, far outpacing any other country of similar wealth, by number of dead as well as per capita. What is wrong with the system of policing and “justice” in this country that there are seemingly endless acceptable killings by police? These were people, with hearts and lungs and feelings and traumas, hopelessness, hope, and love.

About half an hour before the jury announced the murder conviction of Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin, a Columbus, Ohio, cop exited his car and within seconds shot to kill 16-year-old Ma’Khia Bryant. Was there no other option? He couldn’t have used de-escalation tactics, a Taser, or at the very least, aimed at her legs rather than her heart? A few days ago, on April 14, a Maine cop shot and killed Jacob Wood, a 28-year-old Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians man. And last December, another Maine cop shot and killed Jake McClure in Jefferson. Many people I grew up with knew Jake and are grieving him. Will there be authentically independent investigations? Accountability? Will the system of cops, courts and mental health care change fundamentally, or even a little bit, as a result?

Based on history, no.

When a cop thinks about pulling the trigger, they know their union will fight for them, they know the laws protect them. In fact, their chance of being charged with a crime — any crime at all — after they kill someone is 1.7% (according to 2013–2020 data compiled by Mapping Police Violence). As for murder convictions, in the 14 years spanning 2005–2019, only four law enforcement officers were convicted (based on research from Bowling Green State University by Stinson and Wentzlof). Add Derek Chauvin to that number, and Amber Guyger, and we’re at six murder convictions in something like 16,000 police killings.

Do cops really make us safer? If so, who do they make safe — and who do they endanger? At times, they save lives. At times, they can be helpful. But the system of policing is too corrupt, too infested with power-over, and too entwined with a hungry prison industrial complex ever to be truly about safety. Despite repeated attempts to reform the Minneapolis Police Department, with “community policing,” Civilian Review Boards and many other reforms, for example, nothing has worked.

What are the chances that the knife Ma’Khia Bryant was holding, reportedly to protect herself, would have resulted in someone dying? I suspect no one would have died that day were it not for the cop and his gun. As to the killings of Jake McClure and Jacob Wood, while it is rumored that each may have been involved in altercations, are we again supposed to believe that the cops had no option but to shoot and kill? Why is it that in the two-year period that the Maine Task Force on Police Killings recently reviewed, with our population of about 1.3 million, Maine cops killed as many people as German cops killed in their entire country, population of 82.8 million?

The Maine Attorney General’s Office has not once decided that a Maine police killing was unwarranted. If all a cop has to do is claim they were “afraid” for their, or someone else’s, life, that’s that. But to hell with what the authorites say. We will no longer accept citizens being murdered by police as integral to the fabric of our society.

The problem isn’t just police. Though they do function as mini-militaries in our backyards, with hierarchies, codes of silence, and military weaponry, frightening even the officials who are supposed to oversee them, they are merely the frontline of society’s systems of punishment. The problem, as always, is also the politicians, administrators and corporations who create the laws, policies and punishments that keep the meat gears grinding for the largest prison industrial complex in the world. The courts, policing, and the prison systems are big business, and the people intentionally trapped inside these systems almost always come from poverty. The poor are monetized, as a way to keep the punishment economy churning.

Nothing will change, not without sustained uprisings and organizing, and the passing of transformative legislation like the BREATHE Act. We are aiming for the abolition of poverty, and the eradication of the systems of policing, unjust legal systems, and the prison industrial complex as we know them.