Let’s Escalate! What Could Go Wrong?

A long article in Jacobin, a socialist magazine, asks “Why Are the Police Like This?” and then offers an answer. I wasn’t convinced that they got it totally right:

As it turns out, the institution [urban police forces] emerged to police all people whose freedom the ruling class feared. In the United States, as in other countries, the police were created to manage the social problems of a capitalist society — poverty, crime, and class conflict — while suppressing radical challenges to that society. As those challenges became more serious, the police became more militarized. The institution that in the United States has been directed with special force and ferocity against black people is, today, the most visible and violent part of an all-purpose apparatus of discipline and control. Once we grasp the origins of the police and why they militarized, we can recognize why all workers share an interest in transforming the police.

As evidence, however, consider what happened when a black man, Rayshard Brooks, fell asleep in a Wendy’s drive-through lane in Atlanta. From The New York Times:

Police dashboard and body-camera videos show that Mr. Brooks was compliant and friendly with the officers when they first approached him and for some time after that, and the encounter turned to a struggle when the officers tried to handcuff him.

The police were called to the scene initially because Mr. Brooks had fallen asleep on the drive-through line of the restaurant. The video shows Officer Brosnan waking Mr. Brooks in the driver’s seat of a car and asking him to move the car to a parking space. Officer Brosnan appears to be unsure whether to let Mr. Brooks sleep there or to take further action.

He calls for another police officer, and Officer Rolfe arrives twelve minutes later. Officer Rolfe searches Mr. Brooks and then puts him through a sobriety test, which he fails. Mr. Brooks asks the officers if he can lock his car up under their supervision and walk to his sister’s house, which is a short distance away. “I can just go home,” he says.

Officer Rolfe asks Mr. Brooks to take a breath test for alcohol. Mr. Brooks admits he has been drinking and says, “I don’t want to refuse anything.” When the test is complete, Officer Rolfe tells Mr. Brooks he “has had too much drink to be driving,” and begins to handcuff him; only then is Mr. Brooks seen offering any resistance.

It wasn’t necessary for somebody to call the police (i.e. bring well-armed law enforcement officers into the situation). It wasn’t necessary for the police to escalate the matter by introducing hand cuffs.

Everything that happened, however, up to the moment when Officer Garrett Rolfe shot and killed Mr. Brooks, is consistent with Jacobin‘s explanation.



Rayshard Brooks was shot twice in the back, according to a release by the Fulton County, Georgia, Medical Examiner’s Office.