What follows is a succinct analysis of the basic function of police in society and a description of the components of an oversight board with real power. It is excerpted from a 2017 Freedom Socialist Party statement that also addressed the deficiencies of Seattle’s “recommendations only” Community Police Commission.
Guardians of the elite
The nature of our capitalist economic system is predicated on the enrichment of the few over the many. Cops are the guardians of the super-rich and their property. Racism, like sexism, is a tool to keep the working class divided and blinded to the machinations of the real powerbrokers and wealth hoarders.
The division between the police and public reflects class divisions. The police uphold the authority of the 1%. They protect the inequality of the status quo and as such they align with elements that pose no threat to the system, such as scabs and the ultra-right.
Police, regardless of color or gender, are not immune from practicing bigotry, and this is what leads to the systemic killing of Blacks and other people of color. Civilians of color are always viewed through the lens of racism and subject to cops’ batons or bullets.
Elected civilian review board
In order to curb abuse, excessive violence, and murder by cops, we need a way to assert working-class authority and override the control held by the super-wealthy.
Let’s start with an independent civilian review board that is not beholden to the police, the bosses or the state. Its members would be elected from the community, including from groups most severely affected by police abuse, and it would have its own source of funding. It would not include representatives from the police unions.
This civilian review board must have real authority. That means power to investigate and resolve all complaints of police misconduct, including assault, discrimination, infiltration of community groups, abuse of LGBTQ+ people, sexual harassment, and false arrest.
If officers are found guilty of misconduct the review board could order more training, suspension, demotion or even firing. It could protect whistle-blowing cops and require the city to pay for damage caused by police. To give the civilian review board political bite it needs full subpoena power and the leadership of an elected prosecutor, independent of the City Attorney’s office and the City Council, to handle all criminal cases against police officers.
Anything less than this changes nothing and continues the epidemic of murder and abuse.
The Freedom Socialist Party has long been an advocate of wresting as much community control over the police as possible through elected oversight committees. See socialism.com for more information about our efforts over time in several U.S. cities, including FSP’s participation in the current Campaign for an Elected Civilian Review Board that is gaining traction in New York City.