Description: In 1930, Depression-era Minnesota elected friendly radical and syndicalist Floyd B. Olson as Governor. In 1934, he was forced to declare martial law to protect communist Teamsters from Minneapolis police and business militias. Bill and Rachel discuss.
Description: In 1937, Chicago Police, acting on behalf of the “Little Steel” industrialists who wanted to end the New Deal, fired unprovoked into a crowd of peaceful strikers and their families. Then came a PR spin fight. Bill and Rachel discuss.
Description: In September 1919, a poorly-planned strike by the newly formed union representing Boston Police collapsed immediately and ended organizing of police for decades. But did they belong in the labor movement at all?
The reality of the situation right now, in Chicago and in Minneapolis, but also everywhere else is this:
First of all, it should not have taken seeing video evidence to convince so many White Americans that police violence was happening — and happening pretty frequently — because Black America (as well as basically every other marginalized section of our population) has been telling us all for years/decades/centuries about widespread police violence, and society chose not to listen or believe them.
Second, many more White Americans are *continuing* to put their heads in the sand and their fingers in their ears, just as they did after the 1991 footage of Rodney King — except now there’s wall-to-wall evidence available, which makes the indifference and denial look far more deliberate.
Third, even if you believe that it is just “a few bad apples” in these police forces, the rest of that old expression is “spoil the bunch” — and if you don’t remove the rot then it will spread. Every one bad / violent cop probably undermines the hard work of thousands of law enforcement officials who are selflessly putting the lives of innocent people before their own or are simply acting appropriately every day on the job.
Every leader of a city government or police force who attempts to cover for or cover up or excuse police abuses is reducing the force’s ability to build trust with its community to be able to do its job. Misconduct and acts of violence should be cause for termination. Mishandling those acts should be cause for resignation.
Stop acting like everything is a one-off episode. We know it’s not.
Promoting the rights of children, youth, and students is vitally important for keeping them safe. We’ve seen the footage this week from Spring Valley High School of a girl being body-slammed and seriously injured by a police officer in her school — an all-too-common occurrence. While this itself is a grave abuse (➚) and clearly one escalated by racism and misogynoir (learn more➚), one additional element we need to be aware of is how many schools (including in Massachusetts) have adopted policies that may limit our ability to find out about these incidents in future.
Such measures include monitoring students’ internet communications on campus and restricting or confiscating cell phones. While some of this is ostensibly to reduce distractions, its secondary (and I hope unintended!) effect is to reduce the ability of students to record authority figures or otherwise get the word out about abuses or inappropriate behaviors by adults who are supposed to be keeping them safe.
This doesn’t just apply to inappropriate uses of physical force to contain situations, but also to other types of abuse. There have been more than enough institutional sex abuse scandals erupting in recent years to learn from. These often occurred in eras where children and youth were neither respected nor readily empowered to document illegal actions (of any kind) by adults in positions of power. We now know that young people are endangered when they are unable to advocate for themselves against powerful adults or institutions and are unable to prove what is happening.
It would be a serious mistake to move toward policies that prioritize omnipresent surveillance and policing while deprioritizing student rights and student privacy. Such an approach doesn’t foster a culture of being willing to constructively stand up to authority or institutions when there are abuses or illegal activity. (And reportedly, a student who tried to intervene physically in this case to protect his or her classmate from abuse was also disciplined by the school, which should raise some similar questions too.)
In immediate terms, while we always hope these things won’t happen in our schools, if they do happen, it’s much better that we know about them quickly so we can stop them and act against those responsible. For that to happen, students must feel comfortable about coming forward and be empowered to do so. Part of a safe learning environment is not just taking a “public safety in schools” approach but also ensuring students can advocate for themselves when something isn’t right.
In the bigger picture, I believe that the latter approach – respecting the rights of young people and protecting their ability to blow the whistle on abuses of power without fearing recrimination – also helps promote a generally more engaged and empowered civic attitude for a lifetime. Part of our education system should be to encourage people to defend each other and themselves from abuses of power wherever it may occur. It should never be to teach our children that they are powerless to stop injustice, illegal activity, or abuse.
Other students in the Spring Valley High School video are terrified and still. Other adults are in the room and do nothing. Public abuses of power make people frightened of authority and more subservient, even after we all agree they are abuses. The officer’s been fired; good, but you can hardly still act surprised if people of color feel threatened by state authority.