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Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Blast from the past: 'Officer Down: The media and cop-killings'

I wrote this article in late 2005 in response to the killing of a Phoenix police officer. It analyzes the history of policing in the US (and locally), putting the media love affair with the police department and dead cops in the context of American class struggle and the system of white supremacy.
But there is a real tension between the public image of policing, defended so single-mindedly by the media, and the reality. Introducing channel 12’s coverage of the Uribe funeral the following Tuesday, Lin Sue Cooney described the event as “a whole community” saying thank you. Effusive in their coverage of a car-wash fundraiser for the Uribe’s family, local media outlets actively campaigned for valley residents to participate. Can the same police force that regularly kills unarmed people of color be the protectors of the community? Can the same police force that uses Tasers to kill, just as the Phoenix Police did on May 4th, 2005, killing a 24 year-old man, be protectors? Are the same police forces that disproportionately target, arrest and incarcerate the poor, and especially people of color, really defenders of the “community?”

But, everyone knows that police don’t protect everyone equally and that they specifically target some segments of the community over others. For years the Scottsdale PD enforced what they called a “no-n****r zone,” pulling over and harassing black people driving through the city. Incarceration rates for poor people versus rich people are so obvious that they hardly require mentioning. But many whites still continue to deny the just as obvious disparities in white and non-white incarceration rates. To believe that these disparities exist apart or in exception to the overall system of policing makes no sense. They exist because this is the way the system was meant to function.
Re-reading the piece, I would add perhaps a third origin for modern American policing: the Red Squads, as the Village Voice reminds us this week. I would also add to the class analysis of reporting as a profession by citing the experiential differences between reporters and most other workers, specifically relating to college and the university system.

Read the Officer Down: The media and cop-killings by clicking here. It originally appeared in the Summer 2005 print edition of Phoenix Insurgent and was distributed as an independent flier. Enjoy!

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