Derek Chauvin’s murder conviction provided relief, but no remedy.
His act was so depraved that it compelled Minneapolis’ police chief to publicly testify against his own officer, an exceedingly rare occurrence. The guilty verdict was reached by 12 jurors, but solving America’s crisis of policing will take more than that.
We cannot prosecute our way out of a policing system devised to protect the wealthy and maintain white supremacy. We need a full transformation of this so-called public safety system and the society that sustains it. I have lived in Minneapolis since 2014, and my community’s priorities are clear: We want an overhaul of our police and public safety. As the Chauvin trial was underway, police in Brooklyn Center, just north of Minneapolis, killed another unarmed Black man, Daunte Wright.
After the shooting, Brooklyn Center police flew the “thin blue line” flag outside of their precinct. Seeing that flag raised above people grieving in the streets was clarifying. The thin blue line symbolizes an ideology of entitlement and violent exclusion, the belief that police are above the people. That’s the message Chauvin sent as he used his knee to crush George Floyd’s neck.
Trump supporters were armed with the thin-blue-line flag, according to at least one officer, as they attacked the national Capitol on Jan. 6. White supremacists carried this flag in Charlottesville, Virginia, where they rallied against Black Lives Matter protesters and where Heather Heyer was killed.
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In a thin-blue-line society, police are an occupying force tasked with excluding those whom society deems beneath citizenship. Minneapolis police are nearly 12 times more likely to arrest Black Americans for marijuana possession than white people — even though both groups use pot at essentially the same rate. Minneapolis police have been accused of using federal grants to spy on Muslim and Somali-American residents.
When Minneapolis police officer and Black Muslim immigrant Mohamed Noor killed Justine Damond, the police department tragically demonstrated that the thin blue line of policing can extend to anyone at any time. While police are disproportionately violent toward the Black community, Damond was a middle-class white woman who was perceived as a threat. And that perception meant her rights to safety and help from police were violently revoked.
No officer has the right to kill a civilian with impunity, but Noor is one of the relatively few officers to actually be held to that standard. Systemic racism applies different laws to different people. Every day, thin-blue-line policing exerts this uneven distribution of state power in the lives of Black, brown and working-class people.
And the exercise of power over the people but not of the people is illegitimate.
Who counts as “the people” is the fundamental question of our time. The answer is simple: everyone. We must champion the full citizenship of all people, and reject ideologies of exclusion that argue otherwise. This means fighting for programs that affirm and empower everyone, and taking immediate actions to curb violent policing and save lives now.
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First, in November, people in Minneapolis must vote for the public safety charter amendment that will replace the Minneapolis Police Department with a Department of Public Safety and fight for full funding and community oversight of a comprehensive public health approach that dispatches mental health professionals, substance abuse specialists, social workers and sexual assault advocates in response to crises, rather than armed police officers. Voters in cities across the country must take the opportunity to advocate for the same.
Second, we must disarm the police. A New York Times review of police practices in several areas of the country revealed that only 1% of all emergency calls involve violent crime, and police officers only spend 4% of their time responding to violent crime. Most public safety work does not require a firearm. In New Zealand only a small portion of public safety officers have access to firearms, and only in specific circumstances.
Third, we must demilitarize the police. No public safety department should use military-grade munitions. In Minnesota, these weapons have been used against civilians protesting police killings. Furthermore, we must end the practice of deploying the National Guard and neighboring counties’ law enforcement to quell protests.
Public safety resources must not be used for spying on residents or targeting undocumented people. Public safety must uphold the full citizenship of all people. To affirm this, we must ban display of the thin blue line by government personnel and on government property. Any officer who cannot affirm allegiance to the whole people must be removed.
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We cannot eliminate thin-blue-line ideology without expanding the socioeconomic infrastructure necessary to integrate everyone in Minneapolis and beyond. Insecurity that results from lack of food, housing and health care obstructs free participation in society. By putting people over profits, we enable public safety to serve the people.
The uprisings following Floyd’s murder demonstrated global opposition to the thin-blue-line ideology that permeates our civic foundation. In its place, we must lay a foundation strong enough to support everyone equally. When we share this work, the foundation becomes stronger, the work lighter. Collective safety requires collective action. It’s time to eradicate the thin blue line.
Robin Wonsley Worlobah is a labor organizer, a Black socialist, and a member of Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America. She helped organize the fight to make Minneapolis the first Midwest city to win a $15/hour minimum wage, and is running for a seat on the Minneapolis City Council.