The following statement was adopted by the Local Executive Committee of the Socialist Party of Southern Maine on February 22, 2017.
Justice for Victims of Police Violence! Hold the Cops Accountable!
The Socialist Party of Southern Maine stands with the family and friends of Chance David Baker, and all fighters for racial justice and human rights, in mourning his senseless killing by an officer of the Portland Police Department on Saturday, February 18th. Earlier in the month, two young people, Kadhar Bailey and Ambroshia Fagre, were killed by a cop in Kennebec County. These killings in Maine share several features of the epidemic of police violence that plagues the United States as a whole.
IT’S THE SYSTEM: MAINE NOT IMMUNE
In July of last year, Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling scolded Black Lives Matter protestors, saying, “We don’t have police brutality in Portland, and that’s a good thing….” It was a falsehood when he uttered it, and the lie is now exposed. Police brutality against working-class people, especially people of color, immigrants, the homeless, and the disabled, is nationwide and systemic. Maine is not immune, nor is Portland.
From 2000-2016, 63 people were killed by police in the State of Maine. This is a high number, considering our state’s low population. For example, in the same time period, police killed the same number of citizens in West Virginia, a state whose population is about 40% larger than ours. In most states, a disproportionate number of those killed are Black, Hispanic, or Native American. In Maine, of 63 killed, one each were Hispanic, Native American, and Black. (Source: FatalEncounters.org) Chance’s killing brings the last number up to two, out of a total, now, of 66. The overwhelmingly white composition of Maine’s population renders even these figures suspiciously high. The institutional racist bias of policing makes itself felt even with few people of color.
A map of police killings in Maine overlaid on poverty data shows that most killings take place in the cities, towns and townships with the highest poverty rates. Homeless people and people with insecure housing—like Chance—are far more likely to become victims of police violence. And while the possible role of mental illness in Chance’s killing has been disputed by those who knew him best, what is indisputable is that people with mental illness or other disabilities (such as hearing impairment, asthma, autism) are more likely to be victimized than the general population.
Police violence brings together intersecting forms of oppression into a lethal net: The marginalization of the ill, the disposability of the poor, the fear and hatred our power structures direct against people of color. When Sgt. Nicholas Goodman aimed his weapon, he targeted the body of one young man with the concentrated force of these deadly injustices. Sgt. Goodman pulled the trigger, but the capitalist system loaded his gun.
COP APOLOGISTS: “COMPLY OR DIE”
For some, it seems there is no act of violence that a police officer can commit for which they will not find an excuse, or at least “the benefit of the doubt.” This is written into law and is an attitude rampant among judges and prosecutors, with the result that of the few cops who are even indicted for brutalities, almost none are ever convicted. Mainstream media echo it, and elected officials propagandize in the name of “law and order.” Thus the excuses already given for Chance’s killing. “He was carrying a gun.” But Maine is an “open carry” state, where citizens have the right to hold weapons in public, and besides, it was pellet gun. “The cop couldn’t have known it was a pellet gun.” Isn’t he trained in firearms recognition? Did he take the time to find out? And again, what happened to “open carry?” “Chance was acting erratically.” That’s what the cop has said. Was there no de-escalation available to him, short of shooting him in the head?
It seems clear based on what we do know that Sgt. Goodman made a snap judgment, in which at least some of the factors likely to prejudice cops played a part—Chance’s skin color or appearance, the fact that the encounter took place in a relatively low-income part of Portland. Note also that he had gotten away with a previous killing in 2008, with no apparent damage to his career. He placed all the risk of the encounter on Chance, taking none on himself.
The excuses which cops and their apologists make add up to a “comply or die” mentality that is incompatible with democratic rights, including not only the right to bear arms, but also the rights of free speech and assembly. The last excuse to which they resort—“It’s a dangerous job and someone’s got to do it”—is the biggest lie of all. Police officer is not even one of the 10 deadliest jobs in America: loggers, fishermen, farmworkers, airline pilots, truck drivers, garbage collectors, and various types of construction workers are made by their bosses to take bigger risks with their lives than any cop. So much for the supposed danger—we’ll get to “someone’s got to do it.”
OUR IMMEDIATE DEMANDS
Systemic problems require systemic solutions, but people in communities subjected to police violence want measures taken to protect their lives now. The following immediate demands are supported by the Socialist Party of Southern Maine:
- Revamp the Police Citizen Review Subcommittee (PCRS): The national platform of the Socialist Party USA calls for “the immediate establishment of completely independent and democratically elected police control and oversight councils, with full power to fire police and to arrest, detain, and indict police officers who brutalize or abuse people or who commit any violation of laws or civil rights and liberties.” In Portland, this would mean changing the PCRS to provide for election of Subcommittee members; inclusion of appointed members with full voting rights from populations most harmed by police violence (homeless people, people of color, immigrants); and giving PCRS full subpoena powers, the right to hire and fire cops, and the right to appoint special prosecutors with the power to indict police officers and issue warrants for their arrest.
- Immediate purchase and implementation of body cameras: From their implementation in other cities, though, that the police cannot be trusted to handle this. Body cameras should be “always on” whenever an officer is on duty, with footage held on servers controlled by the PCRS.
- De-escalation training for entire Portland Police Department, with emphasis on non-lethal force.
- Integration of mental health support professionals with police.
The ACLU of Maine has also called for fast-tracking body cameras by PPD, and for de-escalation training. We join in these demands. We encourage all community organizations concerned about police violence to campaign for a revamped PCRS.
IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT POLICE
The police as an institution came into being fairly recently, as part of the rise of the capitalist system. The first city police departments in the United States were founded in the early 19th century. They had the roles of capturing fugitive slaves and returning them to their owners, and dispersing “disorders” (including strikes and demonstrations) by the poor. Racism and class discrimination reach back to the earliest roots of the police.
Police will outlive their usefulness when humans find a better way than capitalism to organize our lives. Socialism is not just “the government doing stuff for you.” The democratic socialism for which the Socialist Party stands means that we, the people, do for ourselves, by taking power in our workplaces and our communities.
“But what about crime?” First of all, the police don’t fight crime. Many of the worst crimes are never treated as crimes. The best way to get away with stealing is to own a bank; the best way to get away with murder is to be a cop or a general. Even among crimes that the law regards as such, the cops’ own statistics (Maine Department of Public Safety) show the total “clearance rate” in 2014, statewide, was only 34.8%. Because people in our communities do not trust the cops—nor should we—police are ineffective at their supposed job.
Many crimes come from the injustices of capitalism itself. Theft only makes sense if people are deprived of access to the goods they need. A sexist society breeds the misogynistic attitudes that make violence against women as rampant as it is. We do not pretend that socialism, in reducing the causes of crime, will totally eliminate it, though. That is why the national program of the Socialist Party USA includes the following demand: “We call for the ultimate replacement of the police with community residents trained in conflict resolution who live in and serve the community under community control.”
By fighting for justice for Chance David Baker and other victims today, we can build the confidence, organization, and trust in one another we need to make possible a world without police.