Will Our Hundreds of Police Departments All Stand Down? What Will We Do If They Don't?

Updated: Apr 27, 2021

By Thomas Neuburger

"Whom the gods would destroy they first make mad."

—Euripides, offering a textbook definition of hubris

Just as the American flag was appropriated and turned by rightwing America into a hate symbol (see "The American Flag and What It Stands For"), so the "thin blue line" flag, a pro-police emblem, has been turned by its users into a hate symbol as well. For more, click to view the thread that starts with the tweet below.

The Thin Blue Line flag is a symbol used in a variety of ways by American police departments, their most fervent supporters, and other right-wing fellow travelers. The thin blue line represents the wall of protection that separates the orderly "us" from the disorderly, uncivilized "them". It also represents police assertion of their key position of agents of the state in enforcing its monopoly on violence.

All of which is to say that America's police problem — which is really America's deep and ingrained love of vindictive and extra-judicial prosecution — isn't going away anytime soon.

Even though convicted murderer and police officer Derek Chauvin was led away in shame and handcuffs after his trial...

...there's no guarantee that the violence of this nation's widely distributed police departments will go into that good night. In fact, these departments are likely to hunker down and double down.

From a piece by Will Bunch:

After a veteran officer — also head of their police union — shot and killed a 20-year-old unarmed Black motorist named Daunte Wright during a traffic stop over expired tags and a dangling air freshener, you might think cops in Brooklyn Center, Minn., would have at least a brief moment of reflection, even contrition.
Yeah, right.
Instead, officers in the Minneapolis suburb — just 10 miles or so from the corner where Officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on the neck of a dying George Floyd, sparking an American racial reckoning that apparently wasn’t — raised a version of the “thin blue line” flag over their embattled station house, which was their bold and outrageously arrogant signal that Brooklyn Center was about to become some kind of Alamo for racist, oppressive policing in America. It was their opening salvo in what has quickly devolved into a police riot.

Bunch then details everything the Brooklyn Center cops are doing to punish Minnesotans for complaining about their murder of the innocent Duante Wright.

Though his essay was written just prior to Chauvin's conviction, what Bunch wrote remains true after it: "The atrocities of Brooklyn Center are the vanguard of something very important and very terrifying that’s happening in America right now."

My prediction: Officer Chauvin's conviction will change nothing for the better. Instead, it will harden the hearts of police officers everywhere against the cries of the citizens they pretend to be tasked to protect.

What's Next?

This leads to a series of predictions.

First, cops will not lightly relinquish their assumed and confirmed "right to kill when they feel threatened." That's a powerful right, given to them from almost the day police departments were created (because hiring the Pinkertons was becoming too expensive for the governments of America's swollen and immigrant-filled metropolises). It's the ace in the hole for a corrupt, murderous, militarized, testosterone-fueled culture.

Cops will simply quit working if they're forced to disarm and stand down. And their arrogance — hubris in the ancient Greek sense — will force them to test any new limits placed on them, force them to make sure the field they're playing on remains tilted in their direction. Look for a bit of quiet till the noise dies down, then another explosion of anger and defense as some cop somewhere just can't help himself and kills someone.

Which means, second, that America's justice advocates will soon be faced with a test. Soon they will discover that though they protested, nothing changed. Though they rioted, nothing changed. Though they got the stray and impossibly rare conviction, nothing changed. What then can they do to make something actually change?

Frankly, nothing.

It would take more than a generation to sweep these hundreds of departments clean of the terminally corrupt and their silent, complicit enablers. And before that can occur, America itself will have to withdraw its consent for police violence and murder.

Yet we don't have a generation even if this could be done. The coming climate crisis will create national and global disorder of such breadth and force that people will beg for a beefed-up military to keep international barbarians outside the gate, and toughened militarized policing to keep internal victims and rioters "in their place."

Which means, finally, that the door remains wide open for someone among the desperate to take our intractable "police problem" into their own hands and return like for like.

I've said for more than a decade that the only way to save this nation from the kind of revolt that predatory capitalism creates, is for the rich to stand down. They're wealthy enough already to retire with a full box of toys. Yet they've made themselves mad with hubris and delight, and they're much more likely to drive the nation's social contract straight off the cliff than to stop before our Thelma-and-Louise moment, get out of the car, and relinquish the keys to better drivers than they.

The same with those hundreds of angry and corrupt American police departments. Even if half of them stand down — "get religion" as it were and reform — the other half will destroy the last shred left of good will and restraint in the communities they brutalize for their joy.

Which leaves us all with ... what? A war, of course, the shooting kind, part of the "rolling civil war" we're headed toward.

And then how will we live, all of the rest of us? Badly. Very very badly.


(I've launched a Substack site to greet the post-Trump era, the age in which the aggregated Democratic Party will show what it's made of. You can get more information here and here. If you decide to sign up — it's free — my thanks to you!)