By Caleb Gallus & Sean West Wispy
May Day, International Workers’ Day, began in 1886 as a demonstration in Chicago’s Haymarket Square against police violence. Police had killed a number of mainly immigrant workers striking for an eight hour work day at the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company and workers took to the streets in response. As we continue their struggle, it’s important not just to honor those who died to improve the lives of all workers, but also to identify the enemy. Then as now, the police are the ones called on by the rich to defend their privilege. So what happens when the Police form unions, such as the Fraternal Order of Police? Shouldn’t we support unions of all workers?
Several problems immediately arise from this situation. One, even if most individual officers come from a working class background they act against the working class. They rough up striking workers blocking the entrance to their workplace. They act like an occupying army in Black and Brown neighborhoods where they control the population through ‘Stop and Frisk’ policing and getting people caught up in the courts and in prison. They arrest poor people for stealing food and other basic necessities. They are meant to keep order in a deeply unequal society. The police function very differently in this society than do other working people. They have power to arrest, jail, and kill with near impunity; this kind of power puts them outside of the working class. Two, the FOP acts narrowly in its own members interests and throws all other working people under the bus. We need only to look at the FOP’s endorsement of Donald Trump in the latest election to show the disconnect between the FOP and the rest of the labor movement. Increasingly, through the lobbying efforts of organizations like the FOP the police attempt to gain even more special privileges, political power and immunity from prosecution. They seek to elevate themselves above other workers.
Though the police have not always been as militarized as they are in the US today they have always played a repressive role in society going back to the beginnings of the modern police force in the mid-1800’s. In the slave states of the South for instance, the police evolved out of the slave patrols that kept Black people in shackles and enforced a racial divide between white and Black workers. Despite the demographics of the Philadelphia Police Department today, it still enforces the racial division of the US working class between white and Black, immigrant and ’native born’.
Today, this repressive role looks like the case of PPD Lieutenant Jonathan Josey, who in 2012 sucker punched a Latina woman in the head at the Puerto Rican Day parade. We see it in the case of Officers Nicholas Carrelli and Heng Dang, who pulled over Brandon Tate-Brown in December of 2014 for ‘driving while Black’ and shot him dead as he ran away. Despite mass protests all of these officers remain in the PPD to this day largely because of the efforts of the FOP.
Some people claim that police officers have the most dangerous job in society, but US Bureau of Labor statistics prove otherwise. Loggers, construction workers, and garbage collectors have far higher injury and fatality rates on the job than police officers, but you won’t hear the Blue Lives Matter crowd calling for safer working conditions or better protections for these workers.
As we take to the streets this May to defend all workers, especially those who are the most exploited, let’s remember who the police serve, and their long history of brutality. We must resist calls to ‘support the police’ or their so-called labor union because their job is to protect the private property of the wealthy and to control and manage poor and working class populations, particularly Brown and Black folks. Another way is possible. We can build democratically-controlled community self-defense squads, on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood or even a block-by-block basis. These would be transformative justice initiatives that mediate conflicts and address harm in our communities. Working class people, whether employed, under-employed, unemployed, employed in unwaged labor, or incarcerated, need to work together to keep each other safe. We must make sure our common enemies cannot exploit the most oppressed amongst us. We need each other, we don’t need the police!