Recently released footage of Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) officers threatening, abusing and tasing Milwaukee Bucks rookie Sterling Brown makes clear what all too many Milwaukeeans already know: the MPD does not respect the lives of this city’s people of color.
Any attempt to characterize this incident as the malfeasance of a couple of bad actors or a momentary lapse in judgment ignores the long history of abuse that has marred this city’s history. Since 2015 the city has paid out at least $17.5 million in settlements related to officer misconduct. This should be no surprise. From the shooting deaths of Dontre Hamilton and Sylville Smith to police interrogating Bucks player John Henson for attempting to buy jewelry at a Whitefish Bay storefront, the region’s law enforcement agencies have exhibited a systematic disregard for the lives and dignity of the city’s black and brown citizens.
MPD’s violence isn’t simply about bad judgment calls. This is the function of the police in a capitalist state. Their purpose is not to “protect and serve” but to reinforce inequality and exploitation through racist violence. The vast wealth of this nation’s elite is produced by imposing scarcity and suffering in the midst of great abundance. State-sanctioned racism is a particularly useful way of creating acceptance of this exploitation and diffusing the resentment of those who enforce it.
The Milwaukee Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) demands the abolition of policing as we know it. Dashboard cams, retraining, and new hiring practices have not worked. True equality before the law will require that the police no longer have the authority to abuse and terrorize the citizens of Milwaukee. In the long run, this means enacting policies that decrease and ultimately eliminate the demand for policing. Lawmakers must also take swift action today, such as decriminalizing most nonviolent crime and exerting greater control over police activities. What happened to Sterling Brown and to countless other people of color across Milwaukee must never happen again. Milwaukee has a moral obligation to preserve the lives and liberties of its citizens––not to preserve the power of violent cops.