As America finally begins to have a desperately needed national conversation about the abuses and excesses of its overfunded and militarized police forces, law enforcement has gone out of its way to make it clear that they have no intention of changing their ways or being held accountable for anything they do.
The recent outbreak of public fury and mass protests over the wanton murder of George Floyd by Officer Derek Chauvin should have been the impetus for a moment of self-reflection and introspection by those who ostensibly “protect and serve” our communities.
Instead, they have unleashed a tidal wave of vindictive brutality against unarmed protesters while responding to their political critics with childish displays of derision. Protesters have documented over six hundred incidents of police brutality on film; cops have been recorded deliberately shooting protesters in the head with “nonlethal” ammo at point-blank range, leaving their victims with shattered skulls and lost eyes.
Riot police have been observed deliberately targeting journalists at least 382 times with arrest or assault during the protests, punishing them for recording their actions for the world to see.
When police brass finally moved to hold cops accountable for the most egregious acts of violence, the rank and file have responded with tantrums and insubordination. When Buffalo police brass suspended two cops for shoving a 75-year-old man to the ground and cracking his skull open, 57 riot cops walked off the job in protest.
Similarly, when the Atlanta police department filed murder charges against Officer Garret Rolfe for shooting Rayshard Brooks in the back, Atlanta cops called in sick en masse and refused to go to work until they were coaxed back with a $500 bonus as a reward for going AWOL.
The events of the past two weeks have made it beyond clear that sweeping reform is needed across the board in America’s police forces, along with an end to the ridiculous amount of municipal funding they are allowed to leech away to pay for exorbitantly expensive brutality settlements and the purchase of BearCat tanks.
Reforming America’s police and dismantling the racial caste system they enforce is as demanding a moral obligation and as critical a political battle for the Democratic Party to commit itself to as the threats of climate change and dark money in politics are.
But seeing as the police have made it clear they have no intention of reforming themselves or changing their ways, they must be made to do so.
That difficult task is made exponentially worse by the legion of police unions, cop Super PACs, and independent expenditure committees operating behind the scenes to buy off politicians and their consultants.
With this in mind, activists are beginning to go to work exposing the lines of cop dollars into Democratic war chests and demanding that our politicians begin making “No Cop Money” pledges like they do for fossil fuel and corporate Super PAC money.
New progressive non-profit the Democratic Policy Center has kicked off a “No Cop Money” initiative with the release of a new report detailing the ways in which law enforcement Super PACs influence local elections and obstruct change in the significant jurisdictions of Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Long Island.
In the twisted M.C. Escher labyrinth of America’s lawless campaign finance economy, these cop groups both donate directly to candidates and do independent political messaging on their behalf while also paying the same consulting firms that advise the campaign themselves.
The report not only highlights the individual consultants and races that pro-cop money groups have attempted to tilt in their favor but also the staggering arrogance and contempt with which cop groups treat those working to elect reformist district attorneys or politicians looking to trim budgets.
When Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti proposed cutting a meager $150 million from the LAPD’s gargantuan $1.8 billion budget, the director of the Los Angeles Police Protective League director, Jamie McBride, reacted with childish insolence.
“We are honestly concerned about his [Garcetti’s] mental health, and I think that he should seek some help, and maybe have someone to talk to, a counselor or something, and reflect on some of his decisions, reflect on his ability to lead the city and keep the citizens safe,” sneered McBride.
During the 2019 race for the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, an outside group called the “The Committee for a Safer and Cleaner San Francisco,” smeared reformist candidate Chesa Boudin by comparing him to a “child surgeon” and claimed that he said, “drunk driving is a victimless crime.”
Yes, you read that right:
This innocuous-sounding group just so happened to be led by Tony Montoya, the president of the San Francisco Police Officers Association, and the association’s treasurer, Sean Perdomo.
That disguise of innocuity is key to how these groups operate. One might think a group like the Los Angeles “Neighborhood Safety Coalition” is a group of concerned homeowners looking to put up a stop sign or two, but in reality, the group is led by Ron Hernandez, who coincidentally is also the head of the Association of Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, an LAPD union.
The Neighborhood Safety Coalition is essentially a shell group which the police union uses to funnel money into politics; 70% of the NSC’s donations came directly from the deputy’s union while almost all of its money comes from police groups.
Some of that money was used to support District Attorney Jackie Lacey, whose husband infamously pointed a pistol at police reform activists and threatened to shoot them right before this year’s election.
Lacey once was seen as a reformer but hasn’t charged a single cop in any of the 400 fatal shootings that LA cops have committed since she took office in 2012. In return for her refusal to hold police officers accountable for their killings, police unions and groups showered her with $2.2 million dollars in campaign support for the 2020 cycle.
She has already rejected calls to keep police union money out of District Attorney campaigns, which tells you all you need to know about the influence that all those cop dollars have had on her decisionmaking.
The Jackie Lacey experience in Los Angeles is a useful microcosm of how the police and their political groups wield the power of dark money to keep themselves from having to face any consequences for the reign of terror they impose on America’s Black and minority communities — and how important it is for Democrats to prove their commitment to combating systemic racism and police brutality by refusing to take any money from these groups and by refusing to work with consulting firms who are paid by pro-cop groups.
“Democrats must stop helping law enforcement undermine efforts to fundamentally reform America’s racist criminal justice system and end police brutality. We hope that more consulting firms will recognize it’s time to pick a side and stand against injustice,” said Andrew Perez, a co-founder of the Democratic Policy Center, in a statement to Occupy Democrats.
The pressure from activists is already beginning to bear fruit; John Fairbank, a partner at the Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates polling firm, told the Democratic Policy Center that “We have made a decision as a firm that we will no longer work for law enforcement super PACs” in response to the release of their report.
While Congressional Democrats have taken commendable steps to push police reform legislation against a Republican Party that ferociously opposes any change to the status quo, we owe it to millions of Black Americans who will propel us to victory this November with their votes to fight the hard fight and make the fundamental changes to American policing that they need our politicians to make.
We can’t do it if our politicians, their campaigns, and their consultants are financially beholden to the police lobby.
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Colin Taylor is the editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.