White Supremacy and the Police
By Caro Gonzales
On May 21, Andre and Bryson Chaplain, two unarmed young black men, were shot by white Olympia Police Officer Ryan Donald. Luckily they both lived, although their injuries resulted in ongoing medical complications.
The Thurston County Sheriff Department investigation of the incident was incomplete and focused on proving the police officer’s story. Thurston County Prosecutor Jon Tunheim charged these two young men with 2nd and 4th degree assault, but did not charge the officer with attempted murder.
Many folks in Olympia have been shocked by all of these events, saying that it could not happen here, in the most progressive city in the most progressive state in America. Evergreen political science professor, Peter Bohmer contested this, citing previous police shootings in Olympia to argue that not only could it happen here, but it has happened in this city.
Our community is still asking though, how can a city so progressive still have racist police brutality?
Is the system broken, and if so, can we fix it?
The answer is that they system, that is to say American White Supremacist Capitalism, is working exactly as it was intended.
Our country is built on stolen land, genocide, exploited labor, and slavery. Our economy, our government, our policing, our judicial and legal system, were created to be inaccessible for equity and to oppress the masses, specifically brown and especially black folks.
To understand how ‘it could happen here’ we must know that policing was not created to protect and serve the community. Police were created to protect the institution of slavery. Beginning in the 1700s, poor whites were paid to capture runaway slaves. Over time these slave patrols were codified into what became the first police organizations.
These new institutions served the dual purposes of enforcing the oppression of brown and specifically black people, and dividing poor white people and people of color. Considering that during slavery and Jim Crow poor whites, indigenous, and black folks would consistently form alliances to fight against the State and the ruling class, it is easy to understand how the devastating tool of white supremacy was used to divide people.
Thanks to the extreme grassroots struggle of the civil rights and black power movements, Jim Crow was abolished, but many racist laws were preserved. The United States government drafted up a way to continue exploiting free labor. Police would enforce racist laws, where the court would find brown and black folk guilty and sentence them to prison, where free labor could still be extracted legally.
This has never ended. After the end of Jim Crow, United States government needed to find ways to continue subjugating, oppressing, suppressing, dividing, and exploiting labor. Then came the rise of the War on Drugs, where drugs prevalent in black communities were heavily criminalized the U.S. government, and laws were enforced along racial lines, thus continuing to criminalize blackness.
Today our society operates as if since Martin Luther King we are post racial and colorblind. This is an incredibly effective tool of white supremacism that policing uses consistently, particularly here in Olympia. Directly after the shooting, Olympia Police Chief Ronnie Roberts declared before any investigation that “race was not a factor” and said all lives matter. By excusing this incident as a routine encounter, it releases the officer, the police department, the city council, and the prosecuting attorney from responsibility for racism. It excuses the systemic racism woven into our society as an individualized dispute.
Throughout American history, police were a tool of white supremacy used to terrorize and destroy communities. Although we can reform the police, reform the legal system, reform prisons, white supremacy will still continue into the new iterations of these structures, as it is the continuing base of why these structures were created in the first place.
Thus we must end these structures, and their root- capitalism.
Under capitalism a select few own the wealth, instead of those who actually produce wealth retaining it. We could live in a world where our people are not starving or brutalized, but that can not happen if our people are not in control of the society in which we exist.
How do we do that? Through gaining wins against police brutality, racist prosecutors, white supremacist laws, and galvanizing folks into struggle. We fight to educate our communities in anti racism to begin ridding ourselves of the divisions that have been socialized and beat into us. With people power, we organize in solidarity, as an injury to one is an injury to all.
Together, we agitate those oppressed against the system of capitalism, and throw off our chains. As Lilla Watson, an aboriginal activist in Australia once said, “If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time; but if you are here because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”