in Kulturkampf

Obama and Police Brutality

I understand why Occupy protesters mic checked the president about police abuse: a presidential statement might carry great moral weight while confronting local power. Also, the movement has mic checked everyone else — Eric Cantor and Karl Rove being two of my favorites — so why should a president be immune?

Militarized police forces crept into our lives after 9/11, but police brutality was a problem long before that. President Obama has been more outspoken than most on the topic. In fact, he has taken at least one political hit over the Henry Louis Gates incident, and his Justice Department is currently investigating police brutality in major cities. So it would be natural for him to be concerned by violence against Occupy Wall Street protesters on campus and in the streets. The president definitely should speak out, and soon.

One of the great things about this movement is that it brings issues into stark relief that had been marginalized in for-profit media. Poverty, debt, the lack of social mobility, and an unfair political economy were all out of sight, out of mind until protesters started taking hits from clubs and beanbag guns. So let it be with the rampant fascism in American policing.

Mind you, police brutality happens at the local level. Mayors, police chiefs, and city councils are not immune to mic checks. Indeed, the now-infamous spraying incident on the UC Davis campus last week has been handled by the California campus system, responsible to Governor Jerry Brown before President Barack Obama. Of the issues important to the Occupation, police brutality is perhaps the most disconnected from a federal authority. Change will require a broad-based movement taking local action, not just a presidential statement.

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