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By Robert A. Vella

Relations between minority communities and local law enforcement are rapidly deteriorating across the U.S. in the wake of two grand jury decisions not to indict police officers for the killing of unarmed black men (Michael Brown, Eric Garner), and the subsequent murder of two NYPD cops.  The most prominent flashpoints have occurred in Ferguson, Missouri and now New York City, but worsening race relations are a national problem which has shaken America to its moral foundations.

At the heart of the matter is the dangerous increase in economic inequality that has plagued the U.S. and other western countries since the Great Recession.  As societies become more stratified and segregated along class and ethnic lines, civil unrest intensifies as a natural result.  This pits a stubborn – and predominantly white – administrative establishment against an angrily disaffected – and racially diverse – population with law enforcement personnel on the front lines.  It is a recipe for conflict, and that’s exactly what we are seeing.

Recent public statements by New York City Police Commissioner Bill Bratton have addressed the seriousness of this growing problem.

From PoliticoBratton: Tensions in NYC like 1970s:

New York Police Department Commissioner Bill Bratton said Monday that tensions in the city are echoing those in the 1970s — a fear he expressed only days prior to the ambush killings of two police officers.

“Who would’ve ever thought déjà vu all over again, that we would be back where we were 40-some-odd years ago,” Bratton said in an interview on NBC’s “Today.”

When asked whether he had seen such tensions or divide before, Bratton replied, “1970, when I first came into policing — my first 10 years were around this type of tension.”

From the New York ObserverBratton Says Debate Over Murdered Cops Is Going Down ‘Partisan Lines’:

Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acknowledged this morning that Mayor Bill de Blasio may have lost the trust and confidence of “some officers” in the police department—but said the tension surrounding the mayor’s role in the murder of two cops is falling along partisan lines.

Mr. Bratton, speaking to Matt Lauer in an interview on NBC’s Today Show, was asked whether Mayor Bill de Blasio ought to take the advice of former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani and give a speech in which he perhaps apologizes to police for what unions and some elected officials have characterized as rhetoric hostile to the department. Mr. Bratton said he didn’t think an apology was needed.

“This issue is really starting to go down partisan lines, Republican-Democrat. You had Gov. [George] Pataki yesterday, former Mayor Giuliani going after the president, Pataki going after the mayor, and it’s starting to shape up around partisan lines—which is unfortunate,” Mr. Bratton said. “This should be something bringing us all together, not taking us apart.”

Even the news media, that paragon of establishment virtue, has acknowledged the crisis.

From SalonAP poll: Police killings of blacks voted top story of 2014:

NEW YORK (AP) — The police killings of unarmed blacks in Ferguson, Missouri, and elsewhere — and the investigations and tumultuous protests they inspired — was the top news story of 2014, according to The Associated Press’ annual poll of U.S. editors and news directors.

In a year crowded with dramatic and often wrenching news developments around the world, the No. 2 story was the devastating outbreak of Ebola in West Africa, followed by the conflict in Iraq and Syria fueled by the brutal actions of Islamic State militants.

Among the 85 voters casting ballots, first-place votes were spread among 15 different stories. The Ferguson entry received 22 first-place votes, Ebola 11 and the Islamic State story 12.

Sadly, yet predictably, remedies for the root cause of America’s racial disharmony are not being proposed by those in power.  The U.S. is as culturally and politically polarized as at any time since the Civil War.  The socioeconomic establishment, bathed in wealth and represented by the Republican Party and its neoliberal Democratic Party cohorts, are choosing an authoritarian crackdown instead.  How the oppressed masses will respond is an open question.  How determined are they?  How much sacrifice can they endure?  How willing are they to get effectually organized?

Three years before the start of the U.S. Civil War, Abraham Lincoln warned:  “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”  Antebellum America learned that lesson the hard way.  Rome never did.  Will we?

5 thoughts on “Race Relations with Police worsening in U.S., AP votes it Top Story of 2014

  1. This is all such a mess, isn’t it?

    I think you identified the core issues of the present police brutality cases quite well- something that the majority of news organizations have failed to do. This is about racism and classicism, as you said, but most media is too afraid to touch on the subjects for fear that they’ll anger their big boss execs and/or appear to be taking sides. Bravo to organizations like Think Progress for not being afraid to tell readers what they need to know to understand the day’s events. And bravo to you, Robert, for writing about it here.

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