Listen closely when politicians or the – Deray Mckessons – set of liberal activists address systemic racism. (Mckesson is a Black Lives Matter activist, Baltimore mayoral candidate and works for Teach for America.) There is a negation at play when a political statement begins with an acknowledgement or critique of systemic racism and ends with suggestions of reform programs that are geared exclusively toward individual subjects of systems like individual police officers. It is meaningless to acknowledge systemic racism and then offer the reform/management of individual subjects of racist institutions as the antidote to the subjective outcomes that racist systems produce.
It’s illogical to say that racism is systemic and then offer systemically localized policy solutions that are by definition designed to reform, ‘save’, and perfect a fundamentally racist system through an attempt to manage the actions of seemingly aberrant individuals. In a political context, this use of a contradictory reference to systemic racism has become the new ‘bad apples theory’ which denies/forgives the institutional (systemic) nature of racism by condemning the actions of individuals. Both claims are abused in the context of advocating for liberal reforms geared at preserving the social relations between the masses and the police in the fundamental service of generating profit for the capitalist system.
This is why Sanders’ and Clinton’s policy solutions in response to police brutality basically end with some measure of reporting abuses, programs to encourage racial diversity within the police force, and so-called ‘community policing’ where community members are tasked to essentially become informants in their community to aid in the criminalization of working people–predominately people of color. Those policy responses mask the increasing mass demands for community control of the police force (firing, hiring, and disciplinary power) and the jailing of killer cops that can heighten the potential for the masses to take the social contradictions between the police and the people as far as possible.
Liberal politicians can posture as ‘progressives’ by signaling toward those highly individuated reforms without claiming any serious accountability for the outcomes (like Clinton re: the comprehensive 1994 crime bill, or the horrendous outcomes of Clinton gutting welfare in the 90s). As more and more fighters for justice in the struggle for civil rights and black liberation get pulled into the cynical trap of Democratic Party politics we have to remind ourselves that the entire trajectory of social struggle is in our hands today and we cannot surrender our agency to the cynicism of the liberal conception of social change.