Helen Buyniski

Helen Buyniski

is an American journalist and political commentator at RT. Follow her on Twitter @velocirapture23

26 Jun, 2020

Over-the-top gratuitous violence against unarmed protesters, shockingly racist conversations, all of it somehow recorded for posterity (and maximum virality) – are American police TRYING to get their profession abolished?

While police brutality has been an ugly reality for as long as the US has had police, the cartoonish levels of on-camera police violence circulating on social media in the last month are truly mind-boggling. Suddenly, there is no better advertisement for the police-abolition movement than the police themselves.

Defenders of the police tend to blame the “few bad apples” who shoot fleeing suspects, choke innocent men, or pepper-spray peaceful demonstrators for cops’ bad reputation. But that absolves from responsibility the supposed “good apples” who have repeatedly closed ranks around those same problem officers, even as their unconscionable assaults are caught on film and broadcast to the world. 

It would be hard to choreograph a film scene more likely to provoke a backlash against police than the killing of George Floyd. White Minneapolis cop Derek Chauvin was filmed kneeling on the handcuffed black man’s neck for an excruciating eight minutes, all but smirking directly into the camera as if he knew it was his big moment of stardom. Ever since, public opinion of the police has been pummeled by a non-stop stream of on-camera brutality, and cries to defund police forces across the country are reaching fever pitch.

With so much public outrage against police abuses, one might think that police departments would be hurrying to clean house and get rid of their “bad apples.” Accountability – punishing the truly bad cops in court with prison sentences rather than desk duty or dismissal from the force – would seem to be the only alternative to defunding. Incremental reforms, like the rollout of body cameras and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s move to outlaw chokeholds that were already banned by the NYPD in 1993, are clearly not having the desired effect. But police departments have resoundingly failed to hold their officers accountable, and so – with a handful of exceptions – have courts. Instead, the violence has only gotten more alarming.

It’s worth asking why these officers engage in such disturbing acts of violence, knowing they’ll be on social media and probably the nightly news, providing a glowing advertisement for police abolition. Surely they aren’t all the racist sociopaths Black Lives Matter has, with its “All Cops Are Bastards” slogan, dubbed them? 

It’s hard in 2020 to find a public place where there isn’t at least one camera on the scene – though that didn’t stop Louisville cops from shutting off their body cameras before local barbecue owner David McAtee was shot, allegedly with a National Guard bullet, earlier this month, an incident that remains under investigation. But cops in the past have gone to great (and possibly illegal) lengths to stop civilians from filming them in the act of abusing their authority. The man who filmed the 2014 police chokehold killing of Eric Garner even sued New York City two years later over alleged retaliation by the cops, claiming he was arrested on trumped-up charges for documenting the brutal act. 

Yet 2020’s over-the-top bad cops seem unconcerned with amateur cinematographers. One might expect officers to be on their best behavior post-George Floyd, not auditioning for a spot on the now-cancelled COPS reality show.

Even nonviolent policing incidents seem designed to incite popular outrage. The bizarre arrest of a CNN reporter covering the early unrest in Minneapolis – in which sheepish-sounding officers apologetically informed correspondent Omar Jimenez that he was under arrest while live on the air – elicited predictable cries of free speech suppression and a groveling apology from Minnesota Governor Tim Walz.

And were the three North Carolina cops – referred to as “veteran officers” of the Wilmington Police Department and fired earlier this week after their disturbingly racist chats were recorded via “accidental activation” of a dashboard camera – really unaware those cameras could be inadvertently triggered? Why indulge in multiple in-car hatefests when you know you’re under surveillance?

None of this adds up. Even as more communities seem to warm to the notion of “defunding the police,” it remains unclear what will replace them. Are we looking at a future of empowered community snitches, each snooping on the next in the hope of being rewarded by local government for catching a crime in progress? Or are the rich merely going to hire Blackwater-style mercs to guard their compounds while the poor rob and kill each other in the streets? Americans deserve some answers – preferably before our police departments are dissolved.