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Killer Cops, Blood Money: How Privatization is Funding the Racist Logic of America’s Police

What do police violence in Oklahoma and NYC have in common? An infusion of private cash and a culture of death

When private funds pay for devices like the "Stingray," police don't have to tell you they're using it.
(Click to see full-sized image)
When private funds pay for devices like the "Stingray," police
don't have to tell you they're using it.
By Brittney Cooper
On April 2 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a sheriff’s deputy named Robert Bates shot and killed Eric Harris, a man fleeing a crime scene where he was about to be captured for selling illegal weapons. Bates, a reserve deputy who is allowed to work on cases because he is a big donor to the sheriff’s office, was charged this week with second-degree manslaughter, after claiming that he meant to reach for a taser and not a gun.

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As Harris lay struggling and dying, he told the surrounding officers, “I’m losing my breath.” One officer yelled back at him, “Fuck your breath!” Then he insisted that the dying man be handcuffed.

“Fuck your breath!” encapsulates in only three words the systemic disregard that police regularly show to Black people in America. Just last week, we watched Michael Slager execute Walter Scott in South Carolina for daring to run away. Now this week, we are also tuning into the trial of former Chicago Police Officer Dante Servin, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the killing of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd in March 2012. In the cases of Eric Garner in Staten Island, Tamir Rice in Cleveland, Walter Scott in South Carolina, and Eric Harris in Tulsa, we have seen video of law enforcement officers not only critically injuring citizens but also refusing to administer medical care, with fatal consequences.

Given the origins of policing in this country and their connections to slave patrols and other forms of racialized social control, I am under no illusions that the police have ever held Black life in high regard. Police complicity and participation in lynchings and in the KKK make that clear. But the explicit, tacit refusal of Black people’s right to breathe is still significant. The fact that the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office is a pay-to-play force is significant. The fact that white men can sign up with government approval for the right to play cops and robbers on the weekends is appalling. That Black lives provide fodder for state-sanctioned sport should have us in the streets.

Michael Slager, Robert Bates (Credit: AP/Charleston County
Sheriff's Office/Tulsa County Sheriff's Office)
There is something about the logics of self-governance under the terms of neoliberalism that make this moment feel more pessimistic than our trite narrative of linear progress on racial issues would have us conclude. In 2012, the United Arab Emirates gave $1 million to the New York City Police Foundation. According to an NYPD spokesperson, the money was used to upgrade equipment and aid in criminal investigations. In both New York City and Tulsa, private funding of law enforcement significantly impacts the way local policing is done. In Tulsa, it results in the pay-to-play scheme. In New York City, it allows for large infusions of cash donations whose specific uses do not come under public scrutiny because they are private funds.

These forms of neoliberal policing — in which private citizens and private monies impact the culture of policing but escape governmental checks and balances — endanger us all.

In New York, such actions enable the purchase of unspecified forms of “equipment” that might, for instance, be used to exacerbate the culture of militarized policing in the NYPD. Part of this money allows the NYPD to travel to the UAE to learn counterterrorism measures. In the wake of 9/11, some external training might be helpful, but essentially, this sounds like a case of the NYPD being allowed money to play global cops and robbers, and to then test out these tactics on the Black and Brown people who are policed heavily within the city.

In the case of Tulsa, this privately underwritten form of law enforcement placed an underprepared “pretend” deputy into a serious confrontation. As a result, Eric Harris lost his life.

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