A more diverse police force isn’t the solution (Picture: Flickr/ faungg’s photos)

The horrific murder of Tyre Nichols by five black police officers in Memphis in the United States throws out the idea that more diversity in the police will stop the brutality. The officers beat, kicked and Tasered Nichols to death.

Yet the response from the movement has been markedly different from when white officers kill.  Protests have been held in several cities and states demanding justice for Nichols. But activists have turned out in their hundreds, not thousands, to protest against his killing. 

This is a far cry from the huge Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement sparked after the murder of George Floyd by white cop Derek Chauvin in 2020. Nichols’ case means taking on the idea that black cops can still buy into racist ideas pushed from the top of society that dehumanise and criminalise black people. 

The function of the police has never been to protect ordinary people, but to protect wealth and keep the bosses’ system running for them. No amount of black officers can change that. They defend the system that implements and reproduces racism. 

That’s why the cops use violence and repression to beat ordinary people into submission, and they reflect the racism and oppression of the ruling class. The officers who killed Nichols go through training that demonises working class people, and black people in particular. Confusion over how to respond to the killing reflects where the movement is today. 

Diversifying the police remains a popular solution. This can be reflected in demands such as “defund the police”. Ideas about what defunding the police means have varied since the demand became popular again in 2020. Some calls have been more radical to “abolish” the police. 

But calls to defund the police leave the institution intact, and the ruling class has taken advantage of this. The US state has attempted to sedate the BLM movement by making gestures to change the insitution, especially in terms of diversity. 

Former president Barack Obama signed an executive order to create the Task Force on 21st century policing in 2014. The task force recommended that the police force should diversify to reflect US society better. This came after massive protests broke out following the murder of teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. 

After the murder of Floyd, furious and global protests followed. There again were more calls from within to diversify the leadership of the police. The former chief of police in Charlottesville, Virginia, RaShall Brackney, was the first African-American woman to serve as the city’s Chief of Police.  She said after Floyd’s killing, “If you don’t have those black leaders at the table … the ability for genuine reform is going to fail.” 

Calls to change the police from inside come from a desperate attempt to protect the institution in the face of mass popular criticism. Ordinary people shouldn’t be satisfied with their phoney calls for change. And they should look further than simply defunding or reforming the current institution. 

A transformation of the police is impossible. The murder of Nichols proves that the problem isn’t simply too many white racist cops in the force. That’s why the only solution is to abolish the lot.

The BLM movement is now faced with questions about the role of the police, the question of race within that and where the fight should go next. Arguing for more black people in institutions such as the police doesn’t contain their brutality. The only thing it contains is the movement itself, as we’re now seeing.

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