Socialist group points to capitalism for police brutality

By Emma Alexander – nalexand@unca.edu – Asst. News Editor | Feb. 11, 2015 |

UNC Asheville students gathered in Highsmith Feb. 4 to take part in “Cops, Class, and Race: How Police Protect the 1%,” a public meeting hosted by the Asheville Socialists.

“After attending the Feminism and Marxism talk last semester, I realized how much capitalism infiltrates every aspect of our lives, usually with negative consequences,” said Janesha Slaughter, a sophomore political science student. “But I’ve always had the idea that there has to be more out there than capitalism. People often assume that there has to be homelessness and giant gaps of economic disparity and hunger. I don’t think it’s impractical to pursue equality for all.”

Asheville Socialists is a branch of the International Socialist Organization. They support women’s rights, the movement to stop racism, anti-immigrant prejudice, anti-gay bigotry and the war on Iraq, according to the ISO website.

Slaughter gave a speech on the intersection of police, class and race. She said she brought up tension between minorities and police officers in America because of unfair targeting of the former by the latter. She said she aimed to bring the most evident criticisms of why capitalism and justice don’t mix.

“The underclass most often victimized by this system happens to be black and brown people,” Slaughter said. “Hence the mass incarceration of this population is a prevalent problem that must be addressed sooner than later.”

Slaughter said that thanks to the prison industrial complex, a phrase coined by activist Angela Davis, private prisons represent an unethical overlap between interests of for-profit industries and the criminal justice system.

“I think often it depends on a particular person or group of people to care about an issue enough to share their concerns with other people,” said Volker Frank, professor of sociology and anthropology. “If you look at it through the long lens, you can ask, ‘Why now, and what in the past, and what tomorrow?’”

Frank said that often the concern people have with these issues diminishes, and returns to the smaller group with whom concern originated, while the larger public follows other issues.

“It is my interpretation that people may, but not necessarily have to, interpret that it is getting worse,” Frank said. “Race relations, violence against African-Americans — we did seem to have accidents and reports over the last two or three years that made it understandable that people interpret those things are getting worse. There’s discrimination by institutions against a particular group in society.”

Frank said it is hard to say whether or not hatred and criticism of police will end. He said he hopes it will diminish and that people will do something about it.

“We all should be,” Frank said. “Not just the police, but as a society, as a community. All. By that, I mean black and white, the police, government and schools.”

Frank said what Ferguson is today might be something else tomorrow, as long as the underlying condition of inequality and unwillingness to recognize the past does not disappear. He said we live in the present as if we did not have a past, so we are bound to only get so far.

“Real existing socialism everywhere has had problems,” Frank said. “Contrary to expectations in real existing socialist societies, inequality may have disappeared in some places, but not others. If you go to North Korea, a still so-called socialist country, you would still find discrimination.”

It is not the issue of race. It is the issue of homosexuality or heterosexuality in North Korea, Frank said. He said it is the same aspect of discrimination and countries have not been able to solve that.

“That’s the idea — that’s the philosophy of the goal. That the socialist society is better than the capitalist society. It produces better people. That’s the argument,” Frank said. “I haven’t seen it historically, but maybe I haven’t seen it, not because socialism isn’t capable of doing that, but because people aren’t capable or willing to produce a better socialist society.”

When it comes to equality in income and monetary distribution, Frank said he thinks it is doable. He said European, Latin American, Japanese and Australian societies have fairer distribution and their citizens do not seem to be up in arms about it.

“That is reform — that is not necessarily socialism,” Frank said. “Rather than saying ‘Let’s have socialism now,’ it’s very difficult. People wouldn’t go for it. Experience in other countries show there’s much to be gained. They receive more and they think it’s fair. But it’s a long process; we can’t just make these radical changes tomorrow.”

Eric Boyce, assistant vice chancellor of public safety, said he encourages students to voice their opinion and research whatever the issues may be. He said UNCA students are very bright, and are here to learn and discuss important topics like these.

“We want to work together with our students and campus community to make sure everyone has a sense of safety and security,” Boyce said. “My mentality is for building trust. I want to make sure everyone is comfortable talking to and reporting incidents to police.”

Frank said he thinks it is good to have younger people be critical and outspoken. He said this generation is more sensitive to these issues than older people, whose skin has perhaps become too thick.

“I think they have some specific arguments, too, that are good in terms of greater accountability and greater educating the police force,” Frank said. “I don’t think any socialist who has common sense should say we should get rid of the police. That would be very naive and dangerous to get rid of the police.”

Frank said it is a good point that police need greater accountability for racist practices, but so does society. He said he does not wish to ostracize the police alone, as they are caught in a difficult position. Better record keeping would help with accountability, starting with a national effort from the federal government.

“There’s the diagnosis and the remedy,” Frank said. “They may be right about their diagnosis, but wrong in their remedy. But just because they may not have the best remedy doesn’t mean their diagnosis is wrong.”

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