Professor Grumbach's Perspective on the George Floyd Protests

Prof. Jacob Grumbach

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Do Not Forget this Moment

I have a few brief takeaways.

First, American police are less bureaucratic agents of the state, and more just their own unaccountable cartel gang. We study them as if they were teachers or Environmental Protection Agency staff. We should study them like we study drug cartels whose power rivals the state. They are unaccountable to civil society and civil command. State and local executives, their commanders in chief, are either in bed with the cartel or afraid to take them on.

Second, voting for Democrats in state, local, and federal general elections has been ineffective. My own research shows that red and blue state governments pursue identical criminal justice and policing policy agendas. As COVID-19 austerity hits cities, Democratic governments will viciously cut the budgets of all departments (education, parks, welfare services, homelessness, environment) except for the police. When reformist local candidates run, like district attorney candidates Tiffany Caban, Larry Krasner, or Chesa Boudin, mainstream Democrats organize to crush them and maintain the status quo. This makes the "woke" language of Democrats who "feel your pain" and chant "black lives matter" all the more insulting. They have stolen the discourse of racial justice activists and repackaged it in support of the status quo. It is the epitome of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s conceptual "White Moderate" in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail Cell. Any solution will have to involve pressure on, not acquiescence to, the Democratic Party. Calls to abolish or defund the police are not unrealistic; they are obvious. What is unrealistic are calls from politicians, foundations, and corporate social responsibility offices for tepid “8cantwait” reforms that already exist in major cities—cities in which police continue to murder black people with impunity.

Third, protesting is effective. Nonviolent protest is consistently effective. "Violent" protest (involving property destruction) may or may not be effective depending on the reaction of the media and white voters. The 1968 uprisings may have induced a backlash. The 1992 Los Angeles uprising appears to have produced progress, pushing white voters to the left on racial justice. Whether these protests produce positive opinion change or backlash depends on civil society. As a member of civil society, you—yes, you—can influence the outcome.


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