An investigation into police firings shows that murder is in a cop’s job description.
What is a policeman’s job? The answer we’re taught is: “to serve and protect”, to stop crime and capture criminals. Of course, the white supremacist regime of mass incarceration has meant an incredible explosion of punishable “crimes”, so that more and more these days the criminals we’re “being protected from” do such heinous anti-social activities as wearing their pants too low, sleeping on the subway, talking back to their teachers or playing loud music in their own homes. One study projects that police spend 90% of their law-enforcement time pursuing and enforcing such non-violent code violations and rule breaking. And police spend a lot of their time not in the pursuit of these nefarious criminals, but also going to court, doing paperwork, monitoring public events, parades and demonstrations, guarding schools and other government buildings, engaging in public relations campaigns and performing a variety of other bureaucratic services for their cities.
Still, most of these services fall more or less under the description “enforcing the law”—which is a standard commonsense definition of a cop’s job description. Many people therefore oppose police violence and the police murder of unarmed people on the basis that this behavior is illegal. It is not just outside the bounds of their work, it is opposed to the very nature of the policeman’s job. It follows, this argument goes, that police need to be reformed, trained better, given public oversight, monitored (perhaps with body cameras) or otherwise reigned in in order to “properly” do their job of enforcing the law. It argues that the police can be reformed to enforce the law equally, “colorblindly”, to do their job without enforcing antiblackness and white supremacy.
But this reform will never work, because it is based in a fundamental misunderstanding of what a cop’s work actually is. Murdering people is part of the policeman’s job. Along with filling the cages of America’s vast prison empire, lynching is what they are hired to do.
A good way to understand the parameters of a job is to look at its fireable offenses. With that in mind, we at A World Without Police did a small study* of what police were fired for in 2016. One of the core discoveries was that while pigs were frequently fired for publicly making racist statements, they were almost never fired for the public, white supremacist murder of unarmed black people, or indeed for killing of any kind. This informs our claim that their job is to reenforce the white supremacist capitalist state through terror and violence, but, crucially, to not appear to be racist, misogynist or homophobic while doing so.
In 2016, US police killed an astonishing 1153 people, as tracked by the website Killed By Police. As a result of those 1153 killings, however, we only found five police who were fired. Of those five, two were fired after officer Cassie Barker killed her own three year old daughter by leaving her in the back seat of her cruiser. Only three police were fired for shooting someone down in the street. We also found one other policeman fired for a killing committed this year: officer John Slepski was fired for inducing a fatal car accident that killed teenager Rashid Abdul Bashir. Bashir did not appear on Killed By Police’s 2016 round up, however, which indicates that even their excellent work is underestimating the number of people police killed in 2016.
There were two other firings for murder of a civilian, but those deaths happened before 2016 and are thus not included in the 1,153+: in January six Cleveland police officers were fired for a 2012 high speed chase that ended with them executing the unarmed Black couple they were chasing, firing 137 bullets into their car, shooting both of them over 20 times. And a Pennsylvania cop was fired for killing another married couple in a high speed car accident in 2014.
But we found a number of other facts in our research that deepen the thesis that killing is official police work. Two cops who had previously murdered unarmed civilians (both, oddly in Milwaukee), were fired this year but for other reasons. Indeed, Dominique Heaggan-Brown, whose lynching of Sylville Smith in August sparked the rebellion there, was fired for committing sexual assault months later. Police made it clear he was not fired for Smith’s murder. Another, Lieutenant Mark Tiller, was fired a year and a half after shooting 19 year old Zachary Hammond, but the department refused to state the reason for Tiller’s firing.
And one police officer in 2016 was fired for not killing a Black man. Weirton, WV police officer Stephen Mader recognized that 23 year old Ronald D. “R.J.” Williams, despite having a gun, did not pose a real immediate threat to anyone’s safety, and so Mader subdued and arrested him. His department then fired Mader for not shooting Williams to death: the clearest instance we’ve ever seen proving that murdering people, not enforcing the law, is a policeman’s job.
But while white supremacist murder is a crucial part of the job, publicly advocating white supremacy is, apparently, beyond the pale. We found twelve cops who were fired for posting racist statements on social media, one fired for flying a confederate flag, and another for having his KKK membership publicly revealed. More than four times as many police were fired for saying or signifying racist things in 2016 than actually murdering Black people and re-enforcing racial terror.
It is crucial, in other words, that the police not appear bigoted: the police don’t want “the public”—which of course never includes the poor and non-white communities they terrorize and dominate—to know that their departments are among the most racist, fascistic, far-right organizations in the world. To maintain a non-racist image, the police manipulate the dominant, liberal understanding of racism, which defines racism as the bad opinions of ignorant individuals rather than a structural force utterly central to capitalist society.
In order to maintain white supremacist capitalism, however, which has always been maintained through terror, cops need to be able to murder, harass, beat, violate and imprison Black, NBPOC, queer, trans* and poor people with impunity. These public firings for racist speech let the pigs know that they can act like an SS officer in the street as long as they don’t throw a Nazi salute. Their job is to maintain and reproduce utter racial and class terror, but to not appear to be doing it.
While only three cops were fired for shooting someone to death this year, five were fired for pointing a gun or shooting at someone who survived, while we found another five fired for threatening to kill or hurt people. Why are police more likely to be punished if the victim of their violence survives? Murder is surely more serious than threats or assault? But if we think with the nihilistic malevolence of a police department, well…a living person can provide testimony and bring social or political pressure to bear, whereas with a dead person it’s only the word of the police who killed them—backed up by the department controlled coroner—against the word of witnesses. Because, again, it’s not the violence, it’s the consequences: police logic is one of pure power, not of morality, justice, legality or any of the other ideas they hide behind.
This logic is demonstrated by the officers who were fired for excessive force, violent arrests and threats in 2016. In the majority of these cases they were either captured on camera, with the videos later shared publicly, or because the victim brought a case against those officers afterwards. Although there were a few instances where departments fired police for being violent without public pressure, for the most part excessive violence is not a violation of the job’s rules: it’s getting caught by the public committing it that costs pigs their jobs.
Arbitrary and extreme violence is part of the policeman’s professional duty, but they also have to keep it out of the public eye. Walking this tightrope is one of the main skills developed by police officers on the beat. If this weren’t the case, this kind of violence wouldn’t constantly recur across the country and across the history of the police.
Many police were also fired last year for sexual harassment, rape, or domestic violence. This is no surprise: the police are a fundamental force in reproducing cis-heteropatriarchy. Studies show that police departments have rates of domestic violence as much as four times above the national average. Whether abusers choose to become police or being a cop makes you an abuser—and both are probably part of the truth—police departments are bastions of patriarchal violence. When these violations become public, as in the viral video of Jackson, MS cop Darryl Stasher sexually harassing and propositioning a 17 year old girl from inside his cruiser, or when criminal charges are brought against police for domestic violence or rape, they are fired.
But, despite the high percentage of cop firings that these cases make up, it is almost certain they represent only a tiny fraction of instances of sexual or domestic violence committed by the police. Rape and sexual assault are overwhelmingly underreported and even more proportionally un-prosecuted. The police and courts often question, harass and disbelieve victims who come to them. The same is true of domestic violence. What is the likelihood, in the face of these facts, that people who are victimized by police are going to report these instances to the very departments perpetrating the violence?
These attitudes and actions are not isolated to individuals, but are part of an open culture of patriarchal domination. The ongoing sex scandal in Oakland, California has seen an officer kill himself, four chiefs resign, four officers fired and another eight suspended in the wake of revelations that at least 28 officers from five different departments had hired a single underaged sex worker. This has only come to light because the sex worker, the pseudonymous Celeste Gaup, bravely came forward after her officer boyfriend’s suicide: who knows how many similar scandals are in the offing around the country. While we believe sex work should be decriminalized, cops certainly don’t, and this scandal reveals what most sex workers already know: that police and their departments engage in organized criminal sexual activity.
Another fact about police firing that we learned during our research is just how frequently police and their unions successfully sue their departments for being fired. Unless police are literally accused of a crime, fired cops usually sue their town or city, and judges often choose to reinstate them or award them severance cash from the public. Although we couldn’t find any overarching studies of this practice, we think such a study would be quite revealing, and we encourage people to take it on. We wouldn’t be surprised if this legal strategy of total resistance to discipline and firing discourages departments from firing dangerous, lazy or incompetent police officers and costs local governments lots of money in legal fees and payouts, making it a crucial part of the blue wall of silence.
Among other reasons for frying bacon, we found basic violations of workplace discipline—lying about timesheets, failing drug tests, etc—as well as classic police corruption—pimping, pedophilia rings, evidence tampering, drug dealing, gun running etc. You may remember the case of Matthew Luckhurst, who tried to make a homeless man eat a sandwich full of shit. You can see all the cases we gathered below.
There is no way to reform the brutality out of the police—brutality is literally their job. Only by firing all the police, by abolishing them entirely, can we hope to stop their terror.
Shout out to twitter user U_26AB whose tweets on the subject helped inspire this research
*Note on our research:
Our research was not exhaustive. We used month-by-month google searches of the phrases “police officer fired”, “cop fired”, “police officer suspended” and “cop suspended”, then followed up on those and other stories through links and further searches. This will not capture every police firing in America, it will only find those that made at least local news. But, if anything, that means that our study should over-represent police being fired for killing people, since, as a result of uprisings across the country, it has been both a major news story and a central demand of the public. We have included the results of our research below.
A year after threatening to break a teenager’s legs on camera (Minneapolis)
Three years after kicking an 18 yo in the face, breaking his jaw (Minneapolis)
A year after being arrested for a DWI (Dallas)
Threatening a woman with murder (Wilmington, DE)
Four years after a car chase and double execution, 6 pigs fired (Cleveland)
Skipping work to attend her sister’s wedding, lying about it (Denver)
Fucking in uniform, on duty, sending pics and videos to women (Jonesboro, GA)
Leaving drugs in a High School student’s locker (Albany, TX)
Being uncooperative with Internal Investigations (Naples, FL)
9 Months after being arrested with a DUI (Everett, WA)
Raping a 15 year old (Chowchilla, CA)
Beating a teenager on camera while making an arrest (Pittsburgh)
Threatening to kill his ex-wife’s husband (Ligonier, PA)
Posting on FB that BLM activist’s suicide was “happy ending” (Fairborn, OH)
“Inappropriately handling” an inmate (Dayton, TN)
Sexual assault of a 16 year old (Neoga, IL)
Lying about work hours (Portales, NM)
Beating and restraining a woman on camera in a jail cell (Denver)
Domestic violence (Borger, TX)
Pulling a gun during a bar fight (Syracuse, NY)
Shooting Antronie Scott, unarmed (San Antonio, TX)
Killing a couple in a fatal car accident (Nesquehoning, PA)
Sex trafficking a minor (Waterbury, CT)
Shooting David Joseph, 17, naked and unarmed (Austin, TX)
Tested positive for Cocaine in random drug screening (Daytona Beach, FL)
Getting pulled over and mooning two fellow officers while off-duty (West Terre-Haute, IN)
Extortion, drug dealing (Auburn, GA)
Telling people he pulled over to believe in Jesus, giving them religious pamphlets (Indiana)
Soliciting an undercover for a blowjob (Boynton Beach, FL)
Body-slamming Janissa Valdez to the floor on camera (San Antonio, TX)
Beating a handcuffed woman, on video (Jacksonville, FL)
Sending sex tape of himself to a reporter (Plantation, FL)
Ongoing corruption, racketeering, gun selling ring (New York, NY)
Pointing loaded gun at other officers (Wilkes-Barre, PA)
Sexual assault on duty (Miami Gardens, FL)
Three years after an off-duty shoot-out (Highland Park, MI)
Lying about threatening a teenager (Denver, CO)
Stomping a man’s head during arrest on video (Chicago, IL)
2 fired for beating a man in handcuffs, in precinct (New Orleans, LA)
Made mistakes during a drug overdose call (Mendota Heights, MN)
Threatening to arrest woman’s boyfriend in order to rape her (Orangeburg, SC)
Shooting and killing Deravis Rogers (Atlanta, GA)
Flying a Confederate flag (Atlanta, GA)
Threatening a 5 yo black girl with murder on Facebook (Overland Park, KS)
5 years after destroying evidence against him in internal investigation (Arlington, WA)
Breaking into ex-girlfriend’s house (Bismarck, ND)
Non-disciplinary/medical reasons (Milwaukee, WI)
Fatal DWI off-duty (Brooklyn, NY)
Beating a handcuffed man in the back of a police car, on camera (McAllen, TX)
Facebook joke about shooting Philando Castille (Nashville, TN)
2 officers, Racist Snapchat threatening to kill black people (Memphis, TN)
Performance issues, leaving his jurisdiction (Brier, WA)
Beating a man in testicles, on camera (Justice, IL)
Sexually harassing woman from his police cruiser, viral video (Jackson, MS)
Tampering with evidence, drug dealing (West Blocton, AL)
Drunk on duty (Grovetown, GA)
Beating a woman while arresting her using “excessive force” (Brenham, TX)
Owning a check-cashing business: conflict of interest (Columbia Heights, DC)
“Abusing his power” at a bar (Tahlequah, OK)
Beating his girlfriend unconscious (Laurel, MT)
Lying, claiming a Black man shot her (Atlanta, GA)
Using excessive force, then falsifying the report (Pittsfield, MA)
Using a Taser illegally (Sunbury, PA)
Kicking a handcuffed suspect, caught on camera (Gretna, LA)
Fired for NOT shooting an armed Black man (Weirton, WV)
Violent Arrest, caught on camera (Camden, DE)
18 months after Shooting Zachary Hammond in the back, killing him (Seneca, SC)
Racist Facebook Post (Chadbourn, NC)
Racist snapchat selfie (McKeesport, PA)
2 fired, leaving 3 year old daughter to die in the back of patrol car (Long Beach, MI)
Accidentally shooting her 11 year old daughter with service weapon (Lincoln County, NC)
2 cops fired for racist messages on Facebook (McIntosh County, GA)
Firing a gun at a suspect (Madison, TN)
Domestic Violence (Red Oak, TX)
Didn’t follow orders (Mamou, LA)
Racist Facebook Post (Tupelo, MS)
Hit and run (Torrington, WY)
Soliciting underage girls for sex (Milwaukee, WI)
Soliciting a child for sex online, entrapped in sting (Blount County, TN)
Domestic Violence (Greensboro, GA)
Sexual assault–not fired for killing (Milwaukee, WI)
Fatal car crash (Meriden, CT)
Four fired for department-wide sex scandal (Oakland, CA)
Tipping off a sex worker about upcoming raids (Oakland, CA)
Feeding shit sandwich to a homeless man (San Antonio, TX)
Giving fraudulent testimony (Shirley, MA)
Withholding evidence implicating herself and other officers (Margate, FL)
Two years after beating a drunk, handcuffed woman in back of patrol car (Seattle, WA)
Racist Facebook post about Michelle Obama (Talladega, AL)
KKK membership discovered (Alachua County, FL)
Domestic Violence (Austin, TX)
Raping a 10 year old (Columbia, SC)
Raping an ex-girlfriend (Oklahoma County, OK)
Growing a beard (Philadelphia, PA)
Challenging a teen to fight for yelling “Fuck the police!”, on camera (Social Circle, GA)
Racist, Homophobic facebook posts (Bradenton, FL)
11 months after beating a man during arrest (Detroit, MI)
A year after hit and run (Dallas, TX)
Domestic Violence (Bellingham, WA)
Drunk driving (Dallas, TX)
Rape (Charlottesville, VA)
Wrongful Arrest of football player (on camera) (Centerton, AL)
Excessive force during an arrest (North Charleston, SC)
Unapproved chase out of jurisdiction, firing gun at suspect (Mobile, AL)