By Ed Dalton
This week the networks behind the television programs “Live PD” and the long-running “COPS” announced the cancellation of the exploitative and racist programs which for years have promoted police apologia.
The program COPS has run for 30 years and has been scrutinized by advocates of the people’s legal rights for smearing the names of those arrested and aired. Many cases have been unearthed over the program’s run in which the police were caught lying on film and the network covered for them. Critics explain that the program was always focused on making entertainment and not on any concerns regarding “transparency of law enforcement” as the ruling class media has claimed.
Live PD, which is like COPS, but more extreme and mainly broadcast as a live feed, came under increased scrutiny for filming the Williamson County Police Department murdering Javier Ambler last year. Live PD producers destroyed the footage, but the body camera footage was published by the media.
Both programs had high ratings, with Live PD airing on the A&E network having the highest viewers of any basic cable program. In capitalist society, all culture including entertainment is controlled by the ruling class, to promote ruling class ideology among the people. In the case of the canceled programs, the purpose was to desensitize the public to police violence, via normalization of the high-octane harassment and chase scenes broadcast weekly. Both programs contained years of heavy racial overtones, to portray black working class communities as a criminal danger to the rest of the country. This of course ties in to the over representation of black people in prison and the striking imbalance when it comes to police murder.
The cancellation of the programs is two-fold: on the one hand, the networks are correct to fear the backlash from the recent rebellion, knowing full-well that airing such material will cost them not only viewers but put them in the crosshairs of the movement. On the other hand, this concession forced by the mass movement doubles as an appeasement bid to end the movement, or at least decrease its intensity. While these shows are gone, the police will find new methods of public relations and continue to manifest culturally.
Institutionally, the state exists in service of one class, which administers its dictatorship over the others, to maintain property relations—race relations are situated within this. As long as the capitalist state exists it will continue to rely on both its repressive apparatuses, the police, military, judiciary, prisons etc. to coerce the people into submission, as well as its cultural apparatuses, church, school, news, entertainment, etc. One aspect provides for the other, when cultural approaches at pacification and dominance stop working, the repressive apparatus kicks in.
This becomes clear in the relationship between the media and the police. Corporate journalists who have editorial guidelines protecting the ruling class end up serving as an auxiliary of the police. The latter give them information and in return the journalists uncritically repeat police claims and reports without fact checking or investigation. This is still one of the major avenues of police PR. In the contemporary protest movement, ruling class journalists are complicit in promoting the narratives of police departments nationally. They are only restricted by the fact that increasingly their readers are voicing skepticism and denouncing these narratives altogether.
There is a high probability that these canceled programs will return in a modified form. Especially when the ruling class considers the current wave of rebellion to be mainly subsided, a conclusion they work toward daily. When they do return, the modifications will be to the form of programming and not its essence or its main role in promoting the violent and racist policing in the US.
It was not letter writing or abstention of viewers that caused the cancellation of such lucrative programs, it was the millions taking to the streets in righteous outrage. This is the momentum which must be kept up and driven to even more radical and revolutionary conclusions. The people alone make history, en masse they cannot be placated in the long term by gestures of the ruling class. The ruling class—that is the bourgeoisie or those who own everything—have their own internal contradictions and conflicts, like all other classes. There is a section who are frantically scrambling to let crumbs drop from their table to distract and pacify the struggle, as well as those who insist on increased policing, increased financing, and the continuation of such abhorrent entertainment programs. They are united in one thing, their view that the movement must be ended, they just disagree in the means and approach to the liquidation of the people’s struggles.
The working class, including the most oppressed and exploited part of it—Black workers, are likewise facing disagreements. There is the majority, who are convinced that the fight must go on, that these concessions are not enough and they must keep conquering more, snatching small victories from the jaws of the enemy, and those who were already prepared to capitulate. The latter become the unofficial lieutenants for the police, media, and ruling class generally among the people’s struggles. They regurgitate whatever anti-people nonsense the police and the press put out while claiming to speak for the whole movement. The role of the revolutionary is to unite the most advanced in the struggle, to win over the middle of the road types, and to isolate or uplift the most backward few, all in the interests of class unity and an increased fighting capacity.
The most poor and oppressed among the old decaying society have already provided numerous examples in the tactics of the uprising, and these should be studied vigorously and advanced upon. It is in the interest of all working people to unite right now around the struggles for the liberation of black people, which can only be realized in the end of the racist, colonial, and imperialist systems the world over. Every step in that direction must be defended and no stepping backward can be accepted.