The Sergeants Benevolent Association (SBA), the union for the New York Police Department (NYPD), released a shockingly tonedeaf video recently entitled “Blue Racism.” The underlying narrative the video builds upon is that movements for police accountability are fundamentally rooted in an irrational animus towards the police. In this bizarro narrative, systemic police abuses of power, especially against people of color, are nothing more than falsities made up by those with a deep-seat and irrational hatred of the police.
This narrative is problematic to begin with, but the SBA decided to step things up a notch with a video about how police were victims of “blue racism.” To make a terrible idea even worse, the video’s voiceover states that not only is criticism of police “blue racism,” but that “blue racism” is worse than other types of racism. In a particularly cringeworthy moment, text appears the screen with a quote from Martin Luther King, “”I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.”
It didn’t take very long for criticisms of this video to start pouring in. Many pointed out that being a police officer is not a race. This point is so obvious that it shouldn’t require any comment, but if you’re confused as to why police aren’t a race German Lopez did a pretty good job of explaining it at Vox.
The bizarre assertion of blue racism is a new low, but it plays on a similar theme we’ve seen time and time again. While the voice mentions some symptoms of “blue racism” like officers not being able to tell people what his their job is for fear of their safety (how many police actually hide their profession is unknown), most of it is aimed at protesters, politicians, and the media (The voiceover explicitly attacks “college professors.” In short, as movements against police brutality gain steam, forcing politicians to take steps towards police accountability the SBA responds by labeling all of this just merely anti-police antipathy on par with (or worse than!) racism.
The hoped for impact here is twofold. First, any measures for police accountability are verboten since they are merely “blue racism.” Second, grassroots movements for basic human rights are now just the products of “blue racism.” Thus, the SBA is seeking to stifle both actual mechanisms for police accountability and dissent.
This video is particularly appalling given that police violence disproportionately impacts people of color. The recent upsurgence in social movements against police brutality, like Black Lives Matter, have tied demands for police accountability with racial justice. Police routinely kill, brutalize, or otherwise violate the rights of people of color with impunity. People are rightfully angry about this situation and are rightfully speaking out. The SBA understands this and that is why implying police are the real victims is so offensive. It makes a mockery of the very serious issues of structural racism underlying the crisis of police brutality in this country.
This isn’t a new strategy. We’ve seen it before with the so-called “Blue Lives Matter” bills which amend hate crime laws to include police. We’ve also seen attempts to blame those who speak out against racial injustice, police brutality, and other deprivations of fundamental rights for the deaths of police officers (something the Blue Racism video tries to do) or for a general increase in crime. The implications here are simple, keep quiet about injustice or else you have blood on your hands.
The attempts to shut down dissent by smearing those who fight for racial justice and against police brutality have always been shameful. By claiming that such movements are really on par with racism, that police are the real victims, takes this to an extreme level–even for apologists of police brutality.