Kareem Abdul-Jabbar on Police Unions and the "Anti-Cop" Smear. Works for School Reform and Teachers Unions, Too


Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as Roger Murdock

In his latest column, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the former six-time NBA champ turned political pundit, takes on the idea that police reform protesters are "anti-cop" and responsible for the murder of two police officers in New York City this weekend.

Jabbar identifies the purpose of trying to connect the murders to the protesters. Via Time:

Those who are trying to connect the murders of the officers with the thousands of articulate and peaceful protestors across America are being deliberately misleading in a cynical and selfish effort to turn public sentiment against the protestors. This is the same strategy used when trying to lump in the violence and looting with the legitimate protestors, who have disavowed that behavior. They hope to misdirect public attention and emotion in order to stop the protests and the progressive changes that have already resulted. Shaming and blaming is a lot easier than addressing legitimate claims.

Although this tactic may be a new feeling for the protesters being targeted, it's not a  new tactic itself. Conservatives may be much more aware of it giving its deployment over the least three to six years to tie the right-wing to every lone white nut who commits a sufficiently prominent crime. Sarah Palin was blamed for Jared Loughner, Glenn Beck was blamed for the nut who tried to shoot up the Tide Foundation, and so forth. It's such a systematic tactic it's hard to believe it's been anything other than intentional.

Here's Media Matters tying two nuts who adopted "Tea Party" insignia and slogans before killing two cops in Las Vegas to other isolated incidents in an effort to paint the broader conservative movement with the extremist brush. But just as those nuts had little to do with the broader movement they tried to claim, so did Ismaayil Brinsley, the New York cop killer, who posted about getting vengeance for Michael Brown and Eric Garner, two people who were killed by police and have become together rallying points for many progressives in the police reform movement.

Abdul-Jabbar continues:

This shrill cry of "policism" (a form of reverse racism) by [Former New York Gov. George] Pataki and the police unions is a hollow and false whine born of financial self-interest (unions) or party politics (Republican Pataki besmirching Democrat de Blasio) rather than social justice. These tragic murders now become a bargaining chip in whatever contract negotiations or political aspirations they have…

Police are not under attack, institutionalized racism is. Trying to remove sexually abusive priests is not an attack on Catholicism, nor is removing ineffective teachers an attack on education. Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them, are the enemy. And any institution worth saving should want to eliminate them, too.

Abdul-Jabbar is right, and again, it's not new. Advocates of school reform are regularly called "anti-schools" by opponents. "Bad apples, bad training, and bad officials who blindly protect them" exist in the public schools and every government enterprise. And, as with police, in every enterprise the financial self-interest of unions and their members, and the party politics unions play to build their influence, act to thwart legitimate efforts at reforming and improving the product, be it policing or education. Even the charge of institutional racism works in education. Public school systems are more prone to be treated as jobs programs as opposed to centers of education in poor and marginalized communities. Sacrificing the education of minority children for the financial and political interests of adults, black, white, or otherwise, seems pretty racist, even institutionally so.

Since the issue of police reform catapulted onto the national stage this summer, I've been wondering when the role of police unions, which clearly protect bad actors, will be explored by that part of the establishment that's adopted the police reform agenda as their own. I've suspected the mainstream left isn't interested in engaging this problem, no matter the potential for improving respect for civil liberties such an engagement creates, precisely because the same ideas apply elsewhere. Police unions negotiate rules that protect bad cops who are more likely to use excessive force just as teachers unions negotiate rules that protect bad teachers who are more likely to fail to educate the children put under their care. In the first case, the damage is physical—injury or even loss of life. In the latter the damage is more subtle, in the form of lost income earning potential and maladjustment to school for the miseducated students

School reform, like police reform, is a "social justice" issue. Police unions, like teachers unions, exist to prevent reforms because their role is to protect their members, good and bad, not the quality of the system that employs them. Police unions have not tried to infiltrate the police reform movement to keep it away from the kinds of reforms that would threaten bad cops. Teachers unions have. But in both cases the idea that a union meant to protect the employees of a system would have any incentive to support reforms that would improve the system by improving the quality of employees is ridiculous on its face.