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Cop City to Cop Country

By Vic Valera

On March 6, 2024, Governor Kathy Hochul deployed the National Guard in Grand Central Station and other major subway stops in Manhattan. The armed soldiers were conducting bag searches, singling out passengers for bag inspection allegedly at random. If a person refused the search then they had to exit the subway system, though it was unclear when and how they could re-enter. The deployment is part of a 5-point program intended to increase safety and reduce rider anxiety on the subway. Yet such policy is reminiscent of stop-and-frisk, a policy deemed unconstitutional as it violated the 4th Amendment. Despite increased spending on police, subway crime has been up 13% since the beginning of 2024.

The Stop Cop City campaign is a movement based in Atlanta that aimed to prevent a police training facility from being built in the Black River Forest. Threat to the forest, historically important to Black and Indigenous communities in Atlanta, motivated racial justice activists and environmentalists alike to protect the land. During one police raid on protesters camping near the proposed site, Manuel Terán, also known as "Tortuguita", was shot and killed by Atlanta police. An independent autopsy showed they were shot 14 times, sitting cross-legged with hands in the air. In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests and calls to defund the police the government of Atlanta chose to ignore the dissent of its people. The project was approved on June 6th, 2023.

These stories illustrate larger trends of over-policing and injustice reflected nationally. In New York City, this injustice doesn’t only appear in the form of police brutality. Administrative financial injustice points to a much deeper structural issue with the overreliance on the police. Former law enforcement officer and current mayor of New York City Eric Adams has been vocal about his support of the police, going so far as to exempt them from the Preliminary Budget PEG cuts. $10.8 billion has been allocated to the NYPD for the 2024 fiscal year, following the NYPD going over the allocated overtime budget by $100 million and paying out over $115 million in misconduct settlements in 2023. The NYPD has the funding to deploy drones over protests, employ robots to roam subway stations, and deploy semi-autonomous robot canines in the form of Boston Dynamic's Spot bots. These all enhance the surveillance of the public, making NYC a cop city of its own.

There are 69 police training facilities or “cop cities” currently being built throughout the United States, three of which are being built in New York. North Dakota, Vermont, and Wyoming are the only states without a police training facility currently under construction. During his State of the Union Address, President Joe Biden mentioned an increase in “community policing” but did not specify what forms that policing would take. 

These decisions are not accidental. The Black Lives Matter protests of 2020 saw the largest national mobilization of protesters in the modern era, and police departments were overwhelmed by the calls for divestment and abolition. It was an impressive disruption of the status quo, so impressive that authority figures scrambled to reaffirm their good standing. Rather than build societies where extensive policing and prisons are not necessary, they enhance police funding to ensure that their properties and interests are well protected. 

Authoritarianism has historically come to power after moments of national instability, and the COVID-19 pandemic is instability that is still being lived and experienced. Some people may claim that we've collectively forgotten about COVID-19, but we've noticed the labor shortages, economic downturn, inflation, and rise of fear as a motivator for political action. Such fear is what motivates legislators rushing to ban TikTok, a platform known for its political communication. With fewer people available to work, the CDC was pressured to shorten the isolation period for COVID-19 to one day. This was unscientific- done for the economy, with disregard for immunocompromised and disabled populations that must live in this hazardous world. It's surely only a coincidence that police are rolling out AI facial recognition programs while the CDC is dropping mask mandates. Imprisoned people are excellent providers of free labor.

The 2024 election isn't one that garners hope or enthusiasm. The options we're presented with are two sides of the same carceral coin. On one hand, there's a president who allowed fringe Republicans to control the House and the Supreme Court while aiding and abetting the genocide of Palestinians. On the other, we have a president accused of aiding an insurrection of the very government he was once the head of,  among countless other criminal charges. This accompanies his racist, queerphobic, and anti-abortion stances. While we focus on our domestic issues, the exploitation happening in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and the political instability that the United States caused in Haiti have gone unnoticed. Only the people’s education, organization, and mobilization have presented the hope for necessary change. Regardless of the future of our leadership, the United States is only reaffirming its status as a cop country. What will you do to stop it? 

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