Cops Against Brutality

— Kristian Williams

Black Cops Against Police Brutality:
A Crisis Action Plan
by DeLacy Davis
East Orange, NJ: Black Cops Against Police Brutality,
2005, 142 pages, $25 paper.

IF YOU”RE LOOKING for a 12-step program to end society’s addiction to violence, this isn’t the book for you. It’s more of an organizational tool kit. DeLacy Davis gives some quick attention to the problem of police brutality — its scope and its consequences— before moving on to outline the lessons he’s drawn from his own unique experience as, simultaneously, a sergeant with the East Orange (New Jersey) police, a student of administrative science (with a Master’s Degree from Fairleigh Dickenson University), and a founder of Black Cops Against Police Brutality (www.b-cap.org).

Davis became a cop in 1986 and founded B-Cap in 1991 “to improve the relationship between the community and law enforcement by working to eliminate police-community violence; to enhance the quality of life for the African community and to be the conscience of the criminal justice system.” (53)

Since then, the organization has blocked the New Jersey turnpike to protest racial profiling, intervened to calm the 1995 Paterson riots, spoken out on behalf of Mumia Abu-Jamal, provided advisors to the (post-apartheid) South African police, and come to the assistance of numerous individuals who have been mistreated by the police, including officers who face discrimination or who go public with allegations of misconduct.

Even aside from his activism, Davis’ career has had more than its share of drama.  In 1989, after three years on the force, Davis shot a fleeing suspect. Two years later, he cost the city of East Orange $70,000 in a brutality lawsuit.

But that same year, he formed B-Cap, and soon he was on the other end of police harassment. In 1997, for example, he went to the aid of a man who was being beaten by police, and when the victim was pressured to drop his Internal Affairs complaint, Davis filed his own. In the months following, he received death threats, he was twice assaulted, members of his family were arrested on spurious charges, his car was vandalized, and someone set fire to his house. But these stories are not included in Black Cops Against Police Brutality.

Instead of offering up his memoirs, Davis has produced a kind of management textbook for activists and it represents both the strengths and the weaknesses of the consultancy genre. The book is full of pseudo-sociological axioms crafted in accordance with the ease of memorization rather than with empirical validity (e.g. “the 80/20 Rule. . . that 20% of the people do 80% of the work”).

On the other hand, it does take seriously the importance of organization. The book outlines basic steps for getting organized and identifies some useful techniques for increasing your group’s overall chances for success. It offers detailed advice covering basic skills like writing a press release, and uses concrete examples to stress the importance of solidarity (referred to here as “operational unity”) and of principled leadership.

The book is mainly silent on larger political questions. Davis tells us a great deal about what we need to do to get organized, and some of how to do it — but almost nothing about what to do with an organization once we have one. While he stresses the need for concrete, realistic goals, he says very, very little about what those goals should be, or even how to go about figuring out what they should be.

Do we push for improved police training? A civilian review board? The abolition of police? Davis doesn’t say, nor does he discuss the broader issues that might inform such decisions — for example, the police role in our society, or the relationships among policing, capitalism, and white supremacy. There are no examples offered of reforms that have been shown to reduce police violence, or warnings against repeating failed experiments. With no real discussion of the causes of police violence, any solutions remain mysterious.

This is not to say that the book doesn’t have some use. After all, none of us were born knowing how to write press releases, raise money, or organize a mailing. People who have a project in mind, but don’t know how to get it off the ground, would do well to consider Davis’ advice.

For that matter, a great many established organizations are, when you get right down to it, pretty damn disorganized. Maybe a handbook will help them, too. But Black Cops Against Police Brutality: A Crisis Action Plan is strictly a book about means. You’ll have to come up with your own goals, and craft your own strategy.

What, did you think social change was going to be easy?

ATC 126, January-February 2007