In February, the Miami Police Department unveiled a redesigned police SUV in honor of Black History Month. The Ford Interceptor featured raised fists, an outline of Africa, red, green and yellow stripes and the message “Miami Police Supports Black History Month.” Miami wasn’t the only department to refashion its police cars. Other police departments in Columbus and Durham have made similar efforts, as have departments in places like Liverpool and Ontario.
Critics quickly voiced frustration that these performative acts sidestep meaningful change, displaying support for the same communities that are over-policed and underprotected. But this critique overlooks how most police reforms function primarily as public relations projects. Major cities devote a remarkable number of staff and proportion of their budget to PR, targeting the general public, policymakers who control their budgets and perceived criminals. While the specific objectives of their PR projects shift with each audience, the overall message has been consistent across the history of U.S. policing: the authority of the police is legitimate, effective and absolute.