Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cops are here to protect you

Latest post in an ongoing series from Rad Geek People's Daily:

Cops are here to protect you by stopping an upset man from cutting himself with a knife by shouting at him in a language he doesn’t speak, then, after he fails to obey commands he couldn’t understand, by tasering him, firing pepperballs at him, and then shooting him dead — with several shots fired after he had dropped the knife.

All for his own good, of course. It became necessary to kill Odiceo Valencia in order to save him.

Cops are here to protect you by pulling you over if your car seems suspicious to them and then, if you want to know what you were pulled over for, pulling you out of the car, getting up in your face, and shouting, Ever get smart-mouthed with a cop again, I show you what a cop does, threatening to arrest you for some fucking reason I come up with, bragging that they can come up with nine other things to arrest you for, insisting, when you tell them that their conduct is being recorded, shouting I don’t really care about your cameras, ‘cause I’m about ready to tow your car, then we can tear ‘em all apart, and then proceeding to give you a ten-minute lecture on how you should properly address your public servants.


When every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police department almost invariably doing everything in its power to conceal, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously irresponsible or dangerously out-of-control the cop may be, it beggars belief to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here, that cops ought to be given every benefit of the doubt, that the same police department that hires and trains these goons ought to be trusted to handle it internally (which means secretly), and that any blanket condemnation of American policing is a sign of hastiness and unfair prejudice. The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things: either a professionalized system of control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people—or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

Indeed. It's worth reposting here some of what Tim Wise wrote a few months ago after the Sean Bell verdict:
... there are any number of problems with the resurrection of the "heroic cop" image in the public imagination.

First, if we define heroism by the extent to which one puts his life on the line in the course of his work -- and apparently that's the operative definition nowadays -- then there is nothing all that heroic about policing. According to the Department of Labor, the on-the-job fatality rate for police is lower than that for gardeners, electricians, truck drivers, garbage collectors, construction workers, airline pilots, timber cutters, and commercial fisherman. In fact, fishermen have an occupational fatality rate that is fifteen times higher than that for cops, but rarely do we hear those who provide us with an endless supply of mahi-mahi described as heroes.

An average of 66 police officers per year were killed feloniously during the 1990s, with the number falling to only 42 in 1999. As Marie De Santis, Director of the Women's Justice Center explains, the flawed presentation of cops as embattled heroes is not only inaccurate, but also dangerous: "By cultivating a hyper-inflated myth of heroes sacrificing their lives for you, police have created a shield of public veneration to defend against criticism of any misdeed. Who then can blame police for building arsenals against the citizens, for firing at first blink, for medieval codes of silence?"


Secondly, there is nothing inherently noble about police work. After all, would most Americans think highly of law enforcement officers in North Korea? Or Iraq? Of course not. What makes policing noble is always and only the validity of the system for which officers are working. And while I am hardly analogizing the U.S. justice system to that of North Korea, Iraq, or any other authoritarian nation, the point is still valid. If the system is rife with inequality and injustice, then those whose job it is to uphold that system are part of the problem...
The fundamental role of the cops under capitalism is to preserve bourgeois rule. That's not all there is to say, but ultimately it's that simple.

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