OFFICER FRIENDLY

Posted in Rants on October 4th, 2011 by Ed

Long-time readers are well acquainted with my attitude toward law enforcement in the United States, which could be described tactfully as "skeptical." My argument is not, and never has been, "Cops are bad people." In fact I recognize that they are no different from any other profession, with some mix of slackers, idealists, pragmatic clock-punchers, and people with dangerous personality disorders. The reason so many people dislike cops is not that they are evil people, but because of the role of the police in our social, political, and economic system.

We are encouraged to think of the police Serving & Protecting, or perhaps listlessly filling out a report when our crap gets stolen. That's well and good. The problem is that they are not really "there" to help you. They exist to maintain a social and political power structure, and most of the time you are dealing with them they are actively trying to screw you. On the latter point, this is precisely why astute people know never to say anything to a police officer except "Hello", "Am I under arrest or free to go?", or "I have nothing to say and I want a lawyer." But let's put that aside for the moment and consider the first point more closely.

Nothing makes me feel sketchier as a blogger than to lapse into Marxist rhetoric as social commentary, but I defy anyone to watch the way police respond to public protests and offer a superior alternative explanation. OK, fair enough, there is one caveat: right-wing public rage spasms are permitted. Teabaggers, immigration zealots, and sundry other collections of angry old white people can take to the streets donning semiautomatic rifles and threatening to revolt against the government without fear of molestation by the police. Their misguided activism advances the agenda of the top 1%, so the media and political class define it as socially acceptable. Police treat them accordingly, in addition to being sympathetic to "protesters" who are demographically similar to the average cop. But good lord, get a bunch of people in one place protesting against the powers-that-be and the police are suddenly replaced by the Storm Troopers of America.

You can make or entertain all the excuses you see fit – Lefty protesters are more violent! Teabaggers are well behaved model citizens! You can't block traffic! If you don't have a permit, of course the police will mace you! – but those excuses persuade you alone. We know exactly why they react the way they do. They do it because the people in charge – economically, socially, and politically – use them to send messages when the proles step out of line. Sticking it to The Man by voting for Barack Obama (Ha!) but that's about it. Know your place. There are things one doesn't talk about here, people one does not criticize, and aspects of our system that are not open for debate. If you're feeling rebellious the proper way to express it is to buy some particularly subversive clothing, or maybe to express your individuality by driving an x-treme car of some sort.

This has been true of the United States since our elites rebelled against the British for the right to establish their own social hierarchy with themselves perched atop it. Pick any strike, movement, or protest against the entrenched power structure and you'll see the police (or National Guard) are not intermediaries or keepers-of-peace, but aggressive defenders of the status quo. It's their job. Literally.

This is why "Occupy Wall Street" protesters, as non-threatening and disjointed a bunch of disaffected people as you're likely to find, are subjected to the same "pincering" tactics the NYPD (Our heroes! 9-11! Flags!) made so popular during the 2004 Republican Convention. You know, permit the protesters to enter an area, close off the entrance/exit, and then arrest all of them. That's what happened during all those Tea Party circle jerks, the ones we were told had hundreds of thousands in attendance, right? No, the guy waving the "WE CAME UNARMED…THIS TIME!" sign has nothing to fear from the police. It's the person with the "Why does 1% have all the wealth?" sign that ends up cuffed, in a van, and squinting through pepper spray.

In this instance, it isn't an oversimplification to point out that this says all you need to know about our country.