Police

glevy at acnet.pratt.edu glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Jun 10 05:55:11 MDT 1995


There continues to be some disagreement about the social role of police
and the policies that should be adopted by activists in relationship to
this social institution.  Let me add, and in some cases repeat some
arguments made by others, concerning this issue.

1) Police are not the ones who determine policy within the capitalist
state.  They "follow orders."  In this sense, one could liken them to
foot soldiers in the service of capitalism.  This is an important point
as many who are engaged in struggle with the state see only the police
and react to them as if they were THE enemy.

2) The purpose of police, broadly interpreted, is to maintain "law and
order" within a given social formation and mode of production.  This role
has two sides: one, to defend private property and capitalist and state
institutions; and two, to maintain bourgeois legality.  The first role
includes (but is not limited to) breaking strikes, arresting protesters,
repressing communities.  The second role can include enforcement of
other more "class neutral" laws such as laws against murder, rape,
violence.  Both of these role are determined fundamentally not by the
police but by "higher authorities" in the capitalist state (such as the
judiciary and executive branches).  These higher authorities are the ones
who must be held responsible for police behavior.

3) Some have argued that individual police are at fault, rather than the
institution itself.  I have no doubt that there are (somewhere) "good
cops", but this misses the point.  Police policy decisions are rarely
determined by individual cops.  To understand how police act as a group,
rather than just individuals, one must consider their social role and the
means with which police are created and trained.  Police, like soldiers,
undergo an indoctrination and assimilation process which TEACHES
individuals to become cops.  It doesn't matter what their moral and
ethical beliefs were before joining up.  Part of the training process
involves destroying those older values, substituting new moral values and
group conduct and behavior, and de-humanizing civilians.  They learn both
to "follow orders" and de-humanize groups, classes and individuals.  In
an analogous way, consider managers.  I have known many decent people
who became managers but the very process of training and assimilation
required these individuals to change their moral beliefs and values if
they were to maintain their jobs as managers.  If individual police act
to expose corruption, discrimination and brutality their careers (and
possibly their lives) can be shortened rather remarkably.

4) Some cops (the so-called "bad cops") take special glee in repressing
and brutalizing communities.  Other cops (the so-called "good cops") say
that they are simply "following orders."  In either case, the result is
very frequently the same.  Police brutality, I would suggest, is not
limited to the actions of individual "bad cops" but is the result of a
POLICY.  When one is denied one's civil and constitutional rights, it
matters little if the cop insults you or gives you the "obeying orders"
line.  By the way, remember Nuremburg?  (I have frequently asked that
question of cops who gave the "obeying orders" argument).

5) Part of the training process is establishing group identity and
solidarity.  This leads to "good cops" going along with, protecting and
defending the actions of the "bad cops." As police, they tend to act more
as GROUP members than individuals.  Even where police corruption and
brutality is exposed we are given the old "one rotten apple in any good
barrel" or "the system works" lines.  Both lines simply defend the
existing pattern of this capitalist state social institution.  Concerning
"good cops" a better line might be: "There is always one good apple in
any rotten barrel."

6) Police are nominally workers (i.e. they are wage earners).  In every
other way, they are not part of the working class but (yes, I think the
poem I cited before was relevant) MERCENARIES.  If you are being mugged,
then these mercenaries are paid to help you (which they very frequently
don't do).

7) The state seems to go out of its way to recruit vicious, racist,
sexist, nationalistic individuals.  This is not accidental.  The police
themselves frequently ARE brutal thugs and many were so before becoming
police.  This, also, is not accidental.  Some day I'd like to get a copy
of a police application and entrance exam and give it to a behavioral
psychologist for analysis.  I suspect strongly that they get the type of
individuals they are looking for through this process.  It might also be
useful to examine which GROUPS and COMMUNITIES cops are, by and large,
recruited from.  Holding individual cops alone responsible for police
misconduct is rather like holding Colonel Caley (spelling?) alone for "My
Lai."  But Caley was not simply an individual -- he was created.  We need
not only to denounce the individuals but the policy-makers as well.

8) I hold little hope about winning cops over to our side at a later
stage of the struggle.  Perhaps, though, we can get them -- in the FINAL
instance -- to stand aside.  For now, most cops bring their racial and
other stereotypes to their jobs and act to oppress communities.  Also,
don't look for support from Police Unions as they are, at least in this
country, ultra-reactionary (and in NYC, even neo-fascist)

9) How we relate tactically to the police in any given struggle is a
DIFFERENT question from the social role of police.  As I have said
before, the tactics chosen vary to a great degree on the balance of
forces and the nature of the particular struggle.  Certainly, though, any
policy should be soberly considered with an understanding of the
potential consequences of that policy.

For my part, I have no great sympathy for either managers or cops.  Both
are representatives of our class enemies.  Police brutality will only end
when a new social order is established and the police are dismantled as a
social institution.

Jerry


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