Demonization and cops
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
glevy at acnet.pratt.edu
Sat Jun 10 07:31:25 MDT 1995
As I was writing my previous post, Joe's message came through.
A couple of additional thoughts. Cops demonize us and we, in turn,
demonize them. Joe is correct to argue that individual cops are
individual human beings and that demonization in any form is a rather
shallow form of analysis. The demonization exhibited by cops, though, is
not simply the result of individuals' beliefs but is a process encouraged by
and created by other, more powerful, forces.
How we confront this process of demonization is a more difficult
question. In some cases, it may be possible to make individual cops
confront their own humanity and contradictory moral beliefs. For
instance, in 1991 about 500 riot cops were sent into Tompkins Square Park
to evict homeless encampments. For a time, it looked like it could turn
into a real bloodbath. As several squads of cops in riot gear prepared
to bash our heads, one activist got the bright idea of singing
"America." As the song was sung, one could observe the cops beginning to
cringe and soften. We had pointed out to them, in song, the inhumanity
of their own actions and confronted the contradiction between the task
that they were attempting and their own beliefs in bourgeois democratic
morality. On another occasion, I went to a birthday party for an
activist. The cops went up to the roof of the building, threatened
arrests, and prepared to club us (a particularly dangerous situation as
one of us could have "fallen" about 20 floors). Many hurled abuse at the
cops, but someone else started singing "Happy Birthday." The cops
cringed and made a hasty retreat. We had showed them that we were people
too who, like themselves, had birthdays and enjoyed life. Part of the
process of confronting this demonization is to show cops that we are
human beings, not (as they frequently believe) "freaks" or "criminals."
This is not, however, often possible. In many instances in my community,
self-defense requires us to take on the cops both morally and
It is idealistic, I would argue, to think that the cops who demonize us
can be convinced -- under normal circumstances -- to treat us in a
non-demonized way. Their beliefs are deeply embedded in their
consciousness and that consciousness will not change, ordinarily, by
appeal alone. For some cops, the best "education" for their prejudice
and ARROGANCE is the observation that PEOPLE CAN FIGHT BACK! Another
possibility, made real by videotapes, is to RECORD their actions. (this,
also, has its dangers as camera people often have their cameras crushed
by cops when taking pictures of police abuses). In this community, a
sometimes effective chant was: "The whole world is watching!"
Joe asks how we would change the police. What kind of police are needed?
I am not really in favor of police at all -- community self-defense might
be an idea for a post-capitalist society. I don't really like the idea
of "Marxist cops", though. People must learn to police themselves.
Easier said than done.
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