Murphy\’s Bye-Laws

Law #4: Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it. –H.D. Thoreau

Jackboots Are In This Season

Posted by PintofStout on May 13, 2008

Everyday one can find a news story about police brutality, police corruption, or a violent drug raid gone wrong. Of course, one can find stories of other horrific crimes perpetuated by non-police officers – sometimes against police officers – as well, but the storyline of needing protection from the protectors is particularly disturbing. The increase in these sad and enraging stories follows closely the increased militarization of mentality, equipment, weapons, and personnel of the occupying police forces in America. Are stories of police violence the new shark attacks that sell ads for news agencies or is there a serious problem?

Today, the militarization is complete to such a degree that the police and the various police organizations of government would easily qualify as a standing army, which was outlawed by the Constitution they are “protecting and upholding” even as they trample it (never mind the standing army without charade that is your military). Peace officers, the old (perhaps fictional) neighborhood cops with their own moral compass outside of the letter of the law and budgetary incentive, are a dying breed being replaced by money-and-power-hungry bureaucrats and violent control freaks who often go through training such as this: New Orleans Police Find Eager Recruits. After listening to the background audio of the New Orleans Police Academy, I’m reminded more of Full Metal Jacket than the Police Academy series, where two guys mistaking the police for the army are the butt of several jokes. Exposed to the ultra-authoritarian and violent compliance of their instructors, it is no wonder policemen reciprocate this behavior on the peons who are the lowly public.

I can’t in good conscience lay the entire blame on the individual policemen (the few bad apples lie) and/or even the volumes of ridiculously bad law. I’m certainly not exonerating them, but most of these problems boil down to the environment they work in (and we live in) and the attitudes the environment is created from and perpetuates. The attitude and mindset of blindly accepting authority of someone claiming dominion leads to the numb mentality of “just following orders”, “I have to enforce the law, even if it is bad law”, or “I have to follow these rules and do whatever this enforcer with authority tells me to.” The first two mentalities listed may not even exist anymore as the last attitude has reinforced their fabricated authority and allowed it to morph into the enforcers writing their own impromptu law and living above the rules of normal civilized society.

When the structures and people who were supposed to serve and protect the public are blatantly terrorizing the public and the system in which they work turns a blind eye, what are the terrorized to do? We could choose to not blindly obey out of some misplaced fealty to the law. The law itself, which was written by corrupt thieves, deserves no such fealty. The police were never intended to protect anything but the grip this system and its operators had on its subjects. Should we be concerned for the safety of a mugger or highwayman shaking us down on the side of a highway? Should we have reverence for the job done by those so wrongly labeled as “heros” who gladly place their jackboots on our throats to reach for higher personal treasures? Police and their masters distributing the treasure are hedging their authority with military weapons and tactics while simultaneously and nervously disarming the increasingly abused subjects. Why take away our weapons? They should have nothing to worry about if they did nothing wrong, right?

Physically defending oneself against the aggression of the state just feeds the defender into the same corrupt system with no hope of justice. A better start would be to change the meme of default authority of police officers. When we no longer speak of them as selfless guardians and shower them with our reverence, then the blinders can come down and expose the bad apples as the rule and not the exception. Justice must then be taken outside of the corrupt system. When the local police let their authoritarian flags fly – even in the “lawful” enforcement of victimless crimes – the community would have no choice but to completely reject them; refuse to associate with them and refuse to do business with them and anybody who associates with them. Much of this starts with the concerned citizens who become police officers themselves and are smeared by the name and reputation of modern police work and the laws they enforce. When the slimy, power-hungry, authoritarian thugs are sheltered by their fellow policemen, the previously peaceful and clean public servants are besmirched with the stain of corruption.

Something needs to change and fast. If this trend isn’t thwarted and reversed the thin blue line will become a battle line, the police viewed as occupiers, and the violent backlash of those caught under the treads of various “wars” on victimless crimes will only tear further into the social fabric. We can start by dropping the word hero from our vocabulary and start asking questions.

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10 Responses to “Jackboots Are In This Season”

  1. Marja said

    I’ve had some experience with police brutality, and done research on it.

    A small minority of officers seem to do the vast majority of the abuse. However, the other officers tolerate the abusers and the departments empower the abusers, e.g. concentrating them in special units, e.g. sending others to harass journalists.

  2. I believe I recognize your name from this comment with a fantastic quote at The Art of the Possible, Marja. A related post by you or involving you at that blog was part (one in many, really) that inspired this post.

    I started this several days ago when I was upset and was going to advocate open retaliation until I let it be for a while. Things mellowed after that.

    Police brutality is one area to focus on, and a dangerous one, but there is also the general style of policing or the policy that spawns the laws being enforced and the technique in which they are enforced or the general subservient attitudes of the subjects (no longer citizens or free people) or the “us vs. them” framing of the whole debate (which I’m guilty of in this very post). It is systemic, I believe, and therefore beyond the “few bad apples” dismissal.

    Is any of your work in relation to this available online or anywhere? It would be great to link to it in this discussion.

  3. Marja said

    No, not yet.

    Much of it comes from what I’ve seen while reporting for indymedia, only part of which I caught on camera.

    But the realization came while researching the Seattle WTO protests and the police riot. About 30% of the personal accounts from the Convention Center area on November 30th described personal injuries from chemical weapons: CS and OC; a much smaller proportion described personal injuries from baton rounds, batons, and other impact weapons.

    According to the police rosters (ARC 9334 in the Seattle City Archives), there were eight officers in the Chemical Agent “Response” Teams, as opposed to about 200 in the rest of the Demonstration Management Team and about 1000 in the Department. It’s hard to compare these figures with the King County figures, because the King County Sherriff’s Office assigned chemical weapons to each platoon. There are some contradictions regarding how many canisters were used, and the payload and concentration of each canister, but at my best estimate, the CART’s weapons accounted for 1280-1290 oz. of chemical agents fired, while individual weapons accounted for only about 90-100 oz. of chemical agents fired, not counting the solvents. In this case, there’s a paper trail and audiotape trail of the orders and the actions. You have 8 officers, under orders, injuring 500-2000 civilians each, and 200 other officers *letting this happen* and on average injuring 1-2 civilians each (and the same distribution may repeat itself within this group). *In theory* we could explain this as one group had the weapons and the orders, and the other didn’t, without supposing that the CART officers were any more willing to attack civilians than the other officers.

    I really don’t have the resources to check for smaller-scale police brutality, and see whether some units have sharply higher rates than some other units. In any case, actual incidents must outnumber reported incidents by one or two orders of magnitude.

    I didn’t have any view of who was doing what when I was getting beaten.

  4. Wow! That’s some bunch of stats, with the wounds to prove it, too.

    Lately, we’ve been seeing more of an inverse of that situation where there are one or two victims to a larger group of police (reported in the MSM, anyway). The mass-protester-beating season is coming around again with the political conventions and election, though.

    With the more individual and frequent variety being reported now, we tend to forget the massive, tragic acts such as Waco and the mass kidnappings of the FLDS kids. I would say we are approaching Mexico City ’68, but I fear it is more akin to something the venerable, non-passivist Walter Sobcheck from The Big Lebowski would say, namely, “OVER THE LINE!”

  5. RecessiveGenes said

    Positions of authority (think of your high school’s Assistant Principal) often attract people who crave power and enjoy wielding it over people. Unfortunately, the pervasive culture in many police departments only amplifies such authoritarian leanings. The good officers don’t want to be voices of dissent in the department, especially not if the bad officer he would confront “gets results.”

    To many in law enforcement, the end justifies the means even if the means are strip searches, no-knock raids, warrantless wiretaps, or chemical weapons. Jackbooted tactics are certainly not limited to drug enforcement, but one could argue that Prohibition enforcement made strong arm tactics acceptable across the nation. Remarkably, this permissiveness occurred despite the fact that many citizens patronized speakeasies, which were often at the risk of being raided.

    Lastly, I have to agree with Stout regarding the word “heroes.” Individual officers can do heroic deeds, but it paints too broad a brushstroke to call the whole class of people heroes. Considering all the unheroic acts perpetrated by the bad apples, the word diminishes the good deeds that many officers actually perform in the line of duty.

  6. RecessiveGene[s]:Considering all the unheroic acts perpetrated by the bad apples, the word diminishes the good deeds that many officers actually perform in the line of duty.

    I would include with the good deeds the less obvious, perhaps less heroic, deed of discretion to not act at all. When I see off-duty officers in uniform on a “side job” leaning on wall and being completely benign, I have to believe the problem might be administrative or systematic – including the choice to prosecute the War on [Some] Drugs or to “get results” for some political purpose. It is all just politics, From the link to Marja’s comment in my first response:

    It happened to me and it changed my whole perspective on power.

    It isn’t irrelevant. It is the boiled-down essence of what is relevant in politics.

  7. RecessiveGenes said

    I wholeheartedly agree that police activity (or inactivity) is driven by politics, both departmental politics and municipal politics. For example, if there is a smattering of newsworthy juvenile crimes in a city, the mayor’s office might demand a curfew and the heavy handed police enforcement that comes with it. The police department is only too happy to oblige in chasing and cuffing a few teenagers at midnight just for the sake of PR.

    Stout, you are right that in the gulf between the heroic and unheroic are cops standing around doing nothing or sitting at desks pushing paperwork. Police forces are reactive or inactive, and in either case it is much easier than being proactive in actually “protecting and serving” citizens.

    To Marja, I am sorry to hear that you have come face to face with police brutality and I hope exposes like the one posted at The Art of the Possible will open more eyes.

  8. Kate said

    J-man – I’d be interested in hearing your take on the brutalities our soldiers are being accused of in Iraq. Something bothers me about the fact that we take for the most part normal young men or women (again always a few bad apples) and send them into a foreign country for months at a time and force them to act as police even though they are trained to be soldiers. Then we act surprised when they flip out and mistreat or kill a bunch of Iraqis and condemn and court marshal them when we really have no understanding of the situation they have been placed in or how they have been trained to react. Obviously that behavior is never justified but I feel like there’s some basic psychology and understanding of human nature that is being ignored here.

  9. Kate,

    Sorry it took so long to respond. I hope you check back in to see this response at some point.

    The situation the soldiers occupying Iraq are in is an increasingly direct parallel to the danger domestic police face, as explained quite nicely by Ed Burns, co-creator of The Wire, in a reason interview. So this line of discussion is quite relevant to the above post if only to illustrate the degree we could be headed toward.

    There is much being ignored about the Iraq occupation from the human nature of the soldiers under stress to the nature of the politicians who foist any responsibility and accountability upon those they command and place in these untenable situations. It isn’t completely fair that the only people held to account are those who actually perpetrate their brutalities a) without “official” sanction and b) in close proximity to their victims. If you are a pilot who kills dozens at a time from afar or under the orders of your superior officers you are a hero. While I think they should be punished for committing such acts, it shouldn’t stop with them. I would have some sympathy for them even, due to circumstances, but not much.

    Every soldier who is a part of this latest debacle is there of his own accord; most even believe whole-heartedly in their mission (a survival mechanism, maybe?). Just like the domestic army (police), the whole institution is corrupt and broken, but that doesn’t excuse their being a part of it and especially their standing out as a particularly heinous part of it.

  10. Militarism said

    Somehow i missed the point. Probably lost in translation :) Anyway … nice blog to visit.

    cheers, Militarism.

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