We now live in a world where it is legal for police officers to murder not only animals, but innocent people, use the threat of force to coerce peaceful people into submission, and not only avoid punishment, but are ENCOURAGED to act this way. We live in a police state, and before we figure out how to fix it, we have to understand how this situation came to be.
Submitted by guest contributor Josie Wales
It’s easy to focus our anger only on the ones actually committing the violence, but cops didn’t just wake up one day and decide to start violently oppressing people. Injustice flows from the top down. What we’re seeing today is largely the result of the politicians WANTING the people living in fear of the police, WANTING the police brutality which causes so many people to quietly obey whatever arbitrary, oppressive legislation the politicians decide to enact. So while we should definitely be condemning those who blindly follow orders, the ones giving the orders shouldn’t be let off the hook either, and most of us know this, which is why a lot of people, in an effort to fight against tyranny and government abuses, focus on the political process, on voting, campaigning and petitioning. This approach basically amounts to begging the government for freedom, which to me has two major flaws: first, it has a completely horrible track record of ever achieving freedom, and second, it pretty much tells the politicians that we accept that we can only be free if and when they tell us we’re allowed to. I don’t know about you, but I don’t need legislation to tell me exactly how free I am.
Now a lot of people ask what the alternative is, how, besides voting and petitioning can we prevent or stop tyranny? After centuries of one society after another voting themselves further into oppression, what we’re left with, our power, is resistance and disobedience. This can come in many forms – some people quietly find ways to circumvent or avoid the powers that be and their laws; some practice civil disobedience, and some forcibly resist. However, a lot of people can’t bring themselves to disobey at all, even quietly and passively, because they’ve been thoroughly convinced that, while it’s okay to ASK the politicians to change their laws, it’s never okay to disobey them, no matter how immoral and unjust. Unfortunately, a lot of the people who will never disobey a command happen to be walking around in a blue uniform with a shiny badge and false sense of authority.
Police like to pretend that their job is to “protect and serve.” It isn’t. Their job is to forcibly control the rest of us in whatever way the politicians tell them to. The politicians make up commands, call them laws, and their hired guns–“law ENFORCERS”–hurt any who disobey. Police know this, which is why you will often hear them say things like, “I don’t make the law, I only enforce it,” with the implication being that they aren’t to blame, because they’re just following orders and doing as they’re told. But that excuse was invalid when the Nazis used it, and it’s invalid today. It’s also completely cowardly to deny responsibility for your OWN actions, just because someone else told you to do something. How do you suppose the police would respond to some common thief saying,”don’t blame me for mugging this old lady; someone else told me to”? They would respond exactly how we should respond to it when they use the excuse: You are responsible for what YOU do.
Now, some people make a distinction between police violence that is legal and police violence that is illegal. If you ask me, that distinction is meaningless. If you violently assault someone who hasn’t threatened or harmed anyone else, that is immoral, regardless of whether the politicians wrote a law telling you to do that or not. Legislation does not determine what is right or wrong. If you use force only to defend against aggressors, that is perfectly legitimate and noble. But if you initiate violence, attacking someone else who wasn’t threatening or harming anyone, then you are the bad guy, whether you have a badge or not and whether some “law” told you to or not. So when it comes to police abuse, I don’t care whether it’s politician-approved violence or “illegal” violence. Either way it’s wrong, and it’s up to ALL OF US to stop it.
But how do we do that?
Police are human beings, and whenever we can, we should begin by appealing to their reason and morality, by trying to persuade them to do the right thing, including disobeying immoral orders. However, such appeals only work on people who still have the ability to reason and to judge right from wrong. Unfortunately, a whole lot of people in “law enforcement” don’t fit that description. I don’t know what those shiny badges they wear are made of, but sometimes it definitely seems like wearing a badge causes a type of brain damage, making a person incapable of judging right from wrong, incapable of thinking for himself, and giving him a twisted, backwards
view of reality.
Of course, not every cop is the same, and they shouldn’t all be treated the same. When we approach someone in uniform or they approach us, we don’t have to start by being defensive and angry. If they can be calm, polite, considerate and rational, we should also be calm, polite, considerate and rational. I’ll be the first to admit, that’s not always how I’ve approached police. I consider their job to be inherently immoral, and I’ve done my share of screaming at them, which I now view as less than effective in most cases.
While not every cop is the same, and some are less violent than others, I would think of a GOOD cop as one who would stop a BAD cop when he sees him doing something wrong…and that rarely – if ever -happens. This is not to say that all cops are inherently evil, but as a whole they very much seem to think and act like any other street gang. In the event that a police officer with a conscience tries to stop or speaks out against violence or injustice perpetrated by his fellow officers, he is said to have “broken the blue code,” and will usually be condemned, ostracized, threatened and intimidated. If he isn’t terminated outright for doing the right thing, he will usually be bullied into resigning. In other words, the system as it now stands, instead of weeding out the bad cops, weeds out the good ones.
This reinforcing of bad behavior comes not just from other individual officers, but from police unions, and the official policies of entire police departments. For example, the Dallas police department just issued a policy allowing cops involved in shootings–as shooters or witnesses–to say nothing about what happened for 72 hours, giving them time to review any available video or other evidence before saying anything. The purpose of this policy seems pretty clear: to make it so that cops don’t get caught blatantly lying, in reports and under oath about such incidents, as has occurred over and over again in the past. Obviously, the agenda here is not to get to the truth and expose the truth, but to cover it up.
When the truth can’t be covered up, police departments will still usually make excuses for misconduct. Rarely does an officer face any retribution, even for committing violent, criminal acts. Often they even get REWARDED. When you hear that an officer has been suspended with pay, what that actually means is that he was given a paid vacation for his actions. If that doesn’t reinforce bad behavior, I don’t know what does. The average cop knows that, nine times out of ten, whatever he does he will receive unconditional support from his peers and superiors. The resulting “us versus them” mentality among cops has been getting worse and worse in recent years, to the point now where many police departments are essentially telling the public, “we not only view police abuse as acceptable, we encourage it.” Then they wonder why so many people now hate cops.
So whenever dealing with the police, make sure you know what consequences to expect. Dealing with police can be like dealing with wild animals: sometimes you might want to talk softly and move slowly just out of self-preservation. If you go in yelling, with arms waving, you may very well get viciously attacked. Then again, the creature known as “law enforcer” can be very unpredictable, and even if unprovoked, might decide to tase you, cage you, or kill you. This is more true now than ever, with
the police state growing as it has been, and the politician’s hired guns becoming more and more hostile and violent.
But there’s an important distinction to be made here. On the one hand, we should remain calm and polite, unless THEY make things confrontational and violent. On the other hand, it would be a huge mistake to act as if their misconduct is okay with us. Often, remaining civil is a good idea, whether it’s because you’re trying to win them over with logic and compassion, or just because you’re trying to avoid being assaulted. But we should never talk or act as if we think those shiny badges give them special authority and extra rights.
In most cases, if they are doing something immoral, we can peacefully point out to them that they are the bad guys, that we don’t view their actions as legitimate; that we don’t view them as protectors, but as aggressors. It may be uncomfortable, even scary to do this, but it is important that we make it uncomfortable for them to mindlessly follow orders. Don’t try to win them over by pretending that what they do is legitimate or just, or by condoning or making excuses for their actions. Our end goal is peaceful coexistence, an end of violent aggression, but if you’re so eager to get along that you will excuse and tolerate oppression, you aren’t helping peace or justice, you’re just reinforcing the idea in THEIR minds that they’re supposed to treat you that way.
There are a lot of practical suggestions about things to do or not do whenever you come face to face with someone with a badge. Most of you know most of these already, but it can be difficult to keep them in mind when you’re under duress or being physically assaulted. Things like: don’t ever consent to questioning or searches, always record the actions of the police, get their badge numbers and names, call attention to what they are doing to try to get as many witnesses as possible–and witnesses with cameras are obviously especially valuable.
But then there is the more uncomfortable question. When things get really bad, if those wearing badges are brutally assaulting someone, or are about to kill someone, when do you stop talking, and actually intervene? And yes, I mean by force if necessary; I mean doing whatever it takes to stop the aggressors with badges from harming innocent people. When do you put down the camera, and break out the fists? Or the guns? I know it’s an uncomfortable topic, and I don’t presume to tell anyone else what their answer should be, or where they should draw that line. But think of it this way: if a group of people–uniformed or not–were in the process of beating you to death, while a couple dozen others were watching, what would YOU want the spectators to do for YOU? Whatever it is, do that. The bottom line is, unless the police know we HAVE such a line, they will assume they can get away with absolutely anything, including outright murder.
When watching yet another example of police brutality, whether on YouTube or right in front of your face, it’s easy to think of THAT as the problem. In reality, each individual case of police abuse is merely a symptom of a larger problem. Whatever injustice happens in front of you, or happens to be caught on tape, know that thousands of cops are doing worse and getting away with it. Yes, sometimes we have to treat the symptom, especially if someone’s life depends upon it. But treating the symptoms won’t fix the problem until we identify and defeat the underlying disease, which is authoritarianism.
When it comes to the symptoms, there are many ways to create deterrence, whether it’s by appealing to a cop’s conscience, or shaming him, or even scaring him away. Sometimes mere words can accomplish it; sometimes injustice can only be stopped by using opposite and equal force to stop the aggression of the agents of the state. But the ultimate solution is to end the mentality and philosophy which makes those symptoms happen in the first place.
The idea that legislation, and badges and uniforms, actually grant special authority and special rights to certain people, making it okay for them to forcibly control, extort, assault and cage others who have harmed no one, that is the lie that has to go. And right now, not only do those in law enforcement believe that lie, but most of their victims, and most of the general public, believe that lie as well. Until we can destroy that lie, and help people to realize that we each own ourselves and that no one has the right to rule another, expect the symptoms to keep getting worse. As long as the people think we NEED to be dominated and controlled by government, we will be. But when the people finally figure out that society should be free, with no masters and no slaves, that is what we will have.
A quick message to the people who wear the badges. You’ve probably noticed that more and more people distrust, fear, and hate the police. Have you ever asked yourself why that is? Has the whole world turned into malicious criminals, who just can’t stand you dishing out righteous justice? Or are YOU doing things which are giving more and more people good reason to resent and despise you? If someone was talking about having to forcibly defend themselves against ME, I would at least wonder if I was doing something to deserve that. Do you hear people talking about forcibly resisting plumbers, or mechanics? I don’t. Why is that? If you’re only here to protect people, and to perform a service, why do you suppose more and more people are arming themselves – mentally and physically – for a possible violent confrontation with you?
You CAN choose not to do something that makes so many people hate you. Good people won’t need to forcibly resist you if you choose not to inflict injustice on them in the first place. And saying it’s your “job” doesn’t make it okay, and won’t make your victims or their families any more happy about it. The fastest, most peaceful way for oppression to end is for agents of the state to refuse to commit it. If you don’t want people to call you a fascist, don’t BE a fascist.