The Mythology of Police “Service”

I remember being shocked when I found out, as a young lad, that “bobbies”–british cops–didn’t carry guns. Even Barney Fife[1], in the entirely non-violent town of Mayberry, had a gun with a bullet for the one-in-a-million chance that he would need to protect somebody with deadly force.

The narrative of police service–in Mayberry, USA or London, England circa 1950–is that it was a relationship between a corp of caring persons of integrity and a population that occasionally needs some protection or a helping hand. “Peace officers” were a combination of AAA agent, google maps, responsible friend (in alcohol related scenarios), occasional therapist and only in very rare circumstances, a body guard.

I have read and heard countless stories that fit with this model: flat tires changed by a cop; rides home provided by a cop; high-speed escorts to hospital provided by a cop; barroom scuffles broken up by a cop. I have no doubt that these stories are true and that, historically, police service meant that (some) people were served by police. I don’t doubt that, even today, police exist who really want to serve others on their “beat.[2]

However, during the same historical era that Andy Griffith was providing homespun wisdom and good natured dispute resolution to the town of Mayberry and that baton twirling bobbies were helping old ladies carry their groceries home in Tottengham; ghettos in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, and Northern Ireland were crawling with heavily armed, abusive state thugs who were terrorizing the minority inhabitants.

The police in these areas were an instrument of social control. They violently upheld the existing economic order, attacked organizations that the ruling class perceived as competing for loyalty, and beat down any resistance to institutions of central authority. The techniques employed were savage and dehumanizing and robbed great number of human beings of life, health, freedom and possessions.

Now, when baton charges and water cannons are unleashed on Her Majesty’s Loyal Subjects in the Home Counties, it’s not a new form of policing, it’s simply expanding the relationship between police and subject formerly reserved for the Catholic minority in Ulster. When highly militarized police roll up to a house in working-class suburbia and kick in the door, it’s an expansion of policing policies that have been in government housing projects in every major US city since the 1960s.

As the minority inhabitants of western countries have been shouting all along, the police “protect and serve” the rulers, not “the people”. When Britain was largely middle class and all of the “troubles” were caused by enemies of the monarchy in Northern Ireland, local policing was friendly and public opinion turned a blind eye to the brutal policing across the Irish Sea. When suburban and rural communities were largely middle class, local police provided a “service” and nobody raised a fuss about the virtual military occupation of black communities in decaying urban cores.

With the western economies in free fall, the middle class has and will continue to evaporate. Formerly loyal subjects of the monarchy and the nation-state will find themselves in the same plight that 2nd, 3rd, and lower class citizens have been facing lo these couple hundred years. The policing tactics that previously happened “over there” will increasingly be applied “over here.”

Yet the pundits and the rulers clamor for more. On the political right, there can’t be enough cops being brutal enough to enough people; even on the political left, in the name of “job creation,” Rachel Maddow advocates the increase in the number of police nationwide.

Demographics that have traditionally been exempted from police are now experiencing life as “perpetrators.” All but the most privileged are increasingly subject to arbitrary police violence. Sites like CopBlock, The Agitator, Injustice Everywhere, Gangsters in Blue, and Photography is Not a Crime, attempt to keep up with and report on all manner of crimes conducted by the police.

The police are not here to protect and serve you. They’re very likely to, accidentally or intentionally, hurt, cage or kill you or someone around you should they be called for assistance. Their job is to control you and to assist their masters in extracting money and obedience from you in all cases. The police of the mythological past are no longer with us–if they ever were–the today’s police are not to be trusted by anyone under any circumstances.

Update: And then of course, there’s Syria

  1. [1] This post is premised on your knowledge of The Andy Griffith Show a quick glance at the Wikipedia article should suffice.
  2. [2] Even these hypothetical “good” cops are still required by the policies of their governing institution to make unjust arrests of non-violent offenders of arbitrary statues and ordinances; there’s only so much even a well-intentioned cop can do.
  1. Bueno, Jad!

    It’s nice to see Rachel Maddow showing her true colors.

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