Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Culture of Law and Order: Musings on Police Brutality



The pepper spraying of students by police officers at the University of California, Davis police force recently (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/11/19/uc-davis-police-pepper-spray-students_n_1102728.html) has forced me reflect about how one human being can engage in such brutality against other, in this case non-violent, human beings.

The brutal actions of these cops can only be explained, in my opinion, by reference to a culture and a sentiment that is not dissimilar from that which we saw in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. When one "human being", and I use that term advisedly here, can pepper spray protesters in the way the cop did here this clearly means that the person engaging in such violence against protestors sees protestors not as human beings but as non-human in some way, shape, or form just as the Nazi's saw Jews as subhumans if not non-humans.

How did the cops justify their aggressive actions against those protesting education cuts and police brutality at the University of California, Davis? The students locking of arms apparently was interpreted by the cops as an act of aggression. Interpretations like this show what a surreal world we live, a surreal world where the locking of arms can be seen by elites and their minions as violent, where protestors can be regarded by the powers that be as health hazards (a demagogic strategy to get mass support via the tried and true method of doublespeaking?).

That so many Americans accept the justifications the authorities are offering for their actions, do nothing to stop such police brutality, or simply ignore the violence that is being perpetrated by the police is not unlike those many Germans in the 1930s and 1940s who knew about the genocide of Jews, leftists, and homosexuals but did nothing to stop it and even participated in it later claiming that they were just following orders suggests that they too were socialised into a culture that dehaminised certain others. It also means that they have abrogated any sense of moral obligation or moral responsibility for their or their nation's actions.

Whoever is responsible for setting the cops on these young people like this should take responsibility for it, apologise for it, and immediately resign. The cop perp who engaged in this brutality should be immediately be fired and stripped of all of his benefits if he has any. And what of UC Davis's finest who stood and watched while violence was being done and did nothing? As for me I don't think I could ever, in good conscience, work at a university that allows their cops to engage in such brutal and immoral behaviour. I guess this is what you get in a culture that has increasingly militarised its police force, a culture which gives police extraordinary power, a culture in which the cops appear to get their rocks off by brutalising others. Power, as the old saying goes, corrupts and it corrupts absolutely. That such militarisation is occurring now on college campuses, a space often regarded as a haven of free speech, should frighten and offend anyone connected in some way, shape, or form with the academy.

This police violence against dissidents in the US (and in the Western world in general) is hardly new. In the US it certainly goes back in form at least to the crusades against loyalists during the revolutionary era, crusades against religious dissidents like Mormons, crusades against religious outsiders like the Catholics and outsider groups like the Freemasons in early nineteenth century America. In the late nineteenth century vigilantism and state brutality against dissidents (Weber explores the process by which state violence is given universal legitimisation) were allied in the anti-leftist and anti-union elite and populist (the elites as pied pipers) crusades during which the police, the national guard, and the military were used to try to crush worker movements. Some pro-union anarchists were even executed by authorities in the jihad against left and union dissidents. After the Haymarket Square protests of 1886 turned "violent" a number of anarchists were tried, found guilty, and executed without any evidence against them whatsoever. Such things can happen, I guess, when political and economic elites whip up a culture of fear and hate and the masses eat this fear and hate demagogeury up as though it was chocolate candy.

Elite jihads against dissidents did not end in the nineteenth century. Crusades against communism were common in the US after the Bolsheviks took power in Russia and during the paranoid years of the Cold War. It continued into the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. During the civil rights movement of the 1950s cops beat, set dogs on, and sometimes killed protestors, some of them teens. In Chicago in 1968 Mayor Richard Daley set Chicago's "finest" on protestors resulting in protestors and journalists and passers by being beaten in the streets of that city in what an Illinois state commission later said was a police riot. At Kent State University over 13 seconds four students were killed by the National Guard in 1970. Today miltarised police violence is being directed against those protesting increasing inequality in the United States and the results of that inequality, the savage cuts to America's educational system, in New York City, Portland, Oregon, Seattle, Washington, Oakland, California, Berkley, California, and Davis, California. I think it is hard to see this elite brutality against dissidents and the vigilantism that often accompanies it as anything other than a long term policy of political and economic elites (the one percent). America's own culture of the banality of evil? Oh and speaking of Oakland I hope that voters make sure that we have seen the last of Jean Quan, Oakland's liberal leaning former activist Democrat mayor who seems to have become a soldier in the violent police war against dissidents.

On a different subject: Why do I sneaking suspicion that the same people who decry and rail against police brutality in say Cairo or in Syria are the same people who justify police brutality right here at home, in our backyards at places like UC Davis, Oakland, Seattle, and Portland?

Links:
Call for the resignation of UC Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi by UC professor Nathan Brown, http://occupyca.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/open-letter-to-chancellor-linda-p-b-katehi/

UC Davis Aggie coverage, http://www.theaggie.org/2011/11/19/community-responds-to-police-actions-supports-non-violent-protesters-httpgoo-gl3bjgu-occupyucdavis-ucdavis/

Davis Enterprise coverage, http://www.davisenterprise.com/local-news/crime-fire-courts/protests-again-gathering-steam-on-campus/

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