Being a police officer is a dehumanizing experience. The wearing of a badge puts a barrier between the civilian population and law enforcement personnel. People are wary of inviting police into their homes, even socially. They’ll be polite and put on a veneer of respect for the police person, but they watch their step around cops. And their words. You don’t want to offend someone who is armed, with guns, clubs and information – information which can also be wielded as a weapon.
Cops were young people – just like anyone else – at one point in their lives. They deny it. They’ll deny that they vandalized neighbor’s houses/property. They’ll deny that they ever drove home drunk from a party, a club or tavern or a friend’s house. They’ll deny that they ever misguided people in order to protect their friends or family. They’ll deny that they’ve ever exceeded the speed limit or committed any other of the dozens of petty traffic crimes that everyone commits everyday. To be a police officer is to lie to the civilians you encounter doing your job; to forget how spontaneous life is; to forget that circumstances dictate actions, regardless of laws. All this in order to justify the tickets, arrests, beatings, and killings that police do because it’s their job. Police talk like they are immune from everyday human impulses. In doing so, they shut off that part of themselves that makes them human. They recreate themselves in a graven image and worship that image. They become a warrior-priest caste, an elite sect.
They are the law.
Three Urban Parables
Cop’s attitudes come to dictate their thoughts. Their vision becomes myopic.
A group of black fathers, brothers, and sons stand on a corner chatting, cutting up, laughing. What the cop sees is a gang of black drug dealers. The officer will keep an eye on them. At the slightest provocation, the officer will arrest one of them. Even if the slight is only imagined. That’s why half or more of all black men in America are under court supervision or are incarcerated right now. The drain of resources this causes their families is enormous. The effect of this on black communities cannot be measured.
A young black woman steps off a bus. She’s headed home from work. She’s wearing a short skirt and nice shoes. She anticipates seeing her lover this evening and stops at the corner market to pick up some beer for later. As she crosses the street, a police car pulls up. “What’s in the bag?” the officer asks.
She doesn’t need this hassle. She’s tired. She wants to go home. However, she doesn’t make it there tonight. Tonight, she’s going to sleep in jail – if she can sleep at all – because the officer thought that she looked like a hooker. “They all look like hookers” is a short step from “they are all hookers.” Will she still have a job when she gets out? Will that cop remember her and try to make a ‘better’ arrest next time?
A group of teens is headed home from school. They’ve stayed late, making preparations for a function tomorrow morning. A police car cruises by. The officer doesn’t like the look of this. The officer calls for back up. Several cars pull up and they surround the students. The kids proclaim their innocence.
The police aren’t interested. They’re busy taking down the kids’ names. This information will go into police lists of possible gang members. From now on, these kids will have to explain this to prospective employers, universities, and courts.
Black men, black women, teenagers of all colors – the jaded eye of the law enforcement professional sees them as drug dealers, hookers, gangsters. They’re all the same. They mock the law. They get away with murder. Someone has to teach them a lesson. That someone wears a badge. That someone has a job to do. That someone can’t waste their time thinking about the effect this attitude has on people’s lives – how this, in turn, effects the neighborhoods these people live in. There’s no time for reflection. There’s work to be done.
Yet Another Tale
There are a lot of angry people in the woods near a park. A development corporation wants to build a strip mall and some condos on previously unused land. The people of the neighborhood opposed the developer’s plans. They petitioned the government to stop it. They challenged the development in court. They won every step of the way, with overwhelming public support. The court orders the developers to cease their construction.
Today, however, the bulldozers arrived and began clearing the woods for construction. The people in the neighborhood poured out of their homes and confronted the workers, who are all just following orders. The people tie themselves to the trees. An executive of the development corporation arrives. He calls the police on his cell phone. The police arrive and demand that the trespassers leave. Some timidly back away. The police arrest the others, making sure to pepper spray the ones tied to the trees first.
One woman challenges the police. ‘What are you doing, officer, they’re the ones violating the law. We have a court order to stop this development”
“I don’t know anything about that, ma’am,” the officer approaching her lies. The officer read it in the newspaper, saw it on TV – even signed the neighborhood association’s petition. “I’m just doing my job.”
The officer sprays the young mother of two with pepper spray, then unties her and arrests her.
The police, like the construction workers, are just following orders. Their orders were given by the same man, the executive with the cell phone.
We all, police and policed alike, are entering the 21st century in legally ambiguous times. Outlaw corporations have destroyed entire bioregions, despite laws protecting the environment. The fines imposed on them do not make the slightest dent in their profits, if the corporations even bother to pay them. When the people whose homes, land, and health were devastated by illegal corporate activities try to do more than call their congressman (again) to stop these activities, here comes the police to protect the corporation’s right to ignore the law. And they do it gladly. It’s the law.
In 1930s Germany, it was illegal to harbor or aid (or even just not tell the police about) Jews. Many people broke these laws. Many people shared the fate of their Jewish neighbors because they broke these laws.
In pre-Civil War America, abolitionists helped slaves from the South escape to Canada. This was illegal, too. Some things are more important than laws. Like neighbors. Like human dignity. Like unspoiled land and clean water.
Are We that Wise?
Civilizations have risen and fallen throughout the course of human existence. Many civilizations were destroyed by outside forces – hostile neighbors, natural disasters, famine, disease, you name it.
According to some People’s oral traditions, though, some People abandoned their civilizations and voluntarily returned to a simple life of gardening, feasting, dancing and raising babies. They gave up their cities and the technologies that created them because they had the wisdom to see what their civilization cost them – not only environmentally, but in terms of their existence as living, loving creatures – and decided it was too great a price to pay.
Here’s how you make beer – you put a bunch of yeast into some water that’s been loaded with sugar. Yeast love that! The yeast flourishes. It eats up all that sugar and reproduces like crazy. Yeasts are not clever things, though.
Eventually, there is so much yeast that they die, choking to death on their own excrement. Then they ferment and I drink them. Yummy!
Are ‘civilized’ human beings of the 21st century smarter than yeast? Yeast can’t help it. They don’t have brains. But, more to the point, there is no elite warrior-caste of yeast that force them to consume and reproduce.
Under our present global capitalist economy, all laws serve to protect corporate property and their ‘right’ to make profits. All people must devote their lives to making corporations profitable, to act as couriers by moving money back and forth between corporations and banks. It’s our job.
People who do not wish to live this way run afoul the law. There is no other way to exist in a capitalist economy enforced by law. It is the function of the police to take these people and put them into prisons, where they are forced to work at gunpoint. Or suffer the consequences.
Yet our planet is being killed by people who only see nature as ‘resources’ to be ‘developed.’
The genocide committed throughout the Americas was justified because the land was being ‘wasted’ – not utilized for monetary gain. Many people of pre-Columbian America didn’t even have a concept of money, much less profit. Entire regions based their ‘economies’ on gift-giving.
Everyone alive today faces the decision whether they want to be part of a living, dynamic world, or whether they are yeast – doomed to drown in their own waste. That includes everyone who has a job to do.
That includes you, officer.
The police forces of every community have this choice to make: they can continue to follow “the law,” regardless of the consequences of their actions. Or they can abandon their role as a warrior elite in order to embrace their communities, and act as facilitators of change, bringing people together to work out their differences, and acting as peace-makers rather than enforcers.
After World War Two, a war-crimes trial was held. One of the results of these trials was to establish that citizens of all nations have a right to not only dissent against what they consider unethical laws and governments, but to actively oppose and resist them. It is in my opinion that the current state of ecological crisis has reached a point that to continue with everyday business-as-usual existence imposed by the laws of the capitalist nation-state is to embrace suicide.
I am not suicidal. I love life. I love sharing my home with the people I love, working in the gardens with them in the mornings, drinking down those dead, fermented yeast at night.
But I can’t live according to my desires. The laws will not allow it. I must, therefore, oppose these laws with every fiber of my being. I owe it to my daughter to create a space for her to live and grow as part of a living, thriving world. It’s her birth right.
I am willing to put my life on the line to create that space, to force the capitalist nation-states to respect my human right to determine how I will live my life. There is no room in North America for autonomous village communities…yet…
There are, however, armed forces to prevent me and those I love from creating such places.
So, how about it, soldier? How about it, officer? Will you help facilitate the changes that are necessary to make this world into one we can all share? Or will you blindly enforce the rule of laws that force people into their roles as yeast?
What do you think you’re doing, officer?