Serve the People Austin has written and is in the process of publishing a new zine in response to the overwhelming concern from the people we serve in Montopolis about the police presence and brutality. This zine was a concerted effort on our part to assert our position on the police and why we stand firmly against them and with the people. This piece also touches upon grappling with the question of boycotting and replacing the police in our communities. We don’t have all the answers, experience, or resources to make these things possible at the snap of the of a finger- this is something that will require lots of community cooperation and collaboration but we believe it is absolutely necessary if we wish to see radical change in our neighborhoods. Contact us for a physical copy [free for folks in Austin] We will be posting sections of this zine to our blog and facebook from time to time.
Know your enemy! Why there are no good cops.
Anyone who has had to deal with the police, either directly themselves or indirectly through having family members locked up, can attest that something as small as a traffic stop can range from traumatic or even deadly if you get the wrong cop. From this understanding some of us in the community have begun to see the necessity of knowing our rights. What happens, though, when knowing your rights is not enough? Let’s not forget the case of Philando Castile, a black man who was murdered by the police in Minnesota on July 6th of this year. Philando knew his rights, including his constitutional second amendment right to conceal and carry a handgun, which he had a license for. Knowing his rights did not prevent the pigs from shooting him to death on camera in a car with his girlfriend and her four year old child. This man was executed for being black, that’s about how much the enemy values our so called rights. So when knowing our rights is not enough, the next step is knowing our enemy! There are two fundamental categories in society: the people – those who can come together for justice, freedom, and equality; and the enemy – those who do their best to prevent the people from having justice, freedom, and equality. We can say that in this capacity, the police are most certainly the enemy.
Why there are no good cops
The police must be understood as an organized force, unlike civilians and the people we meet who we must see as individuals. The police serve a specific interest, and emerged in specific conditions. The police are an institution of power, and the issues with the police cannot be reduced to just “bad apples” or “bad training.” As an institution, all police unions and police departments are set up to protect the individual officers and the government that employs them, so it’s no longer about personal disposition. There may be cops out there who were not bad people and may not otherwise be bad people, but their role as police is inherently a negative one. To better understand this we must understand the emergence of police in society and what purpose they inevitably serve.
The police as the force which we know it today emerged in England and the United States between 1825 and 1855; they were called forth and organized by the ruling class (rich and elite) to deal with new conditions that posed a threat to their power. In England and the northern United States this threat came in the form of organized and striking workers in large factories during the industrial revolutions, while in the southern United States the police were organized to capture escaped slaves. In neither case were the police intended to reduce crime. The ruling class then and now is composed of the few, the rich few who by themselves cannot contend with large crowds or sections of the population who are prone to rebellion, uprisings, and class struggle. The police were made up of sections of the working class who took up the job of the ruling class as armed administrators of violence, violence that had and still has the purpose of keeping power seated in the hands of the elite and out of the reach of everyday people. Over time, aspects of policing have changed, but the purpose of policing and the relationship the pigs have to the working class are exactly the same. The relationship between black and brown people and the police have never been good. Just as one section of the working class took up jobs as pigs for the rich, sections of the black and brown working class have now taken up jobs as pigs – pigs whose ultimate purpose in protecting the status quo means populating and filling the prisons with their own people. The police as individuals are traitors to their people and traitors to their class, and as an institution are the first line of defense for the corporate interests of the ruling elite. They are concretely the enemy of the people.
The police – who we more honestly call pigs – have a specific role in oppressed communities of majority black and brown people. The United States was founded on stolen land and built up on the backs of enslaved Africans; these crimes against the people have never been accounted for and provide the basis for the present day USA. The crimes committed against the black and brown communities have left deep scars, and in order to legitimize and normalize these crimes, the affected communities have been kept for the most part to the margins. The vast majority in these communities were turned into workers in the worst and lowest paying jobs, the infrastructure in the communities has been neglected, and ghettos have been created. With this kind of isolation, segregation, and poverty, crime is inevitable. So the police themselves become an external and occupying force. Like a foreign military unit which has invaded an area, the pigs are on edge, as they know full well that they are the enemy of the people. This is why they are so quick to go to extreme violence in carrying out their illegitimate work, they are aware of their role and are instinctively on guard. They come in with body armor, rifles, and dogs prepared for war, and it’s a war they continue to wage against us. We have to see it as a war too, or else we stay stuck on the wrong end of the stick. If you doubt this for a moment, try and recall the sick feeling we get in our guts the minute those lights start to flash – this is a feeling that is rooted in our lack of power, our lack of control over the situation, and sometimes a fear for the lives of ourselves and our loved ones. Let that panic remind you that these people are not our friends. When a police siren goes off we know that someone’s life is about to take a turn for the worse.
This system – capitalism – maintains its rule in two basic ways. First, through ideology and the lie that it is natural and has always been in human nature to be greedy. Second, through direct control and repression. The modern state, much like the police, was constructed in the interest of maintaining the wealth of the ruling class by imposing their order on the working class. The state requires a monopoly on violence to protect the rich from the poor, and to keep us going to work so they can extract profits from our labor. The police are the front guard as a repressive apparatus of the state. They are the strong arm, the grip around our necks reminding us constantly that our choices are submitting to domination, death, or imprisonment.
The primary function of the police as an institution is repressive, regardless of individual intent. That being said, the police also require the backup of ideology, and they do this in a few clear ways. They perpetuate and spread the myth that it is only “a few bad apples,” and they will even pass the blame to city government, state funding, or countless other places, all to throw people off the scent of what police actually means in a capitalist society. The police use after school programs, reform-based activists, and the community itself as tools to present a myth of legitimacy. We are indoctrinated into this kind of thinking from a very early age – they need us to think that we need them, that they are heroes. When bullets, batons, tear gas, and even tanks fail, the pigs will use parades, social functions, toy drives, and barbeques to try and whitewash their rotten complexion of brutality and violence, like makeup over an infected wound. The wound still seeps through, and we must not be taken in by their sweet talk.
The police are well versed in the tactics of war, and they use two types of approaches – soft (or low intensity tactics), and hard (or aggressive tactics) all of which may use slightly different means of accomplishing the same goal, which is social control for the ruling class. Soft intensity warfare relies more on image and ideas about the police; they will take a hands off approach or even be polite – up until they decide that you are in their way. We see the hard approach with the escalating militarization of the police, heavy handed riot control tactics, and the brutality and racism of racial profiling. The laws simply do not apply to them – they are the law.