Police as a Tool of Elite Power

Jail Killer CopsI find it curious that over the last few months as police officers have (bizarrely) felt attacked, one point they’ve fallen back on is the tired, “Well the next time you’re in trouble, maybe the police won’t come!” During my colorful life, I have found myself in far more dangerous situations than the vast majority of my fellow countrymen. At no point did I think a situation would have been made better by the presence of a police officers. About the only thing I’ve ever wished for is that I had a gun. But the last thing I wanted was someone armed who was jittery and convinced that his job was so dangerous that he needed to start shooting. (Check out the statistics from 2013: officers are much more likely to die in car accidents than in shootings.)

But all this discussion of the matter is telling. It shows that the police really do think they are critically necessary. I think the history of the world shows that this isn’t true. We’ve seen huge rises in policing because crime is so low — not the other way around. People in the lowest crime areas are the least tolerant of any crime and the most punitive towards those people who do commit crime. What’s more, there is always a reason to increase the police force. Is crime up temporarily? We need more policing to stop it! Is crime down? We need more policing because it’s working! It is all madness.

So a crazy man goes on a shooting spree and kills two police officers. And this means… What exactly? Crazy people kill others all the time. When right-wing nutjob Eric Frein killed a police officer, it didn’t have any significance. All the right wing politicians with their “don’t retreat, reload” rhetoric weren’t responsible for that. And no one claimed that they were. But an even crazier man kills a couple of officers and suddenly it is Bill de Blasio’s fault. It’s an amazing but common double standard: right wing politicians are never responsible for anything; left wing ones always are.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote a good article yesterday, Blue Lives Matter. It is about how we don’t have a “policing problem”; we have a society problem. The police are, after all, just doing what the people want. I do, however, disagree in one way: we don’t actually live in a democracy. In the modern world, it is all too easy for the power elite to manipulate the electorate. If they manage to do it with economic policy that directly harms those who vote for it, it is trivial to do it on policy designed to keep the underclass as the underclass.

And that starts with the media. The best example of this occurred over the weekend. I learned of it by Miserable Shitehawk at Gawker, Slimy Baltimore FOX Affiliate Caught Faking “Kill a Cop” Protest Chant. A group of protesters was chanting, “We can’t stop! We won’t stop! Til killer cops are in cell blocks!” I understand that it can be hard to understand chants. So the Fox45 newscaster could be forgiven for hearing, “We can’t stop! We won’t stop! So kill a cop blah blah blah!” But that doesn’t explain why she cut off the recording of the chant after “cop.” Amazing.

The station has since issued an apology. But it is ridiculous. They claimed, “Although last night’s report reflected an honest misunderstanding of what the protesters were saying, we apologize for the error.” That’s just not credible given that they did not use the whole chant. But even if it were an honest mistake, what does that say about the media that they think people are out in the streets calling for the murder of police officers? That would be illegal, for one thing.

We have twice as many police officers as we ought to have. We have ten times as many prison cells as we need. We have far too many prosecutors and they have far too much power in the criminal “justice” system. After freeing up these resources, we could use them to help society become better. I’m afraid this “instant death penalty for disrespecting a cop” thing has about played itself out. The only question is whether the people really will continue to think that we must keep our police state going to keep the underclass down. But if we do that, Ta-Nehisi Coates has a warning we should take very seriously, “[O]ne does not have to work hard to imagine a future when the agents of our will, the agents whom we created, are in fact our masters. On that day one can expect that the tactics intended for the ghettos will enjoy wider usage.”

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

4 thoughts on “Police as a Tool of Elite Power

  1. Boy, a lot of these police departments are out of control. The NYPD showed their backs to the mayor when he paid his respects to the shot cops. That’s insubordination! That’s like the military disrespecting Clinton after he enacted “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

    Here’s my fantasy suggestion for how police forces should be run. Make them like the military in the 1950’s, a GI Bill-type job. Hire young people for a set term, not too long, and promise them good benefits for college when they leave. Demilitarize them hugely; stun guns and pepper sprayers should be enough if the people using them are properly trained. Hell, two cops and a pair of handcuffs are enough if they’re properly trained (except for things like gunman-with-hostages situations, for which you need negotiators.) And have the supervisors be led by community candidates, not ex-cops (ex-cops could be middle management.) Every chief of police is an ex-cop.

    We do need cops for things like busting drunk drivers, and they could be doing a lot more to protect people in high-crime areas by being a deterrent presence, not a punitive one. (There’s always a cop on duty in the largest-traffic local liquor store, checking IDs and stopping fights, which is fine.) But there are way too many of them with huge power-trip egos and an us-against-the-civvies mentality, which is unacceptable. You’re public employees, people!

    • I don’t know. The military has huge problems, it is just that we don’t much see it. I like the idea of more civilian control. But ultimately, Coates is right: the police act the way they do because we accept it, if we don’t outright encourage it. The police are just an enforcement arm to keep “those” people away from our nice (white) suburbs.

      This is why I focus on economic issues. Politicians may not do the right thing, but it is clear what the solutions are. With policing, I don’t know what to do. I like the idea of greatly reducing the force. But I know that the people would rebel the moment something went wrong. Even though crime continues to go down, the vast majority of people think it only gets worse because the media only report on crime that happens, not crime that doesn’t happen.

      • Ultimately there are going to have to be local communities that change how this works and provide examples of ideas to try. No federal “suggested guidelines” or such will accomplish much when institutional rot and corruption are so ingrained so widely. Although it would be nice if federal law was changed to make unjustified police use of deadly force into a prosecutable offense under federal law. Not gonna happen, but that would be one effective thing the national government could do.

        That few American cities have been able to rein in the police tells us how bad the situation has gotten. If it was an isolated thing we’d have model departmental reforms by now.

        You’re right, though, a main cause is inequality, widening social gaps, a willingness of the rich to see any horror committed against anyone poor. I’d add gun laws that make handguns and ammo readily available, “justifying” police militarization (there’s no rational reason to own a handgun, and no reason they shouldn’t be kept under lock and key at gun ranges for people who enjoy shooting them.)

        • I find it interesting that the only civilian that the revolutionary couple shot was some guy who had a concealed carry gun. He tried to stop them and they dispatched him. People are delusional in thinking that guns make them safer. I saw some statistics last week about the large number of people who shot themselves accidentally because they sleep with a gun under their pillows. Ridiculous.

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