9 January 2015

“Protect and Serve” or Hate and Fear?

. @KevinCarson1. #icantbreathe. #policebrutality. #occupation.

The recent trajectory of events leading up to the shooting of NYPD officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, and the nationwide police backlash afterward, have made it clearer than ever how police feel about the public they supposedly protect and serve: they’re terrified of us. For more than twenty years, the Drug War and associated police militarization encouraged an increasing tendency of urban police to see local populations as a dangerous occupied enemy. In Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop they admit to stopping and exiting patrol cars randomly in non-white neighborhoods solely to make a show of force, reminding cowed residents who’s boss. And thanks to the mushroom proliferation of SWAT teams (originally designed for use in rare situations like hostage crises) even in small towns, and the enormous flow of surplus military equipment to local police forces like Ferguson, that hostile and fearful attitude towards the local population has spread downward into suburbs and towns.

Meanwhile internal police culture has taken on the same paranoid coloring that caused Lt. Calley and his men to snap and massacre the population of My Lai. Since Hill Street Blues days, cops have commonly described their jobs patrolling the community using “Band of Brothers” rhetoric reminiscent of extended recon missions in Vietnam. But these self-perceptions are utterly detached from reality. Soldiers in Vietnam actually had a high risk of getting killed. But police on-duty casualty rates have fallen steadily for decades. Policing is the ninth-most dangerous job (the top two are logging and fishing); sanitation work is twice as deadly.

That embattled self-image has been the police norm, to an increasing extent, for the past twenty years or more. In recent years police resentment ratcheted further upward over the “chilling effect” of widespread citizen recording of brutality with smart phones, and social media criticism after the Occupy camp shutdowns. But internal police culture went into full-blown panic mode in response to protests over the shooting of Michael Brown, and to the nationwide #WeCantBreathe and #BlackLivesMatter demonstrations after the verdicts in the Michael Brown and Eric Garner shootings.

On police-only message boards, off-duty cops feel free to admit how they really see us: a bunch of sniveling ingrates too spoiled to appreciate the “thin blue line” protecting them from chaos. Virtually any unarmed non-white person killed by a cop is referred to in such venues as a “criminal” or “thug.” Police apologists go frantically to work digging up dirt on the victims. They depict the victims in language appealing to the most bestial, menacing stereotypes of black men (like the fixation on 12-year-old Tamir Rice’s height and the description of Michael Brown as a hulking linebacker grunting like an animal).

Poul Anderson once wrote that government is the only institution that’s entitled to kill you for disobeying it. That comes through loud and clear with the police — especially the “entitled” part. A police union spokesman flat-out said, if you don’t want to get killed, obey police orders without question. (As if even that were a sufficient guarantee, considering the people having epileptic seizures or in diabetic comas who were killed for “resisting arrest.”) Among the general public “Stop resisting! Stop resisting!” is a punchline, but police even joke among themselves about literally getting away with murder (for example those “We Show Up Early to Beat the Crowds” t-shirts).

To police any criticism at all, even a suggestion that police may sometimes engage in racial profiling or excessive force, is seen as an existential threat. Those same police message boards mentioned above were rife with complaints that protests over the Brown and Garner verdicts were creating an “open season” on cops. The NYPD union gave Mayor Bill de Blasio notice, after he mentioned warning his biracial son to be especially careful around cops, that he would not be welcome at police funerals.

Police paranoia increased its simmer to a boil in response to the protests over Brown’s death and the verdicts; the shooting of Liu and Ramos made it an exploding pressure cooker. Internal NYPD emails accused de Blasio of having “blood on his hands” for his remarks, and implicated protestors as accomplices. Police nationwide have echoed the sentiments.

In short, the cops blame everyone for the hostility that led to Liu’s and Ramos’s death except themselves. Police are professionals at playing the victim card.

The NYPD now considers itself at war. Cops only patrol in pairs, serving warrants and summonses only when absolutely necessary to make an arrest. After decades of asserting how inconceivably dangerous their jobs are, the NYPD responds to two line-of-duty deaths in a force of thousands — the first in THREE YEARS — like it was Pearl Harbor. That speaks volumes about how privileged and entitled they really are.

We can safely assume that, NYPD officers minimize interactions with the public to when an arrest is absolutely necessary, rates of crime by both the public and the cops themselves can only decrease. While they’re at it, maybe they can go on strike — another phenomenon that’s historically associated with drastic drops in the crime rate. That’s one good way of taking criminals off the street.

By Kevin Carson - More articles by Kevin Carson

Originally published at the Center for a Stateless Society on 23 December 2014.

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