Why there is no such thing as a “good cop”

Police car with graffiti on it reading "To serve and protect the ruling class"When confronted with the idea that the modern police force is an oppressive institution, many people have responses along the lines of “… But not all cops are bad! There are a lot of good cops who are trying their best to keep us safe, and the actions of a few dirty cops give them all a bad name“.

However, there is no such thing as a good cop.

There are two simple reasons that we can say that every cop is a “bad cop”:

1)  Large numbers of cops beat people, shoot people, rape people, recklessly drive, steal things, fabricate evidence, intimidate the public, and a million other crimes and the so-called “good cops” do nothing about it. This is not something that is happening in a few isolated cases. Police violence is a daily occurrence in the U.S. Cops see their fellow officers harming innocent people, and still choose to side with the people who are doing it — they are thus complicit in all of the actions of these “bad cops” who they work with.

2)   Cops are tasked with upholding the law – it’s their job. Even if they actually do this, the laws themselves are fundamentally unjust. “Upholding the law” means destroying immigrant families, locking people in prison for possession of illegal substances, protecting the property of the rich, etc. That is, even a hypothetical cop that never does anything “illegal” (and I think it’s questionable whether they actually exist) is still enforcing unjust laws – they are the enforcers of state-sanctioned oppression and defenders of the rich. 

Don’t buy into the myth of the “good cop” – they don’t exist.

Prison is the ultimate power the democratic state exercises over a citizen

“We must keep in mind that with the exception of capital punishment, prison is the ultimate power the democratic state exercises over a citizen. That prisons fail miserably at their professed objectives-rehabilitation, deterrence and protection—is immaterial to their survival. These failings, along with cruel, dehumanizing prison practices, have constantly been exposed by rebelling prisoners, by shocked reformers, by governmental commissions and academicians. But exposes alone do not determine the fate of prisons.

What determines the survival and expansion of prisons is their success in controlling particular segments of the population. Prisons, the end repositories of the criminal (in)justice systems, maintain the concept of a “criminal class” selected with discretion. Such discretionary power can be wielded indiscriminately by functionaries such as police, district attorneys, judges and the parole apparatus.

Functionaries of the criminal (in)justice systems represent the powerful and influential. Their use of vast discretionary power distorts the principles of justice. Recognizing and identifying the locus and misuse of such power is central to an abolitionist approach to prison change.

If we are unclear about power and how it operates, we will be impeded in our ability to properly analyze specific prison situations. As a result we will find ourselves grappling with only the outer layers of the criminal (in)justice systems rather than the core. We will be relegated to acting upon surface reforms—those which legitimize or strengthen the prison system. We define abolitionist reforms as those which do not legitimize the prevailing system, but gradually diminish its power and functions.

This is the key to an abolitionist perspective on social change. Abolition is a long range struggle, an unending process: it is never “finished,” the phasing out is never completed. Strategies and actions recommended in this handbook seek to gradually limit, diminish, or restrain certain forms of power wielded by the criminal (in)justice systems.

The pressure is excessive for abolitionists to immediately produce a “finished” blueprint, to solve every problem, to deal with every “criminal” before we can begin to deal with and change the systems. The first step toward abolition occurs when we break with the established prison system and at the same time face “unbuilt ground.” Only by rejecting what is “old and finished” do we give the “new and unfinished” a chance to appear. Pursuing an abolition continuum strategy, we can undertake a program of concrete, direct and immediate abolitions of portions of the system beginning with abolishing further prison/jail construction.

Sometimes our recommended strategies and actions utilize conventional judicial and legislative processes. Abolitionists are not apprehensive about working within the system, so long as it permits us to change and limit the system. When systemic options prove inadequate, abolitionists strive for newer and more creative approaches—building alternatives to existing structures and processes.

As with all social change, prison abolition produces many paradoxes. We work in the here and now: a quarter of a million prisoners suffer in cages [now 2.7 million]; plans or construction are underway for the building of hundreds upon hundreds of jails and prisons while the economy declines for the poor and the powerless. To move from this shocking reality toward the vision of a just, prisonless society, requires a host of in between strategies and reforms.

These interim, or abolishing-type reforms, often may appear to contradict our long range goal of abolition, unless we see them as part of a process—a continuum process—moving toward the phasing out of the prison system. If interim strategies become ends in themselves, we will reinforce the present system, changed in detail only.

Modern reforms attempt to mask the cruelty of caging. Our goals are not diverted by handsome new facades, the language of “treatment” and prison managers who deftly gild the bars. Present reforms will not abolish the cage unless they continue to move toward the constant reduction of the function of prisons.

The abolitionist’s task is clear—to prevent the system from masking its true nature. The system dresses itself up: we undress the system.  We strip it down to the reality: the cage and the key. We demystify. We ask the simple but central political question: “Who decides?” We raise the moral issue: “By what right?” We challenge the old configurations of power. We begin to change the old, begin to create the new.”

– Instead of Prisons (1976)

Napoleon Bonaparte: Public schooling, nationalism, and control

“Of all our institutions public education is the most important. Everything depends on it, the present and the future. It is essential that the morals and political ideas of the generation which is now growing up should no longer be dependent upon the news of the day or the circumstances of the moment. Above all we must secure unity: we must be able to cast a whole generation in the same mould.”

–Napoleon Bonaparte, on the importance of state-controlled public schooling as a form of mass indoctrination

Peter Gelderloos: Police and prisons as illegitimate institutions

“In the current crisis, the unquestionable dogma is that the police have a right to exist, that the police as an institution are an apt instrument to protect us and serve us, and therefore they are a legitimate presence on our streets and in our neighborhoods.

In this debate, the Right claim that the police are working just fine, while the Left claim that changes are needed to get them working better. Both of them are united in preserving the role of police and keeping real people—neighborhoods, communities, and all the individuals affected by police—from becoming the protagonists in the conflicts that affect us. Similarly, we frequently hear leftists claim that ‘the prisons aren’t working,’ exhibiting a willful ignorance as to the actual purpose of prisons. Sadly, for all their distortions and manipulations, the Right is being more honest. The police and the prisons both are working just fine. As per their design, they are working against us.”

–Peter Gelderloos, “The Nature of Police, The Role of the Left”

How Liberalism Infects Movement Building

It never fails. Every time there is critical resistance, an uprising and continued unrest people get dragged back to compliance (with permits) under the rhetoric of being peaceful or nonviolent. The movement gets dragged out of the street to sit attentively at the feet of the oppressors with speakers that tell us change will come if we are calm (and peaceful). […]

Rhetoric about resistance and direct action becomes meaningless, lost in the symbolism of marching for civic change. Movement managers try to make the movement mainstream-popular, inviting celebrities and business leaders to come forward, while at the same time pushing out radical elements that released pressure valves to begin with. If not directly, through terrible tactical choices that alienate people (like working with the police who are critically engaged in counter insurgency and developing profiles on agitators to undermine the movement).

Never mind, that working with the city and police legitimizes those avenues, while making it easier for the police to knowingly divide and attack groups that take nonpermitted action or respond to their conditions without the permission of the state. Is this what solidarity looks like?

Instead of hearing about what groups are doing to sustain themselves during these uprisings, we hear more and more about demands. Police reforms that usually come with dangerous baggage, more technology and funding for the police. But the movement is so pressured by popular media and civic leaders to clarify its goals, policy change becomes a priority before much needed discussions can happen. Before policy change can be challenged not as a goal, but maybe a tactic to gain concessions in a larger fight to abolish the infrastructure that makes racial oppression profitable.

But once the movement is focused on policy change, containment is practically complete. And the agitators who were able to explore what it means to act autonomously for liberation, who were harassed and attacked by the police, are cast aside as unreasonable. Ungovernable.

Unity becomes language to gather behind and solidarity is reserved for those who will declare their nonviolence or tolerance for police collaboration. Never mind that nonviolence never actually was not violent- it just tolerates violence in the hopes of receiving change. It accepts violence as a means of determining justice- because if someone is constantly violated don’t they deserve to be saved?

The cops are killing people, but pacifism will kill the movement every time. We say “first do no harm” but liberalism does harm to the movement every time. People pull permits in the name of pacifism, but invite the police. How does this make sense?

What is liberalism? There are many ways people might define or apply it. But for now i’ll start with, peace for the sake of appearing peaceful regardless of whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Appealing to and supporting state violence (the government) to restore “peace” whether the conditions are peaceful or not. Working with the enemy to minimize the affects of oppression, while never supporting those looking to prevent or abolish it.

Redirecting the outrage and energy of people away from their own communities and into organizations that work with and support the state (and it’s violence). Taking real anger and pain, and neutralizing it so that it does not actually threaten the economic and social conditions that produced it. Believing that the state is the only way we will be free. Controlling how other actors behave so that the state will make you free. And finally, using peace as a reason to dismiss and silence people seeking critical movement building dialogue to prevent the co-optation of the movement. Demanding peace without first acknowledging the conflict is dismissive and heartbreaking. Same with ‪#‎notallcops‬ rhetoric.

The popular media finds it much easier to latch onto movement building for reform because the hierarchical political structure wants people to resign power over to representatives and allow those representatives to determine clear goals. And just like that the movement becomes less about supporting black solidarity and more about appealing to the dominant white (and liberal) gaze for approval.

But what if the goals aren’t clear? What if supporting black rage and insurrection means that all of it will have to fall? Especially the privileges and comforts gained by whites and non-black POC under the capitalist system built on genocide and slavery. The economy of wagery and servitude that makes (black) people poor and deprives them of resources. The system of governance and gender violence that pits (black) community against each other based on sexuality, gender and patriarchy power. The lack of empowerment and shared decision making. The lack of access to resources for those who are disabled by society. The political system itself, who carries on war after war here and abroad without the consent of the governed. The way problems are handled, policed and result in mass imprisonment and violence for poor, brown and black communities of color.

It’s not simple. But to build this movement we cannot oversimplify it. We cannot ignore that non-black and white people benefit from seeing this movement silenced or neutralized. And we can’t pretend that it doesn’t make whites uncomfortable to think about a black revolution. This might be a large reason why people in the movement fall back on learned liberalism. Because people, particularly people of color, have been taught that to assimilate in Amerikan culture means to behave, which has become synonymous with being “reasonable” or deferring to white models of power. But this is not reasonable, co-optation will fail and the conditions will fall.

how many have to be killed - protest sign

Source: nowaronthepoor (Tumblr)

Identity, politics, and anti-politics: a critical perspective

“Identity politics [has become] a central part of the contemporary United States political order. This is especially true in the liberal reformist movement, where organizations such as the NAACP, HRC, and NOW are prominent. With their successes in political reform, they (and many other identity-politics organizations) have become embedded in the dominant political discourse. It is here that we encounter one of the main problems of identity politics: the groups which sought to challenge identity-based oppression have instead merely entered into a partnership with those who benefit from oppression. This partnership concerns the ability to define the political agenda for a certain identity. This is clearly demonstrated in the queer community by the HRC, with their push for hate crime laws, marriage, and military service. These demands show that the HRC has accepted the logic of and requested partnership in the government and the marketplace. Essentially, the HRC is fight­ing for assimilation into, rather than the destruc­tion of, a system that creates and enforces the very oppression they are allegedly struggling against.”

–‘Phil’ in Pink and Black Attack #4

Classical capitalist economists on the role of the state

“Laws and government may be considered in this and indeed in every case as a combination of the rich to oppress the poor, and preserve to themselves the inequality of the goods which would otherwise be soon destroyed by the attacks of the poor, who if not hindered by the government would soon reduce the others to an equality with themselves by open violence.”

–Adam Smith (Lectures on Jurisprudence, 208, 1762)

 


“The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under Government, is the Preservation of their Property.”

–John Locke (Second Treatise, § 124.)

 


See also: Whose Constitution?