At a recent Occupy Los Angeles demonstration, activist Ron Gochez, speaking about police brutality, made the statement that “police are not part of the 99%.” His remarks were met with jeers from some of the crowd, who tried to shout him down. Later he said, “Although they (cops) might make the money of the 99%, they represent and defend the 1%.” Opposition to his statements reveals dangerous illusions about which side the police are on.
In a leaflet that is being circulated at occupations, “Revolution: a how-to,” by Anonymous, the author advises activists “If you suspect another activist of illegal activity, ask them to stop, if they do not, film them and show the police to have that activist escorted from the protest, then share this footage with others to let them know to be aware of the person in question. TRY TO GET THE COPS ON OUR SIDE” (my emphasis).
Are we, as activists, in the business of turning people in to the police? Our protests should manage themselves through security monitors who answer to the democratic processes of the movement. The movement can set rules of behavior for the occupation zone, including rules against drug or alcohol abuse, which could also bring the cops down on us.
That said, the mass arrests and harassment of occupations in Oakland, New York, Atlanta, Boston, and other cities should serve as a caution to us all about the true nature of the police.
We are often told that cops are here to protect and serve—but to protect what and to serve whom? Cops are usually from working-class backgrounds, but it’s a mistake to think that they bring a working-class identity into the job. By becoming police, they become enforcers of the capitalist social order and protectors of capitalist property.
The U.S. has the highest incarceration rate in the world, with over 7 million either in prison, on parole or probation. The so-called criminal justice system is disproportionately aimed at communities of oppressed nationalities, who face systematic harassment (profiling, stop and frisk), brutality, and even murder at the hands of police, often with no consequences for the cops involved.
For example, consider the killing of Oscar Grant, in Oakland, Calif., on New Year’s Day 2009. Grant was shot in the back by BART Officer Johannes Mehserle, sparking protests in the community. Mehserle was later convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to two years in prison. The case of Askia Sabur, in Philadelphia, who was beaten by cops while waiting for take-out food is still in the courts. Philly cops have targeted Askia’s family and neighborhood for harassment in retaliation for their decision to organize in support of Askia.
The more dramatic case of the Philadelphia police bombing of the MOVE house on May 13, 1985, should be enough to remind us of which side the cops are on. Philly cops fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammo in 90 minutes into 6221 Osage Avenue. Then they dropped a bomb on the house, killing 11 men, women, and children and destroying a whole neighborhood.
Los Angeles activists should be especially cautious regarding illusions in the police. We should remember the 1991 police beating of Rodney King after a traffic stop, and the subsequent urban uprising after police were acquitted by a jury of 10 whites, one Asian and a Latino.
Marxists point out that the state is a product of the irreconcilable nature of the conflicts between the classes. With the emergence of the state, a separate armed force was needed to protect the interests of the ruling class (police, army, prison guards, etc.).
Cops are not just “workers in uniform” and they are not on our side. In the words of Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky, “The fact that the police was originally recruited in large numbers from among social-democratic workers is absolutely meaningless. Consciousness is determined by environment even in this instance. The worker who becomes a policeman in the service of the capitalist state is a bourgeois cop, not a worker” (from the pamphlet, “Fascism: What It Is and How to Fight It”).
Any union member who has been on strike, or any member of an oppressed community, can tell you the truth about cops. As activists, we should never call on the cops to “protect” us from the bosses or from fascist goons. Cops in Germany and Italy facilitated the fascist rise to power. It should be clear to us all that the police are here to protect and serve the 1 percent.
> The article above was by Steve Xavier, and first appeared in the November 2011 print edition of Socialist Action newspaper.