Are the police “on our side?”

Philly cops drop a bomb on the MOVE house May 13 1985
Philly cops drop a bomb on the MOVE house May 13 1985

Are the police “on our side?”

by Steve X

A friend sent a piece, Revolution: a how-to by Anonymous to me.  Most of this is unobjectionable, though I might argue with the author about whether this is truly an instruction guide for “revolution.” (That’s another story)

In part, this piece advises activists on how to deal with the cops. Again, it’s not completely wrong.

“Be polite! Do not antagonize the police in any way. If you do not wish to answer their questions do not be rude, simple tell them you are exercising your rights. If police are being unruly, film them from a safe distance. If you do not wish to be arrested do not place yourself directly between  police and other protesters. 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.” (underlined passages my emphasis.)

First, if you think the person is an agent provocateur (agent of the police) who is trying to bring the cops down on the protest, you should definitely ask them to stop. If they don’t you should film them.  However, are we as activists in the business if ratting people out to the police?

Our protests should police themselves through monitors and security who answer to the democratic processes of the movement. If someone is breaking the law, in a way that can discredit the movement or provoke a police attack on protesters, they should be asked to leave by our security. We should only involve the cops as a last resort.

The movement itself can set some 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 arrest on the Brooklyn bridge and harassment of occupations in New York and Boston should serve as a caution to us all.

What is the role of cops in society?

We are often told that cops are here to protect and serve; but to protect what and serve who? 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 US 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.

Local Philadelphia examples should be enough to convince anyone. The case of Askia Sabur, who was beaten by cops in West Philly while waiting for his take out food– or the more dramatic case of the police bombing of the MOVE house on May 13, 1985, should be enough to remind us of whose side the cops are on.

On that day, Philly cops fired more than 10,000 rounds of ammo in 90 minutes and the fire department sprayed over 600,000 gallons  of water into 6221 Osage Avenue – before they dropped a  bomb on the house — and then decided to “let it burn,” killing 11 men, women and children and destroying a whole neighborhood.

The Philly cops had a previous history of attacks on MOVE, including the 1978 attack on MOVE’s Powellton Village house, which resulted in the imprisonment of 9 MOVE members. Philly cops, under the command of the racist Frank Rizzo,  engaged in earlier attacks on the Black Panther Party and framed-up journalist Mumia Abu-Jamal for the murder of a cop.

Cops and class society

Space doesn’t allow for a full explanation of the Marxist theory of the state, but it should be enough to lay out a couple of basic ideas.

The state emerged with the formation of social classes and is a product of the irreconcilable nature of the conflicts between the classes. (class struggle) With the emergence of the state a separate armed force emerged to protect the interests of the ruling class (special bodies of armed men, prisons).

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 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.

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