Sunday, 12 January 2014

ACAB: All Changelings Are Bastards


Activists and appalled citizens from around the world have documented thousands of examples of police of every rank and role across the world earning their nicknames. They’ve done everything from bullying witnesses to starting fights with pacifists to murdering restrained individuals. And that's just the ones who aren't explicitly bent (corrupt). Exposing these acts is very important and often quite risky to those capturing the acts, so I don't wish to give the impression that I'm being critical of them.

On the contrary as a tool for destroying the myth of the noble thin blue line that protect and serve us, filming these acts is very important and successful. However there are two drawbacks to this approach if we wish to demolish the police as an institution; a dissenter can just label these examples as exceptions. The cops beating Rodney King were bad apples,  the Uzbek police who regularly rape women in their custody is the fault of the Uzbek culture, the brutality during the miners’ strike where symptoms of a very tense situation etc. And they’ll probably counter anecdotes with anecdotes of noble sheriffs and good hearted rookie’s and grizzled veteran detectives with hearts of gold. Basically an anecdote versus anecdote argument.

Behold a good sheriff, notice how he doesn't exist

One way to counter this apologetics is to keep gathering more and more evidence of more police officers being scummy bastard’s and we don’t appear to be in danger of running out of that any time soon.

Another way to make people aware of the inherent problems with a police officer as a police officer regardless of personal conduct I feel is to examine the conduct and actions of a “good” police officer, one who doesn’t take bribes or use excessive force. Unfortunately for this to be workable it would require unrestricted access to a police officer while on the job for a long period of time (possibly years) not only is that impossible. But in the unlikely event that it did become an option the police officer would know they are being scrutinised and so it would cease to be an accurate reflection of what they actually do. However I believe I’ve found the next best thing and his name is Odo, he lives on a Space Station and can change his form at will.
A brief introduction is probably in order; Odo is the chief of security on Deep Space Nine (DS9) a space station that share’s its name with the series which is part of Star Trek. Odo is a changeling he can become any object he wants and because it’s a work of fiction he was written to be basically the perfect police officer. He’s incorruptible since he has no interest in any material possessions; he originally “slept” in a bucket in his office for example so there’s no way he’d take a bribe or confiscate something to sell on the black market himself. And being the only one of his species (at first) sees himself as a complete outsider to the rest of the station so doesn’t play favourites. To him a crime is a crime, and a criminal is a criminal. He doesn’t care for extenuating circumstances or politics or a person’s connections or like of social standing, if the evidence is solid he’ll pursue wealthy officials and street urchins with equal vigour.

And yet despite all this if you compare his conduct to the real police it’s not difficult to see the inherent imperfections.  He’s an Authoritarian to his core and his role on the station only seems to be benevolent and good because the writers kept throwing threats at the station making him right. He follows the law to the letter, and I mean every law and every letter, imagine a cop working to rule; only it’s everyone else who suffers. He’ll throw a monk in a cell for fundraising even when he agrees the cause is a good one, because fundraising on the promenade is illegal. When he was criticised for that he defended himself by saying it didn’t count as an arrest because the monk was there for less than an hour.
Now that seems really petty but not really that big of a deal, that’s because the station and its rules are under the control of the “perfect” liberal Federation. Odo’s been security chief on DS9 since before the Federation showed up. He first got the job when DS9 was an ore processing and administration centre for the Cardassians (a Fascistic Reptilian race). The Cardassians built the station over the planet of Bajor as part of their efforts to occupy the planet. The occupation of the Bajorans (the planet’s native population) was extremely brutal, with strip mining, Labour camps, torture, executions, rape etc. In response to this there are an active and very violent resistance movement carrying out bombings and assassinations.

Odo worked for the Cardassian occupation, now the question of why the Bajorans would be willing to let him keep his job when the Cardassians left was ignored at first, but then explained (quite poorly) that the Bajoran’s respected him because unlike the other Cardassian security officers he wasn’t corrupt, he merely served the law. The law that was drawn up by the Cardassians and which DS9 showed was very brutal, arbitrary and nowhere close to fair. For example, in retaliation for a 200 Cardassians killed in a bombing they had 200 hundred suspected resistance members executed. Note how they weren’t proven to be resistance members and what actions and roles they had if they were Resistance members isn’t even mentioned. This means that Odo would arrest very poor and desperate Bajorans and then hand them over to the tender mercies of the Cardassians. In a flashback episode it’s revealed that at the time he fought the resistance was a mistake and that the Bajorans should just accept the Cardassian occupation. But despite all this the Bajorans don't seem to really care. The only person to either acknowledge Odo's role in the occupation is a Cardassian, Odo attempts to shift the blame to the Cardassians and when he asks Odo why he didn't resign in protest, Odo doesn't respond.

Left: Gul Dukat, head of the Occupation of Bajor and Odo's Superior officer.

But there was a time in the show when Odo was on the other side of the security checkpoints. Near the end of the show DS9 was plunged into a war with the Dominion, and as the name implies they were a powerful and ruthless regime bent on controlling all of space. They are controlled by the Changelings Odo’s species, during the War DS9 is captured by the Dominion so some cast members retreat to the Federation while others like Odo remain on the station. However because Odo is opposed to the war and the way the Dominion operates, he joined a resistance cell on board the station. Though he probably did it because the woman he’s loved for years Kira is in it. Now given that Odo is head of security, has been on the station for years and can change shape at will, you’d think he’d be the best resistance fighter ever. In actuality he’s the worst resistance fighter ever and the reason is precisely because at heart he’s still a policeman. 

At first he votes against any acts of resistance and tries to stop others from even demonstrating peacefully against the Dominion.  He only starts agreeing to help the resistance actually resist when Kira’s patience wears thin and she starts twisting his arm/tentacle. And even then he only starts to actively take part when a fellow changeling (called female despite neither having genitalia or other differences) tells him they’ll execute Kira for no reason because they’re annoyed with Odo’s attachment to her. And speaking of the Changelings we find out the truth about what makes Odo tick. That burning internal drive that makes him such a good policeman, he thought every fibre of his being yearns for justice, the other Changelings explain that isn’t the case, he yearns for order. He just thinks it’s justice because that’s what he was told being a policeman was, a servant of Justice. So in effect what makes a supercop super is the burning need to control everyone.
Even Baseball must yield to his desire for control

And then there was the episode where Quarks bar staff formed a union (Bar Association). If you haven’t seen the show Quark was the Bar owner and constant irritation for Odo. Quark was always scheming to do something and Odo would foil his schemes, so with this background viewers might think Odo would be happy since it would make Quark miserable. He isn’t, he wants to break the strike and the Union, which at the time hasn’t even bothered to establish a picket line and is just milling about the Bar’s entrance asking people very kindly if they wouldn’t mind not going inside. The reason for this is quite telling, a Union (any union regardless of intent and structure) is disruptive to order, so he doesn’t like them, even when they oppose people he doesn’t like either. The only reason he doesn’t intervene is because the Federation told him not to. 

In addition to all of this the rare times Odo shows any opinion on matters of law is to criticise them for not going far enough. He’s openly admired the security measures of the Cardassians, with constant surveillance sweeps, vast armies of armed security officers and the power to search, detain and question anyone for any reason.  His admiration for these techniques even though he knows full well how easily they can be abused and become instruments of outright oppression is quite strongly reinforces what the other Changelings said about his desires being order in and of itself.

Because of these frustrations Odo is like any "good" police officer willing to go above and beyond the call of duty. He mainly does that in two ways, first by constant nonstop harassment of Quark, and I do mean constant harassment. Now the show portrays this as a somewhat humourus back and forth but if this were to happen in the real world, which it has it would be seen for what it actually is as intimidation and harassment. Since the law ties his hands he has no problem harassing suspect individuals, he also has no problem spying on them without a warrant or a reasonable suspicion.  Odo has shown that he has Quarks Bar monitored by hidden surveillance equipment and has done so for some time, and he’s admitted rather nonchalantly that whenever he investigates something (anything) he always checks in on Quark even when he has no evidence to suspect Quark is involved in anyway. So even supercop is prepared to ignore the law in the name of maintaining order.

 Oh and remember despite all of this Odo is still the good Changeling, that burning need for order led the others to construct a Galactic Dictatorship that's not above genocide or genetically engineering other species to be slave races. Imagine what would of happened if the Cardassians had given him the job of administering the occupation or a rank in its fleet.

So in conclusion ACAB. 

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