Wednesday, 23 December 2020

The 18th Brumaire of Donaldus Trumpus II

 


Hegel says somewhere that all great historic facts and personages recur twice. He forgot to add: "Once as tragedy, and again as farce".

Karl Marx

Since the elections are over and the time of transition is nearing, many are trying to place the outgoing President of the USA in his proper historical context. And there's constant rumours about how he might launch a coup to stay in power that makes it seem much more exciting than usual.

To be honest, recently I've become struck by how eerily close Donald Trump is to Napoleon III nephew of the more famous Napoleon, one time President, coup plotter and Emperor of the French. Once I saw a connection I started seeing it more and more. Like Napoleon III Trump is a heavy handed autocrat with a power base built on nepotism and favourites, like Napoleon III Trump became President despite being seeing as an outsider and a bit of a joke, they also even shared hostile intentions towards Mexico, though Napoleon III felt insulting them and fortification building wasn't enough and actively invaded the country and occupied for a time before a revolt drove his forces out. 

Of course they aren't mirror images, Napoleon III greatly expanded the French Empire, whereas Trump has allowed his to stagnate to the point some "anti-imperialist" groups openly admire him. Napoleon III redeveloped Paris while Trump's big infrastructure project the monumental border wall has stalled and delayed. Also Napoleon III managed (eventually) to pull off a successful coup and crown himself an Emperor, at time of writing the talk of a Trump lead coup, successful or otherwise are just rumours.

But the greatest resemblance of the two for me lies in their most incongruous features, both have reputations as populist outsiders who battled uncaring and corrupt elites, despite their own obvious elite status and corrupt practices. They also share the same reason for how they were able to pull this magic trick off. 

Both men faced opposition from the official representatives of their nations governmental systems, and yet despite being elected bodies and having a diverse ideological composition, these institutions were so nakedly corrupt and hostile to their own citizenry that they kept giving their opponents many opportunities to polish their "man of the people" credentials. At the time of Napoleon's coup in 1851 the French republic's political establishment were so openly oligarchic that their attacks on civil liberties and political rights and the organised workers movements (by massacring them) and left wing of the republicans meant that Napoleon III despite establishing a militarised dictatorship was able to grant the ordinary people of France more liberty and freedom than they had enjoyed during the final days of the second Republic. He established universal (male) suffrage, legalised unions, funded many charitable and educational ventures, and invested heavily in urban redevelopment.

In a strange and indirect way Napoleon III is responsible for the founding of the International Working Men's Association (IWMA) or First International of the labour movement. The IWMA was born when a group of French unionists attended the Universal Exhibition in London 1862, while there they met with English Trade Union leaders and the two groups agreed on the idea to build and deepen links between the two and the labour movements in other countries. The IWMA would be founded after two years of preparatory work in 1864. The funding for the trip came from a grant from the French Empire. 

This was all possible thanks to the actions of the elected opposition, Napoleon III couldn't grant universal suffrage if the Republic hadn't passed tighter and tighter restrictions on the franchise to squeeze out the more troublesome classes. He couldn't portray himself as the paternalistic protector of the workers of France if they hadn't been battered by force of arms and smothered with repressive legislation. The republicans even made General Cavaignac their candidate in the 1848 Presidential elections against Napoleon III, this same Cavaignac had just that same year massacred thousands of workers in Paris during a campaign to put down an insurgency. Shockingly none of this endeared him to the electorate and Napoleon III won comfortably. 

By the simple act of not indiscriminately murdering the workers of Paris, and by reversing some of the most offensive of the republican legislation Napoleon III was able to achieve some popularity in working class areas. 

Trump while he hasn't had much success building a base amongst American workers has been able to tap into popular anger and disgust with the more long term politicians, all with even more tokenistic gestures such as the castigating of Congress for its stinginess with financial support during the COVID19 pandemic. 

Of course this comparison makes Napoleon III look pretty great, he wasn't of course, he became so unpopular thanks to the never ending revelations of scandals and the adventuring abroad that got many in the army killed and had a high rate of failure. In the end he had to bomb proof his carriage because so many of his subjects lobbed explosives his way. He also had a lot more time (1848-70) to mess about and had multiple failed attempts at seizing power before he finally made good in 1851, Trump stumbled into it on his first attempt. So in all Trump is the farce to the tragedy of Napoleon III.


Also to finish I'd like to remind everyone that Steve Bannon, a key Trump administration and campaign strategist (before their falling out) is obsessed with Napoleon I, perhaps Trump got confused while listening to Steve blather on in a meeting?


Friday, 20 November 2020

Falling Down the Rabbit Hole with Cinema Nippon

 

Recently I watched a presentation on Anarchism in Japan recorded before the COVID-19 lockdown. During the presentation the speaker referred to a small group of Anarchists from the famous Japanese student protest movements that paralysed much of the country through extreme rioting and campus occupations. Collectively they're known as the Zengakuren and there coloured helmets, banners and pole weapons are quite infamous.



They used coloured helmets as a way of distinguishing between themselves, different groups used different colours. Because aside from agreeing on what they were against, capitalism, militarism, American military presence, the Imperial system, the fascist generation etc, they were deeply divided along ideological lines. Zengakuren students who identified with Anarchism wore Black Helmets. So I started trying to look up Zengakuren Black Helmets, this didn't turn up much, except for a strange video called アナキズム

Strange is an understatement, I found this video uploaded to several sites and all from an account with the same Nietszchean name Azsacra Zarathustra (AZ). The comment sections are disabled and there is no contact information besides a facebook so contacting him to answer some questions looks like it won't happen. Anyway the video itself is bizarre, there's an opening "Production credit" for NihillihiN (yes that extra capital N is deliberate) and then cuts to an interview of a group of Japanese young people. Sadly it is unsubtitled and my spoken Japanese skills are almost non existent so I have no idea who they are or what they are saying. We then get a slow zoom in on a wounded Japanese young man smiling, and then the title card flashes up アナキズム, then we get a collage of clips of clashes between the police and Zengakuren factions while a Japanese song plays in the background. Halfway through the collage of petrol bombs and baton charges the song ends and another Japanese song starts, this one is sung by a woman and it seemed eerily familiar to me at the time. Then when that song ends there is a cut to credits in Japanese and English, I couldn't read the Japanese but the English bits thanked among other people Edwin O. Reischauer who was a United States diplomat to Japan and was injured when a Japanese rightist stabbed him. He died in 1990, so I think the credit is something of a joke, oh and the song playing over the credits is I Put a Spell on You by Creedence Clearwater Revival. And just before it ends it credits a A Z and one other initial for editing and closes out on a stylised A with the year 2017 written underneath. 2017 is the date the video was uploaded onto the various channels. 

So very strange indeed, I had more questions then answers. I was able to find out that アナキズムis a way to write Anarchism or Anarchy in Japanese, and that AZ is into esoteric nihilistic philosophy with an orientalist fixation. I needed help, and fortunately I knew where to turn, I've been a follower of Cinema Nippon  a review channel for Japanese cinema for some time and have assisted them with research on two of their videos. I hoped they could help and they did. Unfortunately it still wasn't enough to get to the root of the video, and left us with even more questions than before.


Here's what was found 

  • AZ probably was the creator of the video (the two production cards at the start and end threw me at first) and edited together disparate clips 
  • The Japanese credits were just listing archive sites where we think he found the clips, like "Manichi News Archives" and "record of incident at Yasuda Hall No 1" which weren't very helpful.
  • The Japanese above Edwin O. Reischauer says something like "Heart of Japan" which neither of us understand, unless its a reference to his stabbing or as his role as diplomat and cultural commentator.
  • One of the credits is just  無 which is a character associated with Buddhism and other spirituality philosophies and usually represents "Nothing" or "Oblivion" 
  • The first song is a 1970s pop song by a group called Garo, and the song is Gakuseigai no Kissaten, Student Street Cafe or alternatively Coffee House of University Quarter.
  • After the second song is an alternate version of the same song, only this time its credited to Hatsune Miku, which explains why it sounded so familiar and on hearing it again it definitely has a Vocaloid sound to it. 

Sadly there was no listing for the interview segment at the beginning of the video, which is unfortunate since I feel that was the key to understanding just what the point of the whole thing is. Having to guess based on the video and what I've seen of AZs other interests it looks like he's a fan of esoteric nihilism with a strong fixation on the "orient" he's really into Hindu and Buddhist culture and I'm guessing the appeal of the Zengakuren for him lies in a fixation with rebellion and death. Looking through his work he isn't a fan of national anarchism and likes regular anarchism and believes the two are incompatible which honestly surprised me, but I don't really understand what his objections national anarchism are. English isn't his first language, he appears to be Russian, but beyond language barriers there's very little coherency to any of his blog posts. One thing that became clear was that he often takes concepts and then changes them slightly to give the veneer of authenticity, he uses a lot of Nietzsche terms in ways Nietzsche wouldn't or couldn't, he ripped of the surrealist Theatre of Cruelty concept with his own Theatre of Cruelty NOH, and what NOH means is not explained. The NihillihiN from earlier, if you put that term into a search engine the only results are AZ blog sites that talk about a very strange and confused nihilist theory AZ is the author of. 

I'm grateful to Cinema Nippon for their help here, while I'm still lacking on information on the Black Helmets and I don't think アナキズム has much for me I appreciate the strange ride we went down together and I kind of like Gakuseigai no Kissaten.




Thursday, 19 November 2020

An Introduction and Some Thoughts on Kolektiva and Alternative Video Platforms

 


Why Youtube?

Youtube is so ubiquitous that my spell checker keeps reminding me every time I don't capitalise the t, I don't really think I need to explain the company and its services to anyone who regularly uses the internet its become so big and omnipresent. The problems with youtube are also quite well known, shady companies exploiting the copyright system to the fullest, extremist groups and paedophiles exploiting loopholes to network, advertise and groom, intrusive advertising (I've turned off all data personalisation and I regularly get bombarded with adverts for cults) abusive and toxic comment sections, targeted abuse and harassment etc. There are also other issues with the platform that are less well known because they're much harder to prove unless you're on the receiving end. Channels and videos locked into private for violating somekind of community guideline, but the system won't tell you what guideline or what exactly was causing the issue, blacklisting from the powerful algorithms that account for over 90% of audience exposure, removal of features that certain niche channels like content for disabled viewers depend on, or marking LGBTQ content across the board as adult only regardless of what the actual content of the video is. The constant headaches and bottle necking and threats of takedowns, strikes and bans has caused many to lament that there is no alternative to the behemoth. 

Alternatives  

Of course there are alternatives, thousands of them, the problem is many of them have their own drawbacks or are actively trying to ape youtube and replace it. One of the alternatives I've been interested in for a few years which I feel has promise is Peertube. Peertube is a bit hard for me to explain but they have helpfully made several easy to understand videos explaining it in many languages.

  


Most of it is beyond comprehension honestly, but that's mostly for people wishing to set up their own server, if like me you just want to watch videos and maybe set up an account and upload and share than its pretty straight forward, just find a server you like and go through the sign up process. Over several years I've been on a few servers and some have died or become abandoned, but overall the indications are healthy, its regularly updated, more features have been added, its more stable and the number of servers being setup, the number of videos and the number of views are also going up as the service grows in popularity. When I first started using Peertube even the introduction video on the web page of the team that developed it had just over 10,000 views, now I've encountered videos with just under a million. Its also open source and decentralised so more tech savvy types can customise and network a lot more effectively. It also has the ability to download videos and torrent them built into the webplayer which greatly helps preserving material. Its proved an attractive model for two groups of Anarchists that have years of experience making video content to educate and propagandise online. 

Presenting Kolektiva 




Welcome to Kolektiva, an open-source platform for hosting anarchist videos from around the world. Our goal with Kolektiva is to help increase communication and material solidarity across borders and linguistic divides. If you are interested in getting involved - whether through hosting your content with us, or helping out with translation - please contact us at kolektivamedia@riseup.net.


 Kolektiva went public four months ago and was setup by two groups Sub.Media and Antimidia, both of whom have been around for a long time and have video content of extremely high production value. Curiously both have very little traction on youtube. You might think this is because there's not much appetite amongst a mainstream audience for anarchist videos and investigative reporting on Canadian military and police attacks on indigenous communities, but the recent explosion in popularity of the "Breadtube" a collection of amateur leftist youtube personalities shows that isn't the case. I've also been subscribed to Sub.media for years and have done all of the algorithim pleasing things, liking, faving, sharing etc, but they've never popped up in my recommendation feeds. And looking at the viewing figures for new releases on their Kolektiva and youtube channels they tend to get about a tenth of the views on Kolektiva, keep in mind this is on a new platform that most people including the core intended audience don't know exists. I also thought it was strange how most of Sub's videos ended with requests for viewers to subscribe to an e-mail list to ensure they were notified of new releases. So it does seem like the group's misgivings about youtube and the other big social media companies are well founded. 

Our goal with Kolektiva is to provide a new digital platform for anarchist and anti-colonial filmmakers, collectives, and movements around the world. To share action reports, news, analysis, short films, documentaries, and other video content, with a global audience. In a time when far too much radical media content is held hostage to the algorithms of tech capitalists like facebook, google and twitter, Kolektiva will be a free, open-source alternative built on the PeerTube framework and hosted on secure servers, run and maintained by anarchists. Another important goal of this project will be to help facilitate the translation of videos into multiple languages as a way of sharing our different perspectives, stimulating increased interaction and cooperation, and breaking down the divisions caused by state-imposed borders, travel restrictions, colonial occupations, and the poison of nationalism.

 I've been using Kolektiva for about two months, and so far I've seen positive signs of growth and progress on all of these goals. There is already a lot of diverse content on their from short films, punk music, lectures and documentaries, to animations and footage of street battles and protest successes. Much is either not available on other sites or is buried. Its features also make it easier to translate content, two of my uploads now have French subtitles and I've seen groups like Antimidia release more content with subtitles and narration in other languages. And as the server federates with more servers and the word is spread increasing the userbase and viewership views and sharing of content has been steadily increasing. Hopefully this will continue, and I enthusiastically recommend them to any casual reader of libcom.org and sites like it. https://kolektiva.media/ 

 Its not a Youtube replacement, and I doubt it ever will be, even Antimidia and Sub.media the two groups most responsible for its creation still maintain youtube channels, and I do as well, but I'm finding it to be a viable way to back up content and share it with an audience. I don't think I'll have to mute comment notification there anytime soon. So yes this may be a bit optimistic and dangerously close to advertising (though alas unpaid), but I've been on youtube for over 10 years and it has steadily grown more and more hostile an environment and a business as its gone on and the recent changes to American users, which means that it will now be putting even more adverts on the platform and essentially declaring user autonomy to be dead, its only going to get worse. 


 Oh and a quick note on adblockers, they're great I use them all the time, but they're not infallible platforms like Twitch and youtube are putting more resources into countering them, and sadly a growing number of adblock plugin developers are essentially selling out and deactivating them on sites that cut them a deal. By all means keep using ones that still work, and consider switching to an open source one for greater longevity and effectiveness, but ads are only a fraction of the problems using the modern internet and the services provided by big tech and software corporations.

Tuesday, 10 November 2020

State of Emergency - What a Dumb Edgy PS2 Game Taught Me About Life

Since the collapse of the Federal Government, and the global economic crisis 
the corporation has been building a brighter future for its citizens. Based on principles
of order, loyalty and civic obedience, the corporation has created a nation that all citizens
can feel proud of.



State of Emergency (SOE) was first released in 2002 by VIS and Rockstar games for the Play Station 2. It was the first game I played on that platform, and its aged surprisingly well, which given the pessimistic dystopian world it depicts is very worrying. In recent years there's been a lot of blogs, videos and thinkpieces about how a disposable children's show from the late 1980s-90s was actually a subversive masterpiece. This isn't one of those, while SOE clearly wears its subversive pretensions on its sleeve as the cover image makes clear, it was and is an attempt to cash in on the contemporary anti-globalisation movement by using edgy riot porn imagery and a pretty simple arcade play style.

This is a game where you can punch the head off of a riot cop, pick up that head and then beat another riot cop to death with it. And it was made by a corporation, a very large which would in later years be the subject of numerous workplace scandals from forced overtime (100 hour weeks to complete Red Dead Redemption 2) harassment from managers for years, and the LA Noire debacle, where workers who were burnt out by the chaotic development cycle and ridiculous workloads and had to leave were not credited in the game even if there work remained in the finished product. To name just a few.

That being said, this product of gaming culture of the late 90s to early 2000s, where game companies actively courted controversy as a way to boost advertising and sales shouldn't be ignored. Looking back it's quite eerie how closely its paralleled modern life despite or especially because of how superficial it was. If anything I find it damning how closely the political and economic situation has mimicked a game that looked at the battle of Seattle and decided to create a generic version where the corporate baddies were even more cartoonishily evil.

The game starts with a sinister parody of a corporate induction video about how since the global economic crisis and the collapse of the government -we've had multiple of the former and the latter while not at collapsing point yet, hasn't been doing too well lately- a corporation, or rather the corporation has replaced it. Again we haven't gotten to that point yet, but you'd be surprised just how few independent private entities exist in the world, and their number has steadily decreased since the game was released, as more of the big giants merge and take over each other has anti-monopoly laws continue to erode. Anyway this corporate dominated society looks much like the one we live in today, shops have their own unique art and identities even though they all report to the same head office and the abuses of the system, the child labour in sweatshops, invasive software to spy and monitor people through consumer electronics, the powerful and unaccountable police forces were present in the real world at the time of development, its just that they've gotten more common and more difficult to ignore.

The opening cinematic shows that the situation is cracking under the pressure, there's a riot going on and a police officer in full body armour chases a man down and beats him to the ground, and then keeps beating him while gloating about it, then a petrol bomb explodes a shop window and the game part starts. The game is several stages of the capitol city, a Mall, China town, slummish area, and the place with all the government corporate offices.  Riots have broken out everywhere, which means the stages are full of people running around all over the place. You can choose from a diverse group of characters to play as, who are part of a group of freedom fighters, since the riots have thrown the police and army off balance, you use it to carry out various missions to weaken the corporate power structure, bombing surveillance posts, rescuing people on the corporate hit list, stealing weapons etc. Once the game starts most of the context for why you're blowing up this building instead of the one next to it is handle through objective text boxes and there is also a parody of CNN type news ticker that explains more about how this society works.

And that's pretty much the main storyline game, there is also a gang presence, which in keeping with the rest of the game are superficial stereotypes. Though one interesting thing about the gangs, there is a skin head white power far right gang, they also actively work with the corporation as extra muscle and to divide and rule the population by targeting minorities for additional extra violence and exploitation. The final level has missions where the Freedom Fighters work with the black American gang to defend themselves from heavily armed white supremacists who are being supplied by the police, and then work together to take down the power structure. That ethnic minorities are only shown through gang affiliations and pretty ludicrous stereotypes isn't great but I still find it kind of eerie to what's been going on in the US recently. Big business and government aren't content to just dole out control and exploitation equally, and has in fact singled out multiple groups for additional pain, and when those groups have had enough and start to actively resist on a mass scale, instead of agreeing to back off and deal, the response has been even more violence, and in particular the official police are increasingly supported and collaborating with far right extremist groups either because of ideological and racial solidarity, or as a calculating manoeuvre to increase the pressure, or mix of all. 

But then again Black Lives Matter type activism and police brutality and racially motivated murders aren't new, and where around at the time, and history has shown that collaboration between "apolitical" police and the very political far right paramilitary and vigilante groups is quite common globally. I just didn't expect it to appear in this game where medical testing on humans means the corporation has created giant genetically modified super soldiers. 

The game ends when you blow up the corporate HQ and the final scenes show the Freedom group taking over the corporate news station that's been pumping out corporate propaganda over the course of the game. 






Sunday, 25 October 2020

Police Abolition an anecdotal view

Minneapolis 3rd Precinct


Resistance to police violence is growing around the world, with very public and committed examples shown in the USA, Chile, Greece, Hong Kong, Belarus and Nigeria, but also in many other countries demonstrations and other symbols of growing discontent and resistance are becoming much more common. 

People gather to protest during a solidarity rally for the death of George Floyd, June 6, 2020, in Tokyo.

Credit: AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko
The term All Cops Are Bastards ACAB is seen on many walls, but the more polite terms, Reform the Police, Defund the Police and even Abolish the Police are now all mainstream phrases, and they are being "extremely reluctantly" given representation and discussion in mainstream channels. Its also made the usual knee jerk responses a lot more common too. A typical response to even the mildest criticism of the most shockingly violent and openly corrupt policing actions is some variation of "What you going to do when you need help" 

This has puzzled me for years, because I did need help at several times in my life, and the police even when called did not help me. In many of my interactions with the police they were even an implied or open threat to me and my friends and family. I thought I'd document some of them, now I know this is purely anecdotal and my side in the events, but its not remotely exceptional, my experiences are the same as those of relatives, friends and neighbours etc. So I've included a few of them as well (anonymised of course), again these are anecdotes but I was either present or trust them completely. 

I've also added a list of some more systematic examinations of the police as an institution at the end to take a look at when you're finished, or to skip to if you don't like anecdotes. Oh and since this is an example of a white person using initiatives started by Black people in response to a systematic issue that attacks and oppresses them to a staggering degree, I believe Black lives do matter, racism is endemic and integral to our modern capitalistic societies, and I hope this will be supported by the following text and my brief comparisons of my personal experiences do not come across as offensive or trivialising. 

CW: the following discusses violence, murder, suicide and sexual assault.

I was walking home at night when an elderly woman started screaming for help while trying to climb through her own window, I ran over to help, and became confused as to what she was saying. I suspected she had dementia and was going to leave, but I worried that she might have been so distraught because of some serious problem and just couldn't tell me clearly. Completely in over my head I noticed a box next to the front door with the name of a company and a contact number, so I ring that, no one answers but it did transfer me to the emergency services, I explained the issue as best I could and they transferred me, but not to the health service, instead a police officer starts barking instructions at me, -this was how I learnt that mental health issues that become public are dealt with by the police and not some kind of counselling or mental health team I assumed would be used- again I explain and he orders me to stay there as they'll be on their way. Eventually they arrive, (in the meantime a neighbour had come across and explained that this happens a lot) and the first thing he does is go up to the window and ask the clearly confused and agitated woman "has this man taken any money off  you?" thankfully she of coursed said no, as did the neighbour, but since she was clearly confused and very agitated she could very well of said yes and landed me in a lot of trouble. The officer continued to question her about me and she again says no to all except that I was trying to help her. Eventually another police car pulls up with a relative of the old woman, and I'm now allowed to leave.

When out with some friends we watched a very drunk man get chucked out of a pub, at the time we thought it was really funny watching him stagger and talk nonsense, but it quickly turned even uglier, he turned around and tried to get back in, the bouncers intervened, and a fight broke out, one in which he quickly lost. However despite losing the bouncers wouldn't let it go they knocked him down repeatedly, blood was trickling off his head and then they pinned him down with one of them using his leg to pin his head. One of my friends called the police and they said they'd send someone down right away. Forty minutes later he's still passed out on the floor, though the bleeding has stopped and a bouncer who arrived after the fight has put him in the recovery position, a police van arrives, they totally ignore us and everyone else who come out to see what was going on, and talked exclusively to the bouncers, including the ones who weren't there during the fight. At this point the man woke up and started to get up and ramble, this was good news as it meant his injuries weren't as severe as they looked, and it was bad news because the police started ordering the obviously dazed and confused man about. When he moved to push past them, the police pinned him to the floor again, and then picked him up and threw into the back of the van, and then drove off with him.

So not only the police not help in this situation, getting them involved made it worse since they locked the victim up. 

Once when visiting my brother and his family, I noticed the front door had chipboard nailed over the inside of it. He then told me that a week or two earlier the police had done one of those breach and searches while he was at work, startling his kids and his pregnant partner. They ransacked the house looking for drugs, mainly cannabis. The reason why they were looking for a cannabis greenhouse inside a tiny two bedroom house that's full of kids, was because my brother had accosted the local grass*. The reason he had accosted the local grass? well that is because he found him in the back garden trying to steal the kids toys and trikes. So, the grass wanted revenge, and while my brother had been clean for over 20 years at that point (30 now) he did have some historic charges relating to illegal substances on his record, so that was good enough to justify terrorising a family. 

Speaking of drug usage, a relative who works in probation has steadily gone from a devout believer in the power and correctness of the law, into an increasingly world weary cynic. One of the reasons for this reappraisal is the curious pattern they've noticed where first time offenders for dug dealing charges often express shock that the amount of drugs they are accused of being in possession, is often much less than the amount that was actually there. Now I couldn't possibly speculate on why this discrepancy keeps happening, but since the amount of narcotics often reflects on sentencing, its unlikely we'll see an inquest into the matter.

My friend H

Back in the day when student life was ending and we were all looking for jobs a friend of mine became a police cadet, the rest of my friends were in the TA apart from one who got a job at a local off license. I was going to join a TA engineering regiment to learn a trade, but when I got to the barracks I noticed it was a Para engineers regiment, so I gave it a miss.

Anyway, of my social circle my friend who joined the police quickly became very, very, bitter and quick to violent outbursts. Even acquaintances who had seen some combat in Afghanistan were shocked at some of his antics. He told me all about his training and even let me read some of the training materials while he was still a cadet. It was pretty enlightening, the training included riot practice where the new recruits are the police shield wall, while the officers play the rioters and pelt them with glass bottles and actual petrol bombs. Though these were only filled to about a fifth or a quarter, to minimise the danger, but they still started fires, and on one occasion his eyes were raw and stinging because the night before the recruits were made to walk through a cloud of CS gas. In H's own words this was to both build toughness but also about cementing strong bonds between them.

When he went on patrols and house visits he told me all sorts of stories about the people who lived on the estates as if they were from another planet. This was especially strange since we both lived in comparable housing in neighbouring estates, and we often ended up at parties in the same worn out terraces. Looking back this is what surprised me the most about how effective police training is in reshaping minds. 

I think the worst thing he did before I lost contact with him was after he policed a free festival. He looked depressed, and when we asked him what was wrong he told us he'd had a bollocking from some superior officer because he and four other police had been caught on camera by reporters beating a drunk guy up. I never saw it appear on the local news, so I guess they quashed it. But what really stood out and shocked us, was that the reason they beat the drunk up was because the guy laughed at their helmets.

Seriously that was the reason given, a bloke who had to much too drink laughed at their helmets, so four police officers (well one was still a cadet) slapped him around in a crowded public party. And he didn't see why we were giving him a hard time about how he shouldn't have done that.

He was never a pacifist but his attitude and world view did a complete transformation, and it only took about a few months before the changes were noticeable.

The One Time a police officer did help us

In the interest of some balance I suppose its only fair to talk about the one time a police officer did in fact provide some assistance to my family. My step father sadly took his own life after a period of emotional trauma, it took us by surprise and I spent much of the day trying to calm down my distraught mother. The police investigating the disappearance and then death weren't particularly helpful, they found him, but he had done it in a very public place so it was only a matter of time, and they regarded the matter as a suspicious death, but from what I understand they're suppose to treat all suicides in that manner so I don't hold that against them, it just wasn't particularly helpful to be badgered with questions while my mother was grieving and we were trying to think of what to tell the grandkids. 

No the actual helpful police officer was a traffic policeman, who lived nearby and was a distant relation through marriage. We knew him and he knew us, and when he heard about what  happen he came over and gave his condolences and wanted to know if there was anything he could do. It turned out there was, one of the nasty sides of treating suicide like a suspicious death and possibly murder is that the police officers assigned to handle it keep their distance unless its relevant to their investigation so after the awful news in the morning, we heard effectively nothing for the rest of the day, and ringing the contact number  we were given gave us nothing useful. So he rang some officers he knew and gave us some details and we able to start working through that horrible process.

So yes that was very helpful, but it didn't really have anything to do with him being a police officer, he knew us and sympathised and he used his connections to help out. Still appreciated. 

Protests and Profiling

In my time I've took part in (perfectly pacific and legal of course) protests and usually just seen a handful of bored police officers stand well apart from us lazily observing and chatting amongst themselves. Sometimes though I've marched past armed police and canine units, I remember one Alsatian was straining at the leash to bite a brass band section while its handler struggled** "No! come on, stop it, calm, calm it, sit,". But so far no pepper spray or truncheon scars. So not to bad right? Well yes but they were still arrayed in a loose position that declared they were in opposition to whatever it was we were about, and that was only the visible police presence. You'd be surprised what's lurking just around the corner.

The clearest example of this I can think of was early on during the coalition Lib Dem and Conservative government started passing austerity measures. You may remember this was when the government started to cut the police funding which prompted the Police Federation; which is the closest thing in the UK to a police union, to start protesting. So you had this strange and to my mind offensive sight of police force banners joining TUC marches. At a local protest to support those one day "general strikes" of public sector workers called to put some pressure on the government I turned up, and saw this great big banner for the local police force held by two local coppers. I thought about leaving, but instead moved as far away from them as I could, which put me in a crowd of Labour councillors, I said hello and made small talk with the few I knew. I was surprised that they also weren't happy about police trying to rub shoulders and piggyback sympathy. As professional politicians and moderate community types I thought they'd be all for it. One of them in particular pointed out to me that there was police van full of them, all in riot gear just around the corner watching us. So even when they were joining the protests the police remained able and willing to use force against them.

That was protests, me and friends though have been profiled on multiple occasions and harassed by the police. The reason why is that we are football fans and we enjoy watching matches and going on away days. This means as young men who aren't local and who used trains that police intelligence has selected as probable vehicles used by hooligans.  Now of course violence football violence is terrible, but the solution isn't making all the out of towners occupy a small part of a carpark and then march them under guard through the town until they're at the stadium and then not let them leave. Or when you're trying to leave after a match penning them into a part of a station and refusing to let them board trains apart from one that's been designated for them, and just ramming them all on there. I've seen a tazer used once and it was when I was leaving after a match, the police had decided to force the football fans to one side of the station and not let them board several trains and then when one turned up we were allowed to board they restricted us to the rear carriages only, this created a massive jam, and at one point they tazered a man in the back. On one particular occasion the police effectively ambushed us at the stairs leading from the platform to the exit, they questioned us and since we didn't have local accents they ordered us out into a side car park, they didn't even ask us if we were there to see a game and we weren't wearing team shirts or scarves or anything. Funnily enough they let the older guys in our group through without issue, including the man who had multiple offenses and banning orders for football related violence, because as an older man walking with his daughter he didn't fit the description. That incident had a happy ending though, we managed to outsmart them by walking back into the station and then walking back out through the door right next to it.

Things aren't much better during home games either, its not unusual to find the whole surrounding area to be full of police, often with lines outside pubs determining how many can come in, and on several occasions groups of cops on street corners just stop people in the street and interrogate them before deciding whether or not they are or are not allowed to continue walking down the street. Then there was the time I was boarding a bus and two men behind me in the line started singing a local club song, not one of the really offensive ones, it was one of the "We are club and we are great" ones. A car immediately parks behind the bus, four plain clothed police get out, detain them, order them to shut up and start questioning them about their identity and history, before letting them get on the bus with a warning.

Now of course no one likes football fans, even other football fans, in my own group we're always on the look out for certain people we can't stand, but the effect is none of the nastier aspects of football fans are curtailed in anyway. On the contrary it often magnifies it. I've seen groups of men who at worst were being loud and obnoxious pushed around and humiliated to the point of explosion. That's what kettling does and why its called kettling, it literally refers to the act of increasing pressure and boiling points. Protestors didn't give these modern policing tactics the name kettling, the police did themselves. Its even worse when you look up the origins of the tactic and term, it comes from the German word Kessel which is a type of cauldron, and was used in German army talk for a tactic to overwhelm and eliminate an enemy. And one of the earliest examples of modern kettling was in 1986 in West Germany. They know full well what these tactics and behaviours do and there associations, they just don't care.

Now of course this only a fraction of what black populations and other minorities in the USA, UK and a depressingly long list of other countries have to face. I've had some quite close calls but usually only had to risk incurring the wrath of the police on Tuesdays and Saturdays, and I could further reduce that risk by just giving up a treasured hobby. As the murder of George Floyd reminded us, other people don't have that luxury. Just being alive is considered reasonable grounds for suspicion and the use of violent and often lethal force. I said I was profiled because me and my friends were, we matched a category and were treated differently because of it. When it first started we tried to solve the issue by stopping wearing our colours, we don't wear things that indicate we support the team and just wear ordinary clothing when going to away games. Sometimes this works, which is probably why hardcore hooligans also do this which is why the term "the casuals" is a thing, to give just another example of police measures failing to prevent crime. But what exactly can you do when the category is your very existence?

When Black Lives Matter protests started to gain traction, many well meaning but oblivious commentators promoted training at risk communities teach themselves and especially young people how to behave with officers since Trayvon Martin and Tamir Rice's legally sanctioned killings showed that youth is no shield. The death of Philando Castille, who was shot five times precisely because he was following the instructions of the investigating officer Jeronimo Yanez, shows that also doesn't seem to work. Breonna Taylor was shot to death in her own bed, her boyfriend actually called 911 to report that his house had been invaded by armed men who turned out to be the police. There is nothing you can do to protect yourself if the police decide to target you, they are better equipped and trained and far more willing to use force, and the law won't protect you even when other parts of it agree the police are out of line, because they're wedded to the same system and part of the same foundations. 

The police need to go, and if getting rid of them requires also getting rid of the whole rotten power structure of exploitation and domination, and the challenging and defeating the bigoted ideas that empower and justify them, then I say all the better. 

The other ACAB, All Cats Are Beautiful


* Police informant, usually local petty criminal using information to in exchange for the police turning a blind eye to their own shady doings. The grass on my brothers estate was well known as a petty thief. The local grass in the town I grew up in was repeatedly beaten with baseball bats, chased down streets and had his windows knocked in, because it was well known that he was a paedophile who allegedly groomed multiple kids in the area. I can't say with a 100% legal certainty that either accusation is true, but once when I was 13 he tried to lure me into his garage, and another time shortly after that I saw him chatting on friendly terms with the police in the back of a patrol car before being dropped off on the street, eventually they moved him out the area. 

** I once met a Navy training instructor who had worked with dogs and sometimes worked with the police as part of joint exercises. He told me that dogs are unleashed only once the rest of the police have withdrawn from the area, because they will only listen to their specific handler, they will and have attacked other police officers as well as or instead of the suspect.


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Some additional reading

Police the Case Against - Polite Ire


Learning  from Ferguson


Origins of the Police - David Whitehouse


Stop kidding yourself: the police were created to control working class and poor people - Sam Mitrani


A World Without Police

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