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.


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

Saturday, 3 October 2020

Notes on a Dialogue with Stalin

Written in 1952 this essay is one of the last to be written with the goal of proving the capitalist nature of the USSR, it is also the weakest of them I have read.

This is partly because its scope is the most narrow and superficial, rather than look at Soviet society and economics as a whole it is just a direct response to a book published by Stalin `Economic Problems of Socialism in the USSR` so it mainly concerns itself with picking apart the passages in the book.

Bordiga says at the beginning we should read between Stalin's lines, to get at the true meaning of his work. If we do the same to Bordiga's argument an interesting pattern emerges. Another reason for the weakness and limits of this work is that Bordiga does not actually disprove of much of how the soviet society developed. He openly defends Lenin and spends most of the work trying to distinguish between the economies of the two, despite most of the capitalist features already present. The best Bordiga can do is claim that Lenin was aiming at building state capitalism, whereas Stalin has merely built industrialism.

He also explicitly endorses the terror and the closest we get to criticism of Lenin is a brief remark of a time when Lenin committed the great sin of disagreeing with Bordiga at a Comintern meeting.

To be honest there are passages were Bordiga seems to have no real issue with Stalin's economic system, and is mainly incensed by the misuse of his beloved Marxian language and terminology. This makes sense as Bordiga was very much a believer in stageism and so while a book accusing the soviet union of capitalism in red clothing seems damning, to Bordiga the development of capitalism in Russia and Central Asia is a fine and necessary thing, if only Stalin were more honest.

"Once again, it remains true: Russian “economic policy” has certainly developed the material productive forces, has indeed expanded the world market, but within the capitalist forms of production. It does indeed represent a useful historical tool: no less than the industrial invasion at the expense of the starving Scots and Irish or the Wild West Indians, but it cannot loosen the relentless grip of the contradictions of capitalism, which very well potentiates the forces of society, but which for that must debilitate and subjugate the workers' association."

The work also has issues with tone, parts, especially the beginning are extremely purple and full of points that end in obscure classical references, other times he makes a point and then fails to elaborate it. There are also entire sections that serve no real purpose in regards to the argument but give Bordiga a chance to praise without qualification Marx and Engels, the praise is so all encompassing it reminded me of the odes to comrade Stalin that the soviet press and art world had to keep making to escape the hand of the secret police.

Read Berkman instead, or if you must have a Marxist Pannekoek.

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