In the past few years, political developments in the U.S. have called significant attention to the role of the police in our society. The violence with which police handled campus protests in California and Occupations across the country has demonstrated that the “public safety” role of those police is entirely secondary in explaining their actions.
Their primary role has been in seeking to crush protest. This is disturbing because it means that police forces have been taking sides in political disputes, effectively enforcing the economic inequality which has come to characterise our society. Their role on university campuses has been in stifling free speech and in preventing university communities from debating the growing inequality and inaccessibility which characterises institutions of higher education.
The outcome is a clear loss of legitimacy for law enforcement, which cannot maintain its authority if it is obviously working to serve particular interests in our society (plutocrats in New York or administrators on campuses).
But there are other, perhaps even more sinister ways in which some police forces and departments have been corrupted. Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop: the Militarization of America’s Police Forces illustrates how police are increasingly equipped, trained, and deployed as though they are occupying a country full of “hostiles” to be subdued. If we consider this alongside the outlook of the national security apparatus—which spies on the people in the service of the military-intelligence complex, rather than serving the interest of the public—is becomes clear that the public welfare is increasingly being subordinated to a violent, paranoid vision of “security” promulgated by soldiers, spies, and the “warrior cops” of Balko’s title.
The NYPD’s “stop and search” program is a chilling example of how this worrying turn of events manifests itself. This video documents the arbitrary violence of such programs, the corrupt motivations behind harassing communities (motivations which have nothing to do with safety), and the worries of both members of those communities and of some law enforcement officers about what such harassment and abuse will do to relations between communities and those who are supposed to protect them.
The video is worth watching in full. It displays the arrogance of power and the manner in which structural incentivising of corrupt and violent behaviours can dehumanise citizens and turn public safety officers into so many thugs whose actions will ultimately shatter rather than shield communities.
It also represents a worrying trend in our country that we should do our best to reverse.