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Link: Fuck the Police?

[Somebody I know quite well wrote the following blog post on the Vancouver Media Co-Op website.  It is a reflection based upon some of the events that occurred at the anti-Olympics/anti-capitalism diverse tactics protest that occurred in Vancouver on February 13th.  I thought I would reproduce it here, as it does a fairly decent job of summarizing some of my own thoughts on things.  Note that my friend has written this anonymously so any comments related to what my friend’s identity might be will be erased.]
Fuck the Police?
I have been doing some thinking since the action that occurred on February 13th.  I was at that event and participated in the black bloc.  While participating in that event, I was struck multiple times by police officers (when the riot police moved in and tried to cut the bloc in half) and I was later tackled to the ground, arrested, and detained.
Furthermore, I am no stranger to police violence.  Having both been street-involved as a teen and having worked with street-involved and marginalized people for the duration of my adult life, I have witnessed what can only be described as the systemic corruption and violence that is integral to the police system.  I have known underage female sex workers who were raped by police officers; I have known young men who were hog-tied, pepper-sprayed, then tossed in the trunk of patrol cars; I have witnessed the bruises and missing teeth, along with the physical, emotional, and psychological scars that have marked the bodies and minds of those who are easy targets for police officers.  Of course, the multitude of marks I have witnessed tend to be considered too inconsequential to make the news, but one can also recall more public events like when police officers murdered Robert Dziekanski at the Vancouver airport in October 2007.
Now, one might be inclined to think that all of these acts of violence are performed by a few ‘bad’ people who abuse their power, and are not representative of the police force as a whole.  Unfortunately, this is not the case.  Again, pointing to the Robert Dziekanski murder, one can see how officers were coached to lie on the stand, how they attempted to withhold evidence, and so on.  Or one can simply look at the (false) statements made by the Vancouver chief of police after the action that occurred on February 13th.  The truth is that something is wrong on a much deeper level, and more detailed studies exist that confirm this (one thinks, for example, of the books Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams and The Story of Jane Doe: a book about rape by Jane Doe; both do a fine job of demonstrating that police corruption is a systemic issue).
With these things in mind, it is no wonder that at the action on February 13th, people were chanting: “No justice!  No peace!  Fuck the police!”  It is also no wonder that the police were able to so easily incite some of the protesters.  I witnessed more than one person who was tripped or struck from behind by an officer, who then responded by lashing out – either verbally or physically – at that officer.  This is all quite understandable, and it might even by commendable.
Yet, I believe that it would help our objectives if we were more deliberate about the ways in which we engaged with the police.  While I make no claim that my objectives for pursuing social change are the same as those of others, I do have the impression that most of us would agree that we are striving for a world where abundant life is available to all people and not just to some.  It seems to me that most of us are striving for a world where all people have equal access to resources, to labour, to leisure, to freedom, and to justice.  We are striving for a world where the glorious humanity of all people is recognized – where nobody is dehumanized and abandoned into the hands of poverty, illness, isolation, and death.  I reckon that these are some of the key things that led people of diverse faiths, ethnicities, languages, and sexual orientations to put on black clothing and stand in solidarity with each other.
However, if this does describe something of our common goals, then we must remember that, within the context of oppression both the oppressed and the oppressor end up being dehumanized.  Oppressed people are dehumanized because they are not provided the opportunity to flourish and share in abundant life.  However, those who engage in oppressive acts are also dehumanized because abusive and violent actions are not reflective of those who are living out their full human potential.  Therefore, we must always remember that, in the pursuit of liberation, we must be committed to the liberation of all people.  Thus, without ever losing sight of the priority that must be granted to the oppressed, we should also seek the liberation of the oppressors.
Consequently, I have no problem chanting, “Fuck the Police!” but I always remember that ‘the police’ is not a person – it is a system and a culture that is given over to violence, exploitation and death.  As such, it is a system that must be abolished if we are to live an abundant life together.  However, the destruction of ‘the police’ does not require the destruction of individual police officers.  Rather, each police officer is also a human person who has been made into something less than he or she could be due to his or her participation within (and enslavement to) this death-dealing system.
Therefore, although I chant “Fuck the Police!” I also try to treat each officer I encounter as a brother or sister in need of liberation and life – just like the rest of us.  This is why I did not strike back, when I was struck by police officers on the 13th.  In my work, I have been struck more than once by a person who was strung-out on drugs or whose actions were the result of a chemical imbalance.  I would never consider striking back in that situation – striking an addict or a person with a mental illness is not the way to bring about freedom from addiction or mental illness.  Similarly, when struck by the police – who are not in bondage to addiction or mental illness (at least not always…), but who are in bondage to the death-dealing ways of Police culture – I do not strike back.  The answer, to all these situations, is not blows but a willingness to love and do the hard work required to bring about liberation and life for all, not just for some (even if that means I will continue to get struck along the way).  Perhaps if we kept this in mind, instead of allowing ourselves to be provoked, we might yet see the day when officers drop their truncheons and join us on our side of the barricades.  On that day, our dreams might begin to be realized.

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  1. As someone who has had extensive dealings with the criminal justice system, I know that the systemic corruption mentioned in this article is real. But in my conversations with others I have unfortunately found an intense skepticism among those who have not experienced the corruption for themselves. For many, if they haven’t seen it, they don’t believe it.
    All you have to do is watch a few episodes of “Cops” or spend a few minutes searching for “police brutality” videos on youtube. You will see the poor and powerless taken advantage of over and over again. And this does not even begin to scratch the surface.
    The sheer number of Americans being supervised by our criminal justice system is simply astounding (prisons, jails, work release, house arrest, parole, and probation), the majority of which are poor and minorities. We incarcerate a greater percentage of our population than any other country in the world. Again, the vast majority being poor and minorities.
    I think the corruption is obvious, and that the results speak for themselves. But too many of us are in denial, because denial prevents disillusionment. Unfortunately for those who have experienced the system for themselves, the disillusionment is unavoidable.
    Thanks for re-posting this and bringing more needed attention to these issues.

  2. Therefore, although I chant “Fuck the Police!” I also try to treat each officer I encounter as a brother or sister in need of liberation and life – just like the rest of us
    I want to agree with this, but find it not only difficult to practice, but have been wondering about this issue for while in terms of how we relate to the powers…
    If we ignore the systemic violence/corruption we will never shout ‘fuck the police’ and our silence becomes etc etc
    If we ignore the humanity of the police officers in our face, we will never see them as someone needing / deserving liberation (except, perhaps in some abstract sense).
    In reading Stringfellow and Ellul (and less so Wink), I am undecided about how the powers discourse helps and hinders my desire to love the enemy so that the enemy is defeated, but disarmed and even reconciled? Hence my uneasiness…
    I will be a very long way from being reconciled with the police officers in my face while I shout http://FTP... but to not shout is to ignore the systemic violence that this post so clearly portrays.
    It has led me to wandering how much I can be an advocate and a reconciler at the same time. Maybe they are different vocations or for different seasons? I dunno.

  3. Thanks for this post. I have recently had similar experiences of the police and am thinking a lot how we as pacifist/followers of Jesus should relate to this structurally approved violence.
    When arrested with the black bloc in Copenhagen this December all were chanting the “fuck the police”. However I did not participate in that particular chant, since I found it to violent at the time. But as you mention, one could perceive the police as a structure rather than persons, and I guess then it is ok to tell the police to go fuck itself. Because that power of oppression and violence is nothing less then pure demonism, I think all victims of the police force can agree to that.

  4. Hi Geoff,
    There certainly is a tension between being an ‘advocate’ and a ‘reconciler’. In this regard, I am reminded of Helen Prejean’s reflections in Dead Man Walking. After spending time trying to journey alongside of both death row inmates and the families of those who suffered at the hands of those inmates, Prejean came to the conclusion that she could not do both. The families inevitably ended up feeling betrayed by her when she spoke on behalf of the prisoner.
    Still, I think that it is important for us to remember that the invitation to liberation looks and sounds very different depending on where one is situated. For example, when Moses says: “Let my people go!” he is trying to accomplish the liberation of both the Hebrew slaves and Pharaoh (for Pharaoh is dehumanized by endorsing the economics of slavery and so on). So, even though this call will sound harsh and demanding to Pharaoh, it comes to him as an offer of salvation. I think a similar way of thinking may apply, mutatis mutandis, to the way we chant FTP.

  5. Thanks Dan (and others). I had forgotten about that bit in Dead Man Walking and will look at it again with my current questions in mind.
    While my journey continues to involve becoming a ‘less timid’ activist, I think I can shout (with Moses) “Let my people go!” to the contemporary Pharoah (which is all the more interesting given Moses prior connections to Pharoah’s house)… but what happens where our advocacy / invitation starts to look and feel more like Moses’ earlier attempt to liberate from oppression?
    I am aware in all these questions of my tendency to use the non-liberating FTP protesters as an excuse to withdraw and do less advocacy/liberating (which is not where I want to be).
    So, I need the inspiration and friendship of others, and perhaps these words of Stringfellow help:
    When I write that my own situation [during my illness] in those months of pain and decision can be described as prayer, I do not only recall that during that time I sometimes read the Psalms and they became my psalms, or that, as I have also mentioned, I occasionally cried ‘Jesus’ and that name was my prayer, but I mean that I also at times would shout ‘Fuck!’ and that was no obscenity, but a most earnest prayerful utterance
    Stringfellow, William. A Second Birthday. (Garden City: Doubleday, 1970)

  6. Actually, Geoff, to be very honest, I’m not convinced that the contemporary work of any protesters can really be described as ‘liberating’. While public protests have been effective in the past, governments, international bodies (like the IOC) and corporate businesses have all done a very good job of creating propoganda and security models that make all of our efforts almost entirely ineffective.
    This is one of the reasons why I believe that we must be willing to try new things, even if those things appear to be higher risk or less sensible.
    And I hear you on the counter-example you provide from the Moses story. Thankfully, nobody I know is interested in hurting other people — and, although those with an abundance of things might wish us to think otherwise, I really do think that we need to make a hard and fast distinction between actions that are performed against ‘property’, structures, and ideologies, and actions that are performed against people.

  7. Hey Geoff… further thoughts on the Moses example. I used to think that part of Moses’ problem with his initial attempt to assist the Hebrew slaves was his use of violence. However, while thinking about that the other day, I realized that the violence employed by YHWH (when Moses returns to Egypt) is far more brutal and far less discriminating or appropriate than the violence Moses initially employed. At least Moses struck and killed a person who was violently abusing somebody who was helpless. YHWH strikes and kills plants, animals, people, and children en masse and without showing any discrimination. Yikes!

  8. thanks Dan… I appreciate your thoughtfulness and taking time – its why i’ve lurked here for a while now.
    A quick thought now, with more space for reflection also needed: isn’t Moses’ initial attempt to assist misplaced because it is actually for himself and not really in solidarity with the Hebrew people he thought he was trying to liberate… seen in their reaction to him afterwards… kinda reminds me of many well meaning, middle class, Christian attempts (including my own in a distant past) at “charity”

  9. Geoff… great thought. I’m not sure… I think the Hebrews responded to Moses more because they were afraid of the repercussions his action might bring back upon them (1 dead Egyptian = how many dead slaves?). As in: “You might be trying to help us but your action is going to bring the wrath of the Powers down on us in full force… so please fuck off!” Of course, when Moses returns to Egypt ’40 years’ later, the Hebrews seem have gone through a shift and have realized that a slow painful death is just as bad as a quick death, so they may have come to the point of realizing they had nothing to lose by seeking liberation. I’ll need to think more about this…
    Of course, none of this takes away from the truth of what you say about well-meaning, middle class, Christian attempts at charity (including my own as well — not just in the distant past but also in the present).


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