Thursday, January 27, 2011

Police Violence Is Not An Accident

Jan. 27, 2011 Puget Sound Anarchists

There are gaping holes in the efforts of police spokespeople, community
members, and city officials to apologize and rationalize the ongoing
violence of the Seattle Police Department. What we hear repeatedly are
sentiments like, "They are just doing their jobs, which are stressful and
dangerous," as well as, "These are isolated incidences." Dialogue around
how to correct overt force demonstrated by SPD revolves around reform and
"making the police remember who they work for."
While police accountability is certainly an issue that many communities
rally behind for good reason, it also neglects the reality of the history
of the modern day police force in the United States as well as who
constitutes its body. You cannot apologize away an insitution that was
formed to protect capital and the rich, nor can you deny the pattern of
abuse in the SPD as being "isolated." In fact, a culture of violence
intiated the police force and maintains it's power today.

The Modern Day Police Force

While the modern day police force has had several incarnations (including
the commonly corrupt sherriffs and constables of days past), the system of
policing as we know it today was never intended to protect citizens from
one another: it was intended to provide insurance to slave owners who felt
that their minority status in the South was a threat to their estates.

"Faced with the difficulties of keeping a major portion of the population
enslaved to a small elite, Southern society borrowed from the practices of
the Caribbean...There, slaveowners used professional slave catchers and
militias to capture runaways, while overseers were responsible for
maintaining order on the the 1680s, the militia began
making regular patrols to catch the runaways, prevent slave gatherings,
search slave quarters, keep order at markets, funerals, and festivals, and
generally intimidate the Black population." ("Our Enemies In Blue,"
Kristian Williams)

The modern day police force is modeled after these slave patrols and their
job is to protect the social mechanisms of capitalism. Cops, SPD included,
do not serve the public, they serve private interests. This is what is
happening as they meticulously pick off the homeless, people with
disabilities, and other marginalized communities who do not have the
resources to fight back, and why they are so often not prosecuted.

The Culture of SPD

Recently the Stranger and the Seattle Times both reported on the newspaper
written and distributed by the Seattle Union Police Officer's Guild, The
Guardian. The Guardian is a monthly publication written by cops, for cops.
The content in the SPD paper that both publications reported on include an
open disdain for civilian insight into the way the SPD is run as well as
flaming critiques of the racial and social justice programs implemented in
the last 5 years. Editorialists in the Guardian go so far as to call
Seattle city officials "socialists," as well as promoting the idea that
social rights advocates are "enemies."
The Stranger spotlights Officer Clayton Powell's editorial, "Reality or
Ignorance: the State of Being Out of Touch" (November 2010). Powell writes
that cops should have access to racially and sexually charged words in
order to relate to the communities that police are trying to develop
credibility with. It is unclear at what point he believes using the "n"
word in a community of color will "connect" his whiteness to their
systematic oppression by the police and State. Disturbingly, Powell
recommends that other officers watch the movie "Kings of Comedy,"
particularly what Bernie Mac has to say about using profane language such
as "Motherf****r," in order to appreciate officer's abilities to utilize
problematic language.
It should be no surprise then that Powell, unable to understand the racism
behind a white cop using the "n" word, was also investigated by the SPD in
2000 for threatening and stalking his ex-wife. The Seattle PI reported in
an article on July 23, 2003 ("Cops who abuse their wives rarely pay the
price") that these charges were not taken seriously by the department and
Powell was not disciplined.
The Times reported that City Councilmember Tim Burgess said, of the
Guardian editorials, "[the comments are] not consistent with the values of
the police department or the rules of behavior the department sets for our
officers." Taking a brief look at SPD's history of recent violence could,
however, prove otherwise.

SPD's (Incomplete) Recent History of Violence

-May 2009, Christopher Sean Harris was chased down a street in Belltown by
unidentified men. In reality, Deputy Matthew Paul, who was not
identifiable as a member of the sherriff's department, shoved Harris' head
into a wall and crushed it, resulting in a catastrophic brain injury that
only recently won Harris a $10M settlement.
-November 2009, 15 year old black youth Malika Calhoun was slammed into a
wall and punched twice while being detained in a holding cell by King
County Sherriff's Deputy Paul Schene.
-April 17th, A group of Hispanic men are pulled over near Lake Union.
Officer Shandy Cobane asserts: "I'm going to beat the f***ing Mexican piss
out of you homey. You feel me?" and stomps one of the men.
-June 14th, two black youths crossing MLK are stopped by the cops for
jaywalking and one is punched in the face by officer Ian Walsh.
-September 2010, 6 people shot in one week, 5 killed, including John T.
Williams. Williams, a Native woodcarver holding a 3-inch closed blade, was
shot by Ian Birk within four seconds of being accosted and ordered to drop
his wood carving knife.
-January 2011, a man is handcuffed and forced onto the ground, punched,
and spit socked by two officers on Rainer Ave. S. after wandering into the
street. Witnesses report excessive force

It shouldn't be a surprise that SPD invests time and energy holding
community meetings intended for public relations outreach and then defames
critics of the department in their private union paper. The Stranger
reports, "'The intended audience is the police department,' says [Sean]
Whitcomb. 'It's very police-y. It's specific jargon. They are writing to a
specific audience.'"
The two faces of the SPD are meant to soothe the public while protecting
private interests. They cannot accept money from the state if they are
open about the internal culture they are cultivating. As author and police
investigator Kristian Williams has said, "The main function of the police
has very little to do with crime or enforcing the law and is more directed
toward maintaining existing social inequality, especially those based on
race and class."
It is a mistake to believe that the police can be reformed. If we wish to
take our lives back from the chokehold of the prison industrial complex,
we must abolish all its servants--including the police-- and end our
enslavement to capitalism and its enforcers.


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