When I try to analogize the New Orleans Police Department, I find myself juggling extreme comparisons-- death squads, terror gangs-- that might strike readers outside New Orleans as hyperbole. For those of us who live here, for anyone who even reads the newspaper, for anyone who's ever had an encounter with NOPD, no analogy is necessary. We already know. NOPD is as close to primal, unleavened evil as you'll ever see, worse than the most paranoid anti-authoritarian caricature of "bad policing.*" NOPD is simply more violent-- more brutal-- more criminal-- more intransigent-- more ignorant-- more shameless-- more unhinged-- more dangerous.
NOPD, as an extreme and yet inevitable expression of a sick system, is to policing what Anders Breivik is to Christianity.
Just as the "holy" bible is rife with behavior like Breivik's, NOPD's horrifying murders, rapes, thievery, policy-level dishonesty and numberless beatdowns are not actually aberrant, not at all out of line with the fundamental tenants and principles of policing. NOPD is simply less sophisticated, less modern... more pure.
On Monday, we protested police violence. 30-50 people, including multiple sympathetic strangers we picked up en route, marched through the French Quarter carrying placards showing the faces and names of some of those NOPD has murdered, and holding signs denouncing NOPD as an armed gang.
Mass protests of the chanting, sign-waving kind almost always leave me feeling demoralized and depressed. I think "well, so that was it? That's where we're at? Shouting our own righteousness to the wind and waving kooky signs... like people did against the Iraq War, by the millions, with no result..."
But I left Monday's march feeling pumped up, empowered and enthusiastic. When I eventually broke away from the march to go run errands, so did another marcher, a random person who'd been sitting at one of the coffeeshops we marched past. He was just as pumped up as I was. "That was beautiful," he said. "That really was great."
Why did the two of us feel so flushed with possibility, rather than despair? Because Monday's march was militant. It was transgressive, it was shocking. Rather than stopping at generic, nebulous demands for "justice," rather than being limited to denouncing specific violent actions by specific police, the march's tone was a clear, thoroughgoing rejection of policing itself-- of police as an institution. "Cops, Pigs, Murderers," we chanted. "Fuck the Police."
The people we marched past were startled-- some were appalled, some were dumbfounded, some were thrilled, some joined us.
I'm sure there are those who would have liked bolder action, and I know there are those who would have liked a more moderated and nuanced critique (see below), but for me, Monday's march hit the sweet spot. I was happy to be a part of it, and I can't remember the last time I felt that way about a protest.
In the boundless twilight hellscape of the internet, the misnamed American "left"** fixedly and endlessly excoriates itself, a million mostly white-male chair-bound voices of outraged expertise railing against and piously bemoaning every action and every group... for each falls short of Platonic perfection, each is messily inferior to the shining ideal actions and groups within the internet expert's imagination.
To me, especially to me as a man, groups founded without my explicit approval & actions taken without consulting me are always going to be foolish, wrongheaded, misguided, threatening, dangerous, counterproductive, tools of the state, etc. etc. etc... because their autonomy suggests my own brittle opinions may not be as important as my social conditioning had led me to believe.
Given that context, I'd like to emphasize again how great I thought Monday night's march was.
Talking to a couple pals last night, I learned not everyone found the march's stridency as exhilirating as I did. One of my comrades felt that dehumanizing all police was an oversimplification of a complex situation. While NOPD is hopeless, she argued, surely there are other places where police can or could do some good in certain situations. Surely police as individuals can be reformed.
I denounced her as a liberal and unfriended her on Facebook. No! Just kidding!
Police are humans. They are classically, quintessentially human: violent, bigoted, clannish, petty, paranoid, dishonest, and deluded by moral surity. Police, NOPD particularly, are the best arguments for anarchy imaginable-- they are living proof against themselves, perfect bad examples of what happens when capitalism grants some human beings coercive authority over others.
Nevertheless, the notion of an unpoliced existence, of life without an external paternalistic enforcement authority above one's head, can be challenging even for anarchists. The notion that just a phone call away there's "help," or at least an easy way to make a frightening or bad situation someone else's problem, is seductively reassuring, even if we know intellectually and rationally that, in the case of police, it's a lie.
For those less imperilled by police, for those who benefit from the status quo, e.g. white people who own property, the concept of a police safety net or something directly analogous can be hard not to believe in-- just as, for those raised in a religious context, "god" can be a hard idea to get free of. It's part of the only social order most of us have ever known.
Oftentimes too the people who find it easiest (in abstract) to reject policing entirely are those whose lives have spared them situations in which the police would typically be called -- people shielded by race, patriarchy, class, even just good luck from the worst excesses of the police state and the brutal interpersonal violence produced by poverty.***
Not everyone's on the same page, and not everyone feels comfortable saying "Fuck the police." Speaking for myself, I felt uncomfortable with (short-lived) chants about "the rage inside" and "total freedom"... to me, those are abstractions meaningful to almost no-one. I mention this nit-picky criticism just to make it clear I'm every bit as narrow-minded and unconstructively micro-judgemental as the next anarcha. Gotta maintain my scene cred!!
But, in contrast to weird chants based on abstruse philosophical concepts or adolescent individualism, I feel "Fuck the police" is direct, accessible, and universally understandable. It's unambiguous and provocative. It translates easily into other languages.
To see forty people shouting "Fuck the police" makes the hypothetical apolitical passer-by wonder: why in the world would someone be so angry at the police? This is an important question. People need to hear criticisms of policing that go beyond reform, beyond the "bad apple" bullshit. People need to hear the truth.
This returns to my own positive experience of the protest. Beyond being tactically sound, "Fuck the police" is also a legitimate and honest expression of feeling. I hate the fucking police, for a thousand reasons. Fuck the pigs-- fuck 'em all. It feels good to say. It feels good to tell the truth.
* Scare quotes, to acknowledge redundancy
** Chris Hedges: get cancer.
*** Of course, the existence of poverty is key to the social order the police enforce; if there were no desperately poor people, what would the ruling class use to scare the general populace into pacifism?
And, as another writer so excellently put it, "The bargain that the ruling class makes with police is that they can act above the law, be sadistic and violent, have relative impunity, make a make a middle class salary, and enjoy 'heroic' status through their portrayal in the corporate media in exchange for enforcing the unjust laws of the ruling class's system upon the poor."