Not Your Friend: Dissensus and the PoliceFrom: http://thenewinquiry.com/post/12036940312/not-your-friend-dissensus-and-the-police
On police cooperation with the status quo and occupiers’ cooperation with the police
One of the most heated aspects of the Occupy mobilizations—from the Occupy Wall Street mothership to Occupy Boston (the base of my own direct observation) to Occupy Oakland (site of arguably the worst police onslaught thus far)—is their relationship or non-relationship to the police. Before launching a critique on that matter I wish to present two excerpts, one by a preacher in 1963 and another by a physician in 2011. It is very important that I mention their upstanding professions first, because of the troubling occurrence (and sometimes, though not always, establishment appropriation) of the anarchists versus everybody else. That this discourse is so recurrent in the shadow of a hawkish, conservative Democratic presidency is no great surprise, but rarely do we stop and seriously reflect on what this cleavage means about how we make sense of ourselves as a body politic. Physicians and the clergy are emblems of care and conscientiousness in polite society, while “anarchists” in the dominant lingo imply a shadowy group of subversives (usually men, usually white, usually angry), so it is from this intersection of seriousness of aims and moral purpose, regardless of the dictates of polite society, that I want to read Occupy and law enforcement. Neither letter writer has ever publicly avowed himself or herself an “anarchist” in the definition of the dominant lingo, and neither is a white male.
This is Dr. Martin Luther King on the police in his “Letter from Birmingham Jail”, written on April 16, 1963 from his jail cell and addressed to eight fellow clergymen:
I feel impelled to mention one other point in your statement that has troubled me profoundly. You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping ‘order’ and ‘preventing violence.’ I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the police have exercised a degree of discipline in handing the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather ‘nonviolently’ in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: ‘The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason.’
They have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. The greatest treason is to do the right deed for the wrong reason. One would be hard-pressed to find one police blitz on an Occupy mobilization that could be described as “nonviolent,” but these words from Dr. King and T. S. Eliot (of all people!) still read as truthful, plausible, and, importantly, morally logical. They get to the heart of the fallacy of good cop/blue shirt versus bad cop/white shirt, as if the role that the police play is contingent on circumstance or even personality and not an oath to enforce civil and penal law by the power invested in them by authoritative owners of property.
Here is a letter by Dr. Rupa Marya, a doctor whose former patient Charles Hill was killed on the Civic Center platform by BART police over the Fourth-of-July weekend this year, just five months after the police killing of Oakland resident Oscar Grant. Her letter on why she joined the BART protests bears reading entirely, but here’s a brief takeaway:
Last month, I learned that one of my former patients Charles Hill was shot and killed by BART police. Per the police, he was armed with a bottle and a knife and had menacing behavior. Per eye witnesses, he was altered and appeared to be intoxicated but did not represent a lethal danger. I remember Charles vividly, having taken care of him several times in the revolving door which is the health care system for the people who do not fit neatly into society. Charles was a member of the invisible class of people in SF—mentally ill, homeless, and not reliably connected to the help he needed. While I had seen him agitated before and while I can’t speak to all of his behavior, I never would have described him as threatening in such a way as to warrant the use of deadly force. We often have to deal with agitated and sometimes even violent patients in the hospital. Through teamwork, tools, and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients in order to subdue them. I understand the police are there to protect us and react to the situation around them, but I wonder why the officer who shot Charles did not aim for the leg if he felt the need to use a gun, instead of his vital organs. I wonder if he possessed other training methods to subdue an agitated man with a knife or bottle.
I feel this situation quite deeply. It is hard to watch our civil servants (police) brutally handle a person and their body when i spend my time and energy as a civil servant (physician) honoring the dignity of that person, regardless of their race or social class, their beliefs or their affiliations. I know it is not my job—nor the police’s job—to mete out justice or judgment of a person’s worthiness. It is also hard because Charles has no voice, no one to speak for him now that he is gone. It would be easy to let this slide and move on with our busy lives, as we all struggle to make ends meet in this expensive city during a recession.
Through teamwork, tools and training, we have not had to fatally wound our patients in order to subdue them. Charles has no voice, no one to speak for him now that he is gone. Dr. Marya’s testimony to the practicalities of physicians’ Hippocratic oath—that they will practice medicine ethically and soundly—is revealing. A physician’s duty is to heal without doing harm, and that extends even to the most marginalized and vulnerable classes. She also speaks to police in a horizontal fashion, from one civil servant to another; it’s a perceptive move not because she is saying that police and doctors play the same role in society, but because the fractured bodies of persons in police custody take up a wholly different social meaning than they do in physicians’ care. Physicians may “serve and protect” (the universal police motto) but they cannot legally enact force on their patients as the police legally can (and do) on those they apprehend. This is a crucial distinction.