The occupying-force mentality

The editors of The Nation are also disgusted at the police grandstanding and defiance of civilian rule.

Police-union leaders and their allies, however, chose this moment to talk not of peace but war. “The mayors hands are literally dripping with our blood because of his words actions and policies and we have, for the first time in a number of years, become a ‘wartime’ police department. We will act accordingly,” declared a now-infamous memo attributed to the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association.

The PBA disavowed the memo, but its president, Patrick Lynch, clearly relished its imagery, speaking of “blood on the hands” repeatedly to reporters. Joining this twisted chorus were, among others, former NYPD commissioner Ray Kelly and former governor George Pataki, who called the killings “a predictable outcome of divisive anti-cop rhetoric” of Eric Holder and Bill de Blasio.

Where to begin? If anyone’s words could have a dangerous “predictable outcome,” they are those of Lynch, Pataki, Kelly and others, whose inflammatory statements contradict the message they otherwise seek to send: that the police are not the enemy but serve to protect the public. Of course, this is not how New Yorkers of color have experienced policing in the era of stop-and-frisk, which Mayor de Blasio pledged to end. Indeed, Lynch may have provided a service of sorts in so clearly articulating the occupying-force mentality that the protesters have been denouncing all along.

Yes, there’s something to that. I for one hadn’t been paying any particular attention to the New York police until the grand jury ruling in the Garner case and then the fascist reaction detailed above. I didn’t know they saw themselves as an occupying force until then.

But, it would be better to have a police force that didn’t see itself as an occupying force. Awareness of the problem is second best to not having the problem at all.

Outrageous as it is to blame democratic protests for the singular act of a mentally ill individual, it’s also true that highly charged political debates sometimes attract unstable, paranoid and untreated minds. But Brinsley has more in common with Sydney hostage-taker Man Haron Monis, or schizophrenic abortion-clinic shooter John Salvi in 1994, than he does with peaceful protesters against police violence. If anything, this tragedy is a reminder of why the underlying issues in this debate are so urgent—why good policing is tied to gun control and a better mental-health safety net; and why a new contract between police and communities is necessary. For the protest movement, it’s both good policy and good politics right now to focus on specific demands: abandon “broken windows” policing, abolish arrest quotas[,] and push for independent prosecutors when abuses occur. Those are reforms that will help keep everyone safe.

The harsh reality is that the US favors inequality because it’s good for rich people. The fact that it creates whole neighborhoods of impoverished people with little to lose and a lot to resent is not the rich people’s problem.


  1. says

    Applying Peel’s principles would be a good start, although unlikely since the US seems quite happy to use military force in civilian settings whether via the National Guard or SWAT teams.

    “In the British model of policing, police officers are regarded as citizens in uniform. They exercise their powers to police their fellow citizens with the implicit consent of those fellow citizens. “Policing by consent” indicates that the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public is based upon a general consensus of support that follows from transparency about their powers, their integrity in exercising those powers and their accountability for doing so.”

    From Wikipedia, but an accurate statement of how it used to be here – sadly we are moving towards the US model.

    I like the last one – “To recognise always that the test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.”

  2. jonmoles says

    Well, militarizing the police is a great way to get around the Posse Comitatus Act, if one were so inclined. There are already exceptions to using military force, such as employing the National Guard, but for anyone who might think it beneath them to have to construct a pretext the obvious solution would be to transform the police into a de facto military. It’s never too early to plan for the inevitable consequences of global climate change and wealth disparity.

  3. says

    There is an underlying fascism in the US (as in many other places) — racists, theocrats, authoritarians — that is becoming increasingly acceptable to express. In Greece, fascists recently found people more accepting of their views and even entered parliament. This is a trend that few people are recognizing, and it’s exceedingly dangerous.

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