The impossibility of defending police terror

The first comment anyone contributed to this blog is a useful demonstration of the poverty of imagination in our public conversation. I had suggested that police on horses terrified quivering civilians.

Are these the same ‘quivering civilians’ that broke that police woman’s arm? Or the ones that decimated a police van? The police were keeping a distance until the vandalism started, weren’t they? And I have to say that I’m not surprised that they were a little more heavy-handed, given what happened at Millbank two weeks ago.

It is always false and dangerous to generalize in such a way that the character of an individual is taken as the fundamental nature of a group. Not all Americans are idiots just because Sarah Palin is, not all Australians megalomaniac just because Rupert Murdoch is, and so on. Generalizations of this sort underpin the worst forms of human prejudice such as racism or homophobia. I’ve no idea whether a civilian broke a policewoman’s arm, but if this is so it does not mean that all protestors are dreaming of a moment when they can maim the police.

Nobody destroyed one tenth of (decimated) a police van, and as video evidence recently released by nice Mr Murdoch’s Sky News demonstrates, the police claim that the planted van was abandoned because officers felt vulnerable is a lie. The protesters (rather few) are seen holding placards while police calmly set up their bait.

Bait van

It is depressing that people are so willing to defend such actions as the police habitually take against the public. Note that the police themselves do not defend these actions: they simply deny that they took place, and this flat denial confirms the horrific nature of their actions. If these actions were proportionate and defensible, the police would confess to every action  (including entrapment with the van) and would defend them.

The public discourse of the police about these incidents is, structurally, liberal. Since they pay lip-service to liberality, they do not – cannot on liberal grounds – condone their own violence; they simply disavow it. Perhaps they even truly believe themselves to be liberal defenders of a liberal polity. But their public pronouncements are an attempt to humanize the barbarity of their actions, a veneer of civility covering a monstrous core – in form, though not in enormity, equivalent to the ‘humanizing’ detail that extermination camp guards listened to string quartets with friends in the evening. Are the police not telling lies publicly about themselves in order to cope psychologically with the terror that is their main operational tool?

Note the essential difference, by the way, between protestors who might graffiti and smash the odd thing while being mouthy to the police, and the use of horses, batons, and coordinated kettling manoeuvres by the authorities. The protestors’ main weapon is argument, albeit expressed in short chants; even if the protestors’ main weapon were the destruction of property, which it is not, this would not constitute terror. The weapons and the large animals are, however, instruments of terror. The techniques of the police are, strictly speaking, based on the principle of terrorizing civilians into obedience, irrespective of the calmness of the civilians in question. Nothing can be done about this, as I suggested in my last post. This brutality is the repressed basis that we know very well is the structural support of our public politics but choose, mostly – until moments such as this – to ignore. It is the iron fist that keeps our system of government (much more than individual governments) in place. The challenge for the Left is to conceive of a way of dealing with the inevitability of this two-sided state violence.

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