Butler, Althusser: Why some turn when cops call/ repressive appartatus of the state

Charles Brown CharlesB at CNCL.ci.detroit.mi.us
Thu Mar 11 07:32:02 PST 1999

There are the Keystone Cops and the Baywatch guards. Then there are what Carrol Cox calls the death squads. There is hegemony and headbusting. There are the mindcontrol networks and the prison industrial complex.

So, as Judith Butler says, "As a form of power, subjection is paradoxical". The paradox is between external and internal control of the working class subject. Police brutality as external control is a necessary and conscious ruling class strategy as the article below claims. This means that certain people in the power structure _know_, are fully conscious, that the police must systematically be brutal to protect private property, in the sense of capitalist ownership of the basic means of production.

The capitalist system also needs mass crime to rationalize the major role of the police as true protectors of the working class from criminalized persons, actual lumpen proletarians. Mass poverty and unemployment is functional to the bourgeoisie in creating mass criminality, which gives the cops their paradoxical, yet truly heroic and protective role.

As an institution, the police must be prepared to brutalize more than the average person to break economic strikes smaller class struggles; and on the other hand to protect they must be more brutal than even the most brutal criminal. For both reasons, willingness and training to brutalize is a necessary qualification for police officers. By being generally more willing to use force on people, it is expected that on average some sick brutalizers will be created in the police population.

Even more than the vast military -army, navy, air force- the police are necessary for the day-to-day, control of the working class masses. In this regard , the police mediate between Gramscian hegmonic function and the full force of the state in its warmaking army-navy-air force apparatus. Thus, the police are "overdetermined" on television as heroes and interesting characters, overrepresented compared to other occupations ( especiallly proletarians; none or extremely few proletarians as heroes and heroines on television). In fact , cops are made the proletarians of television. The objective anti-working class nature of the institution of the police is masked by exaggerating and falsely representing some minor working class dimensions of the cops.

The cops become by television, both an external AND INTERNAL form of control, both sides of Butler's subjection, thought the external remains predominant.

The persistence of police brutality is demonstrated by it as a cause of the creation of the Black Panther self-defense organization thirty years ago. More evidence of mass police brutality is in _We Charge Genocide_ (1951) by Attorney William L. Patterson, petition to the United Nations charging the U.S. with genocide against the Negro people, chronicling police brutality in the decades prior to 1951.

All Psychic Life of Power to the People,

Charles Brown


-------------------------------- Via Workers World News Service Reprinted from the Mar. 18, 1999 issue of Workers World newspaper --------------------------------


By Fred Goldstein

Protests over the case of Amadou Diallo have pushed the capitalist establishment in New York as well as nationally onto the defensive, at least temporarily, on the question of police brutality.

Diallo is the unarmed African immigrant gunned down in a hail of 41 bullets by an "elite" street unit of the New York Police Department. Having no possible explanation for what amounted to a death-squad-style assassination, the capitalist establishment is trying to distance itself from this atrocity while at the same time placating the masses with hints of sympathy, investigation and reform.

Such false expressions of sympathy flow strictly from fear of the people. They are totally hypocritical and designed to slow the movement by creating the impression that the establishment is concerned about racism and police brutality. But in truth, police brutality is not just a Giuliani policy; it is a universal ruling class policy that is momentarily out of control.

Human Rights Watch, a thoroughly bourgeois, pro-imperialist organization whose only desire is to strengthen the system, did a study of police brutality in 14 cities between 1995 and 1998 entitled, "Shielded from Justice: Police Brutality and Accountability in the United States."

HRW studied New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Detroit, Philadelphia, Boston, Atlanta, Providence, San Francisco, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Portland, New Orleans and Washington.

"Our investigation found that police brutality is persistent in all of these cities," said the study; "that systems to deal with abuse have had similar failings in all the cities; and that, in each city examined, complainants face enormous barriers in seeking administrative punishment or criminal prosecution of officers who have committed human rights violations. Despite claims to the contrary from city officials where abuses have become scandals in the media, efforts to make meaningful reforms have fallen short.

"Police abuse," continued the study, "remains one of the most serious and divisive human rights violations in the United States. The excessive use of force by police officers, including unjustified shootings, severe beatings, fatal chokings, and rough treatment, persists because overwhelming barriers to accountability make it possible for officers who commit human rights violations to escape due punishment and often to repeat their offenses. Police or public officials greet each new report of brutality with denials or explain that the act was an aberration, while the administrative and criminal systems that should deter these abuses by holding officers accountable instead virtually guarantee them impunity."

The study also shows the racist nature of police brutality in all the cities.

Human Rights Watch attributes the problem to lack of accountability. But it does not ask why this lack of accountability is universal and continuous throughout U.S. history.

The answer is simple: because the wealthy and powerful keep it that way.


New York and the Diallo murder are a case in point. The Diallo murder is just the latest incident in an unbroken history of brutality and racism by the New York police. Such incidents have increased under the regime of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. That should be no surprise to anyone--certainly not to the establishment that put him in and removed the first Black mayor in New York history, David Dinkins.

Giuliani got their support based upon his program of repression. All the wealthy bankers and brokers on Wall Street, as well as the real estate developers, the insurance companies, media corporations and other profiteers who collectively dominate the economy of New York knew this. All the publishers, radio and TV executives who covered his campaign knew it.

In short, Giuliani and his program of repression were the choice of the ruling class. Any shock expressed by them now is really shock at how this bunch of four street thugs could do something so murderous so openly, putting the whole system on the defensive.

After all, Giuliani, an ex-prosecutor who always curried favor with the Patrolmen's Benevolent Association, got into office largely on the basis of promoting the cops' right to perpetrate brutality--particularly against Black and Latino people.

The most publicized event leading up to Giuliani's election campaign for mayor was when he addressed a huge rally of off-duty police, many of them drunk, at City Hall. To the cheers, hisses and boos of the cops, Giuliani denounced Dinkins for being "soft on criminals" and "not letting the cops do their job."

The cops got so wild that they began to assault people in the street, including a Black City Council member on her way into City Hall. This disgusting display of solidarity with racist police brutality took place just a few blocks from Wall Street.


The ruling class knew full well that shortly before the 1993 election campaign Giuliani made a great cause out of denouncing Mayor David Dinkins for expressing his condolences to the family of Jos, "Kiko" Garcia. A Dominican youth, Garcia was executed in his hallway by a notoriously brutal cop whose trademark was beating up street drug dealers and then dropping guns next to his victims to cover his tracks.

Dinkins took the step of having the city pay for Garcia's body to be flown back to the Dominican Republic for burial. Of course, Dinkins took these measures to calm the community after several days and nights of rebellions in the Dominican community of Washington Heights.

Giuliani defended the cops and went on the offensive against Mayor Dinkins.

Prior to this Giuliani had denounced Dinkins and the first Black police commissioner, Lee Brown, for vacillation in crushing a rebellion of Black people in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. The rebellion flared after police failed to take quick action to save the life of a Black child, Gavin Cato, run over while a Hassidic procession drove through the Black community under police escort. The police instead concentrated on protecting the driver from the crowd that gathered.

During the rebellion a Hassidic man was killed. Giuliani seized on this and denounced Dinkins and Brown for trying to allow time for the rebellion to die down before sending in the occupation army of police in full force.

With the support of the PBA, Giuliani attacked the Dinkins-Brown policy of so-called "community policing."

As Black officials subject to the pressures of the African American community, Brown and Dinkins tried to institute procedures to build better relations between the police and the oppressed communities instead of relying exclusively on terror. As capitalist politicians, they wouldn't shrink from using police force and violence against the masses. However, it was an attempt to institute a hard-cop, soft-cop approach and put some limits on brutality to keep the community from exploding.

The PBA considered this "handcuffing" the cops. Giuliani basically let it be known that he was for the hard-cop approach all the way.

Another basis of the PBA support for Giuliani was his lukewarm attitude to the Mollen Commission. In 1992 Dinkins appointed the Mollen Commission to investigate corruption and brutality among the police. The cops in a number of precincts were caught selling drugs and beating up potential witnesses to keep them from talking.

The commission was one of many bodies appointed to air the stench, give time for the scandal to blow over, and create the impression that the ruling class was going to reform the police. Of course, nothing happened. The commission finally got around to issuing some toothless recommendations for oversight which were never implemented. And the cops went back to business as usual.

Thus, Giuliani was transparently racist and in favor of letting the police run rampant in the community. And Wall Street put him in office.

This follows the model of Philadelphia in the 1970s and 1980s, when the ruling class put the racist police commissioner Frank Rizzo in City Hall. Or the way the Los Angeles ruling class let Daryl Gates and his SWAT teams run the police department like the Gestapo, until the earthquake of the Rodney King rebellion finally put an end to his tenure. It's the way the ruling class of Chicago allowed torturers and frame-up artists to function freely in the police department there.

Vast wealth is pouring into the coffers of the rich in the United States while polarization grows between rich and poor. The U.S. ruling class increasingly finds itself a tiny minority surrounded by a sea of workers and oppressed people whose daily lives are under immense pressure from capitalist exploitation.

The role of the police is to intimidate and terrorize the masses while standing ready to put down any resistance. This requires a daily regime of brutality everywhere, from the smallest rural community to the largest capitalist metropolis.

In fact, NYPD officer Bernie Cawley, called "The Mechanic" for "tuning people up"--beating them--actually spoke the mind of the ruling class when he told the Mollen Commission, "We'd just beat people in general to show who was in charge."

The answer to this is not more toothless commissions, investigations and Band-Aids but mass resistance. The final answer is to get rid of this tiny rich group of capitalists behind it all.

- END -

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011)

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