On February 22nd, 2014 a CSU Monterey Bay police officer arrived at a student’s apartment because the student was supposedly trying to commit suicide.
Now that cop is likely going to be fired for not using excessive force; specifically, for not tasing the student. The details vary according to who recounts the story, and the whole thing has been complicated by a legal shitstorm between the CSUMB cop and their union on one side, and the city of Marina police department on the other. The CSUMB cop claims that the student had calmed down and posed no threat to anyone by the time the Marina cops showed up. The Marina cops claim that they had to restrain the student and that the CSUMB cop refused to help them. But what is generally agreed upon by everyone involved is that this CSUMB cop is being fired for NOT using more force against the student.
Now, this author has noticed a strange position taken by some people, including some who otherwise oppose oppression and illegitimate authority: that this cop should not be fired. The argument seems to be that firing this cop will encourage more aggressive actions by police, that it reinforces the violence of this already incredibly violent institution. But the inherent violence of the police should point to an opposing position on this issue. Yes, fire this cop! Fire all cops!
The police won’t be more or less likely to react aggressively if this cop is fired because the very purpose of the police is to maintain order with the threat or use of violence. It’s built into the fabric of police institutions and has been since the beginning. Police as we know them today formed to stop strikes and riots (primarily in the Northern U.S.) and to control slaves and capture any who escaped (in the South). So police forces were essentially formed to prevent rebellions of the poor, workers, and slaves. This class-based and racist orientation of policing is still the functioning logic of police today, as shown by the regular police killings of unarmed people of color from Ferguson to Salinas, as well as the daily intimidation and harassment by police of poor and working class communities in general.
The fact that this particular cop works at a university and seems to be “less violent” than typical cops does not excuse them in any way. Having worked at CSUMB for the past 8 years, this cop has undoubtedly helped kick students out of the dorms (and thus essentially kicked them out of school) for simply drinking and smoking pot on campus, considering that this seems to be the main function of the police at CSUMB. That this cop has never before been disciplined, as claimed by the cop’s union, means nothing. There is no such thing as a “good” or “bad” cop, anyway. If a cop is “good” then they are undoubtedly going to ruin people’s lives by arresting them and getting them caught up in the system of courts, jails, and prisons. If a cop is “bad” and uses their own judgment or reacts more harshly, then why would anyone want to entrust them with a badge and gun, even if you’re into that kind of thing? But this is all irrelevant because the actions of any specific cop don’t erase their complicity in the violence and control that is perpetuated by the police as a whole.
By controlling certain populations and maintaining the structures of exploitation and oppression in our society, the police are directly and indirectly responsible for much of the harmful behavior that some believe cops are supposed to protect us from. Most crimes that police actually enforce, such as drug and property-related crimes, don’t actually harm anyone, while many truly violent acts, such as sexual violence and queerbashing, are usually ignored by the police and courts, or worse. It is not uncommon for womyn, queer, and trans people to be arrested and imprisoned for daring to defend themselves against this violence. It is also not uncommon for cops to attack and even murder people who are distressed, suicidal, or otherwise acting erratically due to drug use or mental health issues, such as this student who the Marina cops ended up attacking.
But it is important to point out that this has not always been the case. Police as we know them have only existed for about 200 years, and even in the early history of the U.S. and other industrialized, capitalist societies they were not widespread. For most of human history police did not even exist. Of course, there have often been various types of town watch, militias, soldiers, etc. who perform some of the tasks that are now conducted by the police. But there have also been societies who developed entirely different methods to deal with social conflict other than using authoritarian violence, control, or punishment. What’s more, during certain periods of revolt throughout the world, existing police forces often disappear and people are able to keep each other safe and resolve internal conflicts without restoring any institution that resembles the police. Even in the United States today, there are many people experimenting with alternative methods such as restorative justice and accountability processes for people who have harmed others.
So it is entirely possible for human societies to exist without police. And if it is both possible and desirable, then why shouldn’t it be our starting point when considering our response and relationship to the police? Of course it is ridiculous to actually suggest that we “fire all cops,” because who would even fire them? The local, state, or federal governments who fund them and supply them with military gear and who rely on them to fulfill their functions? Obviously not. The institution of the police can only be abolished by destroying the society that needs police, courts, and prisons. And that is precisely what we intend to do.
Still, the appropriate response to this cop being fired for not tasing an already distressed student should not be “Don’t fire this cop”, but instead, “Fire all cops!”