The police are not on our side
The reality is, argues Liam Byrne in Socialist Alternative, and just a few days before the cops brutally attacked Occupy Melbourne to prove his point, that police forces around the world help perpetuate the greatest crime possible: maintaining the murderous system of capitalism.
As the worldwide occupation movement grows protesters may be surprised at the large number of police who are on duty at the demonstrations. When there are so many corporate criminals walking around surely the police have more important things to do than to intimidate protesters and to steal their tents, as they have done at the Occupy Sydney event.
Contrary to popular misconceptions spread by the media, endless TV cop shows, and every other facet of the establishment, the police do not exist as vital independent safeguards of the law. Rather than crime-fighting heroes who deserve our respect, the reality is that police forces around the world help perpetuate the greatest crime possible: maintaining the murderous system of capitalism.
Alternative media group
The police force is part of the capitalist state, the set of institutions that exist to govern our lives and to enforce the rule of the rich and powerful over the rest of us. Alongside the courts, the parliaments, the military etc, the police exist to serve those who run our society.
This is important to understand in the context of the current economic crisis, and the growing resistance movements to austerity capitalism. In times where the capitalists cannot trust stability and order to be guaranteed through their ideological systems of control they require more obvious forms of coercion to cement their rule. Always in times of crisis and insecurity the police have been relied upon to defend the property and wealth of the ruling class.
The current period has thrown up plenty of examples. The Occupy Wall Street movement has frequently had to deal with police violence. Participants in the movement have reported how, on a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, police herded them onto the road just so they could arrest hundreds of peaceful protesters. Arbitrary arrests, capsicum sprayings and beatings are routine experiences at the hands of the police.
Such acts of violence came as a surprise to sections of protesters. At the Brooklyn Bridge march some activists implored the police to join the demonstration, stating that they too were “part of the 99 percent”, chanting “Join us, you’re one of us!”
The history of the police force has always been one of enforcing the laws created for the ruling elite to maintain their control. The hypocrisy of such institutions is stark in the world today. The bankers and politicians who have engineered the destruction of whole economies and millions of people’s lives are free to roam society without charge or fear of official hindrance. Yet even in Australia police attention is vehemently turned against those who protest for a better world.
In mid-October in Western Australia the police arrested two left wing activists who were planning a demonstration at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting. In Victoria this year, the police carried out mass arrests of human rights activists who were campaigning against a company with links to the apartheid state of Israel.
The entire history of police forces has followed the same pattern. The first police force in the world was the Metropolitan Police in London, formed in 1829. It was formed in the context of an increase in working class agitation against the devastating impact of grinding poverty that most workers faced. Before too long they were employed to smash up demonstrations of the Chartist movement and to intimidate the developing trade union movement.
As the economic crisis deepens we will see more and more instances of the police attacking protests and cracking down on civil liberties. This should come as no surprise, as far from belonging to the metaphorical 99 percent the police are very much part of the capitalist establishment.
In a world that is not held to ransom by corporate interests and the avarice of the ruling elite there would be no need for such coercive bodies entrusted with maintaining the economic rule of the minority. And in the struggle to realise such a world we must judge our friends and enemies by which side they take.
The police demonstrate the side they take with every truncheon blow against protesters from New York to Athens.
And, I (JP) would add, now to Melbourne too. And as a further postscript, with the 5 am attack on Occupy Sydney on Sunday morning, using Clover Moore’s by-laws, we now can add Sydney with its 40 arrests and injuries to the examples of police brutality in protecting the one percent against any protests.