Crimethinc and the Police-Free Zone: Burn a Cop, But Be Polite About It
When taking my kids on a walk up to the campus of the Ohio State University last week, I spotted this sticker placed on a flagpole. The small text reads “trust, respect, and communication are essential to healthy community; protect your friends and neighbors from uniformed gang members and other suspicious characters.”
Now that’s cheeky, and I appreciate a bit of cheek. The message served its purpose, being provocative enough to draw my attention and yet being vague enough to pique my curiosity: at home I typed in the URL at the bottom of that sticker to find out what this “Police Not Welcome” business was all about.
At “crimethinc” I found a pretty hefty split. The web page to which I was first sent is a theoretical polemic, criticizing criticism of criticism against police. Does that sound labyrinthine? Well, it really isn’t. The conclusion of the “crimethinc” web page here is to “Fuck the Police” or, in more practical terms, to engage in “militant resistance against police oppression”:
Anything that demoralizes police officers and delegitimizes their authority, thus encouraging them to quit their posts, is in their best interest as well as the interest of their loved ones and society at large.
Indeed, “crimethinc” concludes, sometimes it is necessary to engage in violence against police in order to free everyone from the yoke of The Man:
The point is that, in purely pragmatic terms, in order that others not have to suffer, it may be necessary to interrupt, by militant and confrontational means, the injustices perpetrated by police officers. It can be empowering for those who have spent their lives under the heel of oppression to contemplate finally settling the score with their oppressors; however, a real liberation struggle does not focus on exacting revenge, but rather on solving problems so that all might have better lives. Therefore, while it may even sometimes be necessary to set police on fire, this should not be done out of a spirit of vengeful self-righteousness, but from a place of careful thought and compassion—if not for the police themselves, then for all those who would otherwise suffer at their hands.
One could make the argument that encouraging people to struggle against the police does more to publicize disapproval of them than to cause actual assaults. One could even argue that it thereby does a service not only for those who suffer police oppression, but also for the families of police officers and even for the officers themselves…
Got that? When the police commit violence, it’s “oppression.” If these anarchists decide to commit violence, it’ll be “liberation.” But wait, there’s more where that came from. See, according to Crimethinc perhaps the most dangerous idea of all is the idea that police do something useful:
The fourth and most despicable argument is that we need police. According to this line of thinking, even if we can aspire to live in a society without police in the distant future, we need them today, for people are not ready to live with each other in peace without armed enforcers. As if the social imbalances and submissiveness maintained by the violence of the police are peace! … those who argue that the police sometimes do good things bear the burden of proving that those same good things could not be accomplished at least as well by other means.
That last clause is crimethinc’s acknowledgment that it has no idea how to accomplish many of the tasks of policing without police. When Father Joseph sexually assaults his young charges, when people are attacked with guns and knives, when people high on drugs and alcohol terrorize a neighborhood, rational discourse regarding submission to state power and value systems that support the prevailing hierarchy doesn’t cut it. How are these outrages — the sort of which have taken place in every society in recorded history — to be responded to?
Crimethinc’s response, that defenders of the status quo should somehow prove something else won’t work, is cute from the theoretical point of view of a group that refuses to define itself outside of its own navel but impractical from the point of view of those who must respond, in some way, to the assaults of people upon people right now, tonight. Policing is a practical solution that in some ways leads to real, observable problems but in other ways leads to real, observable solutions. The presence of police reduces real criminal activity in an observable way. What, besides “fucking the police,” does crimethinc suggest as an alternative means to reduce the violence of people against people? My search of crimethinc.com on this count leads to… nothing of the sort, at least that I can find, only declarations of the sort that:
There is nothing in this world currently deserving of the name peace. Rather, it is a question of whose violence frightens us most, and on whose side we will stand.
So no, crimethinc.com has seemingly no idea of how to solve this problem and seemingly no interest in it, which is, I guess, what makes the argument that we need police so “despicable.” There’s nothing more despicable than someone asking you what you’d do with the violent drunkard down the hall.
The top half of crimethinc’s piece on the police — “Why Fuck the Police” — is a pretty doughy mass of thinc, one that selectively engages with observable reality. The bottom half — “How to Fuck With the Police“ — is a practical description of tactics for dealing with the undeniable corruption and violence of the police system. In its sensible, empirical orientation, it shoves aside militant poses and hypothetical declarations of officer immolation. Those are apparently for entertainment purposes. In practical terms, here’s crimethinc’s program for “How to Fuck With the Police”:
1. Educate yourself about the rights of people under the law;
2. Inform others about their rights under the law;
3. Observe police in their activities and record evidence of misconduct;
4. Use the media to spread information about police violations of people’s rights and lawyers to file suits, creating a cost to the police for abusive behavior;
5. In so doing, be sure to obey the letter of the law so that your work is not undermined.
Like any institution that concentrates and uses power, the police bear watching, and so this “CopWatch” activity is of vital civic importance. Take away the defiant hypothetical references to violence and pay attention to what the copwatchers actually recommend doing and you’ve got an ACLU auxiliary, minus the suits, plus black t-shirts and a snarl. I’d rather put up with the posing than have nobody out there watching the watchers. I’ll put what you say to one side, crimethinc. Thanks for what you do.