The video of UC Davis police officer, Lt. John Pike, blithely spraying tear gas at non-violent students (as if it were not a toxic poison) should come as no surprise to the American people. The obvious truth is that the only way police know how to respond to anti-authoritarian conduct by citizens is to use escalating methods of violence: baton strikes, tear gas, tasers, and then guns, frequently followed by beatings being administered outside the purview of cameras.
The old adage: “if you’re a hammer, everything you see is a nail” never had a clearer application than as it applies to the conduct of America’s “finest.” The initial police response to non-violent conduct by activists in the Civil Rights Movement was the same – batons, attack dogs, and brutality. It was not until those responses proved to be unsuccessful, even counter-productive, that the segregationist South modified its response.
Rather than silencing dissent, police violence and abuse frequently provides the very spark that a docile, unfocused movement needs to grow and develop consciousness. It is not that police officers are inherently cruel and violent (although there are many who are drawn to that profession as a vehicle for carrying out such fantasies), rather it is the fact that police are never taught alternatives to violence as methods of keeping the peace. In fact, many police departments employ combat soldiers, fresh from their apprenticeship in war zones, to “serve and protect” just as they learned how to do it in Afghanistan, Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and the other areas where Americans ply our trade.
Every parent in the country knows that violence and repression are the worst teachers in an individual’s arsenal. While many parents believe it is occasionally acceptable to spank a naughty child in order to teach it a lesson, none with an ounce of intelligence and sanity, would administer violent beatings on a regular basis. Indeed, if a parent were to inflict constant physical abuse upon a child, he would be immediately relieved of his or her parental responsibilities.
So why is it that when police departments, foreign mercenaries, Pentagon bureaucrats and others involved in America’s repressive bureaucracies resort to violence as their first and only method of mass control, the society sits idly by, and accepts the conduct as inevitable?
One would expect that the police and prosecuting agencies of the country would be the first to develop alternative, nurturing solutions to social challenges. Yet the opposite is true. District Attorneys are the first to cry foul if non-violent inmates are to be released from outrageously long prison sentences. Police spend half of their time warning the public about how dangerous living in America can be, and the other half of the time beating on people and sending them to prison.
This country imprisons a greater percent of its population than any “democratic” country on earth — 5 times more of our population than any country in Europe.
That the politics of fear and threats of violence are perpetuated by police and military agencies that profit from repression should come as no surprise. That the American people would condone these lies by tolerating police brutality in our communities, is simply shocking. One would expect that the American public would be the first to intervene in situations of unwarranted violence and abuse; yet we tolerate levels of imprisonment and state-sanctioned violence that most people of the world would rise up against.
There have always been those who benefit from a police state. The notorious capitalist robber baron, Jay Gould, proudly proclaimed that he “could hire one-half of the working class to kill the other half.” The economics of the military-industrial complex provide the most recent stunning example of this phenomenon. We are spending over half of the American economy fighting nations that pose no threat to anyone but themselves.
There is a price to be paid by allowing a police state to flourish unabated. The image of Lt. Pike arrogantly assaulting the seated students at their peaceful demonstration is a chilling image akin to similar scenes in Pinochet’s Chile or apartheid South Africa. A docile population can easily find itself more threatened and endangered by uncontrolled state domination than a society that relies upon the citizenry itself to protect its rights.
The Occupy Movement, the non-violent demonstration at Davis, and the civil disobedience that is becoming part and parcel of this unequal society are a result of social problems that will be resolved through dialogue, disagreement and struggle. Police violence will only exacerbate the problems that are festering in this country. It is part of the problem, not a solution.