“Don’t fear the axe said the tree, the handle is one of us!” Turkish Proverb.
The grotesque public beating of Tyre Nichols on the streets of his hometown of Memphis, taunted by the police who murder him as he lay dying, should animate us as much as the police murder of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini in Iran last year.
That the veneer of ‘social peace’ in capitalist democracies is only skin deep is shockingly exposed in this modern ‘lynching’ of a black man from the south by other black men. This tragically all too familiar event transcends the usual cultural and institutional racism of the police to the nature of policing itself.
These ‘workers in uniform’ as some on the ‘left’ would have it. are not the arbiters but enforcers of capitalist discipline and control, ultimately by any means necessary as countless assaults on prisoners, rioters, demonstrators and dissenters through generations testify.
Since there have been privileged elites with power to enforce and property to defend, there has been a concept of policing going back to Egypt, China, Babylonia, Persia et al. Historically it has been in the form of rewards and bounties for the franchised-out capture and killing to protect the status quo.
The first centralised uniformed police of the modern era was established under Louis XIV in Paris 1667. In the southern states of the USA, they emerged from the Slave Patrols recapturing runaway “property”.
Today they are international capitalisms first physical line of defence in whatever form that system takes across the globe. From neutral Switzerland to warring Ukraine, from pacific superpower China to pacific islands Fiji, they are the franchised bounty hunters of the state.
In the West we somehow imagine this as a vice of non-democracies, looking at Iran for example, where deaths in custody are frequent and at least 500 have been killed since the current wave of protests began. We are thus lulled and fooled into keeping our eyes off our own state’s affairs, but in reality, the figures of brutality speak for themselves.
From the US, some names we know: Eric Garner, George Floyd and now Tyre Nichols. Barely a glint of the tip of an iceberg that sees around 1200 killed after police contact there each year. That’s one person (predominately people who are black or poor) ever 7 hours. Survivors like Rodney King multiply the evidence of that violence exponentially.
‘Only in America’ we like to think but here we have our names too like Mark Duggan or Chris Kaba, who’s enquiry into “potential homicide” according to the Independent Police Office for Conduct, was put on hold in November. The IOPC itself investigates on average around 200 deaths a year following police contact or custody, numerically proportionate to the USA.
In addition, the Metropolitan Police alone Is reviewing 1071 serious and sometimes multiple allegations against serving officers for violent and sexual offence against women and children. Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley emphasised the problem was bigger than “a few bad apples” adding that they “..haven’t applied the same sense of ruthlessness…that routinely apply to confronting criminals”. In a force of 45,000, that is roughly 2.5%.
Before such revelations we already had some appalling examples in the arrest of PC Hussain Chehab for child sex abuse following the kidnap and murder of Sarah Everard by PC Wayne Cousens and the recent conviction of PC David Carrick for a dozen cases of rape and false imprisonment.
While the media fabricate a threat to us from trans people, it’s clear to us that women are far more in danger from predatory men joining their local police force than a trans person seeking a gender recognition certificate!
The detail however blurs the principle. The police have one objective role, Policing! It speaks for itself: ultimately to control through the contrivance of consent, or brutalisation if necessary, those not in possession of power and wealth. This we will see manifest more blatantly as our current wave of resistance to austerity grows in strength and confidence. Our view is as the internationalist writer and fighter George Orwell put it:
“When I see an actual flesh-and-blood worker in conflict with his natural enemy, the policeman, I do not have to ask myself which side I am on.”