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Police as Commodity

Security for the One-Percent

by WILLEM de LINT

Over the past several years, but now with more intensity, domestic security measures are being mooted, planned, and carried out with a purposefulness that appears to take as a given that what is good for the 1% is good for the rest of us. Moreover, they appear to be developed with the eager cooperation of domestic policing and security actors and agents. What of this presumption? Do the mandates and interests of policing and security actors and agencies match up with those of a minute proportion (1%) of the polity?

In 1829 a new model of policing arose after industrialisation, urbanisation and when the arrival of a new merchant class required a recalibration from feudal to capital class relations. People were forced into close and sometimes unsanitary and “uncivil” contact. Tumult had been in the air. There were revolutionary class fractures. There were spectacular public order affrays. There were riots about food, taxes, sectarian discrimination.

Still, the view that it was desirable or possible to put things in order with raw military power or surveillance and disruption (following the French model) was untenable in a country that had come to value the rule of law. In ushering the new police through parliament, Sir Robert Peel said famously of the New Metropolitan London Police that “the police are the public and the public are the police.”

Is revolution is in the air again? The rumblings of revolt networked to the OWS are not connected directly to war, food shortages or taxes. They are tied to matters of distributive justice and the question of who may speak and whose voice may be heard in the halls of the major institutions of liberal democracy.

Judging by the anticipatory response, it would seem that steps are being taken in anticipation of a major conflagration in the homeland.

Which brings us back to the question of how policing and domestic security has been – and ought to be – understood as an institution of liberal governance. The Department of Homeland Security is both instance and measure of the feared eventuality of domestic insecurity. Relaxation on domestic spying by the NSA and CIA, and on COINTELPRO-like activities by the NYPD (in its extra-territorial spying activities, “mosque crawls”), and in the fusion site popping up throughout the country, suggest surveillance or national security state configurations eerily consistent with the French gendarmes so adamantly refused as a model for the modern police.

The grounding of these fusions in post-911 homegrown terrorism is also a basis that has allowed the deliberate erosion of rights and freedoms one target at a time. But doesn’t the argument that existential security and quotidian safety give the state and the individual inseparable interests require a referendum (of the 99%)?

What is on offer looks like a false flag behind which the true object is almost invisible. That object is the very possibility that the 99% will indeed perceive their interests in stark contradistinction to those of the 1%; that they will demand not only redistribution, but a new distributive measure or paradigm. It is this eventuality of a unified revolt of the masses that is being planned against. Its leaders or spokespersons listed. Its means of association countered.

And it is in this effort that we also return to the role of domestic policing and security. It has been the fatuous presumption of the 1% that police and security actors and agencies are in their pocket, paid for and paid off. Mayor Bloomberg is rightly portrayed as believing that the NYPD is a private army of himself and Wall Street. The presumption of those currently broker power in America (and the world) is “l’etat c’est moi”, that whatever the need, there can be no doubt as to the loyalties of men and women in blue – that is to say, black.

Is this how it will go? In all revolutionary moments – including the one the 1% appears to be planning on – there is a question as to where military, policing and security forces will place their bets. Most recently in the Arab Spring we saw this in the shifting allegiances of the Egyptian military. So what of policing and security actors who work for the people? Do they not, after all, subscribe to the belief that the distinction between the 99% and 1% is real and meaningful?

More fundamentally, will public police allow themselves to continue to be “played” by the military-finance-security complex of the 1%, despite how grossly such a fealty separates them from their true craft and those whose hard work in fact pays their salaries and provides them with a remnant of legitimacy. Is there discussion around the boardroom table of the largest public policing and security providers regarding the interests of those constituents that are in fact paying the piper? If not, it had better get up.

It might not be too bold to assert that another paradigm shift in social and economic relations is unfolding. As before, this will push status quo assumptions to the brink. No, I do not refer to the convenient distraction of a “terrorist threat.” On the contrary, the proper object concerns the assumptions upon which a trajectory of a future may still be possible. The economic ideology that has pushed us to the brink is the true threat to our security. A paradigm which depends both upon gross inequality and diminishing renewable resources is untenable. And we depend upon our police and security services to be of service as we cross a great chasm of unrest and seek a different grounding for a collective future.

True, the OWS movement has not stipulated those new grounds. A new bull awaits. The bell has not rung out. In the meantime, we know that movement, widespread and revolutionary social movement, is necessary and practical; this for a chance of a more firm security.

Willem de Lint is a Professor in Criminal Justice at Flinders Law School, Flinders University of South Australia.