Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Police-State Violence

I have been keeping a relatively close watch upon not only both 2008 national conventions – the DNC as well as the RNC – but the protests against them and the police provocation of and reaction to the protests also. There are many people who appear shocked and outraged that the state police trapped by way of encircling a peaceful march and protest in Denver for several hours, kicking the media out of the area and then, after hours, illegally arrested after unnecessarily provocative aggression, hundreds of peaceful protesters on willfully fraudulent charges. There are just as many people – as is evident by the number of hits the video documented evidence has garnered online – outraged over the case of a high-profile example of police violence in New York when a police officer standing in the middle of the street decided to disrupt a peaceful biking protest by walking over towards an oncoming biker and body checking him onto the sidewalk and subsequently charging the biker with assault on a police officer among other fraudulent offenses.
These instances can only come as a surprise to those who have not fully reviewed the history of power relations not only in America, but globally all throughout history. It is simply a truism that where a state power exists, so too exists state enforcement mechanisms, i.e., state police, national guard, military power, economic concentration and so on, and it is equally true that state powers exist so as to ensure and protect the power of the state and its operators and interests (in the case of America, to protect the “minority of the opulent” against the “rabble masses” as James Madison so bluntly phrased it at the Constitutional Convention; in effect to protect the status quo class structure of domination).
This has historically been the case, whether with regards to nobles and serfs, or CEO’s and workers; the hierarchy has existed for centuries. Niccolo Machiavelli wrote in The Discourses: “In every republic there are two different dispositions, that of the populace and that of the upper class…all legislation favorable to liberty is brought about by the clash between them,” his observation, put into writing in the sixteenth century, remains true to this very day. It was later observed rather eloquently in the Communist Manifesto that “[t]he history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles. Free man and slave, patrician and plebeian, lord and serf, guild master and journeyman, in a word, oppressor and oppressed, stood in constant opposition to one another, carried on an uninterrupted, now hidden, now open fight, a fight that each time ended either in a revolutionary reconstitution of society at large or in the common ruin of the contending classes.”
The fantasy that state police exist primarily so as to protect the public would be hilarious if the opposite were not so violently the case. America’s labor history reveals the extent to which the state police will beat and murder in the interests of those in power. The thirties are replete with Pinkerton’s beating and killing workers attempting to unionize their workplaces and obtain living wages; cracking skulls with batons, shooting people in cold blood.
In Subterranean Fire Sharon Smith describes the Ludlow Massacre as illustrating “the level of wanton violence corporations inflicted upon striking workers in this era. On the morning of April 20, 1914, the private army of John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company, along with state troops, opened fire upon striking mining families sleeping inside their tent colony. The minors fired back for hours, but eventually ran out of ammunition. The guards then went on the rampage, drenching the tents with oil and setting them on fire, beating and shooting the now unarmed miners while smashing up their personal belongings. Thirteen women and children burned to death, and three strikers were executed on the spot. The strike did not end there – rather, it turned into an all-out war. The UMWA, the Colorado Federation of Labor, and the Western Federation of Minors issued a joint call for their members to take up arms, distributing weapons and ammunition. On April 28, the minors defeated both state and private troops. President Wilson responded by sending the U.S. Army to occupy the region, which they did until delegates to a UMWA conference finally surrendered in December, after more than a year on strike.” America’s labor history, as well as most of the world’s also, is replete with just this sort of murderous hostility of the state and major centers of power (corporations and so forth, for instance: John D. Rockefeller’s Colorado Fuel & Iron Company) towards the working class and social progress.
That the state powers would behave in such a capacity was already taken as a matter of fact by the more observant, Machiavelli (previously cited) and, as I like to quote (due to its precision), Rudolf Rocker’s observation in Anarcho-Syndicalism that: “As long as within society a possessing and a non-possessing group of human beings face one another in enmity, the state will be indispensable to the possessing minority for the protection of its privileges.”
There is also the long and bloody history of the systematic campaign of genocidal oppression of the Native American Indians - being sent on order of President Jackson, for instance, on a murderous expulsion along the “trail of tears” - the institution of slavery, the hatred of racism and the far-reaching consequences of both, the subjugation of women, the oppression of gay people and so on. In all of these cases, the state reflected the interests of the minority elite (corporations, highly concentrated centers of capital and so on) who supported the status quo class, race and sex relations. It was only through major and sustained popular social protests and movements that the state and corporate sectors were forced to concede civil rights.
There is then the violent history of COINTELPRO and various other secret state sponsored programs of subversion and terrorism. J. Edgar Hoover (a rabid racist) “rose to national prominence when he was appointed chief of the General Intelligence (anti-radical) division of the Justice Department in 1919, shortly before the notorious ‘Palmer raids,’ in which some 4,000 alleged radicals were rounded up in 33 cities in 23 states…” Noam Chomsky writes. “The ‘Red Scare’ served to control labor militancy, dismantle radical parties, frighten liberals, and buttress an interventionist foreign policy. Hoover’s FBI undertook the very same tasks, and has conducted them with considerable success.”
COINTELPRO was responsible for the deaths and detainments of countless radicals, union leaders, civil rights leaders and so on. An infamous example of the murderous capacity of COINTELPRO is the violent assassination of the Chicago Black Panther, Fred Hampton who was shot in his head with a shotgun as he lay asleep or otherwise incapacitated in his bed. As Chomsky writes: “…Fred Hampton, who, along with Mark Clark, was murdered in a pre-dawn Gestapo-style police raid – the phrase is accurate – in December 1969, with the complicity of the FBI, which had turned over to the police a floor plan of his apartment supplied by an FBI provocateur who was chief of Panther security. The floor plan no doubt explains the remarkable accuracy of police gunfire, noted by reporters. Hampton was killed in bed, possibly drugged; according to eyewitnesses, murdered in cold blood.”
This is but one example of the extent of COINTELPRO’s operations. Chomsky goes on to write that “[t]he record, which is by now extensive, demonstrates that the FBI was committed to attacking the civil rights movement, blocking legal electoral politics, undermining the universities and cultural groups (e.g., the largest black cultural center in the West, in the Watts ghetto), and disrupting political activities of which it disapproved by any means required, including the extensive use of provocateurs, arson, bombings, robbery and murder.”
COINTELPRO also relied upon illegally obtained information through spying and other unjust means of coercion (break-ins, beatings, etcetera), reminiscent of the Bush Administrations warrantless wiretapping and the recently exposed Maryland State Police’s illegal, undercover spying operation of Peace and Anti-Death Penalty Groups.
There is also the history of the 1968 Democratic Convention, the protests against it and the ensuing police violence and riots. With the continued, unpopular war in Vietnam, the military draft, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. and general state violence and corruption, there was massive popular opposition to the Democratic party. This was made manifest most explicitly through the protests of the Democratic Convention in Chicago. Many were wary of having protests in Chicago (such as SDS organizers), considering that then-Mayer Richard J. Daley “called on police to ‘shoot to kill’ rioters following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. in April,” as Issue 60 of the ISR quotes.
The ISR then puts the following question to Wayne Heimbach (a former SDS organizer and witness to the events): “The violence at the Democratic Convention has been historically referred to as a ‘police riot.’ What do you think of this?” Wayne responds by saying that “[t]he police were a disciplined force in Chicago. If they were told to do something, they did it. If they were told not to, they didn’t. This is not to suggest that they weren’t excessive, it’s rather to suggest they were told to be very forceful in their work…The police were quite efficient in moving in formation to force protesters from different sections of a neighborhood into smaller and more controllable areas. Riot implies they were somehow out of control. Generally that was not true. Even when they were particularly violent – like when they targeted protesters who had already been bandaged – you felt it was part of a larger plan…”
Wayne makes visible, by reference to physical events, a crucial point. It’s not that the state police are rioting and completely out of control, they are almost methodically doing just what they were instructed to do: to provoke, disrupt and dismantle, by any means required. In most instances wherein there is on display state-violence against the state’s own population, the state is not protecting you, “it’s population” (a terrible phrase, clearly derived straight out of the lexicon of totalitarianism, due to the inherent implication that a population is the property of the state), it is protecting itself, it’s affiliates (CEO’s., state representatives and so on) and its power from people like you, it’s own population.
There’s a term for a state which relies upon the subversion, disruption and repression through violence of state police, military and generally armed forces to repress mass social movements disliked by those in power, it’s called a “police-state.” Which, when the peaceful Denver protestors began to be encircled by riot police in full gear who were closing in on them and about to become violently aggressive, they pointed out by rhetorically chanting “What does a police-state look like? This is what a police-state looks like.”