Officer not-at-all-friendly

November 2, 2011

Sure, the police are just doing their job, says Danny Katch--and that's the problem.

MAYBE THE horrifying attack on Iraq vet Scott Olsen and the rest of Occupy Oakland will finally settle the debate inside the movement about whether or not the police are on our side. Up until now, some protesters have been determined to maintain sympathy for the cops despite the near-constant harassment of many encampments.

According to this argument, it's not the cops' fault that they attack us because it's their job, and we shouldn't hate on them because they're a part of the 99 percent. Consider this the "Village People" thesis: a police officer is simply another guy who works in a uniform--like a cowboy or a construction worker or a leather-clad biker.

I don't follow. Many of the people in the 1 percent are merely doing their jobs, too--laying off workers, buying politicians, sending off soldiers to kill and die, etc. Aren't we allowed to dislike them?

Nobody is saying we should needlessly provoke the police. The Occupy movement as a whole has wisely employed the tactic of non-violence, which has exposed the violence of the police every time they try to crack down on the movement.

Oakland police on a rampage against Occupy protesters
Oakland police on a rampage against Occupy protesters

We are all familiar with non-violent resistance from the civil rights movement. It's worth noting that Martin Luther King, for all the compassion in his heart, wrote of the police as "hate-filled" and brutal in his brilliant "Letter From a Birmingham Jail." When Dr. King and others sang "We Shall Overcome," they didn't turn to the infamous Sheriff "Bull" Connor and say, "And you shall, too!"

Sure, those were different times. But not when it comes to the police, who actually search, arrest, jail and abuse Black and brown people at far higher rates today. Which means that when the person arguing for the cops happens to be white, as is often the case, what they consider to be open-mindedness is probably just ignorance.

Look, I think white people are great--especially me. Our people have contributed many things to the world--from French cuisine to Norse mythology. Some people even think that Jesus Christ was white. But in a racist and segregated society, there is usually an inverse relationship between how well a group performs on standardized tests and how much it actually knows about the world.

A QUICK story: One of the first protests I ever went to was a rally against police brutality. I excitedly passed out flyers and started political conversations, including with a few cops in the back. I was rather pleased with myself for coming up with this seemingly new idea--certainly nobody else at the protest was trying it.

When someone later tried educating me about the role of police in society, I dismissed most of his arguments as abstract theory. Abstract, at least to a middle-class suburban kid whose only beefs with the cops came when they broke up our high school keg parties (making no arrests, of course.)

But when he asked me to picture myself chilling with the cops through the eyes of someone at the rally who was harassed by them every day, I knew I was nailed.

So I'll ask the same question now to all those chanting and blogging about the police being part of the 99 percent. When you chant and blog support for the cops, when you publicly speculate that maybe deep down the cops really like you, how does that make you appear to your darker-skinned comrades in the movement who have no doubts about how the police feel about them?

Of course, this debate doesn't simply boil down to a person's race or direct experience with the police. There are protesters of all colors and shades who are talking about the police being a part of the 99 percent. It's part of a larger belief that our side will win because we're growing, and we're growing because we're right.

This is the confidence of a new movement on the rise, and in most ways, it's awesome. There's an aspect of it that's terribly naïve as well. But police across the country are working overtime to beat that part out of us.

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