Babylon--”any place of great luxury, corruption or vice” (a standard dictionary’s definition).
Not Mark Twain, or Ring Lardner, or Hemingway or anyone else could write a more tragicomic scenario. The ideas of Keystone Cops, “The Three Stooges” and the “cops” or “fuzz” are rather old and trite. Certainly, American police are about as intelligent as the Three Stooges, though slightly less articulate, and the term “cops,” being derived from the copper badges the police formerly wore, is not derogatory enough. Neither are the contrived “Police Academy” movies critical enough--or, maybe not critical at all. You need a description as expansive as “rocks and bottles, rocks and bottles!” And one that shows how sensible Bobbies, gendarmes, and caribinieri are in comparison.
They are lawless in direct proportion to their mindless conformity, as brutal and trigger-happy as Billy the Kid, and they’re sticklers for the law beyond all bounds. The police are as bad as the “professional,” ideologically-vaunted FBI, whose late hero, now with his name on their building, was paranoid, petty and petulant. The FBI and local police have a political function, as shown by Abscam and Republic Steel, South Chicago, May 30, 1937. Haymarket, Carnegie Steel and the Palmer Raids are further reminders that the U.S. does have political police.
The police forces are the “proud ones” who vigilantly and wrecklessly “serve and protect” private property interests. You would not give a fiddler’s flatus for their academy and community college education; they are undereducated or uneducated--though occasionally literate--and claim no need of an intellect. Rather than taming riots, for example, they periodically riot themselves, and apply thick the traffic tickets and tear gas, pepper spray, mace, vicious dogs, night clubs, and lead. At Chicago in the summer of ‘68, the police displayed their arts, clubbing and gassing men and women alike. Now, in the wake of school shootings and September 11, the order to “beef up security” spreads side-by-side with suspicion.
The numerous divisions, departments and levels of the police go far beyond the local-state-federal distinction; you would be very mistaken to identify American police as FBI, federal, highway patrol, state, police department, local. The federal government has a multiplicity of formal police agencies whose authority overlap in a chaotic manner. There is the Secret Service, ATF, the military police (MP’s), the National Guard, INS agents, the CIA (an agency which, according to the Security Act of 1947, which created it, is not supposed to, but does, “operate” domestically), the National Security Agency, the National Reconnaissance Office (a satellite-surveillance agency which dates from about 1970 and whose official existence at first was officially denied), and the miscellaneous security personnel employed by the National Park Service, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Postal Inspection Service, the Department of Agriculture, the Treasury Department, and so forth.
On the state level are the highway patrol, an occasional police department like the KBI of Kansas, and numerous police arms--just as with the federal government--to go along with the many state government agencies.
In their bewilderment, the police cannot discriminate between mere deviance and formal crime; the former, in their eyes, looks very much like the latter. Nevertheless, fortified with blanket authority, crude stereotypes and the anger of working a dangerous job (where anyone pulled over on the road may harbor a weapon), the police sally forth in fits and starts to capture, by hook or by crook, the “bad guys”; and if they only succeed in handing out a few tickets, they’re still the proud ones, as the fines, court costs, lawyer’s fee and penalties for tardiness can wipe out the entire week’s earnings of a menial worker. On the other hand, the police are underpaid, useful in certain emergencies, deterrents to drunken drivers and in general are pledged to be the “good guys” of the community--officiously so, however.
In keeping “law and order” in a violent class society of deviance, the police have been granted complete control on the streets. As one person stated, “they think they own the whole world!” The American people excuse police excesses as somehow necessary, especially given the “crime rate,” but having granted them too much authority--or having allowed a governing class to do so--they opened the door, for lo these many years, atleast since the Civil War, to denial by police of the very rights they are supposed to protect.
John Fleming is the author of The War of All Against All.
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