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Gangs of the State: Police and the Hierarchy of Violence — Cop Worship and the Criminalization of Blackness

Photo by 888bailbond.
Photo by 888bailbond.
By Frank Castro
Hierarchy of Violence: A system of oppression in which those with power, existing above those without, enact and enforce a monopoly of violence upon those lower on the hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is normal and is accepted as the order of things. When violence is attempted by those lower on the hierarchy upon those higher, it is met with swift and brutal repression.

December 15th, after the killings of Officers Liu and Ramos of the NYPD, New York City mayor Bill de Blasio tweeted "When police officers are murdered, it tears at the foundation of our society. This heinous attack was an attack on our entire city." On July 18th, the day after Eric Garner, a longtime New Yorker and father of six, was choked to death by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo, the mayor of of the Big Apple had only this to say: "On behalf of all New Yorkers, I extend my deepest condolences to the family of Eric Garner."

In his condolences there was no mention of a "heinous attack" against the actual people of New York City. There was no mention of the "tearing at the foundation of our society" either. Still further, in the case for the police officers, de Blasio went as far as to use the word "murdered" long before a shred of evidence was provided. Yet in the face of video footage (that pesky thing called evidence) of Eric Garner's actual murder at the literal hands of an NYPD officer, de Blasio showed no "outrage", only platitudinous sentiment.

Such reactions are typical, but there is nothing shocking about them when we understand that our society operates on a clearly defined, yet often unarticulated, hierarchy of violence, and that the function of politicians and police is to normalize and enforce that violence. Thus, as an institution, police act as state-sanctioned gangs charged with the task of upholding the violent, racist hierarchy of white supremacist capitalism and, whenever possible, furthering a monopoly of power where all violence from/by those higher on the hierarchy upon those lower can be normalized into business as usual.

Any deviation from this business as usual, any resistance - the threat of force displayed in massive protests after Garner's death, or any displacement of state power whatsoever - by those lower on the hierarchy upon those higher is met with brutal repression. This is why cops are always present at protests. It is NOT to "Keep the peace." We have seen their "peace" - tear gas, rubber and wooden bullets, mace, riot gear, sound cannons, and thousands of brutal cops leaving dead bodies. They are not there for peace, but rather to maintain at all times the explicit reminder of America's power hierarchy through the brutalization of black and brown bodies above all others.

This is why de Blasio offered worthless platitudes to Eric Garner's family instead of outrage or solidarity. To him, as heinous as choking an unarmed black person to death is, it was business as usual.

Normalizing the Hierarchy of Violence

By framing this power dynamic as business as usual or "just how things are", it follows that the deployment of violence by police is always justified or necessary. This framing takes a myriad of forms almost always working in tandem to control how we think about the violence enacted by the state and its domestic enforcers, the police. Below are just a few of the tactics employed 24/7, 365 days a year.

Cop Worship and the Criminalization of Blackness. In this hierarchy of violence a cop's life matters infinitely more than a black person's life, and Americans, like NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, are expected to demonstrate sympathy with the lives of police officers. By contrast, Americans are encouraged to scrutinize and question the humanity of black and brown people murdered by police before questioning the lethal force used in otherwise non-lethal situations. This social reality illustrates how power is coordinated and wielded unilaterally, directed against the masses by a specialized minority within the population.

Police repression is framed in the mainstream media in such a way that when police commit violence against black and brown communities, it appears to white Americans as if they simply are protecting white communities from black criminality. This is the active dissemination of white supremacy. From it police accrue social capital and power within a conception of black bodies that perpetuates their dehumanization and murder. Completing the cycle, racist white Americans, after participating in the process of dehumanizing black people slain by police, then offer their sympathy, material support, and privilege to killer cops.

For example: George Zimmerman and Darren Wilson received over a million dollars for their legal defense funds. Both were either acquitted or not indicted by majority white juries. Officers Liu and Ramos of the NYPD, their families' mortgages are being paid. And thousands of other (white) officers are awarded paid time off (vacation) and non-indictments for what would otherwise be brutal crimes.

Ultimately, cops are praised because they enforce violence on behalf of the moneyed class. They protect existing power, wealth, and the right to exploit for profit, while simultaneously appearing to exist primarily for public safety. Straddling this paradoxical position, cops are worshiped because they are explicitly and implicitly attached to the rewards of privilege under capitalism.

Victim Blaming (Lynching the Dead). Seeking to justify hierarchical violence, the police collude directly with the mainstream media to exalt those who "uphold the law," while eroding the humanity of those whom have had their lives stolen by the police. Most often in the extrajudicial killings of black and brown people this has happened through a process of character assassination, or the process by which authorities and the media dredge up every possible occurrence of a "bad deed" of the victim's to discredit their innocence. It is effective considering dead people cannot defend themselves.

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