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A riot of their own

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Violent thugs are creating disorder on American streets, and also there have been protests:

If we’re going to speak of rioting protesters, then we need to speak of rioting police as well. No, they aren’t destroying property. But it is clear from news coverage, as well as countless videos taken by protesters and bystanders, that many officers are using often indiscriminate violence against people — against anyone, including the peaceful majority of demonstrators, who happens to be in the streets.

Rioting police have driven vehicles into crowds, reproducing the assault that killed Heather Heyer in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017. They have surrounded a car, smashed the windows, tazed the occupants and dragged them out onto the ground. Clad in paramilitary gear, they have attacked elderly bystanders, pepper-sprayed cooperative protesters and shot “nonlethal” rounds directly at reporters, causing serious injuries. In Austin, Texas, a 20-year-old man is in critical condition after being shot in the head with a “less-lethal” round. Across the country, rioting police are using tear gas in quantities that threaten the health and safety of demonstrators, especially in the midst of a respiratory disease pandemic.

None of this quells disorder. Everything from the militaristic posture to the attacks themselves does more to inflame and agitate protesters than it does to calm the situation and bring order to the streets. In effect, rioting police have done as much to stoke unrest and destabilize the situation as those responsible for damaged buildings and burning cars. But where rioting protesters can be held to account for destruction and violence, rioting police have the imprimatur of the state.

What we’ve seen from rioting police, in other words, is an assertion of power and impunity. In the face of mass anger over police brutality, they’ve effectively said So what? In the face of demands for change and reform — in short, in the face of accountability to the public they’re supposed to serve — they’ve bucked their more conciliatory colleagues with a firm No. In which case, if we want to understand the behavior of the past two weeks, we can’t just treat it as an explosion of wanton violence; we have to treat it as an attack on civil society and democratic accountability, one rooted in a dispute over who has the right to hold the police to account.

One might add here that generations of cop shows have been selling the idea that public accountability for the police is a completely unreasonable demand enforced by the RAT SQUAD. Indeed, one wonders if the decline or broadcast TV isn’t one reason the brutality being exposed during the protests is meeting a different public reaction than the police seem to be expecting:

These were scenes not seen so widely in the United States in decades, scenes that police training, recruitment and reform were intended to prevent: officers striking unarmed protesters, in the heart of American cities, carrying out orders.

Even among police leaders, there is a sense that these incidents — and, in some cases, misleading official accounts given before the videos emerged — could do lasting damage to the image of American police, most of whom have never been involved in violent encounters with anyone.

Ya think?

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