I’ve always had a problem with authority. I still do. The dominant culture views this as an unfavorable attribute whereas I see it as a redeeming quality. As I have grown up and become an activist finding myself face to face with rows of armored riot police, it seems as though my wariness of the law is more than justified to say the least. I learned that there are myths that this culture perpetuates about the police in order to keep everyone in check as good little Capitalist drones; seemingly unaware of the world they actually live in.
The first myth is that the police exercise legitimate authority, thereby giving them the right to dictate what you can and cannot do. The function of the police officer is to enforce the law, obviously. It sounds reasonable enough unless you question the legitimacy of the laws they are enforcing. Who’s to say that these laws are right or just at all? Slavery was legal and aiding escaped slaves was illegal. The Nazis came to power via democratic elections and passed laws through “legitimate” channels. Those who combatted these unjust laws and the agents who enforced them broke the law to do so. This can be seen throughout history. Therefore, we cannot rely on the law and those who enforce it to do the right thing.
The most dangerous myth, especially among activists, is that there are only a few bad apples but most have the best intentions. Although it is true that some cops take the job, often out of economic pressure, in the hopes of improving society, they still need to obey orders instead of their conscious if they want to keep their job. So long as this is the case, enforcement will always be an extremely dangerous institution and cannot be trusted. It’s an institutional and systemic issue, not an individual one.
The favorite myth among the elites is that we need the police to protect us. Protect from whom? Most usually it is the victims of inequalities created by the very institutions that law enforcement protects. Another function of the police is to protect the interests of the Capitalist class. Every time there is a strike, the police are always on the side of the bosses. Every time there is a demonstration against the World Trade Organization, it is the police who fire rubber bullets and tear gas into the crowd instead of the people who commit crimes against humanity. Humans are not born inherently criminal or deviant, they are shaped by products of the environment in which they are brought up. Instead of attacking the problem at its source, the police further stratify society and reinforce the social and economic imbalances.
The mainstream seems be hesitant to question he police and authority in general. For every protestor beaten by law enforcement there is a massive portion of the population that is quick to blame the activist for the police’s actions. It is this “blame the victim” mentality that stifles social change and maintains the status quo that justifies the gassing of teenagers in the streets and the oppression of the poor and working classes.
In every social struggle, the police are always being pitted against the people they swore to protect and serve. More often than not, breaking the law is a means of doing the right thing and that is something we should all strive to do despite the social, economic, and political consequences.