Qualifying the Police State
Thursday, August 17, 2000
Los Angeles, Ca.
Last night's rapid response panel at the shadow convention provided some much needed debate around many of the Democrat's silent omissions from the convention speeches. Issues of militarism, economic and racial equality and environmental destruction were brought to light by a panel consisting of actors, reporters, and one media watchdog, as well as a very engaging audience. One point raised by a FAIR representative (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting) was met by contention by one of the members from the corporate media. The point being that if the democrats had a solid leadership then there wouldn't be a police state on the streets of Los Angeles. Two corporate reporters heatedly contested the idea that this was a police state but offered no real description of what then, our situation must be. This echoes with mainstream view of this protest movement in general. There has been no adequate analysis by the media of the violence or the policing operations that are being deployed against those who have taken to the street. This echoes with their inability to understand the everyday experiences of violence and its deeply embedded presence in North America's cities.
The way the corporate reporters seemed to avoid explaining or even attempting to come to grips with the characteristics of the police presence here was through what we should call historical distancing. In other words, they give an example from either the former USSR, Nazi Germany, or the "Third World," and assert that "we aren't like that." And since this situation is not the same as their example we can't call this a Police state, that stuff happens "over" there not at here, "at home." What is crucially needed, however, is not a distancing from criticism but an attempt at an analysis of the historical specificity of our situation. The Fascist police states of the 30's and 40's used a system of psuedo-scientific discourses to justify their actions and operations, while the communist police states used a discourse of political-economy which justified violence in the name of a romanticized proletariat. Each state cracked down on dissent in brutal ways including mass incarceration and murder. But what are the specific historical circumstances of America's corporate police state? Once again, this is a discussion that has not made it into the mainstream press.
Perhaps one of the questions that needs asking is, what are the purposes of the police presence here and how is it similar to other so-called "police states." The corporate media would stress a crucial difference in our situation others: citing, quite bluntly, the fact that people are not being killed in large numbers on the streets, and answering that the police are not here to prevent free speech but that they are here to moniter it. The absence of a complete censor of the shadow convention and the convergence shows us that we still have rights. But a more critical answer comes from one of the groups whose activities have been the most sensationalized by the media in the past ten months-The Anarchist black bloc and its sympathizers. Many members of these groups assert that the police are here to uphold a political spectacle. This is the spectacle of an aggressive state with an economistic agenda governed by corporations which enforce "the dictatorship of the economy of life," as declared an "anti business card" from the Seattle protests. Indeed, this is what power has been operationalized to protect in all other police states: the image that the state (or the global free market) is the holder of power and is, therefore, the natural historical agent to organize peoples lives. In LA we see this through a strategy of containment: protest pens, surveillance, permitted rallies, security passes, and press conferences, not to mention thousands and thousands of cops and chemical weapons. This comments on the degree of development of our current police state. As the example of Seattle can show us, the lesser the ability to contain the protests the more physically brutal the police will respond. Just because it unleashes it's violence in less visible forms does not mean that a certain level of the characteristic force and violence is missing.
In this week's convention speeches we have seen a further confirmation. A discourse of the family has been used to include some segments of the population into the productive apparatus of the new economy, while others who object or are excluded or choose to live and work in a sector or area that is not deemed productive are subjected to a discourse of morality used by both the democrats and the republicans to channel energy into aggressive policies designed to either standardize, criminalize or incarcerate. In the last ten months this movement has made this quite clear in their critique of the prison-industrial complex and in the standardized school system. While the Youth and Anarchist movements have stridently asserted that these are the systems through which the state is currently protecting and maintaining its corporate agenda, the media have portrayed them as confused kids in timeless revolt.
As the politics of the media's silence, as well as LA and California's thriving prison industry has taught us, the coordination between police and the agenda of the state are still there, and that only the categories have changed. The State has not put all its energy into targeting specific political belief systems as they once did, rather they have chosen to construct specific ways of dealing with dispositions that do not fit into the new society and are treat them with the utmost prejudice, exclusion, and violence. In fact, many fear that if the corporate media continues to explain away the police presence both at these conventions and everyday in terms of public safety from criminals, they will never be able to criticize the institutionalized violence of the state in any terms other than an archaic protestant morality. The task ahead is not to argue whether or not we should use the term police state, the task is to qualify it.