The Police are a notorious institution due to their function in society. They have a second bill of rights that others don’t, afforded by their “Union” – a term that should be used loosely in regards to Police, as they often play the State’s hand in strike-breaking. In this function, they are an army of scabs. They regularly abrogate others’ rights and avoid accountability on the basis of taking a life daily.
In this regard, the Left and Right have different critiques of Police in society and often meet in the middle; however, the Left has historical context behind its critique. In the Libertarian Capitalist ideology, the function of Police would be privatized, and private security forces or a paramilitary organizations, such as Blackwater now Academi, would fill the void.
Understanding the history of Police and how they came to be in American and British society is important. Police were a volunteer force early on in the colonies, until the mid-19th century. These forces originated in terms of protecting the community and relatives as a whole, providing some social services while “hunting” criminals and searching for lost children.
However, this method of policing proved too ineffective, as these groups were often disorganized and chaotic. Subsequently, authority was moved from communities as a whole to solely the men within the community.
This was called a frankpledge system in England, and these men would form groups of ten calledtythings which were grouped into hundreds and then into shires similar to a county. The titles of shire reeve and sheriff were obviously similar and had similar duties, such as oversight of the members of the tythings and deputies.
The duties that these early Police forces performed were of a general nature: collecting taxes and working with the courts. Law enforcement was too ineffective at this time to deal with social uprising in the period of 1700 to 1800.
1829 is the year I will reference as the year a modern force was born in London, created and expanded by a bill introduced by Sir Robert Peel. The goal was to create a force capable of “managing” social conflict, in the time of urbanization and industrialization. Thus, the London Metropolitan Police are regarded to be the first modern force in history. The functions of the London Police would inform the United States on formation of their own forces at a later date in history.
The US has a bitter pill to swallow as far as its history goes in the manner of ‘order through policing.’ In the 1700s, America was a growing country with immigrants and slaves from Europe and Africa as the main contributors to its development. Social disorder was commonplace as antiquated volunteer organizations were ineffectual at controlling disorder.
In the South in the 1700s, the only patrol force was a slave patrol which emerged in South Carolina. They were supposed to “manage race-based conflicts” and “control slave populations,” and whose jurisdiction would eventually extend to monitoring and controlling White indentured servants as well. Like modern Police, they maintained a high level of brutality to control the populace they were intended to police. They were mostly White, and very few tended to be female as far as status went; and they crossed socioeconomic lines as poor Whites and plantation owners alike maintained the same duties as a paddyroller.
As time went on, and the Civil War ran its course, different groups combined to make up the Reconstruction-era Police. The three main entities which comprised Police departments in the South were the Ku Klux Klan, the state militia, and the federal military. The latter two were commonplace in Police departments across the country as well. In Charleston, South Carolina, the existing slave patrol was simply renamed the Charleston Police Department. Essentially, the duties carried out by slave patrols became those of the Police.
As soon as Robert Peel had completed the construction of the modern police department in London in 1829, a universal philosophy had been set as to how the police are to act. The list is called the Peelian Principles. Some claim Peel had no part in writing this, and it was instead consummated by two commissioners at the birth of the Metropolitan Police. Nevertheless, the principles were meant to be adhered to in regards to policing communities.
1. The basic mission for which police exist is to prevent crime and disorder as an alternative to the repression of crime and disorder by military force and severity of legal punishment.
2. The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police existence, actions, behavior and the ability of the police to secure and maintain public respect.
3. The police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain public respect.
4. The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes, proportionately, to the necessity for the use of physical force and compulsion in achieving police objectives.
5. The police seek and preserve public favor, not by catering to public opinion, but by constantly demonstrating absolutely impartial service to the law, in complete independence of policy, and without regard to the justice or injustice of the substance of individual laws; by ready offering of individual service and friendship to all members of society without regard to their race or social standing, by ready exercise of courtesy and friendly good humor; and by ready offering of individual sacrifice in protecting and preserving life.
6. The police should use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient to achieve police objectives; and police should use only the minimum degree of physical force which is necessary on any particular occasion for achieving a police objective.
7. The police at all times should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police are the only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the intent of the community welfare.
8. The police should always direct their actions toward their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary by avenging individuals or the state, or authoritatively judging guilt or punishing the guilty.
9. The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with them.
Despite these principles, by the 1920s, the police became an overbearing government entity in the US. Political reforms after the 1900s had no major effect upon the police as an organization. Historically, they were never a friend to the working class, and were routinely used as tools for the rich, being sent in to break popular workers’ strikes, and acting as the ‘scab armies’ they remain as today. Despite having a strong “Union” themselves, they do not hesitate to cross a picket line with baton and pepper spray in hand, and bash the skulls of IWW or ILWU members. Solidarity is a foreign word to them.
A force for repression is the best way to describe police as they began to infiltrate human and civil rights movements and destroy them through a government program known as COINTELPRO. These movements were a major threat to capitalism, as seen by the destruction of the Black Panther Party, an organization built on self-reliance and self-defense for African Americans in poor, urban areas.
As of right now, the ongoing rebellion in Ferguson, MO is a symptom of the oppressive force used by police in communities of color. The police still act in a manner of slave patrols they did previously, while throwing around meaningless phrases like “protect and serve” to justify their autocratic hierarchies.
A history of beating, maiming, and killing workers and Union members have proved they aren’t protecting or serving communities, but rather serving the owners of private property, or in red terms, the “Means of Production.” If you’re Union, your fellow workers are an oppressed majority, monitored and controlled by those in blue. It is imperative that we recognize this and build bridges to not only attack the wage gap, but also to protect our communities from continued repression at the hands of those who are supposed to protect and serve us.
Josh Deeds has written for Gonzo Times and Street Speech, and currently runs his own blogspot,Union Solidarity. His work ranges from poetry to political commentary, and his book, Modern Habitual Disenchantment, was published in 2013. He’s an ex-Teamster and has always been working class.