16 October 2011

Why People Hate Cops

So, after last night, in which cops prodded me awake and mocked me every half-hour while I was camped out at Occupy Seattle, after the cops spent the entire night driving around and shining headlights into peoples' tents (we made shadow puppets, but it was still annoying), I felt it appropriate to share a couple of quotes from Derrick Jensen's brilliant 2007 essay "Why People Hate Cops."

The essay itself is wonderfully written, and well thought out, and does a good job of portraying sentiment from people on the ground every day. There are broader structural arguments to be made - and Jensen gestures towards them - but the essence of this piece is in the realm of feeling. I'd certainly recommend reading the entire thing. Some quotes that I feel are appropriate in light of last night, and my general experiences with cops thus far in my life:

Pretend you see a cop. Pretend you’re doing nothing illegal. Pretend you don’t need police protection. You’re minding your own business, and BAM, you see a cop. What do you feel? Right then. In your gut. On a scale from minus five (fear or loathing) to zero (nothing) to plus five (warmth, comfort, safety).

For more than a decade I’ve asked hundreds or even thousands of people this question, and the long-term average is about minus three.


In no way do I romanticize ‘lawbreakers.’ Just as in other categories of people, some are good, some are mediocre, and some are scum. And to the degree that police or anyone else protect me or those I love from sociopaths, I’m grateful.

But police also break strikes and protect politicians, CEOs, and WTO representatives who sell out the people (and who, even from a straight-up, patriotic, ninth-grade civics perspective, are arguably committing treason, and should be hanged for their crimes). Why are police never sent in to force capitalists to come to terms with strikers? That’s a huge problem (and not a rhetorical question). The sociopaths the police arrest are for the most part sociopaths with no power, and especially with no political power. The sociopaths who cause the most harm are almost never arrested, and are certainly never imprisoned or otherwise punished commensurate with the harm they cause, in great measure because these most dangerous sociopaths run governments and corporations, with the direct assistance of the police.


She doesn’t say anything for a very long time. At last she says, “But I think in some ways your question—why do so many people hate the police—is much simpler than either you or I are saying.”

“How so?”

“I think a lot of people hate the police because the police hate us first.”

“I don’t understand.”

“Think about the stories you just told me. Think about how the cops treated you. Think about their perspective on you that they kept trying to get you to see? What is it about that perspective? What are they feeling toward you? Think about all the cop shows you see. What do the cops feel toward those they encounter? Contempt, at best. More likely hatred. Think about the looks on cops’ faces when they walk up to give you a ticket. Think about all the stories you have ever heard about the police. Yes, we all have a good story here or there involving police treating us well, but think about your experience and the experiences of those you know. What do all of those stories have in common? Think about the question you asked: why do so many people hate the police? I think the answer is staring us in the face, especially when it is cops who are doing the staring. I think a lot of people hate the police because the police hate us first.”

I think a moment, and sadly, find I cannot disagree.


Anonymous said...

Cops stare at you to study you and see if you are acting suspicious. Cops have to be stern to be repected and keep the peace. If your father came across as a soft pushover, would you have listened? Would he have been as effective if he came across as a wimp?

sprawwling said...

I hear that, but think it's a different point than I and the article I quoted were making. There's a difference between stern and cruel, between strong and unnecessarily harsh, and between keeping the peace and harassing those who, often while doing nothing illegal, step out of line.

Anonymous said...

People do not like Cops because they theselves break the law and get away with it. Also cops make people nervous because they have power over people,which thay use and abuse as they see fit. Cops can and will lie to someone but is a person supposed to lie back...no!! Cops are hypocrites!!!! How would a cop feel if someone they did not know followed them and watched them closely who had power over them???? That is enough to make anyone uncomfortable!!!!

Anonymous said...

Cops pull people over {even when they have done nothing wrong, cops are just bored and have nothing else better to do}, take the person's id {into their car, which means they could be writing down their address and can choose to do whatever with it that they want. There needs to be cameras inside the cop cars that are on the cops' actions and I would feel more safe giving them my info.} I do not want a stranger, cop or not knowing where I live! Ever watch dateline to catch a predator...one was a rabbi, one was a principle, I am sure there is a cop somewhere thats doing just what these guys got caught trying to do. Being a cop just makes it easier for them not to get caught and to find victims - people trust police! A lot, not all cops abuse that trust!