The Police in Action
They aren’t cities from a tour of an extravagant and expensive concert of any English artist nor a presidential trip of a European President. In Sao Paulo on June 13th, 55 people were left injured, including students who were hit by bombs and tear gas, while some journalists were lacerated by rubber pellets in the face when covering clashes arising from the protests against the rise in public transport.
In Santiago, a new day of protests on the same June 13 left a total of 324 arrested and 74 injured
. Particularly noteworthy was
the police beating of 16 year-old Patricio Aguilera, president of the Students’
Association of Barros Borgoño High School, who was dragged unconscious. The same day, there was the invasion of the Central
Office of the University of Chile which was occupied by students. This incident
was cataloged by the President of that University, Victor Perez, as a
humiliation for the autonomy of the country’s first university. This building
had been occupied by the police on two previous occasions in the history of
Chile during the dictatorships of Ibañez and Pinochet.
Elsewhere in the world the last nights have become battlegrounds. Camps of families and many young have opposed the destruction of Gizi Park (Istanbul, Turkey), which culminated in an ultimatum from the Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan Receo on June 16, but executed a day earlier. Police used water cannons, tear gas and rubber bullets. The concerns for human rights violations made several doctors and lawyers visit the tents set up in the square, but on the night from the 11th to the 12th June, 72 lawyers were arrested by the police. Meanwhile in the final police assault of June 15, volunteer doctors were the target of tear gas. So far the protests in Turkey have left four dead and over 5,000 injured. And the list continues.
Already in the 2012 Amnesty International Report about "The State of Human Rights in the World," there is a long list of countries where police have acted in the violent repression of popular protests. The most serious cases were reported in Angola, Azeribaiyán, Belarus, Brazil, Burkina Faso, El Salvador, Spain, Greece, Guatemala, Guinea, Honduras, Indonesia, Liberia, Mauritania, Malawi, Nigeria, Dominican Republic, Russia, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sudan and Venezuela. In some of these countries the police were reinforced by soldiers. The killings, arbitrary arrests, the use of real ammunition, torture, discrimination and corruption are problematic parts of the interventions of the forces of order contained in the report. The case of Chile included beatings and threats of sexual violence against students. The United States was mentioned in connection with the death of 43 people by taser shocks, the indiscriminate firing of tear gas, the use of bags of lead shot, pepper spray, stun grenades, as well as the use of nightsticks in Oakland, Tulsa and Seattle in demonstrations of the Occupy Wall Street Movement. Brazil for its part was the scene of police practices characterized by discrimination, human rights abuses, corruption and military-style operations, highlighting the death of 804 people in situations called "acts of resistance" in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Meanwhile in Turkey the police resorted to excessive force to confront the demonstrations of the June 2011 elections, using pepper spray, water cannons and plastic bullets, and the systematic use of batons to hit demonstrators.
The Human Rights Institute of Chile concluded in 2012 that
despite progress in
implementing cameras in police vehicles or an increased distance between
demonstrators and security forces, we can still observe certain questionable
actions by law enforcement taking place during student protests: a) identity
checks and arbitrary and unjustified arrests of young people who are called to
march; b) an indiscriminate and disproportionate use of deterrents; c) severe
cases of ill-treatment and police misconduct; d) abuse against reporters; e)
lack of differentiation between the peaceful and unruly protesters; f) high
frequency and intensity of complaints of ill treatment in the period between
arrest and admission to police units; g) lack of visible police identification;
h) loopholes to conduct complaints against police officers; i) lack of
information to relatives and lawyers on detainees; and j) vexatious
unreasonable application procedures, such as undressing young men and women.
These observations violate the right to assembly and freedom of expression.
In none of the countries mentioned do these cases represent exceptions, but they appear with some recurrence, although the media tends not to cover the claims.
Terrorism and the Violent Ones
The hegemony of violence in its "legitimacy" is hosted within the State. The Social Contract legitimizing the use of violence can only be exercised by the State. In its evolution the State created law enforcement agencies to protect citizens of Thanatos. Thanatos is the impulse to seek satisfaction of individual desires through any means, even the annihilation of the opponent, that mark the predominance of the strongest instincts. Thanatos was present in all its fury on the media attack of the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001, impacting the world with an apocalyptic destruction of concrete that buried 3,017 people. George Bush, invoking the Bible and defending homeland and justice, then declared:
"The search is underway for those who are behind these evil acts. I have instructed all intelligence and law enforcement communities to find those responsible and bring them to justice. I will make no distinction between the terrorists who committed these acts and those who protect them "(George W. Bush, speech of September 11, 2001)
The results of the policies initiated since that republican government has meant the death of more than 110,000 people in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq. Since 2001 we observe the emergence of a sort of permanent state of emergency, which has placed democratic instruments in parentheses. For instance we are reminded of two facts to understand the extent it has reached in this suspension of rights.
A first example is constituted by the reasons that Bush argued to enter the Iraq War in 2003, which seems to have come out of the use of the Pre-Cogs of Minority Report and their ability to predict crimes. According to the former U.S. President, Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, which could be used in future terrorist acts. He then invented the concept of "preventive war." The American invasion was defended as an act of defense of democracy which was essential to overthrow Saddam Hussein. Meanwhile Hussein ended up being hanged, weapons of mass destruction were never found, and presidents like the Spanish José María Aznar had to explain publically to their people why they entered into an artificial war. This set a relevant precedent: you could invade a country just by managing information and developing an ad-hoc publicity campaign.
On the other hand the Guantanamo Detention Center has hosted more than 800 people since 2002. These include Afghan, Pakistani and 39 nationalities known as "unlawful enemy combatants," a name which prevents respect for the human rights of "prisoners of war," a condition which itself is part of the Geneva Convention. In this way, the U.S. courts have declared themselves incompetent to deal with the demands of conducting civil trials for detainees. Furthermore the election of Barack Obama and his promises to close the prison have not been welcome by the U.S. Congress, which persists in maintaining this site, where they practice torture methods such as sensory deprivation and confinement in individual cells for 22 hours a day. Between 2002 and 2009 the U.S. Department of Defense spent more than $ 2 trillion to keep this prison open.
As a result, the image of an enemy with new features was constructed. This was a faceless enemy without a specific nationality, dangerous for an indifference to life and democracy. Possessing a higher concentration of "terrorists" could justify an intervention past the chase of individual fanatical acts to a military invasion of regions or countries. And proof? It never has needed much.
The control of the borders and airports has been tightened, often violating the dignity and privacy of those who have been listed as suspects. Free transit and the right to meeting people has been suspended and international laws are subject to the inspection of the Security Agencies. Later policies like the “L’inmigration choisie” or Chosen Immigration promoted with pomp by governments as that of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy since 2007 have reinforced this blockade, mainly affecting citizens of southern countries of the globe.
This macro-social analysis is replicated in our everyday lives. Simply analyze the events in Santiago (Chile) since 2006, when high school students took to the streets to protest. Massive marches and young people and children against Constitutional Organic Law of Teaching promulgated by the military Junta in 1990 drew a sharp reaction from the government of Socialist President Michelle Bachelet, that did not hesitate to apply the first step of the negotiation: police repression. Minors were arrested and occupied schools were evacuated. Meanwhile, school authorities and mayors made the decision to massively expel students who had occupied schools. The criminalization of protest continued in 2007 when Congress approved the Chilean National Law N°20,084 of youth responsibility, allowing the criminalization and detention of adolescents aged 14-18 years old, contrary to the provisions promoted by UNICEF. Thus, Chile built a terrorist simile that was once called "anarchist" under the Bachelet government, and "violentista" in the current right wing government of Sebastián Piñera. Most of detainees are teenagers with or without evidence. Since 2006 the omnipresence of this public enemy has encouraged instances of controversial raids on private homes and arrests of young squatters. Again it has not needed much.
Political authorities insist that this increase in controls of all kinds are, paradoxically, implemented to enhance free expression and the strengthening of democratic society. The more than 700 arrested in 2011 on the Brooklyn Bridge in New York, more than 120 injured in the eviction for hygiene reasons at the Plaza Catalunya in 2011 in Barcelona, or the 16 killed in the demonstrations in Egypt in 2013, are proof of the particularly protective role acquired by the police forces sponsored by political power.
Spending on the Army of Police
Spain’s spending on "riot gear and special protection and defense equipment" increased 18.8 times in 2013 compared to 2012, reaching 3.26 million euros, including smokeless fireworks and tear gas, as well as, 20,000 bulletproof vests. In an article from October 30, 2012 El Mundo detailed the cost of each unit of equipment: bulletproof shields for 517 euros, flak jackets for 389 euros, transparent riot shield for 140 euros, shockproof vests for 300 euros, respiratory protection masks for 296 euros, tear gas for 27.9 euros and rubber bullets for 90 cents. It should be pointed out that this huge increase has occurred in a context of massive cuts in all social sectors in 2012, especially education and health, which took 3 billion and 7 billion euros in cuts respectively.
In the same year of 2012, Chile purchased 10 new water cannons, which meant a cost of US$ 6.4 million. Moreover, the 2013 national budget considered the incorporation of 4000 new police officers, to reach the goal of 10,000 new agents set by President Sebastian Piñera for his four-year tenure. While Piñera's government has increased education spending substantially - by 9.4% in 2013- this occurs in a context of public educational system degradation. In early 2011, 146 public schools were closed while in the same period 82 private schools were opened. As a consequence, Chile reached a new record level of privatization at 60% for primary and secondary schools, and 100% at the higher education level.
The actions of the police, judiciary, political authorities and the media have been articulated to outlaw social protests, throwing them to the margins of criminal or terrorist actions. It is no coincidence that both Spain and Turkey have appealed to the issue of hygiene by abandoning the occupations of the squares of Catalonia and Gizi. The cleaning involves an exercise of public power -or legitimate violence- for the deletion of the stains against the country’s image, that are depended upon by the whims of investors that look to yield their capital in a context of "security."
The occupation of the public square is transformed into a kind of resistance to capitalist intervention that seeks to privatize public spaces and subjectivities.
While Neil Armstrong communicated to the world that his descent on the moon was a small step for him, but one giant leap for mankind on Earth, professor Phillip Zimbardo of Stanford University conducted an experiment in social psychology at two points in the United States. He placed two cars of the same features in two opposing socioeconomic areas: the Bronx (New York) and Palo Alto (California). While the car located in one of the hot spots in New York was dismantled within a few hours after being abandoned, the one in Palo Alto remained intact for a week, when the researchers decided to break one of the windows. Broken glass flared up the same criminal process that the car in the Bronx did. The Theory of Broken Glass twenty years ago justified the policy of Zero Tolerance by New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. It strongly declared the need to pursue and punish those involved in graffiti, begging, and sex work. In other words, activities that could be interpreted as the "broken glass," that is transmitted to the rest of society as a lack of control, prompting the escalation. Professor Bernard Harcour at the University of Chicago argued that Giuliani dichotomized the city into two groups: the obedient followers of the law, and potential criminals to be identified who should be watched, observed, displaced, controlled and prosecuted by the police. Applying Zero Tolerance meant a drop in crime; however in its basis it signified the criminalization of certain socioeconomic, racial, ethnic, and gender groups. For the years 2009-2010 the city of New York spent more than $ 727 million in its police.
Smile you're being recorded. Continued surveillance for the sake of security has become a perfect tool of control. Devices such as CCTV, panic buttons, private guards and the bureaucratization of the entrances and exits of public and private buildings have not generated a decrease in the feeling of insecurity. The fear of the other and the loss of confidence seem to be the main achievement of this search for the elimination of suspects.
And Zero Tolerance moves to handling the protests. While in Sao Paulo police intervened in the protests against the rise in bus fares, some bystanders demanded motorized police to run over protesters. Where can we find the reason for this compulsive search order, and its most radical, the exercise of state violence?
Neoliberalism assumes just a major role of the police. Along with the weakening of state intervention in social areas, it must at the same time adopt policies that increase the power of supervision and control. These two processes are set into a Möbius strip.
Neoliberalism and the Police
The progressive militarization of domestic police respond to a process that is understood in the readings of classical neoliberal Austrian authors Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich von Hayek. In his 1927 text "Liberalism in the Classical Tradition," von Mises criticized the classical liberals of the Enlightenment that defended an alleged equality among all men. To this economist men are essentially unequal, and therefore no law can spew treatment based on this false equality. Meanwhile, von Hayek argued in his "Road to Serfdom" in 1944 that the exercise of individual freedom allows for competition, a basic element to increase productivity, which required three conditions: 1) the agents in the market must be free to sell and buy at any price, 2) all should be free to produce, sell and buy anything possible to be produced and sold, and 3) access to diverse occupations must be feasible for everyone. The basis of the Stat Law for neoliberals are shaped by private property and individual liberty, for which institutions provide order (or repression) that ensure social peace.
The emergence of a collective force threatens the organization of the neoliberal order. In fact, for example, Milton Friedman points out that unions are undesirable influence groups, because they tend to generate disturbances or interference with the free flow in individual transactions. Repression is understood as a key feature of the development of the state of the late twentieth and early twenty-first century. The trend towards privatization has meant abandoning relevant areas of reproduction of the productive forces, including health, education and environmental resources, leaving them hostage to the free circulation of commodities. Meanwhile, those groups that have reacted to these measures have been classified between the targets of Zero Tolerance and put in the frame of the mythical construction of a domestic terrorist or violent person.
So it is understandable that the first and often only neoliberal response to social protest is enlarging surveillance devices, hardening penalties to those who challenge police power, and increasing economic resources that support security measures. For instance, a current draft law prohibits insults to police in Chile, while in Chile and Canada it is against the law to use masks during marches. This generates a double police immunity: one that is physical and associated with the use of sophisticated street intervention equipment. It also promotes a legal immunity, thanks to the increased criminalization of offenders and protection of police officers in military courts.
In the presence of such repressive surveillance apparatus, citizenship has provided itself some tools such as the incorporation of observers and peacekeepers in the marches that testify to police actions. However, the media sensationalizes the criminal acts of a few by misrepresenting the reasons for the protests. So police excesses appear to be justified towards the media magnification of violence committed by minorities in large demonstrations around the world. As a result, the authorities and minimal state policies are protected.
Education for Zero Tolerance
It is relevant to determine what our new generations learn in school spaces under a State of Emergency, as well as the structuring of the subjectivity where the police have a role. The U.S. model appears instructive to understand the new ways of controlling bodies, causing an extreme at which children and adolescents are scanned upon at the school’s entry. This occurs in a country where the power of the National Rifle Association lobby hinders any attempt to “undermine the natural liberty" of marketing and carrying weapons. This parallels a sort of macabre ritual killing that takes place in American schools. The United States has chosen not to move the structures that produce such expressive violence. The preference is to install a metal detector at the front door, with a police officer at its side inspecting each passing student. Some schools have gone further, and have also applied Giuliani procedures to generate desired disciplines based on adamant and clearly disproportionate punishments of the misconduct.
Schools in Ohio, Delaware, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Baltimore, San Diego and Chicago have already begun to incorporate this methodology of Zero Tolerance, suspending and expelling children not showing proper behavior to achieve a positive and secure environment. In 2005, an 11 year-old girl was arrested at Fox Chapel Middle School for carrying a plastic knife. This happened during the same year that the St. Petersburg Police handcuffed a five year-old child in the Fairmount Elementary School for a tantrum. In 2009 Zachary Christie, a child of six years old, was suspended and sent to a reform school for 45 days for carrying camping gear eating utensils.
Schools by definition are spaces that promote trust and pedagogy. Therefore, the use of law enforcement officials in schools should likely be society’s last resort in dealing with violence. The use of police in this case is invoked as a guarantee of security and external school control. This takes away from the possibility of the school to build and establish its own safe space. Police in schools are therefore the result of the failure and the resignation of a school system’s intent at self-regulating.
What do students learn from these devices? Perhaps, that the only way to be safe is by permanent coercion.
The Experiment Explodes
Turning to the political analysis. On the verge of the Presidential Primaries at the end of the year, Chile is experiencing a heated discussion about the possibility of the emergence of a Constitutional Assembly. Chile has been the first country to experience the neoliberal policies deeply, and with it the destruction of a subjectivity that has recognized itself in a collective. The heart of the Constitution signed by the Military Junta of 1980 protects the perpetuation of private property and the exercise of individual rights of commercial transaction, however denies both historical social rights and public space as a means to build citizenship. The almost perfect articulation of neoliberalism and authoritarianism has meant that only after 30 years the option to build a new constitution has emerged as an imaginable and desirable process. Despite this finding, the defenders of Chilean Neoliberalism are spread throughout the official policy. Since 2006 they have not hesitated to repress any hint of public restitution, transforming wishes or popular demands into sad redevelopments in Congress, which result in laws contingent upon the logic of minimal state.
The police on the streets and squares of the world are revealing the expression of a silenced desire for participation in a real and radical democracy. Until now, rubber bullets, water cannon trucks, tear gas, incarcerations, and torture have not been able to take away the people’s will to form a collective force. The police on the streets and squares are the expression of a monotone response from authorities to stifle the economic rights of a minority.
Meanwhile law enforcement faces a schizophrenic situation: who to defend? Several cases of police have refused to act against protesters in Brazil in recent days or have not made evictions of foreclosed properties in Spain. This is evidence of the psychological stress that police face in a struggle to belong while still maintain an identity as a law enforcement official.
In a true democracy the police must protect the people, and it is the duty of the people to monitor that the application of State force (violence) is administered properly, respecting the integrity of their citizens. For now, the police seem to be more faithful to the commands of authorities seeking to quell any cost of free expression and democratic demands of their people. Pretexts for the "cleaning" of places wielded by the authorities of New York, Barcelona or Istanbul probably take another course. The "clean" bare hands of social protest are ascending to positions of authority, and from there the citizens regain their spirit to recreate a society once lost in the hands of the 1%.
By Jorge Inzunza H.
Psychologist U. of Chile, Student PhD in Education UNICAMP (Brazil)
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