Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Showing Who's Boss

Internet chat (extract):

- Hello.
- Where are you?
- Starbucks, in Beverly Hills, Olympic and Doheny Blvds., watching YouTube, reading an essay about the police.*
- Anything exciting happening late night?
- Well, it's not raining, though I was caught in sudden storm again last night.
- Any crazy stories?
- Getting better from a fairly bad cold.
- You have to stay dry.
- I'm not doing too well at that. Crazy stories? I've seen some of the same unusual people, they haven't changed. The man who told me friends call him 'Hungry Dog', the Turkish security guard, recent immigrant who when not working fills his belly and bag with the free food at university events - he made an appearance today as I was warming up in the sun at the sculpture garden at UCLA. My strategy to ignore him and walk away has proven ineffective, his self conceit is invulnerable to these measures. Only getting a good lead on him and turning tight corners works. He tapped me on the shoulder to try to get my attention, then launched into a monologue of his day: how he had a system for raking in the free food at the Luskin conference center/hotel at UCLA: entering at a side door, taking side elevator to third floor where he stashes his bag, then canvassing the different rooms for food and drink.

- Sounds like he's got it planned out well. 
- His new claim was he'd saved fifty thousand dollars by living in a dormitory room with seven others and never otherwise spending a dime. Being flush with money he was in need of my investment advice. He likes to affirm I'm his only friend, the only person he respects, a brother, a father. He flatters me outrageously: I'm a true philosopher, the only one in the world, a real anti-capitalist like him, a true radical.
- A real character.
- 'B
y the way,' he says to me, 'that's a nice jacket, how much do you want for it?' He tells me to go the Law School where trays of food had be left out in the courtyard: salad, beans, fruit. He finally takes himself off, getting the message I wasn't even going to open my eyes (they've been continuously shut since his arrival) to acknowledge his presence. Twenty minutes, and he is back with a paper plate of beans and salad and fruit, for me! He got it just for me! Now's the time for this philosopher to open his eyes to Hungry Dog's corporeal form, put on his not for sale jacket, and go. Hungry Dog trails behind, I pick up the pace and lose him around the corner.
- Do you see Hungry Dog everyday?
- Oh no, hadn't seen him for a couple of months. He only comes around UCLA when one of his temporary guard jobs ends its term or he's been fired. Mostly he hangs out at USC where he says the takings are better.
- Wow. I knew one day you'd find followers.
- He's just putting on an act, honing his techniques of flattery, like he does searching for free food.
- Too funny. Do you have a cell phone? You get the weather on them.
- Yes, now I do. My one student insisted I get one. I told her she'd be the only one who'd ever call me, she insisted, I relented, last week complied with her demand. Since then no one but her has called. The essay I was reading had been brought to my attention at a conference this weekend on police public interaction. Hungry Dog would approve of the food kept coming throughout the day.
 I expressed my view there, to a young woman sitting not far away, that the police exist to express violence, scaring the people they claim to protect into running for cover in their choice of part-time slaveries, selling their freedom by the hour in what is called employment. She referred me to a professor named Micol Seigel who'd written a book about 'violence work'. That is the professor's term for what the police actually was formed to do. Police have always been both civilian and military, public and private, local and national/international. One side of each of those pairs represents a loss of power for the individual. The police making claims to be violent only by necessity while serving the public in local communities have, from their beginnings in colonial forces tasked with keeping down subject peoples, been doing the opposite: serving with deliberate, unlimited violence private, non-local interests. 
- The private, non-local interests the violent colonial police served were the Capitalists, a perfect early example being the East India Company, insuring them a supply of compliant labor?
- Yes. In the 18th century American South colonial militias patrolled the slave populations. In the 19th century local American police were recruited to fight in the country's wars; in the late 20th century they were sent to Vietnam to develop with the South Vietnamese counterinsurgency techniques, which when the police returned to their localities they used to manage protesters against the war and civil rights activists.
- Those were the professor's ideas. Did the young woman like what you had to say? 
- She clearly was frightened, repulsed by me, offended by my intrusion as were almost all the other attendants at the conference, old and young. Academics are bureaucrats: office holders, they're are a kind of race, or class. They have been, like all those hiding within social roles, deformed by violence, by the police or economic violence that led them to the unnatural behavior of pursuing only career advantage.
- Everyone there rejected you at first sight? You're not exaggerating?
- There was one exception, a conference attendee accompanying another who was not frightened, repulsed or offended by my presence, a red poodle puppy who liked me very much. So, back to the subject: the way the police work is they threaten violence with every encounter, 'detaining' the member of the public, insisting on their governmental right to take absolute control of your body's position and movements. One move not explicitly given permission for can lead to you being shot and killed, with no consequences to the police officer, trained to think you deserved death for not giving due respect to the law expressed in his person. This outbreak of barbarity in what appears to be civilization shocks people into doing what the academics have done, make a fixed place for themselves in society, where, true, they will be slaves to those above them in the hierarchy, but with the consolation they can be masters to others placed under their power. 
- Violence shocks us into accepting subordination, our status as part-time slaves, employees free only to choose our master-employers. The police are present to crush our reluctance to continue participating in a slave hierarchy, our natural urge towards rebellion, especially when young.
- Yes. Police officers may think they are doing a public good, and in some ways they might be doing that as well, but that is not their essential function, and as the professor says the good they do could be done much better, done without the threat of violence, by social workers, emergency medical technicians, teachers, neighbors, and neighborhood associations.
- The police are just as you say. Violence and threat, before they do anything else.
- On the UCLA campus and in Westwood Village you see how security forces take control of whole blocks of streets and courtyards for holding corporate meetings, or a wedding party of the super rich, in each case forming cordons around the appropriated formerly public territory, always with a police presence (abetted with sometimes literally hundreds of private security officers) making obvious at these times that the police are not local, don't serve the public, but the class of capitalist owners (slave managers). The public is not more leniently treated than are prisoners of war. In Thucydides a distinction is drawn between a civil war and war with another state: you fight among yourselves with knowledge you are going to settle your dispute and go back to living together; there are therefore some forms of violence you will to not use because they will not be easily forgotten when peace comes. The police act as if we are not in community with them. The answer to the question why violent threat is introduced immediately when the police approach you is that that is the truth of your relation to the state, that you are not even in the status of civil war with the community the state represents, but rather there is no such community within the state, the state is the master, you the slave, and any use of force is acceptable. That's pretty much the argument. Or let me add, if you're wondering why the state doesn't let well enough alone, seeing as we're all already pretty much accepting of our status as employee-slaves: the monopolizing organizations, hierarchies of master-slave relations, are profoundly hampered in their ability to compete with small cooperative new companies who are not hardened and deluded into belief in their infallibility by decades of exercising dictatorial authority over others. 
The proof of this is in the current average life span of an S&P 500 company, which with all the advantages of their huge capital reserves, established monopoly position and market relations, is now under twenty years, down from sixty years in the 1950's. The way these top companies survive longer, maintain their monopoly status, is by destabilizing markets with the help of their friends in finance and government, destroying or, failing that, buying out their more innovative competition.
Good points.
- The police are one element of control, along with debt incurred in education, the need, when under constant surveillance, to create a false appearance of harmlessness to avoid police attention,** no health insurance, no job security, no economic or physical security, all pushing individuals into absolute conformity to role expectations. There is another person of interest, as the police would say, I remember now I haven't told you about, someone I've recently met. A big guy, in his thirties I'd guess, of very good appearance. I've seen him at the late night open McDonald's in Century City a couple of times. He carries with him dozens of old books, most in very poor condition, obscure literature, history, dadaist texts, some he is reading, others he cuts up for their images and words to be mixed and read out randomly producing meaning, the images he does much the same with, producing collages, well done collages. He calls himself a born wanderer, he felt most at home at Occupy LA, some years ago. Occasionally, he says, he meets someone he's given a chance to stay with.

- He won't let himself be treated as a slave.
- I know the type.
- You're the type.
- If you say so. Lately he's been running into more and more trouble. The day before he'd been told to leave the bagel restaurant, his crime: creating disorder with his art materials. This morning at McDonalds he came out where I was unlocking my bike and told me McDonald's had just done the same.
- They threw him out?
- Yes. He and I had been the only customers in the place. What do you think? Do you agree this violence against him, violation against social habits of human kindness, fits in with the professor's analysis of the police? Starbucks in West Hollywood last week blocked all electrical outlets so the people who live on the street and need to charge their phones and laptops can't do it there. Since they blocked the outlets, half as many people are to be found sitting inside the cafe. Starbucks loses a little money in the short term, but long term, they put fear into the few independent hearts left and make monopolist consolidation go faster; their real primary business is not coffee but, in corporate language, human relations management. Whether people are customers or employees, all are slaves and are to be treated not as human beings but something like zoo animals to be managed by changing the features of their enclosures: electrical outlets removed, music so loud conversation is impossible, high tables and chairs plus freezing temperatures to make sure no one gets too comfortable. Got to go now. Be back in twenty, thirty minutes. The cafe's closing. 


- Where are you? Are you back?
- I'm back. At another Starbucks. Have I told you what happened with the bag I found?
- I don't think so.
- Well, I'd taken to the Beverly Hills police a backpack I saw sitting under a chair early one morning on Rodeo Drive. Inside was postmarked mail providing a name and address. Easy, I told the police, for them to contact the addressed person and return the bag. I'd check back with them to see what happened.** There followed weekly visits by me to the Beverly Hills Police asking for information: the reception office had none, the records department had none, the property department had none, the detective department had none. I wrote to the community relations department. A police lieutenant wrote back saying she's looking for information. Weeks passed, no information forthcoming. I visited the city offices. The reception guard, learning from me my problem, was uncertain who to send me to, settling on Human Services, that is, a social worker, who arrived to offer me a complaint form to fill out. I wrote to both the Beverly Hills City Manager and the Beverly Hills Office of the Ombudsman. Within hours the police community relations officer wrote back saying she did track down the bag: no record existed because immediately after I dropped it off they were able to contact the owner and it was picked up. There was video documenting this. I wrote that I wanted to see the video. She answered, no problem, let's make an appointment, we did, but I got sick and missed the appointment. No problem, she said, we can make another one. What, you wonder, does this story mean? In terms of the police theory we were discussing: the police had refused to grant me any information because that would negate my status as target of violence, present and future slave, but when I established contact and relation to the city political officers, that is, with the people police exercise violence to strengthen, the slave managers, everything changed.

- So the person picked up their lost bag?
- Apparently.
- The appointment you made was to see the video of the person picking up their bag, which you gave to the police?
- Yes.
- When's your next appointment?
- Haven't made one yet. I'm still sick.
- I see. Get well soon.
- I may not go see the video. It doesn't seem possible the police are bluffing and there's no video. 
- Call them on their bluff. Go check it out, just in case. Show them who's boss.

Further Reading:
A Bike In Trumpland
On Bureaucrats & Violence
What is Capitalism?
Violence Work: Policing And Power, Micol Seigel, 2018
** Watching
P.S. "It isn’t hard to begin imagining a series of practical, stepwise actions that we could take without preamble, for the first step towards abolition is simply to shrink the police. ‘Plans for change,’ Rachel Herzing of Critical Resistance has written, big dreams and bold steps toward a police-free future ‘must include taking incremental steps with an eye toward making the cops obsolete.’ We could immediately cut police budgets, decriminalize and otherwise change laws so that there is less for the police to do, while fortifying the social programs and human networks that keep people from needing to risk illegal activity in order to survive. As Critical Resistance has argued, reclaiming the language of ‘safety’ from law enforcement, we could fund those things that genuinely make us safe: health care, high-quality housing, real and good food assistance, excellent public education, green space, unpolluted neighborhoods, and other measures people need in order to thrive. Universities could begin by abolishing campus police. Smaller cities could begin by disarming their patrols. The federal government could repossess the military hand-me-downs transferred from Iraq and Afghanistan and states could prohibit their acquisition in the future. Larger municipalities whose PDs have ‘outreach police,’ ‘homeless police,’ ‘service police’ and other euphemistically-named service-focused units could transfer those funds to agencies that perform the same functions using social workers not trained in violence and free of coercive power. After all, as Herzing continues, ‘[t]aking incremental steps toward the abolition of policing is even more about what must be built than what must be eliminated.’ Lawmakers could decriminalize poverty so that police were never called out to confront the poor or people without homes. City budgets could diminish the size of their police departments to the point that they could be fully funded, eliminating fee-seeking arrest quotas." Micoh Seigel, The Dilemma Of ‘Racial Profiling'