The Primary Function of the Police: To Maintain Social Order

I have criticized the views of John Clarke, a former major organizer for the poverty organization Ontario Coalition Against Poverty (OCAP). However, he has written some interesting posts on Facebook, which indicat a welcome change of position. Thus, I read the following today on Facebook:

Watching police in London move, on the shabbiest of pretexts, against protesters who raised objections to the Coronation, got me thinking about how cops view public displays of dissent. Of course, it is always important to start with an understanding of the actual role that police discharge and to avoid imagining that police conduct is primarily a question of the views and opinions of the individual officers. Certainly, the actions of those cops over in London weren’t attributable to any improvised response. Still, policing attracts a certain type of person and police attitudes aren’t an irrelevant consideration.

Over the years, I’ve dealt with police forces at protests of one kind or another in Canada, the US and the UK. In this country, I’ve come up against federal, provincial and municipal police and faced intelligence squads an public order units. The view of police officers to e of dissent is very much shaped by the usual role they discharge. The most common activity of the police is to patrol and contain targeted communities made up of poor and racialized people, whose acts of survival and frustration are viewed as a threat. In this, police are driven by a sense that they are holding back the elements of society that threaten its stability.

When dissatisfaction with the existing order goes over to organized displays of dissent, the police apply the same notion that they are dealing with a threat to social stability. That is true of ordinary police in the ranks and of the more specialized formations that function as political police. Some years ago, a lawyer I knew was mistakenly allowed to sit in on a police briefing for representatives of a Crown Attorney’s office prior to a major protest. The cop giving the talk explained that the whole protest movement was devoted to massive property damage and violent attacks on the police.The assaultive elements were a minority but the rest of the protesters were there to provide cover for them. He claimed that union flying squads and Raging Grannies plotted with extremists to facilitate this radical violence.

No doubt this cop knew he had no evidence to support his claims but, on other hand, I suspect he was giving his view of how those who challenge authority operate. During one of the courtroom proceedings I faced, a cop testified that he had been knocked down by protesters and that, lying on the ground, he felt hands grabbing him and knew that the crowd wanted to take his life. Footage of the incident showed the cop beating a man and another protester trying to stop him with the result that they both fell over. There was no one else close to them and a press photographer helped the cop to get back up. While his testimony was intended to facilitate a conviction, I would again say that the cop was actually presenting his distorted but generally honest perception of the incident.

Time and again, I’ve heard police suggest that children are brought to protests as human shields. They really do believe that anyone who wants to challenge injustices in society by taking to the streets is part of a dangerous and rather wicked layer of society that must be kept in line and they regret that liberal values prevent them from dealing with these malcontents as they deserve to be dealt with. Very understandably, right wing forms of protest are viewed very differently and facilitated as much as possible. Their objectives are commendable in the eyes of the police.

In my experience, cops have a very simple and blinkered view of things. They regard authority as inherently good and dissent against the power structure as threatening and deviant. Social injustices, if they even exist, are only pretexts for those who simply hate authority and social stability. Cops are convinced that they are part of a noble and heroic formation that holds the social fabric together, while all kinds of meddlers and regulators seek to make their lives difficult.

This would explain why the notion that someone has a legal right to hold up a sign opposing a Royal Coronation that should actually be defended, would seem like nonsense to a cop. Their brand of public order is one in which those in power decide what is to be done and ordinary people must accept their decisions because the police are there to make sure they stay in line.
Compare this with the claims made by a self-proclaimed Marxist living in Toronto, Herman Rosenfeld, concerning the issue of abolishing the police:

Shouldn’t that institution be thoroughly transformed, by political struggle, into a more humane, limited and less autonomous one?

In addition to the vague term “transformed,” I have not yet read anything from Rosenfeld on how this is to be accomplished. I doubt that I will. Such is the nature of some racial leftists’ views these days.

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