The role the police play in a modern society ought to be straightforward and well-known. The police broadly considered ought to act with certain goals in mind, namely — to implement the laws of the land while ensuring these laws are observed and bringing to the courts those individuals and institutions which fail to obey those laws. (At one time, the police were also charged with maintaining the general welfare of the people.) The police are empowered by law to meet these goals. Since the United States is a constitutional republic, policing in America must be performed in such a way that the police habitually observe constitutional norms while fulfilling their duties. When the police are considered in this way, it is clear that they are agents of the Constitution and are meant to create a constitutionally ordered society.
Once again, the role of the police in a modern society should be both simple and clear to all.
Given the role assigned to the police and given the nature and content of the Bill of Rights, what are we to make of a recent report by David Graeber?
A few weeks ago I was with a few companions from Occupy Wall Street in Union Square when an old friend — I’ll call her Eileen — passed through, her hand in a cast.
“What happened to you?” I asked.
“Oh, this?” she held it up. “I was in Liberty Park on the 17th [the Six Month Anniversary of the Occupation]. When the cops were pushing us out the park, one of them yanked at my breast.”
“Again?” someone said.
We had all been hearing stories like this. In fact, there had been continual reports of police officers groping women during the nightly evictions from Union Square itself over the previous two weeks.
“Yeah so I screamed at the guy, I said, ‘you grabbed my boob! what are you, some kind of fucking pervert?’ So they took me behind the lines and broke my wrists.”
Actually, she quickly clarified, only one wrist was literally broken. She proceeded to launch into a careful, well-nigh clinical blow-by-blow description of what had happened. An experienced activist, she knew to go limp when police seized her, and how to do nothing that could possibly be described as resisting arrest. Police dragged her, partly by the hair, behind their lines and threw her to the ground, periodically shouting “stop resisting!” as she shouted back “I’m not resisting!” At one point though, she said, she did tell them her glasses had fallen to the sidewalk next to her, and announced she was going to reach over to retrieve them. That apparently gave them all the excuse they needed. One seized her right arm and bent her wrist backwards in what she said appeared to be some kind of marshal-arts move, leaving it not broken, but seriously damaged. “I don’t know exactly what they did to my left wrist—at that point I was too busy screaming at the top of my lungs in pain. But they broke it. After that they put me in plastic cuffs, as tightly as they possibly could, and wouldn’t loosen them for at least an hour no matter how loud I screamed or how much the other prisoners begged them to help me. For a while everyone in the arrest van was chanting ‘take them off, take them off’ but they just ignored them…”
The author continues by noting the obvious:
Arbitrary violence is nothing new. The apparently systematic use of sexual assault against women protestors is new. I’m not aware of any reports of police intentionally grabbing women’s breasts before March 17, but on March 17 there were numerous reported cases, and in later nightly evictions from Union Square, the practice became so systematic that at least one woman told me her breasts were grabbed by five different police officers on a single night (in one case, while another one was blowing kisses.) The tactic appeared so abruptly, is so obviously a violation of any sort of police protocol or standard of legality, that it is hard to imagine it is anything but an intentional policy.
From the rape squads around the world (that made mass rape a weapon of war) to the dirty-handed goon squads of the NYPD (who have added sexual assault to the weapons locker of a terrorist state), the goals thus pursued are held constant across time, space and culture: Terrorize the weak, especially women, demoralize the opposition, and the rule of law be damned.
What do I make of this report? The crimes committed by the New York Police Department reported by David Graeber should be considered signs. What do these signs signify? They point to the fact that the United States continues its slide into a state of barbarism.