“At each moment of its existence, the police reminds the State of the violence, the banality, and the darkness of its beginnings”
“This is why there is no such thing as death within Biopower: there is only murder and its circulation”
“When power establishes its own legitimacy in real time, when its violence becomes
preventive and its right is a “right to intervene,” Empire does not take place. It administers absence through a hovering threat of police intervention. Whoever tries to measure up against the imperial adversary will be preventively annihilated. From now on, to be perceived is to be defeated”
The life of Trayvon Martin was coldly terminated on the 26th of February 2012 with the blunt bullet of police officer George Zimmerman. He was 17 years old; his crime, “he’s a real suspicious guy”. The inauguration -or continuation- of other shootings to come. Zimmerman is a free man. “Justice for Trayvon”, the protestors chanted two weeks later on the streets.
Eric Garner uttered his last words on the 17th of July 2014 in the violent presence of several police officers who besieged him after he refused to obey orders. Daniel Pantaleo proceeded to put Garner in a chokehold, terminating his life. The crime, selling unauthorized cigarettes. Daniel Pantaleo is a free man. “We can’t breathe”, protestors wrote on their signs.
Michael Brown was murdered on the 9th of August 2014 by police officer Darren Wilson. In ‘self-defense’, Wilson shot Brown dead, twelve times. He was 18 years old, unarmed. His crime, refusing to take the sidewalk. Darren Wilson is a free man. “Black Lives Matter”, the protestors shouted later.
Forget the dates, and the details, the places, the ambiguity of the justifications of the murders, the randomness of the shootings; notice only the rusty repetition of the events, the familiarity of the headline: “the cops shot a black person today”.
The police will say, in the media statements and in the press releases, in the midst of well-intended police operations, these black people seem to stumble upon the bullets of the innocent cops who were just doing their job. The state officials will say that these ‘standard’ procedures are the only guarantee of security and stability, that these ‘murders’ are necessary.
Against this ideological stuffing, people marched in Ferguson, in Oakland, in New York and other places, because the promise of a post-racial United States shatters abruptly in light of the events, because these episodes reveal the tenacious loyalties which hold the Police-State and racism so tightly together. Whereas not so long ago the black body was captured in inferiority, it is criminality today which captures this body and becomes its major marker; this is the formula that posits the black body today as a factory of death by suspicion. The biopolitical management of the population requires the necropolitical management of other-populations, and so racism today no longer postulates the superiority of one race over the other, it is rather a mode of government, to put it in Foucauldian terms, it is “the break between what we must live and what must die. […] It is a way of separating out the groups that exist within a population[i]”. But this separation is lethal because the management of difference is resolved through murder and complete elimination. In order for sovereignty to perform, and therefore deliver, it necessitates the containment of different bodies: some are actively enhanced, others are closely surveilled, some bodies are disciplined and others are just eliminated, murdered, disposed of. These are the bodies which today strip naked the miserable condition of the ‘citizen’ in all interactions with the State, and they equally strip naked the Police-State; it is the “criminals” under the black skin who are now exposing the criminals in uniform: the necropolice, the executioners; the murderers, unmasking, especially in the given conditions, the true colors of the necropolice: they are the guardians of whiteness. The decision over who lives and who dies is activated through the markers of race, social class and skin color, and the cop is the engineer of this decision.
Some remarks on the circumstantial patterns that can be traced in the events are thus necessary: that for example the shootings happened in a public execution style, giving us images and scenes straight out of the Middle Ages, that the police seem to be systematically targeting black young bodies in what resembles a collective punishment rather than crime containment, and that the speculative nature of the police operations are epitomized in the term ‘suspicious’. Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown are not dead because they were criminals; they are dead because of the possibility that they might have been criminals. The idea of the ‘possibility’ pins down an important distinction that must be made clear: “the jurisdiction of the imperial police, of Biopower is limitless, since what it must circumscribe and put a stop to does not exist at the level of the actual but at the level of the possible. The discretionary power here is called prevention and the risk factor is this possible, existing everywhere in actuality as possible, which is the basis for Empire’s universal right to intervene[ii]”. To intervene is to kill. Creating spaces of emergency which disable the law is a very complex task and what these murders reveal is how easily the idea of ‘emergency’ is suddenly transferred onto the body; saturating its difference with negative markers such as criminality or suspicion, in order for the elimination to take place, to reconstitute sovereign power as what it is really: decisions over life and death. But within these events, the possibility is rendered an actuality in an immediate way, because it is not a body which is targeted, it is blackness which mechanically transforms this ‘possibility’, this ‘suspicion’ into a good enough reason for murder: speculative policing that anticipates ‘a criminal’ to come ends up killing ‘a criminal’ that does not exist. Notice here the inverse meanings of the situation: ‘in order to protect the population, the police must kill the population’, accentuates the madness of what is going on.
Nothing exposes the absurdity of the events like the frail argument that the policemen did what they did to prevent someone else from dying, to highlight the nonsensical arguments of police apologists and state defenders. The police are the executioners of the perfect crime. If you want to get away with murder, become a cop, establish a very dubious suspicion and point your gun at a body of difference. And this is also why any debate over the impunity of the police is irrelevant, because the police could not be part of a trial in which it is simultaneously the judge and the party. The Police-State cannot convict itself.
These events leave little doubt: the Police-State confiscates lives; but let us also not forget that this confiscation has activated some significant affinities. And perhaps these affinities, which were channeled throughout the summer and which still continue in a strong spirit today all over the United States, do promise radical change.
[i] Foucault, Michel. Society Must be Defended: Lectures at the College de France 1975–1976. 2003.
[ii] Tiqqun. Introduction to Civil War. http://zinelibrary.info/files/introcivil_print.pdf