Government by Police
The exercise of power consists in guiding the possibility of conduct and putting in order the possible outcome. Basically power is less a confrontation between two adversaries or the linking of one to the other than a question of government….To govern, in this sense, is to structure the possible field of action of others.
Upon hearing, in childhood, "that if you wanted to do nothing in your life, become a police officer", my perception of these oddly dressed individuals that littered the streets changed radically. Even if family and friends would repeat this statement with disdain for those it described, I harboured a secret admiration for what struck me as a particularly privileged group of people who could do nothing, but seemed to have all that my family had. At worst, they were obliged to walk (North America’s "flatfeet"), or order moving cars about. What greater guarantee could there be for my own aspirations for perpetual do-nothingness.
Far removed from this idyll was another police that my family would speak of with far greater circumspection, usually with lowered voices, and with what I thought was a certain fear. They wore no uniform, were invisible, and could apparently see and hear with extra human ability. And when they caught their criminals, the unspeakable would happen to them. Our house would be a passage point for many who somehow survived their clutches. Late at night, when such visitors came, stories of prisons and pain would fill my world, and bodies bruised and scarred would be displayed. A new word entered my vocabulary: torture. Mixed with my own tale fed imagination, I came to see these strange, quiet guests as extraordinary, as larger than life, because capable of resisting all manner of trials. My lazy police were doubled by a shadow, the Polícia Internacional e de Defesa do Estado, PIDE. In the darkness of this shadow, my aspirations for any police status died.
The contradictory thoughts of childhood are supposed to be dispelled with the maturity of age. Yet for those of us under democratic administration and the rule of law, we continue to be blind as regards the police. When Egyptian or Tunisian police open fire on those rebelling against dictatorship, we sadly but arrogantly (and with no small dose of racism) proclaim the inevitability of such violence. Our police, on the other hand, are indirectly our agents, and may be directly called upon in times of need. If excesses they do commit, they are the result of over zealousness in the performance of duty, or violations of the law; in either case, to be forgiven or sanctioned. The police of democracy are but an instrument; used well, they are beyond criticism.
In reflections such as these, naivety is alive and well.
Let us consider that no instrument leaves its' user untouched. Whatever the instrument, it comes to influence, to shape, and to determine how we perceive, think about and act in the world around us. No instrument is in other words neutral. The police cannot therefore be deployed as a permanent apparatus of security without our coming to understand social reality as one of permanent insecurity.
Let also move beyond images of power that associate it with a sovereign authority who acts or fails to act by means of the tools for the exercise of authority. Sovereignty is rather co-extensive with those tools. Without them, it would not be, such that it is, for example, its’ police.
Let us lastly then accept Walter Benjamin’s terrible judgement that we live in an age of permanent state of exception, and that it is our task to find/define a politics equal to this reality.
The testimony of our age of riots and insurrections, as Alain Badiou has called our times, is of permanent violence exercised by the police against all of those who contest publicly the policies of economic oppression. Public squares are cleared and pacified, demonstrations are attacked with all manner of weaponry, new laws, or laws formerly adapted during the “war on terror”, are put into place as the police act, people are identified, arrested, maimed. The police have become the legislators of our peace, a peace exemplified in the eventless spaces-times of hotel lobbies, shopping centres, airports, and the like.
The point is that the police … are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterizes the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly and clearly than anywhere else.
To refuse this peace, is to become a criminal. And we are all today possible criminals.
Spain 15M …
Quebec student strike …
Chicago against Nato …
But as we are criminalised, so the tables may be turned and the sovereigns themselves revealed as naked criminals.