cops are not friends
This past Friday was what activists in the US call “Fur Free Friday.” FFF is in response to “Black Friday,” the day after Thanksgiving in which stores have huge sales, making this one of the busiest shopping day of the year. Animal activists traditionally take to the streets and the malls on FFF and speak out against fur.
I have trained my voice to be as loud, and more clear, than a megaphone so that amplified sound laws (or the police’s belief that there are such laws even when there are not) cannot hamper first amendment speech in the course of activism. Given this ability, I often lead chants at rallies, and FFF this year was no exception. In the course of this year’s chanting I gave a monologue, which admittedly steered off course, and made note of the fact that cops suck.
When a store clerk claimed we activists were not “compassionate” I noted that we in fact were. My monologue went something like this (though I can’t remember the exact words, they were similar to those below, and the “asshole cops” part was definitely there, and is the phrase in question…):
“We are compassionate. You are protected from simply our voices by a line of asshole cops, wielding guns. You are protected by a violent police state from only our words. Just imagine how the animals you are profiting off of feel. They are caged, abused, tortured and will eventually have metal prods stuck in their anuses and will be electrocuted; they have no one to protect them from actual violence.”
After the event, the Facebook event page became fertile ground for admonishing me for calling cops assholes. The initial post read:
“Thank you to all the activists who came out today you are all amazing and should be proud[.]
To the lady who gave most of the speeches at all the shops selling fur, I will say you are a great activist and your speeches were great and passionate, but I would please urge you not to call the Police assholes in front of them in the future.
The Police were supportive of us today and they were on our side and calling them assholes will not do yourself or other activists any favours in the future, it makes us look bad and we want them on our side as well as the general public.
You don’t have to like cops if you don’t want to, but I would please urge if you if you see this post not to do that again. Thanks”
Then a conversation ensued in which people debated whether the cops were nice and if I should “apologize.” The conversations continued devolving as the actions of many dedicated activists in the LA area were trash-talked by people who insisted that cops are nice, and aggressive activism is bad.
putting animal abusers at ease
I wonder why the person did not speak to me in person at the event rather than waiting for the platform of Facebook. I wonder why there are so many more characters devoted to the one sentence I said that he did not like than the words that thank me for the other hour and half of work I did that he did like. Would he have ever posted publicly JUST to thank me? Would the part of the post that reads, “Thank you to all the activists who came out today you are all amazing and should be proud” have ever been posted if this person had not wanted to also be negative and admonish another activist’s actions? Probably not.
In the face of so many animals dying for fur, the second largest metropolitan area in the nation holds only one large demonstration all year and has only one year-round anti-fur campaign. Denigrating another activist’s behavior on a public forum, monitored by the police and those who profit from fur sales does nothing more than put animal abusers at ease—selling out our movement as uncollected and ineffective.
(This is also very deflating behavior for the individual activist, and our numbers are too small to turn away hard working activists without good cause. This point I can only make by sharing my personal feelings about this experience. My feelings are not integral to the larger argument so I will not post here, but you can read them here if you are interested…)
Not one time did anyone opposed to my actions contact me personally or even tag me to let me know that my actions were being discussed. In fact, one woman said these comments were okay because I was not “called out.” My actions were discussed for a 173-long comment thread and never once did anyone ask me why I made the comment I did. I wasn’t asked, but I will explain…
the cops are not our friends
Whoever out there really believes that the cops are on activists’ side, that they are potential allies, or that it is okay to talk to them, PLEASE WAKE UP. The cops are not our friends and they were not at FFF for our protection. As one commenter on Facebook, Shannen Maas, aptly noted in response to someone suggesting the cops are there for the protesters’ sake:
“The [the cops] stand between us and the businesses. They face us and are ready to attack and arrest us in [sic] something goes awry. Make no mistake of why police monitor protests, it’s to make sure that we can’t be a single ounce more effective than they would like us to be.”
normalizing state violence
That so many activists supported the police in this thread highlights how routine and accepted the visible displays of power and violence exhibited by the state have become. LA police officers need only a GED as an educational requirement. The city’s standards are not high but the power they give the police is immense. The police have guns and billy clubs with them as well as less obviously deadly weapons such as pepper spray and restraint devices. They openly carry visible reminders that they are in charge and can hurt or kill us at will.
That unarmed activists who were using only their voices were being followed by people with weapons is a despicable display of the state’s abuse of power. That activists are not enraged by this, and even go so far as to defend these people (who they do not know and who are clearly less aligned with them than other animal rights activists are) as “nice” people who “deserve an apology,” highlights just how normal this harassment is and just how co-opted by the police state US citizens are.
Trite comments that had no relevance to the situation at hand were being brandished in this thread—highlighting a learned tendency among people to assume cops are okay and there for protection. It also reflects an unrecognized tendency not to hold certain people accountable for their actions. For example, there was the comment that calling cops assholes was bad because it would turn off the public. However, anyone there would have been hard-pressed to find much public—it was a rare rainy day in LA and even though this day is typically a busy shopping day there were almost no shoppers that day. Someone suggested to me that what those comments were leaning toward was that the cops were bystanders and potential allies. My response to that is, and let me be clear:
Cops are not our allies. They are paid to oppress activism.
Some people on the thread tried to let cops off the hook. One had the observation that “the police are our brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers…” as if that statement absolves them of accountability for what they are doing. I am related to a cop, a former vivisector, and lots of meat eaters. Just because I am related to them does not absolve them of any ounce of accountability they hold for what they have done to destroy others’ lives. Rapists, murderers, and animal abusers are all someone’s “brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.” And guess what, so are the activists who are being dismissed in favor of the cops. If this unproductive analogy is applied to anyone it should be people who live lives in line with one’s own morals, not strangers with weapons.
Another sentiment expressed as to why activists should actively seek to be nice to the police is that cops are just doing their jobs. Yes. EXACTLY. Their job is to oppress and restrict activism, which is exactly why they should be held accountable for their actions. And as much as they are “doing their job” when they follow activists around, in the case that an activist slips up and can be arrested, they are choosing not to engage in other police work. There are plenty of undercover videos of slaughter facilities in Los Angeles and damning reports that show the city’s main university, UCLA, regularly violates lab animal welfare violations. The police know that they can walk into one of these facilities at any time and they will find people breaking the law and abusing animals. However, the cops never decide to police animal abusers who ARE breaking the law; instead they police law-abiding activists.
cops heart corporations, not activists
Some activists on the thread believed the cops were there to protect protesters. The delusion that would lead anyone to that conclusion is beyond my comprehension. As was stated by another activist—they face activists, not the stores. They are ready to attack. People on the post misconstrued the act of police briefly stopping traffic to allow activists to cross the street as an act of kindness. The police were interested in keeping protesters together so that we would be easier to monitor and manage; allowing us to be split up at stop lights would have caused them to choose to leave some store fronts un‘manned’ or some activists unwatched. Ego makes us want to believe others agree with us and want to support us. But they generally don’t when it comes to animal abuse. The cops are paid to subdue activism—their uniforms are made up of leather, they probably eat meat and always will. I promise, they are not concerned about helping activists, much less the cause of FFF.
calling cops assholes may be bad, but only because cops are, in fact, assholes
I did make a mistake in my words. Pissing off cops by calling them assholes when so many activists could be at the receiving end of their violence was not a smart or safe idea on my part. Because cops are assholes, they are likely to react poorly if their feelings are hurt, even if it is legally protected first amendment speech.
My mistake was putting activists in greater risk of state violence, not in hurting a cop’s feelings or being rude. Animal activists tend to be white, female, and well-educated. We are the type of people who are the least likely to be abused by the police. Our privileged position suggests it is actually a duty to stand up to cops. We most certainly should never defend them. However, we should speak out against them and to them when we are alone, rather than in a group of other activists who could bear the brunt of police violence. So, I apologize to all the activists there for my behavior, as it may have put you at risk.
But these are not the reasons people were upset on this thread. Sadly, one activist on the thread equated calling cops assholes with threatening their lives. This sort of hyperbole is borrowed from animal exploiters and used too comfortably and too often among activists. She then lamented she had been arrested because of activists mouthing off to cops. The take home lesson for her was that an activist such as myself who angrily reacts to a cop is “some idiot…who decides that protesting for the animals isnt [sic] important” and is just doing it to “earn street cred.” Rather than blaming the cops, who illegally violated her right to free speech by physically restraining and imprisoning her, she decided that the activist was in the wrong. This tendency to cannibalize our compatriots is exactly what the opposition wants. It keeps up impotent and ineffective. It is a panopticon of self-regulation in proportions not even Bentham or Foucault could have dreamed up.
repeat after me. the cops are not our friends
The US government, with the military and police sent to do their bidding, regularly engages in egregious human rights abuses. This includes the brutal murders of innocent people, as has been highlighted by recent drone attacks which have killed hundreds of innocent people in the past few years, to torture such as the vicious holding of over 150 prisoners in Guantanamo for over a decade without even filing charges and leaving inmates in solitary confinement for upwards of 20 years in US prisons.
Domestically, police are also a major cause of killings:
“Since 9/11, and the subsequent militarization of the police by the Department of Homeland Security, about 5,000 Americans have been killed by US police officers. The civilian death rate is nearly equal to the number of US soldiers killed in Iraq. In fact, you are 8 times more likely to be killed by a police officer than by a terrorist.”
That means that, on average, cops in the US are killing at least one person every single day. Compare to Iceland, where only one person has been killed by the police, ever; and though it was an egregious situation and the cops had little choice they apologized and lamented their actions. Conversely, in the US cops try to get a pass and are defended by the state when they murder; even though their killings and other abusive behaviors such as stop-and-frisk and political repression reflect a clear pattern of discriminatory application and overuse of their power.
The US has the highest incarceration rate in the world and these incarceration rates reveal systematic and selective policing and punishment. Black and Latino men have incarceration rates six and three times higher than white men, respectively. A study by the American Civil Liberties Union revealed that 3,278 people in the US are currently serving life sentences for nonviolent offenses and about two-thirds of these people are black. Incarceration rates not only reflect, but also create, racial and ethnic inequality in our society.
Just as discriminatory policing creates racism, it assists in political repression through selective and aggressive policing of activists. In fact, every time the animal rights movement makes strides, the state steps in to shut it down. And it is the FBI and police who are in charge of this abuse. This leads to situations in which the targeting and repression of activists simultaneously becomes an excuse not to go to protests (fear of cops) at the same time that it encourages activists to seek approval from cops (and even leads some to believe that arrested activists actually did something wrong).
It has created a situation in which those who do go to protests make statements like this: “…[I]t is always important at any protest or march to have the Police on our side and show them we are the good guys.” In this thread it clearly led to a situation in which it became so important to get a thumbs up from police that activists actually got angry with an ally for openly taking a rhetorical stance against state violence.
cops are bad for activism. period.
If the police at FFF were in fact being “nice” is it only because the demo only happens one time per year and seems ineffective. Any time an effective protest campaign springs up in LA the LAPD makes sure that the cop to activist ratio is about 1:1 and many legal 1st amendment activities are prevented as a matter of course—just take the 2007 Los Angeles May Day Protest or the Occupy sweep.
Members of the police and FBI engage in everything from small-scale harassment to active systematic attempts at silencing animal activists. In one recent example (of many possibilities), an LA area activist who captured undercover video of animal abuse at a slaughterhouse was detained by cops and is being charged herself with animal abuse in retaliation for her whistle-blowing activity. State authorities are not our friends, and arguing on Facebook about how nice they can be and genuinely being angry with another activist for calling a cop an asshole is a seriously misguided use of passion.
At the same time that activists use police harassment as an excuse not to engage in regular sustained protest activity (e.g. “I don’t want to be arrested” “I don’t want to be on ‘the list’”), they claim police can be nice, and are “just doing their job.” I call bullshit. Cops are absolutely not our friends. Their job is to shut us down. The most dangerous thing to a corrupt state is free speech, good ideas, and the work of activists. Our country’s greatness is that its citizens are free. We are allowed to call the cops assholes if we want to. But as free as we technically are, business interests and the interests of the government (which is controlled by big business) will always be to shut down the ideas that will cost them money. Businesses use animals—they take their bodies for free and sell them for a profit. Our freedom might be ours on paper, but make no mistake, it must be fought for and the police will try to take it away. The cops are never on our side, and if you think they are then you have bought in to a police state as norm, and you are playing by the rules of the oppressor.