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The Enforcer Class

2015 June 10
by Ian Welsh

If you are a left-winger who wants to, in effect, overthrow a racist oligarchical system, the police are not your friends. Nor, need I point out, are corrections officers. Nor is most of the court system.

These people belong to the enforcer class. Police and corrections officers are paid not just in money but in license to brutalize. In most cases, they can get away with beating people up and even killing them. To stop a police officer from skating on murder requires riots, as a rule, and even that doesn’t usually work. The FBI has cleared themselves of every killing an FBI officer has performed for decades.

This is not incidental, this is not an accident; this is how our lords and rulers want the enforcement system to run.

Police are selected and trained and socialized to either become thugs or to cover up thuggery. Imbeciles will say things like “not all cops,” but it is virtually unheard of for the “good cops” to inform on the bad cops–they keep their mouths shut. This is wise on their part, of course, because the vast majority of police would turn on them in seconds if they were to betray the blue wall of silence.

America, per capita, imprisons more people than any other country in the world. Many of these people are non-violent drug offenders who used a drug which is less harmful than alcohol or cigarettes. Solitary confinement is widespread, prison rape and battery are widespread, and there is plenty of evidence of prison guard collusion in said rape and battery.

If you are an African American male, you are far more likely to have spent time in prison than in university.

And police lie routinely about those they arrest. How many people are in prison who didn’t commit the crime of which they are accused? How many would have been convicted if police hadn’t concealed exculpatory evidence? The answers to these questions are unknown for obvious reasons, but I would stake a great deal that it is a non-trivial number.

All of this assumes the accused even had a trial–most people in prison have never had one: They plead out. That’s absolutely not an indication of guilt, it is an indication that they couldn’t afford to fight the system. Justice is very expensive, and prosecuting attorneys advise defendants against going to trial. If people lose (which, again, doesn’t  necessarily indicate guilt), they’ll get book thrown at them.

The American “justice” system cannot operate without plea bargains. The state arrests too many people for that. Hardly anybody gets justice, people get railroaded to prison without a trial, based on the word of police who are willing to lie, and once they are felons, their lives are permanently destroyed.

The people who run this system are not your friends. They do not like you. They enjoy the authority they have, and if you “disrespect a cop,” even if you’re firmly within your rights, if they think they can get away with it, they will fuck you up, enjoy it, and firmly believe that you deserve it. Then they’ll lie about it.

Not your friends. Not your allies. The hard fist of the oligarchy, the boot stamping on your face over and over again.

If you do not understand this you are living in a fantasy land and delusional in the face of real, hard power.


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22 Responses
  1. someofparts permalink
    June 10, 2015

    “if they think they can get away with it, they will fuck you up, enjoy it and firmly believe that you deserve it. Then they’ll lie about it.”

    that nails it

    also a good thumbnail description of authoritarian thinking in general

  2. jsn permalink
    June 10, 2015

    non-trivial typo in:
    “but I would stake a great deal that it is not a non-trivail number.”

    maybe should read:
    “but I would stake a great deal that it is a non-trivail number.”

    or:
    “but I would stake a great deal that it is not a trivail number.”

  3. Jeff Wegerson permalink
    June 10, 2015

    Thirty or forty years ago you could still talk in a friendly manner to cops. Now it is much harder. Too much chance they will misunderstand you.

    @jsn. Ian is right. Some numbers must be veiled. Sometimes it takes three veils to to properly hide them. But that is only the case in a particular ski-town in Colorado. So yes these numbers are so important to hide that they are not non-triveil numbers. (And yes this comment is trivial)

  4. June 10, 2015

    “He may not be guilty of this particular crime, but he’s a skell and he’s guilty of something, so fuck him. That’s not just a line from a movie.

  5. Ian Welsh permalink
    June 10, 2015

    Thanks Jsn.

  6. June 10, 2015

    A large part of the problem is there are fewer real offenders, so to be successful as a member of the police class you have to work to make people fit. but that means that more of the actually dangerous criminal class gets all. we now convict fewer people of murder.

  7. Erin Gannon permalink
    June 10, 2015

    As it happens, I have a friend who is a felon. He’s also an artist and while discussing the idea that he should get his work up on the interwebs, I discovered he’s not allowed to have any other internet presence besides an email address. And only one. He cannot create a web page for his work. He is also having a tough time finding a place to rent. When I suggested trying to locate an ex-cons’ network, perhaps of fellow ex-cons-made-good who help each other out by renting or sharing networking resources, I was told it is illegal for two ex-cons to live on the same property, unless they are related. The litany of restrictions placed on him is unbelievable and maddening. And it’s perfectly clear that these restrictions are there deliberately to cause re-offending. The amount of inner-strength required to crawl out of this hole is more than any rich asshole would ever be required to put forth. They want us all in jail or debtors’ prison. For reals.

  8. Robert permalink
    June 10, 2015

    Police are selected and trained and socialized to either become thugs or to cover up thuggery. Imbeciles will say things like “not all cops,” but it is virtually unheard of for the “good cops” to inform on the bad cops–they keep their mouths shut. This is wise on their part, of course, because the vast majority of police would turn on them in seconds if they were to betray the blue wall of silence. -hence Christopher Dorner. Remember how paranoid that one guy made the LAPD, how they shot up that truck and everything else.I wonder if the officers who did that got in any trouble, I seriously doubt it.Dorner was a good cop and look how he ended up.

  9. Tom R permalink
    June 10, 2015

    I think it’s even more complicated, because look who’s hired to be cops and corrections officers. And look where most prisons are located: in poor and rural areas, where being a corrections officer means a full job with benefits. If crime drops, as Stirling points out it has, where’s the job security in that?

  10. mike permalink
    June 10, 2015

    I used to work with state criminal justice commissions and once heard a prosecutor say almost word for word what Ian says. When asked about the possibility he was hammering a guy who didn’t do the crime accused, he just smiled and shrugged. “He did something in the past so if we didn’t get him for that, we’ll get him on this.” The larger problem, of course, as we’ve seen with general prosecutorial reaction to Innocence Commission findings of wrongly accused is that, when shown someone else did the crime, there is usually no effort to find the actual offender if that is unknown. The point was to drop the hammer at the time, notch the belt, and move on.

  11. Joe permalink
    June 10, 2015

    The desire for power is the hardest behavior to change. Their is nothing for which to substitute it.

  12. Spinoza permalink
    June 10, 2015

    I was raised to look at cops like they were the enemy. They were never our friends and if you must deal with them it was wisest to use the “docile slave technique”…which, in effect, is to play as dumb and obsequious as possible. If it looked like arrest was in the cards then you shut up and say nothing. It’s helped me in my life.

    @robert
    Remember when that swine of a police chief had a press conference and said something along the lines of “to be targeted for what you are…now that’s real scary”? Damn near the most ironic words a cop has ever said. Laughed real hard at that one.

  13. BigD permalink
    June 10, 2015

    @Spinoza…many years ago I got picked up in Berkeley for a very weak charge and spent 3 days and 2 nights in lock up waiting for arraignment. I advise all to avoid getting arrested Monday morning. Backlog.

    Anyway, I’m a child of white upper middle class cold war America, so far on the left I find Marx mild and there I am, in the pokey with all the blacks guys that got arrested over the weekend. They’re all sitting around or standing in small groups, just hanging out, laughing and talking shit when up comes the PD.

    He called through the bars of the cage and when your name was called you went up for a brief consultation. To a man, every black guy in that place dropped a mask so hard I couldn’t comprehend what I was seeing. These guys who, seconds ago, were telling bawdy stories and sassing each other, were transformed into glass eyed, feet shufflin “yas sah”, “no sah,” mumblin no-eye-contact, stare-at-the-floor, egoless shells.

    Now, I knew then about institutionalized racism, but I had never witnessed the truth of it in any meaningful way. I had never had a visceral experience of it. Before that, I hadn’t the wit to discern the meaning of that behavior. That people literally have to eface themselves like that apalls me. Its a harrowing fact that that’s a requisite strategy to evade the capricious, arbitrary and cruel system of oppression so efficiently enforced by the miracle of Capitalist psychosis…if you survive the arrest…

  14. BigD permalink
    June 11, 2015

    and, yes, I realize totalitarian brutality is agnostic to all forms of government…

  15. DMC permalink
    June 11, 2015

    The actual rate of crimes committed has been dropping steadily with the shrinking demographic of 18 to 24 year old males, who are the portion of the population most likely to commit crimes and be caught. This looks to continue for some time with the over all “graying” of the population, which suggests that we’re headed for some kind of crisis with the whole prison-industrial complex, although mass incarceration of undocumented immigrants seems to be the new “growth” sector. Indeed, many prisons are already finding themselves with increasingly elderly populations that require greater and greater expenditures to keep up with even minimal standards of healthcare. The sheer disconnect between the expanding security state and dropping crime rates, even in the face of soaring poverty, has pretty much got to become yet another “elephant in the room” that anyone seeking the “populist” mantle in the political arena is going to have to address.

  16. Mallam permalink
    June 11, 2015

    Quibble:

    “This is not incidental, this is not an accident; this is how our lords and rulers want the enforcement system to run.”

    This is how society — particularly white America — wants the system run. Just look at your average white person with regard to any of the recent episodes of police violence. McKinney pool party and there are signs going up thanking the police for “keeping us safe”.

  17. atcooper permalink
    June 11, 2015

    My hope is deep-city born white folks, myself in that cohort, are a bit more aware. I was targeted and harassed as a young man by cops, so I know how they’ll lie and threaten and generally leverage their privileged status. I know damn well had I been any other color, I’d have seen worse.

    My discussions with peers are very alarming though. A few, the ones most similar in background, they know. But I’ve been surprised by how quickly my stories are dismissed by others. I’ve most frequently heard, the cops are doing their jobs. My only adequate response has been, “yes, if their jobs are to threaten and harass.”

  18. philadelphialawyer permalink
    June 11, 2015

    Agree entirely. And it is not just prosecuting attorneys who advise defendants to plead guilty, but defense attorneys as well. Jurors are not really selected randomly, and most jurors are predisposed to believe that “where there’s smoke there’s fire.” And that if you were really not guilty, there is no way the police or the DAs would say you are. And, usually, juries tend to be racist and class biased as well. Winning an outright acquittal is very difficult, given all that, and police “testilying” and doctoring and planting of evidence, trial judge bias, and routine, and routinely overlooked, DA misconduct. At best, a defendant might get convicted of a lesser offense, but, because of his temerity in insisting on a trial at all, the judge will throw the book at him, and he might not be any better off, and maybe even worse off, than if he had taken the plea bargain. If the jury convicts him of the top count, the judge will throw away the key entirely. To mount a real defense also costs a lot more than most defendants can afford, and indigent defendants are represented by overworked public defenders, and there is no simply no budget to hire expert witnesses, investigators and so on in their cases.

    So, most defense lawyers will try to get as good a “deal” from the DA as possible, and in all good faith advise their clients to take it, even if they are innocent, and even if the defense attorney believes that they are innocent.

    BigD:

    “..many years ago I got picked up in Berkeley for a very weak charge and spent 3 days and 2 nights in lock up waiting for arraignment. I advise all to avoid getting arrested Monday morning. Backlog.”

    No doubt. But don’t get arrested on a Friday, either, as your arraignment might not take place until Monday. If you must get arrested, and you have any input as to the timing, try to do so midweek!

  19. Peter permalink
    June 12, 2015

    PDlaw. your last paragraph seems to be advising criminals to schedule their crimes at a convenient time so as to speed their release. The Innocence Project claims that about 96% of the people in prison are guilty and are criminals, lesser or greater, so the claim that most innocent people take plea deals because of pressure or coercion is specious.

    There are too many people in prison especially for non-violent crimes and there are certainly too many innocent people in prison for any reason but that is a systemic flaw in the system that will be difficult to correct.

  20. philadelphialawyer permalink
    June 12, 2015

    Peter, I thought it was clear that I was being facetious in that last paragraph, in the same spirit as I took Big D’s admonition to be. I guess not.

    “The Innocence Project claims that about 96% of the people in prison are guilty and are criminals, lesser or greater, so the claim that most innocent people take plea deals because of pressure or coercion is specious.”

    Non sequitur and non responsive.

    I implied that many (not necessarily “most”) innocent people are more or less forced to cop a plea, not that everyone, or even most folks, who cop a plea are innocent. And that is not “specious” at all, and not disproven by the IP’s stats, even if you quoting them accurately and even if they are correct.

    And, as an entirely separate matter, how in the world would the IP know to a certainty that 96 per cent of folks in jail are guilty? Do they review the case of every single person behind bars?

    Furthermore, I would also point out that being, in general terms, “a criminal,” is not at all necessarily the same thing as being “guilty” of the crime that one has been convicted of. And that “lesser or greater” language implies there is some imprecision here, despite the pseudo exactness of that 96 per cent figure.

    “There are too many people in prison especially for non-violent crimes…”

    Agree entirely.

    “…and there are certainly too many innocent people in prison for any reason but that is a systemic flaw in the system that will be difficult to correct.”

    I don’t think it would be so difficult to correct, as a theoretical or even practical matter, but the political will is lacking.

  21. Peter permalink
    June 12, 2015

    PDLaw

    I was just reflecting on your obviously facetious advice in that same spirit.

    The Innocence Project estimates there are between 3-5% innocent people in the prison population, I don’t know what metric or research they use but it’s probably statistical based on their years of experience and actual cases they have investigated.

    Branding all people who are felons convicted of crimes as criminals is probably too harsh and judgmental, some people just make mistakes, but many of them certainly are disposed to commit crimes and repeat that behavior.

    My comment about plea deals was actually aimed at Ian’s claims about that necessary alternative to trials. Without plea deals the system would cease to function and when trials were finally completed most defendants would face many more years of confinement than offered by the “deals” they refused or were no longer offered.

    You are correct about the lack of political will on this issue, in fact it is opposed to reform. Bill Clinton’s Mandatory Minimum Sentencing was designed to feed many more convicts into the Prison Industrial Complex especially Black and lower class citizens. I’ve read claims that much of the Venture Fund financing for the Private Prison Industry, that blossomed after MMS was passed, was actually laundered drug cartel money.

  22. philadelphialawyer permalink
    June 12, 2015

    Peter:

    “I was just reflecting on your obviously facetious advice in that same spirit.”

    Oh. My bad then.

    “Without plea deals….when trials were finally completed most defendants would face many more years of confinement than offered by the ‘deals’ they refused or were no longer offered.”

    Yeah, but that’s kinda the point. A choice between a “deal” and going to trial and facing a long, long sentence if you lose pushes even some innocent people into taking the deal.

    “My comment about plea deals was actually aimed at Ian’s claims about that necessary alternative to trials. Without plea deals the system would cease to function….”

    Perhaps if we did not have so many unnecessary criminal laws, that would not be the case. Take away the drug laws, and the criminality that arises because poor people can’t afford to pay the various fines and other payments demanded of them, and all the BS “disturbing the peace” and “disorderly conduct” and “resisting arrest” and other “crimes” that consist pretty much solely of displeasing a policeman or other important person cases, and the like, and the “system” might actually be able to function if trial were the rule, as was originally envisioned, rather than the exception. In which case, folks who were convicted could be sentenced based on more salient issues than whether they exercised their right to trial, or not.

    “The Innocence Project estimates there are between 3-5% innocent people in the prison population, I don’t know what metric or research they use but it’s probably statistical based on their years of experience and actual cases they have investigated. Branding all people who are felons convicted of crimes as criminals is probably too harsh and judgmental, some people just make mistakes, but many of them certainly are disposed to commit crimes and repeat that behavior. ”

    My view is that no one should be in prison or otherwise be subject to criminal punishment unless they are actually guilty of the crime for which they have been convicted. So, talk about “criminals,” as a generality, doesn’t mean much to me. Technically, anyone who has committed any crime, ever, can accurately be labeled a “criminal.” But my concern is with folks convicted and sentenced who did not commit that particular crime.

    “Bill Clinton’s Mandatory Minimum Sentencing was designed to feed many more convicts into the Prison Industrial Complex especially Black and lower class citizens. I’ve read claims that much of the Venture Fund financing for the Private Prison Industry, that blossomed after MMS was passed, was actually laundered drug cartel money.”

    God, that’s sickening.

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