Updated: Aug 22
'Police Culture' has plagued civilized society throughout history. Most will agree on that point. What we can’t agree on is what to do about it.
Police culture can be described as a type of largely unwritten organizational or social code that dictates the way a person within the culture will interact with fellow members, as well as how the group relates to outsiders. This group ethos imposes a strong will and pressure to conform and is characterized by a ‘cult of the leader,’ as well as a confrontational, automaton-like approach to conflict resolution. Police forces and their powerful unions are resentful and suspicious of any institution or person wielding authority outside their own agency, openly professing a them-versus-us mentality.
Historically, the principle of denying the use of violence to any other institution in society has born some fruit. Even today, those Italians who can remember life in the 1930s and 40s are quick to point out that Mussolini's Fascism, spearheaded by the dictator's prefect of national police, Cesare Mori, literally wiped out the Sicilian Mafia, a remarkable achievement for which everyone except the Mafiosi themselves were eternally grateful. It was the Americans who brought back the Men of Honour to power in the island in 1943 while the Catholic Church has made no bones about laundering the reconstituted Mafia's unholy gains whiter than Pope Francis's skullcap. The dichotomy here is that the Italian state apparatus as well as the Mafiosi each claim the right to tax (by extorting small and large business people) and a monopoly on violence within their jurisdictions. Italians consider the Guardia Finanza (Treasury Police) to be no different than gangsters when it comes to corruption and terrorizing of the small business sector, while the Mafiosi are gangsters.
As the German-Jewish philosopher and journalist Hanna Arndt observed, the ability of ordinary people to commit horrendous acts of violence against their fellows is entirely compatible with good mental health, what she termed "the banality of evil." Police officers who are ready and willing to do harm without any reservation or qualms of conscience are not difficult to recruit. They are, for the most part, drawn from that vast reservoir of normal, tax-paying, God-fearing people wherein there has always been a considerable number eager to inflict suffering and death on their fellows without so much as an afterthought.
Psychologists tell us that approximately 10% of the human community is comprised of psychopaths, that is, persons incapable of empathy and devoid of any caring impulse. Most of these folks function quite normally in society behind a disguise, revealing their true nature only to family members or persons in unequal relationships of power who are forced to suffer quietly. They’ve learned to live discretely among others, under a cloak of mainstream respectability, without disclosing their true condition. Psychopathology is not limited to any particular gender orientation, race, creed or colour. It’s an aberration, a widespread sickness. Like the Corona virus.
Nine out of that psychopathic ten percent are reasonably well behaved, outwardly normal; or at least they appear so when judged by their own yardstick; and make no mistake, police culture is its own yardstick. Most psychopaths don’t go out of their way to commit crimes. But 1 out of that 10 are your garden variety serial killer, the Ted Bundys and Jeffrey Dalmers of society. Most of these live long, destructively satisfying lives, getting away with their small and large crimes undetected and unpunished. Probably only 1% of that significant 1% are ever brought to justice. I’m talking out of my arse here. There are no reliable studies or statistics to support this proposition. But there is plenty of evidence that police forces are stuffed with every grade of psychopath who, by virtue of a uniform and the cheap excuse of ‘doing their duty,’ are easily manipulated by racist and corrupt leadership to inflict enormous pain and suffering on their fellow citizens. Some simply act unilaterally out of pure, unmitgated hatred.
This concept was nowhere more evident than in Nazi Germany but is seen everywhere in the world today, especially in the United States. The Canadian government has issued a tourist alert warning its citizens to take extreme caution when traveling south of the Canada/US border. The travel alert specifically warns against interchanges with American cops. When one asks, “How could the North Koreans (or Chinese, or Venezuelans, or whoever) tolerate living in a police state?” the explanation is a simple one. They don’t ‘tolerate.’ They actually acquiesce in, create and endorse their circumstances, day-by-day. And that’s our problem right here in the USA. Why? Because not all police and military are psychopaths; and ordinary, mentally healthy people can be just as dangerous, perhaps more so, as Hannah Arndt pointed out.
Don’t agree? Then read on.
Arndt escaped the Holocaust by leaving Germany as Hitler rose to power, although many of her family members were not as fortunate. ‘Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil’ was the outcome of her 1963 reporting of the Adolph Eichmann trials for the New York Times. Not surprisingly, an Israeli tribunal found this Nazi functionary, a defacto architect of the Holocaust, to be perfectly sane and fit to stand trial for crimes against humanity. Eichmann himself emphasized that he was indeed sane, arguing quite convincingly that as a German citizen he merely did his duty according to the laws of his country. To do otherwise, he argued, would have been to suffer punishment as a lawbreaker and traitor. In a more reasonable world, the Israeli court would have had to release Eichmann. But the optics just wouldn’t allow that. They hanged him instead.
Now the interesting thing about Hitler’s rise to power in Germany in the 1920s–30s, as well as the Nazi methodology for disposal of the Jews, is that both relied heavily on local police forces to advance their programmes for suppressing opposition and achieving specific political goals. By first militarizing the police, it became easier to politicize the military. Why? Because those who choose to ‘serve and protect’ are, with few significant exceptions, drawn from a segment of society that includes millions of sociopaths and psychopaths, xenophobes and racists. This kind of work appeals to those with a rank and file mentality to whom security is more attractive than initiative. Worst of all, it includes many who live, breath, and feed on hatred and unrest, drawn from that psychopathic 10% who are incapable of empathizing with their fellow citizens and consequently can be relied on to commit horrendous acts of terror without any conscience whatsoever. That doesn’t mean that all German policemen were psychos, but the so-called sane ones in their ranks certainly did follow suit; hence, "the banality of evil."
The recent George Floyd murder is a case in point. The four former police officers charged with this atrocity were drawn from a racial cross section of the Minneapolis population, but they had a few significant traits in common. First, a police uniform was sufficient to convince them that the ordinary rules and norms for acceptable behaviour in society didn’t apply to them. They were above the law and any legal or culturally imposed restraints on their murderous impulses. Second, and more importantly, although at least two of the accused were so-called non-Whites, they all shared a hatred of Blacks. It’s a fact that American police forces employ a significant number of militiamen, ‘three-percenters,’ Neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and plain old-fashioned bullies, persons drawn to nihilism and chaos who would not have made successful lives for themselves outside the police culture. In short, these are the very same folks that society needs protection against.
In this morass of misplaced priorities that is America, the smallest cities and towns can afford the most expensive and lethal weaponry, even armoured personnel carriers and tanks, to equip their police departments while they lack funds to provide drinking fountains in elementary schools. The low-achievers, products of this sub-standard education system that fails to teach science and critical thinking skills (America ranks 26th globally), find their identity and a safe haven as members of the police forces and the nation’s military. Private security companies and mercenaries for hire (Blackwater et al) are a growth industry. That’s not to mention the one thing that truly sets America apart: prisons for profit. Police forces are parasitical consumers of resources. They don’t manufacture anything (other than violence) and they’re not part of the supply chain for goods and services in society. They don’t contribute to the nation’s GDP.
It’s only a very short step from being a nobody prison guard in Podunk, Idaho, one day, to attacking peaceful protestors with tear gas, stun grenades and rubber bullets, and clubbing them senseless on the steps of the Capitol building or in the streets of major cities the next. No badge, no insignia, no name tag. Adidas running shoes. Anonymous and totally unaccountable. Barr’s Blackshirts.
When the Nazi war machine rolled across Eastern Europe, the Wehrmacht SS and Einsatzgrupen (Einsatzkommando or mobile killing squads) were hard pressed to carry out their grisly task of exterminating all the Jews of the conquered territories, too much even for these experienced and professional killers. There were simply too many thousands of potential victims. To make up the shortfall in manpower, the German Ordnungspolizei (order police) as well as local police forces were drafted in support.
Members of the Ordnungspolizei and Ukrainian auxiliary police shooting naked women and children in the Mizocz ghetto.
The Ordnungspolizei encompassed virtually all of Germany's law-enforcement and emergency response organisations. Municipal police forces of the former Weimar Republic were quickly politicized and transformed into militarized formations ready to serve the Nazi regime's aims of conquest and racial annihilation. These police troops were first organized into battalion-sized formations for the invasion of Poland, where they were deployed for border security and policing purposes, as well as taking part in executions and mass deportations to an expanding network of concentration and extermination camps.
The farsighted Heinrich Himmler had amalgamated all the various German police departments into a single unified force to form what he called a ‘State Protection Corps’ (Staatsschutzkorps), a forerunner of, and model for, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Because the Nazi concept of criminality was race-based, the persecution of the regime’s ideological opponents, Jews, and other ‘non-Aryans’, became a function of policing and the responsibility of municipal and militarized police forces. Crime, including the crime of being born into the wrong race, needed to be exterminated. Political protest was equated with looting. The free press were labelled 'Enemies of the People.' Sound familiar?
It’s a curious fact of history that, although Germany was on its knees by early 1945, its cities in ruins and its armies in retreat, what government powers remained thought it wise to devote the country’s dwindling resources to murdering what were perceived to be their racial enemies, the Jews. The municipal auxiliary police units of bombed out German cities, mostly comprised of men too old or infirm to serve as front line fighters or even support units, were mobilized to the East to assist the Einsatzgruppen and Order Police in carrying out their grisly mission.
There is a fair amount of testimony from these former German policemen. Many were old enough to recognize that what they were doing as enforcers of the law had little or nothing to do with ‘serve and protect.’ Almost to a man, they repeated Adolph Eichmann’s argument that they were only doing their duty as policemen in accordance with their oath to serve. They were just being good citizens (see https://www.dw.com/en/exhibition-reveals-bremen-polices-collaboration-with-nazis/a-15046090).
For the next two generations, German authorities sought to bury the country's Nazi past by simply rewriting history. In the 1980's, a young tourist once described his childhood in a village on the border with East Germany (German Democratic Republic) to me. It was only during a class visit to Berlin that he discovered the Holocaust Museum where he was struck dumb. The experience was so traumatic that the teen severed relations with his entire family that, in his own estimation, had all been enablers of evil. But Germany's Nazi legacy is far from dead. It's alive and well and, since the ascendence of Donald Trump, looking to America for new inspiration and leadership. See https://www.nytimes.com/2020/08/01/world/europe/germany-nazi-infiltration.html?smtyp=cur&smid=tw-nytimes.
It isn’t difficult to argue that President Trump’s vision for America looks more and more like a police state. In other blog posts, I’ve compared Trump to Hitler. A similar comparison can be made with Attorney General William Barr and Heinrich Himmler. But as I’ve said before, it’s largely a false analogy. While Barr has all the earmarking of the most devious and toxic of the Nazi leaders, Trump is not Adolph Hitler. Instead, he’s Charles Manson (www.francescorizzuto.com/post/charles-manson-in-the-white-house) . And that’s far more dangerous.
If you think it can't happen here, then please think again. There are plenty of historical precedents for the mass murder of civilians by the American military and police forces. Although Blacks in America are beaten and killed by racist policemen every day, most of which doesn't make the national news, the recent police riots in American cities can only lead to one outcome: the use of lethal force by the military against all American citizens, regardless of colour. Rubber bullets purposely aimed at peaceful protestors’ faces constitutes an assault that is potentially lethal. A rubber bullet isn't a rubber bullet; it's a iron rod encased in rubber that travels at a muzzle velocity similar to a rifle grenade. Policemen are trained to fire rubber bullets against the ground, from whence they bounce in a reduced velocity trajectory toward knee level, as if the target were struck across the shins with a baton. They know that firing these projectiles in a plane with a person's face or torso is potentially lethal and they do so with intent and impunity.
I'm old enough to recall the Kent State massacre of May 1970 wherein Ohio National Guardsmen fired 67 live rounds into a crowd of peacefully protesting students on their own university campus, killing 11, including some bystanders. The soldiers knew what they were doing and didn't consider the order to kill as an illegal order. Why? Because, in spite of all the patriotic jingoism, those who volunteer for military service are mostly automatons.
The anti-Vietnam War demonstration at Kent State was in response to the Man Lai massacre wherein US soldiers murdered over 500 men, women and children of a Vietnamese village, but not in the midst of a firefight with Viet Cong or North Vietnamese forces. Like the Nazi massacre in the Mizocz Ghetto (see photo above), they lined their victims up along a roadside and machine gunned them. When news of the massacre sparked a 4 million-strong student strike across the United States, the military then gunned down the protestors at home. Behind these atrocities was a soon to be impeached American President.
Nixon's White House tapes which, like Trump's financial records, the soon-to-be disgraced President tried to hide from investigators, reveal how intensely U.S. politicians despise their constituents and the low value they place on human life.
President Nixon: "You know what stops them - stops them? Kill a few."
Chief of Staff E.R. Haldeman: "Sure."
President Nixon: Remember Kent State? Didn't it have one hell of an effect? The Kent State thing?"
Chief of Staff E.R. Haldeman: "It sure did. Gave them second thoughts."
Playing the Himmler to Trump’s Hitler/Manson, and Haldeman to his Nixon, Attorney General William Barr is testing the waters by unleashing armed government agents stripped of any personal or agency identification to enforce what he perceives to be his own impeached president’s political objectives, equating race and political ideology with crime, as Himmler did eighty years earlier, a time within living memory for many Americans. President Trump didn’t need a Holocaust to kill off most of those who had recognized and fought Fascism during the 1940’s and might see through his veneer of patriotism and recognize a monster. He simply let Covid-19 do the grisly work for him.
The threat to democracy and, by extension, to yours and my personal well-being, is even more serious and bleak than this blog entry makes out. The National Defence Authorization Act (conceived under George W. Bush and renewed under Barak Obama) Sections 1021 & 1022 authorize indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of any person labeled a 'belligerent', including American citizens. We don't know how many are currently detained. We don't know how many Portland protestors kidnapped by unidentified paramilitaries into rented vans have disappeared into NDAA gulags or even where those gulags or CIA-style black sites are located. Guantanamo Bay is a likely location, but again, the legislation ensures that this information remains a tightly-held secret. Care to know more? Then please see: https://www.huffpost.com/entry/dear-americans-this-law-makes-it-possible-to-arrest_b_57c9b648e4b06c750dd9cd6f
Here’s a final reminder to anyone who might be considering policing as a career path: The world is rapidly shrinking and there is an international criminal court of justice at The Hague.
Finding your identity as a member of an armed interest group, whether it’s the NYPD, the Ohio National Guard, or a local Jihadi cell, is less secure than you may think. As the philosopher Albert Camus observed: "Nothing is more despicable than respect based on fear." And there are better things a person can do for money. Among those German policemen who did their duty under oath to serve and protect, 24 of their senior officers were tried for crimes against humanity in 1947-48 and 14 were handed death sentences. Many more were hastily judged by municipal and village tribunals in the former conquered territories and condemned to slow suffocation.
That’s something like having a policeman’s knee on your neck while you cry out “I can’t breathe!”
Go ahead. Tell me it isn't the same...