The Fetishization of Compliance


Like so many, I have watched the various seemingly senseless police shootings and other deaths of unarmed and obviously unthreatening African Americans with what I can only call despair. What can one say? What can one contribute to trying to stop this horror?

I feel despair for another reason: I used to do research with police. I have spent a lot of nights of my life riding around in police cars. I have seen what cops see, and don’t kid yourself: a lot of it is actually threatening. And in utterly surprising ways: I can still see as plain as if it were happening now the time I was on a ridealong in the middle of the day, in the middle of an interstate highway, when a POS asshole white guy passed us on the inside lane and he clearly, calmly, and deliberately pulled his hand off the wheel, made it into the classic “gun” shape, aimed it at me and pulled the “trigger.” I have heard a guy jangling his keys as he walked towards me on a dark street and imagined it was a knife he had in his hands until he showed me his keys. The world looks different from that side of the windshield, let me tell you.

And before you respond with the inevitable, “that’s what they signed up for,” let me say: I agree. We hire them to deal with many of our collective worst forces. But the fact that it’s what they signed up for does not require them to die. That’s why we arm them. That’s why we train them. That’s why we give police generous pension benefits that kick in at 20 years. Society is trying to address the very real fact that police officers deal with some of its worst people … or, more often, perfectly fine people have perfectly horrible days. (I mean. how often do you interact with police when things are going happy and well, right?)

So why all these damn shootings? Why is the violence so dramatic now?

In part, of course, people are right to note that it isn’t all new, now. Police violence has been a part of American society for as long as we have had police, whether professionals or vigilantes. In general, in fact, it’s gone down over time: the professionalization of police has transformed the way they work, mostly for the better. Rather, as so many police who have “old” attitudes seem not to understand, what’s changed is that now, everyone – EVERY ONE – has a camera. One cannot get away with what used to get away with. And a lot of bad cops are getting caught.

But there’s more to it than that. It seems to me that in addition to the “old style” of policing, lots of police – and lots of Americans for that matter – have come to fetishize compliance. Cops expect immediate and unchallenged compliance to their orders – NOW. There’s no room for negotiation, conversation, or even simple confusion. There’s no space for trying to deescalate a situation that, in fact, might only be tense because of the police officer’s behavior, not the citizen’s. And if you fail to comply, or even if I THINK you may fail to comply (particularly if you are an African American male), then I as a police officer will compel compliance with a gun. I will shoot you because your failure to do what I say when I say it – or even my sense that you MIGHT fail to do what I say when I say it – legitimates my shooting. Even when it is obviously absurd.

And then, of course, the Blue Wall forms, and the prosecutors protect the perpetrator, and conservatives insist that any critique of the offending officers is a threat to cops and society, and the giant cluster fucking machine that is the American architecture of institutionalized bullshit kicks in. And the broader community just gets more frustrated and more frustrated and more frustrated. And when it erupts, the bullshit industry process more meat for its grill.

There are lots and lots of good cops. There are some really bad ones. The good ones work with their communities. The bad ones seek to dominate theirs. It’s just not going to get any better until cops who know the difference get rid of the ones who don’t.

from my Tumblr blog:, posted on September 22, 2016 at 09:57AM. [direct link]


Author: Ferdi Zebua

For more info visit my blog, my Google+, or my Ello.

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