counterpunch | The police are a more powerful political organization than civilian government. Second, there exists in police departments a culture of separation, insulation, and violence that is different from the culture of civil society. The fact that modern police evolved from the slave patrols gives us a hint of what that difference might be (Cf. Kristian Williams, Our Enemies in Blue).
Universally, police departments distance themselves from civil society, and operate according to their own rules. These include racial profiling, an assumption of command over civilians that is comparable to the military, an insistence on immediate obedience, and the autonomous formation of a database on civilians on the basis of which to decide what offenses to charge a person. [Cf. Victor Rios, “Punished”] By means of this self-generated database, the police can claim that everything they do is based on hard evidence. But it is self-generated evidence. It is used to render civil society an “other” upon which the police can impose themselves with impunity. Through their demand for obedience, they have the ability to criminalize at will, a power which gets transformed into an ability to identify those who are the “enemy.”
If civil society stands in potential opposition to the culture of policing, it is because it is thrust into opposition by that impunity. To walk away, to say no, to question, to argue with what a cop has ordered one to do is to become a criminal, to be handcuffed and arrested if not shot. This happens most often to people of color, but not always. The social doctrine by which the police promulgate this cultural difference, this identification of enemies within society, is by proclaiming that all enemies of the police are also enemies of civil society.
It is almost as if they were operating as a fundamentalist sect within secular society, a sect that says, either you are for us or against us. It is in religious fundamentalism that we find a strong confluence of separation from society, a self-determination of universal truth allied with an assumed purety of thought, producing an insistence on living according to rules and ethics strongly at variance (if not antithetical) to those of surrounding society. Let us look at an example more closely, in light of this possibility.