I was on vacation in the desert last week so I didn’t get a chance to write about the class war in New York, manifested as a police protest against protesting the police. Two articles help frame the conversation: one of them wrongly and one of them correctly.
The first (wrong) one comes from a writer I really like and respect, Ta-Nehisi Coates. He writes in his piece “Blue Lives Matter” in The Atlantic:
“We do not live in a military dictatorship, and police officers are not the representatives of an autarch, nor the enforcers of law handed down by decree. The police are representatives of a state that derives its powers from the people.”
Now, Coates is an avid Civilization player (as am I), so he should know better. States don’t derive power from the people; the whole job of the State is to consolidate power in a super elite, walled circle, and to suppress dissent for the purposes of resource extraction to service this elite’s lifestyle. If the police were enforcing some kind of collective will, they wouldn’t evict people or arrest them for smoking a joint, because most people are poor and like using drugs.
This piece gets it more correct: The Origins of the Police:
In England and the United States, the police were invented within the space of just a few decades—roughly from 1825 to 1855.
The new institution was not a response to an increase in crime, and it really didn’t lead to new methods for dealing with crime. The most common way for authorities to solve a crime, before and since the invention of police, has been for someone to tell them who did it.
Besides, crime has to do with the acts of individuals, and the ruling elites who invented the police were responding to challenges posed by collective action. To put it in a nutshell: The authorities created the police in response to large, defiant crowds. That’s
— strikes in England,
— riots in the Northern US,
— and the threat of slave insurrections in the South.
So the police are a response to crowds, not to crime.
I will be focusing a lot on who these crowds were, how they became such a challenge. We’ll see that one difficulty for the rulers, besides the growth of social polarization in the cities, was the breakdown of old methods of personal supervision of the working population. In these decades, the state stepped in to fill the social breach.
We’ll see that, in the North, the invention of the police was just one part of a state effort to manage and shape the workforce on a day-to-day basis. Governments also expanded their systems of poor relief in order to regulate the labor market, and they developed the system of public education to regulate workers’ minds.