Posted on Sunday, November 15th, 2009 at 5:20 pm
Author: Renee Martin
From Rodney King to Sean Bell, violence is often understood in racial terms because it is the most readily visible marginalization. Many North Americans believe the myth that everyone is middle class and therefore distinctions that are obviously related to class often go unnoticed. Class is the invisible divide. Yet many of the gains made by unions in the post-WWII era have been steadily eroded, leaving most people actually functioning at or below a working class level. The extension of credit has allowed the populace to live above their actual means, thus promoting the idea that a class divide is nonexistent.
There are areas in the world in which race is not understood in the same manner, because the population is largely homogenous. The homogeneity of such societies makes class much more readily visible. This means that police violence will be more readily recognized as having a relationship to class, thus revealing the ways in which the police function to protect the interest of the ruling bourgeoisie.
According to the Kateur News in Guyana, police set fire to a young boys genitals, while they were questioning him regarding the murder of former Region Three Vice Chairman, Ramnauth Bisram.
In responding to this incident, President Jagdeo stated:
“Hundreds of them every day, they are the frontline against criminals, these are the people we call on when something happens and many of them in spite of very difficult situations; remuneration not great, sometimes the conditions of service are not great but they go out there and put their lives many days on the line for all of us and the recent incident where they were targeted would show that. So we can`t allow the actions of a few to cause us to forget the hundreds out there who do their work professionally and with decency.”
Jagdeo makes it clear that he believes that the police and soldiers exist in order to protect, but due to the violence, the Guyanese must ask who do these men and women really serve? Would a person of consequence be treated in the same manner? When a poor fourteen year old boy [be warned, there is graphic imagery in the linked video] can have his genitals and thighs burned because he suspected of the murder of someone who had a high social standing, clearly those that possess power and wealth are overvalued.
According to the CarribWorld News, the teenager was burned after he refused to sign a confession. Even though the victim has since been released from custody, the criminal behaviour of the officers has sent a message that will reverberate throughout Guyanese society. This is organized, state-sanctioned violence, aimed directly at the working class to prop up a capitalist power structure.
When we see these incidents of police violence, they are always understood as an aberration. It is suggested that one person crossed the line and the populace is encouraged to believe that the system will go back to protecting their interests after the rogue individual is punished. A rogue incident should not be something that occurs daily worldwide. Considering that policing mostly occurs in poor neighbourhoods, clearly the function of the police is to ensure a divide between rich and poor through any means necessary.
The law was not written by or for the proletariat, though they comprise the largest class. One of the greatest predictors of interaction with law enforcement is your class position. It is not accidental that those filling prisons globally are most likely to come from poor working class or highly impoverished neighbourhoods. In Toronto, Canada the highest incarceration areas are: Regent Park, Kingston-Galloway, Jane-Finch and Jamestown. The aforementioned neighbourhoods have the highest poverty level in the Greater Toronto Area.
As the divide between rich and poor has increased in the U.S. over last 20 years, so too has the prison population. In the U.S., this is compounded by the denial of voting rights. Ten states revoke the right to vote for life for a felony conviction and 32 states deny voting rights to felons on parole. This disenfranchisement removes one of the few avenues of change to the poor. In a nation in which sheriffs, judges and district attorneys are elected to their position, it means that those most likely to be affected by their work have no say in who fills the position
Not only do these men and women lose the right to vote, a felony conviction amounts to a life sentence of poverty, increasing the possibility of recidivism. If a person is denied gainful employment and then turns to crime to fulfill basic needs and/or consumerist ideals, why is causality never factored into the equation? And since ex felons are more likely to live in poor neighbourhoods, their activities are also more likely to be monitored by police forces, thus creating a vicious cycle.
When the poor do attempt to fight for economic justice, repression is swift. The police violence at the 2009 G20 summit in London served to physically assert the pressing concerns of the ruling class. The proletariat had gathered to protest the slumping global economy as well as push for accountability in fiscal matters and the state’s response was to set loose its police force, which acted with impunity. Even people who had no relationship with the protesters were subject to violence for simply being in the area.
If the greatest predictor of interaction with the police and penal system is indeed poverty, then the lack of police intervention into the criminal behaviour of bourgeoisie is proof of who the masters of this system are. Across the globe, those with the most access to capital are the least likely to be incarcerated and they are also the most able to negotiate the criminal justice system to their best interest.
Mass incarceration around the globe results in negative economic gains in the form of job training, potential savings, potential earnings, and consumer demand. It is not in the interest of a large percentage of the globe’s population to continue on this path and yet capitalism has become so much a part of the belief system, that anarchy is often considered the only other option, thus validating the violence often engaged in by police forces. Might does not equal right and yet, the understanding of the police as a visible form of oppression eludes many.
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