Police Dog Josephine Is Also a Junkie, Research Time, 29/12/2015

The title comes from a line of Monty Python, about the best drug-sniffing dog on the police force. But it also serves for a good title for a post about what Antonio Negri has to say about the police as an institution.

In our current political moment, there’s plenty of talk about the dangers of uncritical deference to the police. That’s a healthy conversation, one that a democracy needs to have.

This hashtag used to be a living young boy.
The night I wrote this blog post, the news went out that no one was to be indicted for the murder of Tamir Rice. The 12-year-old was shot dead by Cleveland police officer Tim Loehmann, who fired seconds after seeing him playing in a park with a toy gun.

Throughout the protests surrounding Rice’s killing, Ohio state prosecutors and police officials frequently blamed the boy for his own killing. Public statements described Rice as “big for his age,” and said he would play at being a robber with his friends.

Earlier last night, someone briefly replaced Tamir’s photo on his Wikipedia page with that of a chimp.

A centrepiece of the #BlackLivesMatter movement is advocating for reform of police union contracts. Currently, many police officers’ collective agreements include clauses protecting them from prosecution or accountability for killing civilians on duty, among other protections from scrutiny or responsibility for violence.

So even though he talks about police norms in global and international political contexts, Negri has wisdom for understanding our current moment. 

That wisdom appears in how he distinguishes the global character of Empire and the imperial* from the old-school imperialism of naked slavery and conquest. It used to be that only states could control mass military movements. And they still do. But their monopoly is over.

* Globalized capitalism, essentially.

International organizations now have the power to bomb, invade, and sanction cities and countries. Although states supply the tanks, planes, bombs, and soldiers to the United Nations, it’s still an international organization whose constituency is basically the entire human race.

These militaries aren’t armies going to conquer. Their control by the UN makes them a global police force. Their purpose is to stop war crimes from happening, or which are in progress. 

These tanks don't belong to any one army, but to an
international force to keep law, order, and peace. There
are currently 16 ongoing UN peacekeeping missions
around the globe.
Although peacekeeping has a noble motivation, its ideal is to become a global police force. Other international police forces like INTERPOL have grown in prominence over the last few decades. International organizations and treaties control the trade and economic policies of signatory countries, and can issues sanctions for violating agreements.

In all these ways, police structures are becoming ubiquitous across the globe. And we shouldn’t accept this uncritically, because police organizations are ultimately about controlling populations. 

Those of us in populations who don’t regularly face direct police control, well, we don’t really see their danger. Police are, according to the public relations, public servants. Bodyguards for our society. They’re our protectors.

But police action is based on control – making sure people’s behaviour adheres to specific rules. That control should be subject to critique and public accountability if the police are really to be servants of the public. 

Whether at the global, international, state, or local contexts, we can’t accept uncritically increasing police presence, power, and violence. We mustn’t normalize the ubiquity of institutions of control. And we certainly mustn’t justify it.

As Deray McKesson said last night, justice is a world where Tamir Rice is still alive. It’s a world where no one knows who he is yet but his friends and family. Maybe in 20 years, he’ll build a successful business, become a community leader, fight for his country, or make a great film.

Yet he rots.


  1. I believe more in bottom up policing rather than the top down approach. By that I mean, justice starts with each of us as individuals, and shouldn't be imposed on us by a central authority. Alas, that's the ideal. We live in such a large society that we will inevitably be alienated from one another and, thus, there will probably always be a need for some degree of centralized policing.

    Also, that chimp thing arouses the cynicism within me. Are people bigger assholes these days, or does the internet just give them a forum to act like assholes? There's the bottom up approach failing I suppose... but then again, the page was quickly updated in response.

    1. Wikipedia is a monstrous, terrifying creature. If you haven't read Phil Sandifer's posts about Wikipedia's internal arguments over the proper title of Chelsea Manning's page, it's very long, but it's a wonderful education.