Violent Police Officers are 'just doing their job', and that's why they should be banned from Pride
On Thursday 4th February 2016, tens of thousands of people from across Aotearoa marched, chanted, sang, rallied, and blockaded, putting their bodies on the line in opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA). It was, hands down, one of the biggest and most successful days of civil disobedience in this country for decades. Auckland was on lockdown. The people’s message was clear: TPPA? No way.
The protesters’ agenda for the day was also clear: non-violent civil disobedience in a display of unforgiving opposition to the trade deal. It seems that the New Zealand Police did not get the memo. As protesters have explained to media outlets, and on social media, the only violence they experienced that day was at the hands of the police.
That police violence included pulling protesters by their hair, throwing them on the ground, and beating them with batons and fists. It involved twisting arms and, in one instance, pushing a protester’s neck at such an angle that it seemed they were trying to break it. Police have also been pictured choking protesters with illegal holds.
While this violence is significant, it should in no way detract from the organised and impressive work of the protesters who unapologetically conveyed their message. That violence should also not be taken to be exceptional: police violence is commonplace at peaceful demonstrations. This instance wasn’t as bad as the extremely brutal crackdown on students protesting the 2012 budget, for example.
Those brave (or perhaps foolish) enough to read the comments on news websites, Facebook, and other social media about the TPPA protests were pummeled with misogynistic, racist, homophobic, and generally bigoted comments. Amongst these was one recurring comment that is particularly important to the Auckland queer community as it decides whether to include police in the 2016 Pride Parade. As many noted, the police were ‘just doing their job’.
The commenters are correct: this is the police doing their job. It is the job of the police to serve the state, no matter how corrupt or undemocratic the practices of that state. This protection is carried out with whatever aggression deemed necessary. On Thursday, it was the job of the police to deal violence to those protesting the absolute evasion of the democratic process in signing the TPPA. This is because it is the police’s job to unconditionally protect and serve the state.
The majority of police violence, however, does not occur when the people stand up in organised public demonstration. It occurs out of a lot of people’s sight. Police violence is ever-present and concentrated in brown and black communities, indigenous communities, and poor communities. For the people in these communities, police violence is never out of sight. It is no mistake or coincidence that these constant instances of violence go largely unreported. They reveal the true function of the police in a colonial, capitalist society: to repress the oppressed.
If we accept that the police’s role in this society is to maintain public order, then the maintenance of that order is inherently violent. In the current order of things, there is a small elite who benefit largely from an economic and social system that structurally privileges the few at the expense of the many. Actions against the dominant order, such as the demand for tino rangatiratanga, require a fundamental re-ordering of Aotearoa. As such, the maintenance of the current order is achieved partly through the incarceration of Māori at a rate almost five times greater than the colonisers.
If the world we live in is racist, misogynistic, transphobic, and homophobic, then those who are responsible for maintaining order in this system are also inherently racist, misogynistic, transphobic, homophobic, and undeniably violent. If Pride is supposed to be an event that challenges the entrenched cisheterormativity of everyday life, then the inclusion of the police is absolutely incompatible with Pride.
So, we have some questions for the Auckland Pride Board and the queer community more generally: is it over? Now that marriage ‘equality’ has been won, is that the end of queer politics? Do the lives and oppression of the poor, indigenous, and other people of colour not matter? Do you not care that there are members of the queer community who are disproportionately targeted by the police and incarcerated? Do you not care that it is the job of the police to sustain the system which oppresses the vast majority of us?
Ongoing issues of racism, transmisogyny, systemic inequality and poverty cannot be ignored by a community that was, not too long ago, feeling the full weight of police and societal violence. The fact that a rich gay couple can now have a ‘normal’ life in the gentrified suburb of Ponsonby doesn’t mean that the fight is over.
In fact, it is far from over. The only reason that the police are no longer systematically beating and jailing people for engaging in non-normative sexuality and gender practices is because thousands of people took to the streets and demanded the decriminalisation of sodomy. It is not because the police have ethically evolved. If you choose to include cops in the parade, you are siding with the oppressor.
Written by T Lamusse and S Morgan