Clarksdale, Mississippi Police Force, 1964

There is something very attractive about police. The handsome guardian, a Glock at his side, a radio on his belt, perhaps a flashlight clipped to his back, a regular Batman ready to protect us. When the 2004 RNC nomination of Bush and Cheney was about to take place in Manhattan, they brought 10,000 members of the NYPD into town. At the time it was larger than many standing armies. Everyone else left town as they expected violence from the coming demonstrations. Using my NYPD Press Pass, affectionately called “The Shield”, I filmed for the next five days.  (link Five Days) A  Sargent gave me his card. “If you get arrested just call me.” A NYPD press pass is like Dumbo’s magic feather. It lets you step across police barriers, stand where you will, and get up close to events that they try to keep the public away from. It’s very empowering. I have worked in the field for over fifty-five years. I have been clubbed unconscious by police. I have been jailed at least three times as a journalist. I have been threatened repeatedly by police and have had their guns and rifles pointed at me repeatedly. 

George Washington formed the first federal police force, the US Marshalls. They still exist, their job being to guard federal buildings. One of them put six stiches into my head. The 1967 March on the Pentagon was stopped with extreme police force. Men with clubs and bayonets surrounded the building, which the protesters never got near. If you look closely you can see the first arrest. It’s me! My unconscious body being dragged across the plaza by helmeted MPs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4S1b5azraQ  Seven hundred were arrested trying. The the following year’s 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago has been called a police riot. Six hundred demonstrators were arrested. One hundred protesters had serious injuries inflicted by the police. These protests were integrated. During the civil rights movement in the South, protesters usually dreaded the police, I certainly did. We called the FBI the Federal Bureau of Intimidation. When the 1961 Freedom Riders pulled into the bus station in Montgomery, Alabama, the police, who knew they were coming, were absent. A mob of one thousand greeted the integrated group of men and women with bats and bricks, practically beating some to death. John Lewis lay in a pool of his own blood when Floyd Mann, head of the the Alabama Highway Patrol appeared over his body, shot his gun into the air and yelled, “They’ll be no killing here today.” 

Maryland National Guard arrest Clifford Vaughs of SNCC 1964

I don’t like any authority telling me what to do. Especially police. I find it very intimidating to be confronted by an armed policeman. Yet it’s hard to imagine society without police. Yesterday everyone knew there was going to be a march on the Capitol. Trump said so on live television. But the Capitol was not ringed with police. The mob walked right in.  

    In 1923 Hitler tried to seize the government of Bavaria with armed men in Munich.   His group of Nazi’s failed because the Munich police fought back, with guns. A dozen or so men were killed. Unfortunately, the Fuhrer was not among them. He wrote Mann Kampf in his cozy prison cell and when he emerged after eight months swore he would never try a putsch again. He had to seize power legally. He insisted he had to be legally elected. Hitler also had a private army called the SA. What Trump instigated was not legal. And he has no private army, though some have suggested that that is what ICE is. He also, thank god, has none of Hitler’s many talents. But, like Hitler, Trump has lots of very devoted followers. Millions of them. Can it happen here? Sure it can. All they need is the police to be on their sides and not on ours. 

    Police are para military forces. Albuquerque, near 

where I live, has eight separate police forces. So it’s a quandary. The police failed us miserably yesterday as they handed the Capitol of the American government over to a mob without a fight. They didn’t need machine guns to protect the Capitol. They did need the political will to have the building circled by police before the mob we all knew was coming arrived. 

     In a way, what happens today and in the coming days is more important than what happened yesterday. Anyone watching television could identify a dozen leaders of the mob. The police could probably identify fifty or a hundred who committed a series of serious federal crimes. Had Hitler been given a five-year sentence in 1923 he would have been finished as a politician. No World War II. No Holocaust. No hundred million dead. The friendly judges gave Adolf Hitler six months and he was held for eight. Just enough time in his luxury cell to write Mein Kampf, a best seller. When he emerged he was a hero of the right and a major player in German politics. As Chancellor he returned each year to Munich to celebrate the failed putsch that made him famous. What happens now? Does the guy smashing the window with a shield go to prison or get his own TV show? Does the thug in the colorful shirt go to prison or start a company selling designer T-shirts? What about the guy that rappelled down into the Senate chamber? Five years in Leavenworth or a job with REI selling climbing equipment? 

     The Police are the army of the people. Whose side are they on? 

3 Responses to “OUR POLICE”
  1. Builder Levy says:

    The attempted (failed) Trump coup at the Capitol Wednesday, January 2020, makes your fantastic, police photograph (Clarksdale, Mississippi Police Force, 1964), more relevant and more horrific than ever!

  2. Mike Lipske says:

    I live in DC. I have always felt, at the least, ambivalent regarding the role of the police, including DC Police. But to say “The police failed us miserably yesterday as they handed the Capitol of the American government over to a mob without a fight,” is grossly unfair to members of the DC Municipal Police who fought like hell, many of them sustaining injury, against Trump’s mob. Please put away the broad brush.

  3. dektol says:

    This essay is not about individual policemen, or those that are employed “protecting” the US Capitol. Its about the police as a military unit that works for the State. The truth is “the police” have historically been used to kill and attack leftists, and Black demonstrators, and historically have done very little when the insurgents came from The Right. With all the information that was available about the coming attack, its clear that those far above the Capitol police didn’t much care about what was about to happen.

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