Vox Populi

A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature: over 400,000 monthly users

David M. Perry: Ferguson and the cult of compliance

When the police won’t take no for an answer…

The protests in Ferguson, Missouri, set off by a policeman’s shooting of an unarmed black teen last week, appear to be spinning out of control — not because crowds are rioting nightly but because law enforcement is operating as though they are in a war zone. Peaceful protesters are facing nothing short of a domestic army, armed with military equipment, waiting for a provocation.

As the protests progressed, the police have used noncompliance, or the failure to obey their every order, as their justification for whatever violence came next. That’s also the excuse that the police used to explain why an officer shot Michael Brown. They said the incident started because Brown didn’t comply with an order to move, so it is he who is to blame.

What happens if you don’t comply when the police give you an order? What rights do you really have? How free are you, really, when the authorities have weapons pointed at you or when they have the right to draw a weapon and use it with relative impunity?

Over the past few years, I have been tracking the rhetoric that police and other authority figures use to justify all kinds of violence. In cases that seem very different, separated by factors such as age, race, gender, sexuality, geography, class and ability, police explain away their actions by citing noncompliance. They do it because it works. They do it because according to their beliefs, any sign of noncompliance is an invitation to strike.

To fight back, ordinary citizens need not only to push specific reforms but also to transform the culture of law enforcement.

The significance of the events in Missouri extends beyond the very real and terrible pattern of police killings of African-American men. It is an intensification of years of cultural shift in which law enforcement and other authority figures have increasingly treated noncompliance as a reason to initiate violence.

This cult of compliance provides the point of intersection between racism and militarization of law enforcement — the primary factors at play in Ferguson — and other issues, such as the overuse of stun guns and the failure of police to respond to the needs of the mentally ill. Police may be motivated by their racism to harass people of color, but when officers get violent, they almost always cite a form of noncompliance as their justification….[continue reading]

 

— by David M. Perry writing for Al Jazeera America

David M. Perry writes on language and power at How Did We Get Into This Mess? He is a history professor at Dominican University.

 

police

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Information

This entry was posted on August 18, 2014 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , .

Enter your email address to follow Vox Populi and receive new posts by email.

Join 12,187 other followers

Blog Stats

  • 4,342,245 hits

Archives

%d bloggers like this: