The Chicago police union instructed members to “defy” city orders to report their COVID vaccination status (NBC News). The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s department announced it won’t enforce a county vaccination mandate, either (AP). Across the country, law enforcement officers declare that they have no intention of following the law themselves.
The United States government is so belligerent about the importance of orderly, “democratic” politics that it calls its global regime a “rules-based international order” (The Hill, Hindustan Times). But evidence abounds that the enforcers of America’s domestic laws ignore such laws themselves without fear of consequences.
Charles Tilly, referred to as the “father of 21st-century sociology” (NYTimes) suggested that governments are a form of “protection racket” not dissimilar to what criminal organizations offer businesses operating in their territory. The difference between nation-state and mafia, according to Tilly, is that the former runs its racket long enough to convince everyone that its violence — police, prisons, or armies — is legitimate (Wendy McElroy). In the United States, we’re told that the violence of the American police is legitimate, while the violence of the Gambino crime family or the Venezuelan National Guard is not, because U.S. police enforce laws created through a liberal-democratic political order.
The U.S. government upholds itself as a paragon of clean governance — ironically, given the collusion between its components and the literal mob (New York Magazine). With another example of its armed guards disregarding any pretext of control by democratic norms, we might wonder whether the line between the police and any other gang of armed men is even thinner.
Some evidence of the similarity between the police and gangs is the ease with which cops switch sides. The GAFE, a Mexican special forces unit known for torturing and mutilating Indigenous rebels (ICIJ), received training from the U.S. military at the infamous School of the Americas in Georgia. GAFE members then defected to become Los Zetas, a cartel likewise known for torturing and mutilating its opponents (School of the Americas Watch, Grunge). Kenosha, Wisconsin police are accused of “deputizing” white supremacist militias to repress Black Lives Matter protests. “We appreciate you guys — we really do,” one police officer said to murderer Kyle Rittenhouse (The Guardian). Hundreds of cops are themselves members of the Oath Keepers militia (USA Today).
Meanwhile, members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department comprise a gang called the Executioners. After killing someone, members are thrown a party and receive a “skull wearing a Nazi-style helmet” tattoo. Since department leadership decried the “unproven allegations” and “non-academically acceptable citations” of a 2021 academic study exposing the gang, it’s safe to say the Executioners exist to this day (CBS). Despite our reliance on the narrative, it’s evident that the democratic norms of the U.S. aren’t strong enough to address these gross injustices.
The police say they’re entirely different from other criminal gangs, that those gangs are much worse, and that only the police can protect us from them. This is typical of any protection racket: if you don’t support us, something even worse will come your way. The police feed off of non-state gangs for their legitimacy. That’s why they often sabotage gang truces. “I do believe the LAPD had rogue officers during the time who would create problems by spreading rumors, tagging buildings, and dropping gang members into rival territories,” said Marvin Clay of LA’s Five Trey set, who helped to organize a historic truce between the Bloods and Crips after the 1992 uprising (Our Weekly).
Similarities between police and other gangs (Wisconsin Examiner) suggest several things. If neither group is accountable to democratic institutions, we might wonder if the real differences between the two are the types of uniforms, the race and class backgrounds of members, and whether or not they draw public pensions. Second, we should reconsider whether police violence is an appropriate response to other forms of street violence, especially when we know police demilitarization (Essence), restorative justice (KCUR), and fully resourcing exploited communities (Taylor & Francis) are what’s actually effective. Finally, the fact that police ignore laws applying to them suggests that electoral reform may have limited utility in restraining abuses. Decades of legislative efforts failed to prevent the horrific murders of last year. But when rebellious, often “illegal” protests against the murder of Eric Garner ramped up pressure against the NYPD in 2015, the cops responded by only performing the most necessary duties. The idea was that the resulting crime wave would underscore their importance. In fact, major crime complaints dropped by 50% (L.A. Times). Legislation alone can’t restrain those who think they’re above the law. But popular resistance limits their capacity to enact injustices.
Police officers are refusing to obey local vaccine mandates.
A culture of lawlessness among police officers includes affiliating with white supremacist militias and joining gangs.
Law enforcement has claimed to offer protection from gang violence while constituting an undemocratic group of armed men themselves.