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Surveil and Control #141

By Grace Raih

2 min read

Image by Sam Elwood

Blue Lives Matter is an inversion of racial justice terminology co-opted to reinforce a fraudulent sense of police victimhood within society. It further exaggerates the “thin blue line,” a worldview in which police are the only agents of control against the violent chaos that inherently brews under society. The “thin blue line” dates back to an 1854 British battle formation, yet its contemporary application was popularized in the 1950s by LAPD chief and unabashed racist William H. Parker. The LAPD was one of the first law enforcement agencies to adopt what would be known as SWAT teams, a reactionary to the 1965 Watts Riots that itself was ignited by the relentless violence and discrimination that Black and Latino Watts residents faced from Parker’s LAPD. White paranoia over the Civil Rights Movement, the Black Panther Party, and the emerging War on Drugs was validated by this racially charged copaganda that whitewashed the brutality of the police themselves and inflamed the narrative of all-out war with the public.

The growing “War on Cops” narrative was a convenient mechanism during the politically unstable 1960s, used to increase police budgets and fund military-grade weaponry and training in order to transform beat cops into foot soldiers. The threat of ambush killings of police corroborates the “War on Cops” account and is still used as validation for increased police power and resources. According to a 2020 study by Professor of Criminology Michael White, the rate of ambush killings of police has declined more than 90% since the 1970s. 50 years ago, paramilitary police forces like Detroit’s Stop the Robberies, Enjoy Safe Streets (STRESS), and LAPD’s Community Resource Against Street Hoodlums (CRASH) functioned as urban mercenaries who killed with impunity, developed to wage brutal undercover operations against low-income Black communities. In 1985 the Philadelphia police dropped a bomb on a Black Liberation organization called MOVE, killing 11 people including five children.

Despite their role as civil servants, police operate almost exclusively above the law. “Excited delirium” is an unofficial and unsupported pseudo-medical diagnosis opposed by the American Medical Association, yet often used by the state to defend cases of excessive and deadly force by law enforcement. This “diagnosis” is characterized by “extreme aggression” and “sudden death” and is disproportionately applied to Black men who are killed by police. During the trial of Derek Chauvin, defense attorney Eric Nelson suggested that “excited delirium” may have been a cause of George Floyd’s death. Elijah McClain was injected with an unsafe dose of ketamine by paramedics on the suspicion that he was experiencing “excited delirium.”

Psychological operatives like Blue Lives Matter, the “War on Cops,” and “excited delirium” are like naming phantoms, calculated racist rhetoric that reinforces police ascendancy and turn marginalized people into enemy combatants. James Baldwin wrote of America, “We are cruelly trapped between what we would like to be and what we actually are.” Police exist under a contradictory axiom—they see the public as a vulnerable mass to protect and serve, yet also a lurking enemy to surveil and control. White fear is a reoccurring American daydream that’s unceasing grip has molded an excessively armed, irrationally violent, paranoid authority with uncheckable extrajudicial powers known as the police.

*Originally published in-print in Boston Compass Newspaper #141 December 2021


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