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Is ACAB true or false?

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explainthingstome's picture
explainthingstome
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Jul 29 2020 15:55
Is ACAB true or false?

I went too off-topic with the thread "Anarchist take on gun control", so here's a new thread about whether or ACAB is correct or not.

I think the vast majority of people here thinks that the answer is obviously yes. I disagree for the moment, but I might change my opinion as the discussion goes on.

Black Badger
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Jul 29 2020 16:52

what is it about the slogan that you disagree with? is it “bastards”? is it “all”? something else?

wojtek
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Jul 29 2020 17:24

This isn't the Momentum forum.

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explainthingstome
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Jul 29 2020 17:50
Black Badger wrote:
what is it about the slogan that you disagree with? is it “bastards”? is it “all”? something else?

The "all" part.

wojtek wrote:
This isn't the Momentum forum.

It's a question that relates to anarchist thought.

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darren p
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Jul 29 2020 17:52

It's a simplistic slogan, not a philosophy thesis. Reality is always complex. But the job of the police is to enforce the laws set by the state and most of those laws concern the protection of the propertied class.

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Jul 29 2020 17:58
darren p wrote:
Reality is always complex. But the job of the police is to enforce the laws set by the state and most of those laws concern the protection of the propertied class.

But aren't most of these laws supported by a majority of workers in at least some countries?

If we call the cops bastards for upholding the law, what prevents us from calling workers bastards for supporting them? Why are the former much worse than the latter?

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Khawaga
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Jul 29 2020 18:22

There was a debate about whether the police is the same worldwide years ago, likely buried in some other discussion, but one central point that emerged was that it depends. In quite a few countries, Egypt is the example I know the best, the majority of the police are actual conscripts. Poor peasants that are only doing their 3-year national service. Interesting fact: in the 80s they were paid so poorly that they rioted (with guns) in affluent areas (IIRC), the aftermath being that a lot of the guns of such conscripts are no longer have ammunition.

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Jul 29 2020 19:50
explainthingstome wrote:
If we call the cops bastards for upholding the law, what prevents us from calling workers bastards for supporting them? Why are the former much worse than the latter?

I don't think any kind of simplistic moralising is of much good when we are dealing with structural relationships. So I'm indifferent to the whole ACAB thing. On the other hand I'm not going to cry the next time I see it sprayed on a wall. It shouldn't be too hard to understand why.

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Jul 29 2020 21:10

It would be good to put together an "ACAB reading guide" or similar. Here's one starting point: https://libcom.org/library/police-case-against
and another: https://crimethinc.com/2020/05/31/what-will-it-take-to-stop-the-police-f...

wojtek
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Jul 29 2020 22:35
Quote:
If we call the cops bastards for upholding the law, what prevents us from calling workers bastards for supporting them? Why are the former much worse than the latter?

If a random Man Utd fan says brand Jesse Lingard is a quality player and a future England prospect at 27, that is his problem. If I have to watch Lingard on MOTD, that is mine.

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Jul 30 2020 16:00
darren p wrote:
I don't think any kind of simplistic moralising is of much good when we are dealing with structural relationships.

Then let me rephrase: do you think that the police should be seen as an enemy to the working class, and not a part of it?

If so, why is a worker, that is more likely than not to consider the avarage police officer as okay, not an enemy of the working class aswell? (To be clear I'm not talking specifically about the US but any Western country.)

Can most of the working class be an enemy of the working class?

wojtek
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Jul 30 2020 17:16

Evidently, but what matters is power, its abuses and one's proximity to it.

What are you proposing?

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Jul 30 2020 18:35
explainthingstome wrote:
Can most of the working class be an enemy of the working class?

You seem to be getting tripped up by your own choice of language. I wouldn't really want to talk about "enemies of the working class", it's too moralistic and simplistic a way of framing it.

I am happy talking about real interests though. I think it's in the real interest of the proletariat to establish socialism. But people can act against their real interests. For example; I have a real interest in having a healthy body, so I should exercise more, but I never do.

So "Can most of the working class be an enemy of the working class?" is too melodramatic. But can people, the majority of people, act against their own real interests? - I think the answer is yes.

For communism to be established a significant proportion of the police and armed forces will have to come over, and I think they would as they and their families come from the working class. In Spain 36 around half on the police force refused to back the uprising of the generals, for example.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Jul 31 2020 04:28

ACAB is an insult - to children born out of wedlock .

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Jul 31 2020 08:58

Someone once told me of a village cop somewhere in the UK back in the late 1960s or early 70s who refused to arrest anyone. He was sacked. I guess he wasn't a "bastard". Also Gerrard Winstanley, the famous Digger, was Chief Constable of Elmbridge, Surrey for the last 5 years of his life. Whether he arrested anyone for contravening bourgeois-cum-aristocratic property laws or not, I don't know but it would have been a terrible sell-out of his former self.

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Jul 31 2020 16:52
darren p wrote:
For communism to be established a significant proportion of the police and armed forces will have to come over, and I think they would as they and their families come from the working class. In Spain 36 around half on the police force refused to back the uprising of the generals, for example.

Not wanting to make everything about Spain '36, but it's a bit more complicated than that, no? Like, they refused to back Franco's uprising, but that was loyalty to the existing state, not any kind of friendliness to any working-class activity going beyond that - or to put it another way, I don't think "not all cops are bastards, sometimes they'll act like the police did in Barcelona in May 1937" is too comforting.
Similarly, looking at the current US situation, I would imagine that, if Trump loses the election, and if he refuses to accept the result, you'd get a considerable chunk of the state refusing to go along with that and backing Biden as the "legitimate" president instead. But that wouldn't make them friends to any kind of autonomous movements, or mean that they'd have any problems cracking heads when ordered to do so by nice liberal Democratic mayors or whoever.
I have to admit that I don't know too much about what happened with the cops in Russia 1917, Hungary 56, early 70s Portugal or whatever else, though. But I do feel confident in saying that, if any of them acted in a non-bastardous way, it would only have been to the extent that they broke with their role as cops, so ACAB continues to be as accurate a description of reality as you can get in four letters.

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Jul 31 2020 17:14
R Totale wrote:
they refused to back Franco's uprising, but that was loyalty to the existing state, not any kind of friendliness to any working-class activity going beyond that - or to put it another way, I don't think "not all cops are bastards, sometimes they'll act like the police did in Barcelona in May 1937" is too comforting.

Well yes, perhaps not the best example. I was just looking for an example and an explanation of why a group of people act one way in a certain situation and why they might act another way in another.

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Jul 31 2020 18:44
darren p wrote:
You seem to be getting tripped up by your own choice of language.

This thing is that in reply to my question about ACAB, you simply said that the police enforce laws that protect the capitalists. I thought that you were giving an implied answer to my question.

My point was that ordinary people have no intention of changing the system (either they like the system or they see no practical alternative). So yes, cops protect capitalism, but people vote in favour of capitalism.

So if we use support for capitalism as a measuring tool to evaluate how we should view people, then we should view a cop and a average person as very similar to each other.

But I guess that you don't view policemen the same way you would view a wealthy capitalist like Trump or Bezos. So I guess you've given your answer.
----

R Totale wrote:
they refused to back Franco's uprising, but that was loyalty to the existing state, not any kind of friendliness to any working-class activity going beyond that

While 50% were willing to joint the fascists, 50% sided with a leftist government. I think that's a very admirable thing to do, especially when there was a clear alternative for these cops.
---
Wojtek, you wrote that "what matters is power, its abuses and one's proximity to it". An average cops proximity to, for example, the strangulation of a black man selling cigarettes, is not a given if you ask me. I doubt it happens to a clear majority of cops.

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Jul 31 2020 19:48
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My point was that ordinary people have no intention of changing the system (either they like the system or they see no practical alternative). So yes, cops protect capitalism, but people vote in favour of capitalism.

So if we use support for capitalism as a measuring tool to evaluate how we should view people, then we should view a cop and a average person as very similar to each other.

You're shifting the goalposts here, from "protecting" to "support". Those are two different thing. In any case, the specific function of the police is to protect private property and capitalism, that's it. Structurally, that entire occupation has that function, is far more important than some individual voting (all parliamentary parties are capitalist). You are comparing apples to the railways. Logically, your argument just doesn't hold up no matter how often you repeat it. I mean ffs, if you really want to go down that route, at least do the tired old cliche about what jobs are all about providing ideological cover for capitalism (e.g. anything that Althusser reduce to ISAs).

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Jul 31 2020 20:27
darren p wrote:
Well yes, perhaps not the best example. I was just looking for an example and an explanation of why a group of people act one way in a certain situation and why they might act another way in another.

Oh yeah, that's fair enough. I would be interested if anyone does actually know more about what cops did in Russia or Hungary or Portugal or whatever, how far it was standing aside or just realising that they weren't capable of repressing the crowds and how far m/any of them actually joined in with stuff. I think I'm right in saying that I don't think there were any examples of "coppers' councils" comparable to the soldiers' and sailors' ones that emerged at the end of WWI, but maybe I'm wrong.

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Jul 31 2020 22:13

An old related debate; http://libcom.org/forums/news/prison-officers-unofficial-action-spreads-...

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Jul 31 2020 22:43
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My point was that ordinary people have no intention of changing the system (either they like the system or they see no practical alternative). So yes, cops protect capitalism, but people vote in favour of capitalism.

Ordinary people can learn and can change, and so can cops. But they probably couldn't continue being cops.

Quote:
While 50% were willing to joint the fascists, 50% sided with a leftist government. I think that's a very admirable thing to do, especially when there was a clear alternative for these cops.

I don't know much about the Spanish Civil War, but it is more significant that 50% of them chose to join a fascist coup, than that 50% of them didn't.

If 50% of my colleagues occupied the workplace and set up a free autonomous school, run on anarchist principles I would be pretty amazed at their ideological commitment. People don't generally change the status quo (as you argue yourself) so 50% of cops joining a coup is massively important.

Quote:
Wojtek, you wrote that "what matters is power, its abuses and one's proximity to it". An average cops proximity to, for example, the strangulation of a black man selling cigarettes, is not a given if you ask me. I doubt it happens to a clear majority of cops.

The average cop has participated in stop and frisk or other targeted repression. The average cop has policed protests and prevented people exercising their legal rights for ideological reasons. The average cop sees racist, sexist, homophobic, classist policies and enfores them. If I show up to my former workplace and refuse to leave until they pay me the money they owe, does the cop arrest me or my former boss?

I just finished reading an interesting book called Ghettoside, about the murder epidemic of black men in LA. Obviously the hero worship of the main cop annoys me, but the basic theory is that black people are not policed. If a black guy sells loose cigarettes, or passes a bad check or forgets to go to court for a citations for not having his driving license, there is a good chance he goes to jail, if he kills or injures a black man then he probably won't. Police know that they are not providing justice, and they choose to participate in these activities. There could be lefty cops and they could, theoretically do good, but only by not doing most of what they are being sent to do.

Incidentally, Ghettoside is a very interesting book, I disagre with the conclusions, but the data and analysis is worth reading.

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Aug 1 2020 01:04
explainthingstome wrote:

While 50% were willing to joint the fascists, 50% sided with a leftist government. I think that's a very admirable thing to do, especially when there was a clear alternative for these cops.
---

Not to make this about Spain but %50 of the police did not side with the republic that was the breakdown of the Civil Guard whose leader also sided with the Republic. Other police forces in the country at the time had different rates of loyalty, mostly depending on which side their officers supported and where they were based. They did not join a "leftist government" they simply stood by the governing power in their part of the country, the Civil Guard in Catalonia for example fully supported the Republic whereas in Badajoz they supported the Republic at first, then the Nationalist army took over and they just followed their orders instead. While I'm sure there were exceptions as a rule the Spanish police forces seem to have just obeyed whichever faction was in power in their communities.

In the Republican zone they sided with the established authorities which was increasingly the communist party, and were used in 1937 to crush the CNT et al, so they hadn't left the old habits behind. In nationalist zones they sided with the local right wing power base. They just kept doing their jobs and following orders. The only time I can think when they actively took a partisan side was the Assault Guard which mostly stayed loyal to the Republic, however they were the police force created by the Republic, and according to some accounts were staffed almost exclusively by socialist party members, but still they were a paramilitary force who was created to break radical workers and strikes, also took part in the communist parties suppressions and after the war many of them that survived were kept on as Francoist police officers.

So while the attitudes of the police in 36 seem surprising, it really isn't they didn't really change, it was the political situation around them that did.

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Aug 1 2020 15:36
Khawaga wrote:
You're shifting the goalposts here, from "protecting" to "support". Those are two different thing.

I guess that's true, but I don't think they are very far away from each other.

You say that I am comparing apples to railways. I'd say that I am comparing a lyncher with the audience that cheers him on.

Do you think the supporters are incapable of doing the dirty work themselves?

jef costello wrote:
Ordinary people can learn and can change, and so can cops. But they probably couldn't continue being cops.

Well I think I might agree with you there. If you oppose laws against squatting you probably wouldn't be comfortable kicking squatters out. Though I don't know, sometimes people feel like they have to do something that they feel is wrong. Especially for money.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Aug 2 2020 04:19

Worth looking at this about the 1919 strike by the filth

Quote:
...there are even a few old hands from the traditional workers’ movement who still dare declare that cops are workers in uniform. For instance, the SPGB (Small Party of Good Boys, as they used to be known), stuck as they are in a past before they were born, who point to the 1919 Police Strike, which has gone down in mythology as an example of the proletarian nature of the cops. What these ridiculous people, who try to use the past to justify their present conservative attitudes, show in this is their failure both to understand the past as well as an ignorance about the present which is largely a product of lack of current experience of the cops. ... in 1919 less than 4% of UK cops went on strike.

And this was in a period of massive international revolutionary struggle against the ruling classes of the time.
Does explainthingstome have any direct experience of the filth? Does s/he really need to be spoonfed explanations as if there aren't loads of critiques of them all over the place which s/he seems to have ignored? Or does s/he just want to avoid showing his/her disgust for their social role, endlessly equivocate about something so fundamental? Would s/he feel so hesitant about saying All Rapists Are Scum? I would remind her/him that the filth get away with a lot more than rape.

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Aug 2 2020 10:19
explainthingstome wrote:
I guess that's true, but I don't think they are very far away from each other.

You say that I am comparing apples to railways. I'd say that I am comparing a lyncher with the audience that cheers him on.

Do you think the supporters are incapable of doing the dirty work themselves?

They might or might not be. I mean, to take another analogy, how about comparing a footballer with the audience that cheers him on? I don't think you'd say that watching a few games in the pub or even the stadium or wherever means that someone's able to compete at a premier league level. Similarly, I'm happy to passively cheer on protests in Portland, or people who take militant action against fascists, or whatever, but that doesn't in itself automatically mean that I wouldn't shit myself and run away when they pulled out the LRADs and flashbangs and teargas and rubber bullets. You seem to really want to erase the distinction between passively supporting something and actually doing it, but I don't think we can get rid of it that easily.

Anyway, to answer your main questions, I've now added this study guide to the library. I think reading through some of the texts in it, particularly Our Enemies in Blue, might be useful for you.

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Aug 2 2020 14:07
Nymphalis Antiopa wrote:
Does explainthingstome have any direct experience of the filth

No, I don't actually.

Nymphalis Antiopa wrote:
Does s/he really need to be spoonfed explanations as if there aren't loads of critiques of them all over the place which s/he seems to have ignored?

I haven't ignored them, I just think they don't back up the big statements that they're trying to prove.

One article mentions that 300 people dying in custody during 10 years. Does 300 rapes committed by a specific ethnic group during 10 years prove to us that we can't trust most of them? Obviously, the answer is no; it's the typical bullshit fascist talking point and anarchists know this. But these kinds of arguments are valid if we talk about the police, because you don't like them? It would have worked better if we were talking about an ideologially narrow organization of a few thousand people.

Other articles mention specific incidents, which is a good example of police being bastards. The problem is that it's anecdotal evidence, and when we're talking about such a large group, even if we're just talking about a single country, it doesn't come close to giving a reliable answer.

Nymphalis Antiopa wrote:
Or does s/he just want to avoid showing his/her disgust for their social role, endlessly equivocate about something so fundamental?

As we all know, "all cops are bastards" is a universally accepted slogan!

R Totale wrote:
They might or might not be. I mean, to take another analogy, how about comparing a footballer with the audience that cheers him on?

But that's a question of physique or stress tolerance, not ideological identity.

R Totale wrote:
You seem to really want to erase the distinction between passively supporting something and actually doing it

Paul Joseph Watson and his friends bear guilt for Christchurch. Stalin bears guilt for the Great Purge. People voting on Hitler (well, a lot of them at least) bear guilt for the Holocaust. That's how I see it.

R Totale wrote:
particularly Our Enemies in Blue, might be useful for you.

Any particular page or chapter of said book?

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Aug 2 2020 15:36
explainthingstome wrote:
Paul Joseph Watson and his friends bear guilt for Christchurch. Stalin bears guilt for the Great Purge. People voting on Hitler (well, a lot of them at least) bear guilt for the Holocaust. That's how I see it.

For what it's worth, mentioning Stalin brings to mind another example I was sort of thinking of. Stalin bears guilt for the Great Purge, certainly. Someone today who joins a Communist Party, or posts a "stalin did nothing wrong" meme, or whatever, might be distasteful and wrong and all that, but I think it's nonsense to talk as if they're directly responsible for the deaths that occurred under Stalin (which isn't to say that they might not be capable of making some contribution to atrocities happening today, in Syria or Hong Kong or whatever).
Also, thinking about it, as well as flattening out the distinction between "support" and "doing something", your approach also seems to be erasing the distinction between different levels of support, as if "well, I don't like them but I suppose they're a necessary evil and I can't imagine any plausible alternative being implemented in the near future" and "I love them and think they're great" were the same. Social reality is complicated and I can't see how flattening things out, so anyone who might call the police if they witnessed a burglary or were the victim of crime gets lumped into the "police supporter" category along with the most hardened Back the Blue, Blue Lives Matter fanatics, helps us understand things any better.

explainthingstome wrote:
Any particular page or chapter of said book?

I mean, if your problem is that you don't think people are providing enough evidence to back up their arguments, then you might be best off reading through the whole thing and seeing if that sways you at all. But, for what it's worth, here's the chapters that the study guide recommends, together with associated questions, so feel free to concentrate on the ones that sound most relevant or interesting to you:
The creation of police forces - Chapter 3.
- Summarize Williams’ account of the development of police departments alongside the development of capitalism, white supremacy, and state bureaucracies. How did the function and administration of police forces change along with society?
- Williams complicates the view that police are simply hired thugs for the white ruling class. How do different sections of the capitalist class and middle classes compete to have their interests served by police, in Williams’ account?

White supremacy and class rule - Chapters 4-5
- What is your understanding of the police role in capitalist society, so far? Why might fulfilling this role also require upholding white supremacy?
- How has policing upheld white supremacy and racism in the past? How did policing shift with the Civil Rights movement, and how does “color-blind” policing uphold white supremacy today?
- What role does Williams’ believe police have played in the struggle between capital and labor? As Williams says, labor struggles are more institutionalized today–do police still play the same role? If so, how? If not, what role do they play now?

“Blue power” and police unions - Chapters 6 and 9
- Are the police part of the working class, for Williams? What are their interests? When police fight for their own group interests, is this good or bad for working class people?
- When and why do police unions come into conflict with local city governments? What are the possible endgames of these conflicts?
- How might a powerful social movement fuel, intervene in, or redirect conflicts between police and the government?

Toward abolition - Afterword
- Does rolling back police power, and establishing alternatives for community safety, require a major political crisis? If so, what might such a crisis look like in the U.S. today? If not, how could these goals be achieved prior to a crisis?
- Do localized campaigns to remove police from schools, demilitarize police departments, disband notorious police units (etc) bring us closer to the goal of abolition? How?

Also,

explainthingstome wrote:
As we all know, "all cops are bastards" is a universally accepted slogan!

I'm guessing that this is sarcasm, but if so it's worth pointing out that it's probably the most popular communist/communist-compatible slogan of our times, I wouldn't be surprised if it was the single most graffitied phrase in the world - I certainly imagine it's probably among the top 10 - and so on. This is one of the things I find most confusing about your posts, they all read as if the US wasn't being shaken by a huge anti-police rebellion that's been reflected worldwide.

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Aug 2 2020 19:36
R Totale wrote:
I think it's nonsense to talk as if they're directly responsible for the deaths that occurred under Stalin

When did I suggest that present-day tankies are contributing to the NKVD murdering people in 1937?

What I was saying was that you don't have to pull the trigger in order to be complicit in mass murder. Or in this case cops arresting people for any action that wouldn't be illegal under anarchism.

R Totale wrote:
your approach also seems to be erasing the distinction between different levels of support, as if "well, I don't like them but I suppose they're a necessary evil and I can't imagine any plausible alternative being implemented in the near future" and "I love them and think they're great" were the same.

I don't have any statistics to go on but I'd be very surprised if the "normal people" I know are against the police in general.

(It might be good to stress that I do not live in the United States. I've never heard anyone say anything about the police where I live.)

Even in America I doubt that the average Democrat voter wants to get rid of all police departments.

R Totale wrote:
Social reality is complicated and I can't see how flattening things out, so anyone who might call the police if they witnessed a burglary or were the victim of crime gets lumped into the "police supporter" category along with the most hardened Back the Blue, Blue Lives Matter fanatics, helps us understand things any better.

I don't see how lumping together policemen who've planted evidence or killed someone for stealing, with policemen who has arrested someone for shoplifting, or even arrested someone who has beaten up a neo-nazi, is any less uncomplicated and bad.

R Totale wrote:
This is one of the things I find most confusing about your posts, they all read as if the US wasn't being shaken by a huge anti-police rebellion that's been reflected worldwide.

It just sounds very unlikely to me that ordinary people really have gone so far as to say "ACAB". There would have to be a bigger communist/anarchist presence than what I'm seeing. Twitter doesn't count.

Sure it's a well-known slogan but I suspect that has to do with anarchists being unproportionally active in spraypainting.

R Totale wrote:
But, for what it's worth, here's the chapters that the study guide recommends

Thanks, I'll try to read them when I have the time.

I don't enjoy being the only one here who disagree with all of you on this thread.

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Aug 3 2020 20:26

I will try to come back to this later because it takes time to write a decent response, but in the mean time, just read a bit of a James Baldwin essay about antisemitism that made me think of this thread:

Quote:
We hated the policemen, not all of whom were Jewish, and some of whom were black. The poor, of whatever color, do not trust the law and certainly have no reason so, and God knows we didn't. "If you must call a cop," we said in those days, "for God's sake, make sure it's a white one." We did not feel that the cops were protecting us, for we knew too much about the reasons for the kinds of crimes committed in the ghetto; but we feared black cops even more than white cops, because the black cop had to work so much harder--on your head--to prove to himself and his colleagues that he was not like all the other niggers.

Nymphalis Antiopa
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Aug 4 2020 03:09

explainhingstomesoicanabstractlyrefuteitwithsomedebatingsocietyacrobatics:

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One article mentions that 300 people dying in custody during 10 years. Does 300 rapes committed by a specific ethnic group during 10 years prove to us that we can't trust most of them? Obviously, the answer is no

You're seriously comparing an ethnic group with a professional state institution? A comparison would be better with a gang or an extended family. So if the Johnson family/gang killed or raped 300 people in 10 years and not a single member of the Johnson family/gang explicitly condemned these murders or rapes, and none of them were ever prosecuted and found guilty of them, it would be wrong to say All Johnsons Are Bastards ?

You say you have no direct experience of the filth. If you got arrested the conversation might become a bit interesting. For the moment, your comments are about as useful and lucid as a virgin's comments about sex.