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Our boys in blue are supposed to keep us safe from harm. Protect us from those who aren’t upstanding moral citizens like ourselves. They’re supposed to be the first line in administering justice. For many people, they’re perceived as such. So a defence of committing homicide against them might seem radical or disgusting. I – and philosophy – disagree.
The utilitarian philosophy means that we should act in the interests of maximum utility for the whole of our society. It offers an answer to that age-old question of whether you’d pull a lever to kill one person instead of four: of course you would, if four people’s lives could be saved. If you like this idea, you’re not alone. Famous utilitarians include Peter Singer, Bertrand Russell and Dumbledore. So let’s look at what would happen if you killed a cop in terms of social utility.
For a start, there’s a possibility you’d be saving someone’s life later down the line. Even excluding this possibility, however, let us consider the Aristotelian definition of what ‘living’ entails. Living is the mere act of being alive. Living is existing. He draws a distinction between this and ‘flourishing’, which is living a life worth living: a wholesome, productive and fulfilling life.
Cops have to arrest people. That’s their jobs. Many of them relish it. The assumption among us well-off folk, that crime happens and then the cop appears on the scene to find the perpetrator afterwards, is ass-over-tits. What really happens is cops can construct a crime, decide if your behaviour breaches an arbitrary law, and fuck you up on it because they can.
These arrests and convictions bring psychological trauma. You can be accused of taking drugs and placed in the same institute as a mass murderer. But aside from that, by arresting people for innocuous things, cops are ruining people’s lives. Study after study shows that conviction, incarceration and the prosecution process results in a diminished quality of life afterwards, and even becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Suppose that cops make 100 arrests a year. Maybe eight of the people are straight-up innocent. On the other end of the spectrum, maybe a charitable 60 deserve their arrest. Of the 40 left, say that ten are left fucked up because of what the police are responsible for doing to them.
If we assign a value of 1 to a cop’s life and apply .25 to the lives of the victims they ruin (which is being very generous indeed), the ratio becomes 1:2.5 every year. This means that the benefit of killing a cop does greater good to the community than if the cop survives long enough to get a cosy retirement fund. Then, if a person goes on to kill again because of their incarceration and treatment by police, that’s another life you can add.
There is also the philosophical premise that we are all equal. This is clearly not one the police believe. They target Māori, brown and black people. They are belittling to the queer community, and will even assault them. The trans* community and sex-working community live in fear of them. They regularly side with rapists over their victims, letting many go free after blaming the victim for not taking appropriate measures. They slut-shame. Too often, they rape someone themselves, and leave them with no one to turn to because of the inordinate amount of power they have and because: who would white, upper-class society believe?
They are allowed to do this because they have the power. But power belongs in the hands of the community at large, not a specific individual or person. So what do the police give to the community? ‘Protection’. What harmful things do they do to it? See above. On a level of pure utility in the community, it would be best if coppers become croppers. The trauma they are responsible for inflicted on our most needy is disgusting. It’s time to light that Molotov.
*NOTE* The author does not condone the killing of policemen at all. They condone comprehensive and radical structural changes in the police force.
F. T. Procter would love to be contacted at 027 666 420 69.