State and police exercising power in society is nothing new, nor is public resistance to this type of power, but those resisting this power have recently become much more critical of state and police affairs. From displays of sovereign power, to modern undertakings of disciplinary power to help regulate individuals, there appears to be at least one constant. State bodies always seem ready and willing to resort to physical force during times of extreme resistance (Foucault, 1977). Police officers are the individuals at the front of these decisions, often pressured into engaging in very heated situations. Whether it be patrolling a protest zone, or simply responding to a call, there is always the possibility that police use of force may be used to ensure safety and peace (Monaghan and Walby, 2012). At the same time power from the police and the state can become repressive, this takes shape through police brutalization and laws such as Montreal’s P6 bylaw, which has the ability to stop peaceful protest before they even begin. This is done through police officers handing out fines to those participating in protests where the protest route was not disclosed to police prior to it starting. Those that engage in anti-police brutality protest do so because it has become apparent police restricting citizen power through the control of space, assembly, capitalism, and police act through pacifying the general population for the benefit of the state (Neocleous, 2003). Public order is brought by the police through persuasive and information based actions, such as requiring protests to disclose their protest route in advance and ticketing, but regardless of the order and safety during the protest, the police maintain a constant power to use coercive force if they so choose. Seemingly the days of community policing are well behind us, and the act of policing is as politically charged as ever.
When considering police brutality it can also be noted there is a skewed nature of policing against certain groups in society. The current landscape of police brutality has been consistent with its historical past of targeting and taking advantage of marginalized individuals and groups- namely the Black and Aboriginal members of society (Gordon, 2011). Police brutality has maintained the cultural phenomenon of exploiting these members of society. In the Canadian context, black individuals still face more of a police presence than any other group in the country, as discussed in the media analysis on this topic and the Black Lives Matters movement’s focus (http://blacklivesmatter.com). For those who show dissent against acts such as these, they are often characterized as a threat to the state and its citizens (Kinsman, Buse, and Steedman, 2000). As well, though the term police brutality is often linked with physical coercion, the Aboriginal population has shown the non-physical ways in which police can brutalize citizens. Aboriginal people are regulated through laws, and treaty agreements that were passed in another century. The denial of services, and under-servicing, as well as the failure to protect are just some of the ways in which police can coerce certain groups in non-physical ways. The regulation of Aboriginal land rights and Aboriginal rights in general has helped to sustain a system of oppression that allows the control of bodies and movement within a certain geographical context. A racial, patriarchal, and colonial norm works in favour of the state, and allowing the police to function in this same way helps to perpetuate this norm (Gordon, 2011). Police anti-brutalization protests in this regard deserve more merit than they receive, as they are showing dissent against a group that is helping to maintain the inequity that currently exist in society. Police anti-brutalization is seemingly more than just a fight against physical coercive power, it is tied to the fight for equality and human rights.
The act of dissenting in the context of dealing with police anti-brutalization is a part of a wider movement that sees more and more people willing to protest against the state. Unfortunately, those who engage in dissent are often times those who are structurally disadvantaged to begin with- Black and Aboriginal individuals for example, as previously mentioned. On the other hand, the state deploys a variety of influential powers. Whether they make a stand politically, through media, or engage certain part of the state such as the police, the state has a platform to establish a discourse regarding virtually anything. The state is able to frame those protesting, whether it is portraying them as unruly, violent, or risky, the state has the ability to not only shape the identities of those that are showing dissent against them, but also how these people might be criminalized or deterred (Adese, 2009). The case of anti-police brutality protests poses a unique feature that most other protests do not deal with, that is; dissenters are face to face with those actions they are directly protesting against.
It has become evident the phenomenon of police brutality and dissent shown against it has helped to depict the changing landscape of power in the social setting. Having once maintained virtually all the power, and the ability to dictate the landscape of public space, the police and the state’s top down approach to power in has now fluctuated (Noakes, 2005). It has become more apparent the public has more of an ability to influence and dictate the social realm and discourse. Nonetheless, the police are the only body in the midst of this changing dynamic that maintain an ability to use coercive force legally. Dissenters against police brutality often face the very acts they wish to protest against, actions they are voicing their non-consent towards, whereas the police seemingly use their status as recourse to put an end to the actions they do not consent to.
Adese, Jennifer. 2009. “Constructing the Aboriginal Terrorist: Depictions of Aboriginal Protests, the Caledonia Reclamation, and Canadian Neoliberalization.” Pp. 275-285 in Engaging Terror. A Critical and Interdisciplinary Approach, edited by M. Vardalos, G.K. Letts, H.M. Teixeira, A. Karzai and J. Haig. Boca Raton: Brown Walker Press.
Foucault, Michel. 2009. Security, Territory, Population. Lectures at the Collège de France, 1977- 1978. New York: Picador. Pp. 333-358. [5 April 1978 lecture]
Gordon, Todd. 2011. “Empire at Home.” Pp. 66-133 in Imperialist Canada. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing. [Focus on pp. 66-76, 122-133]
Kinsman, Gary, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman. 2000. “How the Centre Holds – National Security as an Ideological Practice.” Pp. 278-286 in Whose National Security? Canadian State Surveillance and the Creation of Enemies, edited by Gary Kinsman, Dieter K. Buse and Mercedes Steedman. Toronto: Between the Lines.
Monaghan, Jeffery and Kevin Walby. 2012. “‘They Attacked the City’: Security Intelligence, the Sociology of Protest Policing and the Anarchist Threat at the 2010 Toronto G20 Summit.” Current Sociology. 60(5):653-671.
Neocleous, Mark. 2003. “The Home of the State.” Pp. 98-124 in Imagining the State. Berkshire: Open University Press.
Noakes, John A., Brian V. Klocke and Patrick F. Gillham. 2005. “Whose Streets? Police and Protester Struggles over Space in Washington, DC, 29-30 September 2001.” Policing & Society 15(3):235-54.