Right now, two digital CBK exhibitions, Nedjem and Origin of Life, are going on at Hybriden. This is my contribution to one of them:
It comes from CBA vol 48: Nedjem, which you can buy here.
Here’s the text that accompanies it in the book. I wrote it earlier this year, but it’s of course still current since some change comes reeeaaally slow, if at all.
ALL CATS ARE BEAUTIFUL (or ACAB)
So it happened again, on May 25 of 2020. Another name added to the list of people who were murdered by Police. I won’t mention his name here because I won’t mention any names because there are too many. I won’t mention his skin color because he was a human being first and foremost, but also because you already know. We still remember him and his last moments.
I should perhaps mention here that I am White and I live in a segregated little country called Sweden. I may not be completely segregated personally, not completely socially unconnected to the groups of people who are usually the victims of Police violence, but I don’t think I personally know anyone who has been killed by cops.
Abused in some way by police? Sure, lots of people, including friends, friends of friends, family, loose aquaintances and myself at one point. Most of it political, some of it in enforcement of what I’d call racist legislation concerning migration (which is also political) and some for other reasons.
But murdered by Swedish Police? Not as much. I think the closest one was a relative of an ex of mine. They don’t do that as much in Sweden as in some other countries, even though it’s not unheard of. But the thing is that US culture is also our culture in many ways. The current US president may wage an internal culture war against anything left of the Republicans at the moment, but internationally, they won years ago. We in the rest of the world watch US TV and movies, eat food from US food chains, play US games, read US books and comics, it’s everywhere. I even use mostly US English even though the one I learned in school was the British one. Sure we miss a lot of nuance and we only get the surface of it. Most of us don’t know what it’s like to live in the US, we haven’t felt it in our bodies. But we identify with US culture, and part of that comes in the form of transferred race relations.
I’m not saying this to exonerate us in any way. We have contributed lots to the ingrained racism ourselves, we can’t blame Hollywood for that. But when we see cops murder Black people in the US in the news and social networks, we feel kind of like it’s happening here. In part because the same things are also happening here on a smaller scale, but also because we’re all affected by US politics. Through wars and the tentacles of their capitalist practices and reproduction of the class system they’re so good at maintaining (even though we at least still have comparatively free health care).
So it happened again. And again. And again. And it felt like it happened to us, because Sweden isn’t all White, you know, just largely segregated, and our history classes probably taught us more about slavery in the US than US children learn in school. And this time the name and the reactions got bigger. This time it was the drop that made the glass spill over, just like it was those other times. The name and the reaction got so big this time that maybe. Just maybe. Maybe this time was going to be different. Maybe something would actually change. Even though it didn’t in any of those other cases.
But even after that last big name, there were more people killed. Some of it was political, people getting shot to death at protests. Some of it were traffic stops or other misdemeanors. Driving while Black. Breathing while Black. The names kept piling up and for each one the newsworthiness diminished and most of them probably went completely under the radar for the people whose local communities weren’t directly affected.
Because All Cops Are Bastards. And by that I mean that they largely get away with whatever they do. They can use excessive force with no repercussions. They can harass innocent people with no repercussions. They can kill with no repercussions. The exceptions to this rule are too few to make a difference.
As I started writing this text there was an incident in Sweden where some truck driver got a cop’s baton shoved up his ass, and it was ruled that it had to have been either an accident or a warranted police action. The court didn’t determine which one it was but it didn’t matter as long as the cop and his commanding officer were innocent. Which only seems likely in a world where anything a cop does is automatically defensible. Too bad that’s the world we live in.
All Cops Are Bastards. It may sound like a harsh statement, but let me explain:
Even if the bad ones really are just a number of individual cops, that means that the rest of them are either quietly approving or, in at least a few cases I hope, actively resisting. And the ones that are approving of racist or violent behavior, or even quietly disagreeing, are part of the problem. The ones that are resisting (though I hear that’s really hard to do from within the corps) will be aware enough that it’s a systemic problem that they will know what we mean when we say that All Cops Are Bastards. As the saying goes: a few bad apples spoil the bunch.
Because it is a systemic problem, which means that it’s not enough to punish a couple of cops who went too far. No amount of measures are enough until Black people don’t need to be afraid of being killed by cops for existing on the streets, at work or even in their homes. It’s not enough until some nedlessly upset White people can no longer use a 911 call as a potential murder weapon. Which goes for both the US and for Sweden.
Some people seem to believe that there is no racism anymore, because slavery was officially abolished in the US, because the Nazis lost the second world war or because most countries (looking at you, Israel) don’t have any official laws demanding racial segregation. But it’s only possible to still believe that while looking at, for example, the statistics for incarceration and police killings in the US if you see those numbers through a lens that says that Black people by nature are more likely to commit crimes. Same goes for the unequal distribution of wealth. And I’m sorry to break it to you, but that is by definition a racist lens.
Combine racism, a disdain for the poor and widespread misogyny with a police force that not only is immune to repercussions but in many ways has the same mentality as a criminal gang or a bunch of bullies, and what do you get? A situation where All Cops Are Bastards and where Black Lives don’t Matter. Which means that All Lives don’t Matter. Which is something that everyone should care about, even those who aren’t personally directly affected in their daily lives.
White people aren’t of course immune to violence from the police. White people are just not subjected to violence or suspicion BECAUSE they are White. Which is an important distinction that does not contradict that we all have everything to gain from joining forces to make changes, because maybe another world is possible. One without class differences, without racism and without police brutality. One where that list of names doesn’t keep growing.