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This Is What Policing Is All About

The NYPD attacks on people having fun in a public space are a reminder of the core function of police: violent social control.

THe NYPD moves into Washington Square Park
Joshua Potash

Hopefully you had a good weekend. Here in New York, it was blazing hot and the city was sparking and there was that ineffable NYC summer vibe in the air (something I used to consider a bit of a trial thanks to the aforementioned blazing heat, but the events of the past year changed my view). It was nice, is what I’m getting at, and millions of people spent the weekend doing nice things.

The New York Police Department spent it violently rounding up people in Washington Square Park. I guess that counts as a nice weekend for cops. The reason this happened is simple: some rich people complained that things were getting too rowdy in the park—which, lest we forget is an iconic public space surrounded by a university campus in the densest urban area in America, not a private space in the middle of nowhere —and so the NYPD decided that people had to leave the park by 10 p.m., and then decided to brutally enforce that curfew.

It would be hard to find a more illustrative confirmation of the thesis that the police exist primarily to maintain social control on behalf of the rich. There is no high-minded reasoning behind the police decision to turn Washington Square Park into a war zone every weekend, but that is because, in a police state, there doesn’t need to be. The reminder that the cops are in charge, and that they act with impunity, is reason enough.

There was enough of a backlash to the scenes on Saturday night that the cops backed off on Sunday. It was a lousy short-term look; even complete freaks like mayoral candidate and former cop Eric Adams, whose policy on just about everything is “maybe we should put a cop there” and who has flirted with the idea of carrying a gun as mayor, felt the need to distance themselves:

But on Monday, Bill de Blasio, as he usually does, backed the cops to the hilt:

And the local media has been more than willing to carry the can for the NYPD. “NYPD cracks down on rowdy groups in Washington Square Park” is how NY1 framed its story. CBS2 didn’t wonder why the curfew was in place—just why it wasn’t being enforced consistently:

There is confusion over a new curfew at Washington Square Park.

Police have stepped up security after violent clashes Saturday night when the park was closing. But as CBS2’s Cory James reported, the curfew didn’t appear to be in effect on Sunday night.

The curfew was put in place a week ago, so what happened?

Yeah, what happened! Get in there cops! It’s wild that the NYPD even bothers to have a social media account when the press is this willing to do the job.

It is no surprise that the landscape favors the cops so much. The uprisings of 2020 have given way to the most instinctive of establishment narratives about New York City: that it is a crime-riddled hellhole that deserves to be dealt with. Crime is at the top of every mayoral debate, and that laser focus has now seeped into the public consciousness,:

(Sidenote: “wow, over a century of police propaganda wasn’t immediately washed away by a radical movement most people only heard of last year” is not the burn this person thinks it is.)

We know, though, that police don’t actually focus on solving serious crime, the kind that gets people asking for more cops:

They don’t focus on it because solving serious crime is really a loss leader for the true function of policing , which is to uphold the social order on behalf of the most powerful people in the world, and to use whatever means necessary to do so. That is the thing to remember when you look at these videos. You might say something like “this isn’t what police should be doing!” That’s true, in a sense, but that misses the point. Doing this is what policing is all about.