13 votes

Are the police domestic terrorists?

At my school we were discussing the War on Terror and how to define terrorism. Per dictionary.com, terrorism is "the use of violence and threats to intimidate or coerce, especially for political purposes." Which brings me to my question, which is, wouldn't this make the police force a terrorist organization? Police use violence and threats (via their authorization to use force), to intimidate would-be lawbreakers, and coerce actual lawbreakers, in order to maintain the status quo (which basically means keeping the current regime/administration in power, so certainly politically motivated). Some more questions I thought of:

  • Can terrorism be ethical/justified?
  • Are governments inherently terrorist organizations? Is the use and threat of violence a necessary evil?

12 comments

  1. Happy_Shredder
    Link
    The word terrorist is very loaded. It's often used to 1) delegitimise political groups (see various Kurdish organisations, or more generally freedom fighter vs terrorist) and 2) used as a...

    The word terrorist is very loaded. It's often used to 1) delegitimise political groups (see various Kurdish organisations, or more generally freedom fighter vs terrorist) and 2) used as a justification for deliberalisation and general increased state control.

    So I wouldn't call police terrorists, it's too muddy.

    But, they are fundamentally instruments of state violence and state control. You see this everywhere, whenever people start grumbling, the police are there to intimidate or crush. In some places they have a near free hand to murder, torture, rob, and rape.

    However, they can also provide a useful role, for example, assisting in natural disasters, or handling organised crime. It helps if they're well integrated in communities, rather than an "other". It also helps if they're broadly trained in useful skills, such as deescelation, and also if there are strong pathways for civilian complaints, anti corruption processes, and in general subjecting police themselves to the law.

    But even then they will still be weapons of state control.

    18 votes
  2. [5]
    skybrian
    Link
    Superficially this is a click-bait headline but let's ignore that, please! I also don't think getting into a dispute over the definition of "terrorism" is useful? If you just want to fix the...

    Superficially this is a click-bait headline but let's ignore that, please! I also don't think getting into a dispute over the definition of "terrorism" is useful? If you just want to fix the definition, you can say that terrorists are defined as non-state actors and leave it at that.

    But there is a deeper question with a lot of history, about when state violence is justified. Libertarians and anarchists will go on about this. The conventional thinking is that limiting violence to the police, as regulated by a court system, seems better than alternatives, because otherwise other violent organizations will gain power.

    So, maybe start the discussion from there?

    8 votes
    1. [2]
      Turtle
      Link Parent
      I apologize for the title, I guess, although I don't understand how its click-bait. Its not like I'm purposefully trying to be inflammatory just to get more comments or whatever. The title is...

      I apologize for the title, I guess, although I don't understand how its click-bait. Its not like I'm purposefully trying to be inflammatory just to get more comments or whatever. The title is literally the question that I'm interested in discussing.

      3 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        I should have said "inflammatory" rather than "click-baity." "Terrorism" is a pejorative term used to say certain people are terrible. It also doesn't have a terribly clear definition. So it's...

        I should have said "inflammatory" rather than "click-baity." "Terrorism" is a pejorative term used to say certain people are terrible. It also doesn't have a terribly clear definition. So it's both emotional and doesn't seem all that useful for getting across specifically what you're asking about? But I think I got what you meant anyway.

        5 votes
    2. [2]
      Turtle
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      Anyways, I think you're right that the real question is about if/when state violence can be justified. Obviously violence can be necessary and so can be justified, and it follows that state...

      Anyways, I think you're right that the real question is about if/when state violence can be justified. Obviously violence can be necessary and so can be justified, and it follows that state violence can be justified, but the longer I think about it, the more it seems that only bad things can result from a situation where only the government can use violence, which seems to be the situation basically everywhere.

      3 votes
      1. skybrian
        Link Parent
        It's not entirely true that only the police can use violence. Self-defense is often accepted as legitimate. (Also, it depends what you mean by violence.) But, generally speaking, you're expected...

        It's not entirely true that only the police can use violence. Self-defense is often accepted as legitimate. (Also, it depends what you mean by violence.) But, generally speaking, you're expected not to resist police violence, and instead argue your case in court.

        Maybe think about it this way: is the court system how disputes should be resolved? And what makes it so that people have to actually show up in court and obey court orders, rather than ignoring any courts they don't like?

        In particular, why do government officials obey court orders?

        6 votes
  3. [4]
    Gaywallet
    Link
    Just about anything can be justified. The question of whether terrorism is ethical is a rather subjective one as well. You can make arguments for a fair deal of terrorism as ethical (when seen...
    • Can terrorism be ethical/justified?

    Just about anything can be justified. The question of whether terrorism is ethical is a rather subjective one as well. You can make arguments for a fair deal of terrorism as ethical (when seen through the eyes of the terrorists) as the goal is for it to catalyze change. I think most people will disagree that it's ethical, however, as it often involves innocent individuals.

    • Are governments inherently terrorist organizations? Is the use and threat of violence a necessary evil?

    If the government reflected the wishes of the people, it's not really intimidation or coercion on a grand scale, but on an individual scale it can be if a person does not share the same ideas as the government and the punishment of laws are therefore intimidating or coercing them to follow.

    I believe there are simply some people who will not respond to anything but threats/violence, but for the vast majority of people they are unnecessary and do a worse job of changing or modifying behavior than other methods such as proper incentives.

    5 votes
    1. [3]
      Turtle
      Link Parent
      Couldn't it be argued that an action that results in innocent people suffering could still be ethical? For example, defeating the Nazis resulted in the deaths of many innocent German civilians,...

      Couldn't it be argued that an action that results in innocent people suffering could still be ethical? For example, defeating the Nazis resulted in the deaths of many innocent German civilians, but no one would argue it was unethical, and by definition it was an act of terrorism.

      2 votes
      1. Litmus2336
        Link Parent
        Generally it is considered that governments cannot be terrorists. You can see that in media discourse. But what exactly a government is, or why they can't be terrorists, is up for debate. I tend...

        Generally it is considered that governments cannot be terrorists. You can see that in media discourse. But what exactly a government is, or why they can't be terrorists, is up for debate.

        I tend to agree, if only because it's useful to differentiate between "normal" terrorism and state sponsored violence.

        2 votes
      2. Gaywallet
        Link Parent
        Yes, like most judgements, it's relativistic.

        Yes, like most judgements, it's relativistic.

  4. Staross
    (edited )
    Link
    They sure can be, there was some discussion about it on r/france recently. For example a guy went to a demonstration, got gassed and really scared, now he won't demonstrate again, because he fears...

    They sure can be, there was some discussion about it on r/france recently. For example a guy went to a demonstration, got gassed and really scared, now he won't demonstrate again, because he fears for his safety. After all the people that got beaten up for no reason, shot in the face, lost an eye, etc. I would be scared to go too.

    And there's clear political intent behind it, the police get orders that predictably leads to violence, they don't respect the most basic rules, they are protected by the hierarchy (which goes up to the minister and Macron), and Macron even said that people should be "responsible" and "don't go into such places" after an old women got smashed by the police.

    3 votes
  5. Keegan
    Link
    I think that is a flawed definition of terrorism. I believe it is when an individual (or group) uses various methods of violence outside the legality of local and international laws to incite fear...

    I think that is a flawed definition of terrorism. I believe it is when an individual (or group) uses various methods of violence outside the legality of local and international laws to incite fear in people.

    Terrorists commit mass violence via methods that are war crimes/unethical. Car bombs, roadside bombs, suicide bombers, using children as bait, etc. Their purpose is not to protect anyone but themselves, and sometimes even that isn't true.

    Police on the other hand, outside some bad eggs, are generally not murdering random civilians for no reason within the US. Also, you cannot generalize all police with "Are the police domestic terrorists?" because police forces across the world are vastly, vastly different. At least in the US, when we protest we are not gunned down in the street in huge numbers like in some places.

    Police also target lawbreakers (except in some extremely rare cases), while terrorists target innocent people who have literally done nothing wrong.

    1 vote