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Canadian Hack Journalism in the Context of Ferguson

In light of the events of Ferguson, is it any wonder that pro-pig ideology is closing ranks?  Once again we are presented with an event that proves that the police function more-or-less as guardians of a racist bourgeois order; once again we are faced with an ideology that tries to defend this order as common sense, treating the racism as "excesses", exceptions to the bourgeois rule of law.  In this context, then, is it that surprising that Toronto Life would release a piece of "yellow" journalism about the supposed truth of the shooting of a racialized youth, Sammy Yatim, that happened around a year ago?  Here we find a piece that is timely: in the wake of the Ferguson, Missouri execution of Mike Brown there is suddenly an "authoritative" article that justifies the killing of a racialized teenager in Toronto.  The message is clear: the police are only doing their job, every non-white youth they murder deserves termination.

There is really no point in arguing against the pro-cop story described in the aforelinked article.  The fact that it focuses on a narrative that feels as if it as been concocted by pigs desperate to justify brutal shooting, begins like a movie rather than honest journalism, devolves into an op-ed about the trials of the shooter, should be proof that it should be treated as suspicious.  More importantly, it is timely in the context of Ferguson. Whoever the pigs decide to shoot deserve to be shot, and protestors have no right to be angry: that is the message.

What is more important than this spin on the Yatim shooting, though, is that such an explanation of cop behaviour is treated as acceptable and correct by a population who is desperate to maintain the ideology that props up the repressive state apparatus.  The ideology that the pigs are necessary, that they are just normal people doing their job, that society would devolve into chaos without them, that the bourgeois rule of law is what we all want, and that these moments of excess are justifiable exceptions––this is precisely why Toronto Life's version of the Sammy Yatim shooting was released now, right when the pigs in Missouri are unleashing dogs on the people whose protest of the shooting of Mike Brown has become a rebellion.

These stories always serve as ideological props for the repressive state apparatus, producing a constellation––ranging from liberal to reactionary––of litanies about the necessity and well-intentioned nature of police.  "Police are people too!  They aren't racists because some of them are people of colour!  Don't you dare criticize them when they would risk their lives to show up at your house to deal with home intruders and rapists!  We need the police because they are just trying to protect us, and sometimes they make mistakes!"  All of this ideology about how the police are really an institution that exists to deal with "crime" serves a purpose: it makes us forget that a policing institution in a class society is primarily about the maintenance of class power and that whatever stability we can derive from such policing is only a byproduct of this institution's primary function––the protection of the state's ruling class.  It is also offensive: people who continue to remind us that "not all cops are bad" or that we shouldn't criticize police because we "need them" in the context of police repression where racialized people are in rebellion have chosen to identify themselves with oppression.

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When one of my friends ended up in a facebook argument with a person who was celebrating the Toronto Life article, reminding him that it was offensive in the context of Ferguson, she was told that her analysis of institutional/structural racism was "over-simplification".  It is always interesting that the common-sense and ready-at-hand understanding of reality––the default ideology about "how things are"––is treated as sophisticated when it is really quite bizarre.  The claim that there is no such thing as structural racism because "look-there-are-people-of-colour-cops-and-a-black-president" is what is truly simplistic: it requires no critical thinking, no reflection on social structure, no examination of the history of racism and the role of the police and the army in a class society.  It masquerades as a sophisticated theory of social complexity because it reduces society to a collection of diverse and individualized people, a chaos of liberal responsibility and free will.  Most importantly, this is an ideology that is premised on the unexamined belief that police are, first and foremost, an institution that "fights crime", that promotes social peace, and only becomes bad due to the actions of a few "corrupt" individuals.

Those of us who are marxists (and, to be fair, other anti-capitalists) begin by recognizing the social function of the police: a repressive state apparatus that exists primarily to defend class power.  While it is true that the police do "fight crime" this is simply part of that overall function because much of what is designated as crime will affect the ability of the ruling class to maintain hegemony, particularly their ability to maintain the consent of those they rule.  When there are moments of rebellion, then, the police emerge as the naked power of the state itself, revealing what their function has been all along.  No point in going into this in any significant detail: entire books have been written on the history and function of the police; most people who read this blog will be familiar with this analysis.

While there are, of course, those marxists who are under the (misguided) impression that because police are "workers too" they can be "won over" (at some critical insurrectionary juncture perhaps)––and I wrote about this in a previous post––even this naive position is a far cry more critical than the liberal peonages about how police are people too that manifest whenever the policing institutions are revealed for what they are.  Stripped down to their bare function, revealed as the repressive institution they have always been, the police must suddenly be defended by invectives designed to remind us of the ideology that has temporarily been suspended.

In this context, which is the context of the uprisings in St. Louis, the Toronto Life piece on Yatim is perhaps meant to prefigure what will be told about Mike Brown––an unarmed boy shot multiple times before being shot in the head––a year from now when the next rebellion against police repression manifests.  The very fact that this article paints the thousands of outraged Torontonians who came out to protest the death of Yatim as naive at best; at worst, thugs due to the threats allegedly delivered to the shooter's family, the "true victims" in the Toronto Life narrative.  This is the supposed "complexity" of the story that is being presented on the part of pro-police ideology, one that is intentionally amnesiatic about the historical pattern of police repression.  Every moment of spectacular police brutality, particularly those that spark some sort of large-scale protest and/or rebellion, exist in isolation from so many similar past moments.  Before Yatim there was the execution of Junior Manon; before Brown there was Martin; before these there were generations of Emmet Tills.

All of this is not an over-simplification but, in point of fact, is too critical for the one-dimensionality of bourgeois thought, directed towards the preservation of the bourgeois legal order, to comprehend.  The police are not a necessity; rather, the end of the order they function to protect is what is necessary.  For we can see the meaning of this order in Ferguson, just as we can see the meaning of this order in any uprising that challenges, however minimally, ruling class power.


  1. interesting, but is it possible to have a society without police? Were there no poiice in the Soviet Union and China?

    1. Not saying that: only talking about policing under capitalism. Socialism is also a class-based society so it would produce a repressive state apparatus that, though always in danger of being taken over by the former ruling class due to counter-revolution, would be one based on repressing this former ruling class. Thus, its class character would be different. Part of producing socialism, though, where the state and its repressive apparatus would be brought to bear on the elements of the former ruling class with the intention of ending the state altogether, would also be to produce policing institutions that are different from the policing institutions of capitalism. (Just as the policing institutions are different from those of previous modes of production.) And that can't be done if we pretend that capitalism's policing institutions aren't our enemy.

  2. Very refreshing to hear some sane commentary. Thank you.

    Steven Johnson

  3. Annoying seeing the dominant leftist reactions to this.

    Those closer to the right are complaining about the existence of "violence" and those on the tumblr left are complaining about white people "culturally-appropriating" the use of the raised fist or forbidding expressions of "solidarity".

  4. While i may agree that capitalism and the police are an enemy to an extent, one can't but think the following;
    when the communists are out of power, they are against the police. when they are in power, they construct a police state. this is part of the image problem of communism anyway. Your views above about the dictatorship of the proletariat are what most communists say, however, it is hard to know if this dictatorship, when it comes into existence, will ever come out of existence. the idea of a permanent dictatorship is not an attractive one.
    it is all very well to call it the dictatorship of the proletariat, however, in effect, it is the dictatorship of the party over the rest of society, which entails a police state, and a kind of inquisition over areas of social and cultural life. I guess, what i am trying to get at, in perhaps a roundabout way, is that while communists are right in opposition, it is less obvious they really have any solution when they get power. I imagine what it would be like if the Shining Path or the Nepali Maoists actually succeeded in their revolution. Would it not be a recreation of North Korea? or something similar?

    1. I base my assessment on the two world historical revolutions in Russia and China that, despite all of their problems, were still closer to making the world a better place than any other movement. Now you might have problems with those, and I would argue that most of your understanding of them probably comes from bourgeois/coldwar ideology, but that's my position. I've written a lot about this on this blog, so feel free to read the relevant articles.

      But to make things quick: I think solutions were provided by the Russian revolution before they encountered problems they couldn't solve. The Chinese Revolution went further before Deng and the roaders won the Cultural Revolution. I think the analysis of "totalitarianism" and the claim that these places were "police states" is, again mainly coldwar propaganda and only those who came from class positions under attack during the height of these revolutions maintain this claim. Lot of work on this, and even liberal academics like Getty would argue that the Soviet Union under Stalin was far from the "police state" that the west painted it to be. Doesn't mean it was without problems, only that your discourse is extremely problematic, but understandable: this is common sense ideology.

      The thing is, communist revolutions succeed to the extent of constructing socialism. No other revolutionary movement has or will succeed because they lack the ability to do so. That's just a material fact based on history, and I tackle this problem in my upcoming book.

    2. This is a different anon, but would you have any good reading recommendations regarding what your talking that would be helpful in addressing the issues you're talking about. I've been trying to find good resources for establishing that much of the common sense understandings that I encounter about Soviet and Chinese Socialism are either massively distorted or outright wrong.

      I often get into trouble when talking to people about these things because they will start making definitive statements about oppression, police states, how communists where just as bad as previous rulers etc. I lack confidence in my own convictions and in the command of resources/knowledge I would need to counter the things they consider to be so common sense as to not need any explanation.


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