Armed Bodies of Men

September 1, 2013 at 3:18 pm (Uncategorized)

When I was a Trotskyist, we had a snappy answer for anyone who asked for a definition of the state: Armed body of men in defence of particular property forms.

The first part was Lenin’s paraphrase of Engels in Lenin’s book The State and Revolution, but we added the second part in order to justify our convoluted theory that the Soviet Union and its lookalikes reflected any sort of gain for the working class.

Still, armed bodies of men.

It’s been almost a month now since the death of 18-year old Sammy Yatim on a Toronto streetcar, and the story continues to unfurl..

A little after midnight  according to eye-witnesses Yatim both exposed himself to passengers on the street car and also took out a knife. The streetcar stopped, and despite Yatim’s demand that no one leave the vehicle, people did just that, one passenger using his bike as a shield.

The police arrived in numbers and the shouting began. “Drop the knife!” You’re a fucking pussy” came the response.” More shouting. Then…

Three shots. A few seconds waiting, and a further six shots were fired, The police entered the streetcar and a taser was used on Yatim. Within minutes of the police arriving, Yatim was dead.

Nine shots. It’s unclear at this point how many times Yatim was hit, but he was felled in the first volley.  Another six shots and then a taser blast  had even staunch defenders of the police wondered if this wasn’t just a little …overkill?

In the weeks that followed, suggestions that James Forcillo, the officer who fired the shots was a steroid user emerged. Forcillo, who was said to be “devastated” was then charged with second degree murder. A police review has been announced, and now tasers will be more widely used by police as a presumably non-lethal alternative to guns.

For many of those who walked, shouted and protested for “Justice” this can only seem like the tide is turning. But is it?

Expecting that Forcillo will be convicted is a big “If,” nor would it fundamentally change the nature of the police. And it is not as if reviews and sensitivity training are unknown. Already many point out, tasers have been responsible for more than their fair share of deaths, and due to their “non-lethal” nature police are more willing to use them without concern for their effects.

Whatever its other roles, (helping old ladies across the street, retrieving cats from trees etc.), the police force is primarily an organization of repression, of class rule. Armed bodies of men. Emphasis on armed.

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