A few weeks ago, I was talking to a UC Davis student at KDVS 90.3 FM after I had finished my radio show. She told me about how she had lived in the Mission District in San Francisco and observed how the prostitutes down on the street by her apartment were abused by their pimps and the police. I thought about this for a moment, and recalled what I see here in Sacramento. I frequently walk along the nearby K Street Mall during my lunch break, and see encounters between the police and the homeless. Invariably, the police conduct themselves in an arrogant, conscending manner. Even in situations where the officers have no intention to arrest or cite anyone, they subject the homeless to ridicule.
Perhaps, you consider such conduct minor compared to more egregious episodes such as surveillance of Muslims, shootings of African AmericansandÂ stops and frisks of thousands of people of color, and, of course, it is. But it also provides insight into the psychological features of social control facilitated by the police. Generally, the police focus their attention upon people and behaviors that frighten the middle class. Accordingly, they subject African American males to a degree of surveillance and violence that no one else, with the possible exception of Latinos and Native Americans, experiences. Likewise, Muslims and Arabs are similarly subjected toÂ surveillance and undercover entrapment operations. Anarchists have apparently also earned the perverse honor ofÂ such police activity as well.
Clearly, in relation to police conduct directed towards people of color, Arabs and Muslims, racism and religious bigotry are significant factors in the rationalization of it. But race and culture bias are not the only expressions of middle class anxiety requiring law enforcement intervention. Interwoven within this mosaic is a middle class contempt for people who live outside the bounds of social acceptability. Hence, the police also serve the function of ensuring that the homeless stay away from residential and commercial districts favored by middle income people, while treating them in a demeaning fashion considered suitable for others considered inferior. Prostitutes receive even worse treatment, as their visible public presence is an affront to middle class standards of sexual propriety. In both instances, the police are given the task of not only enforcing the law against them, but doing so in the most degrading way possible. As the objective is to render such people as invisible as possible, it is essential that they aggressively convey the moral message of disapproval as well.
Such an objective is necessary to preserve a middle class life of comforting appearances. For people immersed in this false sense of nostalgic security, it is unnerving for them to drive down the street away from their neighborhood and encounter vacant buildings, the homeless and prostitutes (not to mention African American males wearing hoodies) because it shatters mutually reinforced illusions about everyday life. Similarly, in the evangelical middle class context, the prospect of a mosque nearby is equally alarming. More broadly, such a suppression of the inconvenient realities of daily life finds its international expression in the refusal of many Americans to acknowledge the violence inflicted by the US military upon peoples all over the world.