Police: An Ethnography


A Photoessay about Armed Obedience


For our part, we have long sought to lay bare the function of the police in imposing racialized power imbalances and to encourage people to question their authority. But as partisans of neutral journalism, we also believe in giving both parties the opportunity to tell their side of the story. Today, we let police officers speak for themselves about what they are trying to do and why. And as the saying goes, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Photos from the United States, Canada, Germany, Sweden, Czech Republic, Spain, Greece, Russia, Ukraine, Turkey, Hong Kong, Thailand, Venezuela, Brazil, and elsewhere. Police violence is not a local aberration or the hallmark of a particular brand of tyranny, but a fundamental element of a society based on property rights and the centralized authority of the state. Rather than arming hierarchical gangs, teaching them to obey unquestioningly, giving them legal impunity, and ordering them to defend the existing inequalities of our society, we can work together on a voluntary and horizontal basis to meet the needs of our communities, resolve conflicts, and defend each other from police violence. Let each person act according to the dictates of her conscience rather than deferring to authority.

Further Reading

Cameras Everywhere, Safety Nowhere—Why Police Body Cameras Won’t Make Us Safer

The Police—Our Classic Poster

Police Everywhere, Justice Nowhere—A Poster Series

Seven Myths about the Police

Slave Patrols and Civil Servants—A History of Policing in Two Modes

The Spiral of Police Violence—A Work of Art Criticism

The Thin Blue Line Is a Burning Fuse—Why Every Struggle Is Now a Struggle against the Police

The Two Faces of Fascism—How Police Are Complicit in the Rise of Fascism

When the Police Knock on Your Door—Your Rights and Options: A Legal Guide and Poster

Who Needs Fascists When We Have Police?—Reflections on the Anti-Fascist Mobilization in Portland of August 4, 2018

This photoessay originally appeared on the Ides of March, a day of repercussions for tyrants of all kinds. Starting in 1997, people in Montréal and elsewhere around the world have observed March 15 as an International Day Against Police Brutality.