This is a global crisis. The effects of climate change are set to have the Earth break the planetary boundaries that keep this planet capable of sustaining the very life that exists on it. Events that unfolded at the beginning of American colonization have given rise to a settler colonial sided system of law based on the European-influenced traditional epistemology. This legal structure developed a police institution to serve to enforce the law. In a world where everything is connected, a structural analysis of how police are connected to the climate crisis is missing. This paper will provide the basic context to how further research can begin talking about the complex linkages of the police system and climate crisis.
Climate Injustice, Police, Violence, Epistemology, Colonization, Climate Crisis
The climate crisis creates an urgent need to reevaluate systems, structures, and institutions that serve to perpetuate conditions for climate change contributions. The climate crisis must also be addressed because global marginalized peoples continue to bare the burden of the what the Global North has been responsible for manufacturing. Evaluating systems that have been functioning since before the climate crisis allows us to begin to challenge what is normative to make space for opportunity to fix the existential mess humanity is currently experiencing. With that being said, American Police uphold settler colonial law which furthers the climate crisis and it’s injustices.
Epistemology of “Truth” in the West:
Simply stated, epistemology is a branch of philosophy concerned with how knowledge is validated and how “truth” is conceived, believed, and maintained within a society/ societies. Overtime, epistemologies become the seemingly only way to see the world and formulates “common sense”. This is then known as the Epistemology of mastery. As Adelman states, “epistemologies of mastery are attempts to universalize partial and particular perspectives by privileging certain forms of rationality (law, theology) or methodology (science). They are discourses of knowledge and power designed to rationalize the domination and subordination that pave the way for the exploitation of people and nature”. This is important because dominant knowledge of “truth” in the West is largely influenced by European Settler Colonial Judaeo-Christian epistemology. More specifically, this thought is premised off the distinction of “man” and “nature”.
The distinction formulates a hierarchy of “man” to that of its subordinate, “nature” and validates attempts to conquer and dominant the land through subjugation. Davis and Todd mention, “Colonialism, especially settler colonialism — which in the Americas simultaneously employed the twinned processes of dispossession and chattel slavery — was always about changing the land, transforming the earth itself, including the creatures, the plants, the soil composition and the atmosphere. It was about moving and unearthing rocks and minerals. All of these acts were intimately tied to the project of erasure that is the imperative of settler colonialism”.
In the formulation of the political state of the United States, the concept of “civilization” played a major role. Cudworth and Hobden write, “the ‘standard of civilization’ is primarily based on a notion of separation, or detachment from nature — with those societies that are perceived as being most detached being regarded as the most civilized, while those that are mired in nature are perceived as in some ways as less civilized. This detachment from nature is based on a theme running through western thinking, both religious and secular: that human beings either have some form of dominion over non-human nature (as indicated by those religions that share the book of Genesis); or that the faculty of reason divides us from non-human nature”. It is shown that the ideological framework of Western thought in the United States is fundamental to subscribing society in acceptance of hierarchy being the “truth” of existence. The settler colonists instituted hierarchy in every institution and structure they created as it is the basis for their concepts of systems.
Colonialism and the Police System:
The Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, Bill of Rights, the Constitution of the United States are “foundational” law documents that aided in forming a legal structure of knowledge by the settler colonial occupiers. These law documents were written by the settler colonial “Founding Fathers” who non-consensually colonized the land dominantly known today to be “United States”. Therefore, the laws of the United States support and protect the settler colonizers and not so much anyone who falls outside of that, like slaves and their descendants, native peoples, and anyone who does not appear or pass as a settler colonizer.
It is noted that police are meant to legitimize the dominant political state by keeping the internally colonized, controlled. As Steinmetz et al. puts it, “the primary role of police in internal colonies is to control the movements and activities of colonial populations for the benefit of colonizers, similar to Gramsci’s descriptions of the role of political society”. This shows that efforts against the colonizers interests and accepted “truth” will potentially be countered by the police forces. This is important because internal colonization enforced by the police and the state is used to legitimize the political state.
Moreover, colonization of the United States created racial and class hierarchies that favored settler colonial Europeans and the wealthy. The settler colonists that the legal system favors were able to determine the organizational structure of society because of their ability to wield force through the Christian-based epistemology of mastery. Steinmetz et al. writes, “In each historical era of colonialism, the police (and military) act as frontline enforcers of laws that represent the interests of the dominant classes that adopt a particular racial character in American society. This enforcement contributes to broader economic, social, cultural, political, and spatial forms of domination endemic to colonialism”. The police exist to enforce law through the legal system in which pays them. The fundamental legal system of the United States was built and written by the European settler-colonists. Since law in the United States favor the settler colonial occupiers, and their interests, values, wealth, and property, the police are inherently discriminatory against the historically marginalized groups. Documents that the settler colonists created to legitimize their occupation of the United States is still enacted and maintained by epistemology of mastery and use of coercive, brutal, and lethal forces. Police exist to maintain the occupation of Native American lands by the settler colonial occupiers who justify their existential existence through hierarchy and domination of “nature”.
Military and Police (not so different):
The military and the police are not clearly distinguished from one another. Siegel states,“The fiction of separate military and civilian spheres feeds off a fantasy of a civilian police, and feeds that fantasy in return. In fact, police and military are and have always been, in fundamental ways, inseparable. Twin vehicles of state violence, police and military rub up against each other in productive friction. ‘Speculating that the police could be anything but paramilitary denies the existence of the inherent bond — historically, politically, and sociologically — between the police and military.’ This is not an accusation of corruption that calls for reform but an observation about form itself: policing is the quintessential translation of state power”. It is pointed out that the military and police forces support each other in complementary ways. The police work from the inside to uphold the political state and the military from the outside. This relationship upholds nationalism.
Therefore, it can be said that the police work to maintain state legitimacy intrastate. Police attempt to lessen intrastate conflict. Ahmed goes on to express, “however, what is less easy to explain is the prevalence of intra-state conflict, that is, conflict within states. The data shows that intra-state conflict rose during the Cold War, which provides a plausible geopolitical context for this trend, then peaked in the early 1990s — shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union — and since then declined. However, since 9/11, there appears to have been a fluctuating resurgence in the occurrence of intra-state conflict”. This is significant because Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) data shows that intrastate conflict has increased since the 1940s globally and tends to be the bulk of the conflicts, all together. Greater intrastate conflict presumes that people are resisting the very political state they fall within geographically.
Moreover, separating the police’s role from the military’s role proves hard to do. This is because the two are very interrelated and connected. As Seigel writes, “US soldiers and cops have never been distinct. Since the Republic, when the Navy and Marines formed constabulary forces to combat piracy, banditry, and smuggling, ‘overlapping police and military tasks’ have been routine. From the mid-nineteenth-century, US urban police embraced a military organisational model, even choosing military commanders for their leaders. As commissioner of the New York City police, Theodore Roosevelt ‘made little distinction between military and law-enforcement functions’, contending that ‘many of the principles … which obtain in the army applied equally to the administration of a police department. Blurred lines extend into twentieth-century organisations such as the Border Patrol, whose roots in the Texas Rangers confirm its paramilitary character, or the National Guard”. This shows that the police have been organized like the military and led by military operatives. The United States Border Patrol has its roots in the Texas Rangers. The Texas Rangers were formed by Anglo-American property owners to seize land from Mexican-American property owners by use of lethal force. This is important because this shows that the police, in collaboration with the military work together to enforce settler colonial occupation and genocide of the groups of people who fall out of “settler colonists”. Both the police and military share a history of settler colonial organization, brutality, and lethal force operations. Police and military organization function under hierarchical structures. The complimentary differences is that the police center their work inside the political state, hybrid police-military groups tend to focus on border areas, and military tends to focus outside the political state’s geographical boundaries. All of these classifications of state forces ensure the settler colonial state is maintained and continues to attempt to legitimize itself by conveying power through physical and psychological forces.
Police systems today do not look as different as the times of the Texas Rangers. Distribution of people’s have become defined by segregation of race and income/wealth. Steinmetz points, “contemporary urban areas reflect demarcated space on the basis of occupational status and the separation of low-income populations from the well-to-do. The state plays a key role in establishing and maintaining these geographies through property protections, zoning laws, housing policies, and capital investment. Such maneuvers are strikingly similar to the forced reallocations of populations under prototypical colonial rule”. The settler colonial state has control over land use functions and operations. The police will enforce said land use policies that is put forward by municipalities, counties, states, and federal U.S. law. The settler colonial occupiers benefit the most from the laws they wrote and are more able to acquire generational wealth over the time that has passed since the initial wave of colonization.
Meanwhile, today we see that demography is extremely seperationist in spatial distribution and primarily based off of race and wealth. This is due to years of cumulative laws/policies in all spheres that discriminate against people who were not ancestors of the “founding” settler colonists, settler colonial passing persons, or settler colonists themselves. This was done by rejecting other systems of societal organizing that were not Christian-based. Police uphold the wealthy settler colonists’ laws/policies that protect them and rid opportunity, equality, and equity of all other historically marginalized groups that do not agree with the settler colonial system structure.
The Christian-based settler colonial epistemology of mastery of “domination” and “ruler-ship” is still in action. This can be seen in laws/policies that require the formal police system to exist as it does. Steinmetz states, police and enforcement “policies together represent a paternalistic notion that communities cannot take care of themselves, and thus police are needed to civilize these spaces”. This is significant because the Christian epistemology has maintained that the groups of people who do not pass as settler colonists must be controlled. Therefore, historically marginalized groups like the black community, native community, and non passing settler colonial community systems are the ones that the police must control to maintain settler colonial occupation. This means police have a role to legitimize the political state, internally. This is done by maintenance of internal colonization
Police Violence and Climate Injustice:
The norms of “dominion” over “nature” enforces extreme levels of extractivism for profit and capital growth accumulation. The settler colonial system supports production at the expense of overproduction, high levels of waste, and global pollution. The United States’ legal system is a model that supports settler colonial occupation of the Americas, with the expense of subjecting other groups of people. Steinmetz mentions that, “police, as the front line of status quo maintenance, perform the grunt work for broader policies and initiatives that affect the lived material existence of populations relegated to urban ghetto spaces. Thus police buttress these spaces and control their denizens so that capital can profit (gentrified locations, tourism, etc.) — the same mechanisms colonists have historically deployed to exploit places and people since the sixteenth century”. This shows that inequitable spatial distribution of marginalized groups with the settler colonial occupiers is meant to keep a hierarchical classifying system enacted for the sake of the ones benefiting from it the most; the wealthy, the settler colonists, and the ones who do not resist the structure they are within. Police uphold settler colonial policies that have been responsible for causing the climate crisis. The Global North is responsible for the largest portion of historical climate change contributions. Police enforce global destruction of historically marginalized groups intrastate, as well as, contribute along with the military, to destruction of communities interstate (Global South).
The epistemology of mastery in the Western world is that of hierarchy and domination over nature. This is due to the fact that the European settler colonists were largely a variation of Judeo Christian practitioners/ believers. Colonialism is the theory that a class of beings is greater than others. Judeo Christianity and colonialism led to support the actual colonization of the Americas and the consequential settler colonial occupation. The settler colonial occupiers maintain the political state that favors them by organizing systems, like state forces, to cover various geographies and complement each other’s roles in political hegemony. The police serve to keep intrastate conflict controlled and compliments the roles of the military and paramilitary groups (i.e. Border Patrol) with the ultimate goal of maintaining the political state’s legitimacy. Police systems have not changed largely because laws/policies have not changed, as rather they accumulated, furthering structural inequalities and disparities. Police help the political state control the internally colonized so the state can continue to exist to benefit the settler colonist occupiers. Moreover, the United States is apart of the largest contributors of the climate crisis and injustices that are committed against both the internally colonized groups within the states’ boundaries and the Global South. Police enforce colonialism and colonization by complementing the military by working for the United States’ global legitimacy.
Adelman, S., 2012. Epistemologies of Mastery. Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment. 9–27.
Ahmed, N., 2017. Failing States, Collapsing Ecosystems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence. SpringerBriefs in Energy. 37–85.
Greenprint: A New Approach, 2019. Climate Change. Center for Global Development.
Cudworth, E., and S. Hobden, 2014. Civilisation and the Domination of the Animal. Millennium: Journal of International Studies. 746–766.
Davis, H., and Z. Todd, 2017. On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. 761–780.
Reft, R., 2019. The Legacy of the Texas Rangers: A Look at the Long History of Violence at the Border. PBS.
Seigel, M., 2018. Violence Work: Policing and Power. Race and Class SAGE. 15–33.
Steinmetz et al., 2017. Wicked Overseers: American Policing and Colonialism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. Vol. 3 (1) 68–81.
 Adelman, S., 2012. Epistemologies of Mastery. Research Handbook on Human Rights and the Environment. 10.
 Davis, H., and Z. Todd, 2017. On the Importance of a Date, or Decolonizing the Anthropocene. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies. 770.
 Cudworth, E., and S. Hobden, 2014. Civilisation and the Domination of the Animal. Millennium: Journal of International Studies. 747.
 Steinmetz et al., 2017. Wicked Overseers: American Policing and Colonialism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. Vol. 3 (1) 71.
 Ibid. 70–71.
 Seigel, M., 2018. Violence Work: Policing and Power. Race and Class SAGE. 21.
 Ahmed, N., 2017. Failing States, Collapsing Ecosystems, Biophysical Triggers of Political Violence. SpringerBriefs in Energy. 39.
 Seigel, M., 2018. Violence Work: Policing and Power. Race and Class SAGE. 20.
 Reft, R., 2019. The Legacy of the Texas Rangers: A Look at the Long History of Violence at the Border. PBS.
 Steinmetz et al., 2017. Wicked Overseers: American Policing and Colonialism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. Vol. 3 (1) 72.
 Steinmetz et al., 2017. Wicked Overseers: American Policing and Colonialism. Sociology of Race and Ethnicity. Vol. 3 (1) 77.
 Greenprint: A New Approach, 2019. Climate Change. Center for Global Development.