During my journey towards Mutualism (that’s what I currently title myself), I ran into a phrase I found initially to be both humorous and accurate: All Cops are Bastards (ACAB). This is not merely an anarchist attribute; American libertarians love it, and even our every day conservative and liberals love to complain that their town’s police force consists of bunch of assholes. Growing up in a suburb of Nashville, TN, our officers were lovingly titled the “Franklin Gestapo.”
So when I entered the theater last week to see End of Watch, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña, I had certain preconceptions about how the Boys in Blue would operate, as well as the usual stereotypes of black and Latino gang members. As I stepped into the parking lot following the film, thoughts swam around my head both as a general moviegoer and anarchist. Here they are (Spoiler Alert: I’ll get into details of the film, so if you have not seen it and desire to do so, you probably should not read this article):
What’s there for the average person?
A solidly shot and acted film that attracts you to the lead characters. Gyllenhaal (Officer Taylor) and Peña (Officer Zavala) are partners who patrol the streets of Los Angeles. The film begins with a car chase, where Taylor and Zavala side swipe the vehicle in pursuit and engage in a shootout, eventually killing the men in the process.
The movie then proceeds through three primary storylines: Taylor and Zavala’s daily grind in L.A., their personal conversations while on the job, and Taylor’s new found love interest. The movie’s strong point is definitely the second storyline, as Gyllenhaal and Peña shine on screen together. Throughout the film, they unknowingly get caught up with a major drug cartel that eventually put a hit out on the cops. The two find themselves isolated as Latino gangbangers attempt to collect at the expense of their lives. Backup arrives too late for Taylor and Zavala, who are both shot, with Zavala dying. The film ends at his funeral, where Taylor can only utter, “He was my brother.”
What’s there for the average anarchist?
Let me be clear: police officers have been known to do shitty things. I’m not here to defend the establishment, which I find to be systemically corrupt and inherently hierarchical. However, I believe End of Watch has several lessons that anarchists can apply to their lives.
One of the three tenets of anarchism is fraternity (or solidarity), an attribute that the characters in this film certainly share. These are men and women that fight and die for each other on a daily basis. True, much of their actions are antithetical to anarchist values, but that’s irrelevant to my larger point. How many of us are even in the position to make such a claim about one another? As an anarchist in the Midwest United States, I feel strongly disconnected from my comrades, and I have a sneaking suspicion that I am not alone in this regard. The anarchism I have experienced is largely an intellectual, often aggressive endeavor that does not seem to portray the mutual aid type of mindset we claim to own. Compare this to the characters in End of Watch, who may not always like each other, but respond to dangerous situations without hesitation. For all that can be said negatively about police (and there is an abundance), these actions represent a positive trait inherent in humans. (Note: I may also be projecting my own social isolation into this point, but I have a theory that anarchists tend to find themselves gravitating towards this intellectual theory specifically because they are longing for something lacking in their own lives. I could be brutally wrong, so please have at me!)
The other nugget that I came out of the movie with concerns the generalizations we make about non-anarchists. I live in Joplin, Missouri, a town of conservative Christians who think anarchy means chaos (if they have heard the term at all). But overall, I think they are good people. They don’t know what a statist means. They have no idea who Proudhon, Kropotkin, or Bakunin is. Hell, most of them don’t know anything about philosophy, politics, sociology, etc. And you know what? That’s okay!
Follow me now. An anarchist society is not one where everyone follows the same interests as we do. We want diversity, we encourage it! But then we call the general populace “sheeple”, pejoratively labeling them ignorant rednecks. The same categorical stigma attaches themselves to police officers. I’m guessing that a lot of them simply want to get the day over so they can spend time with their loved ones. They have varied interests…just like us!
The point is that we are all humans, and End of Watch is a reminder that the “bad guys”, whether they be police or criminals, come from backgrounds more varied and complex that we can begin to imagine. Remember how it feels when some political wannabe calls us bomb throwers and Utopian morons? It’s the same thing we do when we say “All Cops are Bastards”. We won’t always get along with them. Hell, they are very often on the other side of the divide. What End of Watch impresses upon its viewers is that “pigs” are not always the egotistic machismo enforcers of oppression we assign them to be, and while we should absolutely fight those who oppose the triforce of liberty, equality, and fraternity, we should also be sympathetic towards those who simply want to protect loved ones and strangers alike. If that’s not fraternity (or effort towards it), I’m not sure what is.
All that being said, let the hate begin