Paramilitary Organization Endorses Fascist; Nation Worries

Friday brought us the most frightening news of this terrible election season:

The National Fraternal Order of Police, a 330,000-member union of law enforcement officers, has endorsed Donald Trump for president.

“Our members believe he will make America safe again,” FOP President Chuck Canterbury said in a statement. Trump “seriously looked at the issues facing law enforcement today” and “understands and supports our priorities.”

It is important to not understate the import of this announcement. The police is an armed–to the teeth, with surplus military equipment–paramilitary organization, dedicated to the maintenance of law and order; they possess a monopoly on the use of deadly force and the exertion of violence in the business of law enforcement. The rule of law is exerted against the citizenry by their efforts. They stand–like a ‘thin blue line’–between the citizenry and the depredations of criminals, and also between the citizenry and those who rule. On this latter front, protests are policed by the police; they may disperse them, arrest those who protest, and may, with varying degrees of violence, render those protesting unable to do so any more. When such an organization endorses a politician who expresses utter contempt for both the letter and the spirit of the rule of law, speaks casually about trashing constitutional protections, and hints darkly at mass deportations and reprisals against minorities, it is but natural to wonder what role such a paramilitary organization envisages for itself in the glory days of authoritarian lawless rule that beckon?

Matters look worse when we look a little closer at the particulars of the endorsement by the New England Police Benevolent Association, which has 5,000 members across Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Its executive officer, Jerry Flynn, said that their groups decision came down to “What…the next president of the United States [is] going to do to unite this country in an effort to save police officers? Because it’s open season on police officers”; Flynn went to say that electing Trump was in “best interest of our members.” This mention of an ‘open season on police officers’ echoes the lowest canard consistently promulgated by apologists for the police: that Black Lives Matter and related protests against police racism, brutality, and murder, have led to, if not directly caused the recent killings of police officers in Dallas and Baton Rouge. This indicates that as before, the police remain afflicted by a ‘deadly‘ defensiveness; they remain committed not viewing their own chosen methods and tactics of policing as a problem worth protesting against.

When a nation’s police turns its self-pitying eyes to a fascist and finds succor there, we have considerable cause to alarmed. It has offered up its loyalties and made them clear: it stands against the people. With little exaggeration, this gesture looks like the self-annointment of a fascist storm-trooper outfit. As I noted in my Facebook status when I posted the above link: “They also put in a request to change the color of their shirts from blue to brown.” Goose-steppers of the world unite and all that.

School Discipline And Socialization For The Carceral State

Schools are a buffer zone, artfully, strategically, placed between zones of dysfunction–the homes of ‘broken’ families, populated by the wrong ethnicity and racial category, which produce criminality and social pathology–and the rest of society. Here, a net may be cast, trawling through the swarms of schoolchildren, catching the bad, the misbehaved, the unrepentant repeat offenders practicing the tricks of the trade. Here, discipline may be applied in the name of tough love and muscular pedagogy, all the better to nip future outbreaks of antisocial violence in the bud. Here, police and school administrations may co-operate to give education a much-needed ‘correctional’ and ‘carceral’ edge.  Here, students may learn what fates await them in case they do not heed the warnings–dispensed with appropriate force, of course–that police officers, in co-operation with school administrators, direct at them.

Such, apparently, is the vision of school that underwrites school discipline today, one in which administrators, under the sway of a relentlessly constructed and reinforced vision of their wards as potential criminals, not only hasten to call in for armed and uniformed help on all too many occasions, but also demand the constant presence of the constabulary on campus.  In this vision–one that supplements the ‘teachers are babysitters’ one which is trotted out when school teachers go on strike–the burdens of disciplining the unruly can now be shared between the adult penal system and this ‘juvenile education facility.’

Education-shmeducation; reading-shmeading; learn to behave first.

Unsurprisingly, given the animating sentiments at play, students are treated by police–sometimes described as ‘school resource officers’ but always armed and equipped like folks with far less benign monikers–much as the residents of a correctional facility would be. A refusal to leave a classroom pops into focus through the lens of the school-as-prison perspective and appears akin to a jailyard riot; failure to comply entails the death of discipline. The police officers on duty in schools, taught and trained to extend their vision of the streets and neighborhoods outside as war zones into the boundaries of the school campus, respond to reports of such misbehavior with alacrity; it’s a 911, it’s a four-alarm fire, we need backup and possibly covering fire. Their responses and behavior, observed by the other students, inculcates important lessons: do not talk back to authority; comply with alacrity or face the consequences; violence will be visited upon you if arguments are not resolved. The critical thinking and speaking truth to power can come later, much later. Much, much later; once you are done serving time, that is.

The old saw about hammers and nails is inescapable here. When order is judged our supreme value, then all will be bent to its directives and requirements. A non-authoritarian society is a messy, fractious business; its path ne’er did run smooth. But it is the price that has to be paid if our obeisances to a democratic society are to not ring hollow. If the administration of our schools is any evidence, it has been judged too high a price to pay.

Our Police, Keeping Our World Safe From Young Black Women

The next time a video link passes you by on social media stop and take a closer look. Chances are, the dysfunction implicated in it can be traced back to one cause, and one cause alone: teenaged black women. And the police of this nation are on the case, keeping us safe by any means necessary.

Remember that black girl from the swimming pool party in McKinney, Texas, this past summer, the one wrestled to the ground by a brave policeman, Eric Casebolt, the one who executed a smart SEAL move, rolling and leaping into an Action Jackson move on his way to making said maneuvre? (For good measure, that policeman pulled his gun on the girl’s friends–presumably other thugs on the make–and let them know the precise fates that awaited in case their expressions of concern for their friend grew any louder.)

Attack_of_the_14_year_old_girl_Web

 

Well, she has a counterpart in Spring Valley, South Carolina, right down to a policeman with itchy arms and shoulders.

This juvenile miscreant, after committing the high crimes of being disruptive, and indulging in the dangerous activity of refusing to vacate the premises–nothing quite as threatening as a black person that does not leave when asked to–had to be wrestled to the ground and dragged out by a brave police officer.  The escalator to escalation was hailed and used quickly by him; not for him the patient assertion of his authority with judicious application of force. No, this called for application of the Powell Doctrine: overwhelming power, applied quickly and efficiently, with an aim to neutralize any hostile responses. (The application of a military doctrine to community policing is but one of the many talents this extremely accomplished officer of the peace–a ‘school resource officer’–brings to his daily assignments in the war zone, er, local neighborhoods. Officer Ben Fields’ “biography on the [school] website” indicates “he also coaches the school football team’s defensive line and is the team’s strength and conditioning coach.” Strength and conditioning well utilized, Sir.)

As the police officer performs his duties, quietly–except for the one warning directed at some ruffian in his audience that he will be the next person to feel the strong arm of the law on his collar–and efficiently, the other students look on in some awe. They have, in all probability, given their dark complexions, already experienced some of this tough love; they have now received another demonstration that that force may be applied, violently, to their recalcitrant behavior. This too, is education. It too, is dispensed in schools. Those students who will not learn their lessons today–about directing appropriate respect at uniformed armed men capable of exerting deadly force against you–will take their chances in the future, at their own risk. The ‘smart’ ones will police themselves from now on.

Officer Fields was not just subduing one stubborn subject; he was making other subjects docile too. And keeping all of us safe from those dangerous young black folk.

NYPD: In New York, Protests Are A Terror Threat

There truly can be no police department more tone-deaf, more insensitive, more colossally, thickly stupid and offensive than the New York Police Department. Consider, for instance, its latest announcement, that of the formation of a special anti-terror unit:

A brand new unit of 350 NYPD officers will roam the city with riot gear and machine guns, trained specifically to respond to terrorist threats and public demonstrations, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton announced….

“[The unit] is designed to deal with events like our recent protests or incidents like Mumbai, or what just happened in Paris,” Bratton said Thursday. “It will be equipped and trained in ways that our normal patrol officers are not.”

He added that the unit would be suited up with, “extra heavy protective gear, with the long rifles and the machine guns that are unfortunately sometimes necessary in these instances.”

You got that? The ‘recent protests’ –i.e., those protesting the choking to death of an asthmatic man by a NYPD officer, the shooting of a teenager in Ferguson or a twelve-year old in Cleveland, are just like the killings of innocent people in Mumbai and Paris. That is, citizens exercising their First Amendment rights by marching on the streets, raising slogans, and blocking traffic, are a terror threat just like those who throw hand grenades and gun down men, women, and children.

The announcement of this special anti-terror unit has, I’m sure, has sent the more trigger-happy members of Bratton’s corps into quivers of firearm-induced  tumescence. But before those lads get a little too giddy in anticipation of watching and listening to things that go ‘boom’, and enjoying the spectacle of their targets flopping to the ground in convulsions of pain and agony, I have some questions to ask.

What does Bratton imagine his ‘special terror unit’ doing when a protest gets a little loud, when the slogans of protesters hit a little too close too home, when their die-ins go on a little too long, when their chants of ‘Hands Up, Don’t Shoot’ or ‘I Can’t Breathe’ get a little too aggravating? Will the officers in charge set up special machine-gun nests, arrange their ammunition belts in neat little stacks, and then open fire, making sure they distribute their payloads evenly and accurately so that the thousands of bullets they emit find their targets unerringly? Will they wait till they see the ‘whites of their eyes’? Will they keep firing till the barrels of their machine-guns overheat, or will they stop occasionally to let them cool off? Will they rely on snipers–like the kind glorified recently by Hollywood–to blow out the brains of those who have somehow survived the initial barrage of fire? Will we have to rename Union Square ‘the killing field’?

If Bratton could put down his video game controller and his armament requisition forms for a bit and address these questions, I, and many other citizens of this city, would be most grateful.

Nick Kristof Should Stick To High Profile Rescues

Nick Kristof writes on his Twitter feed:

Activists perhaps should have focused less on Michael Brown, more on shooting of 12-yr-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland

This is the kind of sensible, pragmatic advice that journalists like Kristof, safely ensconced in their opinion pages, are in the habit of handing out to unhinged radicals everywhere: pick your battles, choose wisely, activist resources and public attention are scarce, and on and on. (My guess is that Kristof also finds the activists’ rhetoric ‘incendiary and counterproductive.’)

Except that this advice is vacuous and misguided, and shows a severe lack of political nous.

The reason Kristof offers this second-guessing of activist strategies is because he has internalized some irrelevancies pertaining to the Michael Brown case. To wit: Brown was a ‘hulking young man’, a shoplifter who smoked marijuana and scuffled with a policeman. None of these factors remotely mitigates his shooting in cold-blood by a police officer whose actions that day and afterward suggest if not outright racism, then at least spectacular incompetence. Furthermore, the Michael Brown protests might have started out as protesting a young man’s senseless death, but they very quickly turned into a much larger statement against police brutality. It would have been politically dumb of those who resist police brutality and heavy-handedness to not make a visible statement against the excessive, ongoing militarization of the police that was visible, day after day, night after night, on Ferguson’s streets. And then later, after the grand jury’s scandalous acquittal of Darren Wilson, after a process that has now been shown to be irredeemably flawed and corrupt, protests broke out again, which had the salutary effect of highlighting the almost unconditional protection that police enjoy from prosecutors everywhere.

Michael Brown was shot on 9 August 2014; Tamir Rice was shot on 22 November 2014; the grand jury acquitted Wilson on 24 November. What does Kristof think the activists should have done between August and November? Waited for someone really, really innocent to be shot? A younger man, a slighter man, a man who didn’t smoke weed? Should they have canceled all protests against the grand jury decision, saying “Sorry, we got a a much better case to concentrate on”? Sauve qui peut, I suppose.

The most offensive implicit statement in Kristof’s tweet is that somehow Tamir Rice was ‘more innocent’ than Brown, that his death was ‘more tragic,’ and deserved more attention from activists and protesters. This is morally obtuse. The deaths of both young men were tragedies and they deserve equal attention precisely because the same system–the same deadly combination of systemic racism and an over-armed, trigger-happy, incompetent policeman–killed them.

Journalists like Kristof continue to write weak pablum on this nation’s most prominent editorial pages and persist in offering inane, offensive advice to those engaged in struggles whose dimensions they remain blithely unaware of. They insist that political protests–about issues which are far removed from their lives and experiences–conform to their notions and expectations in form and content and target.

What a waste of a soapbox.

PS: Do read the linked article Kristof provides; it details the criminal negligence that led to Rice’s death.

Calling Bullshit On ‘Outside Agitators’ in Ferguson

A few days ago, a friend on Facebook posted the following as his status:

Would any of you be down to help me organize a march on Ferguson, MO? Dead serious. It’s something I hope would send a powerful message to the powers that be, but I’d need help getting it all together. I mean, like a grassroots thing via Facebook to organize a march on Ferguson and get people from here in NYC and possibly the entire country to descend and march on Ferguson. A march to show solidarity. A march to show that we will not sit idly by and ignore human/civil rights violations at the hands of police against anyone, but most specifically to say that we will absolutely not ignore the deliberate genocide of black boys and black men in the United States.

If my friend does manage–beginning with this powerful and passionate call to action–to organize this march,  and is able to bring to Ferguson other concerned citizens to participate in protests and rallies, and perhaps even get in the face of overzealous police to remind them loudly and verbally that they might be overstepping the bounds of reasonable policing, that the murder of Michael Brown will not be allowed to just pass idly into history, he will be regarded as a provocateur of sorts, an outside agitator, one meddling in affairs best left to locals, to the local community and their police, who can, and should, work out by themselves, a response to a highly particular, specific, local, problem, using highly particular, local, specific tactics to devise a highly particular…you where this is going.

It’s a road to unmitigated bullshit, toward the worst kind of self-serving political delusion.

For as long as the cry of ‘outside agitator’ has been made–most notably, in the sad history of racist Southern resistance to the nationalization of civil rights–it has always been code for ‘butt out, and let us continue to address a political problem in familiar dead-end ways.’ In the South, the cry of ‘outside agitator’ was simply a euphemism for ‘we know how to deal with our blacks and we’ve been doing damn good job at it when no attention was paid us.’ The light often sends many scurrying for cover.

What is happening in Ferguson is not a local affair. It never was and never will be. The shooting of Michael Brown was a national phenomenon, temporarily resident in a new setting. That circus will soon move elsewhere, to some other urban killing ground, where soon enough, some other young man of color will fall to a policeman’s bullets. The police in Ferguson are not a local problem; the response to the demonstrations in Ferguson–indicative of a dangerous militarization of the police–is not a local problem. These are American problems, of interest to all Americans.

There are no ‘outside agitators’ in Ferguson. There is no arbitrary boundary that can be drawn around the problems of racism and police brutality; the stench of those wafts easily across one county line to the next.

Ferguson And The Tale Of Two Wars

A nation at war–an indefinite, borderless one, conducted against a faceless enemy, with little legal or moral restraint, with an endless wallet to be dipped into–will find, sooner or later, that the same inchoateness, the same vagueness, the same productive lack of definition of that conflict, which permitted its waging to be conducted secretly without trammel, will also facilitate the seeping back of that war to within its own borders. Wars, if conducted long enough, come home. To stay. To search too long for enemies elsewhere is to make possible and easier their location closer to home.

There are two wars currently underway, conducted by the US. There is the war on terror, kicked off in 2001, with a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, a budget in the trillions, and a progress report card that would qualify for an F–thanks to the political, legal, and moral disasters it has left in its wake. Local states made unstable; hostile regimes made stronger; religious and sectarian strife reinvigorated; torture and killings without due process; and of course, curtailment of civil rights at home. And then, there is the war on drugs. Its kickoff date is a little uncertain but there is no mistaking its cost and failures: rampant, social-service destroying budgets, a racialized conflict written into legal stone, a grossly bloated drug enforcement apparatus, interference in the domestic policies of sovereign states, the incarceration and criminalization of thousands of young men, the list goes on.

The blowback from these never-ending wars is clearly visible in Ferguson, where a perfect storm rages in exquisite miniature: a hostile, militarized, aggressive police stalks the streets of a town with a significant African-American population, their fingers resting lightly on the trigger, convinced they are in hostile territory; a  confrontation with the locals–now not understood as members of a ‘community’ but as potential deadly criminals–quickly turns violent and murderous. Police all over the nation know the feeling; they are used to patrolling behind the lines on search and destroy missions. They’ve seen plenty of footage of kick-down-the-doors raids, of young men lying on the ground, waiting to be searched; they know what to do when someone talks back. A punch to the throat, a kick in the groin, and sometimes, when they don’t stop coming at you, a bullet to the head. Nothing is as important as making sure dimebags stay off the streets.

Then, when protests occur, they are met with disproportionate amounts of force and regulation and policing, with all the tools whose use has been perfected in the years of control that have followed the declarations of these wars. The language is that of peace at any costs, no matter the damage done to the values supposedly being protected. The peace of the graveyard–an orderly place–will do just fine.

All too often, it is imagined, because of the relentless hagiography of the Second World War, that war is an ennobling thing. But it isn’t. Those who conduct it lose themselves in the process; the fighting doesn’t remain directed outward.

If you stare long too into the abyss of war, it stares back at you.