Tag Archives: Brutality

SYNDICATED COLUMN: Who’s to Blame for Political Violence? The Terror Starts at the Top, Trickles Down

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There are no eye sockets big enough for the eye-rolling I want to do when I hear American politicians express shock at political violence like the last week’s domestic terror trifecta: a racist white man murdered two blacks at a Kentucky grocery store, a white right-winger stands accused of mailing more than a dozen pipe bombs to Democratic politicians and celebrities, and a white anti-Semite allegedly gunned down 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

There’s plenty of blame to go around.

The assault weapons ban expired in 2004 and Congress failed to renew it; eight million AR-15 semiautomatic rifles and related models are now in American homes. Mass shootings aren’t occurring more frequently but when they do, body counts are higher.

In 1975 the Supreme Court ruled that a state could no longer forcibly commit the mentally ill to institutions unless they were dangerous. It was a good decision; I remember with horror my Ohio neighbor who had his wife dragged away so he could move in with his girlfriend. Unfortunately it set the stage for the Reagan Administration’s systemic deinstitutionalization policy. During the first half of the 1980s mental hospitals were closed and patients were dumped on the streets. The homeless population exploded. Under the old regime, obviously deranged people like James Holmes (the carrot-haired mass shooter at the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut) and Cesar Sayoc (the homeless man arrested for last week’s mail bombs) would probably have been locked up before they could hurt anyone.

This time, the post-mayhem political classes blame Donald Trump. He’s bigoted and loudly legitimizes far-right extremism. Did his noxious rhetoric inspire these three right-wing bigots? I think it’s more complicated: Trump can convince a reasonable person to turn racist. But it’s a bigger jump to turn a racist into a killer. That has more to do with insanity.

Tone, morale, what’s acceptable vs. what’s unacceptable: social norms come from the top and trickle down to us peasants. Trump’s rhetoric is toxic.

But the message that violence is effective and acceptable didn’t begin with Trump. And it’s hardly unique to his presidency.

To paraphrase the old Palmolive commercial: Violence? You’re soaking in it! And no one is guiltier of our culture of violence than the countless politicians who say stuff like this:

“Threats or acts of political violence have no place in the United States of America.” —Trump, 10/24/18. Untrue. Five days earlier, Trump praised (“he’s my kind of — he’s my guy”) a psychotic Montana congressman who assaulted a reporter, breaking his glasses.

“There’s no room for violence [in politics].” —Barack Obama, 6/3/16. Yet every week as president Obama worked down a “kill list” of victims targeted for drone assassination because they opposed the dictatorial governments of corrupt U.S. allies. And he bragged about the political assassination of Osama bin Laden rather than putting him on trial, as the law requires.

Textbooks teach us, without irony or criticism, about Manifest Destiny—the assumption that Americans have been entitled from Day One to whatever land they wanted to steal and to kill anyone who tried to stop them. Historians write approvingly of the Monroe Doctrine, the insane-if-you-think-about-it claim that every country in the Western hemisphere enjoys only as much sovereignty as we feel like granting them. Implicit throughout America’s foreign adventurism is that the U.S. invading and occupying and raiding other nations is normal and free of consequence, whereas the rare occasions when other nations attack the U.S. (War of 1812, Pearl Harbor, 9/11) are outrageous and intolerable and call for ferocious retribution.

After childhood the job of brainwashing otherwise sane adults into the systemic normalization of state violence falls to our political leaders and their mouthpieces in the media.

Even the best politicians do it. It’s a system. When you live in a system, you soak in it.

“In this country we battle with words and ideas, not fists and bombs,” Bernie Sanders tweeted in response to the mail bombs. What a lie.

The Obama Administration’s Department of Homeland Security used policemen’s fists and flash grenades and pepper bombs to rout dozens of Occupy Wall Street movement encampments in 2011.

The mayor of Philadelphia ordered that police drop a bomb on a row house in a quiet neighborhood in 1985. The botched effort to execute arrest warrants on an anarcho-primitivist group called MOVE killed 11 people and burned down three city blocks, destroying 65 buildings. Police shot at those trying to escape. Naturally, no city official was ever charged with wrongdoing.

Cops kill a thousand Americans every year.

Every president deploys violence on a vast scale. They’re cavalier about it. They revel in their crimes because they think bragging about committing mass murder makes them look “tough.”

How on earth can they act surprised when ordinary citizens follow their example?

After watching Islamist rebels torture deposed Libyan leader Moammar Ghaddafi and sodomize him with a bayonet, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chuckled gleefully about America’s role in his gruesome death (a U.S. drone blew up the dictator’s convoy): “We came, we saw, he died.”

How macho.

At the 2010 White House Correspondents Dinner Obama joked about his policy of assassinating brown-skinned Middle Easterners willy-nilly: “The Jonas Brothers are here; they’re out there somewhere. Sasha and Malia are huge fans. But boys, don’t get any ideas. I have two words for you: Predator drones. You will never see it coming. You think I’m joking.”

Imagine the president of France or Germany or Canada or Russia saying something that insensitive, tasteless and crass. You can’t. They wouldn’t.

“It’s already hard enough to convince Muslims that the U.S. isn’t indifferent to civilian casualties without having the president joke about it,” commented Adam Serwer of the American Prospect. Assuming Muslims are dumb enough to be convinced.

When political leaders in other countries discuss their decisions to commit violence, there’s often a “more in sorrow than in anger” tone to their statements. Don’t want to, can’t help it, regrettable—just don’t have a choice.

American presidents are different. They swagger like John Wayne.

The crazies who shoot up schools and synagogues sound a lot like them.

“Screw your optics, I’m going in,” accused Pittsburgh temple shooter Robert Bowers posted to social media hours before the incident.

“Hey mom. Gotta go,” Dylan Klebold said on video the day before he and Eric Harris killed 20 people at Columbine High School.

“Well, Mr. Big Brother IRS man, let’s try something different; take my pound of flesh and sleep well,” wrote Andrew Stack before he flew his plane into an IRS office in Austin in 2010.

There is, of course, a difference between killer elites and killer proles. The elites kill more people.

(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall), the political cartoonist, columnist and graphic novelist, is the author of “Francis: The People’s Pope.” You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.

A Tragic Alternative

After a LAPD officer reported a partner for kicking a homeless man, he was fired for filing a false report. Then Officer Christopher Dorner went on a rampage, shooting four people before being forced to commit suicide in a burning cabin. A tragic end, but what’s the alternative for people ground down by an unfair system?

SYNDICATED COLUMN: To Live and Die in L.A.

An Armed, Disposable and Dangerous System

What’s shocking is that it doesn’t happen more often.

When a heartless system refuses to listen or help, when it crushes and grinds down millions of people day after day, year after year, everywhere, it’s illogical and unreasonable to assume that all its victims will pick themselves up, dust themselves off and reinvent themselves. (Job retraining! Start a business! Win the Lotto!) Some people will crack. Others will explode.

It’s inevitable.

Consider the case of the ex-Los Angeles police officer and Iraq War vet who triggered a massive manhunt after he allegedly shot three people in retaliation for his dismissal in 2008. Based on media accounts so far, Christopher Dorner had reason to be angry. After he reported a partner for assaulting a homeless man, a review board concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence to charge the other cop. Fair enough. Maybe the partner was innocent. But then they went too far, firing the officer who brought the charge for filing a false report.

Officer Dorner had already taken a chance by stepping forward, risking ostracism and the chance to advance in his career. Firing him – even if he was wrong in this case – is heinous.

Anyone familiar with the behavior of white cops in predominantly African-American neighborhoods and who has seen the LAPD in action has to admit that the accusation – kicking a bum – is well within the realm of plausibility. Anyone who has ever faced off against an arresting officer in court knows that cops lie. And anyone who has filed a complaint against the police and their behavior soon learns that the chances of obtaining redress, much less justice, range from slim to none. (Disclosure: I’ve experienced all three.)

Ruling against Dorner in 2010, a Superior Court judge noted that administrative review panels – in this case, the LAPD itself – enjoy a “presumption of correctness” under state law. Which makes suing pointless.

“I have exhausted all available means at obtaining my name back,” Dorner wrote on Facebook. “I have attempted all legal court efforts within appeals at the Superior Courts and California Appellate courts. This is my last resort. The LAPD has suppressed the truth and it has now lead to deadly consequences.”

Los Angeles police officials spun the wanted ex-cop’s Facebook manifesto, which described the force as brutal, corrupt and racist – “The department has not changed since the Rampart and Rodney King days. It has gotten worse” – as out of date, a relic of the 1990s, before the scandal-ridden “old LAPD” got reformed (by good people like them). Unfortunately for their we’re-nice-guys-now messaging, their trigger-happy ground troops were rocking it old-school in their hunt for their former colleague, twice opening fire with assault rifles on vehicles they thought fit the description of the truck driven by the suspect before bothering to take a look at three people inside two cars, none of whom look anything like him yet wound up in the hospital anyway.

To his credit, or at least that of the Police Department’s publicity office, Chief Charlie Beck announced that the LAPD would re-examine Dorner’s dismissal.

How exactly is this going to work? If it turns out the guy was right, and that he never should’ve been let go, does he get his job back while he’s serving three life terms? Confusing. But it sounds good. That’s what matters.

Needless to say, a shooting spree is an inappropriate response to injustice.  Still, the case of the cop gone rogue is a parable for our time. Authority is unaccountable. Individuals are powerless. Checks and balances, however well they worked in the past, have evaporated. It’s a system doomed to fail.

Fired or laid off? Chances are, you’re an “at will” employee. That means that, no matter how hard you work and how good you are your job, your boss can fire you. There’s nothing you can do about it. Even if you have the money to sue – and if you have that much money, you probably didn’t need the job in the first place – no honest lawyer will take your case. Employers have all the power. Is it any wonder that wages are stagnant or falling? Who would be stupid enough to dare to ask for a raise?

What happens to people like Officer Dorner, who lose everything? The American system – the government, political leaders, gatekeepers in the media – has no answer.

We live in a disposable society. We are disposable. When our skill set or education or personality or serendipity no longer fits the demands of the marketplace, when we suffer an injury to our bodies or our minds that reduces us to uselessness under the cold capitalist calculus of value-added cost-benefit profit-loss, we get turned out. No income, no home. No status, no life. What should you do? Where should you go? Nobody cares, not even about our so-called national heroes, our sainted troops whom the yellow stickers on our SUVs pledged to support. Every day, 22 veterans commit suicide. Tens of thousands are homeless.

Note to the architects of the American political system: if you’re going to build your economy on the blood and crushed bones of powerless citizens, it’s not the smartest idea to pair disposability of the individual with a cult of militarism that sends millions to war. Every now and then, as in the case of fired officer Christopher Dorner, the victims of your brutalist slave-labor approach to labor-management relations turn out to be heavily armed, highly trained, out to kill – with nothing left to lose.

(Ted Rall’s website is tedrall.com. His book “After We Kill You, We Will Welcome You Back As Honored Guests: Unembedded in Afghanistan” will be released in November by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.)

COPYRIGHT 2013 TED RALL

No Place for Violence

After the Tucson shootings of a Congresswoman and a federal judge, President Obama argues that there’s no place for violence in American society. Then we went off to discuss one of his wars.