Cops are like mountain lions with legal rights to strip-search you.
“Tough on Crime” Sentencing Laws Come Home to Roost
It sounds like the plot of the dystopian movie “Robocop”: policemen are getting shot like they’re going out of style.
Violent crime in general is decreasing. But more cops are being killed in the line of duty. According to the FBI, 72 police officers died under fire in 2011. That’s up 25 percent from 2010 and up 75 percent from 2008.
“The 2011 deaths were the first time that more officers were killed by suspects than car accidents, according to data compiled by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The number was the highest in nearly two decades, excluding those who died in the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001 and the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995,” reports The New York Times.
According to a study by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “In many cases the officers were trying to arrest or stop a suspect who had previously been arrested for a violent crime.”
Why this spike in cop killing?
Experts blame a variety of factors for the carnage: the economic depression, low manpower due to budget cuts, policies that assign more cops to the most dangerous neighborhoods, and more aggressive patrolling of those areas, including “stop and frisk” stops of people the police deem suspicious. Maybe.
I think something else is missing in analyses of cop shootings: the motivation of the shooter.
Corporate media outlets cite the shooters’ prior records in order to imply: once a violent felon, always a violent felon. Sometimes that’s true. But not always. There’s more to it than that. Like law-abiding citizens, criminals employ rational decision-making strategies.
Harsh sentencing laws are killing police officers.
Imagine that you’re on parole in California, one of 24 states with “three strikes” sentencing laws. Let’s say you have two prior felony convictions. It doesn’t take much. One California man earned a “strike” for “violent assault”; he landed 25 years to life for stealing pizza from some kids. In Texas, a handyman who refused to refund $120.75 for a shoddy air conditioning repair landed his third strike; the U.S. Supreme Court upheld his sentence to life in prison with possible parole. And you can get two (or more) strikes from one criminal incident.
So imagine yourself in this situation:
Maybe you’ve got drugs in your automobile. Or you’re clean, but you’re not sure about what your passengers might be carrying. (In a car, one person’s contraband is everyone’s.) When you see flashing lights in your rearview mirror, you must choose:
Pull over and cooperate, knowing that you’ll get life behind bars?
Or do you take a terrible chance, shooting the officer and making a run for it? Harsh mandatory sentencing laws like “three strikes” make killing a cop a free gamble. Who knows? You might escape. If you get caught, the sentence will be no worse than if you’d done the right thing.
A joint study by the Long Beach Police Department and California State University—Long Beach found that “in the Los Angeles area (where there is a higher concentration of repeat offenders and three-strikes prosecution has been more actively pursued), there is a notable increase in…resisting and assaulting officers, and a significant increase (113% between 1996 and 2001) in two- and three-strikes crimes with a police officer victim.” A 2002 study by the National Institute of Justice found that three-strike laws “increase police murders by more than 40 percent.”
Another factor that authorities and “tough on crime” politicians fail to consider is how the increased militarization of civilian police forces dehumanizes them in the eyes of the public. Police outfitted in riot gear respond to peaceful protests attended by families with swinging batons and pepper spray. Traffic cops dress like they’re patrolling the Sunni Triangle rather than the suburbs, scowling at the taxpayers who pay their salaries as they sweat under their Kevlar vests.
When Princess Diana died, millions of Americans wept. Be honest. How do you feel when you hear that a cop has been shot to death? Odds are that you feel nothing at all.
During the first few years of the occupation, British officials ordered their forces to assume a less aggressive posture toward Iraqi civilians than their American counterparts. The Brits went light on the helmets and body armor, wearing uniforms that made them seem more like, well, policemen. Many eschewed sunglasses.
British casualty rates fell. Looking human, it turns out, is safer than protecting yourself. The thing is, killing is hard. The more human you appear, the more relatable you are, the harder it becomes, the guiltier your killer feels. Which presumably makes them less likely to kill again. (To make killing easier for its soldiers, the U.S. military deliberately reduces the available resolution on night-vision goggles, scrambling the appearance of the enemy to make him look alien.)
The more aggressive our policemen act, the more they look like military occupation troops than civilian peace officers, the easier it is for a gunman pull the trigger.
Remember this article the next time you get pulled over. Ask yourself: how do I feel? Odds are, the answer will involve a mixture of fear and contempt. Then imagine what you’d do if you were one arrest away from life in prison—and you had a gun.
(Ted Rall’s next book is “The Book of Obama: How We Went From Hope and Change to the Age of Revolt,” out May 22. His website is tedrall.com.)
Trayvon Martin was a victim of racial profiling. Every day, American drone plane operators do the same thing, deciding who lives and dies in Afghanistan and Pakistan based on nothing more than the appearance, clothing and location of their victims thousands of miles away. People have been killed mistakenly simply because a drone operator thought they were wearing a black long-tailed turban, favored by some Talibs because they come from tribes that wear them.
Don’t Know What They Want, But They Know How To Get It
Here’s how U.S. state-controlled media covered events at Occupy Oakland:
“A day of demonstrations in Oakland that began as a significant step toward expanding the political and economic influence of the Occupy Wall Street movement, ended with police in riot gear arresting dozens of protesters who had marched through downtown to break into a vacant building, shattering windows, spraying graffiti and setting fires along the way,” reported the AP.
Then they quoted an Occupy Oakland member: “‘We go from having a peaceful movement to now just chaos,’ said protester Monique Agnew, 40.”
The lede of this November 3rd AP story frames a larger narrative. “Political and economic influence” cannot be achieved through violence. Ms. Agnew’s quote is used to support that framing. The move from “peace” to “chaos” represents a setback for the Occupy movement.
Violence = tragedy.
Considering that recorded history does not include a single instance of a nonviolent movement effecting radical change, it is interesting that anyone would argue that violence is by definition a negative development. It is equally astonishing that anyone would believe it.
In a revolution, one set of elites gets supplanted by another. There has never been a nonviolent revolution.
Gandhi was nonviolent. But his allies did resort to violence on numerous occasions. And India wasn’t a revolution. It was an independence struggle. The rich remained rich; the poor stayed poor. Conversely, there has never been a revolution in which violence was the primary tactic. Even the bloodiest revolutions—France, Russia, China—relied more on national strikes, sabotage, marches and demonstrations than shooting people. Revolutions are mostly nonviolent. But violence must always part be of the revolutionist’s toolkit.
Sometimes against the will of many of its members, the nascent Occupy movement is being propelled forward into its second phase: increasingly direct confrontation with the security apparatus of the American police state. The consideration of violence as a tactic is the inevitable result of Occupy’s own internal logic, resulting from a combination of its timing—at a time when revolution is needed and desired by millions of Americans, it’s the only insurrection in town—and its leaderless structure.
Never in history have the wealthy or powerful voluntarily relinquished substantial amounts of money or power. The corporate elite and the political class that enables them—the “1%,” as Occupy calls them—will never give into the Occupier’s demands to reduce their power or wealth unless faced with violence or the credible threat thereof.
As Peter Gelderloos writes in his book How Nonviolence Protects the State: “Time and again, people struggling not for some token reform but for complete liberation—the reclamation of control over our own lives and the power to negotiate our own relationships with the people and the world around us—will find that nonviolence does not work, that we face a self-perpetuating power structure that is immune to appeals to conscience and strong enough to plow over the disobedient and uncooperative.”
If voting or writing letters to the editor worked, we wouldn’t need Occupations.
The Occupy movement can wind up in one of two ways:
Or success, partly via the occasional use of violence and/or the credible threat of violence that results from those sporadic outbursts.
First let’s define terms. Vandalism, theft and destruction of property are not violence. Inanimate objects do not suffer. Violence can only be inflicted upon living beings. Breaking a window may or may not be morally justified, but it is never violence. Further, violent self-defense is not the same as violence. Until now the violence at the Occupations has all been initiated by the police. When policemen fire rubber bullets, bean bags, tear gas and pepper spray at unarmed, peaceful protesters, their victims have every right to defend themselves—to run away, to avoid arrest and yes, to strike back.
Every civilized society recognizes the right to self-defense.
Perhaps because they were retroactively spooked by the bombings, bank robberies and kidnappings that marked the disintegration of the Vietnam protest movement, throughout the last 40 years American leftists have adhered to a strict code of militant nonviolence. Abandoning the tactics of disruption and non-cooperation (both of which were central to Gandhi’s approach), demonstrators’ ridiculous cooperation with government authorities reduced progressivism to farce.
Marchers apply for permits on public streets. Organizers give the police pre-printed lists, last name first, of activists who volunteer to be arrested; they are quickly booked and released, rarely less than $100 poorer. It is theater, a mere pantomime of genuine protest.
And it never works. You need only look back at the political history of the United States between 1971 and 2011 to see what 100% nonviolence has accomplished. Even under Democratic presidents and Congressional majorities, the Left has lost one battle after another.
The Left’s only major victory during that period followed the 1999 Battle of Seattle. Riots and broken windows disrupted the World Trade Organization for years. Countless American jobs were saved as a result. Yet liberals were ashamed.
Violence! How terrible!
Not as terrible as the wars and the massive unemployment, apparently.
At the core of the cowardice of protests carried out by establishment liberals has been slavish adherence to nonviolence at all cost. At most protests over the past few decades self-appointed “peace police” patrol the edges of crowds penned into “free speech zones” (which are inevitably placed out of the way, far from cameras). The peace police don’t lift a finger to protect demonstrators against police brutality. Instead, they act to prevent protesters from doing anything to “provoke” the cops, even when they are trying to protect themselves from brutality.
What makes the Occupy movement different and so compelling is that it moves beyond going-through-the-motions toward real resistance against tyranny for the first time since the 1960s. Seizing territory without a permit and refusing to relinquish it, as has happened at Occupy Wall Street and hundreds of other cities, presents an inherent threat to the system. The authorities can’t win no matter what they do.
They can’t do nothing. Tolerance signals legitimacy, even tacit approval of OWS and their message that rich individuals and big corporations have too much wealth and control over us. Can’t have that. Rupert Murdoch’s house organ, the New York Post, ran a front-page editorial on November 3rd screaming: “Enough!”
But crackdowns make the movement grow even bigger. A video of a NYPD official pepper-spraying four women at OWS without provocation inflamed public opinion and drew more people to Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park. An announced plan to evict OWS was scrapped after hundreds of people traveled there to gird for battle.
Speaking for New York’s business community as well as Murdoch, the Post editorialized: “Time’s up. The Zuccotti Park vagabonds have had their say—and trashed lower Manhattan—for long enough. They need to go. Be it voluntarily—by packing their tents and heading off in an orderly fashion. Or by having the NYPD step in—and evict them.” They blame OWSers for urinating outside. Which merely reminds New Yorkers how unresponsive their government is: there are no public restrooms in Manhattan.
You can smell the fear along with the pee.
Meanwhile, as politicians feel more pressure to crack heads, Occupations will have to move indoors. Freezing temperatures have arrived in New York and much of the country. Tensions will rise. As clashes with the authorities intensify, the ridiculous fetish of nonviolence—a faith-based tactic with no more basis in historical fact or reality than creationism—will be forgotten and, one day soon, laughed at.
COPYRIGHT 2011 TED RALL