When protests are non-violent, the media doesn’t cover them. When protests are non-violent, politicians ignore them.
In the latest shooting of an innocent civilian by a trigger-happy police officer, a white Fort Worth cop blew away a 28-year-old African-American woman through her bedroom window as she played a video game with her eight-year-old nephew. Atatiana Jefferson’s neighbor had called a nonemergency police number to request that they check on her because her doors were wide open.
“The officer did not announce that he was a police officer prior to shooting,” a spokesman said. Instead, he shouted through the window before killing Jefferson: “Put your hands up! Show me your hands!”
This atrocity followed the recent conviction of a white officer in Dallas who claimed that she had entered the wrong apartment in her building before mistakenly shooting an African-American man. Botham Jean, 26, was eating ice cream in his own home, clearly not hers, when he was killed.
It’s not a major political campaign issue but it ought to be: domestic policing in the United States needs to be reinvented from the ground up.
“From their earliest days in the [police] academy, would-be officers are told that their prime objective, the proverbial ‘first rule of law enforcement,’ is to go home at the end of every shift,” Seth Stoughton noted in the Harvard Law Review. Policing experts call this me-first approach the Warrior mentality. “Officers learn to treat every individual they interact with as an armed threat and every situation as a deadly force encounter in the making.”
In the real world, America’s streets are not a war zone. 95% of police officers go through their entire career without ever having to fire their weapon. But many cops are military veterans—and vets are 23% more likely than non-vets to draw and shoot.
Increasingly concerned about police shootings and the eroding of trust between cops and the people, some leaders are trying to promote a Guardian mentality instead. “The Guardian mindset prioritizes service over crime-fighting, and it values the dynamics of short-term encounters as a way to create long-term relationships,” writes Stoughton. “As a result, it instructs officers that their interactions with community members must be more than legally justified, they must also be empowering, fair, respectful, and considerate. The Guardian mindset emphasizes communication over commands, cooperation over compliance, and legitimacy over authority.”
The priority for cops shouldn’t be that they get to go home at the end of every shift. They should make sure that the people they interact with are safe.
This is common sense. It’s also an uphill battle.
The militarization of domestic civilian policing is no longer a concern about a phenomenon in development. It is here. Police departments throughout the United States have acquired tanks, armored personnel carriers, automatic weapons and other military hardware transferred from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. SWAT teams, which originated in the military-style LAPD, are everywhere. Even little towns like Mt. Orab, Ohio (pop. 2,701) and Middleburg, Pennsylvania (pop. 1,363) have a SWAT outfit ready to take on bands of heavily-armed goons in case a 1980s action movie inexplicably comes to life there.
For Americans of a certain age, cops no longer dress or look like cops. The police carry stun grenades and semiautomatic pistols and rifles and wear Kevlar vests. They’re bulked up, obviously on steroids and certainly no stranger to the weight room. Their hair is cropped short, military style. They’re scary and they mean to be.
There’s a reason they look like that. One out of five police officers is a military veteran. Police brass love vets. So even cops recruited from the civilian population learn to emulate that military look and swagger.
Federal programs encourage and even mandate preferential treatment of vets by police departments when looking for recruits. But this is exactly the wrong direction. Trained to have an authoritarian approach to interactions with civilians and frequently the victims of PTSD, veterans who become policemen are more likely to resort to force, less interested in deescalation and more likely to mentally deteriorate and even to commit suicide while on duty.
As of this writing this story is still developing, but I would not be surprised to learn that the 35-year-old officer involved in the Fort Worth shooting was a vet.
Police officers have the power of life and death over us. They have discretion to harm us through less dramatic interactions like issuing us traffic infractions that can cost us thousands of dollars. The potential for abuse or poor judgment requires that police officers be selected from among those members of our society who are least interested in pushing around their fellow citizens. Aggressiveness should be considered a negative quality in police recruiting.
As with any position in which the holder is vested with power, the paradox is that those who most want the job are those who should least be permitted to hold it. It should almost be a reverse draft: the less you want to be a cop, the better qualified you are for the job.
I would fire every single police officer in the United States and suggest that if they want to come back they reapply for their positions under completely different guidelines. I would take away guns from most policemen – they simply don’t need them – and replace semiautomatic pistols with traditional revolvers as the standard sidearm. No more military gear, no more bulletproof vests. Return the tanks to the Pentagon. And I would put an end to recruiting from the military.
Warrior cops don’t make us safer. They’re loose cannons who need psychiatric counseling, not guns.
(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.)
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 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.”
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.
Tired of Trump? Congress can impeach him. But they won’t do anything unless you actually do something.
Doing something does not mean signing an online petition. Donating to Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution is nice, but your cash can’t depose the oligarchs. Doing something does not mean voting Democratic; both parties are beholden to corporations who demand business as usual. It doesn’t even mean supporting progressive Democrats in primaries against incumbent corporate Democrats; incumbents almost always win.
Doing something effective requires you to become a clear and present danger to the system and the people who run it.
Doing something that might change the fundamental nature of the system requires you to risk prison, injury and death.
Doing something demands that you operate outside the system.
It means taking it to the streets.
By itself, filling the streets with people and signs and chants isn’t enough. Tame street protests are doomed to failure. If you file for a parade permit or let the police pen you up in a ridiculous “free speech zone” or promise that you’ll be nonviolent no matter what, your street protest will be drowned out by the clinking of glasses and the popping of champagne corks in the salons of the ruling classes. It won’t matter whether you go home quietly or leave screaming in a paddy wagon.
Many Congressional Republicans still support the president. They’ll only change their minds if they face irresistible political pressure. Others would be open to supporting Trump’s removal if a groundswell of public opinion provided them with the requisite political cover.
The vast majority of Americans think Trump is doing a lousy job — and that includes many people who voted for him. Forty percent favor impeachment — and that number will continue to grow as he deports children and recklessly ramps up the risk of nuclear war. That’s tens of millions of Americans.
But those tens of millions are powerless. They’re sitting on their butts, waiting for someone else to do something.
The urban protests of the 1960s and 1970s were unsettling and frequently disintegrated into disturbing acts of violence, as seen during the running street battles between activists and the Chicago police during the 1968 Democratic National Convention and the shootings of students by Ohio National Guardsmen at Kent State. Since the late 1970s the streets have been calm, except for such episodes of periodic political violence as the 1992 L.A. riots and the Battle of Seattle over globalization in 1999. In recent years lefties expressed pride in the fact that large protest demonstrations like the 2002-03 marches against the invasion of Iraq, the anti-Trump Women’s March and the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement were so studiously nonviolent that organizers deployed “peace police” to separate potential troublemakers from the cops.
It is no coincidence that the American Left hasn’t won a major policy victory, or that no Democratic president has proposed a major anti-poverty program, since the 1970s. Without pressure from the Left, the country has steadily moved right.
“We could have large-scale marches for every year of Trump’s presidency. It would do nothing!” says Micah White, best known for his role in OWS. Street protests have been ritualized, stripped of their drama, and thus defanged.
The Left has embraced a cartoonish militant pacifism that goes far beyond Gandhi (who wasn’t really against violence). Violence hasn’t disappeared. Now the authorities have a monopoly on violence. They operate with impunity against dispossessed people. The authorities have militarized local police forces. They’ve murdered countless people of color, spied on our emails and phone calls, and even declared the right to use drones to blow up U.S. citizens on U.S. soil.
Street marches in the U.S. have become empty exercises, unguided support groups to make leftists feel better about themselves because they’re not alone. But that’s not how they started.
Historically, street protests were scary. They were carried out by angry mobs. There weren’t any speeches. These were riots. Drunken people ran around breaking and stealing things. The chaos ended in one of three ways: the rioters got tired and went home, the lord of the ancient and medieval city where the riot occurred had his soldiers kill the rioters, or the ruler so feared the complete destruction of his fiefdom — and for his own life — that he gave in to the rioters’ demands.
What makes violence, or more precisely the willingness to be violent, a useful tactic is that it isn’t necessary to kill anyone or break anything every time you want something. You don’t need actual violence to exert pressure against your enemy — you need the credible threat of violence. What makes that threat credible is the memory of a fairly recent act of actual violence. France and the U.S. both have nukes, for example. But only the U.S. has ever been crazy enough to use them. Which country scares other countries more?
Between 1811 and 1816 the Luddites broke into English mills and workshops to break the machines that were killing their jobs and slashing their pay. After that, terrified factory owners took the Luddites seriously. Luddites sometimes extracted concessions by sending a threatening letter signed “with Ned Ludd’s compliments.”
Consider the countervailing example of the Unite The Right white supremacist rally in Charlottesville. There weren’t that many racist attendees — fewer than a thousand. But they showed up with weapons, including assault rifles. One murdered a woman with his car and injured others. That violence gives the next alt-right rally a credible threat of violence and guarantees that the event will be taken seriously by the authorities and thoroughly covered by the news media.
I am not suggesting that progressives show up to their next anti-Trump march toting AR-15s, or that leftists should kill or injure anyone. That’s not who we are or what we’re about. We oppose Trump and the capitalist system precisely because they are violent and we loathe violence.
My message is more subtle: march peacefully. But don’t follow the rules. Don’t apply for parade permits. Don’t stay on the sidewalks when the police tell you to. And don’t promise not to break anything.
Power never yields unless it’s scared.
(Ted Rall (Twitter: @tedrall) is author of “Trump: A Graphic Biography,” an examination of the life of the Republican presidential nominee in comics form. You can support Ted’s hard-hitting political cartoons and columns and see his work first by sponsoring his work on Patreon.)
A spate of shootings of innocent black men by white police was followed by a mass shooting of 12 policemen in Dallas. Afterwards, Very Reasonable People assured us that it was up to “both sides” – blacks and the police who oppress, abuse and kill them – to put their differences aside and compromise to achieve peace. Actually, it’s always up to the oppressors to stop oppressing.
When the media and political establishment gang up against Donald Trump by calling him out for racism, idiocy and promoting violence, they’re absolutely right. Given how unpopular and discredited they are, however, they may be pushing some voters into Trump’s column.
The media went crazy over false reports that Bernie Sanders supporters threw some chairs at a Democratic convention in Nevada. They deplored the burning of Make America Great Again hats at a Trump rally. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton personally destroyed several Middle East nations…yet the media doesn’t have anything to say about that.