I must say, most of the things that frighten conservatives do not bother me. I do not live in mortal terror of the Muslims taking over the world. It never occurred to me that the black citizens of America might rise up in riot over the Trayvon Martin verdict, as so many
idiots morons paranoid looney tunes conservative pundits predicted. The threat of socialism does not rattle the foundations of my soul, because actually, I think this country could use a little more socialism, which, for you less-than-liberal types out there, does NOT equate to Communism! Get your mental political constructs figured out, sheesh!
Here’s what DOES scare the living shit out of me. Police forces in America are militarizing, and I am not talking a little bit of martial attitude here. We are talking a full-on, totally equipped, hierarchical, bureaucratic, Mad Max clusterfuck, complete with tribal affiliations, loyalty to the organization (but not to the principles of the organization), and plenty of room for mad-dog psychos to run amok.
Just here in Spokane we’ve had our share of police officers going dingo on us. Otto Zehm was basically murdered over waving a bottle of pop at one of Spokane’s finest, and then, at the perp Karl Thomas’s sentencing, his colleagues saluted him. I mean saluting is kind of an honor thing, a symbol of solidarity, right? So all these guys put aside the whole preserve-and-protect thing to support a sadistically-inclined member of their tribe? Hmmmm…. And how about James Olsen, inebriated off-duty Spokane cop who shot the Native dude Shonto Pete, who evidently wanted to get into Olsen’s truck ? I’m not saying I know the details of that story, because no one ever will, but I am beginning to notice that there’s a consistency of character between these overreactive officers: they are assholes.
Further afield, there was Kenneth Chamberlain, of White Plains, New York, who accidentally set off his emergency-assistance pendant he wore because he was old and infirm. The cops show up at his door and INSIST that they are coming in, even though Chamberlain tells them he’s fine. Then the cops tell a little lie, and claim to be the emergency center “Full Life Aid”, and ask him if there’s a problem. What did he say? “YES there’s an emergency – I have the White Plains Police Department knocking on my door and I did not call them and I am not sick!” So the cops break down his door, taze him, and shoot him dead. Of course, they were cleared.
Now we have yet another tale of police overreach: 95-year old World War II veteran John Wrana gets irascible in the Park Forest Illinois nursing home, so what happens? The Park Forest Police blow into the joint in full riot gear, taze him, and shoot him with beanbag rounds. Since the guy was 95 and frail and needed a walker to get around, he did expire from these multiple insults, that perhaps might have been better suited to dealing with a 250-pound 25-year-old man high on meth.
My question, conservative constitutionalists, is where in that hallowed document does it say this is okay? I happen to believe that we should be secure in our own homes, and that there might be better ways to approach issues such as these, like calling a social worker or something. Or maybe just saying, “Well, that’s okay… if he wants to be left alone, let’s leave him alone.” Then, if the person dies, it is nobody’s fault but his own, and the cops wouldn’t have to spend hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars defending their own complete inability to step outside the box and read the situation appropriately.
Here’s another police shooting that utterly confounds me. In September of 2003, a 17-year old high school kid named Sean Fitzpatrick goes into a classroom at Lewis and Clark High School in Spokane. He has a handgun. He chases everybody out of the room. The school evacuates. The freeway is closed, because he might shoot that way and hurt somebody in a car (unlikely, but possible, I suppose). The kid is obviously distraught and depressed, and somewhere along the line, fires the gun into a wall. The SWAT team has arrived, complete with all their stuff: the shields and the Kevlar and the assault weapons locked and loaded. Then the kid “climbs a bookcase and pulls the gun”. Exactly how do you do that? Climbing and gun-pulling are somewhat mutually exclusive, but maybe it was poking him in the nuts or something and he just reacted. Whatever. The SWAT team cuts loose and mows the kid down. Here’s the official line: ‘‘He pulled the gun from his pants pocket,” Bragdon said. ‘‘That’s not the time to pull a gun because it put the officers in a no-choice situation.”
How, exactly, is it a “no-choice” situation? If you are Kevlar’d to the nines, exactly how is this kid going to hurt you? Or, how about, if just one SWAT guy shoots him in the knee, like they do on TV to incapacitate the villain?
But no. We live in the militarized police world now, so all the training, all the culture, and all the experience of that bureaucracy compells them to go straight into the red zone, regardless of circumstance. I am sure that there are individual members of police bureaucracies that can resist the temptation to just solve problems by blasting the shit out of things, or to put it more politely, give fealty to the principle of protect-and-serve instead of daily shoot-to-kill policy norms. But it can’t possibly be easy. Especially if you recruit from the ranks of:
1) people who are already primed to be bossypants authoritarian rules-followers, like former high school jocks, fundamentalist Christians (or fundamentalist Moslems, for that matter), ex-military guys, shopping mall security cops, pompous George Zimmerman neighborhood watch cop wannabes, and so on.
2) people who are men and not women (I just have to elaborate on this. Here’s a quote from an Australian report: “It is evident from the figure that women police are substantially less likely than males to attract a complaint from a member of the public, especially where the allegation is one of assault or excessive force.” This effect has been noted in research over and over again – female cops are better at defusing situations than males. And worse yet, when you get two or more male cops together and a situation arises – well, it becomes Testosterone Wars, where one bull mastodon just has to outdo the other in beating down the threat, even if it’s just a crabby old guy in a walker. Biology, duh. But, because of the resistance of male cultures everywhere, women trying to become police officers have much to overcome – not the least of which is that many of their co-workers are gonna be assholes about it. There’s that word again – assholes. Funny how it keeps coming up);
3) people who are already psychopaths and have been itchin’ to find a place where they can indulge their sadistic whims. Much as a child sexual predator gravitates to the Catholic Church, a psychopath will choose to lose himself in a labyrinthine bureaucracy that already condones violent solutions to simple problems. Perfect! Ironically, the psychopath himself may or may not know why he wants to be a cop – but it sure makes it easier to shoot down a depressed 17-year-old kid if your ethical brain development has been impaired. These people are often known colloquially as “assholes”.)
Now here’s the newest thing.
Down in Arlington, Texas, there was an organic farm, Garden of Eden. Just from a cursory exam, I would judge this place to be kind of a hippy enterprise. But being hippy-ish is not a federal offense, so far as I know. From what I can gather from various reports, some grumpy neighbors didn’t like the fact that the farm was kind of a mess, with weeds and junk laying around, so somebody lodged a complaint about the hippies growing pot. So – there was a SWAT raid.
Seriously? You have got to be kidding me.
So there’s a SWAT raid, where there is no marijuana found in any form, but a lot of other stuff is carted off, one presumes as “evidence”: 17 blackberry bushes, 15 okra plants, 14 tomatillo plants … native grasses and sunflowers. Then there was the general destruction caused by a bunch of dudes who can’t tell a sunflower from a pot plant stomping all over the garden beds, because, after all, this was an organic farm. They also took 55 gallon barrels which are used for rain water collection, animal water feed tanks, and aquaponics systems, glass doors which are used for green house purposes and solar dehydrator and solar water heating apparatuses, two refrigerators which are were to be used for solar hot air collectors to heat buildings without electric or gas heat , wood for building, tables, benches and chairs for the new commons room, and multiple axles to be used to make a home made trailer.
Really? They confiscated all this? How much time on their hands do these guys have, anyway? And then they held a bunch of people at gunpoint, including the mom of a 2-week old baby. The SWAT guys apparently put tape over their name tags so they couldn’t be identified, AND raided the place without a warrant – although one was produced several hours later, presumably in reaction to the public outcry, and still way too late to be legal.
And speaking of Arlington, Texas, guess what’s next for that fair city? Police use of drones! How could THAT possibly pose a problem for American citizens!
But this is what I am talking about. Police militarization. Everyone wringing their hands over it, and clueless about what to do. But let me tell you one thing: the powers-that-be have taken the police/military/asshole culture far into the realm of untouchability before most of us have wrapped our heads around it as a problem. It is systemic, it is invasive, and it is frightening.
And, it is ironic. Here the nation faces the most serious and relentless threat to the American lives in the last two hundred years: global climate change. But instead of spending a few bucks on preparing for THAT bad boy, we blow stacks of green to equip local police forces with enough military firepower to take out a small city, so the local power brokers (real estate agents, developers, county commissioners) can turn them loose to SWAT people that don’t quite match up to expectations, such as mentally challenged janitors, drunks, sick elderly veterans, and hippy farmers.
Wow. I feel so much safer.