Monday, July 3, 2017

On Secession Part IV: Killing and Carnage

On Secession (Part I, Part II, Part III)

One of the more annoying things about writing about current or semi-current events is that the world doesn’t hold still long enough. Things change. I’m a couple weeks “ahead” here (writing this the week of June 19th), so reactions to current events and responses to critiques are delayed. I say this because, by the time you read this, the fact that Sheriff David Clarke is no longer being considered for a spot in the Department of Homeland Security will be old news. Instead, he’ll be returning home to serve the good people of Milwaukee County. Which is as good of a segue as any.

Last time, we talked about the state of law enforcement in America, specifically emphasizing the slavery inspired origins of the American prison system. In this part, I want to focus on the appalling conditions of the prisons under Clarke’s care (this is probably one of the last times we’ll focus on him so intently, especially since Clarke himself is rapidly fading into obsolescence).
We'll get to this soon enough
But Clarke’s political power and influence was only ever a side effect of the bigger issues this series is intended to address, so let’s start with an incontrovertible fact: news from Milwaukee County is not good. Think headlines like: “Unanswered Questions Surround Deaths in Detention in Milwaukee County” and “More Than Two Months Later, Family of Inmate Who Died in Milwaukee County Jail Has No Answers”. The local paper counts 18 deaths in custody during the years of 2007-2012, though judging by their most recent high profile case (of a mentally ill prisoner in solitary confinement dying after being deprived of water for days), I would expect the previous few years to have similar death rates, since 10 of the 18 deaths were people with documented medical or psychiatric conditions.

But this 18 are just deaths in jail, this number doesn’t include people who have been shot by the police (of which a quick google search turns up several, with the most recent one on June 11th). That each of the people killed were black should come as no surprise to anyone at this point, as we just covered the Jim Crow era-basis of our modern criminal justice system in Part III of this series.

When I planned this entry, I thought that it would be enough to triumphantly shine a light on all the terrible abuses perpetrated by Sheriff Clarke’s office, but now I find myself wondering: What’s the point? Stories like the ones I’ve mentioned earlier are common as dirt, and with the current justice department actively stepping back from police accountability, my indignant flailing isn’t going to accomplish much. And the “four independent agencies” that have investigated police misconduct in Milwaukee have not done much besides providing a smokescreen for the officers to hide behind. As usual, nothing changes — too many people benefit from the current system. Correcting the problem on a national scale requires the kind of sweeping changes that occurred in the last half of the 19th century, and are extremely unlikely to happen in the current political climate.

That Sheriff Clarke has almost no chance of winning reelection is a small positive sign, and a recent poll of Milwaukee voters showed that over 65% believed Clarke had a negative impact on their county’s reputation. Which makes me more curious about the rest, because about a third of the voters still approve of him, and are more than happy to circle the wagons and proudly proclaim that “Blue Lives Matter”. Instead, I’ll approach from a different angle, and try to understand the work of David Grossman.
This is the face of a guy who is really into killing
The inventor of “killology”, Grossman has spent decades traveling the country, giving seminars to police officers and teaching them to think like warriors. No, I’m not kidding. The goal is to ensure that police are mentally prepared to kill at any moment. This coincided nicely with the militarization of the police forces in the early 2000s — billions of dollars and army surplus supplied has ensured that even the smallest of America’s towns can have their very own SWAT team and armored Humvees. And as their ability to wage war grew, so did their warrior mindset. This excerpt from his website makes it clear:
I’m a sheepdog. I live to protect the flock and confront the wolf.” Or, as a sign in one California law enforcement agency put it, “We intimidate those who intimidate others.”

If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath--a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path. Someone who can walk into the heart of darkness, into the universal human phobia, and walk out unscathed.
Literally just an excuse for me to look for goofy dog pictures
Truly Heroic and Noble. Special and Extraordinary. All the hallmarks of classic bullshit. People are never so dangerous as when they believe themselves to be acting for the greater good. It’s an important part of the secret sauce that made Jeronimo Yanez a (unfortunately acquitted) murderer. If you’re fighting a war, then any citizen could be the enemy — you’re constantly on edge, waiting for the next attack (some people like to call this Vigilance). And before you ask, yes, Yanez did attend such a seminar.
The idea of an urban warzone is popular on the right, and nearly incomprehensible to everyone else — witness the bewilderment over the term “American Carnage” in Trump’s inaugural address. To those not mired in the current police culture, it is clear that other options exist. But within the current institutions, the idea that police would act primarily as guardians is scoffed at as the kind of politically correct nonsense that gets officers killed. And so, we have situations like this one, where a cop enters the scene with gun drawn (metaphorically, if not literally). With this mindset, lethal violence is to be expected; they’re fighting a war after all.

“Late Friday [6/18/17], Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke Jr. formally notified Secretary of Homeland Security John F. Kelly that he had rescinded his acceptance of the agency’s offer to join DHS as an assistant secretary," said Craig Peterson, an adviser to Clarke. "Sheriff Clarke is 100 percent committed to the success of President Trump and believes his skills could be better utilized to promote the president’s agenda in a more aggressive role." This, coming from the man who worries that Black Lives Matter will join forces with the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) to take down America. Yes, really. And why not? If you’ve got a hammer, you’re always looking for the next nail.
Except, you know, with guns
But seriously, I’m not trying to make a bunch of hay over nothing — this ridiculous example is a side effect of their belief system. If you are this ready to de-humanize people and view them as your enemies (Clarke: “[BLM] is black slime and it needs to be eradicated from the American society and the American culture.”), it’s easy to lump them all together. Certainly much easier than trying to understand them.

I’ll throw a quick bone to the people who want to argue in the comments: I think police should be more willing to sacrifice their lives. I think the system might be better if they only shot at “bad guys”, and would rather risk being shot than accidentally shooting someone innocent. I think that part of the social contract between society and its designated doers of violence is to use it responsibly, and it should be up to society to determine what that means — and not to the police officers. And while this is very similar to how it works now, clearly it’s not enough, as police continue to routinely murder innocent people (for what must seem like very good reasons at the time). There is no war and no enemy soldiers, there’s only the people they’ve sworn to protect. There must be greater responsibility — part of defending society means defending justice, and the other ideological intangibles. Every senseless killing erodes them. If the police are willing to lay down their lives to protect this country, I’d like to see a little more of it. While it’s clearly very sad to see stories like “police officer killed at traffic stop”, it’s nothing like hearing that an innocent man has been shot in front of his family by the cop who swore to protect him. And while it’s certainly easy for me to say, sitting comfortable in my apartment, that’s the job they signed up for. Do your job, or quit.
Clearly, the idea that government is tyrannical and imposing on civil liberties doesn't apply to blacks or liberals  
Anyway, there are still a number of loose threads, but I haven’t given up. Next week, we’ll dive back into political philosophy before returning our attention to the confederacy, and those who still support their cause. We’re not done yet.

EDIT: The NRA released another advertisement a few days ago. And a "response". This supports my narrative here quite a bit more than I'm comfortable with.

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