Sunday, July 17, 2016

Another Day In Paradise

Here we go again, this time in Baton Rouge. Three cops dead, three more injured. The conventional clickbait hot-take would be to ask ponderously, are we headed toward a civil war?, with the combatants and sides rather poorly defined.

The smart take might be to seriously consider the possibility that we are already in one, not formally declared, but underway nonetheless. One could loosely describe this ongoing series of skirmishes as between law enforcement and blacks, but that would be unfair to both of those overly generic group designations.

Yet it's impossible to ignore any longer the specter of lying and obfuscation on the part of a few (by no means all or most, he hastily disclaimed) law enforcement officers. When cops routinely treat "certain communities" like third-class citizens, when they act like an occupying force trying to pacify Fallujah, the people who live in those communities day after miserable day and put up with this dehumanizing bullshit eventually snap.

Alton Sterling was not, if one reviews his long rap sheet, a model citizen by any means. But the Baton Rouge PD didn't know Mr. Sterling's criminal record when they rolled up on him, tackled him immediately and summarily shot him like a dog on the sidewalk. The police did not do themselves any further favors with their behavior afterward, concocting the usual "dog ate my homework" excuses for their body cams, pulling in the owner of the convenience store where Sterling hawked his wares and treating him like a criminal, confiscating his cell phone and holding him in custody for hours. Sending the cops who shot Sterling home on paid admin leave, and the police union rules that give them a full month to get their stories straight, don't help the overall perception that the fix is in.

Police, like anyone else, are innocent until proven guilty. But it takes a hell of a lot to get prosecutors and juries to declare them guilty, and in the meantime, they do as they please, treating the citizens whom they are supposed to protect and serve like enemy combatants.

None of this, of course, should be seen to absolve or mitigate or excuse what is nothing less than a criminal attack on law enforcement personnel. But the criminal justice industry in general, and the law enforcement community in particular, need to address the issues in their midst.

The way black citizens are treated is certainly a catalyzing factor, but I think it's a mistake to focus solely on that aspect of it. The picture is so much bigger; the phrase "criminal justice industry" is not used accidentally, or even polemically. "Industry" is exactly what it's become. Police forces even in smaller municipalities have become highly militarized, and they and the lawyers and judges and communities they actually work for have become incentivized by the civil asset forfeiture policies of the War on Some Drugs. And the culture of the CJ industry is ingrained against its external customers, in a way that is mirrored in the private sector only by the most vicious and heartless insurance companies.

So we should not be surprised when they turn out to be corrupt shakedown artists, preying on poor people of all colors, people who can't afford a lawyer to contest bullshit charges, people for whom it is (incredibly) simpler just to plead guilty to something they didn't do, than risk taking the full heat from a system they know is already gamed against them.

The revenue model of the CJ industry reflects this. Just as the critical part of an insurance company's revenue model is to avoid or minimize the service for which they are paid in advance every month, the CJ industry has a vested interest in pushing people to plea out, though they'll be just as happy to run you through the trial process with a half-assed public defender, and toss you in a corporate-owned prison. Either way, the motto is Ka-Ching! But the community is no safer, nor any closer to anything resembling actual justice.

Police officers, whether they admit it or not, whether they like it or not, are the enforcement mechanism of that system, the muscle of corruption and injustice, the guardians of an insular, anti-democratic, profiteering culture. Unfortunately, when a bad or inept apple does surface in their ranks, they typically close those ranks with blinding speed and opacity, a default function of no accountability, even internally.

It should not take federal intrusion to bring corrupt municipalities and their soldiers to justice, and yet it does, every time. Between closed cultures of unaccountability and easy access to devastating firepower, this is only going to keep happening. It wouldn't hurt to take the profit motive out of it as well.

[Update 3:45 PDT:  The shooter has been identified as Gavin Eugene Long, 29 years old as of today, and apparently a "sovereign nation" activist. It is also unclear as to whether Long set out intending to go after cops specifically, so until more facts are known, let's not assume it's a sequel to Dallas. Amazing what happens when you wait a few hours for facts, though I'm sure Clownstick and his cult followers have already gotten out in front of this one. When you literally don't care if what you say is true or accurate in any sense, when your goal is merely to incite and stoke fear and rage, then nothing matters. All they need to do is be seen and heard reacting.

Two salient quotes from the WaPo article:

“The violence, the hatred, just has to stop,” Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) said at the same news conference. “We have to do better. An attack on one of us is an attack on all of us, and the people who carried out this act, the individuals, they do not represent the people of Baton Rouge, or the state of Louisiana.”

I agree with the governor, and in fact it is the central thesis of what we're talking about here. Whether by "us" Edwards means all citizens, or just law enforcement, is irrelevant. The result is the same, and so is its reverse -- when a civilian is killed unnecessarily by a police officer, it is an attack on all citizens, and their innate right to live their lives without being pushed around for no goddamned reason.

The other quote, straight from the THOUGHTS AND PRAYERS, YOU GUYS hymnal:

State Rep. C. Denise Marcelle (D) the timing of the shooting is devastating for Baton Rouge, which is still working recover from the most intense protests that unfolded on the city’s streets.

Marcelle, a former Baton Rouge city councilwoman, said that she was in church at Disciples Outreach Ministry in Baton Rouge this morning when the shooting broke out.

“My pastor came up to me and asked me to pray the prayer of peace and unity,” Marcelle said. “I got up and lead [sic] the prayer, and that was right around the same time that this incident happened.”

I’m pretty shaken up that at the same time I was praying for peace someone was killing our officers,” she said. “It has to stop.”

[emphasis added]

Gee, if you didn't know any better, you might think that these anodyne gestures and empty benedictions lack any real meaning or utility. I am not saying this to be a smug atheist; I am saying it as someone who is sick of hearing this useless nonsense be trucked out as a substitute for doing something.

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