Take a Knee for Me

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when police openly commit widespread racial profiling of Black lives and gratuitous violence on Black bodies, and so many white folks fail to object to the fact or even acknowledge it.

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when the president of the nation ignores the evil inherent violent demonstrations by neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and xenophobes, and equates them with the peaceful protesters and defenders against of their hate.

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when the president attacks NFL players moved by the oppression of their brothers and sisters to express openly their concerns in a peaceful symbolic way in the only public forum they have. (I could shout from my rooftop, but nearly no one would hear – it is, after all, about being heard.)

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when the president demands that team owners fire any player who exercises his first amendment rights with a peaceful gesture in a public setting. No such scorn is expressed for racist Nazi violence.

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when old imaginary rights of owners to dictate all behavior of their employees, including political expression, dominate political discourse while images of master and slave still permeate the air, and their confederate symbols grace the public square.

It is not easy for America to sort it all out while racism, misogyny, and myriad rituals of denigration and degradation emanate from the nation’s highest office, in a White House built by slave labor and occupied by oligarchs.

It is not easy for America to sort it all out when we have to face barbarity, brutality, dehumanization and destitution of our citizens and so many others, so that the super-rich political donors can demand big tax breaks from their lackeys in a plutocratic congress.

cowboys-knee-ap-img

Dallas Cowboys and owner Jerry Jones, take a knee before the national anthem before NFL game, 9-25-2017 in Arizona.

Grace Galore (in a Facebook post) put it this way:

I would take a knee for the police brutality and racial profiling my father, uncles and brothers have faced.

I would take a knee for the mass deportation during the Great Repatriation of California during the Great Depression that my ancestors faced to make room for white labor in California.

I would also take a knee for the cancerous pesticides dumped on our farm laborers everyday to keep wages down and your food prices too.

I would take a knee to stand against the golden calf that is a song or flag or emblem, not impenetrable or holy.

I would take a knee for the hypocrisy of our system to keep the low, lower, under the facade of patriotism.

I would take a knee for this country, which is much better than all the privileged and blind “sons of bitches” who venerate a song over humanity and righteousness.

I am America. Take a knee for me…

Republican Honor and Trump’s Tropes

Republican honor is on the line. The honor, such as it is, of a political party always depends on the character of the candidates it nominates. Donald Trump is an ASS. Everyone with the slightest sensibility knows that. Well, more accurately, he is a certifiable Narcissistic Sociopath, unfit for any pubic responsibility, no less that of the presidency.[1]

Trump.Huff.Post“According to DSM-5, individuals with NPD have most (at least five) or all of the symptoms listed below (generally without commensurate qualities or accomplishments).

1 Grandiosity with expectations of superior treatment by others.

2 Fixated on fantasies of power, success, intelligence, attractiveness, etc.

3 Self-perception of being unique, superior, and associated with high-status people and institutions.

4 Needing constant admiration from others.

5 Sense of entitlement to special treatment and to obedience from others.

6 Exploitative of others to achieve personal gain.

7 Unwilling to empathize with others’ feelings, wishes, or needs.

8 Intensely jealous of others and the belief that others are equally jealous of them.

9 Pompous and arrogant demeanor.”

(Nigel Barber “Does Trump have Narcissistic Personality Disorder?” Psychology Today, August 10, 2016)

Trump’s business practices have long demonstrated his complete lack of a moral center. As an investigative reporter, David Kay Johnson covered Trump for nearly thirty years and has documented his biographical trail of nefarious business practices.[2] By pandering to the worst bigoted impulses of the so-called “Republican base,” he skillfully captured the presidential nomination. Because of his dexterity at manipulating the fears and incipient hatreds of socially and economically displaced white Americans, some consider him the most skilled politician on the national scene today. That is a problem for the Republican Party.

Pseudo-patriotic Perversity

One of the key characteristics of a sociopath is complete lack of empathy for other human beings. At the Democratic National Convention, Mr. Khizr Khan righteously scolded Donald Trump’s racist tropes denigrating Khan’s warrior son, whose heroism sacrificed his own life in defense of his comrades in arms. Khan’s articulate speech was eloquent in its passion and pain, something of an order entirely beyond the grasp of the Billionaire Bimbo, whose only experience with the military was to avoid service.

Trump’s reaction, as expected, expressed not a scintilla of empathy for a hero’s sacrifice or his parents’ pain. He has no sense whatsoever of the deep sacrifices that our troops have made in the wars of choice prosecuted by the U.S.  Corporate State.  Trump’s reaction to Mr. Khan’s eloquent critique of the perverse Republican candidate’s insults was to attack Mrs. Ghazala Khan for her silence as she stood with her husband. He projected onto Mrs. Khan more of Trump’s Tropes of ethnic derision. Fortunately, Mrs. Khan later spoke strongly and shot back a statement that she had been too upset to speak at the Democratic convention. How dare he attempt to trivialize this gold-star mother’s pain with his ethnic slurs?

Wrong War, Right Heroes

While many would consider it old news by now, the disrespect Trump showed to America’s fallen warriors and their families remains somewhere on the far side of disgusting. It is entirely consistent with the numerous tropes of Trump’s tragic pandering to the lowest hateful impulses of American political culture. Despite my opposition to such wars of choice, the cavalier treatment of our troops outrages me, including the common disrespect shown troops who may be Muslim, gay, transgender, or whatever.

These are gallant victims of unnecessary wars. Regardless of the legitimacy of the wars, these heroes stood tall and performed as the warriors they were. Many died; others suffered severe trauma, both physical and mental. Trump’s self-indulgent juvenile whining is just beyond tolerance. His self-aggrandizing B.S. should offend every American, whatever her/his political position on anything.

One of my biggest worries is why such a narcissistic sociopath could possibly garner enough support from voters to become a candidate at all, no less mount a serious campaign in a general election for president. However, the machine of electoral politics knows no moral compass. At the same time, too many Americans respond to the hateful rhetoric of jingoistic xenophobia that is encouraged by the propaganda of the war profiteers. Where is the Republican honor in all this? AWOL ~ Absent With Out Leave.

I remember the days when I strongly protested the U.S. war on Viet Nam. Having already served in the military, I knew something about how the system works and how enlisted men, are treated and required to perform. The military must serve the purposes of the politicians, who, in all instances since World War II, have not had the guts to declare the wars they prosecute.

The role of the airman, marine, soldier, or sailor can be easy or hard, boring or terrifying. But it is always subordinate to the formal commands and personal whims of one’s commanders and their political ambitions. This I was able to observe without ever having seen combat. War fighters often know little of the geo-politics of warfare; their loyalty and performance has more to do with commitments to their brothers in arms. In that, they excel.

Psychopathology of Pretenders to Authority

In the opposition to the Viet Nam war, too many protesters projected their anger upon the troops. Draftees and recruits were victims of the military adventurism of the politicians of both parties, who formulated the terrible policies that killed so many. Elites in this world prosecute wars; the troop are usually victims as well as directed killers. Elites always find plenty of scapegoats onto whom to project all the evil they create. Without a scintilla of military experience, Donald Trump is a master of denial and projection in his war against everyone.

The misogynist megalomaniacal charlatan, who pretends to be prepared to take on the mantle of Commander in Chief (!), better fits the cloak of Traitor (need I mention his affinity for Putin?). His only defense would be mental illness – the insanity he daily displays – but that would be terribly difficult for a narcissist sociopath to admit. He has no legitimate standing in either business (where he is a cheat), politics (a fraud), economics (multiple bankruptcy as business model), or patriotism (a pure demagogue). Anyone who thinks otherwise is just watching too much of the Fox ideologues who trash anyone who actually thinks of issues rather than jerk their knees in response to the xenophobic demonizations so fully infused into Trump’s Tropes.

Party loyalty is a difficult matter. Real conservatives find themselves in a difficult position, put there by the Republican Party failure to manage its own nomination process. (The Democratic Party managed their nomination process by making it anti-democratic to protect the party elite from a popular candidate.) Trump’s demagoguery pandered to the resentments of the Tea-Party base of the Republican Party, a shrewd tactic to capture the nomination. The party elite could muster no viable response. The corporate interests, who support both Republican and Democratic politicians who toe the corporate line, just did not know what to do with the unpredictable neo-fascist.

Real conservatives will have nothing to do with this perverse pretender to political authority. Honorable Republicans, whatever we may think of their position on issues, have refused to participate in the fiasco that may yet result in the end of the Republican Party.

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[1] Just check the Psychology Today website for some professional diagnoses. Psychologists are normally reticent about making comments on the mental conditions of public figures. However, in the case of Trump, some seem willing to make an exception. Diagnoses from afar may be problematic, but in this case the symptoms are as public as the person.

[2] David Kay Johnson, The Making of Donald Trump (Brooklyn, New York: Melville House Books, 2016).

Delusions of Democrats Continue: Denying Bernie

Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness
~ George Orwell

Vermont is a rather independent state. Its outspoken independent senator, Bernie Sanders, is the only politician I know of who has been able to attain office without prostituting himself to the powerful. His independence extends beyond party affiliation. It is not just that he is a registered independent; he is viscerally independent of party politics and corporate influence. The political class will try to silence Bernie’s challenges to the politics-as-usual of the corporate state, but how effective will they be?

Most Democrats can be described as “Corporate Democrats” since their financing comes mostly from corporate campaign contributions and is reflected in their voting. Whatever their “liberal” rhetoric, they vote primarily in the corporate economic interest. That includes their support for military adventurism around the world, cutting public investment in health, education, and viable employment and maintaining the corporate strangle-hold on the American political system. Their “liberal values” usually do not extend beyond rhetorical abstractions. Their automatic affiliation with Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the presidency reflects the same corporate affiliations she and her husband have built and maintained over decades. It is the source of their wealth and political power. In that sense, Bernie Sanders is a consummate outsider, challenging the prevailing orthodoxy of the pseudo-liberal Democratic Party.

Killing Democracy…or Not

From the perspective of the political class, Bernie’s battle for the Democratic nomination will be a naïve uphill battle, as difficult as the agents of corporate power can make it. All the powers that be will continue to oppose him, mostly by trying to keep him out of any public debate. The corporate media will continue to ignore him as much as they can or dismiss him as a quaint crazy. He will get no support from corporate donors – indeed, he does not want any. He wants the support of the public.

When Bernie gains significant public attention, we will begin to see a new wave of “red-baiting” not unlike that of the era of Joe McCarthy in the 1950s. After all, he is an independent “democratic socialist.” But the word “socialist” has lost a lot of its fear mongering power as American political structure has moved closer to total corporate control – what used to be called fascism. The “Deep State” of integrated political and economic elites [1] has reached such an extreme level of oligarchy, that Sheldon Wolin’s description of its “inverted totalitarianism” [2] is right on the mark.

But despite being an unknown to much of the population, the initial response to the announcement of his candidacy was a robust set of small donations. Regular citizens who hear what he has to say agree with most of his positions. But what Bernie stands for, the “liberal” political class gives only vague lip service to and acts in quite opposite ways. Classic liberalism is dead, but progressive ideas are not.

The decline and fall of actual political liberalism since the surge of the liberal economic reforms of the New Deal during the Great Depression of the 1930s is well documented. [3] The “Reagan Revolution” and the blatantly racist denial of the legitimacy of Barrack Obama’s presidency by the “Congress of No” have pretty much finished the job. Obama’s prodigious rhetorical skills allowed him to fully exploit national progressive sentiments. With a moderately progressive congress, Obama might have been a liberal-centrist president. But with the extremely reactionary congress seated, he vainly attempted to appease those Radical Regressive Republicans he should have recognized as his enemies. Even Obama’s embarrassingly naïve attempts to compromise with the extreme Republicans were summarily denigrated. Bill Clinton’s destruction of welfare programs for the poor had been facilitated by corporate Democrats as well as Republicans. The corporate takeover of the Congress of the United States of America is nearly complete as Barrack Obama carries forth the Bush neo-conservative imperial agenda of endless wars and Hillary attempts to step in and continue the neo-conservative project in pseudo-liberal clothing. But then there is Bernie.

Save the Planet, Save Democracy

Bernie Sanders is one of a small number of senators who openly acknowledge the urgency of taking action to curtail climate disruption. He also takes several other blatantly “progressive” positions. While some talk obliquely about inequality having gone too far, Bernie simply states that the billionaire class has bought the political process and must be stopped.

It is not surprising that the powerful corporate media try their best to ignore Bernie Sanders in hopes that he might thereby go away. But social media may be a route for frustrated Americans to express their support for policies in the public interest instead of the special interests of the corporate state. We must wonder how much latent progressivism can be found within the Democratic political machine and might creep into the convention. Mainline Democrats don’t know what to do about Bernie. He resonates with rank and file Democrats. That is because he is an viable spokesman for the interests of the American people.

Bernie Sanders is an articulate outspoken critic of the powerful corporate, financial, and military interests that try to frame the politics of fear and the policies of the power elite as if they were in the public interest – but are not. Even if he is elected there may not be enough members of congress voting in the public interest to move the nation away from the brink of climate catastrophe and social-economic collapse. Whatever the odds, Bernie Sanders seems the last great hope for a presidency that serves the public interest. If you are worried about Bernie’s chances, consider the dangerous business-as-usual alternatives.
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1 See Bill Moyers interview with Mike Lofgren, a 28-year veteran staffer with the powerful House and Senate Budget Committees on the “invisible labyrinth of power” where “elected and unelected figures collude to protect and serve powerful vested interests. http://billmoyers.com/episode/the-deep-state-hiding-in-plain-sight/. See also, Lofgren’s book, The Party Is Over: How Republicans Went Crazy, Democrats Became Useless and the Middle class Got Shafted. New York: Penguin Books, 2013.
2 Sheldon S. Wolin, Democracy, Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2010.
3 See Chris Hedges, Death of the Liberal Class, (New York: Nation Books, 2010) for a fiery denunciation of the hypocrisy of those politicians who still call themselves “liberal” and use liberal rhetoric while representing the interests of the power elites against the interests of ordinary citizens. Historian Kim Phillips-Fein, Invisible Hands: The Businessmen’s Crusade Against the New Deal (New York: W.W. Norton, 2009) provides detailed documentation of the decades-long campaign by the titans of industry to destroy the liberal agenda of the New Deal. They won.

Racism and Climate Denial Are Positive Feedback Loops

Learning is usually an exalted concept – in the abstract. But the practice of learning does not often measure up to the ideal. That is clear in the way we treat our schools. Social learning reflects the failures and deficits in personal learning. Power fears truth. Institutions perpetuate the prejudices and magical thinking of their members, who take their direction from the elites upon whom they depend. People too often believe what is convenient for protecting and maintaining their wealth, position, or other form of power. This is called ideology: language constructed to justify power.

Political and economic elites are able to promote their ideologies, which in turn are deployed to promote their political or economic power. The process is a closed positive feedback loop. That is why the public interest is so rarely represented in the actions of government institutions and corporations. It is also why we so often hear subjugated or exploited populations repeat the very propaganda that elites use to oppress them. What is the matter with Kansas? The Big Lie repeated over and over again, in the absence of contrary facts, is believed. Critical thinking is in short supply.

Police Racism Denied
Positive feedback loops between power and language reinforce power while excluding any language or meanings that might diminish power. “The rich get richer.” Any conflict that may threaten power is framed as a question of “us” versus “them.” The powerful are, ideologically, right by definition. Anyone who challenges the ideology of power is by definition wrong and a threat to “law and order,” or “public safety,” or “economic growth,” or “family values.” The public interest is not represented by elites, who do not represent the public as they seek greater power and wealth.

The head of New York City’s biggest police union publicly berated the mayor because the mayor publicly acknowledged the problem of racism among police. The mayor had “crossed the line,” having violated the traditional ideological unity of mayor and police. The outrage at a revelation of the “us vs. them” police ideology had nothing to do with the truth. The mayor had offered negative feedback disrupting the closed loop of authoritarian police ideology. The truth was what every Black parent knows. The mayor publicly stated that his Black son had been given the same warnings that other Black children are given by their parents about the dangers of experiencing police racism on the streets of New York City.

Social media – mostly communicating smart-phone video – has now publicly exposed racist police brutality all across America. Most Americans already knew at some level but may not have directly witnessed it. Formerly silent, many citizens now demand that police crime be prosecuted without bias, because what they knew all along is now publicly exposed and intolerable to anyone with a shred of compassion. Negative feedback has broken into the positive feedback loop.

Climate disruption Denied
Climate denial has the same ideological structure as racism; it is just applied to another population: scientists. Here again, widely distributed ideological propaganda funded by power elites wielding great wealth, such as Exxon Mobil or the Koch brothers, dominates the mass (corporate) media. Racism dehumanizes and demonizes its victims, facilitating brutal violence against them. Climate scientists are characterized as greedy research-grant seekers who produce results that some government conspiracy with unclear motives dictates. The fears of large segments of uneducated and poorly educated citizens are exploited by the power of propaganda.

The solid facts of biology demonstrate that race is a social construction having little to do with genetics and everything to do with social definitions. Statistical differences are explained by social-economic conditions. Similarly, the solid facts of climate science demonstrate that the earth is warming to dangerous levels and that the only explanation supported by facts is anthropogenic carbon emissions during the industrial age. Massive and diverse data sets are collected and analyzed by thousands of independent scientists around the world. That work leads to clear findings that have catastrophic implications for human survival. This means little to the climate deniers.

Why do climate deniers seem so irrational? They are irrational because they live in a cognitive positive feedback loop that excludes negative feedback. Their magical thinking helps them stay there, since a key element of magical thinking is a high degree of comfort with ignoring facts that conflict with one’s rigidly held belief. Climate deniers participate in a “universe of discourse” that only allows consideration of statements that provide positive feedback to support their beliefs. Their sources of information are limited to the corporate media that sustain the ideology of the fossil fuel industry. Those same sources purvey magical thinking to replace any critical thinking that might attempt to enter the loop.

Living in the Real World
The kinds of magical thinking and intellectual positive feedback loops that exclude negative evidence that characterize racism and climate denial have been around for a long time. But conditions have changed. The costs of catastrophic social and earth-systems failure loom ever larger as our complex systems break down and become increasingly unsustainable. The Internet is littered with magical thinking and all sorts of ill logic and fakery, along with just plain goofy stuff. But social media also offer a channel of communication that provides vividly real facts.

The pervasiveness of the culture of police racism is increasingly harder to deny. The growing availability of information on increasingly unprecedented weather events, and related disruptions of earth systems, makes climate denial more difficult to sustain. But the converging crises of our times grow rapidly more urgent. The race to a great transition is on. Will we make it or will it unmake us?

Ending Police Brutality: It’s Not That Simple

The smart phone videos of cops harassing or beating unarmed Black males have exploded on social media. Newspaper articles discuss the various difficulties involved in prosecuting police for excessive force, murder, etc. Video pundits left and right proclaim or admit that something is just not right. They acknowledge that Black parents have to train their boys to be cautious when confronted by a policeman or they will face extreme danger.

Law enforcement officials scramble to demonstrate their commitment to improving “training” and “cultural awareness.” Law professors ponder the possibilities of revamping the procedures for assembling grand juries when an officer has killed another unarmed Black child or young Black man. Politicians pontificate on how to restore the Black man’s “trust” in police and the justice system – as usual, they get the cart before the horse.

Well, none of them seem to get it. Police abuse and killings of Black men have a long history, although it is largely buried in social amnesia. The nature of the problem is quite unlike the conventional characterizations heard in the mass media. We are living in the era of denial of racism – you know, “post-racial America.” The growing protests over police brutality put the lie to that illusion. But the persistent denial makes it very hard to discuss the culturally ingrained and conceptually re-coded racism that is all around us if we just open our eyes.

Racism is still rampant in America. It is re-coded and resurrected in numerous ways. The re-coding allows many to behave in racist ways while conceptually denying any “racism” is involved because they no longer use those old racist words. The language is much more subtle. But the violence is not. People of good will and intention are being fooled by all this, and they mistake the combination of racism and just plain viciousness for a failure of training or of criminal justice process. Certainly training and process are defective. But that is only a result of the deeper problem of racism and dehumanization in American society.

We must remember that racism is a particularity of dehumanization. The young men and women of the U.S. (and every) military routinely characterize “the enemy” as sub-human. In basic training they are drilled with the admonition to kill a dehumanized other. Civilian populations of the invaded countries are difficult to distinguish from “insurgents.” This facilitates the killing, torture, and hated of whoever is found in a house in a night raid based on very flimsy “intell.” The parallel with home invasions by militarized “swat teams” in Camden, Compton, or Cleveland is distinctly disturbing. Many returning veterans who have experienced horrors of combat where civilians and resistance fighters are indistinguishable, find little opportunity for employment other than as police.

But racist police violence in the U.S. did not start with returning veterans disturbed by the extreme violence and dehumanization they experienced in combat. It began right here at home. It is endemic, not just to the police, but to the culture. The culture of racism and the culture of violence are distinct social formations, but they are also very closely linked and often combined. Relations of power and vulnerability lead to dehumanization, which leads to hatred, which leads to violence. The language of police I heard on some of those viral videos on Facebook and YouTube is exactly the language of the high school bullies we have all heard. As one student put it to me a few years ago – he was a cadet in the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Academy – “a lot of the cadets are the guys who liked to beat people up in high school.”

Improved training will not do it; tweaking the relations between police and prosecutors will not do it; revising procedural manuals will not do it. Body cameras may stifle it but will not resolve the problem. Only changing the entire police culture from the top down and hiring as officers only recruits who can understand what “peace officer” means, can turn the tide. That is a daunting task. Whether the cities or the nation are up to it is doubtful. That it is necessary is entirely certain.

Something else is also certain. Until such a massive rebuilding of law enforcement with a new cultural core and massive replacement of officers who cannot meet a humanitarian standard, police abuse of citizens will continue. It must be done from Los Angeles to New York City, from Ferguson to Albuquerque, and across the entire nation. There is no other way.

Preemptive Response to Prejudged Emergency

Do you remember “preventive detention? It was the idea of arresting people on the assumption that they might commit some crime, even though they have not yet done so. The concept never got a lot of public support, since it was such a blatantly unconstitutional approach to law enforcement. That is not to say, however, that it has not been put into practice informally in some places.

But now we see a new twist on the underlying idea of controlling expected bad behavior in a population. Yes, it’s Ferguson, Missouri again. Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency ad mobilized the National Guard, as a “precaution” in case “unrest” or violence might break out in Ferguson. One must ask, how do you respond to an emergency before it happens?

The action was taken in anticipation of public anger if the grand jury fails to indict officer Darren Wilson. Yet the governor’s precipitous act is quite consistent with previous police actions there. The entire episode over the past three plus months since Officer Wilson shot unarmed teenager Michael Brown to death, has been characterized by institutional overkill.

The initial peaceful protests in Ferguson were met with a highly militarized show of Robo-cop style brute force. The result, not surprisingly, was increased anger, resentment, and tension. Despite organizers’ efforts to keep it non-violent, some vandalism occurred. It only takes a few rocks thrown to trigger a massive police over-reaction, treating all protestors as illegitimate. But what is clear is that the white power structure in not only Ferguson but Saint Luis County is simply prejudiced. Its actions have been and are based in traditional – if publicly unspoken – racist imaginaries about a presumptive “lawlessness” of the black population. Under the circumstances, that population has remained remarkably restrained. Not so the militarized law enforcement institutions or their leadership.

The preemptive declaration of a state of emergency by Governor Nixon is, by its very presumptions, bigoted. It prejudges the character of the mostly black population of Ferguson and implicitly labels “those people” as “lawless.” The actions of the various police agencies, prosecutors, etc., from local to state, reflect a “them vs. us” mentality in which “they” have to be controlled by force. Lip service is given to the people’s right to freedom of speech while police entrap protestors in physical space where no such right can be exercised. And, of course, the old “outside agitators” meme is also invoked.

The indifference of the mostly white Ferguson police and politicians, and the county and state ‘authorities,’ to the current and historical grievances of black citizens is flagrant. Unrelenting authoritative obliviousness to the reasons for popular anger has fed the understandable public frustration with the handling of the case from the start. That indifference, glossed over with feigned respect for human rights, continues as the major factor in the approach of law enforcement to the black population of St. Louis county.

Similar attitudes among ‘authorities’ can be found all across this nation. They are expressed in different ways and cause diverse local crises when specific instances of police abuse of citizens capture sufficient media attention. Death at the hands of police is commonplace in communities of color in this country.

A complex of converging factors seems to be accelerating both the number of instances and the awareness of the public. What might have been only a story a few years ago is now captured on smart-phone video by passers by. Self-selection of violent personalities into police work and indifference or support for aggression by leadership perpetuate the hostile separation of police from citizen. Problems of community relations are seen as needing a “show of force” as in the absurd twisting of the idea of emergency by Governor Nixon.

Unfortunately, it is all part of a larger process of the pitting of the institutions that protect the interests of the power elites against the people of this country. Police are no longer there to ‘keep the peace’ or ‘serve and protect’ the people. Their mission is to control the population to insure the order imposed by a institutional power structure behind a thin veil of ‘democracy.’ If there were any sense of community or democracy in the state of Missouri, the governor would have been meeting with civic groups in and around Ferguson over the past three months seeking to reach a level of cooperation that could resolve the grievances of the citizens of that town. If “the‘authorities” were integral to communities, the gunning down of an unarmed teenager by a police officer would have triggered an immediate investigation by a civilian review body to both establish the facts and determine how such a tragedy could be prevented in the future.

Quite the opposite has happened. Police and politicians bungled and overreacted at every step. They all dodged and covered. The people were enclosed, to protest in as much isolation from media coverage as possible. Neither indictment nor its absence will have much of any bearing on the ability of the power structure to address its failed relationship to the citizenry that is its only real justification for existence.

Images of American Violence: What Sense Do They Make?

I watched the entire dash-cam video over and over again. The South Carolina State Trooper shot a young black man when he reached for his drivers license as directed. Many major news outlets played it. Maybe that is because it wasn’t a gruesome bloody scene and the victim fell beyond the dash-cam range upon being shot. Yet it was certainly dramatic. But the audio helped me get a sense of the flow of the aftermath. It was an unusual video in that the viewer could clearly see the sequence of events in relation to hearing what was said. That did not make it any less incomprehensible, without placing it in the larger social context. Watch it and you will see what I mean.

Clearly, the victim believed himself to be following the orders of the officer. After patting his back pocket, he reached into his car for the license. Clearly the officer appeared to be reacting to what he defined as a threat, firing his weapon four times. But from the viewpoint of the camera, no threat was apparent. It is only when we explore the definitions of the situation at play that we can make sense of what happened.

Interpreting Police Violence

All inferences of racism aside – I have no way of knowing the extent that the white trooper may have harbored racist images of young black males – the officer’s actions spoke volumes about his expectations. So did his words. The apologetic victim kept asking why he had been shot as he lay on the asphalt off camera. Obviously, the officer defined the young man’s action of reaching into the car as an existential threat, which drove him to draw and fire four times. The officer tried to explain that “you dove head-first back into the car” causing him to shoot. A word of advice: if you are ever stopped by the police, whoever you are, wherever you are, never make any quick movement.

To be brief, even in the disturbing implications of this video, it illustrates several important factors at play in police-citizen interactions. Until these factors are understood, little progress will be made in police-civilian relations in Ferguson, L.A., Albuquerque, Chicago, New York, or anywhere else in America.

First, most police officers are poorly trained. Second, it is a dangerous job. While many police officers get through their entire career without firing a shot at another human being, those who do fire their weapons are trained to shoot to kill. But even those who are a good shot at the range miss the majority of their shots in the heat of the moment. Yet, on the street an officer never knows whether a sudden move or a quick turn might involve a weapon. So, the NRA wants to arm everyone!

Third, most civilians fear the police (even when they respect them) because we all know they have the physical and institutional power to kill us. We are aware that in most bad shootings the officer escapes any serious consequences, while the consequences for us can be fatal.

Fourth, we all expect the police “to protect and to serve,” but we pay little or no attention to the fact that they are poorly trained, most are hardly educated, and many are self-selected into law enforcement because they like to beat on people. In the academies, such as they are, an attitude of rigid authoritarianism is encouraged. Now we have added to the macho ethos the new image of the “Warrior Cop” and all the military weapons and hardware that encourage the attitudes that lead to perceiving all civilians as ‘the enemy.’

Police in Civil Society

As I have argued in some previous posts, a truly civilian police force composed of actual Peace Officers, can only happen if our communities force the standards to be raised to the highest levels and the officers to be paid very well if they meet those standards. If they do not, they should be removed from the force after a two or three year probation period. A college degree in the appropriate field, such as sociology, psychology, or criminal justice, should be required. Extensive training to at least first-degree black belt in a martial art is a must. Aikido, for example, was developed to subdue an assailant, not to injure or kill him. How many people have been shot when a properly trained officer could have easily subdued them? Far too many. An apprenticeship with ‘master cops’ with proven expertise and attitude of service should be instituted.  Only with the development of a strong culture of service can the culture of violence be diverted.

But none of these standards will mean much at all if a police department is not led by highly dedicated public servants who view the police as committed to serving the people. That is not currently the case in most police departments today. It may seem odd to compare the crisis of policing in America to the climate crisis or to the economic crisis. But each is a fundamental predicament ignored by the political and economic elites that make the key decisions in this nation and benefit from the status quo. In all three cases, the change we should believe in will never happen unless the people make it happen. Occupy Wall Street and the fossil-fuel divestment movements have begun to demonstrate that it can be done, as have other historical movements. The entrenched interests in each of these sectors can be overcome by the power of numbers.