Friday, August 15, 2014

War at Home

I have been away for awhile.  I found that it seemed I was writing the same old over and over again.  No new information, no new perspectives.  It has been nice being a member of the uninformed public.  Also, when I got back not a thing had changed -- except that somebody told me gay marriage is now legal in South Carolina, which I guess would be earth-shattering news if it were true.

The "riots" in St. Louis are related to George Zimmerman being handed his gun and set free with the blessing of the NRA and the KKK.  And the Zimmerman outrage is related to the fact that Columbia, SC, last year bought a tank from the federal government.

Rachel Maddow last night had an excellent retrospective on the shootings at Kent State in 1970.  But then she went farther back, to the campus protest in Madison, Wisconsin, in 1967, when Vietnam protests were turned over from local campus police to city police, ending in 65 people hospitalized.

After that, Madison hired a new chief of police, David Cooper, who in his long career there successfully demilitarized the police force, and began what is now called "community policing."

I urge you to read The Rise of the Warrior Cop by Radley Balko.  He paints a gruesome picture of how police departments in small communities in this country over the past decade have become armed.  Just as the US is supplying their favored sides in battles in the Middle East, they are also arming our communities.  And what they are being armed for is not fighting neighborhood crime, but for war.

Here are the priorities in the nation today:  we do not have money to spend on education, on housing, on psychotherapy.  We do have unlimited amounts to spend on arms and prisons.  And the citizens of our country are the ones who have chosen these priorities, because they are the ones who are voting.  They may be voting out of ignorance, they are certainly vulnerable to the hysterical fear-mongering of Fox News and the NRA, but the fact remains, we voters have chosen.

The reason we voters choose an armed America is because we believe that only the bad guys will get hurt.  But the battering rams are not shattering the houses of drug lords, but homes of individuals who may have their small stash of pot.  They aren't going after cartels, but people enjoying poker night.

Don't believe it?  Neither do most of us, because it is too horrendous to consider.

But there are a couple of truisms about this situation.  First, there is the supply of weapons.  Then there is the fact that we will pay for the toys, but not for the training.  And then there is the fact that the police have gone from those who live in the community and are hired to protect us, to those with too much firepower, too little training, and who believe that they need to be constantly vigilant, in order to protect themselves.

And of course, police violence like that going on in Ferguson, Missouri, won't be likely to happen in suburban white communities.  We have over the past several years, been fed racist attitudes that have allowed black teenagers to be targeted.  It may be that Michael Brown stole cigars from a convenience store, but maybe not.  He may have pushed the officer, but maybe not.  Whatever he did do, he was unarmed, and shot eight times.

This is not our system of justice.  This is a national corrosion of values, evident in "stop and frisk" and "papers, please."  Where guns are not just allowed but welcomed, because politicians and, yes, our courts, don't really have a clue about the second amendment but prefer to sow seeds of fear across the country, and quash state and individual rights to protect themselves through peaceful measures.  In fact, the second amendment has become somewhat like a Rorschach Test, reflecting just how power hungry and paranoid we are.

This time, though, there were journalists -- white journalists -- who got caught in the tear gas and the rubber bullets and the jailing.  It was a middle class, conservative campus in 1970 where the murders of four unarmed students forced the nation to look at its war on its young citizens.  I am hoping that the media, because members of its own were caught in the crosshairs of a militant police action, will pick up this fight.  Because we are looking at a future with tanks and assault weapons, where people are watched from cameras on the street corners, and are guilty until proven innocent, or maybe until killed. 

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