Valentine’s Day Gift Ideas

Governmenting is hard work. Representing hundreds of thousands of people can’t be easy, what with those unwashed masses demanding ‘accountability’ and ‘doing your job’.  Sometimes, what that job is might slip a representative’s mind.  So, this Valentine’s Day, show you appreciate your U.S. Representative (or closest Republican rep) by sending them a gift.  Here’s a suggestion:

Should be required reading yet isn't.

All Representatives are sworn in, affirming that they “will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same,” but maybe they don’t remember what that entails, or maybe they just haven’t read it.  So get them a copy.  It’s not an expensive gift (only $1.00 on Amazon!), but it’s the thought that counts.  And don’t worry, I’m sure that if someone else decides to also get a copy for them, they have a few hundred staffers who could also use a copy, so don’t worry about duplicates.

Send In The Marines

Look, I have an idea.  Let’s let the military handle policing.

What, that’s a bad idea?  Yes, yes, I know about the Posse Comitatus Act.  I know that “military occupation” isn’t exactly a happy thought.  But hear me out here – this is actually a legitimate idea.

Let’s be clear, I’m not talking about the Army or the National Guard taking over for the police.  I’m talking more about something like the Coast Guard.  A new, separate branch of the military.  It would have an organizational command structure just like any other branch, with ranks and chain of command.  As police forces already have this, I’m not not talking about a huge organizational change at the local level.  What I am  talking about is a unified entity on a national scale.

Recruits would be drawn from every part of the country, assigned to a training base in a group, and trained as a whole.  Initial training would be the same as the military, with less of an emphasis on unit tactics and weaponry.  Recruits would be indoctrinated into the rules of military engagement, which are, quite honestly, more civilian-friendly than what’s being taught to the police currently roaming the streets.  Once the physical aspect of the training was over, there would be a more intensive criminal justice training.  Graduates from this 4-month boot camp would then be assigned to a one-year training cycle with a senior patrol training officer.  Assignments would be nationwide, not likely from the recruit’s hometown.  A large emphasis on community-based policing would be employed, with patrol officers building relationships.

Once the one-year assignment was up, recruits would become full-fledged patrol officers, and begin working their way up the various ranks.  They would be eligible for relocation assignments.  Police stations would become micro-bases, and the chain of command would follow up to the Pentagon level.  Internal investigations would be handled by a Judge Advocate General, a body far-removed from the patrol level and with much more transparency and oversight.

Military-style force (SWAT interdictions) would require authorization and coordination above the local level – the local police chief wouldn’t be able to call up a tank without going up the chain of command.

Look, we operate military and peacekeeping forces in active warzones, where anyone can be a combatant, and we still wind up with less civilian casualties from ground units.  We forge relationships on the ground to help the local populations.  When shit gets real and bullets start flying, we have rules for our soldiers, and when they break those rules, they are punished. We don’t have that for our police.  We don’t have police forces that integrate with the community.  I live in a relatively affluent, largely white area, and I don’t know a single police officer.  The ones I’ve interacted with have made me feel uncomfortable and I was just a possible witness. And I’m about as white as there is.

My point is that our individual police forces have failed many communities, particularly communities of color.  For those communities, the police are already an occupying force, one that abuses them with impunity.  Having the discipline, training, chain of command, transparency, and oversight of a military branch would turn policing into the community defense that it should be.

 

Priorities In Order

It’s safe to say there are some problems facing America right now, and here we are in the midst of a presidential election in a year where there is no incumbent running.  There will be a change in leadership.  This should be a time to reflect on the issues of the day, such as:

  • Despite the economy being stable and upwardly trending over the past eight years, the middle class is still dealing with the same lack of mobility and wage stagnation that it’s been beset with over the past 40 or so years.  The ‘American Dream’, as it were, is more and more just that – a dream – to all but the very well off.
  • Global terrorism is edging ever closer, affecting our allies in more and more instances.  Our attempt to contain the very beast our foreign policy has created over the past handful of decades has failed miserably, and it’s only a matter of time before we bleed for these mistakes again, even as we continue to make them.
  • Racial issues are approaching a new flashpoint, with a new Civil Rights movement emerging that will either be peacefully resolved or result in increasingly violent confrontation.
  • Europe is becoming a disorganized mess, and will require strong economic and political guidance from the strongest of its allies, particularly in the face of Russian expansion and sabre-rattling.

One would think that the sober heads in the Republican Party, who have spent the past 8 years dutifully providing loyal opposition, would be using their convention platform to outline their vision for tackling these issues.

But hey, why bother with that shit when you can devote time to addressing the indiscretions of a president who left office 15 years ago?  I’m sure that other stuff will solve itself.

Waiting For Black Jesus

Waiting For Black Jesus

Jonathan Bachman/Reuters
If you haven’t seen this image yet, you’re probably not reading this.

So much to unpack in this image.  So terribly, terribly much.  First off, Jonathan Bachman deserves a Pulitzer for this.  I understand right place, right time, perfect timing on the shutter, but this is an iconic photo.  Iesha Evans stands like a perfect statue of peace, eyes closed against the oncoming wave, arms crossed in front of her as if containing her power.  Her dress is caught ever so lightly by the breeze, giving her an ethereal, almost angelic quality, as if she’s just landed.  The riot officers, (thankfully) slowing, appear to be encountering her aura and repulsed by it.

That’s just the composition.

The reality is that Ms. Evans is about to be dragged down and zip-cuffed by two men more heavily armored than combat soldiers, men both nearly twice her size.  She represents zero threat.  No reasonable onlooker would conclude that she is armed. She is not in any way aggressive.  She is peacefully protesting, but committing the ultimate crime of blocking a thoroughfare. For this, the police deemed greater than military force was necessary.

Putting aside that I’m presented with yet another peaceful civilian being brutalized by a police force unconcerned with “serve and protect” and fattened on years of cheap military surplus, I have a different problem with this image and what it represents.  It’s almost too perfect.  It might actually work.  It might start to change public opinion about how policing is handled.  That’s great, but my question is: why this one?  Why this image? Why this woman?

Because we’re looking for Black Jesus.

These protests arose out of the general impression that minorities, particularly African-Americans, are assumed by the legal system to be guilty until proven innocent, unworthy of justice if they are, subject to summary punishment, that the system is unaccountable when it errs concerning their rights.  I could recite a litany of names here, but it would seem incomplete because there will be another one horrifyingly soon.  The largest issue is that even when the dead black (typically) man has done nothing to warrant roadside execution, the narrative always circles back to assume he somehow deserved it, somehow brought it on himself.  Maybe he was a criminal a decade ago.  Maybe he was rude.  Maybe he had a toy gun.  Maybe he was being suspicious.

In 1956, Rosa Parks was hauled off to jail for not giving up her seat on a bus.  Her’s wasn’t the first case, in fact, there was already a case working through the legal system that would successfully end Montgomery’s bus segregation.  But why were the women involved in that suit not raised up as icons of the Civil Rights movement like Parks was?  The first one to be arrested, Claudette Colvin, well, she was 15 and girl had a mouth on her.  She wouldn’t play well in the media.  She wasn’t a good face for the movement.  She wasn’t the Black Jesus they needed to show the injustice.  Similarly, all of these people who’ve wound up dead after interacting non-violently with police have been somehow less-than-holy.  Michael Brown may have robbed a store.  Freddie Gray was packing a knife.  Sandra Bland may have mouthed off to an officer.  Eric Garner was selling cigarettes.  Alton Sterling had a record.  No qualifiers for Black Jesus there.

Now we have Philando Castille, who, by all accounts, was a model citizen.  Gunned down without hesitation in his car after informing the officer that he was going to produce his permit to carry, Castille seems like the perfect person to hold up and say “this man did everything right.”  He yielded to the officer when pulled over.  He informed the officer that he was legally carrying.  He followed all of the motions, and still wound up bleeding to death from multiple gunshot wounds.

But, like Jesus, he hung out with a woman who may have been less than the Blessed Virgin Mary herself, and if there’s one thing this Christian Nation cannot tolerate, it’s someone who is not white and less than perfect.  So maybe he’s not our Black Jesus after all.

It’s possible that Iesha Evans is the Black Jesus of protesters.  Maybe not.  I’m sure we’ll hear in the coming days how she once got a B on a midterm or said a bad word once, or was in some way less than perfect, justifying her treatment in the scene in which she’s been immortalized.  But maybe we need to stop looking for Black Jesus.  Maybe we need to stop looking for that perfection and understand that we’ve already seen enough to know that there is brutal injustice going on in this nation.  Half of the country lives in fear of the law, lives with a sense that they are not equal under the law, lives with examples that they can be refused justice without repercussions.  Even if this is just a perception problem, it’s a problem.  We need to stop looking for a savior to be crucified before our eyes to start working for salvation.

Terrorists Strike on American Soil

Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for making a hoax bomb. That’s the official reason for his arrest. But that’s not why he was arrested.  The why of why he was arrested is a little more complicated, but it boils down pretty succinctly to bigotry, xenophobia, and terrorism.

Let’s get a few things straight, this wasn’t a “post-9/11 overreaction.” This was a number of people actively taking their racism out on a 13-year-old boy. There was, at no point in the ordeal, an actual fear or even belief that he had made a bomb or even intended to make a device that people would believe was a bomb. Ahmed’s English teacher decided that it would be better to err on the side of lynching than let this opportunity to be a terrible example to the class pass by.  Upon seeing the clock, the teacher declared that it looked like a bomb, despite Ahmed’s calm protests that it didn’t.

This teacher, this brave first responder, then had Ahmed taken out of class. Note that the teacher didn’t immediately call for a lockdown and evacuate the class.  The teacher didn’t actually think that it was a bomb and the teacher at no point believed that there was any danger.  The teacher was (to use the accurate terminology) a fucking asshole racist bigoted xenophobe who had found the perfect excuse to toss the local Muslim kid to the wolves.  But the fun didn’t stop with Ahmed’s English teacher.

Upon being escorted to the office, highly not dangerous clock in tow, the police were called.  Someone in the office called the police on a 13-year-old with a clock. They did not call the police and say HOLY FUCK THERE IS A BOMB HERE SEND HELP, because a few officers showed up in orderly fashion, not the entire bomb squad. Helicopters did not circle. Students were not evacuated. CNN was not on scene in minutes.  No one at any time actually thought this was a bomb.

Ahmed, for his part, consistently maintained that he had made a clock. He did not mention to anyone that this was a device intended to emulate a bomb.

The police arrived, and began questioning Ahmed, who asked to speak to his parents. That request was denied, because he was “in the middle of an interrogation.” I understand that the maximum IQ for a police officer is at least 24 points lower than the minimum to get into Mensa, but even the most barely-functional police officer should know that this is a blatant violation of a person’s Constitutional rights. So it’s safe to say that the intent here was not to discern whether there was any threat here, it was to intimidate. The interrogation was simply to send the message “your freedom is at our whim.”

After the interrogation, this cooperative, whip thin 13-year-old boy, who could have been snapped like a twig by any of the officers, and that everyone knew was not building a bomb, was handcuffed, “for his safety and for the safety of the officers,” in full view of his peers, and frog-marched to the local precinct, where he was processed and charged with creating a hoax bomb.

He was wearing a NASA t-shirt. I don’t claim to know a lot of jihadis, but I can bet that none of them have screamed “DEATH TO AMERICA EXCEPT FOR YOUR SPACE PROGRAM!”

The charge was, of course, bogus, and quickly dismissed after social media turned up for the circus that the authorities were putting on.  The media, for its part, immediately began pushing the narrative that Ahmed had been arrested for making a hoax bomb.  But he wasn’t.  He was arrested for being brown.  The clock is even incidental here: when the first police officer saw him, his reaction was “Yup. That’s who I thought it was.” He wasn’t expecting the quiet white nominally-Christian boy who is far more likely to be a mass shooter. He was expecting Ahmed. They wanted to arrest the brown kid. They wanted to haul in the Muslim like he was a trophy.

There’s another part to this story, one that actually involves terrorism.  Ahmed’s father is a political person. He’s a vocal opponent of anti-Islamic activity in America who happens to live in a town with a mayor who is leading the charge against “Sharia Law,” as if that’s actually a thing that is happening in America. He often returns to his native Sudan to run for president.  He has debated notorious bigots.  He’s outspoken in claiming his rights.

And now, seemingly out of nowhere, his son has been rounded up, had his rights violated, and been accused of egregious crimes that no one involved actually believes he intended to commit. They weren’t even polite enough to disguise it. “Yup. That’s who I thought it was,”  the police said. They knew who this was. They knew what they were doing and who they were targeting.  This arrest was an act of terrorism.

ter·ror·ism
ˈterəˌrizəm/
noun

  1. the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims.

This was unambiguously the use of intimidation (and, it could be argued, violence), in the pursuit of political aims. It doesn’t matter that they tried to do it under the color of law, this was thuggery, pure and simple. This was an act of terrorism, against American citizens, on American soil.

The real crisis that we face is that, even though Ahmed has been invited to the White House, even though he’s going to be held up as an example by well-meaning groups, Ahmed case isn’t unique, and his case is not an outlier.  This happens every day. Ahmed is fortunate that his interaction with police didn’t involve a coroner’s report. The media isn’t going to call this an act of terrorism.  Even people who should be calling it an act of terror (people like the President and even Ahmed’s father) don’t recognize it as terrorism, because they don’t recognize that it is, because most Americans can’t even think in those terms.  Terrorism is something that happens over there or is perpetrated by people who aren’t white.

White terrorism is never called terrorism.  We need to start calling it that.  We’re going to keep seeing stories like this, stories like the shooting in Charleston, stories like the shooting in Oak Creek, and we’re going to keep viewing them as isolated incidents. They’re not. They’re fomented by a culture that gives implicit backing by ignoring what they are. They’re abetted by an investigative and preventive framework that refuses to accept that they are actual politically-motivated threats to public safety. This is terrorism. We need to start treating it like terrorism.