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May 06, 2007

Premise Four 9/11, "War On Terror"  Activism  Ethics  Rights, Law

Footage of the LAPD attack on the peaceful May Day immigration rights rally in LA. I recommend you watch it. The LAPD decided it was time for the people to leave and go home — "the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances" apparently having expired. They waded in with batons (i.e., clubs) and shotguns firing rubber bullets.

Bradblog (via Feral Scholar) has some amateur video, too, via the participatory panopticon. An LAPD helicopter flies over for a few minutes telling people to go home, then the black-uniformed lines of police march into the park and begin clubbing everyone within reach and firing rubber bullets at the almost universally peaceful crowd that included many families, women, children. You've probably read about it. But watch the videos.

It's food for thought on a number of levels.

For one thing, it's a stark reminder of the ongoing militarization of the nation's police forces. The police put on their black SWAT gear and inevitably their mindset is transformed. "To protect and to serve" becomes "to intimidate and to coerce." See also this — SWAT team deployments were once the last resort but are now happening more than 100 times a day, on average. Police forces everywhere want to play "war on terror."

For another thing, the usual rationale for the deployment of non-lethal weapons — that they will decrease the level of violence — clearly has it backwards. If the choice were between rubber bullets and real bullets, rubber bullets are better. Of course. But when it comes to domestic crowd control, that's almost never the choice. Instead, it's a choice between asking people to move along or opening fire with rubber bullets to force them to. Give a militarized police force non-lethal weapons and their use soon becomes the default. But "non-lethal" is light years away from appropriate, let alone harmless.

But the point I most want to make is this. In his masterful two-volume critique of civilization, Endgame, Derrick Jensen lists the twenty premises that inform his work. Here's the premise Jensen calls his favorite:

Premise Four: Civilization is based on a clearly defined and widely accepted yet often unarticulated hierarchy. Violence done by those higher on the hierarchy to those lower is nearly always invisible, that is, unnoticed. When it is noticed, it is fully rationalized. Violence done by those lower on the hierarchy is unthinkable, and when it does occur is regarded with shock, horror, and the fetishization of the victims.

One group of Americans puts on black uniforms and attacks another group of Americans who have done nothing to provoke the attack. But because the first group is directing its violence down the hierarchy, the violence is, at worst, regarded as a bit excessive. But imagine if the people in the park had attacked the police with clubs and shotguns firing rubber bullets. The response would have been apocalyptic.

Premise Four is such a fact of life that we scarcely notice it. But once it's pointed out to you, things never look the same again.

Posted by Jonathan at May 6, 2007 07:03 PM  del.icio.us digg NewsVine Reddit YahooMyWeb

Comments

That video displayed what had to be one of the most outrageously blatant examples of disgusting, bigoted (because I've no doubt that the targets were largely Hispanic mattered), organized mindless violence I have seen in a long time.

Organized? Clearly, waiting only for an excuse to act on the impulse. Mindless? Yes - because it was, I say, driven by "Get them!" and once started simply kept going until it was sated. It was, in a word, evil.

If I was Mayor, the head of the police department would already be out of work - and I'd have the name of every cop assigned to that event and every one of them already would have been referred for prosecution for felonious assault. Not departmental discipline, criminal prosecution. This went far beyond any "in the line of duty" exception could cover. Even children in kindergarten are expected to know that doing bad things carries consequences. It's time cops were re-taught that lesson.

All of which, no doubt, is part of the reason why I would never be elected Mayor of Los Angeles.

Posted by: LarryE at May 8, 2007 05:38 PM