Blog Credo

The whole aim of practical politics is to keep the populace alarmed (and hence clamorous to be led to safety) by menacing it with an endless series of hobgoblins, all of them imaginary.

H.L. Mencken

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Our Latest Shooter

The latest maniac to shoot up Americans exemplifies three things about America today.

1) The breakdown in race relations, especially with regards to policing.  Despite some remarkable progress in my lifetime over race relations, few people today can say with a straight face and possession of the facts that America is a color-blind society when it comes to law enforcement.  By all accounts, the Baton Rouge police department is a bulwark of racist police tactics.  There are still stories circulating about cops from other parts of the country who went - as volunteers - to Baton Rouge after Katrina.  They were shocked by the racism they saw in that department.

The killing of Alton Sterling - like the killing of Michael Brown - did not happen in a vacuum.  This was an egregious example of bad policing that citizens knew all too well.

The result was first protests, and now this new wrinkle after Dallas - retributive killings.

After Dallas, one could hope that both sides would take a deep breath and try and walk back from the cliff.  Almost immediately thereafter, the Baton Rouge police cracked down on peaceful protesters, and Gavin Long perhaps began to plan his own killings.

This is what a breakdown in the social contract looks like.  If there is no sense that police will be held accountable in a court of law, then crazy people take up guns.  That the shooter did this before a Grand Jury even convened in Alton Sterling's case says a great deal about where our faith is in our laws in some quarters.

2) You're goddamned right it's about guns.  When you have a single person, admittedly a former Marine, able to kill three cops and critically injure another, you are talking about the incredible ease with which we have made killing other human beings in this country.

For every ammosexual out there, telling me how his Glock and his AR-15 and his assault-style shotgun are necessary to protect himself, let me ask you this: If these well trained police officers could be killed this easily, do you really think you'd fair better?  Of course, the ammosexual would reply that he would, because he's REALLY good at Call of Duty or some specious bullshit.

I've argued before that having this many guns on the street makes every police action potentially lethal.  Add that to racial assumptions about black men, and you have the resulting mess of unarmed black men being shot by police.

Guns turn an everyday asshole into a lethal threat.

3) Revolutionary anti-establishmentarianism is inherently violent.  Bernie Sanders doesn't want cops killed.  Donald Trump doesn't want unarmed black people killed.  But the  anti-establishment rhetoric that flows from all quarters these days inevitably leads to violence.

Once you delegitimize the established order of things - not merely criticize or decry it, but say it is inherently corrupt and beyond repair - you open the door for crazy people to start shooting up police officers.  I know that people like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama are kind of boring technocrats.  Obama at least had soaring rhetoric, but at heart he was a technocrat.

But the attacks on technocratic governance that came from both the Left over the past 8 months and the Right over the past 8 years have left a serious wound on the ability of the center to hold.  The Establishment - for all its many flaws - is still critical for making sure society unfolds in an orderly fashion.  You want to know what a revolution looks like?  It looks like dead people in the streets.

The Baton Rouge shooter was part of an anti-government organization.  At this point, we're not sure if it was black separatist or simply anti-government, sovereign citizen type of organization.  We don't know to what degree convenient Right or Left labels can be put on this man and his beliefs.

But we know in the process of retributive killings for the situation in Baton Rouge (presuming that's what they are) he killed a black police officer.  Montrell Jackson - the slain officer - wrote the following a few days ago: "I swear to God I love this city but I wonder if this city love me.  In uniform I get nasty hateful looks and out of uniform some consider me a threat."

Those sentences are painful to read in light of the fact that he died serving a city that didn't know what to do with a black man or a blue uniform.  To the shooter, he was "the state."  He was the act of violence against black men.

John Bel Edwards, Louisiana's governor, has called this an attack against "all of us."

It is.  It's an attack against the forces that hold us together.

It's an attack empowered by the loudest, angriest voices on both sides.  It's an attack that happens when people no longer have faith in compromise.  It's an attack that underscores the lack of faith we have that laws apply to all of us equally.

We have to begin walking back from this abyss.  Every day, people reach out across lines of race and class.  You have stories like this from Georgia.  It really isn't all bad.  I swear it.

But it is pretty awful in great, dramatic actions.

I hate to cite Thomas Friedman, but he did have a point when he said we've moved from superpowers to super-empowered individuals.  We live in a fractured world where every voice is presumed equally valid, because we can find a sub-reddit to agree with us.  We live in a world where if you want to slaughter people, all you need is a truck or a boatload of weapons.  That's a world where every asshole with an ax to grind can create tremendous damage.

How do we heal this world we live in?

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