Just some end-of-year musings — now that 'net access has been restored after the winds of a few days ago, albeit not the phones — on the latest civil-rights issue causing irrationality and self-defeating behavior. And that's just among the cops...
Nobody should kid themselves. We have a serious attitude problem in the law-enforcement community, from cops to judges (PDF) to legislators. It's the kind of attitude problem for which I would have assigned substantial, umm, "additional training" during my tenure as a commander... in the hope that it would work as much as one third of the time, meaning that only two thirds of the offenders would be back in front of me for related disciplinary offenses.
But attitude isn't everything. We also have a serious technology problem that makes things worse: The lack of effective means to apply nonlethal force at a distance, whether on the part of cops or on the part of those who encounter cops. Most of these incidents involve guns on one or both sides of a cops-versus-citizens confrontation; Eric Garner is merely a horrifying exception, but actually reinforces my point. These confrontations almost always involve one (or both) of these factors:
- Actual, perceived, or feared possession of a firearm by someone who is otherwise suspected (rightly or wrongly, rationally or otherwise) of breaching the peace
- A substantial difference in apparent close-combat ability, usually — but not always — a significant size disparity between individuals, often complicated by apparent intoxication/impairment
And so, in a self-protection reaction, cops (and others, too) resort immediately to use of lethal force so as to keep themselves out of the clutches of those who are perceived as significant threats to their physical safety.
Any study of military policy and history between 1897 and 1992 would demonstrate that this is self-defeating. It is bad policy. It is, above all, stupid. The era of weapons of mass destruction as the default deterrent/application of force — which is not to say that weapons of mass destruction no longer present a danger, just that they no longer represent a default and legitimate instrument of state policy, if they ever did — led us to little fiascos like the Vietnam conflicts (not just for the US, but also for the French), in which desperate and clearly oppressed populations demonstrated that there always, always needs to be an effective means of asserting force short of ultimate force. Meanwhile, however, nuclear-deterrence doctrine had essentially eviscerated not just the capability, but the the mindset and logistical preparation, of major-power militaries to do anything less than refighting the ugliest parts of the Second Thirty Years' War.
And that's what we have on the streets of America today: There is no effective middle ground between brawling and firearms, just as the US military in 1963 had no effective middle ground between up-close-and-personal, high-risk-of-casualties-to-the-sons-of-the-nation mechanized warfare and nuclear annihilation. We don't give cops (or citizens) an effective means of avoiding that dangerous-to-self brawl other than ranged application of lethal force by firearms.
I'm not advocating that everyone on the street needs a Taser (which, after all, isn't all that effective, despite H'wood's dramatics). I'm not even advocating that all cops should reach for a Taser or similar device first. I'm pointing out that we need something better than that, and that it needs to be in more widespread use among everyone so that the personal equivalent of nuclear warfare isn't such a default.
In the end, the race, gender, religion, social class, or whatever other easy-to-glibly-differentiate characteristics of either victims or perpetrators don't matter. All lives matter. Instead of relying on "sociology" that is obviously bad to adherents of Ayn Rand and prejudices that are unacceptably irrational to Torquemada, we need to provide alternatives... because, unfortunately, conflict happens. It's to everyone's benefit for conflicts to have more nonlethal means of expression, and thereby more nonlethal outcomes.
Then, too, there's the problem so understatedly noted by Walt Kelly: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." That applies to everyone in these "law enforcement v. thugs" oversimplifications. Law enforcement too often becomes thuggish, relying upon might-makes-right rationalizations... which, in the end, is what the "thugs" (and they are out there — no matter his/her race/ethnicity/whatever, someone who is extorting protection money is a "thug") are doing, too. Too often, it's difficult or impossible to tell who the "real" miscreants are; I'd be much happier if it were more possible for both sets of miscreants to lose without dying. Of course, it's not in the interest of certain segments of society to allow the less-empowered a means of attacking the more-empowered as a reaction — justifiable or not — to perceived abuses of that power... but that's a complex matter for another time and that probably has no solution (or at least no solution that does not require a few people to walk away from Omelas).