Rad Geek People's Daily

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Bolts from the Blue

Here's a pretty old post from the blog archives of Geekery Today; it was written about 19 years ago, in 2005, on the World Wide Web.

(Links thanks to Marian Douglas [2005-06-07], Lew Rockwell [2005-06-06], and Edmund Burke [1757].)

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. You already knew that they electrified children and suspected salad-bar thieves; you can also add to the list women who have committed the horrible crimes of driving on a suspended license and going 12 miles an hour over the speed limit, provided that they are (1) Black and (2) talk back to the cops, especially on points of legality. Note that being completely unarmed and doing nothing more dangerous than not getting out of the vehicle promptly on command will not stop them from using a 50,000 volt electric blast to immobilize you with pain two or three times in quick succession. Neither, incidentally, will being eight months pregnant.

This is getting repetitive, so let’s just review:

We already knew that Florida cops were willing to electrify a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl with a 50,000 volt blast from a taser. The 6 year old was distraught and threatening to hurt himself (after all, why hurt yourself when you can have a cop immobilize you with pain?); the 12 year old’s crime was playing hooky and maybe being a little tipsy, and the incredibly dangerous imminent threat she posed was that she ran away from the cop and so might have been able to skip school. Back when it happened, I mentioned that the main reaction from the police brass was to review the decision to equip cops with tasers–as if the equipment were the primary problem here. I also mentioned that we might be better served by scrutinizing the paramilitary police culture that we have, in which peace officers are trained to take control of every situation at all times, by any means necessary, and where any notion of proportionality between the possible harm and the violence used to maintain control is routinely chucked out the window in the name of law and order and winning the war on crime.

The cops, of course, continue to treat these cases as a P.R. management problem, not a public safety problem created by out-of-control cops. That’s because the cops aren’t out of control; they are doing what cops normally do in our society; we only know about it here because the victims were vulnerable enough that their caretakers were able to get the attention of the newsmedia and the civil courts. We are not talking about a few bad apples here; we are talking about a systematic feature of policing in our society.

— Geekery Today 2005-04-26: Peace Officers

Meanwhile. in Seattle:

Law enforcement officers have said they see Tasers as a tool that can benefit the public by reducing injuries to police and the citizens they arrest.

Seattle police officials declined to comment on this case, citing concerns that Brooks might file a civil lawsuit.

But King County sheriff’s Sgt. Donald Davis, who works on the county’s Taser policy, said the use of force is a balancing act for law enforcement.

It just doesn’t look good to the public, he said.

— Marian Douglas 2005-06-07: Police Taser pregnant woman 3 Times, Just happens to be Black

I’ve been at this for a while with more or less the same analysis applid in each of several different cases (1, 2, 3), so by now I probably ought to at least add a bit by way of a reply to Martin Striz’s complaints. In that direction, let me just say that my main concern here is the paramilitary stance that police forces take toward you and I, and the routine use of extreme violence that that fosters; and that my main difference from Martin has a lot to do with a difference over whether the institutional framework that cops work in is essentially or just accidentally connected with the abuses of power that rampaging cops display every day.

But there’s no need for me to dwell on this point about the hangman State when Edmund Burke already explained it better than I could, back in 1757:

These Evils are not accidental. Whoever will take the pains to consider the Nature of Society, will find they result directly from its Constitution. For as Subordination, or in other Words, the Reciprocation of Tyranny, and Slavery, is requisite to support these Societies, the Interest, the Ambition, the Malice, or the Revenge, nay even the Whim and Caprice of one ruling Man among them, is enough to arm all the rest, without any private Views of their own, to the worst and blackest Purposes; and what is at once lamentable and ridiculous, these Wretches engage under those Banners with a Fury greater than if they were animated by Revenge for their own proper Wrongs. …

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary. …

I now plead for Natural Society against Politicians, and for Natural Reason against all three. When the World is in a fitter Temper than it is at present to hear Truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its Temper; my Thoughts may become more publick. In the mean time, let them repose in my own Bosom, and in the Bosoms of such Men as are fit to be initiated in the sober Mysteries of Truth and Reason. My Antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in Religion and Politics make sufficient Discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober Man a proper Caution against them all. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!

— Edmund Burke (1757): A Vindication of Natural Society

10 replies to Bolts from the Blue Use a feed to Follow replies to this article · TrackBack URI

  1. The Heretik

    Very well done.


— 2007 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2005-12-15 – Bill of Rights Day festivities:

    […] spying on us in secret, increasingly arrogant and militant paramilitary police ([1], [2], [3], [4], [5]) occupying our cities, a rampaging global war machine, deliberate and systematic gutting of habeas […]

  2. Discussed at elsewhere.radgeek.com

    Rad Geek’s Comments Elsewhere / Yet Another Isolated Incident:

    […] sure seems as though there are a lot of these “isolated incidents” going around […]

  3. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-10-11 – Law and Orders #2: Florida cop was “within bounds” when he punched and pepper-sprayed a 15-year-old girl for breaking curfew:

    […] of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, or students who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers—while […]

  4. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-10-28 – Corrections officers:

    […] Whenever these kind of atrocities happen, mainstream media sources routinely decry and marginalize them in the same breath, by describing the sadism and the violence as abuses within the prison system, rot within the corrections culture, etc. This admits the problem while not really taking it seriously. In fact, intimidation and violence are the currency of control in prisons as we know them, and these practices bear no meaningful relationship whatsoever to any defense against imminent threats: convicts are imprisoned and coerced whether or not their crimes were violent, whether or not their crimes were even particularly serious, and whether or not there is any realistic chance that they will pose an ongoing threat to anybody in the future, because the hangman State exercises its power in the name of after-the-fact deterrence of unrelated parties, in the name of rehabilitation, and sometimes in the name of punishment and vengeance. This is not a matter of some fundamentally humane institution being perverted, under the influence of corrupt individuals or a corrupt internal culture, into an abuse of power. The thing itself is the abuse. […]

  5. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2006-11-16 – Law and Orders: UCLA campus police “found it necessary” to repeatedly taser an Iranian student already lying helpless on the ground:

    […] of the situation. They have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves; or pregnant women possibly guilty of a minor traffic violation, if they get tired enough of being talked back to and if their bellowed orders are no longer […]

  6. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2007-12-23 – Law and Orders #5: Daytona Beach cop takes control at Best Buy by shocking an unarmed, “retreating” woman:

    […] trouble electrifying small children, 82 year old women on a care check, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab […]

— 2008 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-01-06 – Shiva on “abuse” and “misdiagnosis”:

    […] availing itself of my favorite quotation from Edmund Burke, this recent post by Shiva at Biodiverse Resistance is also pretty much right on from beginning to […]

  2. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2008-05-10 – Cops are here to protect you. (#3):

    […] coerce compliance with their arbitrary commands, they have no trouble electrifying small children, pregnant women, 82 year old women who just want their social workers to leave them alone, alleged salad-bar […]

— 2009 —

  1. Discussed at radgeek.com

    Rad Geek People’s Daily 2009-10-09 – From right-on to WTF? in three easy steps:

    […] power of government has been perverted or abused to suppress competition and favor the well-heeled. The thing itself is the abuse. And the solution ought to be […]

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