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Cops are here to protect you. (#3)

Let’s review.

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely force their way into situations where they are hardly needed or wanted; they deliberately escalate confrontations in order to get control of the situation through superior belligerence; they routinely hurt people, use force first and ask questions later; and they invariably pass off even the most egregious violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal. In order to to 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 thieves, 75 year old grandmothers guilty of blocking the line at a McDonald’s drive-through, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to beat a handcuffed woman bloody for demanding to use the phone, to slam a 13-year-old boy to the ground and choke him in order to arrest him for the crime of skateboarding in public, to rough up teenaged girls who don’t clean up enough spilled birthday cake or walk home too late at night, or to throw a quadriplegic man out of his wheelchair for not standing up on command. When they deal with non-police officers (the people that we call our friends and neighbors, and who the police contemptuously dismiss as civilians), they have been trained to assert full-spectrum dominance at every opportunity, and they are willing to end a tiresome argument with pain compliance techniques, which include pepper spraying lawyers who ask inconvenient questions, or using a 50,000-volt electric shock to disable an unarmed, retreating woman, or tackling a 17-year-old girl and tasering her while she lies helpless in her own bed, or shocking a man in front of his family and leaving him lying on the side of the highway (in order to make absolutely sure they could serve him with a dubious traffic ticket). It hardly matters if you cannot obey their commands because you are sound asleep in your own home. It hardly matters if you can’t move due to a medical condition, or can’t hear their bellowed orders because you’re deaf. It hardly even matters if you die. What cops can always count on is that, no matter how aggressively they escalate the confrontation in the name of control, no matter how quickly they resort to violence, and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless their victims are, they can always count on their bosses and their colleagues to repeat absolutely any lie and make absolutely any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK by the boss cops, and the judgment will be dutifully repeated by fellow cops, by prosecutors, by judges, by much of the news media, and by the hordes of freelance howling cop-enablers who rush into any media forum they can find to publish excuses for any and every cop accused of brutality, while they also use absolutely any means necessary to smear, humiliate and blame any and every victim who ever comes forward.

Even if a cop arrests an assault victim for interfering with the Investigation of her own assault, and then forces her into a cell where she can be strip-searched, over her screams of protest, with male guards wrenching her arms and holding her down, we are informed that these gang rapists were Just Following Orders. Cops are also elaborately trained in the use and abuse of the legal system, and know very well which judges are most likely to absolve them of any wrongdoing. The completely unsurprising result is that violent cops hardly ever face any personal costs whatsoever for their actions: if anything happens at all, the worst of it is usually that they are given a paid vacation and an administrative reprimand, or at worst they may be fired. Even if they are fired, they are hardly ever face legal consequences for their violence, and if they do, the city government can be relied on to settle and force taxpayers to cover the tab. Even if they are sued, they are hardly ever arrested for their violence. And even if they are arrested, they are hardly ever convicted. It doesn’t even matter if they as much as confess in open court. With few exceptions, the best that most victims of police violence can realistically ever hope for by way of compensation is an Oops, our bad, and a Fuck you, civilian is what they are far more likely to get. No matter how many times these same things happen, again and again, and no matter how often they are repeated within the same police department–or even at the same shift in the same office–and no matter how widely they are repeated in so many different police departments across so many different cities and counties, every time the latest outrage comes up in the newsmedia, a cop mouthpiece can be expected to say, and the establishment media can be expected to dutifully report, that nobody should rush to judgment, that they should dismiss eye-witness testimony and even the evidence of their senses in order to give the cops every possible (and some impossible) benefit of the doubt, and that even if these cops did do something wrong, well, it’s just A Few More Bad Apples committing Yet Another Isolated Incident. If anyone so much as dares to suggest that something may be systemically wrong here, beyond what can be fixed by punishing a few bad cops, or through superficial reforms and sensitivity training, then they are dismissed by comfortable political Moderates as irresponsible crazies, while cops and their sycophants can be expected to respond with the usual fragile macho flash of crying about how they get no respect, while sanctimoniously bellowing about how they risk so much serving and protecting those who never asked for, and never freely agreed to, their service or their protection.

The result, which is completely predictable and completely outrageous, is that individual cops and entire police departments in America deliberately take on the posture of occupying paramilitary forces, with the express intent of spreading fear in what they regard as hostile territory, and that, on a daily basis, many cops routinely engage in rampant, intense, unchecked violence against anyone and everyone who happens to get in their way or look at them funny, no matter how many options the cops may have and no matter how harmless or helpless their victims may be. Thus, while investigating his neighbors, they will happily break into a suspect 60-year-old man’s home, while he is recovering from surgery, trash his house without a warrant or probable cause, rip a catheter out of his body, and leave him there to suffer without medical attention, even after they apparently found absolutely nothing to indicate his guilt:

HARTFORD, Conn. ?? A man alleges that police entered his home illegally and ripped a catheter from his body during a child pornography investigation that led to the arrest of two neighbors.

Andrew Glover, 60, of New Britain filed a notice with the city Thursday that he intends to pursue a federal civil rights lawsuit. He accused the officers of inflicting severe injuries as he was recovering from intestinal surgery in February.

Glover’s lawyer, Paul Spinella, said police entered Glover’s apartment Jan. 30 and Feb. 28. Glover wasn’t involved in child pornography, has not been charged and has no criminal record, Spinella said.

The poor guy, Spinella said. They ripped the catheter off his person. They assaulted the guy. He’s got major problems as a result of this. He’s a mess now.

Lt. James Wardwell, a police spokesman, said Friday that the department had not received the intent-to-sue notice and would not comment. A message was left for the city’s corporation counsel.

Glover has two years to file a lawsuit in U.S. District Court.

Spinella said officers tossed Glover’s apartment during a search Jan. 30. In February, he said, Glover returned home from the hospital after his surgery to find officers searching his apartment again. That’s when they assaulted Glover and left him alone in the apartment without calling for medical help, Spinella said.

The police didn’t have search warrants, Spinella said.

— Associated Press (2008-05-09): Connecticut Man Says Cops Broke Into His Home and Ripped Out His Catheter

Meanwhile, in Kamloops, British Columbia, in order to subdue a frail 82 year old man, on an oxygen tank, who had undergone heart bypass surgery, who could not hurt anyone outside the reach of a small knife, cops were willing to blast him three times in the chest with a 50,000-volt electric shock while he lay helpless in his hospital bed. Because they had work to get done that night:

An elderly man in Kamloops, B.C., was zapped three times on the torso by a police stun gun while lying on his hospital bed, CBC News has learned.

Frank Lasser, 82, appeared fragile Thursday when he showed the Taser marks on his body and talked about the ordeal he went through Saturday.

They [police] should have known I had bypass surgery, Lasser told CBC News.

Lasser has had heart surgery and needs to carry an apparatus to supply oxygen at all times. He was in the Royal Inland Hospital Saturday due to pneumonia but has since been released.

RCMP said nurses called police after Lasser became delirious and pulled a knife out of his pocket.

Lasser told CBC News that he sometimes becomes delusional when he can’t breathe properly. He said he couldn’t explain why he refused to let go of the knife even after the Mounties arrived. I was laying on the bed by then and the corporal came in, or the sergeant, I forget which it was, and said to the guys, OK, get him because we got more important work to do on the street tonight, Lasser said.

And then, bang, bang, bang, three times with the laser, and I tell you, I never want that again.

Kamloops RCMP said Thursday that officers had no other option but to deploy the conducted energy weapon when Lasser refused to drop his knife.

— CBC News (2008-05-09): RCMP subdue hospitalized man, 82, with Taser

In Philadelphia, a police commissioner says that, while On the surface, it certainly does not look good, people should not rush to judgment over an aerial video which clearly shows a swarm of Philadelphia police officers dragging suspects out of a car, then repeatedly beating and kicking them while they lay handcuffed and held down on the ground. Remind me again of how the good guys who do this are morally any different from the Bloods or the Crips?

The reason that you should suspend your judgment on this vicious gang beat-down of helpless, restrained suspects by a huge crowd of the Gangsters in Blue is that The video is the video … We have no audio. You don’t know what was going on at that moment when the officers approached the vehicle. There will be an investigation and we will move on.

Well. I am sure that after The Matter Is Investigated, and nothing of any consequence happens to these dangerous, heavily armed, tightly-organized gangs of batterers, the Philadelphia Police Department and city government sure will move on, with business as usual, and not a damn thing will change. Besides which, think of how hard the poor cops have it when a fellow cop was killed on the job not long ago. Because those trained professionals who, at every opportunity, sanctimoniously inform us of all the risks that they voluntarily take on For Our Own Good, cannot possibly be expected to do their jobs without beating the shit out of helpless captives if it should ever happen that one of them is hurt or killed. This is how these dedicated public servants serve and protect the public: by hurting innocent or helpless people under their power, by taking out the stress and risks of their own chosen profession on members of the public who pose no threat to them, and then by lying, dissembling, making excuses, and crying about it if anyone should happen to take issue with this reign of terror being carried on by peace officers in the name of Public Safety. Cops are here to protect you. Cops are here to protect the hell out of you, whether you want it or not, and you had better not get in the way.

When every fucking week brings another story of a Few More Bad Apples causing Yet Another Isolated Incident, and the police department almost invariably doing everything in its power to conceal, excuse, or minimize the violence, even in defiance of the evidence of the senses and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless the victim may be, it beggars belief to keep on claiming that there is no systemic problem here, that cops ought to be given every benefit of the doubt, and that any blanket condemnation of American policing is a sign of hastiness and unfair prejudice. The plain fact is that what we have here is one of two things: either a professionalized system of control which tacitly permits and encourages cops to exercise this kind of rampant, repeated, intense, and unrepentant abuse against powerless people–or else a system which has clearly demonstrated that it can do nothing effectual to prevent it. In either case, it is unfit to exist.

(Via Scott Hagaman @ Scottish Nous 2008-05-10: Is Bad Cop Redundant Yet?, Mike Gogulski @ nostate.com 2008-05-09: Philadelphia police beating restrained suspects: video, Lindsay Beyerstein @ Majikthise 2008-05-09: Cops tase 82-year-old heart patient in bed, and Pam Spaulding 2008-05-09: Canada: 82-year old heart patient Tased in hospital bed.)

Further reading:

Quidditative essence

In a remark on my last post on Iraq, Sam Haque points out:

The situation is that occupation forces have taken for themselves the role of guardians by and large without the consent of those who they are ostensibly protecting.

— Sam Haque, comment (2006-05-10) on GT 2006-05-08: Why We Fight

This is true, and not just of the situation in Iraq. It is as accurate and concise a description as you could make of what governments do for a living, always and everywhere. It’s war that brings this into the sharpest relief, because the normal restraints on brutality are released, the beneficiary-victims are strangers in a faraway land, and the public intellectuals and the official press line up to shout down any serious challenge to the progress of war aims. But war and occupation are only the starkest and most explicit expression of what State power essentially means, not just with bombers and soldiers and tanks, but also with every spook, cop, G-man, prosecutor, jailer, and hangman whose paychecks we are forced to cover. Consider, for example, the local cops in New Britain, Connecticut, who protected the hell out of an 11 year old boy and his mother in the name of serving a drug search warrant without interruption, or last week’s riot and reign of terror by Mexican police asserting their authority to protect and serve the people of San Salvador Atenco, whether they like it or not.

The State is, as Catharine MacKinnon says, male in the political sense. But not only because the law views women’s civil status through the lens of male supremacy (although it certainly does). It is also because the male-dominated State relates to all of its subjects like a battering husband relates to the household of which he has proclaimed himself the head: by laying a claim to protect those who did not ask for it, and using whatever violence and intimidation may be necessary to terrorize them into submitting to his protection. The State, as the abusive head of the whole nation, assaults the innocent, and turns a blind eye to assaults of the innocent, when it suits political interest — renamed national interest by the self-proclaimed representatives of the nation. It does so not because of the venality or incompetance of a particular ruler, but rather because that is what State power means, and that is what the job of a ruler is: to maintain a monopoly of coercion over its territorial area, as a good German might tell you, and to beat, chain, burn, or kill anyone within or without who might endanger that, whether by defying State rule, or by simply ignoring it and asking to be left alone.

Or, as Ezra Haywood once put it, A cruel kindness, thought to be friendly regard, assumes to protect those who, by divine right of rational being, are entitled, at least, to be let alone. We are not among wild beasts; from whom, then, does woman need protection? From her protectors. And so it is for us civilians, facing the doorkeep before the Law.

Further reading:

Over My Shoulder #6: Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices

You know the rules. Here’s the quote. This is from Oliver Sacks’s Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf (1989). I broke the rules a bit here: rather than a single passage of a few paragraphs, I have two, because the latter one reinforces one of the important points of the former, and also because it’s damn near impossible to pick out any one thing that is the most interesting from the chapter. So here goes:

The situation of the prelingually deaf, prior to 1750, was indeed a calamity: unable to acquire speech, hence dumb or mute; unable to enjoy free communication with even their parents and families; confined to a few rudimentary signs and gestures; cut off, except in large cities, even from the community of their own kind; deprived of literacy and education, all knowledge of the world; forced to do the most menial work; living alone, often close to destitution; treated by the law and society as little better than imbeciles–the lot of the deaf was manifestly dreadful.

But what was manifest was as nothing to the destitution inside–the destitution of knowledge and thought that prelingual deafness could bring, in the absence of any communication or remedial measures. The deplorable state of the deaf aroused both the curiosity and the compassion of the philosophes. Thus the Abbé Sicard asked:

Why is the uneducated deaf person isolated in nature and unable to communicate with other men? Why is he reduced to this state of imbecility? Does his biological constitution differ from ours? Does he not have everything he needs for having sensations, acquiring ideas, and combining them to do everything that we do? Does he not get sensory impressions from objects as we do? Are these not, as with us, the occasion of the mind’s sensations and its acquired ideas? Why then does the deaf person remain stupid while we become intelligent?

To ask this question–never really clearly asked before–is to grasp its answer, to see that the answer lies in the use of symbols. It is, Sicard continues, because the deaf person has no symbols for fixing and combining ideas … that there is a total communication-gap between him and other people. But what was all-important, and had been a source of fundamental confusion since Aristotle’s pronouncements on the matter, was the enduring misconception that symbols had to be speech. Perhaps indeed this passionte misperception, or prejudice, went back to biblical days: the subhuman status of mutes was part of the Mosaic code, and it was reinforced by the biblical exaltation of voice and ear as the one and true way in which man and God could speak (In the beginning was the Word). And yet, overborne by Mosaic and Aristotelian thunderings, some profound voices intimated that this need not be so. Thus Socrates’ remark in the Cratylus of Plato, which so impressed the youthful Abbé de l’Epée:

If we had neither voice nor tongue, and yet wished to manifest things to one another, should we not, like those which are at present mute, endeavour to signify our meaning by the hands, head, and other parts of the body?

Or the deep, yet obvious, insights of the philosopher-physician Cardan in the sixteenth century:

It is possible to place a deaf-mute in a position to hear by reading, and to speak by writing … for as different sounds are conventionally used to signify different things, so also may the various figures of objects and words …. Written characters and ideas may be connected without the intervention of actual sounds.

In the sixteenth century the notion that the understanding of ideas did not depend upon the hearing of words was revolutionary.

But it is not (usually) the ideas of philosophers that change reality; nor, conversely, is it the practice of ordinary people. What changes history, what kindles revolutions, is the meeting of the two. A lofty mind–that of the Abbé de l’Epée–had to meet a humble usage–the indigenous sign language of the poor deaf who roamed Paris–in order to make possible a momentous transformation. If we ask why this meeting had not occurred before, it has something to do with the vocation of Abbé, who could not bear to think of the souls of the deaf-mute living and dying unshriven, deprived of the Catechism, the Scriptures, the Word of God; and it is partly owing to his humility–that he listened to the deaf–and partly to a philosophical and linguistic idea then very much in the air–that of universal language, like the speceium of which Leibniz dreamed. Thus, de l’Epée approached sign language not with contempt but with awe.

The universal language that your scholars have sought for in vain and of which they have despaired, is here; it is right before your eyes, it is the mimicry of the impoverished deaf. Because you do not know it,you hold it in contempt, yet it alone will provide you with the key to all languages.

That this was a misapprehension–for sign language is not a universal language in this grand sense, and Leibniz’s noble dream was probably a chimera–did not matter, was even an advantage. For what mattered was that the Abbé paid minute attention to his pupils, acquired their language (which had scarcely ever been done by the hearing before). And then, by associating signs with pictures and written words, he taught them to read; and with this, in one swoop, he opened to them the world’s learning and culture. De l’Epée’s system of methodical signs–a combination of their own Sign with signed French grammar–enabled deaf students to write down what was said to them through a signing interpreter, a method so successful that, for the first time, it enabled ordinary deaf pupils to read and write French, and thus acquire an education. His school, founded in 1755, was the first to achieve public support. He trained a multitude of teachers for the deaf, who, by the time of his death in 1789, had established twenty-one schools for the deaf in France and Europe. The future of de l’Epée’s own school seemed uncertain during the turmoil of the revolution, but by 1791 it had become the National Institution for Deaf-Mutes in Paris, headed by the brilliant grammarian Sicard. De l’Epée’s own book, as revolutionary as Copernicus’ in its own way, was first published in 1776.

De l’Epée’s book, a classic, is available in many languages. But what have not been available, have been virtually unknown, are the equally important (and, in some ways, even more fascinating) original writings of the deaf–the first deaf-mutes ever able to write. Harlan Lane and Franklin Philip have done a great service in making these so readily available to us in The Deaf Experience. Especially moving and important are the 1779 Observations of Pierre Desloges–the first book to be published by a deaf person–now available in English for the first time. Desloges himself, deafened at an early age, and virtually without speech, provides us first with a frightening description of the world, or unworld, of the languageless.

At the beginning of my infirmity, and for as long as I was living apart from other deaf people … I was unaware of sign language. I used only scattered, isolated, and unconnected signs. I did not know the art of combining them to form distinct pictures with which one can represent various ideas, transmit them to one’s peers, and converse in logical discourse.

Thus Desloges, though obviously a highly gifted man, could scarcely entertain ideas, or engage in logical discourse, until he had acquired sign language (which, as is usual with the deaf, he learned from someone deaf, in his case from an illiterate deaf-mute).

–Oliver Sacks (1989), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf, pp. 13–18.

And:

When Laurent Clerc (a pupil of Massieu, himself a pupil of Sicard) came to the United States in 1816, he had an immediate and extraordinary impact, for American teachers up to this point had never been exposed to, never even imagined, a deaf-mute of impressive intelligence and education, had never imagined the possibilities dormant in the deaf. With Thomas Gallaudet, Clerc set up the American Asylum for the Deaf, in Hartford, in 1817. As Paris–teachers, philosophes, and public-at-large–was moved, amazed, converted by de l’Epée in the 1770s, so America was to be converted fifty years later.

The atmosphere at the Hartford Asylum, and at other schools soon to be set up, was marked by the sort of enthusiasm and excitement only seen at the start of grand intellectual and humanitarian adventures. The prompt and spectacular success of the Hartford Asylum soon led to the opening of other schools wherever there was sufficient density of population, and thus of deaf students. Virtually all the teachers of the deaf (nearly all of whom were fluent signers and many of whom were deaf) went to Hartford. The French sign system imported by Clerc rapidly amalgamated with the indigenous sign languages here–the deaf generate sign languages wherever there are communities of deaf people; it is for them the easiest and most natural form of communication–to form a uniquely expressive and powerful hybrid, American Sign Language (ASL). A special indigenous strength–presented convincingly by Nora Ellen Groce in her book, Everyone Here Spoke Sign Language–was the contribution of Martha’s Vineyard deaf to the development of ASL. A substantial minority of the population there suffered from a hereditary deafness, and most of the island had adopted an easy and powerful sign language. Virtually all the deaf of the Vineyard were sent to the Hartford Asylum in its formative years, where they contributed to the developing national language the unique strength of their own.

One has, indeed, a strong sense of pollination, of people coming to and fro, bringing regional languages, with all their idiosyncracies and strengths, to Hartford, and taking back an increasingly polished and generalized language. The rise of deaf literacy and deaf education was as spectacular in the United States as it had been in France, and soon spread to other parts of the world.

Lane estimates that by 1869 there were 550 teachers of the deaf worldwide and that 41 percent of the teachers of the deaf in the United States were themselves deaf. In 1864 Congress passed a law authorizing the Columbia Institution for the Deaf and the Blind in Washington to become a national deaf-mute college, the first institution of higher learning specifically for the deaf. Its first principal was Edward Gallaudet–the son of Thomas Gallaudet, who had brought Clerc to the United States in 1816. Gallaudet College, as it was later rechristened (it is now Gallaudet University), is still the only liberal arts college for deaf students in the world–though there are now several programs and institutes for the deaf associated with technical colleges. (The most famous of these is at the Rochester Institute of Technology, where there are more than 1,500 deaf students forming the National Technical Institute for the Deaf.)

The great impetus of deaf education and liberation, which had swept France between 1770 and 1820, thus continued its triumphant course in the United States until 1870 (Clerc, immensely active to the end and personally charismatic, died in 1869). And then–and this is the turning point in the entire story–the tide turned, turned against the use of Sign by and for the deaf, so that within twenty years the work of a century was undone.

Indeed, what was happening with the deaf and sign was part of a general (and if one wishes, political) movement of the time: a trend to Victorian oppressiveness and conformism, intolerance of minorities, and minority usages, of every kind–religious, linguistic, ethnic. Thus it was at this time that the little nations and little languages of the world (for example, Wales and Welsh) found themselves under pressure to assimilate and conform.

–Oliver Sacks (1989), Seeing Voices: A Journey into the World of the Deaf, pp. 21–24.

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