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Posts tagged Martin Striz

Bolts from the Blue

(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

The Internet and the Resistance to War on Iraq Grassfire

This Sunday I watched a very long and depressing line of speakers from the United States Bureau of Making Shit Up. James Woolsey (former head of the CIA and freelance war-hawk) speculated wildly and baselessly about possible connections between Iraq and al-Qaeda. An anonymous terrorism expert moved beyond baseless allegation into nothing more than vague insinuations–he was particularly a fan of the claim that the Beltway sniper is actually an al-Qaeda operative, in spite of the complete lack of any basis whatsoever for asserting this to be probable, let alone true. Bill Kristol then got on and talked for a while about the need to bomb the world and starve North Korea, and practically accusing Tom Daschle of treason for daring to question the President’s authoritarian and secretive attitude towards Congress and the American people on foreign policy issues.

Well, OK. I expect this shit from Fox News. But while they drone on, an astounding grassfire movement against the war is welling up. The latest development is something that should get the attention of every Right-wing Bomb the World Republican, every spineless amoral Democrat, and the few progressives and genuine Lefties that remain in DC. Over the past week, MoveOn PAC‘s Reward the Heroes drive has raised over 1 million dollars for the campaigns of Congresspeople and Senators who opposed the President’s resolution for war against Iraq. Over $1,000,000 in a week! And we’re not talking about Republican or DLC-style contributions from millionaires here. We’re talking about over 37,000 individual contributions. An average of about $27 per contribution (I gave two contributions of $25, personally). If the DC cognoscenti start taking notice, this could be a very big deal. Money talks in DC, and right now, the people are screaming at the top of their lungs.

Of course, this campaign–like all campaigns–has its limitations. Among them:

  • It’s depressing that this action will talk much louder than the hundreds of thousands of calls, letters, and e-mails against war on Iraq that were sent out over the past several weeks. The pre-eminence of PAC money-laundering in politics is not a trend that I really want to see strengthened, although I’m willing to work to get through to Congress by pretty much any just means necessary right now.

  • The campaign is primarily focusing on funnelling money to support incumbent Democrats who voted against the war. With the exception of that lying goat Paul Wellstone, I don’t have any objection to supporting those who have taken a stand against war. But I’d also like to see a lot more invested in getting new blood into Congress, not just giving established Lefty Democrats a political sinecure.

  • Maintaining a Congress which is independent of the grip of the far Right is important, but we have to do a lot more than that to keep the country from going to hell in a handbasket. Slowing the bleeding will only do so much.

  • MoveOn, for all of its virtues in moving Internet activism out into the offline world, makes no particular efforts to reach out to people other than those who can receive their e-mail alerts or access their website.

Again, the power of the Internet as an organizing medium is simply astounding, and we have to take very seriously how we are going to make the best use of it. The MoveOn PAC campaign is one very important way to put a lot of energy into grassroots campaigns, but we have to see this as only the start, and improve from here.

So what do we need to do?

  • We need to follow up this campaign with more campaigns that move beyond online voting and make concrete actions. Contributing to campaigns where necessary, I guess, but also building up funding reserves for other purposes–organizing spaces, grassroots organizing (including workplace unionizing), and all the other infrastructure of a successful, anti-vanguardist resistance to the Right-wing Powers that Be. MoveOn PAC’s campaign is a brilliant example of a dynamic, exciting, creative way of standing up against the flow in DC and making them listen. Let’s come up with more ideas.

  • We also need to talk about ways to allow online campaigns to reach out to people who don’t spend a lot of time on the Internet–people who tend to be older, poorer, racial minorities, etc. The Right doesn’t care: every CEO and arm-chair warhawk columnist has e-mail, Web access, and all the money the Right-wing foundations have to offer. But we have to work with people, not just dollars, and we have to think about building a mass movement. Otherwise, as Martin Striz pointed out in this space:

    Unfortunately, this nascent form of democratic political transformation is only relevant to those who have an Internet connection, and the unfortunate divide between the haves and have-nots will continue to plague us.

    So what can we do to pull that off? Well, simply focusing on campaigns that move offline and into the world of street protests, organizing spaces, letters to the editor, and other things in the meatspace will help. But let’s start thinking about other ways to convert Internet organizing into a galvanizing force for everyone. I don’t have many more ideas than anyone else on this–I’ve lobbied for printable posters and flyers to be available from all websites that advertise an offline political event, and I think that working on developing phone trees that spread from online to offline contacts would also be a really cool idea. But I’m a neophyte like everyone else and I’m really interested in hearing some creative ideas about where we can go from here.

In the meantime, toss a few bucks to the [MoveOn PAC][] Reward the Heroes campaign, and help make our voice heard in support of pro-peace candidates.

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