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Posts tagged Monterey

Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d)

Here are the after-effects of some SWAT-police non-lethal force in California, which burned a man to death earlier this month, and set his family’s house on fire in the process. Turns out he was the wrong man, and they were at the wrong house.

According to the Monterey County Weekly, the same police force that burned down the Serrato house and killed Rogelio Serrato in the fire are probing what went wrong in the operation [sic]. Public-spirited fellow that I am, I’ll do what I can to help them figure it out. Here’s what went wrong:

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. Among the most highly trained, and therefore most domineering and violent, are the members of urban SWAT teams, who go beyond everyday bullying and instead are trained to think of themselves as paramilitary strike forces who are occupying hostile territory, and engaged in a war of classic counter-insurgency.

As such, police in general, and police assault forces especially, are trained to enter every encounter with the goal of taking control of the situation, by means of setting up confrontations in situations (no-knock raids, late-night forced-entry raids, etc.) where their chosen targets are most likely to be disoriented and easily terrorized, and by responding with maximal force in the volatile, disorienting confrontations that they create. For the sake of this maximal-force approach, they are equipped with an arsenal of weapons ranging from tasers and clubs to handguns and assault rifles, up to, and including, military helicopters and tanks. Worse, with all these weapons, they have institutionalized a culture of fact-free assertion and lies about highly dangerous weapons that they consider to be categorically non-lethal — and thus to be used as a first resort, in virtually any situation, as long as it might give the cops a tactical advantage over people who they intend to bring under their control (whether or not these people have ever committed any crime at all). These weapons continue to be used with no hesitation and no restraint, and continue to be called non-lethal force, no matter how many people are killed by them. There are, for example, tasers, portable electric torture devices which were originally sold as a less-deadly alternative to using a hand-gun in potentially life-threatening confrontations, but which cops now freely use for as part of pain compliance techniques[1] in everyday confrontations with the public. This would be bad enough on its own, but part of the reason they are used so freely is because they take no real exertion for cops to use, and are consistently billed as non-lethal by police and media, even though there are hundreds of documented cases of people dying after being subjected to repeated taser shocks.

Another non-lethal device, which is especially heavily used by SWAT assault forces during paramilitary forced entry house raids, are so-called flash-bang grenades. These grenades, frequently referred to as non-lethal diversionary devices are actually incendiary grenades, which police hurl into rooms full of people in order to set off an explosion, which they hope will disorient and terrorize the people in the room — many or most of them completely innocent people who just had the misfortune of being in the same building — right before the assault force storms in with guns drawn. This is exactly what they did when they surrounded Rogelio Serrato’s house.

So why were they at Rogelio Serrato’s house anyway? Well, they had a search warrant to serve. They say were going to serve the search warrant using these hyperviolent, extremely dangerous stormtrooper tactics because they believed that Serrato had been with a man who shot up a music club on New Years’ Day. But by the time they got out to Serrato’s house, they already knew that they had the wrong address and the wrong man: he wasn’t at the club when the shooting went down, and the identification of Serrato as the man who was with the shooter was simply a case of mistaken identity.

Nevertheless, even though they found out that Serrato had nothing to do with the violent crime which had supposedly mobilized the SWAT team and justified the decision to storm the house in a paramilitary raid, it did turn out that he had a couple of warrants out on misdemeanors which had nothing to do with the shooting. So, they decided they were going to go ahead and arrest him.

Now, you might think that, once they had found out they were at the wrong address, and the only reason they had to worry about Rogelio Serrato at all was a couple of misdemeanor beefs having nothing to do anyone getting shot, they might have backed off a bit on the level of force; perhaps even just left a couple cops to wait around and pick him up next time he went to work or to the supermarket. But, no. I mean, look, he’s a Suspect Individual, and what’s the point of having such a fine, well-armed paramilitary assault force, if you’re not going to use it?

So instead they surrounded the house, bellowed into their bullhorns, and then, when he didn’t come out on command, they decided to make a hyperviolent forced-entry raid in order to roust him out. So they hurled a couple of their non-lethal incendiary grenades into the house, which exploded, and set the house on fire. Rogelio Serrato, who was — remember — known not to be the man they were after; who was — remember — never suspected of anything other than having a couple misdemeanor warrants out — was killed in the house fire.

So, Monterey County sheriff’s office, here is what I have found in my probe, which I will helpfully share with you. What went wrong here is that the cops believed they were on an operation that required an extraordinarily violent storm-trooper raid, even though they already knew that their original reason for being there turned out to be a complete mistake, and even though they also already knew that the man whose family they were attacking was wanted only on a pair of misdemeanor warrants. In the interests of better protecting their own hides during this needlessly violent high-stakes operation, they felt free to make use of dangerous incendiary grenades which are perfectly capable of setting a building on fire. No matter how many people or buildings are set on fire due to the use of these grenades, police consistently blame the victim (e.g., in another case: It’s unfortunate that those guys packed that house with materials that were flammable[2]), and just go right on asserting that these explosives are non-lethal force, and defend them as tools which provide the necessary means to the police’s completely unnecessary operations. They even have the gall to tell the press that these dangerous explosives are a life-saving tool, when explaining how they just killed a man by using them.

Do you feel safer now?

(Via Dr. Q @ CopBlock 2011-01-19.)

See also:

  1. [1]That is, torture.
  2. [2]!! Apparently a right-thinking, responsible citizen keeps their house on the assumption that at any moment police might be throwing incendiary grenades into their living room.

One Word: Plastics

Minor updates for clarity.

So, it’s official. I’m a Bachelor.

Saturday I graduated from Auburn University, with a B.A. in Philosophy (with a Computer Science minor tacked on for good measure). After the past few years of wandering the halls of learning (or, at least, the halls of Haley Center), I finally have to figure out a new gig. Usually at this point, someone makes some remark or another about leaving the bubble of the academy and being thrown out into the terrible freedom of the real world. You won’t hear it from me, though, for a couple of reasons.

First, I’ve been inhabiting the real world all along. I mean this in the truistic sense–Auburn University campus is no more illusory and no less material than the rest of the world–but I mean it in a deeper sense too. When people talk about school as not being part of the real world, they seem to have one of two things in mind (or, more likely, both). On the one hand, there is a particular picture of what academics do and how it relates to the world. The idea is that you’re dealing with the fabric of reality only when you’re in the midst of an active, practical life–that academics aren’t worldly wise enough to hack it in such a life–that the world of the academy doesn’t (and can’t) deal in experiential reality, because its whole purpose is to think rather than to do. On the other hand, there is a particular attitude towards school: it’s not part of the real world because it bears no deep relationship to what you intend to do with your life. At best, it’s a preparatory means, valuable purely instrumentally–it’s something that you do in order to get into a socio-economic position where you can strike off and do whatever it is that constitutes your real life–a career, a family, or what have you. At worst, it’s merely a holding pen where you wait around until you’re ready to go off the parental dole and get started on the real part of your life. The second picture is usually a direct result of the first. Going to school isn’t part of the real part of your life because the real part of your life consists of doing things, not of thinking about them.

I don’t want to deny that the second picture is an accurate empirical theory about how most people think of college in this day and age. But I think it is a pernicious picture if it is taken as a guide for how ought to spend your school years; those who act on a picture like that have basically been wasting their time and money for the past 4 years. It’s by no means necessary (however often it may be actual) for school to be cut off from the serious part of your life; such a dichotomy rests, I think, on a notion of the academic life that is completely false.

What I mean is this: in most other civilized times, we would hardly feel any need to defend the validity of the vita contemplativa, or the value of the way I’ve spent the past four years–learning and wrestling with important problems, for the sake of nothing except thought itself and knowledge of the truth. That is no small part of what I want to do with my life and to contribute to the world. The relationship between doing and thinking isn’t antagonism, or parasitism. Humans are rational animals; the very essence of how we live our lives is that we put thought into action, that thinking and doing are (for us) two sides of one coin. (Doing without thinking, in any literal and sustained sense, is a form of madness–indeed, a form of inhumanity.) So while I’m done being an undergraduate, my life for the past four years hasn’t been mere preparation for what is to follow. I’ve been doing what I want to do all along.

And I intend to keep on doing what I have been doing. But I’m out of school for the next year, and being a freelance academic doesn’t pay very well. So, I will be looking for a job, and working on graduate school applications for the academic year after the upcoming one. (If graduate school doesn’t work out, I might have to become a monk.)

In the meantime, however, I am on vacation. Right now I am reporting from Berea, Kentucky, where I’m visiting my old friend S. with the rest of my gang of friends from high school. S. pulls us into these fascinating conversations about sustainability and renewable energy and culture; we wander around the campus as if it were a swampy May night in Auburn again.

From there, it is a mere 12 hours by Greyhound bus to Detroit, where I will meet with my sweetheart. I can’t tell you how much I am looking forward to this–to the theological inside jokes, to talking again about philosophy and movies and the Middle Ages; to just having quiet time together to spend with absolutely nothing else eating time away. We’re heading out on a trans-continental road trip out to California, where the plan is (I think) to sit on the beach, C and talk and read and do as close to absolutely nothing as possible for a few days–then to meander around a few sites in Monterey and San Fransisco. My hope is that I won’t be heading back home until early June.

In any case, the plan from there is: (1) summer work, (2) break, (3) move, and (4) fall work. (1) will consist in serving as a T.A. in Philosophy of Mind for Johns Hopkins University Center for Talented Youth (except I won’t actually be at JHU; I’ll be at a program site in Loudonville, New York). After that I am moving to Ypsilanti, MI, and looking around to find out in what (4) will consist. Wish me luck!

Posting will be sporadic, but I fear that you are more than used to that already, gentle reader. I’ll try and drop a line from time to time, though, and when I get back some changes and updates the the site are in the works.

Ciao!

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