Saturday, September 04, 2010

Officer Friendly

Thinking about Digby's tireless chronicles of the Taser wars (and my own post about it), and the police body scanner vans, and the arresting of citizens for recording police in the public performance of their duties, all put me in the mood to pull a lengthy quote from Gore Vidal's reaction last summer to the fallout of the Henry Louis Gates affair:
But the true meaning of the mess in Cambridge has been carefully avoided by a media incapable of getting the point to anything if they can excitingly change the subject to something else. So here we now have a cast of characters that includes the president himself, a distinguished scholar and a feckless young policeman who on the radio said, when asked why he had behaved so rudely to the “old” scholar, he said because the old guy had been rude about his mother. I haven’t heard this excuse since the playground of St. Alban’s in 1935.

One interesting fallout from the tragic business in Cambridge – and it is tragic, let me tell you – was that the president was forced to speak suddenly in his own voice, and at his very best, and not swathed in the authority of his great rank, but simply as a citizen making a sensible comment about a nobody policeman. Yes, I mean “nobody” literally – I know all human beings, if they are Americans, are highly valued and worshiped, indeed, for their wonderfulness and their helpfulness to fellow citizens. I state this ironically, as you might suspect. After all, why would the young man be armed unless he was a superior citizen, elected, as it were, by his fellows to ride herd on an unruly mob unless he was demonstrably special by virtue of being legally armed, which is how we are supposed to tell them from us?

But there the president was, saying, this is stupid. But he did not say, “How dare you go after a 58-year-old man who is one of the great scholars of the country and think you can get away with it?” Unfortunately, it never seemed to have crossed the president’s mind in this crisis that he is expected to do something about it. I know there is a great deal, as they say, on his plate, but after displays of this sort, he should call together a commission involving every section of the country. Every municipality is complaining about local police forces run wild. And no one does anything about it. And our masters are armed to the teeth and would seem more likely to fire at us instead of at the troublemakers. I can’t think of any civilized country that would allow this, from the look of these bulky guardians of the peace, to whom no right-minded person would allow even a slingshot to be given.

So, we are a weirdly militarized citizenry governed by the worst elements in the United States, and something is bound to blow up, as I have felt for some time now. In my wanderings around the U.S., I talk to people without money, without power, ordinary voters, as well as nowadays, people maimed by war, or time, or life or whatever, and I am convinced more and more that this is a vicious country in which the police are allowed to run amok, absolutely independent of anyone, and that is why from time to time they are allowed to get away with murder. One surprisingly knew that a wrinkle has been discovered in the seamless surface of our troubled state. Policemen are seldom tried for their crimes, or indeed, held responsible for what they do, which disturbs the peace and causes distress among the orderly.

I would suggest that the president, if he wants to be useful—and not many presidents do in my experience—he might as well call together a commission in response to citizens of every major municipality in the United States who are complaining to central authority about police forces out of control. And no one dares do anything because the police will say, “Well, you know they are acting like this because they are bad people who hate us because we are good people, rescuing cats from trees and otherwise loved by every decent person in the land.”

What the police in their ignorance have not figured out is that they have lost all credibility since World War II. They are sort of parasites on the fringe of society and do no particular good for anyone except possibly themselves. Certainly to hear them complain—you’ve never heard such whines as from a policeman who feels he’s been wronged! Apparently, all Earth owes him a living, and he’s the bravest man on any block.
But the Baggers, busy with their precious concerns about the tyrant in the White House, are curiously silent. You can probably guess why.