Sunday, June 7, 2020

The Cruelty is the Point

I saw the Twitter thread of police violence. I saw the old guy with the cane getting shoved down. I saw the old guy without a cane getting shoved down. I saw too many young people getting shoved down, maced and gassed, beaten with batons, shot with "non-lethal" bullets and beaten when on the ground.

I also saw looting and rock throwing and firebombing. No way do I excuse that. I also saw the video of the black store owner calling the police to report looters, only to see the police arrive and arrest...the black store owner. I can't excuse that, either. After seeing all of the videos, I understand when people think twice before calling the police for help. Maybe more on that later. For this post, I just want to focus on the police response to peaceful protesters.

I saw too many unprovoked acts of, not just excessive use of force, but of violence almost for violence's sake. One of the early videos, from May 31, made the deepest impression on me, perhaps because it was one of the first I saw. It appeared to be a perfect example of the saying, "The cruelty is the point". There were so many videos, showing too many police acting in concert, to explain this away with "There are always a few bad apples."

It seems clear to me that the police, in too many cities, are operating under orders. The Buffalo, New York, police union representative explicitly gave that as a defense of what happened in Buffalo. He said Buffalo police were "simply executing orders." Let's not even get into the tragic history of that defense. Let's take him at his word.

Police orders seem to be one of two things at different times in different places under different conditions:

1) Clear the area by dispersing the crowd, in which case pushing, shoving, beating, pepper spraying, whatever it takes, do it. Don't ask. Don't tell. Just clear the area by force. Not "by force if necessary." Just by force. And don't delay. As Trump and his Secretary of Defense put it, "dominate the battlespace."


2) Remove the protesters by "kettling" them. That's what happened on the Margaret Hunt Hill bridge in Dallas. Block the protesters' egress from the bridge. Block the protesters' retreat back over the bridge. Corral the protesters, don't let them disperse by themselves. Trap them and arrest them. Note that 674 protesters who were corralled and arrested in Dallas were all released without charges. That's not law enforcement. The lack of charges is an implicit admission that violating protesters' civil rights was a price police were willing to pay to "dominate the battlespace."

Police reform is critically needed in America. To prevent the incidents that lead to protests. To prevent the brutality used against peaceful protesters when the inevitable protests do break out.

P.S. I will be keenly listening to the City of Richardson's explanation of why this could never happen here.

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