Police Violence in America: Not A Problem?

Police violence in this country is fairly widespread, part of the culture of people working in this difficult and dangerous job, and has been a regular feature of life here, probably from the beginning. Peaceful protests against this violence have been routinely met, in many places, with brutal violence– teargas, rubber bullets, shovings, beatings– by militarized police acting as anti-insurgent forces.

Just the way it is here, and even famously liberal NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio and NYS governor “America’s COVID hero” Andrew Cuomo defend police use of excessive force as sometimes regrettable but ultimately often necessary to protect “society” and “public safety”. The issue of why police sometimes brutalize or even kill unarmed civilians is always presented as very complicated and related to the terrible demands and understandable stresses of their dangerous and essential job.

This recent episode of John Oliver’s show does an excellent job of putting American police violence in perspective, with a good degree of detail about the scope of the larger problem (check out the discussion of “qualified immunity” the legal doctrine that protects police officers from prosecution unless they do the exact thing, literally, that another officer has previously been successfully prosecuted for, for example). Sad to say (or funny, maybe) but comedians are doing the best job of laying out important issues that others in professional media communications have a much harder time clearly presenting. Here you are:

Trevor Noah recently did an equally great presentation of the violence by police in Minneapolis, where, two weeks ago, George Floyd was slowly suffocated, face down on a public street, in broad daylight, with a police knee on his neck. Of course, it is always possible to spin violence by police as a justifiable response to mobs of irrationally enraged, unruly people getting out of control and hatefully defying both law and order. Many Americans have long accepted the mantra “law and order” as a get out of jail free card for police who understandably, humanly, react by sometimes overreacting with deadly violence.

The president, for example, has a new conspiracy theory about the seventy-five year-old protester in Buffalo roughly shoved to the ground, and left bleeding from the head, by Buffalo riot police. The man wound up in a Buffalo hospital in serious, but stable, condition. (Scroll to “Trump promotes a conspiracy theory suggesting that an injured Buffalo protester was involved in a ‘set up.'”)

According to the theory being promoted by the president, you see, the old guy was an antifa plant, a skilled actor, doing something sneaky and illegal and then play-acting the hard fall and the blood from his ear. Read all about it in the above-linked account from the New York Times, publishers of what John Oliver referred to as “Why We Need To Bring Hitler Back to Life As A Robot Right Now.” (A reference to their apparently unvetted Op-Ed by a Trumpist Senator named Cotton, entitled “Send in the Military,” calling for a more militarized police response — and a “no quarter” order, a war crime– to put down the insurrection by vicious enemies of freedom and justice). The Op-Ed editor, a couple of days before he resigned from the position, claimed afterwards he’d never seen the piece before green-lighting it for publication in America’s paper of record [1].

The vast majority of the protests across America since the witness videos of the torture death of George Floyd went viral have been peaceful assemblies. Like the peaceful, constitutionally protected protest assembly that Bill Barr recently had riot police disperse by force so the president could be immortalized taking a short, solemn stroll to stand, glaring, with a Bible in his gloved hand, in front of a church whose bishop denounced the p.r. stunt as deeply offensive. Barr, of course, knows better than most of us how Jesus actually feels about the pepper spraying (it wasn’t “tear gas” you lying liberal fucks) and beating with batons of peaceful protesters and the supreme importance of POTUS being able to freely walk wherever he wants, whenever he wants, to pose in front of the backdrop of his choosing to show maximum Christian faith and resolute, strongman strength.

As Martin Luther King said, more than fifty years ago, to those who told him to be patient with racist injustice and police brutality, that these things take time to change:

“When you have seen hate-filled policemen curse, kick, brutalize and even kill your black brothers and sisters with impunity… then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait.”

I don’t think anyone’s impatience for basic fairness, fifty years after the non-violent Civil Rights icon and martyr was slaughtered, is the least bit hard to understand.

On a separate note, you have to love the Commissioner of the National Football League, a powerfully popular violent American institution the president has tried hard to identify himself with, making a video to say the NFL respects the right of its players to peacefully protest police killing of unarmed civilians. The statement is a bit belated (to say the least), and doesn’t address the apparent blacklisting of the poster-athlete for this protest, Colin Kapernick, but still — you have to love it, at least for how much it must piss off the president. Trump you remember, applauded the “patriotism” of NFL owners and urged the NFL to get those ungrateful “sons of bitches” (note his restraint in not calling them “niggers”) off the field. When football comes back, we might see a whole lot more that pisses our eternally angry child-president off.

[1] The editor of the New York Times Op-Ed page and the publisher of the Times made muddled defenses of why Cotton’s piece ran as a Times Op-Ed. Their comments were contradictory and largely incoherent. After a mass protest by journalists at the Times, the Op-Ed editor stepped down from his lofty perch, amid official comments that perhaps the paper publishes too many Op-Eds in the internet age. The Grey Lady clearly seems to have her finger on the larger problem.

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