Lately I've been amazed at the ways in which American society, most often that segment identifying with Conservative values, justifies and rationalizes its own selfish and brutish choices. When you look at it, it's really a kind of art. I mean, if you really dislike someone, there are ways to get your community onboard and really generate some hate energy. For example...
1. Spiritualize the Hate. If there's someone you already dislike, there's no better way to get others to climb aboard the Hate Wagom than to find scriptural evidence that God dislikes that person too. I mean, what better name could you hope to add to any petition than The Almighty Lord & Creator of All Things. (Nevermind the fact that if He created "all things" He likely created that person you dislike.) And it's a great way to distance yourself if things get heated and it looks like you might lose a fight. "Hey, hating you wasn't MY idea," you can say, "it was GOD's." And bada-bing, you're not the hateful prick, God is. See, it all works out.
2. The Law of the Jungle. One easy way to justify uncaring or brutish behavior is by the predatory model of unfettered free markets. Hey, if you're going to be the lion, someone has to be the gazelle, right? Strangely, those whom I know to espouse this view most zealously are far more likely to be the gazelles in this scenario. But it's funny how those who believe in a robust boom-and-bust cycle never picture themselves as its victims. Ask them, and they'll tell you they're far too savvy for that. They've saved their pennies in a big jar, and stuffed their mattresses with dollar bills. Trying to survive a full-scale economic collapse on that kind of plan is like trying to ride out a tsunami on a rubber duck. Good luck, fellas.
3. Drape Yourself in the Flag. If the people you hate happen to be of a different culture, geographic region. or skin tone, Old Glory is your best defense. The "keep America the way it is" argument has been used with some success over the centuries: against the Irish, freed slaves, Eastern Europeans, and Mexicans and Central Americans. You may, however, have to get out your chisel and reword the inscription on the Statue of Liberty to read: "Keep your tired, your hungery, and especially your huddled masses. They're not welcome here." Which is what that statue should have been saying all along. And can we get a second one on the Arizona-Mexico border?
4. Nine Eleven. If anyone you dislike can in ANY way be considered a potential terror threat, use it. Because silly laws like habeas corpus, right to counsel, right not to be tortured, etc. do NOT apply to really scary criminals like terrorists. It doesn't matter if the person you dislike really IS a terrorist or has ties to terrorists or really has anything whatever to do with terrorism. Just that they MIGHT in a certain light seem a little terroristy is good eniough.
Five years ago, under the Presidency of George W. Bush, the idea of questioning Federal Government policy was considered just shy of treason. Loyal dissent, as I understood the term, was dead.
Enter President Barack Obama. And dissent has not only made a roaring comeback, it has become fashionable. The mere suggestion that we close tax loopholes on the wealthiest Americans now equals "class warfare." And there are calls for the abolition of the Department of Education, The Public Broadcasting System, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The Environmental Protection Agency. All on the grounds that government has become too invasive in private life, that it is FORCING its preferences down the throats of the American people. The American people, it has been argued, know what they need and it certainly is NOT art, diversity, or education. A business climate unimpeded by regulation, it has been said, will of its own grace and charity provide for these things in "proper" proportion, if they are to exist at all.
But as both Tea Party Patriots and Libertarians rush to throw out this bathwater... what about the baby?
I recently unfriended a longtime college acquaintance for suggesting that OSHA was useless. When I argued that OSHA regulations kept workers like my grandfather alive because they assured safe working conditions, he countered that, basically, my grandfather (a WW2 vet, Purple Heart recipient, and carpenter whose career spanned 4 decades) should just have learned to be more careful. I told him to go fuck himself.
I will now tell a whole bunch more people to do the same.
• If you have ever driven on an Interstate Highway, you have benefitted from federal funds.
• If you've ever ridden Amtrak, you've benefitted from a federally run transportation network.
• If you've ever bought a plane ticket, you've benefitted from federal subsidies that keep air travel afforrdable.
• If you've ever mailed a letter, you've benefitted from a federal service.
• If you've camped in a National Park, you were a guest of the Federal Govt.
• If you've accepted a farm subsidy, you've taken federal money.
• If you've received disaster aid, you've taken federal money.
• If your child had attended a public school you've accepted a federally subsidized service.
• If you've accepted Medicare or Medicaid payments, you've taken federal money.
• If you enjoy safe air and drinking water, you've benefitted from a federal program.
• If you have money in a bank, chances are it's protected from loss or theft by the FDIC (a Federal agency created by Congress).
• If your food was inspected by the FDA, you've benefitted from federal services.
Now, unless you're willing to say, "Fuck safe food," or you are like the Unabomber and live in a corrugated steel shack and hunt rabbits for sustenance, it is time not only to get honest about the ways you benefit from tax-funded federal programs, but to stop bellyaching about paying your fair share.
This idea that there are Americans who've made it "all on their own without any help from anyone" is the most petty and self-aggrandizing lie. I rejcet it. And I reject those who propagate it. We are a community, and nearly everything we do depends on cooperation. Cooperation among individuals, familiies, businesses, houses of worship, and yes, governmental organizations.
I am not suggesting unfettered government any more than unfettered private enterprise. I have no more desire for a Stalinist state than for a return to the age of carpetbaggers and robber barons. What I am suggesting is cooperation, and an end to the frantic calls to amputate entire limbs of government based on a whim.
I'm no expert on the case of Troy Davis. I have not been following his story since his first stay of execution in 2007. In fact, I didn't know of Mr. Davis at all until last week, when I stumbled quite by chance onto a local protest staged by his supporters.
But I've been watching the doings of my fellow humans with keen interest for nearly a half century. And so I decided to conduct a little experiment.
After several detailed Google searches for unsolved murders of US police officers turned up no comprehensive list, or in fact any list at all, I embarked upon my own search. I used search terms like "unsolved," "unsolved murder," "open case," and "remains unsolved" paired with terms like "officer," "police officer," and "officer killed." I came up with a list of nine names. Nine US officers whose murders have never been solved. Coffey, Garnier, Stathers, Stephens, Cain, Johnson, Edwards, Brenton, and Bailey. Let's assume that my search turned up only 20% of the actual open US homicide cases in which an officer was the victim. That gives us 81. For perspective, the corresponding number in the UK is 211 unsolved cop killings. In an island country, and one far smaller than the US.
In 2009, 117 police officers in the US were killed in the line of duty (a standard-setting low). In 2010, that figure rose to 160 (a noteworthy high). So, if we average those two years we get about 136 US police officers per year who are killed in the line of duty. Go back about 25 years (a time frame embracing the 9 cases I found) and you get 3400. That's 3400 US police officers killed in the line of duty over the last 25 years.
Assuming again that my search yielded only a 20% success rate (81 unsolved police murders), that means that police were able to make an arrest in 3319 of 3400 cases in which an officer was murdered. That yields a 97.6% arrest rate. That figure alone is impressive, perhaps too much so. Let's say that there are 200 unsolved murders of police officers in the US over the last 25 years, a number similar to that in the UK. That still yields a 94% arrest rate.
Although I've never heard of anyone being acquitted of the murder of a police offcer, let's assume that some cases do go that road, for whatever reason (actual innocence, prosecutorial errors, procedural errors, etc.) I'll be generous and say that 10% of those trials resulted in acquittals. So, from our 3200 homocides resulting in arrest, we deduct 320, leaving 2880 convictions (90%) for felony murder of police officers in the last 25 years.
For perspective, if the nation's police forces and district attorneys were as efficient in catching, prosecuting, and convicting, say, sellers of narcotics, there would be virtually no drug problem inthe United States.
OK, by now you know where I'm going with this. And you're saying,"Wait, the police are very protective of their own. Of course they're going to use all manpower resources to solve the murder of one of their own." And that is true. But we're also talking about officers who are, shall we say, extremely motivated to arrest someone in these cases. Perhaps so much so that nearly anyone even remotely connected to the time and place of the murder would suit them just fine. Are we talking about detective work or just an old-fashioned torch and pitchfork witch hunt? The desire for retribution is a powerful thing. It clouds the judgment. It makes questions of guilt or innocence seem less important than the frightening prospect that this murder may go unsolved. It creates the vengeful imperative that someone--anyone--must pay for this terrible crime that strikes at society's heart.
They key word in the Troy Davis case was: Doubt. There was substantial doubt about his guilt. Doubt that the police had gotten the right man. Doubt among the witnesses, many of whom recanted their prior testimony.
Troy Davis was executed last night. But that doubt remains.
About a week after 9-11, I remember Cecily and I embarking on a 3-state camping trip. In upstate NY we were invited to a candle-light vigil. I remember that day's local newspaper including a cardboard US flag in every copy. Someone suggested we put one on our car's dash, "because you don't want your windows broke." That was the first time I felt the hand of coercive patriotism on my shoulder.
I recognized it for what it was: fear. We were wounded and we were afraid of being wounded again. So we embarked on the daunting and brutal task of grouping like with like and weeding out anything (or anyone) smacking of difference.
A few days later, also in western New York state, we encountered a roadblock. It was surprising, because it was on a local two-lane. But when an elderly man decided to break from the cue and turn aroiund, he was pursued by the police and stopped. I'm not really sure what the police were doing. They'd pulled a few cars from the line and I watched as the owners vainly flap0ped papers and waved arms and made generally pleading gestures. Bear in mind these were without exception Caucasian coupes and families with mayonnaise complexions. Finally came our turn. We were scruffy from camping and wore t-shirts that showed our tattoos. But our paperwork was in order (a gift of sobriety). So we had valid registration, a current license, and ecen up-to-date inspection (which we'd almost never had while drinking). And of course, we were sober. So despite the tats, we were allowed to go on our way. I suppose I'll never know what prompted all the hubbub, but am going to guess it had something to do with 9-11.
Since those days, things have changed. And while there have been fewer warnings about broken car windows, we have had to endure aggressive TSA searches, warrantless wiretaps, the suspension of habeas corpus, and a range of other insults to our liberty as a people.
So let us remember on this day not only the lives lost on that terrible day, but the freedoms (both those taken and thse willingly surrendered) we have lost in the name of "security."