Thursday, August 14, 2014

What cops ought to fear more than young black men: young white men

The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to simmer. But with Michael Brown's funeral scheduled for this weekend, it is far from over. I anticipate it will get worse before it gets better, and even then "better" will only be a relative term. Much ado has been made of the police response to crowds of black citizens gathering in the streets. It's obvious that Ferguson law enforcement is extremely hostile to the town's black residents. In the videos and photos I've seen, I cannot say that this hostility is bred of fear, at least of physical harm. If anything, the police are afraid of losing their sense of control and dominance. It's almost like some kind of territorial animal. If they back down in the face of these demonstrations, they'll be perceived as weak. You have to watch how they carry themselves and speak to others as they go about their business, but it's evident. Indeed, this attitude is apparent even at the organizational level. The closure of airspace, the blockades preventing people from entering the town and the handling of journalists show that there is an institutional sense of invincibility in the Ferguson Police Department. And against the disorganized, unarmed and unarmored groups of people in town, they are. Police south of the Mason-Dixon have been dealing with angry black people for decades. They became very good at it during the 1960's, and it is eerie how culturally indoctrinated racism have given these sorts of tactics the same shelf life of weaponized plutonium.

However, what is being overlooked is the Ferguson and St. Louis governments' impotence against another threat. Since Tuesday, hacktivists from Anonymous have pulled the original audio from the police transmissions at the time of Brown's death, potentially obtained the identity of the officer that shot him, and released the personal information of several public officials, including the mayor and police chief of Ferguson. Local government networks, to include phones, have been disrupted or completely shut down.

This is nothing new for Anonymous. The group has gone against national government agencies around the world, and been very successful. What is glaringly important here is the racial dynamics. Anonymous is primarily made up of computer-savvy men in their early 20's to 30's. They are reasonably educated, come from a middle class background, and are politically active. In short, they have very little in common with the people most abused by cops in Ferguson and America at large. Yet they have become involved because they feel common cause with the people there.

This is an extraordinary turning point. There have been numerous cases of police excesses in the last year. Far worse than the death of Eric Garner in New York City earlier this month are the egregious practices of the Albuquerque PD. Yet anonymous, and white people in general, have not involved themselves. The conflict was couched predominantly in ethnic terms. Police have problems dealing with minorities. Whites aren't in the minority. Therefore it's not a white people problem. And people of all colors tend to avoid being part of the solution if the problem doesn't affect them. Watch YouTube or social media long enough, and you see the difference in how people regard their local law enforcement. White people's biggest concern is that a cop will shoot their dog. Black people's biggest fear is that a cop will shoot their son.

That is now changing. Ferguson could become to American policing what the Alamo was to Santa Anna. Anonymous is, if nothing else, a group of idealists (I'm not sure you can call it an idealistic group) and they are acting on the basis of conscience, not interest. There are other groups like that in America. But instead of keyboards they tend to use assault weapons. The pro-gun, anti-government militias of the United States are, like Anonymous, predominantly white. But their membership has a wider age range and from an economic and educational background more similar to the people of Ferguson. The biggest thing the Montana prairie militias have in common with the inner city demonstrators is that they believe the government and the police are the enemy. Their biggest difference is that they are much better prepared to kill people. You are welcome to have whatever views you like about the April standoff between Cliven Bundy's militia supporters and the federal government, but the tactical assessment is not up for debate. Barring a peaceful resolution, lots of people were going to get shot and killed. You don't have to look at the Hutaree plot of 2010 in great detail to realize that it would have been highly successful if they hadn't been caught beforehand. The group was tactically proficient. If their marksmanship had been as good as their fieldcraft, they would have chewed a SWAT team to pieces.

There are two conclusions from this that we must acknowledge. First, that American police are brutally efficient at suppressing and terrorizing our minorities. Second, that American police are woefully unprepared to deal with substantial backlash from organized anti-government groups. If American cops think angry black people are a threat to their sense of territorial dominance, then they should be utterly terrified of crazy white people. Let's allow ourselves the worst stereotypes possible for a moment. Young black men deal cocaine, rape women, rob convenience stores and steal cars. Young white men blow up federal buildings, go on shooting rampages, steal billions of online identities and spew terabytes of top secret intelligence data out into the world. If anything, cops are shooting the wrong people.

And at the rate cops are becoming more indiscriminate, it's not going to be long before a cop somewhere shoots the wrong white kid instead of the wrong black kid. Somewhere where there are a lot of unemployed people who don't know how to hack a government website, but spent a year or two learning how to fight in an urban environment. Somewhere where everyone stays in town after they graduate high school, where everyone knows each other, and where your fondest childhood memories are going out into the woods every weekend during deer season. Somewhere where they still take rifles into the woods on weekends, but they're not practicing shooting at deer anymore.

It's a horrible truth that passive racism has kept the greater American population from confronting the issue of police brutality. The hubris of American police is chiseling through that barrier, abuse by abuse. Right now the backlash from white America is coming in the form of newspaper editors and computer hackers. But those who discount the possibility that it will come in more violent forms ignore the fact that white America's legacy of using deadly force against authority extends just as far as its racism. Commentators have opined that cops in military gear give some people the impression that they're an occupying force rather than public servants. What kind of message does it send to the people who already thought the police were occupiers?


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