Why can’t we all just get along?

You’ll all recall that as the late Rodney King’s plea for calm, in the midst of riots-in-his-name that broke out in Los Angeles after [White] police officers charged with savagely beating [Black] Mr. King– caught on a videotape– were, surprise, surprise, acquitted [by an all-White suburban jury.] Which is why it seems an appropriate tag-line for the present moment, of spontaneous (or are they?) street protests breaking out all over my city (and country) right now, in light of the most recent perceived outrage, that of the non-indictment of the police officer whose actions resulted in the death of Eric Garner in Staten Island, NY… protests, which this piece suggests might start the equivalent of an Arab Spring here. (It also has an interesting angle about Garner constantly being hassled because of regulatory issues– New York’s extremely high cigarette taxes– but that is just as applicable to Ferguson, MO, where the police seemed to thrive on writing bullsh*t jaywalking tickets.)
And I’m going to say “no… they’re not going to lead to an Arab Spring here.” First of all, the Arab Spring has largely “worked out,” if you want to call it that, only arguably in Tunisia. Egypt is not only still an authoritarian sh*thole, but even Hosni Mubarak himself has been acquitted in the aftermath of an ostensible restoration of the pre-Arab Spring status quo there. What took place for a time in North Africa was as much about street protests and a populace that had it as spent regimes no longer legitimate or cohesive enough to contain those protests, resulting in (seemingly) dramatic change.
We have neither of those conditions here. Right now, at least, our governmental mechanisms, at least at the federal and state level, appear cohesive (obviously, there are municipalities with severe fiscal problems, such as Detroit, that may be less cohesive.) And the protests that have broken out have not been insignificant, and have certainly disrupted traffic at times… but they are hardly the scale of the Tahrir Square protests in Cairo or analogs elsewhere in the Arab world that effectively brought activity in those places to a stop, and brought the governments there to crisis (and eventual collapse). Thing is: it’s a numbers thing, and it’s a perception thing.
The outrage of the non-indictments of both officer Darren Wilson in the Michael Brown shooting and of officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner has, to be sure, sparked the level of outrage that triggers this speculation about “Arab Springs.” The outrage, of course, has been seized upon by the usual suspects, like professional race-baiter/racial-ambulance-chaser Al Sharpton, but is nonetheless quite palpable, and given the unfortunate juxtaposition of the two events, outrage seems a quite reasonable response… indeed, while, as a lawyer quite familiar with the functions of grand juries (and politically motivated prosecuting attorneys), I fully understand how grand juries would vote not to indict in either case, even knowing that, I am still outraged myself… but…
The meta-point here is that as long as this is a “Black-White” thing, nothing is going to change. That “Black-White” narrative plays wonderfully into several other long-running narratives (Black victimization by the police, Whites being safe from victimization from the police, just to name two) that are all extremely useful to the ruling elites [as deftly aided by their helpful (well-paid) assistants (yes, I do mean Mr. Sharpton, to name the most famous)].
My point is that something else, extremely troubling, is going on, that being more and more law enforcement officers see themselves not as, well, “peace officers,” but as quite the opposite– a military occupying force, with the citizenry not “the citizenry,” but “the enemy.” The “tip of the spear” will, inevitably, be the place where police are likeliest to encounter “the enemy,” that being the streets of this country. There the likeliest encounters will be with poor people and especially poor people of color (because, historically, those have been the likeliest encounters, because historically, those are the easiest people to harass– they are far less likely to hire criminal defense lawyers to defend dubious or outrageous bogus charges for petty crime, far less likely to have connections to higher-ups in law-enforcement to either “make it go away” or retaliate against the unwary patrolman who hassled them, or threaten withdrawal of political support from the politicians responsible for managing the police.)
Some things are coming to light, such as the Obama Administration’s giveaway of surplus weapons-of-war to American police departments… and if you’ve got military weapons… police will then use military tactics. All of this goes on, not coincidentally, as our overseas empire is no longer able to pay for itself, and our internal economy is experiencing years of decline… those in power want to stay there, and brute force is one tried and true way to do it.
The point I’m trying to make is that “divide and conquer” is also a tried and true way for elites’ power to remain unquestioned and unchecked. As long as most people (this HuffPo piece very smartly observes both the extreme racial disparity in polling– 58% of Whites agreed with the Ferguson non-indictment against just 9% of Blacks– in the context that the issue of administration of justice in this country is far, far broader than the procedural fairness or unfairness of particular indictments or verdicts in particular cases) see only the divisions, they will not realize the bigger game being played on them, that being an authoritarian noose being slowly tightened, featuring not just ever-more aggressive street policing (which, outside of our media centers, presumably impacts more poor White people– think of the word “drifter” if you like– more than it does poor people of color, because there are more of them), but virtually total electronic surveillance of all communications on Earth, legal doctrines like “state secrets,” “preventive detention,” and, “liquidation of enemies of the state” by drone or otherwise, in the name of a “war on terror” (that the Obama Administration won’t even call that)… that, if one were to get past the fact that police in this country appear not to be accountable, and recognize that this is so only because they are serving an elite that is itself not accountable… maybe we’ll get somewhere. Maybe those of you who wonder should realize that while much of this blog seems devoted to events over 1,000 miles south of here in Guantanamo Bay… events there are far more relevant to your lives here than anyone would dare to admit.
In short, Michael Brown and Eric Garner were human beings. They were American citizens. They were killed on the streets of this country, despite being unarmed, and presenting no real threat, by American policemen. And then those policemen were not held accountable for what coroners in both cases ruled were deaths caused by homicide. And that is an outrage. But as hard as it is to do, it is necessary to realize that the second that I insert the words “Black” and “White” in those sentences, I am allowing too many people to retreat to the comfort of their narratives, and escape from the troubling reality that it ain’t “ever thus.” Times, they are a changin’… we can all get along, or we can be played. The present outrage breaking out in the streets of my city is understandable… I agree with the outrage.
But if the ultimate takeaway will be about “White” police and “Black” victims of particular incidents… we will not only not have gone anywhere, we will have cemented one more brick into the edifice of the current narrative, conveniently placed before us to divert us from what time it is (that being “a few minutes before 1984”).
Just saying.