I like detective stories. Henning Mankell says that character is revealed in moments of crime, or something like that, and he uses his detective novels, many of which are also films, to talk about politics, too. Which makes me feel better about it, as if simple pleasure is not enough. I’ve watched all the Scandinavian crime TV shows on Netflix. The cops hardly ever carry guns. Fat old cops chase down young muscular criminals and catch them, somehow, through sheer force of will or authority. European cops often go right into people’s homes if the people are gone, and we don’t even mind because they are good. European criminals hardly ever think to say they want a lawyer. Usually detectives drink too much, but we don’t hold that against them unless they are female. If they are female, it’s troubling. We worry about them in a way we don’t if they are male, even if we are feminist and know this is illogical. When I read Donna Leon, I want my husband to be Commissario Brunetti, and I want to live in Venice. For a long time after the Supreme Court appointed Bush president, I only read detective novels. I wanted a world in which things got sorted out eventually, a world in which the bad guys lost, the good guys won, the truth prevailed.
A man was pushed onto the subway tracks last week and struggled to get out while a station full of people watched. Even more chillingly, someone took a photograph. I heard a radio commentator explain that this happens with crowds. Everyone thinks someone else will take care of the problem. Maybe it’s a message for us all. Maybe it suggests that we might approach problems—not just a stranger who needs help, but everything: climate change; torture; war; extinction; deforestation– as if it is just us on the subway platform, alone, and one man, asking for help.
Sometimes I imagine that writing about problems is enough. It’s what I do, write. It’s what I’m best at, but maybe that’s like being the man with the camera, taking a picture while the train comes.
When we questioned the District Attorney about the decision to use a SWAT team that night, a “small army,” as one of the journalists characterized it, the DA said that overwhelming force generally encourages submission. Research shows that, he said. At one time, not too long ago, a SWAT team was called in only in rare cases: when hostages had been taken or if there was a mass shooting, but now they are used for common crimes. They are used to help serve search warrants. Now our police are militarized. There is no longer a clear line between our police force – whose job it is to protect us—and the military – whose mission is to annihilate the enemy.
According to Radley Balko, writing in the Huffington Post, since the 1994, it has been legal for the Pentagon to donate its surplus weapons to the police.
In the 17 years since, literally millions of pieces of equipment designed for use on a foreign battlefield have been handed over for use on U.S. streets, against U.S. citizens. Another law passed in 1997 further streamlined the process. As National Journal reported in 2000, in the first three years after the 1994 law alone, the Pentagon distributed 3,800 M-16s, 2,185 M-14s, 73 grenade launchers, and 112 armored personnel carriers to civilian police agencies across America. Domestic police agencies also got bayonets, tanks, helicopters and even airplanes.
At the end of the 1968 zombie movie, Night of the Living Dead, the police show up. Zombies, they have realized, can be destroyed if you shoot them in the head. They are shooting zombies. Looking up they see a black man, the movie’s hero, at the window of a house, and he is not a zombie, but they quickly shoot him and move on. He is clearly not a zombie, but he is not part of their group either. Like the zombies, he is part of the “other,” and this is what disturbs me about the increasing militarization of the police, that with it comes also an increasing dehumanization, that we all become the enemy, the other.
~this is an excerpt of the book I’m currently writing. Non-fiction, for a change.
FOX is in charge of filming the Democratic Convention, and so you can understand why there are an inordinate number of shots of people yawning, not paying attention, or looking just plain silly. That’s what we expect from FOX. But what’s the deal wtih CNN? It seems to be an endless stream of criticism, whining and hand wringing. Every time I turn it on, I hear that someone hasn’t hit it out of the park, Hillary’s people aren’t happy, the Democrats seem too liberal, the Democrats have missed an opportunity, yes the governor of VA balanced his budget but he raised taxes, yes Hillary gave a great speech about unity but maybe that means she should have been the candidate, etc. For this I got cable? Geesh.
If you want to complain write to http://www.cnn.com/feedback/forms/form6a.html?3
It’s the CNN address to use for reporting errors. I guess that includes judgement errors.
While I wait for the last season of The Wire to make it to dvd, I’ve been watching The Shield. Yesterday I told Chuck that I can’t figure out if it’s a reactionary program, designed to illustrate the efficacy of torture— show after show, the cops get to the big bad guys by torturing the little bad guys until they tell what they know (and we are glad they’re doing it)— or if the theme is anti-torture, because, when you think about it, the cops who torture (Vic, mostly) lose everything. They lose their families, their jobs are in danger, they lose their friendships and their self respect. So which is it? A rationalization for torture or anti-torture?
Chuck said that the guys who design programs understand how to appeal to both sides of the spectrum. We watch the show and read into it whatever we already believe. And he said anyway any program that works from the perspective of authority, particularly police authority, especially when applied to oppressed people, cities or landscapes is reactionary. So there you go.
Today I heard on the radio that the people in Burma were happy when, during the recent demonstrations, films were made and broadcast for the world to see. Unfortunately the world saw and very little has happened. And now the junta is using those films, checking them frame by frame, to hunt down protesters.