Sunday, May 31, 2020

Police brutality and popular cruelty

Is the police brutality in the US a result of the racism of many of its members and due to systemic reasons? The question is reopened owing to the riots following a death of a suspect in police custody in Minneapolis last week. For myself I reopen the topic revisiting my notes from January 2015.

I do not think racism is implicated in the killing of innocent, non-violent, frequently unarmed, persons - black or not. The reason is that Americans expect the police to act with intransigent cruelty in carrying out their duties to the letter of the law. The public thanks them for admirably  doing their "difficult" job and deems anybody who makes their job a tad more difficult to be justifiably punished.

Americans are not a kind folk - they are cruel and brutal to the fellow human being. To hide that ugly trait they outsource, so to speak, the cruelty to the agency of the government who carries it out under the mandate of the law. So the cruel human being does not have to punish and discipline his/her fellow human directly - but may smile and wave hello while moving away to facilitate police action.

The law is constructed as a trap that allows a human being to be controlled and punished for any sort of infraction - harmful or not.

  • Law functions as a rule. If I drive 59 mph on a road with speed limit of 60 I am fine but when I 61, 65 or 70 a policeman can stop me and subject me to a gauntlet of orders which can show me as a criminal, beaten into submission or dead.
  • Law censures citizens for non-violent conduct: such as possession of drugs, firearms or items indicating that a crime may be committed.
  • A person violating a law or an order by police suspecting a crime can be punished to any degree of cruelty. This includes jaywalking, shoplifting or illegally crossing the border.

Minneapolis police building on fire - May 2020

Now we are adding to it the outrage culture. This has been developing since 2012 - with impulse to it given by the killing of Trayvon Martin. The elements of outrage started with racism - as the society accused itself of "systemic racism". Racism has been joined by the society self-accusing of sexism - which systematically discriminates against women. While racism and sexism are the pillars of our society being outraged with itself, other and more specific elements of the societal self-hatred have been developing. We are seeing a proliferation of phobias and accusations of phobias being liberally applied to individuals: transphobia, islamophobia, homophobia, etc. Ultimately the accusation of hatred as motivating force in individuals and government is thrown at will.

Outrage culture is society hating itself rather than probing its problems and devising solutions.

The clash against protesters and the law enforcement is very incendiary because it is an unconscious confrontation with the core problems of this society (cruelty) via an emotional (outrage) outburst rather than rational conversation.

1 comment:

Charlie said...

Just my two cents as a leftist from Chicago.

I think you're mostly right, that these protests are an emotional outburst in response to the outsourced cruelty of ordinary Americans. The left is always heavy on critique, light on solutions. But I'm increasingly willing to express my emotions openly, both as an everyday person and as part of a political movement, because the recipients of cruelty are rarely empowered to defend themselves, physically or rhetorically. The notion that this conversation can be rational, can be calm and unemotional, takes for granted that everyone is at the table, that everyone is safe enough to speak up, and that everyone will be heard.

From my perspective here, on the west side- which is always a violent place, the riots seem inevitable. We just hope that the uproar will be enough to mobilize the resources and effort to fundamentally change the cruel system that has pressed down on this community for generations.

Outrage culture is a strategic attempt to contextualize such cruelty within the historical biases of our colonialist society, so we can categorically eliminate the worst effects of the system typically ignored by our (flawed) democracy. I'm empathetic to people who hate outrage culture, because outraged people are often ignorant, hypocritical, and deflective- but it is true that such outrageous discrimination exists on a macro level. We have a responsibility to fix it, but cannot until most people acknowledge that it's real.