As the week winds down (as far as this individual is concerned, weeks end as Saturday segues into Sunday), let us reflect on a week of reports of recent violent incidents in the United States in ways usual and unusual (neither the usual ways nor unusual way were likely to be widely reported by the culture’s professional and veracious mainstream media, but this individual generally ignore the professionals and has been ensconced in work and James Ellroy’s new novel, so he would not know for sure).
As usual, Radley Balko is the best source for the usual ways (and, as a Washington Post contributor, can be considered a consummate and credentialed professional).
Balko, the author of Rise of the Warrior Cop (New York: Public Affairs, 2013), relayed (via the Post, no less) in a Thursday article that, on August 5, police in an Ohio Walmart shot and killed John Crawford III, a 22-year-old man who was holding an unloaded air rifle he had taken off one of the store’s shelves. A witness had told a 911 dispatcher (and, later, the media) that Crawford was pointing the gun at children. He subsequently retracted that assertion, apparently after viewing surveillance video of the incident (which is available to view at the link). As Balko notes, “… the video makes clear that Crawford never pointed the gun at police, and strongly suggests they never gave him an opportunity to drop it.” A grand jury declined to indict any of the officers involved in the shooting. Balko, who, in his book and elsewhere, has chronicled the encroaching militarization of the inchoate police state more effectively and extensively than anyone else (certainly more effectively and extensively than any other professional), articulately and persuasively argues that exaggerated public and private hysteria as a result of rare mass shootings has contributed to an atmosphere in which the public and police overreact to harmless (if often eccentric) individuals, often resulting in lethal force against innocents. (Some sources report that an unarmed, compliant, peaceful citizen is now eight times more likely to be shot by police than by criminals in the United States.)
Yesterday, Balko recounted the September 4 shooting of unarmed Levar Jones by South Carolina state trooper Sean Groubert during a routine traffic stop for seatbelt violations. Jones behaved impeccably; Groubert shot him when Jones ducked into his vehicle to retrieve the license Groubert requested. (Those who live in the United States could reread the two proceeding sentences, especially the last five of the former, and reconsider the status of their putatively free country.) Groubert was fired, and he has been charged with felony assault. Balko articulately and persuasively argues that a “police culture” endemic with unfounded paranoia about officer safety (despite steadily decreasing officer fatalities and serious injuries) likely contributed to Groubert’s actions and similar incidents (and will contribute to more if the views and training underlying them do not fundamentally change).
For decades (and especially the last decade), U.S. police have been becoming increasingly militarized and aggressive. (Notably, an attendee at James Ellroy’s book signing in Pasadena on Thursday inquired about the author’s views on the subject, which was, to say the least, off topic. The topic would not likely be broached during such an event at such a venue if the problem were not systemic and serious. Ellroy, who could be fairly described as a police apologist, declined to comment, insisting that he does not comment on current events.) Supporters of such militarization and aggression insist it is necessary, not only for the safety of officers but for the safety and security of the general public as well. This militarization and aggression has accompanied a metastasized national “security” apparatus (courtesy of the increasingly inaccurately named Justice Department’s FBI, the relatively recent Homeland Security Department, and the NSA) that snoops on and records private telephone calls and text messages. Representatives of the FBI (which is the oldest of the three but is still younger than some living people) have admitted that agents have been spying on citizens through the cameras of notebook computers for years. The Islam-inspired terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, which an earlier, less robust version of the apparatus failed to detect or prevent, were a crisis that statists of all persuasions (on both sides of the false left/conservative dichotomy and in between them) would hardly let, as one of them put it describing a later crisis, go to waste. (You may recall that one of the aforementioned attacks was partially thwarted by private citizens on one of the planes, and, while the Homeland Security Department's TSA has yet to foil an attack, private citizens on planes have arrested Islamic terrorists that somehow eluded the consummate, sapient, efficacious professionals of the TSA.)
Presumably, an atmosphere of such all-encompassing surveillance and swift, overwhelming police response would ensure that U.S. citizens were safe (from everyone but police, anyway, and certainly from Islamic terrorists on U.S. soil).
On Thursday, an American Muslim beheaded his former co-worker, Colleen Hufford, in Moore, Oklahoma. He was about to behead another woman, Traci Johnson, when a sheriff’s reserve deputy (which does not imply a particularly militarized response) shot him. (Johnson is reported to be in stable condition.) Steyn notes that the individual had the Muslim greeting “Assalamu Alaikum”—“Peace be upon you.”—tattooed on his abdomen. Steyn also reports that he tried to convert numerous co-workers to Islam. If that were not enough, Elder (who links to an Examiner article by Julia Davis) comments that the perpetrator “[d]id everything but take out a billboard” on public social media that he would commit such an act. (Incidentally, the perpetrator had a long criminal record but was hired by the Oklahoma food processing plant anyway. He was reportedly terminated immediately before the attack for arguing with his co-workers about the propriety of stoning women to death. In an atmosphere in which a single arrest for a victimless crime can disqualify one for gainful employment in the United States, such a hiring is, to say the least, curious in the first place.)
Although the first two violent deaths noted above are so familiar as to be as routine in the land of the once-free as a traffic stop for a seatbelt violation, the third is surely unprecedented (or, at the very least, unusual). Authorities have assured a generally credulous, complacent, and apathetic public that the police militarization of the past few decades is necessary for public safety (implying that more innocent citizens are protected by it than those who are tragically sacrificed to it). Authorities have also assured the same public that a massive and invasive security apparatus is necessary to detect and prevent terrorist attacks (which have nothing to do with Islam). The very old and the very young must be molested, groped, and terrified at airports, and the very nerdy must be surveilled while they “fap” (to use the crude demotic of a charming, eloquent culture), to prevent mass death from those who can be detected by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness (and only by confidential, intrusive, privacy-vitiating spookiness).
Consequently, the death of Colleen Hufford and the assault of Traci Johnson must have been flukes (and the religion of their attacker had no more to do with his crime than institutionalized pragmatism, authoritarianism, and evasion had to do with the deaths of John Crawford III and Levar Jones). Surely, the restrained and prudent government of the free twenty-first century United States of America will minimize, if not eliminate, future Colleen Huffords and Traci Johnsons, even if it must kill a few John Crawford IIIs and Lavar Joneses in the process (while watching, molesting, and impertinently, implacably insulting the rest of us).
Returning to the governing philosophy of the era before the Hoovers (Herbert and J. Edgar) and learning from superior leaders in freer eras certainly couldn’t be an option.