Service with a Smile


In an exchange in Decatur, Alabama, between a police employee and a handcuffed citizen, the employee identified himself as F*ck You when the citizen asked his name. The citizen and another young man had been filming a music video outside, and there are conflicting accounts about whether they used a handgun as a prop in filming. The sight of the handgun may have prompted a passerby to call police. It is unclear if that is what brought police to the scene, but if it did, then the two young men used poor judgment in filming in public with a handgun without making it abundantly clear they were engaged in a harmless fiction.


Further speculation on what brought about the police encounter devolves into victim blaming and sidetracks the basic point, which is that the behavior of Officer F*ck You was clearly out of bounds and unnecessary. It turned out the two citizens had not been up to no good and there had been no need to handcuff them and illegally search at least one of them. Officer F*ck You’s thin skinned behavior is precisely the kind of escalation of an encounter with a citizen that too often ends with the police employee meting out violent street injustice. A person as hotheaded and drunk with power as Officer F*ck You has no business dealing with the public.

Hello my name is sticker
Many people dealing with the public find it helpful to wear a sticker like this one. Write in whatever name you like, but try to be nice! Image created by Eviatar Bach.

We can imagine other scenarios for the encounter in order to guess at why it went wrong, but thankfully stopped short of becoming another incident of a police employee murdering a citizen. What if the two citizens had been middle-aged white businessmen in suits and ties? Chances are higher in that case there would have been no police encounter at all, even if a passerby had spotted a handgun. Surely such fine gentlemen must have good reason for what they’re doing! Perhaps they’re police detectives filming a training video!

Had the police nonetheless been called to the scene, chances are high the police employees would have treated the two white, middle-aged men in suits with circumspection and respect while working politely toward a peaceful resolution to the problem. Had Officer F*ck You been called to the scene at all, he might have introduced himself instead as Sam-I-Am, the character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham who beguiles another character into trying the titular foods. Or he could have said with a salty twist “Call me Ishmael”, as the narrator does at the beginning of Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.

“The Name Game”, a 1964 song written by Shirley Ellis and Lincoln Chase, and performed by Shirley Ellis.

There are any number of names Officer F*ck You could have used if it is the policy of the Decatur police department for employees not to identify themselves when asked by a citizen. He could have referred to such a policy as a reason for not giving any name at all. Contrary to what many people may believe, it is not a matter of law that police employees identify themselves by name, but a matter of each police department’s policy. All of the alternative tactics mentioned above would have conveyed a less hostile tenor and might have even lowered the tension. Isn’t that what a police employee is supposed to do in order to keep the peace? What purpose does it serve when a police employee gets in a citizen’s face when that person simply asks for a name and badge number? Who does it protect to belligerently retort “F*ck You! F*ck You is my name!”?
β€” Ed.


There Are No Easy Answers


Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of Spike Lee’s 1989 film Do the Right Thing, first shown at the Cannes Film Festival in France. May 19 is also the birth date of Malcolm X, whose posthumous influence on the film Mr. Lee acknowledges with a quote from him at the end, along with a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.. The quotes are about non-violent resistance to oppression (the Rev. King) and the occasional need for violence in self defense against oppressors (Malcolm X). As throughout the rest of the movie, Mr. Lee makes no judgements, but merely puts those ideas out there for the audience to consider. Do the Right Thing provokes thought; it does not provide answers, and 30 years later the state of race relations in America has hardly budged from what Mr. Lee portrayed in the film.


The film did not win the highest prize at Cannes, the Palme d’Or, though it was nominated. It was not nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars, and the film that won the honor for 1989 was Driving Miss Daisy, a good film about race relations but a safe one for Hollywood, and a film that in the years since has receded in importance in the rear view mirror. Nearly 30 years later, Spike Lee’s film BlacKkKlansman was nominated for Best Picture at the Oscars but lost to another safe film about race relations, Green Book. Both Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book are films produced by largely white filmmakers for consumption by a largely white audience, and are meant to comfort white liberals without unduly upsetting white conservatives. That each received Hollywood’s highest honor is a testament to the institution’s eagerness to pat itself on the back for occasionally making a social message movie without rocking too many boats.

Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X waiting for a press conference to begin in March 1964. Photo by Marion S. Trikosko for U.S. News & World Report, now in a collection at the Library of Congress.

What’s missing in that equation, of course, are African-Americans. In contrast, Spike Lee has made films for everybody, and Do the Right Thing was groundbreaking in that respect. All the characters he portrays are well rounded, with good and bad aspects to all of them. As the late film critic Roger Ebert noted, there are no heroes or villains that we can easily hang labels on. Those portrayals are more true to life than the safe, near-stereotypes portrayed in Driving Miss Daisy and Green Book. The complexity can also leave some viewers uneasy, since they desire the satisfaction of stories that follow a familiar arc leading to either a comforting conclusion or one that at least ties up some loose ends of the story. Do the Right Thing provides none of that. It is a wonder a major Hollywood studio, Universal, backed the film financially and distributed it widely. That it was popular with the public and, eventually, with most critics despite its unconventionality in style and substance is a testament to how well crafted it was by Mr. Lee and his cast and crew.

Ossie Davis as Da Mayor has a confrontation with some youths on the street in Do the Right Thing. Warning: foul language.

30 years later Do the Right Thing stays with people who view it now for the first time as much as it did with people who saw it then, prompting the same questions in their minds. A few years before Mr. Lee made the film, there was the racially charged incident at Howard Beach in the New York City borough of Queens, an incident which informed the events in Do the Right Thing. Two years after the movie came out, there was the police beating of Rodney King in Los Angeles, and despite the incident being filmed by a bystander, showing the excessive use of force by the police, the cops were subsequently cleared in court, leading to riots in black neighborhoods. There has been no end of ugly, often fatal, incidents in America like those portrayed in the movie, and they just keep coming, like waves pounding the shore. The observations Spike Lee made in Do the Right Thing about race relations in America are still relevant today; the question remains – is anybody listening well enough to change things?
β€” Vita

“I just want to say – you know – can we all get along? Can we, can we get along? Can we stop making it horrible for the older people and the kids?”
β€” Rodney King, speaking on television in relation to the riots in Los Angeles on May 1, 1992, after a jury acquitted the police who beat him the year before.


As the Twig Is Bent


“‘Tis education forms the common mind:
Just as the twig is bent, the tree’s inclined.”
β€” from Epistle to Cobham, “Of the Knowledge and Characters of Men”, a 1734 poem by Alexander Pope (1688-1744).

On Sunday evening, January 20, at the end of the weekend that started with the fracas in Washington, D.C., on Friday, January 18 involving members of the Indigenous Peoples March, Covington Catholic High School participants in the March for Life, and the Black Hebrew Israelites, tens of thousands of mostly white people got worked up cheering on the Chiefs in their American Football Conference (AFC) championship game against the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri, by enthusiastically doing numerous tomahawk chops in unison to some sort of ersatz Native American war dance chant while encouraged by the stadium public address system. While the timing of Sunday’s so-called festivities coincidentally marked the two year anniversary of the Racist-in-Chief’s inauguration, Friday’s incident in the nation’s capital more properly marked the tone he has set the past two years.

The Tomahawk Chop (5050920787)
Fans of the Atlanta Braves doing the tomahawk chop on October 3, 2010, during the last game of the baseball season. Photo by Kyle James.

The history of mostly white sports’ fans enthusiasm for tomahawk chopping goes back to the late 1980s and early 1990s, when the success of teams such as the Atlanta Braves in major league baseball and the Florida State Seminoles in college football brought it to the attention of the rest of the nation. Native Americans objected, as they have to the more egregiously stereotyped names of sports teams like the Washington Redskins, but no one paid them much heed, not even Ted Turner, the ostensibly liberal owner of the Braves, nor his wife at the time, actress Jane Fonda, who has often professed her liberal views. When it comes to disrespect for Native Americans, there are apparently few differences among other Americans of whatever political stripe, ethnic origin, or religious affiliation.

Rod Serling’s introduction to “He’s Alive”, a 1963 episode of The Twilight Zone television series, starring Dennis Hopper.

Naturally the boys from Covington Catholic were not born with mockery and dismissal of Native Americans ingrained in their systems. They had to be instructed, as Oscar Hammerstein II wrote in the lyrics to “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught”, a denunciation of racism in a song from South Pacific, the 1949 musical Hammerstein wrote with Richard Rodgers. Even if their parents didn’t teach them directly, it would be difficult for them to not pick it up from the larger culture of privileged white people, among them those who have the wherewithal to buy tickets to an AFC championship game. The larger culture of privileged white people then came to the boys’ defense, among them large media companies that went to work smearing Nathan Phillips, the Native American elder most prominently involved in the Washington fracas, and the public relations firm with connections to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) that was hired by the family of Nick Sandmann, the teen wearing the MAGA hat who stood smugly smirking at Phillips, to spin media coverage in his favor.

The end of the “He’s Alive” episode.

How would it be if the tables were turned and the Washington Redskins became the Rednecks and the Kansas City Chiefs became the Crackers? There are slurs for other ethnic groups that the teams could use, all of which are highly objectionable and would of course never be used. How about instead of pantomiming a tomahawk chop, the mostly white sports fans attending games started imitating a police baton swing? Perhaps in order to add insult onto injury and further enhance their reputation for insensitivity, the fans could do it during the playing of the National Anthem while black players are kneeling in protest of police brutality and racial injustice. No doubt some white people would enjoy the activity and feel entirely justified in doing it because of the satisfaction it would grant their perversely self-pitying sense of grievance, as evidenced by the white supremacist phrase “It’s OK to be white”. Like “Make America Great Again”, it is at first glance a defensible phrase, but examine it more closely and it becomes clear it is a code hiding a host of indefensible horrors.
β€” Vita

The title song to the 1972 documentary Imagine, with John Lennon and Yoko Ono.


No Sweat


Nike’s new advertising campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick poses some ethical questions for him and for potential buyers of Nike’s athletic apparel. It does not effectively pose any ethical questions for the company, Nike, because they have never been overly concerned with that sort of thing, as continuing controversy over its reliance on overseas sweatshop labor attests. For Nike the new advertising campaign is strictly a business proposition.


Nike Headquarters Oregon
Nike Headquarters near Beaverton, Oregon, in July 2010. Lake Nike is in the foreground. Photo by Brandon Carson.

Mr. Kaepernick has been under contract with Nike since 2011, but this is the first time the company has prominently featured him in their advertising. The campaign has everybody talking, and that of course is the goal of all advertising. Nike may or may not support the cause of protesting police brutality and racial injustice, but more likely they are simply capitalizing on Mr. Kaepernick’s notoriety and are willing to sit on the fence about his protest cause, no matter what their ad slogan implies about it.

What’s more difficult to parse is the willingness of Mr. Kaepernick to make himself the face of such an amoral corporation. It’s hard to believe that a socially aware man like him would be completely unaware of the lingering taint of Nike’s historic exploitation of cheap, non-union labor. Nike has dozens, perhaps hundreds, of athletes under contract to promote its products, but none have been primarily renowned for social justice causes as much as Colin Kaepernick. There are substantial financial incentives for him in participating in Nike’s advertising, though it beggars the imagination to believe he is unaware of the conflicting signals he is now sending people who have supported his protest.

The targets of Nike’s advertising, the buyers of its shoes and other athletic gear, are probably mostly unaware of Nike’s history of exploitative labor practices. That has to be what Nike is counting on and why they are willing to put forward a controversial figure to promote their products. Nike knows its target market is under 30, and to many of them Mr. Kaepernick is a hero, while only a minority of them may know or care about Nike’s history of bad labor relations. Nike is still in business, after all, and doing better than ever. For Nike’s young customers, there is likely no dissonance bubbling up from this advertising campaign.

It is mostly older folks who are upset with Mr. Kaepernick’s kneeling protests, and Nike doesn’t need their business to stay afloat. The campaign is a cynical, amoral ploy by Nike, which is no surprise, but it’s puzzling to consider Mr. Kaepernick’s motivations, if they are indeed any deeper than face value, such as how Nike depicts him on their poster, accompanied by a slogan with echoes of Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing, or as Nike might appropriate it, Just Do the Right Thing.
β€” Ed.


Calling All Cars


Following up on a story from last December in which some gamers involved an innocent man in their dispute by calling in the police on a phony hostage situation, ultimately leading to the innocent man being shot dead by a police employee, two other gamers as well as the one who made the call are now facing federal charges. While it’s encouraging to see authorities taking this incidence of swatting seriously, it is not surprising to learn that the local district attorney in Wichita, Kansas, where the killing took place has decided not to prosecute the police employee who shot the innocent man. Andrew Finch came to the door of his house when police called him out under the impression that he was armed and dangerous based on the hoax phone call and, when in his confusion he moved toward his waistband, one trigger happy protector and server shot him dead.


It is no longer unusual for police in this country to overreact to situations and escalate them into unnecessary uses of deadly force. What marks the situation involving Andrew Finch as somewhat unusual is that he was a young white man, and even he was not given the benefit of the doubt. Had he been a brown or black person, he might have been killed even sooner. Police employees increasingly show an appalling lack of discernment in their interactions with the public as a whole, and in their interactions with minority groups it appears the shoot first and ask questions later rule is definitely in force. They behave this way for a number of reasons having to do with their hyper macho culture and us versus them mentality, but the most important reason is simply because they know they can get away with it.

What’s wrong with this picture? It’s likely the question has never occurred to the members of the California Highway Patrol (CHP) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) Team depicted here getting down with their bad selves. Photo from CHP social media.

Of course the district attorney in Wichita is not going to prosecute the police employee who killed an innocent citizen simply because that employee had no common sense and perhaps had delusions of being garrisoned in a combat zone, where everyone but your fellow cops is a suspect. Who knows what goes through the minds of these testosterone hyped, jumpy confrontational cops? All the local district attorney knows is that he or she has to work hand in glove with the police department every day in the prosecution of cases, and their cooperation and good will is necessary to get that done. Prosecution of derelict police employees should not be left up to local district attorneys, but to a panel of citizens who can appoint an independent counsel.


Police sharpshooter at Ferguson protests
Police sharpshooter at the protests in Ferguson, Missouri, in August 2014. They take all the expensive equipment the taxpayers hand them and then turn those taxpayer funded guns and vehicles on their fellow citizens. Photo by Jamelle Bouie.

People, particularly white people, are more and more coming to the understanding that the police are blunt instruments with no discernment of their own, and they are taking advantage of that proclivity to sic the police on minorities the same as they would sic a vicious dog on someone. Black and brown people have unfortunately always understood this. The police seem all too willing to play along in most instances, particularly when it gives them the opportunity to lay a beating on some brown or black people. This phenomenon of calling on the police so that they may function as thuggish enforcers for the propertied class rather than as impartial guarantors of the public safety comes courtesy of all the police unions and police departments and local district attorneys who refuse to hold police employees accountable in any way to satisfy the rule of law they are sworn to uphold. A paid vacation and a desk job until things blow over is not only nowhere near enough accountability to the public, it is a sick joke amounting to a slap in the face of the citizens they purport to serve and to protect.
β€” Techly


Forget Me Not


Saturday, November 11, is Veterans Day, a day that an older generation remembered as Armistice Day from its origins in World War I. Not really a celebratory holiday like Thanksgiving Day later in the month, and a little more than a historical marker like Columbus Day several weeks before, in October, Veterans Day has become a day for honoring the service of veterans, living and dead, in war and peace, in the front lines and in the rear echelon. For all that, the day means different things to different people.


Public Reactions, The March on the Pentagon - NARA - 192602
Veterans for Peace contingent in anti-war March on the Pentagon, Washington, D.C., 21 October 1967. Photo by White House photographer Frank Wolfe.

In the last twenty-five years or so, and especially after 9/11 and the endless wars it spawned, Veterans Day seems to have become a way for civilians who never served to either express gratitude honestly to veterans or to salve their own guilt by obsequiously expressing gratitude. None of that is necessary. More and more stores and restaurants offer discounts on merchandise or free meals to veterans or active duty military on Veterans Day, as well as other times of the year. Those are nice, well-meaning gestures, and are no doubt helpful to down on their luck veterans, but overall they are yet another sign of the American citizenry kowtowing to military culture, an inclination dangerous to liberty.

Fifty years ago at about this time of year, in Washington, D.C., tens of thousands of demonstrators marched on the Pentagon to protest the Vietnam War. It was the beginning of the flower power non-violent movement against the war and the glorification of military power and its culture. Among the marchers were Veterans for Peace and members of the Lincoln Brigade who volunteered to fight against the fascists in the Spanish Civil War of the 1930s. Forty years later, in Seattle in October 2007, there was another march against another war, again including a contingent from Veterans for Peace. The scale of that march was far smaller than the one in Washington, D.C., in 1967. Ten years further on, in November 2017, there is hardly anything to be heard in the land but “Thank you for your service.”


27 Oct 2007 Seattle Demo - Vets for Peace 02
Veterans for Peace contingent in anti-war march, Seattle, Washington, 27 October 2007. Photo by Joe Mabel.

The wars haven’t stopped; peace hasn’t broken out. Meanwhile, citizens choose to get upset over some football players and others kneeling during the National Anthem in protest against police brutality toward minorities, though what a lot of those citizens are really upset about is their misconstruing of the protests as being against the Anthem, the Flag, and members of the Armed Services, something that was strongly suggested to them by Supreme Leader. NFL owners and administrators are upset that customers are turning against their product on account of the protests, the top administrator of the league saying that fans don’t pay to see protests.

True, but can the NFL have it both ways? The NFL has for years wrapped itself in the Flag, put the Anthem front and center as part of each game’s introductory ceremony, and had a nearly symbiotic relationship with the Armed Services, including military color guards and fighter jet fly overs as part of its pageantry. All the patriotic trappings were good for marketing to its clientele, some of whom enjoy a good jolt of jingoism with their spectator sports. The NFL owners and administrators neglected to clamp down on players’ personal, political displays in contract negotiations with the players’ union, however, and now they are caught in a bind between some of their more principled players and the sunshine patriot fans angry that plantation politics is intruding on their football fun.


It’s a certainty the military/NFL partnership will be on full display at the games this Veterans Day weekend. Some of those same fans who howl with hatred at the players kneeling to express concern about the abuse of human rights in this country will quite likely take time to say “Thank you for your service” to someone in uniform or to a veteran. It probably won’t occur to the fans to examine any of that. It’s why the football stadiums are often filled to capacity, now more than ever, but not many folks are interested in marching in the streets against war, injustice, and the brutality of establishment enforcers. Hardly anyone understands placing flowers in rifle barrels anymore, but most everyone can say “Thank you for your service”, and without needing to understand it very well at all.
― Vita

Coccinella on Myosotis
Ladybird beetle perched on Forget-Me-Nots. Photo by Yvette Thiesen.


Strange Days


“The mind is its own place, and in itself
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
― John Milton, Paradise Lost, Book 1, lines 254-5.

For those who are paying attention, it’s hard these days to keep up with the news coming from the seat of the federal government in Washington, D.C.. It can seem the news really is erupting from the seat with flatulent, obscene noises. The news can also be disheartening, even maddening. Have we slipped into another reality, or just a darker version with comic undertones? The nuclear nightmare has re-emerged after having slipped away into the dreamworld for more than thirty years.

The fealty of the dead is not respected, while the call goes out to stand in blind loyalty to a starred and striped cloth, ignoring the crimes of the police. It makes no sense, is even insane by any clinical standard, but still the lies and hypocrisy mount one on another, like flies dying on a windowsill. No, those aren’t flies beating themselves silly against the windows, liberal media. Is the media liberal? It must be; we have repeated the lie often enough. There’s a trick some have mastered of refocusing their eyes through the smudged window to what lies outside, where the world is sunny and new. They don’t see the flies.

Where does the new viewpoint lead but to some very old ideas? Beatings, torture, and more war. It’s okay because it all happens in a place away from here, and because the people on the receiving end deserve it, otherwise why would we be doing it to them? Those people would do the same to us and worse, given half a chance. We must not give them that chance, not even a smidgen of it. We must interdict. We must do to others before they do to us. That is Law. To do otherwise is to appear weak, and to appear weak is to be nothing. Let the meek inherit the Earth in the next life, this one belongs to the vicious.

Dante (He Hath Seen Hell)
Dante (He Hath Seen Hell), an 1864 painting by Jean-LΓ©on GΓ©rΓ΄me (1824-1904).

There are people in the world who need destroying, no matter who they are. We know. God knows. God told us. Who are we? The ones who know what God knows, that’s who. One day we might look into our hearts as through a window, and see there only flies battering themselves to death against the glass rather than seeing through them to the green grass and blue skies outside, but that day will never come, God willing, because it’s been an awfully long time coming already and still the world goes on like it has for years, for ages, the rich getting richer, the lunatics insisting they should run things. Still, for all that, some wistful souls continue wanting to make things better by acknowledging there are flies buzzing the windowpanes, and they try opening the windows and shooing the flies back outside.
― Ed.


There Oughta Be a Law*

*Hey, whadya know, there is a law:

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

― Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Salt Lake City Police Detective Jeff Payne may not know the law, but on July 26 at the University of Utah Hospital he was determined to do the bidding of his watch commander, Lieutenant James Tracy, who also does not know the law (making his order illegal), to draw a blood sample from the unconscious victim of a two vehicle crash so that police could determine whether he was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the crash. Payne and Tracy were prevented from violating the constitutional rights of patient William Gray by Head Nurse Alex Wubbels, who informed them that it was against hospital policy, which follows the law, to allow police to draw blood from a patient without the patient’s consent, or without a warrant or the patient being under arrest. Ms. Wubbels’s line of legal reasoning did not set well with Mr. Payne, who grew frustrated with not getting his way and finally gave in to the temptation to abuse his authority by arresting the nurse, roughly slapping handcuffs on her, and frog marching her out to his squad car.

University of Utah Hospital in 2009
University of Utah Hospital in 2009. Photo by University of Utah Health Care.

Nurse Wubbels had to sit in the squad car for twenty minutes while police and hospital administrators sorted everything out, and then the cops let her go free. Ms. Wubbels held a press conference on August 31 with her lawyer, Karra Porter, where she showed portions of the police body camera videos from the July incident. The Salt Lake City police department placed Mr. Payne and another officer, probably Mr. Tracy, though they wouldn’t say, on paid administrative leave the following day. A paid vacation for behaving badly, usual police department internal procedure. Apparently the department hadn’t sought to discipline Mr. Payne at all before August 31, beyond temporarily taking him off the blood draw unit. If Wubbels and Porter hadn’t held their press conference and released the body cam videos, the police department and Payne and Tracy would most likely have gone about business as usual in short order. Now, because of all the stir this incident has belatedly created, they’ll have to wait a little longer. Ms. Wubbels has not yet pressed charges for assault and unlawful arrest.

Detective Payne apparently was claiming the right to draw blood without a warrant from the unconscious Mr. Gray under implied consent law, a police procedure which had been disallowed in Utah since 2007, and primarily used by police to gather evidence in drunk driving cases. Additionally, the Supreme Court of the United States in 2016 rolled back the part of implied consent relating to blood samples as too invasive. Police can still take breathalyzer samples without express consent. Payne and Tracy were either unaware of the change in the law or were so accustomed to rolling over hospital staff that the situation of a nurse challenging their authority had never presented itself to them before. In either case, the cops were in the wrong, making Detective Payne’s reaction even more outrageous.

A scene from the early 1960s television series Car 54, Where Are You? The dim witted Officer Gunther Toody, played by Joe E. Ross, is unimpressed by the discussion of high culture between his partner, Officer Francis Muldoon, played by Fred Gwynne, and the ride along cop in the back seat.

As a case of police brutality and abuse of authority this is small potatoes compared to what police perpetrate elsewhere around the country every day and without accountability. What makes this case notable is firstly the video evidence from the cops themselves, and secondly how the obtuseness of Mr. Payne leads him to escalate to violence what should have been a simple administrative procedure. Would it be too far fetched to ask that law enforcement officers know and understand the law? Is it too much to ask that they behave with adult restraint when they don’t always get their way? Who will ultimately pay the price for Mr. Payne’s ignorance and unwarranted belligerence other than the citizens and taxpayers of Salt Lake City?

Most likely he won’t have to pay a price, considering the way police are not held personally accountable. He may even get away with pleading ignorance of the law, an excuse the Supreme Court has recently ruled can be valid for police, even though anyone else who claimed ignorance would get laughed out of court. That’s why cops like Mr. Payne behave the way they do, because at the back of their minds they know they will get away with it. His accomplice in ignorance, Lieutenant Tracy, has a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Columbia College of Missouri, and he is currently studying to earn a master’s degree in the same subject from the same school. Payne himself attended college at Weber State University in Ogden, Utah, where he became certified as an emergency medical technician. Maybe these schools are diploma mills, or maybe Payne and Tracy are uneducable beyond passing tests necessary to jump career hoops.

Near the end of the 1939 film The Wizard of Oz, Frank Morgan as The Wizard grants a diploma to The Scarecrow, played by Ray Bolger, while the other members of the adventure look on. Despite his newfound brainpower, The Scarecrow still recites a famous mathematics theorem incorrectly.

Or they could just be stupid. Mr. Payne also works as an emergency medical technician for Gold Cross Ambulance. In one part of the video from Mr. Payne’s body cam, he is chatting amicably with other officers, apparently unconcerned over how his bullying has made Ms. Wubbels distraught as she sits in the police cruiser several feet away, and he remarks “I wonder how this will affect my Gold Cross job. I bring patients here.” And another officer says “Yeah, I don’t think they’re [who? the hospital staff? Gold Cross? probably both] going to be very happy with it.” Mr. Payne then declares “I’ll bring them all the transients and take good patients elsewhere.” There’s a 2012 nonfiction book by the philosopher Aaron James that Mr. Payne could read in order to further his studies and perhaps gain some insights into himself, and it’s called Assholes: A Theory.
― Ed.


Just Following Orders


For the second time in a week, the current President, the Thug-in-Chief, made despicable assertions in a speech before an organization of uniformed members, bringing them down to his level, though in the case of the cops and cop cadets he addressed on Friday, they did not have as far to fall as the Boy Scouts he spoke to on Monday. In his Friday speech at Suffolk County Community College in Brentwood on Long Island, New York, the current President advocated police brutality in the treatment of criminal suspects in custody, to cheers and applause from his audience. It’s impossible to excuse either the statement or its reception, but in the President’s case disrespect for the rule of law and for basic decency is to be expected, while the cops and cop cadets should know better.


January 20 riot cops D.C.
Police in riot gear blocking a checkpoint into the Washington, D.C. parade route at George W. Bush’s second presidential inauguration on January 20, 2005; photo by Jonathan McIntosh. Militarization of the police effectively circumvents the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.


The presumption of innocence is not stated outright in the United States Constitution, but it is implied in Article I and in several of the Amendments. There is also a long history of the presumption of innocence in common law, and in judicial precedent in the United States. The current President thinks he knows better, and is prepared to act as judge, jury, and executioner whenever he feels the urge, and now he has encouraged the police to do the same. In May 1989, he took out a full page advertisement in the New York City papers inflaming the populace against the Central Park Five, teenaged males who were suspects in the brutal rape and near murder of a female jogger in Central Park two weeks earlier. The five youths were convicted in 1990 and sent to prison.


Eleven years later a man stepped forward, claiming he was the lone perpetrator of the assault. After an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney, the convictions of the Central Park Five were vacated by the New York Supreme Court the following year, in 2002. The Central Park Five, now free men in their thirties, sued the city for $250 million, ultimately settling for $41 million in 2014. Through all these investigations and the subsequent lawsuit, in which it became clear the young men’s confessions were coerced by the police, the vulgarian who became president of the country in the 2016 election not only refused to apologize for his inflammatory rhetoric against them, but refused even to acknowledge he had been wrong. As for his blanket call in his full page ad for the police to exercise overly broad, even illegal authority, it’s obvious from his recent remarks that he hasn’t changed his noxious opinion.

In the 1960s TV show Dragnet, the Los Angeles police detectives Joe Friday and Bill Gannon, played by Jack Webb and Harry Morgan, respectively, may be corny, but they display a better grasp of the rule of law and basic decency than the current President. Perhaps if they had known what was in store for our country, they might have talked to him in this video clip. Still, it’s doubtful any of it would have sunk in.


Rhetoric encouraging police brutality, when it comes from the head of the executive branch of the federal government, the branch entrusted with enforcing the nation’s laws, is unfathomably irresponsible. At a time when incidents of police brutality, non-judicial executions, and trampling of citizens’ Constitutional rights are making headlines nearly every day, such stupid remarks from the Vulgarian-in-Chief grant permission for cops all over the nation to do more of the same without fear of repercussions, indeed to do so with the excuse that they were just following orders. That’s an excuse with an old, despicable history, and if it becomes acceptable here then we will at last have shut the door on our free society with an echoing, prison cell clang.
― Vita


How Dry I Am


Last Friday the Justice Department released their report on abuses committed by the Chicago police. At a news conference held by US Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Chicago Mayor Rahm “#%*@!” Emanuel, and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, Emanuel said he found the report “sobering.” Are we to infer from his remark that he was smashed out of his gourd when he allegedly colluded with the Chicago Police Department to suppress the dashcam video of the 2014 Laquan McDonald shooting while he sought re-election in 2015?

Grawlix within a speech bubble,
by Myresa Hurst.

Police brutality has never been a secret to poor and minority communities in this country. A few things have changed in the last generation, however, to bring that brutality up front where the larger community can no longer ignore it. Foremost is the prevalence of cell phone cameras which allow citizens to document abuse as it happens. While the existence of photographic evidence seems to have had little effect in seeing that abusive police actually get jail time, it has had the effect of waking up the populace to the abuse.

Secondly is the “Us vs. Them” culture which has taken hold in police departments across the country. Police often behave now as if they are soldiers in an occupying army rather than civil servants pledged to “Protect and Serve” their fellow citizens. They shoot first and ask questions later, if at all, and do so with impunity because they know their union and the rest of the police department “has their back.” The local district attorney will file charges and investigate police brutality with reluctance because he or she needs the daily cooperation of the police in resolving other cases on the docket.

Rahm Emanuel, official photo portrait color
Infamously foul-mouthed
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel

A third and often overlooked factor is steroid use by some cops. Steroids can lead to hostility, hyper-aggressiveness, and poor judgment, all of which are prominent factors in police abusing their authority. Instead of defusing a situation, a cop on steroids is just as likely to escalate it by being confrontational and by issuing impatient demands for a suspect to obey orders, however irrational and impetuous.

There are ways to confront and remedy at least some police misconduct other than the standard police department method of placing an officer on administrative leave – a paid vacation – while they conduct an internal investigation until they hope everything blows over and everyone has forgotten about the incident in question, at which point the officer and the department can return to business as usual. It is police culture that is at the root of the problem, and until we address that, we should understand that adjudicating individual incidents of police brutality is merely playing at whack-a-mole. Along with Mayor Rahm “&+#!!” Emanuel, we need to sober up and hold cops accountable if we expect them to behave with accountability. Every good parent understands this principle.
― Ed.