I say this with some self-mockery, but: Last night was bad. Couldn’t sleep. My insomnia usually presents as middle-of-the-night wakefulness, but Thursday night I just plain couldn’t get to sleep. Might have dozed a bit, but at 11:45 p.m. I was still tossing and turning. Thought, screw it, let’s read Twitter. And that’s when I saw the news of the tragedy in Dallas, which many of you are waking up to now. That was 14 minutes before what’s below was about to publish, and for that, all I can say is: whew.
Rereading it, though, I’m not going to change anything, although I’m glad I waited. I don’t think it’s cognitive dissonance to say you condemn both the sort of police work that leaves two men dead in two nights, AND the ambush massacre in Dallas. It’s clear to me that the police are the infantry in a lot of wars we’ve chosen to fight, or been led into fighting. The low-level cracked-taillight cop hassle that led to Philando Castile’s death earlier this week, and the GET DOWN GET DOWN GUN GUN GUN paramilitary screwup that killed Alton Sterling even earlier (and that was, what? Tuesday?) are all of a piece with a larger brokenness in our society that we haven’t addressed, and can’t even really see. We can’t even agree on what it is, which is one reason I’ll be tuning out a lot of the social-media static over the next few days. I’ll read you guys commenting here, because you are in the main smart and thoughtful, and I’ll read some selected news sources, but right now the best strategy seems to be to step back and ask: What is really going on here? It’s not what we think. It’s something worse, I fear. So, then, below is what I wrote before Dallas. It’s yours now.
I know everyone is talking about a particular police video today, but I want to draw your attention to a different one. This one. A 911 operator in Avon, Ohio gets two calls, one from a young woman, one from a man, claiming a woman they both know (daughter to the man, sister to the father) is a desk clerk at a Fairfield Inn, and just observed an Arabic man with “multiple disposable cell phones” and “full headdress” pledging allegiance to ISIS in the hotel. Come quick, she’s terrified!
And they do.
The tape is long, but the action is in the first few minutes, when the police roll into this suburban McHotel parking lot like the Marines into Fallujah, weapons drawn, shouting GET DOWN GET DOWN SHOW ME YOUR HANDS GIVE ME YOUR HANDS at this poor guy, whose “full headdress” is basically just a traditional white robe and kaffiyeh, whose pledge of allegiance to ISIS was a phone call in Arabic. He complies immediately, but the YELLING ORDERS stuff goes on, and at no point does anyone in a law-enforcement uniform offer him a hand up or, god forbid, an apology. Eventually the guy has some sort of medical crisis while he’s lying down, and he’s taken away on a stretcher.
A few things to stipulate here: Yes, I know this is standard police training. Go in big and loud and don’t back down. My question is, why not back down when you’re obviously wrong? Is there, anywhere in the training manual, any room for common sense to take over, for an officer in charge, or even in the rank and file, to rub a few brain cells together and think, “Hmm, Avon? A Fairfield Inn? Does this make sense as a terrorist target? And doesn’t the Cleveland Clinic do a lot of business with Middle Eastern patients? Who is this clerk and her sister and father? Maybe we can go in a little less…erect, shall we say, at least until the shooting starts.”
This is why people keep getting shot by police. We train officers to go in like the Marines, when a little more Andy Taylor may be called for. I think Jeff gets at the nut of it in his comment yesterday. A lot of police today came out of the military. A lot of their equipment is military surplus. They’re trained to think of themselves as soldiers. We see the attitude here in Detroit when we cross the border to have lunch or a drink in Windsor. On the Canadian side, a polite border officer asks where we’re going, whether we’re carrying firearms, hands back our passports and tells us to enjoy the city. Coming home, a scowling guy in a bulletproof vest asks why we’d cross an international border to have lunch. (“Well, the dim sum in Windsor is really superior to anything you can get over here.”) The vibe is AGGRESSIVE and DO NOT FUCK WITH THE UNITED STATES BORDER PATROL.
A while back, I was listening to a local radio station’s news roundup. It’s Canadian, but rarely broadcasts its call letters, and I’d forgotten until I heard a story about the Windsor police releasing their use-of-force data for the year. They consider unholstering a nightstick a use of force, and it’s overwhelmingly the weapon of choice for Canadian police. Not that it is used often.
The week’s news sickens me, and almost as sickening is the justification that’s immediately offered, by talking heads right down to the comment sections: Police work is hard, it’s stressful, you never know when someone is going to bust a cap in your ass, SHOW ME YOUR HANDS GET DOWN GET DOWN. I’m not denying any part of that. I’m postulating that maybe more common sense is called for. Maybe more humanity. Maybe fewer traffic stops for cracked fucking taillights. Do you know what it costs to get a taillight fixed? Do you have any idea what that amount of money represents to a poor person?
I didn’t mention Newt Gingrich in my veep odds the other day, did I? I should have. I’m thinking he’s my favorite. He’ll take the gig because he has nothing to lose. He’s well out of politics, and makes his living entirely by consulting and writing unreadable books and elsewhere in the shadow D.C. economy. In other words, he has a lot to gain from a brand-build that a veep run with Trump would offer. Newt is 5:2.
If Fox News is like this on the air, imagine what it’s like off the air.
Finally, you all have a great weekend.