Not the Dream That Is America

Posted by Melvin Bray on August 20th, 2014 filed in Useful Perhaps

A night has passed without tear gas, smoke bombs and rubber bullets. No injuries have been reported. we are grateful.

But we have no reason to celebrate. Crowd control (again it remains hard to call them law enforcement when the ‘laws’ they ‘enforce’ remain ad hoc) still did not replace their us-versus-them narrative for an us-with-them one. All they did was place in reserve one tactic of what has become a daily curtailment of citizens’ constitutional right to protest “for a redress of grievances”.

Time and again leaders of large civil forces, including Lt. General Honore, who brought assurance and aid to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, have attested to ways to preserve peace in cooperation with protestors (see below). Police may be supervised by government officials, but on US soil they work for the people. Their charter doesn’t even include maintenance of their own safety as an subordinating priority. Their charge is “to protect and serve” the people; apart from that, under our constitution no law enforcement has the right to exist.

The type of incremental non-progress we saw last night–no bullets, tear gas or smoke bombs, only limited use of pepper spray, but 47 arrests (persons whose right to participate in the political process beyond protest is now in jeopardy)–is just as familiar as police shootings to communities of color in the US. Tamp down hard, then let up a little so that you’re left abridging many but not all rights and the people remain conscious that it could be worse. Such tactics are reminiscent of Malik el-Shabazz’s description of pulling a 9-inch blade just 2-inches out of the back of a man you stabbed and calling it progress. In the midst of struggles like these for basic human dignities and preservation of civil rights, we sometimes concentrate so much on what can be gained or lost in the next moment that we forget the broader, quintessential question of the american experiment: How ought we be treated by those who exercise authority over us?

Command-and-control, stonewall and ignore is a story and script common to the exercise of authority in America, but it is not the dream that is America. We should not accept it as the best we can hope for.

Lt. General Honore on tactics:


Philadelphia Police Commisioner and former Police Chief of Los Angeles on tactics (beginning around the 9:00 mark):

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