Charles P. Pierce on the state of law enforcement in America.
I don’t know what to make of the events in Kenosha, a city with which I am somewhat familiar, and a city with a police department possessed of something of a…history. That history prompted some reforms that got national notice. These reforms now seem to have been inadequate. Jacob Blake is in the hospital, paralyzed, shot seven times in the back by members of the reformed Kenosha P.D. And Kenosha has erupted in protests and violence because citizens generally are frustrated and angry at being shot with impunity under color of law. And the crisis in American law enforcement heads into a very perilous new iteration.
Not long before Blake was shot, a brawl broke out in Portland between a mob of Proud Boys and a group of protestors. The Portland police declined to involve themselves. From the Washington Post:
As the brawls unfolded, Portland police officers remained at a distance. They made several announcements over loudspeakers, encouraging the crowds to “self-monitor for criminal activity,” even as people beat others with sticks, and at least two right-wing activists brandished handguns.“Each skirmish appeared to involve willing participants and the events were not enduring in time, so officers were not deployed to intervene,” the Portland Police Bureau said in a statement.
Police said they did not stop the violence, although the event met the criteria to be declared a riot, because too few officers were available to respond and they deemed it too dangerous to intervene. Officers were tired from responding to a much smaller and less volatile protest that was declared a riot the night before, the bureau said in a statement, and incident commanders also had concerns that officers would be targeted by the crowd.
It appears that the country’s police, feeling unwanted and unloved and embattled because justice is now demanded for the people they kill, are sliding into taking sides with the people who declare themselves as their supporters. This also appeared to be happening a while ago when gunslinging white dudes bum-rushed the Michigan legislature. On Tuesday, the same thing happened in Boise, Idaho. From NPR:
The clash was a manifestation of the anger and frustration from a vocal minority of far-right Idahoans that has been compounding over the last several months as the state has navigated its reopening amid the pandemic. To enforce social distancing, the gallery area above the House chamber was restricted with limited seating. But after the confrontation with state troopers, which resulted in the shattering of a glass door, Republican House Speaker Scott Bedke relented and allowed protesters to fill every seat.
The response stands in stark contrast to 2014 when dozens of advocates pressuring lawmakers to pass LGBTQ protections were arrested for standing silently in a hallway, blocking access to the Idaho Senate chamber. On Monday, an Idaho State Police spokeswoman, Lynn Hightower, said she wasn’t aware of any pending charges against protesters. The following day she released a statement saying that “Idaho State Police personnel determined they could not have made arrests on the spot without elevating the potential for violence,” and that an investigation was ongoing into any criminal behavior “that may have occurred.”
This can’t go on. A black guy gets shot seven times for walking to his car, but armed white goons can break into a legislative chamber and nobody gets clicked. And yes, it all will impact the presidential campaign, and yes, the president’s campaign will use video from the unrest to reinforce the bloody fantasies that they’re peddling to their nervous white base, and yes, the Biden campaign will be pestered by idiots to deplore, and distance, and renounce people and things. All of that will be as it will, but this can’t go on. Something very important will break. Cooler heads may prevail, but that’s not the way to bet any more.
Can you imagine the furor that would ensue if a Black couple who had brandished guns at the police had stood up at the Democratic convention last week and warned the country that the police were out of control? No, you can’t, because if a Black couple had shown weaponry in the presence of a police force, their funerals would have followed shortly thereafter. And even if they had been able to present themselves, the hue and cry from the Trump crowd would be louder — if possible — then that rant by Ms. Guilfoyle.
No, this cannot go on. Not with the current administration, and even if it were to be swept away in November, changing the president and the people in power in Washington isn’t going to overcome the hard-wired and institutionalized racism that permeates every level of our society.