Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Don't Ever Call the Cops: The Tamir Rice Story

The Tamir Rice story, and the irresponsible decision not to prosecute his killers, is breaking my heart. And while the worst sufferers are Tamir's family, I have found myself thinking, ever since he died, about the poor soul who called 911. That person was just trying to do the right thing, but the positive, neighborly gesture led to disaster. Calling 911 brought the Cleveland Police, and because the police came a child died. Everything would have better if the police had not come.

I wonder about that 911 caller, who did the right thing and will have to wrestle with guilt because in Cleveland that became the wrong thing. The 911 call specifically said that the person in the park was probably a kid and the gun was probably a fake. Those caveats got stripped away, and the police rolled right up on the poor boy, got out of their patrol car car, and immediately shot him dead. Then they stood around let the child bleed to death.

Before we go through the apologists' spin doctoring, let's remember three things:
1. Tamir got shot within two seconds of the police's arrival. They did not give him time to comply with any order. I do not think they gave the boy time even to comprehend their orders.
2. The fake gun was still tucked in Tamir's belt when he was killed. The police never saw it in his hand.
3. Even Tamir had been a grown man with an actual pistol, THAT IS NOT AGAINST THE LAW in Ohio. Ohio, for better or worse, is an open-carry state, which means that people have the legal right to carry a gun openly in parks. The cops shot him dead although there was no crime being committed, and no appearance of a crime being committed.

That is to say, there was no crime being committed until the cops arrived. The police themselves became the menace, not for the first time in Cleveland, destroying the civil peace they were sworn to protect.

And that leads us back to the problem of the 911 caller. Because one of the practical lessons here is: do not call the police. They are too dangerous. What should be the safe and neighborly thing to do has the most gruesome unintended consequences, because the police turned a kid fooling around on a playground into violent death. I'm sure that caller won't be quick to call the cops back to the neighborhood. How could you be?

And this is just one particularly stark and ugly example of the ways that bad cops destroy good cops' ability to do their jobs. Police work depends on neighborhood cooperation. Always has, always will. It's impossible to solve most crimes without neighbors providing tips and serving as witnesses. (The prevalence of CSI-style procedurals on TV is partly about denying this fact. In the real world, solving a felony with DNA evidence alone is rare.) Keeping peace and preventing crime depends on neighbors being willing to call 911. When you teach a neighborhood not to call the cops and not to trust the cops, because the cops themselves have proved themselves untrustworthy, you are making real police work nearly impossible.

It's not justice or peace. The police are sworn to uphold both. By endangering the citizens they are sworn to protect, they not only pervert their sworn charge, but make it impossible for any peace officer to do the job correctly.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog

Thursday, December 24, 2015

The Christmas Star

It's Christmas, the second-most-important Christian holiday and the most important holiday for many Americans. Tonight is Christmas Eve. But for some families, every year, Christmas comes at a moment that seems dark and difficult. Many of my friends are in my thoughts tonight, and my own family is grieving.

This will be our last Christmas with Mom. My mother is in hospice. She spoke during the fall about wanting to make it to Christmas, and she has. I am immensely thankful. I am very sad. We have her; we will lose her. The two truths are not separate.

The winter holidays are about celebration and gratitude. Celebrating is easy. Gratitude is harder. In the good years, in our well-fed and endlessly-indulged country, being grateful for our easy bounty often poses an enormous challenge.We take so much for granted, and understand too little of it as a gift. But when Christmas comes to you in the bleak midwinter, gratitude is even more important. You must dig deeper to bring up your thanks. But this is the most important time to be thankful.

I am grateful, tonight, for all the years of my life that I have enjoyed my mother's love. I am grateful that this Christmas I will see her face and hear her voice. And I am grateful, more than I can ever say, to the family that has supported and surrounded her during her illness. Everything I want for Christmas I have; I have already been given it, year by year and day by day, all the days of my life.

There is a reason that this holiday comes at the dark ebb tide of winter. It is the holiday of consolation in the darkness. The Christian story tells of a miraculous birth in the dead of winter, far from any riches or comfort, in the most unlikely of places. And it offers, in the long night of the spirit, a promise of far-off hope.

That promise is not about tomorrow. There is a reason that Easter is the most important day of the Christian's year, and Christmas the second. Easter is the fulfillment of hope. Christmas is hope that has yet to be fulfilled. Santa aside, Christmas has never been about immediate gratification. The child is born, and nothing outward or immediate changes. He is a baby; his great deeds, his historic role, are decades away. Everything will change, but not yet.

Christmas is not about hope fulfilled, but about hope itself: the faith that the better day will come, no matter how long tonight may last. The promise is fulfilled by being renewed, and we are asked to wait again, to hold hope quietly in our hearts through the long, gray winters. It offers us only the reassurance of a distant star, just above the horizon, clear and steady but beyond our reach. All it promises is that the star is there. And that will be enough.

cross-posted from (and all comments welcome at) Dagblog

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Terrorism, Elections, and Keeping Faith in America

What I would love, more than nearly any other possible thing, is for the Republican presidential to shut their mouths about how frightening Daesh is. That's exactly what Daesh wants, and it is shameful that Trump, Carson, Christie, Cruz, and the rest give Daesh that satisfaction. It is still more disgraceful still to give terrorists any advantage in the hopes of gaining political advantage oneself. But my biggest question is, where is their national pride? When did the Republican candidates forget they were Americans?

I love America. It has done many things it should not, including some things of which I will always be ashamed. But it has also done things that I will be proud of until the day I die. And America has relegated not just one or two despots, but a long, proud list of despotisms to the ash heap of history. We've been doing it for hundreds of years. Some people will tell you that liberal democracies with civil liberties aren't strong enough to defeat fascists or authoritarians or kings. To those people I say only: SCOREBOARD.

Our generally liberal, fairly democratic system has been reliably kicking the ass of more repressive authoritarian regimes for nearly two hundred and forty years. Monarchists, fascists, Communists, Nazis: you name them, we've beat them, because authoritarian systems are fundamentally weak and stupid. Our system is better. Their systems suck. The Islamists in Daesh are just one more pack of narrow-minded totalitarians headed for history's trash bin. To them, I say: join the line.

(While we're on the topic, those assholes in Iraq and Syria are named "Daesh." They're not "ISIS" or "the Islamic State" or - get real for a minute - the "Caliphate." I mean, seriously, in their dreams. They are not a functioning nation, and let alone a return of the Abbasid Dynasty. They're a gang of fanatics who've taken advantage of a temporary power vacuum to claw their way to minor-local-warlord status. Their name is Daesh. They hate that name, and think it's demeaning. So fuck them. That's their name.)

I'm not making light of their crimes, or saying that they do not enrage me. They are, to use the most precise and well-defined terms I can, murdering scum. I have not lost any friends to Daesh, but some friends of mine have; no one Daesh has murdered deserved to die. But the threat they actually pose to Americans is tiny. The vast majority of people Daesh has killed, obviously, are other Muslims. In this country, even if you credit Daesh for the San Bernardino killings, that means they have only barely managed to become approximately as dangerous to the average American as, say, deranged college students. (That comparison is not a joke, and certainly not to me. Not where I work.) Americans aren't in any more danger from Daesh than Americans who work or study on college campuses are in danger already. The proper response to that threat level is mostly to keep calm and carry on. If we could all kept the same stiff upper lip about Daesh that, say, college librarians these days keep, we would be doing pretty well as a country.

To those who talk about Daesh as an important threat, I have to say: compared to what? The nuclear-armed Soviet Union? The Japanese Navy in 1941? Get real. Drunk drivers kill more Americans than terrorists ever have. Puffing up Daesh into some invincible bogeyman gives them what they want, and talking as if America ought to be intimidated by them disrespects some of America's proudest achievements. Let's stop talking about being afraid of them, and begin remembering the things they should be afraid of. Authoritarian movements are justly terrified of liberty, at home or abroad, because free systems make smarter and more flexible decisions over the long term. Freedom scares them because freedom can beat them.

These Republican candidates speak as if it were the other way around, as if freedom were perpetually weak and tyranny always strong. A few of them are just pandering to voters' fear, cynically and inexcusably. But worse still, some of these candidates, maybe even most of them, believe what they are saying. They think a free America is weaker than an unfree enemy, almost any unfree enemy. They believe this despite the empirical weakness of Daesh's position and resources, because they believe, as an article of faith, that repressive ideologies are more powerful than democracy. They believe this without evidence. They believe this despite the evidence. The historical record shows America beating monarch after dictator after generalissimo after king, and these clowns refuse to believe what America's history has repeatedly proved: dictators are weak.

They do not believe in America. They do not believe in democracy or civil rights. They look at our greatest strengths and see weaknesses, ignoring the scoreboard of history. We don't need to make America great again, because America, for all its flaws, has always been great. Donald Trump cannot begin to fathom that greatness. He does not love America, because he has never understood what America is. He is impressed by Vladimir Putin, and vice versa, because he is a coward and a fool.

This is why the Republican plans for fighting Daesh are simultaneously un-American and useless.
They believe in authoritarianism and repression as goods in themselves. They want to take steps with no real security value, to take steps that actually make things worse, exactly because those steps are repressive and against American values. Being un-American is their goal. Closing borders, discriminating against hundreds of millions on the basis of religion, censoring the internet -- none of these things will work to make us safer. They will each make things much worse. But this sorry collection of Republicans want to do exactly these things, because this collection of Republicans is driven by faith. They have faith in repression and in tyranny, and no amount of evidence can shake that faith. They believe, deep in their hearts, that the American experiment will fail, that its success is just an illusion. They are wrong, and America will prove it. Not for the first time, and not for the last.

I have faith that America's success has never been a fluke. I have faith that America has defeated an assorted list of tyrants and tyrannies for good and clearly explicable reasons. I believe that this time will be no different, because none of the important things have changed. I believe that the Tories who talked about George III being unbeatable and the appeasers who talked about Hitler being unbeatable and the frightened fearmongers who talk about "ISIS" being unbeatable have all drunk the same tainted Kool-Aid, the same dreams about the power of tyrants. I believe such Kool-Aid is bad for one's health. I believe that the fearmongers are wrong: wrong about our past, wrong about our future, and wrong about the day before us. I do not believe that we need to choose between liberty and security, or that such a choice is possible. I believe that liberty is the smartest and most prudent path to our continued security, that only a free society can be safe.

America, now just as before, must keep its faith with our Founders, not because the Founders were divinely inspired but because they were such practical realists. They believed in an open society because they saw it could work, and because they saw it working. How many times have we seen that they were right? How many more times do we need to be shown the wisdom and safety of remaining free?

These are the times that try men's souls, as another American wrote, the week of another Christmas, when America's future looked dark and naysayers were claiming that our experiment could never work, because democracy was not strong enough. That was the Christmas of 1776. Nothing that matters has changed.

cross-posted from, and all comments welcome at, Dagblog