Harsh Your Mellow Monday: Fire, Fury, and Frustration Edition
3 things that hard wire our society to repeat this cycle of doom need to be addressed, or will be doing this all over again
I’ve never struggled with putting what my eyes see and read to what my fingers write as I have the last few days. I even debated if it was appropriate to do a purposefully snarky thing like HYMM is, as I did not do when the Coronavirus first hit for a few weeks. But the frustration is real and the anger is real, so if we don’t channel it productively ourselves, who are we to tell others to do so?
Thus here we go, with this weeks Harsh Your Mellow Monday. But do take care of yourselves and each other out there.
No, This Time Won’t Be Different…Unless
Every time we do this, folks will insist “This is the moment…” that everything is going to be different.
God, I hope it is. I pray it is. I doubt it is.
Not because folks don’t want change, or aren’t demanding it, or really don’t mean it when they protest, because everything that brought us up to this point is untouched by all that outrage and will remain, dooming us to repeat this cycle again.
If protests, riots, and outrage changed things they would have after we Americans did this before:
The protests and riots in Los Angeles and elsewhere in 1992:
Hudson nodded at the memory. “Yeah, I looted. Car parts, liquor, cigarettes. What else we get? We got some tyres. I saw it being done all over the place. It was amazing.”
The explosion of rage and anarchy that became known as the Rodney King riots found its locus at this drab corner of south central Los Angeles. Television news helicopters captured scenes that mesmerised and horrified: buildings aflame, crowds looting, mobs beating.
It erupted on 29 April 1992 after a nearly all-white jury acquitted four LAPD officers of savagely assaulting King a year earlier, an atrocity caught on camera. “It was scary because there was no justice,” recalled Hudson, 50. “You saw the man getting whupped. The whole world knew they were guilty.”
And so, for this and other injustices, African Americans here and in other parts of the city lashed back, six days of fury which consumed 53 lives and a billion dollars worth of property and made LA, once a symbol of American optimism, appear apocalyptic.
“I don’t like to predict violence,” Martin Luther King Jr. told an audience at Washington National Cathedral on March 31, 1968. The mostly white crowd of 4,000 packed the cathedral and spilled onto the lawn. “But if nothing is done between now and June to raise ghetto hope,” King continued, “I feel this summer will not only be as bad but worse than last year.”
Angered by poor living conditions, unemployment, and discrimination, African-Americans in 1967 rioted in cities across the country. Twenty-seven people died in Newark, 43 in Detroit.
Four days after his sermon at the cathedral-on Thursday, April 4-King was assassinated in Memphis.
At the busy intersection of 14th and U streets in Northwest DC-the heart of the District’s black community-the news arrived on teenagers’ transistor radios. People began to gather at the intersection, which was near the Washington office of King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Stokely Carmichael-a Howard University graduate who would later become a nationally known Black Panther-led a group of young men into nearby businesses, demanding they shut down as they had when President Kennedy was killed in 1963. Carmichael urged people to remain calm, but the crowd grew. Rioters, many of them teenagers, smashed windows, looted stores, and started fires. They tossed Molotov cocktails into buildings and threw bottles, bricks, and rocks at firefighters who tried to put out the blazes. The mood was part anger, part exhilaration.
You can even go back to a time where we had protests, rioting, and a pandemic all at the same time, 1918/1919, that has already drawn comparisons to now because of the Covid-19/Spanish Flu similarities:
A rash of racist violence against African Americans has hit the United States. Across the land, African Americans and left organizations attempt to organize, or even fight back. Meanwhile, a pandemic ravages the country and the world. International crises further threaten to tear the nation apart.
This was the state of things in the summer of 1919.
The United States reeled from the “Red Summer” riots, where hundreds of African Americans were slain in cities and small towns alike. Many of the “riots” were little more than anti-black pogroms, waged in response to growing demands for civil rights, labor rights, and adequate housing. This all came as the nation struggled to return to a peacetime economy amid international uncertainty, and the influenza pandemic — popularly known as the “Spanish Flu” — pummeled the country. Ultimately, 675,000 Americans would die from influenza, part of over 50 million deaths worldwide.
Historians tend to say that history doesn’t repeat itself. But, in this case, it does feel like it rhymes.
It rhymes because we are remixing the same old song and wondering why it sounds the same just with different lyrics and an updated beat.
It starts with the basic lack of respecting, enforcing, and recognizing rights. Endowed rights. Inalienable rights. Fancy words that just mean the human beings around you have every bit the value you have, and thus you should treat them as you yourself should be treated. This isn’t complicated. Some form of that exact concept is scattered throughout recorded human history from Code of Hammurabi to the “Golden Rule” to Beatles songs. It’s as simple a concept as there is beyond subconscious breathing.
And yet we, the nation with the most freedoms in the history of civilization, screw it up at every opportunity.
The Minneapolis police officers denied at least four and probably more specifically enumerated things from the Bill of Rights that George Floyd was entitled to as Derek Chauvin’s knee killed him over the course of nearly 9 minutes, face down in the street. Protesters have a right to assemble peaceably whether the police like it or not, and shouldn’t be dispersed without sufficient cause. They sure as hell shouldn’t be assaulted for the filming police officers — the act that seems to enrage them with a fury second only to attacking them physically. Journalists have a right to record what is happening on the street corners of America for the same reasons, and under the same amendments to the Constitution, as the protesters. Rioters and professional anarchists do not have the right to destroy anything for any reason, ever. Property owners have a right to expect their tax dollars that fund the police and government mean their businesses will be protected by the same and not ceded to the mob because of optics. And regardless of the anger toward the bad apples among them, the police have rights to not be broad-brushed and assaulted because of the actions of some bad actors in the same profession.
Yes, all that is really hard, maybe impossible to balance. But this is America. This is the greatest experiment in human history of a free people trying to self-govern. This is grown folk citizenship, where you have the right to both take to the street to air your grievances and also to sit at your keyboard and gripe about those who do. It isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be easy. It’s hard. People are hard. Some of those folks’ hearts are even harder. We will always have conflict between the decent and the abusive, the givers and the takers.
Which is why the three things that hard wire our society to repeat this cycle of doom need to be addressed, and if they aren’t we as a people and nation will be doing this all over again.
First off, qualified immunity has gone from a needed shield to an all too real flaming sword in America. Qualified immunity shields an administrative officer from civil liability if they were within the scope of their office, acting in good faith, and so on. The history of the doctrine in case law is long, but for us laity the TL:DR version is the Supreme Court and others have narrowed down what type of civil liability (read lawsuits) can be brought. In fact the Supreme Court just declined to hear three cases dealing with QI, and has another before them right now. QI reform is not going to be easy, and should not be. There are many reasons why law enforcement should have some protections because of the nature of their duties. But the narrowing of rights has been corrected by the courts before, and needs to be again here both by the Supremes and also congress. Do they have the will do to that heavy lifting? We will see.
Second, something has to be done about the public sector unions, specifically police unions. Again, of course law enforcement should be entitled to representation if they so chose. The have rights. But like QI, the police unions have metastasized from protecting those who protect us to shielding the worst at the expense of the good. The problem here is police unions are overlapping ideological ground; the left is leery of criticizing, let alone reforming, organized labor, and some on the right get migraines anytime you have to put down the “Back the blue!” stickers and actually hold them to account like everyone else. Crossing the streams of political power, political influence, and ideological sacred cows is not going to be easy, clean, or quick.
Third, and this is going to be far harder than the first two herculean tasks, is demilitarizing the police. It’s harder to define than a runway law statute like QI, or a union that has become too invested in protecting their own at all cost. But something has definitely changed in police in the last half century in America. I’m old enough to remember when there was still a debate whether it was appropriate for the West Virginia State Police to have a short-sleeved uniform, as some felt it would look unprofessional. Now police in full tactical gear which would be appropriate for trying to retake the streets of Fallujah are common in the streets of Fayetteville. The massive influx of military surplus, not to mention the ever-present overlap between former military and law enforcement from two decades at war, to local police departments doesn’t help that impression. “Use or lose”-type funding and a grant writing system that encourages such purchases, whether you need them or not, isn’t helping either. Sure, it can be justified in some causes, sometimes even needed. You can use an MREP in a natural disaster, and when things go sideways you definitely need the good guys to out-gun the bad guys. But far too many LE branches are somewhere on the spectrum between looking cool with all that gear to ingraining a mindset that they really are at war with the community. Reforming hearts and minds of law enforcement who “protect and serve” means just that — even when pissed off and dressed for Call of Duty LARPing when Class B Galls against your fellow citizens would do just fine — is not going to be quick, or clean, or easy.
My fear is that all three of those problems not only will not be addressed, but be reinforced by officials pointing to the very unrest they have created — and the worst actors taking advantage of the situation to wreck havoc — and going “see there, it’s us versus them” while filing another dozen grant requests for equipment meant for warfare.
Racial issues, ranging from the ignorance of prejudice to the soul problem of racism, are not going to be fixed with policies, ideologies, or politicians. Hearts and minds are the most difficult things to change. But we can do something about the triggers in our government, specifically in our law enforcement, that would at least slow down the escalation. Otherwise the symbiotic relationship of police brutality and cities burning is going to just keep being lather, rinse, repeat until we do.
Eight Great Minutes in American Rhetoric
This is superb. Even in not agreeing with all of it (review boards are well and good but unless you do the three things I outlined in [HM1] they are powerless) this is some Patrick Henry-level stuff on citizenship, freedom, rights, and the responsibilities of all three. I don’t care if there is some language and it’s raw. You don’t think a 2020 version of P-Henny wouldn’t drop some F-bombs and sluts on King George in today’s vernacular? Watch this.
Know When to Shut Up, Charlie Kirk Edition
There is a lack of self awareness and then there is 501Charlie3. Let us come together as a people to mock the ridiculousness of Charlie Kirk.
A white kid who went straight from high school to running a multi-million dollar grifting 501c3 enterprise because he was really good at selling a caricature of what “millennial college students” would want politically to rich, white, right wing millionaires and billionaires, who then flooded him with money to go and do so, has thoughts on privilege.
Shut all the way the hell up Charlie Kirk. Come back when you’ve held down a job that doesn’t primarily involve being “Charlie Kirk: Money Conduit”, being introduced to rich benefactors, and then selling to college kids that you have some kind of brilliant insight from your pitifully uncreative platitudinal Pez dispenser that functions as thinking ability.
You, sir, are the walking manifestation of not only privilege, but the apex of modern socio-political jackassery.
Originally published at https://ordinary-times.com on June 1, 2020.