Law Enforcement, Military, and American Society

“Isn’t it funny how red, white, and blue represent freedom until they are flashing in your rear-view mirror?” – Unknown

Many times the military and civilian law enforcement are grouped together. Sure, there are some similarities. They both carry guns and have a duty to protect the country, just the “enemy” tends to be different. The military, particularly the infantry, has a job to seek and destroy while the police are here to serve and protect. Both are legitimate duties of the government  to provide (unless you are an anarchist) and both come with special responsibilities and power. But in a lot of ways they are very different.

I spent four years in the military with the 82nd Airborne Division but I’ve spent no time in a police department (except for a couple years in high school as a police explorer), just to give you an idea of where I am coming from. During that time in the military I got in trouble once for a fairly minor infraction, though I saw many others get in more trouble. The response to soldiers that misbehave seems very different than the response to law enforcement when they misbehave.

The military is very concerned with honor, integrity, and keeping the image of the unit positive in the eyes of other units and the public. This acts as a sort of check on bad behavior. If you do something wrong or illegal, especially if it becomes public knowledge, the military doesn’t circle the wagons. Quite the opposite, they come down on you hard as an example to other soldiers. The mission comes before the individual and if you fuck you then you harm the mission.

I have mentioned before that when I was in Afghanistan and Iraq we had a more strict Rules of Engagement than many civilian law enforcement agencies. If I had used a strictly unauthorized technique on an unarmed subject whom we were trying to detain and it was caught on video I would have been locked up and found myself facing a court martial in front of some Generals. This would just be to punish me, it would be to keep the American people confident in my unit. To disgrace the nearly 100 years of service the 82nd Airborne has done was one of the greatest sins of all. This applied to things much lesser than the death of an innocent person. I saw soldiers sit in jail cells over the weekend because we were ordered not to bail them out. I had half my pay taken away, my rank stripped, and placed on extra duty for 30 days (basically banned from leaving work or base) because I gave another soldier my ID card so he could buy beer. Mercy was not something allowed for those who gave the Blue Devils a bad name. I just don’t see that type of concern for image or honor in civilian law enforcement, instead I see a focus on covering up and maintaining the blue line of silence above all else.

Policing in the US has many problems that vary across departments. Some departments, like Ferguson, are small and seem to be staffed by officers that are not really part of the community. The average police officer salary in the town is 1/3 higher than the average income of non-officers, and 67% of the city is African-American while only 5% of the police department is African-American. With most police department requiring a Bachelor degree and only 22% of adults in Ferguson holding one it seems very likely that the police come from outside the community. Ideally I’d have access to the personal biographies of every officer but that really won’t happen, though we do know that Wilson was born in Texas but grew up in St. Peters, Missouri which has three times the average income of Ferguson.

This outsider status was not something I really saw in the Army. First, the Army allows you to get in with just a GED. The lack of educational requirement means it can be a stepping stone to financial and social stability. Also, my unit also had an incredible mix of ethnicities, home states, and socio-economic backgrounds (the nickname “All American” for the 82nd Airborne actually come from the fact the original group had someone from every state). Just looking at some of the members of my squad in Afghanistan shows you how diverse it could be… my team leader was an African-American from Kansas who was raised Muslim, our grenadier was an Irish-Catholic from New Jersey, one of the SAW gunners was a big country boy from North Carolina, I was a protestant Christian from the Northwest, one of our riflemen was from Chicago, and another member was from Maine. This diversity meant we had a loyalty to America as a whole and not any place in particular, and because of my connections to those men each of those places felt a little bit like home.

I think the situation in New York is a bit different, though I know nothing about the economic and racial makeup of different neighborhoods so the same “outsider” issue may apply. New York, particularly since 9/11, has had a culture that doesn’t tolerate criticism of the police very well. Elevating humans to a sort of god-like status is a guarantee that rights will be abused, humans are not angels and police should be held to a higher standard. They should not be able to just violate rights through random searches and racial profiling, but that is allowed daily in New York. And clearly, you can do something that even George W. Bush thinks was out of line and the civilian population will tolerate it because of the badge.

Of course, the general public is to blame also. We have become a country that turns to police for every little problem. Neighbor being loud? Call the police. Kid playing at the park alone? Call the police. There isn’t even an attempt to correct the problem without calling someone with a gun to escalate the situation. I saw that first hand here when someone called the police on our neighbor because the dog was barking… no note on the door, no asking the apartment complex manager to talk with them, just straight to the cops. It used to be the police were more like the Fire Department, they were around but you only dealt with them when things were really bad. That just isn’t the case anymore, they are revenue generators for an out of control government, they are sent after peaceful people for victimless “crimes”, and they are supposed to solve every inconvenience that comes from living in a society. We have given military weapons to people who are not properly trained, told them to solve all our problems, and then said they won’t be held accountable if they kill someone… of course this leads to a sick institution, there is no way of avoiding it, and there will continue to be dead, unarmed civilians (most likely men of color) until accountability and transparency are brought to police departments and they return to their primary duty of protecting and serving the community in which they are a part of.

Disclaimer: Clearly this is a complex issue. It is incredibly difficult, if not impossible, to cover all the details and nuances. Also, I’m just a random blogger so this stuff isn’t an academic study. It is just my thoughts that developed from a conversation on my Facebook page (be my friend!)). Many of the points were made by my friends, like a lot of things in the world value is created through a communal effort and discussion.

Alice

Recently I took some psychedelic mushrooms. Psychedelics is something that I want to like, they sound fascinating, but so far I have never had a great experience. They haven’t been bad experiences, just not really fantastic. Sure, sex is fantastic on them, but sex is fantastic sober and on MDMA. I get some visuals but my logic never really shuts down and I can’t really get into it, I enjoy the show but I know it isn’t really happening.

I also get pretty sick to my stomach put can’t induce vomiting. It distracts me and takes away from any good feelings I’m having. I also don’t really know what to do on shrooms. I was kind of trapped in the apartment because it is winter and even though I felt good I didn’t have the motivation to take more and really go down the rabbit hole. Maybe I need to do that, stop dicking around and just ingest a higher dose from the beginning instead of inching up to it.

I know what to do on MDMA, the intimacy and open communication comes naturally to me. I like talking to others, cuddling with them, massaging them, orgasming with them… but that drive really isn’t there with shrooms. Maybe I am not ready for them or maybe I need a better environment. I can kind of see how it would be fun on a nice spring day to be in a secluded natural environment and take some, but locked in a house just didn’t work for me. Ugh, I’m open to it again but so far my shroom and acid experiences have not lived up to my expectations.

Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights

Abortion is one of the few subjects where I kind of don’t know for sure where I stand. I was raised in a very conservative home that viewed abortion as an evil thing because it killed an innocent life (I hadn’t realized the irony of holding that view but also supporting the death penalty and a military empire that results in innocent deaths all the time), I even gave a passionate speech during youth group about how abortion is wrong even in the case where the mother is in danger because it is up to God to decide who lives and dies.

Well, as I saw more of the world and encountered more people I have come to realize it is much more complicated than that. I am going to start reading more on the subject, my thoughts at this point are basically from conversations and my own internal dialogue. I’ll be starting with “Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights” by Katha Pollitt and am open to reading suggestions from all sides of the issue.

Here are some of my initial thoughts on the subject:

Even if you begin with premise that life begins at fertilization and life is to be protected at all costs I don’t think abortion should be illegal. Pushing something into the black market makes it more dangerous and expensive, particularly to minorities and low-income families. The wealthy will always have access to safe abortions, even though it may cost more.

Abortion (at least early in the pregnancy) doesn’t seem to violate the Harm Principle. The fetus feels no pain and is not aware that anything is happening to it. Even if you believe there is a spirit to harm the fetus either went to heaven or God is a huge douchebag who punishes the innocent and because of that is not worthy to be praised or supported by any good person. Outlawing (using force against someone) also seems to go against Christ’s teachings in John 8:7, and maybe Matthew 7:3 and Romans 12:19.

My biggest problem with anti-abortion advocates are the ones who say abortion should be illegal even in the case when the mother’s life is in danger. We all seem to recognize the right to self-defense and that seems to apply in this case as well. The core of the debate seems to be (and I may be wrong) about stopping or punishing sex. Pregnancy is a potential natural response to sex, but it is not the only reason people have sex. In fact, most sex isn’t for reproduction, it is for pleasure and bonding. Many conservatives seem to hate that.

Well, I will dive into the book now. It is only about 250 pages so I may be writing a summary and any thoughts I have at some point soon.

Markus Kaarma and The Castle Doctrine

Yesterday, a co-worker asked me what my thoughts were on the recent Castle Doctrine case here in Missoula. I had no idea what he was talking about but we chatted about it a bit, he filled me in, and then I did a little bit of reading on the issue myself. Here is a quick rundown…

Last Spring there were a series of garage break-ins* in the Missoula area where beer and money had been stolen from garages. Then, in April, a German exchange student was shot and killed by Markus Kaarma in Kaarma’s garage. Kaarma is claiming he feared for his life and the Castle Doctrine protects him, though it appears more complex than that. Kaarma apparently discussed setting up a trap for someone and left a purse out in the open in an open garage to lure in the thieves. He even told neighbors that he had been “up for three nights waiting to kill some kids”. Eventually a student took the bait and ended up dead. Kaarma then shot the exchange student when he was in the garage, the student was injured by the first shot and attempted to retreat but Kaarma pursued him and fatally shot him in the head.

From what I’ve read I think Kaarma should be found guilty. I am strong supporter of personal firearm ownership and self-defense, but if you set a trap for someone just so you can kill them that is no longer self-defense. There were plenty of opportunities for Kaarma to secure his family and possessions, including not leaving the garage open, locking his door after the exchange student arrived and calling the police (he had a security camera set up so he could help identify the thief later, and backing into his house after injuring the student instead of pursuing him.

Many conservatives and some libertarians will jump to Kaarma’s defense and say that the student would be alive if he just didn’t commit the crime or trespass. That may be so, but if we are advocates of justice then the punishment must fit the crime. We can’t in one breath say that death by cop for selling cigarettes is unjust but death by civilian for stealing a purse is okay. Ending a person’s life should be a last resort to protect the lives of others, not an appropriate response to someone entering a garage.

Holiday Decorations

My apartment complex recently left a flyer on our door letting us know that we are allowed to decorate our patios and balconies for the holidays. I am kind of torn. As a pagan one of the symbols I would likely use for Winter Solstice is a pentagram, something that is commonly associated with Satanism. Missoula isn’t a particularly conservative area, it isn’t like living in South Carolina or anything, but I somehow doubt there are many spiritual practices outside of Christianity and it may draw some unwanted attention to my apartment.

I don’t particularly want to put up any decorations, that sort of celebrating was never really my thing. My spiritual practice is fairly private, which is fairly common, some estimates say 50% of pagans are solitary practitioners. Also, the minimalist in me really doesn’t like to own unnecessary stuff that is only used for a week out of the year. I also don’t think I could get into any trouble with my apartment complex, though they might be able to tell me to take it down depending on complaints and my lease agreement.

So I am mostly against the idea, but there is still a drive inside of me to wave my freak flag as a way of attracting friends and encouraging others who might not be able to be open about who they are. I am in a good life position, thanks to the choices I made and the hand I was dealt at birth (especially being cis-gendered, white, male, and from a stable family) and I feel a personal obligation to not hide my more controversial views in the shadows. Equality and understanding comes when we stop viewing people who are different as “the other”, and that can only happen when the more mainstream members of society get to know us. I wouldn’t hesitate to tell my neighbors that I am pagan (just like I wouldn’t hesitate to tell them I am pansexual, polyamorous, atheist, anarchist, etc) but I am just not sure if I should shout it from my balcony.

I still have some time to mull it over. If I do put up a simple pentagram (maybe with a banner that says Blessed Solstice) it can wait until the 21st, which also happens to be a New Moon. I won’t be celebrating with anyone, like I said, my spirituality is kind of a private practice, but I may check out the Unitarian church in town and perform some magick alone at home if I can find a ceremony that speaks to me. Oh well, we will see what happens.
(Note: This is the first post in my attempt to blog every day for 30 days… basically this is what I was thinking about while stocking groceries today. Each day is going to be different, on some days I may go deep into subjects like sex, drugs, relationships, religion, etc, or maybe give my thoughts on current events, or talk about my past, or do a book review… you know, whatever kind of drifts into my brain each day)

Try 30

A while back a short TED Talk video crossed my newsfeed on Facebook about trying something new for 30 days. Like normal, it sat open as a tab for about a week before I got around to actually watching it. I’m glad I did actually watch it though, it kind of reinspired me to us this time in Missoula wisely. I’m only here until May and it would be unfortunate if this down time was spent watching the same shit on Netflix and just kind of drudging through my job. So, I decided to use this time to try new things and develop some healthier habits.

I started with a relatively easy one. About two weeks ago I decided to cut back my coffee consumption to 2 cups in the morning (as opposed to probably a dozen cups throughout the day). It has gone really well and I haven’t messed up yet. My afternoon and evening coffee has been replaced with tea mostly and I have found that I really enjoy Earl Grey (thanks Jean-Luc for the recommendation). Thanks to my change I am sleeping a lot better at night and my digestion is doing better.

This last week I added a couple new habits, including brushing my teeth at night and taking my multi-vitamin each day. I know it is gross that I never really brush my teeth in the evening, but hopefully this will turn into a lifelong habit. I knew ahead of time that just trying to remember wouldn’t work, so on the advice of one of my friends I put a calendar in my bathroom and I check off whenever I brush my teeth. It has worked like a charm.

Well, it is time to add some more difficult things. My next task will be more in line with the “try new things” instead of “develop good habits”, so I will probably need some new tools at my disposal. I think maybe setting a daily alarm on my phone for a time when I know I am always available could help, or maybe try to punish/reward myself when I accomplish my task. After giving it some thought I think I am going to try and blog every day for 30 days. These posts may be about current events, what I’m reading, random stuff I think about while stocking shelves at work, or maybe some fiction or poetry. I have no idea. I do know that remembering and motivating myself to do it will be tough so I am carrying a notepad around with me and am going to jot down blog ideas as they come up throughout the day, as Tom Clancy said in The Sum of All Fears, “If you don’t write it down then the idea never existed”… or something like that.

After I get into a good writing routine (or maybe after the 30 days) I have some other things on my list to try and improve about myself:

  • 100% Vegan – Right now I am at about 95%, I need to find good habits to replace my work meals which are usually vegetarian instead of vegan
  • Minimize My Trash – Based off of this post, I’d like to get to the point where I am creating as little trash as possible.
  • Meditate – There are so many benefits to meditation, I really need to stop being lazy and start scheduling 15 minutes a day or so for a still mind.
  • Music – I have a harmonica gathering dust on a shelf and should try to put in some practice. Music, like meditation, has incredible medical benefits and allows for a more creative mind.
  • Art – I have never been good at artistic endeavors but I’d love to start drawing, coloring, painting, taking pictures, or something to see if anything clicks.
  • Read – I do love to read but I don’t make much time for it. I should set aside an hour a day or so just to dive into a the written word
  • Education – The internet is filled with free education and I should take advantage of it. I do Khan Academy regularly but I want to start using more formal classes provided for free via MIT, Harvard, Yale, etc.
  • Coding – Learning to code seems like a wonderful skill to have, now and in the future. There are also a ton of free opportunities to get the basics down,

So, instead of watching The Office on Netflix for the thousandth time or scrolling my Facebook feed and engaging in worthless arguments I am going to try to develop some habits and learn some shit.

Bisexual Visibility Day

Today is Bisexual Visibility Day. I’m not sure who determines that but it is all over my Facebook newsfeed so it must be true.

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My favorite visual for today.

Sexual identity is not always a simple concept for one to accept. Not only are there tons of phrases that can be accurate (bisexual, pansexual, bi-curious, fluid, etc) but how you identify can change during different times in your life and with different people. While bisexual isn’t my preferred identity it is one that accurately describes me. This won’t surprise many people in my personal life but I don’t think I’ve ever really came out like explicitly in a public forum like this. In fact, it was difficult for me to accept my self for many years.

Growing up in a religious conservative home meant that being gay was a sin. It was very clear from the sermons at church, the books around my house growing up, and off-hand comments from my family that not being straight was unacceptable. This, of course, turned into an incredible fear in my heart that I was gay. Any attraction to men lead to guilt and a drive to prayer to take Satan’s curse away from me.

During my high school days I was very outspokenly religious, but looking back I had some same-sex attractions but would never allow myself to really admit it. This lead to some moments that I am now ashamed of. One particular experience comes to mind. I was asked by an openly gay man in our school if I believed in marriage equality and a look of disgust crossed my face. I don’t remember exactly what I said but it certainly was a disapproval of the whole idea.

Years went by without any real maturity in my viewpoints. It wasn’t until a fateful day in the Army that the issue came up again. I was riding in a truck with a fellow soldier and I noticed a belt in the back that said “I like boys” written on it. My first assumption was it must have belonged to the soldier’s girlfriend and she left it in the car. When I pointed it out he kind of laughed and told me that if that bothered me he understood but hoped that I wouldn’t tell anyone… this was long before “don’t ask, don’t tell” was repealed. I told him that his secret was safe with me, but it brought up the internal struggle again. I wasn’t attracted to this soldier but here I was with someone that I knew and trusted with my life and part of his existence was supposedly so reprehensible that he didn’t even belong on the military base.

After leaving the military I began to re-evaluate my political views and pulled away from neo-conservatism. As that political pillar of my identity crumbled it took down my simple views on sexuality, religion, and society with it. Out of the rubble of my previous views sprung a much more tolerant and open view of sexual identity. I still didn’t think I was anything but straight (the mind does a great job of suppressing truth at times) but I had no problem with extending equality to others.

At some point after college I found I couldn’t be honest with myself and see myself as simply “straight”. My attractions, my desires, my fantasies, and my identity was more complex than that. Looking back I think my attraction to being an “ally” and voicing for equality was partly (subconsciously and consciously) to out myself as being more complex than straight. It was a way for me to peak into the queer community safely. I enjoyed when guys bought be drinks at gay bars or when they flirted with me… I think part of me assumed that gay men were more physically picky than straight women so I must be cute if guys liked me. I found myself enjoying bisexual porn. I had a desire (that became more open when on MDMA) to explore, touch, and let my curiosity run wild.

At some point I realized that bisexuality doesn’t mean 50/50 attraction. I love women, I find them sexy and attractive, I enjoy feminine energy and nothing gets my heart pumping like that moment when you meet eyes with a woman and both kind of smile with mutual attraction. I can only see myself in relationships with women, but I also want to be sexual with men. And it is okay that the desires, fantasies, and attraction doesn’t split evenly by gender… in fact, as a pansexual (the term I prefer) the person, not the gender is what matters. I feel daily blessed that I have a partnership where we both not only support, but encourage the exploration of our own sexual identities and desires as they evolve over time.

There is an old joke or saying or comedy routine or song or something that says “we’re all a little bit gay”. I don’t think that’s true, I think we are all a little bit “bi”. We all have the capability, and potentially desire, to love others regardless of their gender if the situation is right. But, in the end it isn’t up to me or my theory that we’re all a little bi, identity belongs to the individual. How you define your sexuality is up to you, and you alone. And you should be proud of who you are.

I can’t help but end with this quote from today’s Huff Po article:

“There is something exquisite and profoundly beautiful about the capacity to love other human beings in a way that doesn’t take gender into account as a ‘deal-breaker.’ Bisexuality is bigger than itself, in that it allows for love while teaching us new meanings/ways of love – and that’s cause for celebration.”

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