The Use of Violence

Part of me really didn’t want to write this post. In fact, as I am typing I am still undecided on what I will say and whether I will hit that magic “publish” button. I don’t want to piss people off, but I also want to express my thoughts. Writing is how I process even when (especially when?) the subject is controversial and there seems to be little room for nuance or discussion. I guess I have little choice though, I want to be a writer and that means I should write.

First, to give my background… I’m white, I came from a conservative home, and I served as an infantryman in the military. I’ve never been black, never lived in a city with lots of crime, and I’ve never been a cop. I have a lot of friends who are police officers (many military guys turn to law enforcement after their contract ends) and I am sure I have distant relatives who are police officers. I also have black friends, though they are all college educated and tend to live relatively suburban lives… though, I don’t know the intimate lives of anyone and their lives may have a side to it that I can’t see.

I just want people to know where I am coming from and that I fully admit that I don’t have any real solutions to the violence we are seeing in America today. I can somewhat relate to both sides of the argument, but I don’t really know what it is like to be in someone else’s shoes. I think the most important changes to be made would require a complete reform (revolution?) of our system. We would need to end the war on drugs today. We would need to stop sending men with guns out to enforce victimless “crimes” and act as revenue collectors for the state… isn’t it batshit crazy that we send people with guns after someone for selling CDs or for a broken tail-light? I can think of better ways to handle those situations, and maybe we should start changing the role that police play in our society.

Anyway, despite having more in common with the police than with an African-American living in an urban environment, I have a really hard time relating to the police in the recent situations. It seems that we hold police to a lower standard than we do civilians, particularly African-Americans. Just ask yourself, if you were caught on video with a friend pinning someone to the ground and shooting them would you be allowed to go home and think things over before your actions being investigated? Or would you be pulled into the police department instantly and spend hours being interrogated? If the police are trained to handle these situations shouldn’t their punishment be worse when the situations go violent?

To be honest, I can understand why someone shot police in Dallas. Violence should be a last resort, it should be used as self-defense, but I think it is likely that many in the African-American community feel that line has been crossed. I can understand why they feel that self-defense is necessary to protect themselves and their families from being just another statistic of state violence against the population.

I know many say that the officers shot were “innocent”, but I don’t think that is true. Guilt and innocence are not a binary, they are part of a spectrum. In every action we exist on some degree of guilt and innocence, and that level is determined by our actions. No person decided their own race or ethnicity, they didn’t choose to be born into a country that was built on the backs of slaves and has institutional racism running through its veins. But, individuals did choose to join a police department, they did choose to become an agent for the state, enforce laws that are unjust, and participate in an institution with historical and current racist practices.

Being black is not a choice and there is no guilt associated with it.

Being a police officer is a choice and there is guilt associated with it.

The question then becomes, is violence acceptable against people based on the institution they chose to join, even if they are not directly, in that moment, a threat. I think the answer is yes, in some cases.

If you feel there are no non-violent options to protect yourself and your family, then that is the case. Most people recognize that in war-time situations, ambushing enemy soldiers is deemed acceptable because those soldiers would act violently if they could. We even justify civilians using violence against an invading army through guerrilla warfare because the invading army is a source of potential violence in the future.

Let’s take 1944 Germany as an example. This may seem to be an extreme example, but I think it is still valuable.

Would we tell a Jewish person who shot a Nazi soldier walking down the street that he shouldn’t have done that because that particular soldier may have been innocent and wasn’t a threat at that time? Or would we recognize that by being a Nazi soldier was an implicit threat to the Jewish person? Certainly, the policies of the Nazis are far worse than that of the police in the United States… the degree of oppression is different but it is still oppression. In some ways the Nazi soldier could be more innocent because many soldiers were drafted against their will into the military, that isn’t true of police officers in the US.

So, is the police department more similar to an army than it is to an institution to serve and protect? To the African-American community I believe that could be convincingly argued. Are there non-violent options left to prevent the police from killing African-Americans? I’m not sure that there are, and I can certainly understand why many in the community feel there are not. Police officers are treated special. They don’t face juries, they get the benefit of the doubt in all things, they are protected by high cost lawyers, they don’t face the consequences of their actions personally, they are protected by a “thin blue line of silence” where good police officers won’t rat out bad police officers. When the system fails, the only choice left is violence. It may not be a good choice, it may not work to create positive change, but it might be the only option.

I’m not sure if the violence in Dallas was justified, but I can understand why some people think it is. I can understand the feeling that there are no legal options. There is no blind justice system, that our system sees blue as above the population. I can understand seeing the police as an invading army whose primary focus is to extract money and put people in cages, or kill them in the streets. I can understand not seeing any other option other than violence… there is no outside army that will rescue civilians from oppression at the hands of their own government. I can understand the drive, desire, and need to take the fight to enemy, to die on your feet instead of living (and dying) on your knees. When someone “does everything right” and is shot in the chest for no reason, I can see why shooting first becomes the least bad choice.

Ohio Should Legalize

Next week Ohio will vote on a shitty bill to legalize marijuana. From my understanding of the bill, if it passes it will grant 10 companies the right to grow all the marijuana in the state. It is a shitty bill, but I think it should be supported. I can’t think of anything that is worse than prohibition and Ohio may end up waiting a decade for another chance to vote on legalization.

Each year close to 20,000 people are arrested in Ohio for possession alone. That is 20,000 people who may lose their freedom, their educational opportunities, and possibly their freedom. That needs to change as soon as possible. We can’t keep sacrificing people’s future while waiting for a perfect bill. This terrible crony capitalist wet dream of a bill is better than the police state that exists in Ohio now. With people literally being shot and killed by police for possession of a plant we need to change the laws to take law enforcement out of the drug business for good.

The Ohio measure could also have some far-reaching national effects. Ohio is a swing state and with a presidential election coming up in 2016 a vote for legalization will force the candidates to address the issue. Many of them may be reluctant to come out against marijuana legalization when campaigning in a state that voted for legalization, it is just a bad political move to disagree with over 50% of the voters in a swing state.

I also think it is beneficial to keep up the momentum. We don’t want drug-warriors to win another battle. The donors who support anti-legalization campaigns need to feel like they are wasting their money on an effort that can’t be won. We can’t let them up to catch their breath until the drug war is completely over. A small victory for prohibitionists in Ohio could breathe new life into their cause and give them optimism, stretching the war out even longer costing countless lives.

The bill is far from perfect. In fact, it is pretty terrible, but it is what we have now and we don’t have time to wait for a perfect plan. There will be plenty of opportunities to change the bill in the future. But even if the bill never changes allowing individuals to have greater freedom is still a major victory. Eventually neighboring states will see the tax revenue flowing into Ohio and change their laws, which will for Ohio to be more competitive. Ohio has the opportunity to be the first state east of Colorado to legalize, meaning they will be closest to consumers in New York, Chicago, Boston, DC, St. Louis, and many other urban centers. This could be a major turning point in the war on drugs as long as people don’t insist on perfection above progress.

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.

Interesting Things – Wednesday (11/13/13)

Here is today’s collection of things I found interesting online.

Intimacy: Another city has a professional cuddler in it. Portland is the most recent in a string of “cuddle parlors” that have opened up to provide non-sexual intimacy with people. Personally, I love this. I think it is a shame that society so often discourages expression of intimacy, love, and affection outside of our romantic partners. I also think men often face pressure to not be emotional and a safe environment like this gives them a chance to be anonymously vulnerable. (

Religious Hypocrisy: A Kansas City Mission has decided to prevent atheists from serving food to the homeless on Thanksgiving. I am not sure how they are living according to Christ’s principles when they are explicitly preventing people from helping those in need. It seems that they are choosing hate over love. (

Police: A former police officer outlines how to avoid getting arrested. Some of the tips are good but my biggest takeaway is how subservient we must be to men in badges in modern America. When it is recommended that you cry or wet yourself when you encounter these “public servants” there is a serious problem. (>

Sex: Today is national birth control day, be safe out there and use vegan condoms like Sir Richard’s.

Nature: Here is a video of a dolphin masturbating with a decapitated fish. Nature is a cruel funny beast and we are all really just here to get our rocks off. (

Economics: Using game theory one can increase their odds of winning on the price is right. Economic principles can have a huge impact on life in general. For me ideas like sunk cost have actually changed my behavior. Everyone should understand the basics. (

Russia: A new promotion for the winter Olympics allows people to do squats instead of pay money for their train ride. I find this incredibly interesting and could be a way to both encourage fitness and provide transportation opportunities for low-income people. (

Police State: For some reason Americans continue to assume the best out of the bureaucracy that operates our National Security agencies. Despite generations of rights violations, domestic spying, and abuse at the hands of both political parties people still kind of trust the system that is rife with abuse. It baffles me. (