- A friend told me yesterday about a guy she knows who is a Baltimore City Police Officer. She sees him around in ordinary civilian life, she says, and he's a nice guy, peaceful, friendly, kind, open-minded, funny. Then she saw him again after he had been called to riot duty, lining up in formation to face off against angry city citizens in his shield and armor during the Freddie Gray uprising, and she saw a different guy. He talked with a slightly wild gleam in his eye about the adrenaline rush of being in battle, and how a protester kid had taunted him to his face, and how he had fantasized killing the kid on the spot, and what a fucking amazing rush it all was. My friend felt herself physically backpedal away from him, this genial guy she had thought she had begun to know.
- Another friend of mine is a communist and a member of a self-described revolutionary organization that sometimes refers to police officers as "pigs." She and I have a running argument about this, among other things. I argue to her that police officers, even in service of repressive and racist state power, are human beings and wage slaves like most of us who at some level have a vested interest in not being under the thumb of a plutocracy that purchases American politics, and that even as we fight the role so many cops accept, it will not advance our agenda to pronounce them all "pigs." She argues to me that police officers, particularly in the nation's most poor and vulnerable communities, have made a Faustian bargain to park their humanity on demand in exchange for the rush of personal and institutional power, and that their chosen dehumanizing role deserves a dehumanized label. I am not sure how she feels all of this reflects on the character of actual porcine animals. I need to ask her about that.
Where the two stories come together is in how we choose to deal with fellow human beings when they occupy more and more starkly opposing roles in an effective state of war. War makes living a life of humanity harder in every way, and American policing in large cities and in majority-white control of black and brown communities has for most of its history been a war. That includes the years since the Reagan 80s, when the full-throated War on Drugs, with its hypocritical approach to urban versus suburban drug use, flooded urban police departments with military hardware, military attitudes, and federal money. In a state of war, it is hard if not impossible to enjoy ordinary human experience with someone who gets a professional hard-on about pummeling people who look like you. It is hard to roll down the street on militarized patrol and not see a potential assassin on every street corner. It is hard to evade the crushing pressure -- or some would say the raw necessity -- to treat others as enemies.
War. It is what assassinations by police look like. It is what assassinations of police look like. It is what mass imprisonment looks like. It is what armed white convergences on mosques look like. It is what a rush of half-brained presidential candidates shouting "kill them" sounds like. It is what Brown Shirts look like.
We're about there.