Friday, August 22, 2008

Dead Prez Valentine's Day Riot @ Evergreen State College

Primary articles and writings for reference: (TESC is an acronym for The Evergreen State College.)

This is an open letter reply to Peter Bohmer referencing his writing Reflections on the Dead Prez Concert and Events After Concert, and using the Seattle Times news article Evergreen State College divided after riot as my main source of information.

Peter Bohmer,

I am a TESC alumni, graduated with a Bachelor of Science in August 2003. Between September 2000 and June 2003 I was a resident of the TESC dorms. I was politically engaged on campus, putting up posters for a Capitol fountain gathering/rally reacting to Bush's gaining of the White House with a suspicious vote count, and also was in the TESC delegation at the NW student's anti-war conference in January 2002. I give all this info to allow for some credence in what follows.

My opinion is, TESC needs police. The extreme and absolute way in which the students ( from the stage: "*Expletive* the police!") and yourself have labelled police activity on campus is the problem.

Yes, I am sure somewhere in America, likely on a Louisiana highway or West Texas town, a police officer is harassing a good and upstanding member of the community. This is horrible and we need colleges that are incubators of dissent, or better yet, the legal acumen needed to crush that kind of police abuse. Unfortunately, voices like yours, and the resonating student sentiment, want an easy fight where the war is not taking place, you want it conveniently on your own campus and away from where the danger and evil truly lives.

Your "Reflections..." commits a few errors. You set up the hierarchical structure of campus governance as the source of its illegitimacy, making the campus police an easy subsequent illegitimacy. You then use a softer looking form of hierarchy, your own cult of personality, in the request that students and faculty keep this entire issue in-house and stay mute to police investigation. You even admit that there are students and faculty that, of their own volition, want to talk or cooperate with the police ("Let us also oppose the collaboration of the Evergreen administration and some students and staff with police agencies"). My god Peter, thanks for showing us where, when and how abuse of power, the dark side of solidarity in secret societies, and the like take place in flat-hierarchy movements. Class A work there, buddy.

The other error in "Reflections..." is the distortions that occur near its closing statements. Wars, growing militarization, police. It is unfortunate the montage you present as an ultimate justification mixes up good guys and bad guys. The police officers in Olympia, and especially on TESC duty, probably hold extremely progressive world views. I've sat next to the Sheriff of Thurston County and had email exchanges with the TESC police officer while I lived there. Nice people judging by everything I saw. I don't believe they are causing any of the very real problems in our world.

This brings me to a subtle analogy on yours and a massive amount the TESC student body's values. I believe the police are recipients of stigma much like the untouchable class in India. That class in India has several middle class occupations that receive the stigma. It is hardly an analogy, but more like a direct truth that faculty such as yourself, and maybe a majority of students, see the police as an untouchable class. These police officers can commit no good act, nor offer a dialogue that assures us of their progressive values, that would wipe away the irrational and eternal hate many on the TESC campus have for them.

This dovetails back to us needing campuses that are incubators for positive change in our society. The incubation at TESC is becoming more renowned for Earth Liberation Front cells and cop hating, not a real return on our money or our faith.

Moving away from the murky world of values and intent, to immediate pragmatics in an imperfect world. Once during my residence on campus I was one of only five or so students who witnessed this event: a naked student, possibly high on something, had jumped on a moving car and bashed his head in the windshield. I saw him walking, naked, along the soccer field road. The police came up behind him, asked him to stop, he didn't respond, and they wrestled him to the ground, handcuffed him, and took him away without a scratch from their wrestling that I could see. This was a real incident, not conjecture. What would a police-less campus have done? I venture to guess, too little or too much.

Yearly the US has one or more shootings on a campus resulting in many people shot dead. Here is where your polemics meet a stark dose of reality: A guman is killing 5 people per minute on the TESC campus. What then, cop haters with no guns? What then?


The Serpent Lord said...

Hypocrisy is inciting people to irrational anger and then backpedaling to encourage an intelligent response.

Hypocrisy is adding your energy to an unplanned mob and then dissociating yourself and the alleged "peaceful people" from the behavior of that mob.

Hypocrisy is that the sense of excitement, camaraderie, defiance and danger will leave most of the people in the mob feeling like they were part of something heroic, increasing the risk of more serious mob violence at TESC.

Hypocrisy is the self-serving politically-charged interview responses which are the only source of information for text-based news.

Wisdom and courage is video giving us information that interviewees conveniently forget, even information which does not always serve the person who edited the video to show his own perspective.

Wisdom and courage is five open minded civil servants moving into a mob, treating them like a non threatening crowd, without brandishing weapons. For several crucial seconds they were able to "deconstruct" the mob, paralyzing it without feeding it.

We'll probably never know if the violence was really started by the mistakes of security guards (nobody was chanting "F*** the security guards" :-) whether the suspect taken by the police was an innocent falsely accused by violent people in the crowd and whether the accusers singled him out because of his race (he was the only black man near the violence at a hip hop concert :-), whether the potentially lethal use of pepper spray prevented more violence than it started.

Here's what we can know: That the behavior of the police can be justified even if they arrested a black guy only because violent racists in the mob wanted him arrested, and all the other claims against the police are correct.

We can also know that the mob was acting against its members even if their own description of the events are taken at face value. I see no reason to assume anyone was acting in bad faith, but clearly it is not the police who need to reexamine their tactics, and the hypocrisy of self-serving apologetics is not a step in the right direction.

The Serpent Lord said...

Positive things we can learn from this clash between the First Earth Battalion and the Earth Liberation Front:

Police were able to uneventfully enter a mob that was apparently already engaged in some violence and incited by the slogan "f*** the police."

The police wore brightly (but not threateningly) colored uniforms and did not brandish weapons or try to "control" the crowd.

Although more confrontational than the tactics that allowed the police to enter the crowd in the first place, Pepper spray is one of the few weapons you can use which actually makes you less of a target for retaliation (nobody wants to wrassle a skunk!)

BFGalbraith said...

According to the first chapter of the CPO training manual, the evils (approximately the same as described in Zinn's "A History of the United States") of both security guards and police officers have to do with relying on strategies they inherited from their military origins.

Police have become a standing military unit requiring a long-term time-commitment to an extended "boot camp" called the Police Academy, and an absolute dedication to what is essentially a calvary unit controlled by a local municipality. Since their split from the military in the 1800's, their focus has always been on "justice" and "law enforcement."

On the other hand, private guards (starting at least with the infamous Pinkertons,) have taken on a much wider variety of directions, their activities being based solely on the needs of whatever organization is hiring them: bouncers make bars viable, security makes it possible for us to have shopping malls without having an armed Sheriff roving the halls, and allow City government to have a first response that can be on site before Police can be properly dispatch, and who can intervene before the need for "punishment" is established.

Ultimately, private security is more appropriate in most circumstances, because what people want is "to be safe", or to have someone "sort out trouble," instead of "find the bad guy and put him in jail." In college campus security for instance, women vastly prefer to have private security escort them to their cars after dark, rather than have their rapists tracked down and punished. (In many cases, it's actually very difficult to get rape victims to cooperate with police or security investigation.)

The people at the TESC Dead Prez conference weren't chanting "f*** the police" to the concert security officers. The concert security officers should have been better armed and funded with advanced training, non-lethal weapon technologies, and superior numbers. Private "security officers" should only have to call upon Police (campus or otherwise,) when a serious crime requiring punishment has taken place. In this case, there was no assault victim to press charges, so the cops should have been no where near TESC, however they should have had a robust private security operation that followed TESC's bidding by the letter. TESC's academic anti-authority culture has kept them from being able to develop a security structure that could truly help them "sort out all problems in house."

With all this said, what is the one kind of worker in this country that is held in less esteem than a Fast Food or Agricultural worker? Private Security, aka "rent-a-cops" are the "costumed clowns" of our society. The class system of our society firmly places law-enforcement as a respectable career far above protection-officers as a "career undeserving of benefits or living wage, of being the slow-bus version of the real thing." Serious protection officers take more offense at being accused of being a variation of "police officer" then they do at being accused of being "slow kids," because this miscatagorization creates misconceptions in the general public that makes private security's jobs more difficult.

BFGalbraith said...

The night after I wrote my last comment, I was attacked by a drunk with a considerable weight advantage, at one of my private security jobs. (My boxing footwork allowed me to keep a proper distance of being engaged while not being close enough for him to quite reach me.)I was able to stop his harassing of a female employee, keep him from committing vandalism or breaching our security perimeters, get a picture of him and get his backpack, all without any physical violence or law enforcement having to be brought into the scene.

In his backpack we discovered items that revealed his identity. He was a veteran and a hard worker who had a spinal injury and was not able to work. I'm glad I was able to deter him without further complicating his life. The police on the other hand would have most likely brutalized this guy and then incarcerated him after further staining any criminal record he may have had. Private security is infinitely more flexible than Police.

In addition to TESC's rejection of all formal hierarchy, their rejection of all privatization may also be keeping them from realizing their dream of a truly self-governed society.