Democrats & Liberals Archives

The Balance of Our Lives

Either we are all free, or none of us truly are. Yet we accept some degrees of legal restriction of our overall rights in order to sleep at night. The question is, what happens when we ask too much of some, and not enough of others?

The Police who were pinned down on that Dallas Street, the protestors who, given the threats and the malcontent poured their way from the right and alt-right must have thought they were the targets at first, were pinned down, very likely, by assault weapons, by rifles designed to be killing machines.

Gay men who were doing nothing more than having a good time with their friends and significant others were slaughtered by the same kind of weapon. The standard response from the gun rights is that a good guy with a gun would save the day.

However, when rifle ammunition can pierce protective body armor, and the attacks by nature catch even the police officers who are trained to help flat-footed, the best that can be hoped for is an after-the-fact saving of the lives left after this owner and/or operator of this killing machine is finally taken down.

So, what's the solution? Marching around our police in full armor like soldiers wear, armored vehicles like our soldiers drove around? 99.99 percent of the time, this is not only unwarranted, it's not helpful. Our cops don't need to be soldiers, and making them such distorts their purpose.

It also means that law enforcement becomes seen as a war, a perception not helped by the fact that the media constantly shows police in shootouts with suspects, which while entertaining, is a fictional distortion of reality. Real shootouts like you see in movies and TV shows... well, they're not so fun in the real world.

We have these fantasies, built up in part by the expedient conventions of screenwriters, producers, and directors trying to create entertainment value, of noble heroes running into the fray, taking down multiple targets, saving the day. The bombs all get found in time, the countdown never lies about how much time is left on the device (or there's actually a timer, or one with a display!)

Folks who are stressed about the way the world works begin to fantasize about being able to magically swoop in and save the day for their particular brands of beliefs, and as the real world frustrates them, some escalate their anger into something that stops being magical fantasy, and starts becoming tragic in its effects.

Yes, you might think that buying that AR-15 might protect you from the government, but AK-47s didn't protect the citizens of Iraq or Afghanistan from tyranny. Violence by itself cannot save people from violence.

I cannot help but remember, when that footage of what happened in Dallas rolls, what seems like a protestor, screaming aghast in horror at what was happening to the police officers. The paranoid fantasy of some on the right is that Black Lives Matter protestors were simply out to get the police, out to let criminals shoot up cops.

Ten seconds of applying common sense would tell you this isn't true. Are people really going to spend all that much time coming to the defense of criminals because they like criminals? When people are lumped in with them, when being good is not rewarded by being trusted, left alone, then maybe the sympathy for the criminals is stronger, because they begin to see that in the eyes of some, they are born suspect, rather than becoming that way through personal conduct. If being good, and forsaking those who aren't, doesn't separate you from the hoodlums and thugs in the eyes of the law, then what's the point?

At heart, though, I think if you spoke to one of these Black Lives Matter folks about crime in their neighborhoods, I don't think you'd find many big fans of it. After all, they're the one who bear the brunt of their crimes. But if your relationship with those who are supposed to protect and serve is so fraught that you fear getting shot at any given traffic stop, and you walk on eggshells to avoid provoking what may be an entirely unjustified search or arrest, or worse, then how cooperative is it really in your interest to be, beyond what force requires of you?

Break it down to that, to basic human motivations, and you will see the problem with these imbalances. You will see the fallacy in the notion that people being more armed means society being in greater peace. We don't achieve peace through deterrence. We only set the stage for those who won't be deterred to cause violence, and for the authorities in our country to become hated and despised, despite the best efforts and intentions of those who keep the law in our nation.

I'm a true blue believer in law and order, and a supporter of the police. I don't want to see dead cops on the street. However, I don't want those dead cops turned into the means by which the cynical and less democratically minded of those on the police force continue to get away with the kinds of actions that provoke these protests, create this outrage. It doesn't create law and order, it creates action and reaction, as one side's excesses become the excuse for the other side's.

But what to do? It's not an easy, quick, immediately fantasizable sort of solution here, because this isn't one problem, it's a whole collection, a whole set of problems that vary and change day to day, month to month. There are some constants, though. Much as the good guys with guns theory might occasionally have merit, just how often are assault weapons like the AR-15 going to be the weapon of choice for the good guy?

Seriously, are they going to walk around in long coats like Neo, waiting for that moment when they can whip out this long gun and start mowing down the terrorist or criminal? No, they're going to walk around with a hand gun in a holster under a jacket, or if open carry is an option, on their hip.

And really, is it too much to ask to try and tip the balance of who legally owns these weapons in the favor of the good guys? Sure, they might seek those weapons elsewhere, but to do that, they'll have to either commit a theft or engage in a deal with a black marketeer who is going to charge them a premium for handing them a hot weapon. The more hoops we force them to jump through, the more limitations they can't easily surmount, the better. Anything, in essence, in principle, is better than simply making it as easy as getting the money together.

I'm sure the police wish that those responsible had handguns rather than a long guns at this point. I wish that. It would have been easier for them to defend themselves, easier for them to take this guy down. When we let these weapons of war become common on our streets, we do more than increase the danger of these shootings, we increase the need for our authorities to arm themselves to the teeth and seek military-style armor in order to do their jobs. We force our police to act more like soldiers in a war. By doing that, we create an effect that changes the relationship between the average person and the cops, and which makes relationships with minorities, who have disproportionately felt the brunt of force by the police, even more fraught.

This fantasy of depending upon the balance of force against force as a means to keep our nation's cities safe needs to end. We need to recognize that as a civilized society, we have a toolset of law and procedure, of proof and evidence that lets us shape society with less blunt force, that allows us to build relationships with people, rather than simply acting as enforcers against them. It allows us to reduce the number of weapons of war sold, and control who they are sold to, rather than having to go through the expense and potential for tragedy that the next move in an arms race between the public and the police would create.

We should take that path, because for all involved, a de-escalation is for the best. Rather than be guided by fear and anger, we need a common recognition of our common rights as human beings, a recognition that nobody's lives are to be lightly taken. It's among the fundamental rights that Thomas Jefferson listed in the Declaration of Independence, an unalienable right (meaning it could not be bargained away) that under our constitutional system was given special consideration. Capital crimes are among the only crimes singled out for particular focus, with respresentation in such cases a part of the Bill of Rights. No other kinds of cases prompt so much determined due process as those that may end in the execution of a convicted criminal, and the cause of exonerating those on Death Row who might have been wrongfully convicted is a particularly strong one.

We set up these societies, according to Hobbes, in order to avoid what is called "The State of Nature." We give up some of our freedoms in order to enjoy protection from the kind of chaos that would occur if law and order did not exist. If force, though, and not law, is the primary vehicle of how this state operates, then all you will see is another version of the state of nature, as angry and the impulsive drag all of us around with the violent consequences of their ill-considered actions. I see it too often, delicate peace fractured by the actions of a few extremists, with too many people dragged along into violence, compelled to anger and retribution as the consequences play out.

That's why when I see folks say things like Joe Walsh did on Twitter:

3 Cops Killed, 7 wounded.

This is now war. Watch out Obama. Watch out black lives matter punks. Real America is coming after you.

I can't help but be concerned. There are all too many people whose response to tragedies like this is to inspire anger and rage at some other target, who benefit by channeling that resentment and anxiety towards their own political benefit. I don't know whose worse among these people, those who rile people up but don't want to go anywhere in particulare with those violent, authoritarian or anti-authoritarian impulses, or those who actually do want to cause disruption, actually do want to radically reconstruct the republic in the image of their politics. Either way, they're sowing the wind, and we're all reaping their whirlwind when crap goes wrong.

Our system is built to transition power from faction to faction, party to party peacefully, the deal being that we don't have to see blood in the street for a party or political movement in decline to be replaced by another. But some people have looked at what the Constitution affords us, and chosen instead to live by doctrines that say that only their power can possibly be legitimate, only their people should wield political power, and all else is to be resisted and crippled, made dysfunctional. The Tea Partiers, like Joe Walsh, have been particularly, notoriously unwilling to compromise and work with anybody else, which makes the selection of a narcissist blowhard like Trump, who doesn't do either well himself, completely unmystifying. Trump is the embodiment of resistance to the notion that power might transition away from the Right, where it's built since the time of Reagan, towards the left.

The Left... we're not the monsters of right-wing propaganda. Again, if you think it through with common sense for ten seconds, you'd realize Democrats don't like losing their jobs, paying too much in taxes, elitists looking down on them, losing wars, or any of that other garbage more than anyone else. I mean, if you look at my posts during the first couple years of this blog, my theme time and time again was about correcting the Iraq war's grave errors, and redeeming it's failures towards a successful conclusion. I didn't seek for us to lose it, even if I quickly came to believe that it was a blunder to begin it, and it's causus belli a sloppy mess that did disservice to America's credibility on the world stage.

I think if you really break down things below the headline level, there is plenty that people can agree on, plenty of places where peace can be sought, compromise can be made, and folks don't have to lock our system up in order for it to function.

But some politicians need voters who are afraid enough, and resentful and paranoid enough about the other side so that, even if the politician screws things up completely, they don't resort to voting for the other guy or staying home. They want loyalty at all costs, and they're willing to risk breaking this country along its fault-lines to do this.

At the end of the day, Black Lives Matter and gun control are both about treating the common wish to live in safety, to be left alone when government has no legitimate interest in what you are doing, with respect. Good gun control lets law abiding citizens exercise Second Amendment rights, even while criminals, domestic abusers, and terrorists feel the friction of the system working against them. Resolving the problems that the Black Lives Matter movement are concerned about means following through on the promise that Lincoln made to the slaves when he freed them, that the Constitution makes to men and women of any race, religion, or creed, that their lives should matter just as much as everybody else, that their Civil Liberties are conserved and observed just like everybody elses are.

We can take advantage of the greatness and generosity of spirit to be found within the rule of law, or we can retreat to the less intellectual, more primal tribalism which Hobbes talked about, and lose the advantages and benefits of a society ordered not merely through force, but also, primarily, through agreement and law. That's our choice.

Posted by Stephen Daugherty at July 8, 2016 8:52 AM
Comments
Comment #405929

Worth a re-post from a previous thread:

There are those of us who realize that there is anti-semitism, racism(black or white), xenophobic anti-immigration and a general dislike and mistrust of anyone they see as “the other”. We have understood for as long as we can remember that these interpretations of the freedom of our country have no place here and use moments of reflection to hang our heads and hope for better, work for better and expect better. Today is one of those moments.

Posted by: Speak4all at July 8, 2016 11:31 AM
Comment #405933

Stephen,

Sorry about knocking your post off the top of the column. If I had known you were working on this, I would never have written mine.

Posted by: Warren Porter at July 8, 2016 11:40 AM
Comment #405948

What happened in Dallas was bound to happen eventually. Mass Murder is breeding on itself. In Chicago, there are 1500 individuals that the police have identified as being responsible for virtually all the violence in the city. Each one is a little terrorist doing their part to make life unbearable for their neighbors, and those are just the ones with guns. There are many thousands more that who set about their days trying to make other people’s lives worse by other methods.

Posted by: ohrealy at July 8, 2016 7:33 PM
Comment #405995

Warren Porter-
No need to apologize. I wrote without consulting anybody, posted without looking to see much more than whether somebody had posted yet.

Besides, I didn’t really post it with much love for the idea of the running battles that sometimes go on. I had a big project I was working on, and this was a bit of a diversion.

ohrealy-
Terrorism, war. We treat it as if it’s some kind of fight. It is a struggle, but the truth is, it’s also a relationship. Societies don’t just move as their law enforcement pushes them, they react and respond, the living things that they are.

I think with the rise of social media and hand-portable, high-data capacity electronics, cheap enough for the average person to afford, what we’re seeing is a documenting of something that would have been papered over before, with the victim’s family perhaps none the wiser, or confronted with a disbelieving public that took the officer’s side.

You know, Chicago had it’s own little off-the-books operation, which was aimed at tackling the problem. Given the results? It didn’t work out. It’s not just a problem of where and how to apply force, but also where and how to apply persuasion, where and how to appeal to social loyalties. People aren’t simply atoms to be moved around through some kind of fluid dynamics. It is the personal level at which many changes occur in our communities.

Posted by: Stephen Daugherty at July 10, 2016 8:46 PM
Post a comment