Friday, December 5, 2014

Something at hand?

It is hard not to feel that something is at hand, that some moment of consequence is upon us.  The rage of the people is palpable.  The disgust of our populous is unmistakeable.  We are perhaps at a turning point. 

It used to be popular to lament the culture of violence that had overtaken our land.  From armed street thugs to video game mayhem to the endless blood-soaked action of our films, it seemed that there was no bulwark against our insatiable appetite for death. As a people, so the story went, we were craven. We even were capable of producing the frightening prospect of the disillusioned teenager who, to solve the misery of his existence, ported an assault rifle to the one place that probably treated him the best — his school — so that he could kill fellow students, children just like him.  Our frontier mindset meant every conflict was resolved with a gun fight. Our beleaguered police chiefs were simply overmatched in a world gone mad.

But the non-indictments in Ferguson, Missouri and Staten Island, New York show in stark relief that another culture of violence has overtaken this land. It is prevalent and equally as deadly, and very real. It is perpetrated not by the citizenry on each other but by the police on its people.

It is in a word disgusting, and in another word terrifying. The idea that a man with a badge and a uniform, entrusted with the authority to use a gun and the deadly force it implies, is simply unaccountable to any level of society except for his own superiors is what I think George Orwell might call “a police state”.  In a land that has been trying to get its diminished mind around such huge trends as income inequality, wealth disparity, gentrification, immigration, the explosion of information and the huge political gulf that separates red states from blue states, it seems as though this latest episode might be a tipping point, when a system supposedly serving the people seems only to be subjugating them. At this moment, we may all look up and wonder, how did we get here? And then we may ask the much more important question — what the hell do we need to do to get out?

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