Thursday, January 29, 2015

"We Support! Our Police!"

Public authority is breaking down in St. Louis. I've witnessed it through a number of livestreams, but Bassem Masri's has been among the most compelling, in part because he puts himself in the middle of the action and comments fearlessly and fiercely while he's documenting the events he's very much a part of.

During a rally at the St. Louis County (In)Justice Center in Clayton the other day, Bassem waded in to an almost entirely white and hostile "Pro-Police" crowd of a few dozen, maybe 100, chanting "We Support! Our Police!" and was set upon by the crowd which was turning into a mob. I have little doubt that they would have killed him if they thought they could get away with it -- if they had "permission," in other words --  just like a lynch mob. And Bassem got it all on video:

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

It's long, an hour and forty minutes, so feel free to scroll.

As Bassem suspects, these people are not really supporting the police at all. Instead, they're expressing their contempt and outrage for the protesters who have been disrupting their little lives since Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in August. They'd be happier if the police would withdraw and let them handle the thugs* themselves. But the police on that day (Monday) intervened to prevent the mob from following through on its implicit threats of harm to Bassem and the others there to counter their.... for lack of a better word.... bullshit.

*"Thug" is the new N-word it would appear. 

The people in the streets love them some Bassem, his stature rises with every action he is a part of. He always claims he's not a leader of the protests, and that's true enough from the evidence of his livestreams. He doesn't lead the protests, but he often inspires the protesters with his personal bravery and his unshakable sense of justice. 

And then, on Monday, he let it be known that he was a heroin addict in recovery, that he's been clean -- and more or less sober -- for the last 16 months.

Oh my.

Well, I'm neither surprised nor horrified. Years ago, I dealt with addicts of all sorts when our theater company was "adopted" by an NA/AA group. One of them (that I know of) was a heroin addict, and he was the one who raised the most ruckus, caused the most problems, and did some of the most astonishing -- and often very brave -- work of any of the others.

When I see Bassem's livestreams and hear and read his commentary, I am reminded...

Heroin, they tell me, is one of the most difficult drugs to get off of, and even when an addict is able to get free from it, there are often irreversible changes in personality, behavior, and perspective that come about due the addiction and stay with the addict for the rest of their life. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's simply something to notice. Heroin changes addict's personalities, but not necessarily in a bad way.

One of the consequences of heroin addiction -- at least in some cases -- is bravery in the face of injustice, and empathy for those who suffer. I really can't object to those consequences. Some of the people at the rally documented above could learn from them.

When Bassem told his story of addiction and recovery on Twitter, there was an immediate outpouring of love from his many followers and fans. It was remarkable to see, but not surprising.

He made his case that he's changed his life, and now he's on a new path, a path of service to his people. That would be the people in the streets of St. Louis and so many other cities where opposition to police violence is a matter of principle and a matter of community building and a matter of strength. That would also be the Palestinian people (Bassem is a Palestinian-American) who are under brutal Israeli occupation.

Like many others, Bassem sees direct parallels between the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians and the widespread police violence and murder in the United States. They're not the same by any means, any more than the Apartheid regime in South Africa was the same as Jim Crow in the American South. But they echo one another, and there are direct interactions between the Israeli oppressors and the American police forces.

Those who support their police are simply and directly saying to those who protest police violence, "You don't count matter."

That's it in a nutshell. You don't count matter .

One man at the rally insisted that everyone killed by police in the recent past  -- all those names of men and women and children who have died in repeated hails of police gunfire -- deserved to die.  And a big reason why? They showed disrespect.  Their pants were too low, they threw gang symbols, they had guns or knives or something that a police officer interpreted as a threat, they insulted an officer, they disobeyed, they were black, they were standing there, they were advancing, they reached for something... etc, etc. In every case, the killing was justified in the eyes of most of those rallying on Monday primarily because the victim showed disrespect, contempt of cop.

Not much different than whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi, is it?

You do that -- boy -- and you deserve to die.

If one of the ralliers showed similar disrespect for authority -- as many of them no doubt do in their daily lives -- of course it would be different, and it would be different because they are white and right, and authority must yield to their demands.

That's the proper way of the world.

"We Support! Our Police!" 

And you don't matter.

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