Friday, June 12, 2015

The Warrior vs the Guardian Cop Mentality

The summer has just begun, but I have little doubt that there will be more incidents like the Mess in McKinney, Texas, that led to the surprisingly swift resignation of officer Eric Casebolt -- who I took to calling "Officer Pissant" -- after release of a video of his absurd and violent behavior toward African American residents and visitors to a community swimming pool at the Craig Ranch North subdivision.

His violence, though shocking to witness, wasn't unusual. Cops tend to be frightened and violent around certain categories of people, particularly if those people are black or brown and/or young. They are considered "offenders" by definition.

Then there is the problem of drug abuse, particularly anabolic steroids, cocaine, and meth, that is said to be rampant among police forces and not unknown in the military. 

In this context, Casebolt was acting like a "warrior" where none was called for. Apparently he believed that all the African American youth on the scene were definitionally "offenders" simply because they were there and someone had complained about it.

He manhandled and abused some of them on video, most shockingly a 14-15 year old girl clad only in a bikini who he violently threw to the ground and then tossed around by her hair and her arm as if she were a piece of meat or a sexual object or toy. In fact, many observers commented on the psycho-sexual nature of what he was doing to her, especially once he had her prone and subdued and he was putting his full weight on her back. It was a scene of virtual rape. Unfortunately, that too is part of a "warrior" mentality.

Radley Balko wrote a book called The Rise of the Warrior Cop in which he dramatically details how the militarization of the police in this country has taken place and graphically describes the unconscionable destruction of lives, families and communities that has ensued. I may be ideologically opposed to his prescription (in effect, privatizing police forces -- and letting them do pretty much what they do now, but under corporate rather than government authority) but he has been the one who has made a career out of opposition to the infection of warriorism that has spread throughout American policing, and he has been among the ones who has most frequently pointed out what a problem it is.

I have long pointed to one individual, (Lt Col) Dave Grossman, who has been primarily responsible for promoting and sustaining the warrior-cop mentality based on his crackpot "Killology" theories promoted in his books, seminars and consultancies. And yet, as responsible as he is for so much of the mentality of today's police forces, he's not the only one, not by a long shot. And he only got into the fray with regard to domestic policing (he was a West Point psychologist and military instructor) in response to the spate of school shootings in the late 1990s.

This infection of Warriorism in domestic policing has been raging many a long year, well before the advent of the "active shooter scenario" which has been at the core of police violence in recent years. In some ways, police warriorism goes back to the urban riots of the 1960s and the reaction of police and status quo defenders to the youth rebellion that gave rise to hippies and communitarian solutions to social problems.

Fighting these social change agents in the field, particularly the Negroes who demanded rights and respect and the youth who demanded freedom and liberty, became the primary mission of police forces throughout the land. Whenever they couldn't manage to impose their authority completely, a police riot (such as that outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968) would occur, or if that failed, the National Guard would be called in -- sometimes with tragic results.

The War on Drugs was the key element that led directly to the kind of violent and destructive warrior-policing we see reported practically every day, often with graphic and bloody video accompaniment.

That failed drug war still serves as the basis for violent policing and police warriorism throughout the land. Ending it would be the first step to true reform, but the whole system policing, courts and incarceration has been so corrupted by the various elements of the drug war that there is little likelihood that reform can be accomplished within the same system. The system itself has to be abolished.

In opposition to the warrior mentality of police in the field, more and more thinkers and consultants on the problem of violent policing in this country are adopting the theories of Guardian Policing.

These ideas have begun to take the place of Community Policing theories that were once hailed as a positive solution to the problem of police violence, but which were so quickly corrupted that some observers saw Community Policing (basically flooding designated areas with police who were supposed to "get to know" the community) as causing more problems than it solved.

I would suggest that Guardian Policing has the same -- or even a greater -- risk of corruption, for the ideological basis of it, that a community needs and wants guardians because the community and the people in it are essentially children who cannot take care of themselves, is bogus.

What is needed -- rather than police as warriors or guardians -- is a corps of public servants  (which the police were once touted as being) there to assist and aid and enable the public to take care of themselves.

Warrior cops see their proper role as that of an army of occupation set over a resistant population to enforce whatever control they are ordered to with whatever level of force they deem necessary. It leads to mayhem, murder, death and destruction on a daily basis all over this land. The control and enforcement of the warrior-occupation police forces is very often a matter of imposing chaos, not order at all. The violence of the warrior-occupation police forces induces chaos by its nature, and that social chaos becomes the primary feature of warrior-occupied communities. Victims are always blamed, but the recurrence of the basic problem of chaos brought on by the warriors themselves is manifested over and over, very much like the graphic demonstration of the chaotic behavior of (former) Officer Casebolt in McKinney, Texas. He was the chaotic element, he an no one else. His actions induced chaos in what was an otherwise relatively simple situation.

Thankfully no one died. The one young man who was arrested -- seen at the end of the principal video of the incident -- said that the officers who arrested him behaved professionally and that he bit his tongue accidentally as he was submitting to them. He was not, he said, injured by the police who arrested him. I found his praise for the officers who arrested him to be remarkable, but remarkable things have to happen if there is to be fundamental change in the way the US is policed. Charges were dropped against the young man who was arrested, by the way.

The Guardian Cop mentality in contrast to the Warrior Cop would not necessarily apply to this situation, however. What we saw in McKinney was two distinctly different approaches to policing and problem solving, one involving officers in communication with the public -- not as guardians over them but as interested community members interacting with them. The other was simply chaos, violent, and clearly out of control, with which no communication was possible. It may have been an attempt at warriorism but it went very awry.

Seth Stroughtan has written a number of pieces on the problem of Warrior Policing. While his position is that reform is possible and desirable, he is reticent about getting there. On the other hand, a number of alternatives to the seemingly unreformable police departments so prevalent today have been proposed, among them "Peacekeeper" a simple app that links community based mutual aid providers and citizens.

Decoupling from the dangerous and destructive policing that has led to so much outcry is necessary. How to do it is still being worked out, but alternatives are being tested, and more and more communities are taking steps to protect themselves from police.

The time will come when there will be no alternative...

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