Yet another Blog post about Police Brutality. In the context of Victim Shaming.

by nkwilczy

I want to talk about Sandra Bland, and I want to contextualize it within a fundamental characteristic of the American experiment. That being the concept of “freedom” or liberty. I find the word problematically stripped of meaning and so I want to explain why I think that it absolutely includes the right to question the police or to complain to them. This seems like a minor detail in a story that is totally horrifying. You see the tweets and facebook posts about how “she shouldn’t have talked back” couched within admissions of the policeman’s guilt, people say, of course he shouldn’t have done that, but. Maybe I’m splitting hairs. I split hairs. I quibble about every minor detail. I am a minor detail guy.

And I always just want to talk about freedom. It’s the single political issue that has most excited me and inspired me in my time as a political activist. I understand that the reason freedom is so important to me is that there were times in my life when I did not feel in control of my own circumstances. That, right or not, I felt voiceless, disempowered, and hurt by decisions which I did not feel enabled to participate in. I did not like the feeling. I did not want to feel it myself and it pained me to know that others felt similarly. But in an important way this meant that I came to conceptualize freedom, rather simply, as the ability to do and say what you thought was best for you to do or say without any official reprimand. So I read my Orwell, my Voltaire and that Nietzsche-inspired Russian expat and for a while I hung out with those kids who want their corporate overlords to have more authority. Because even when you use the word a lot, maybe especially when you use the word a lot, you can still fail to contextualize it. You use it as a slogan, but you take the meaning all out.

And we have a lot of authorities now, there are a lot of people who command incredible respect for absolutely arbitrary reasons. Without any checks upon their power. This concentration of authority, this ability to arbitrarily define consequence or alternatively, coerce cooperative behavior, that is incompatible with the basics of freedom.

I do not think most people conceptualize freedom. I’m not saying that people are lazy or stupid, but we just hear the word a lot. We hear it in a wide variety of contexts that capitalize on nationalist connotations but which do not contribute, or which contribute in a confusing way, to the denotation of the word “freedom.”

Because if you can read the first amendment in a way that prohibits questioning the police, or even cursing at the police, you do not understand what freedom is about. That police officer is bound by the first amendment not to attack you for speaking. There are rules about this sort of thing.

There are people who hold the opinion that if Sandra Bland had kept her mouth shut and obeyed the cop that she would still be alive. My problem with that solution is that it is what people do when they live in totalitarian police states. Those are the assumptions people make when they live in totalitarian police states.

It is about race, white people do not live in the same totalitarian police state. The things I’ve said to cops, the things I’ve heard other white boys say to cops, so often it was so much worse. The attitude of repression still comes out of these cops, sure, I’ve paid my share of bail for mouthing off. But Sandy didn’t get out of jail. The difference there is not that she said anything worse than I said.

That comes from an attitude about authority that these cops have. Where they have the right to do what they want (within racially defined limits) to people who talk back to them. They do not have any such right. If you can’t curse out the cops then you might as well live in North Korea. That is not hyperbole. This is America, and in America the cops are supposed to protect and serve, not coerce and surveil. That isn’t supposed to change if I give them lip. Have you ever WATCHED Andy Griffith?

If we concede that right to them against anyone, regardless the color of their skin or their religion or their assorted crazy ideas, at that point we have given up on freedom in a significant way. If that is the case we have ended the national experiment with any sort of actual “freedom.” If we can see the police murdering people as compatible with living in a “free” country, at that point Freedom is just a bumpersticker to justify the next war.

I’d also like to take this opportunity to ask you to at least sign a petitioon either on moveon (who will spam you) or at (who will not spam you) demanding that the Justice Department investigate her death, because that is not happening automatically, and it wouldn’t be totally out of line for us to at least tweet at our elected officials or call them on the phone and tell them to advance police reform. We need more than cameras. We need to end quotas. We need to end broken windows. We need more external oversight. We need more accountability.


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