Tear Gas for the Huddled Masses
Tear Gas for the Huddled Masses
By Mark Morford / blog.sfgate.com
Aug 20, 2014

Is it possible
That weapons somehow create
The urge to use them? (via NYT)

Fun fact: Violence fetishizes itself. Worships. Adores itself with psychotic levels of megalomania and self-aggrandizement – sociopathic and chilling and face-slappingly obvious throughout all of human history. You know?

Of course you know. Like attracts like. Antagonism and hate, fear and panic feed off each other like combustible parasites; as soon as one ignites it’s often only a quick leap until everything explodes and people are dead and no one knows what the hell just happened.

Peace and calm, on the other hand, are a little more… challenging. Because they are not loud, abrasive, screaming for attention and headlines, vomiting up from the ugly depths of Fox News and hate radio, because they do not offer the falsely satisfying rush of adrenaline and bloodshed, cultivating calm requires a deeper level of patience, intelligence and heart.

This is also, of course, terribly ironic. Because when brought forth correctly (or even awkwardly, or clumsily, or in any way at all) peace and calm spread even more quickly, and with far better, longer-lasting results, than violence. Peace grows, evolves, inspires tolerance and love and hope. Violence never learns. It only corrodes.

Do you already know all this? Of course you already know all this.

Or maybe you don’t. Maybe we as a species will never fully learn this lesson, this obvious spiritual truth. This is tragic. This is hopefully terribly incorrect. But this is what history appears to be bearing out.

Just look at the disturbing, brutal events happening in the working-class, mostly black suburb of Ferguson, Missouri right now. The situation offers the perfect trifecta of savage, 21st-century American bleakness: It reinforces the draconian truth that violence begets violence; it currently offers zero solutions; and, like gun violence, like rape culture, like racism itself, if something doesn’t change, it will just keep happening.

Are you tracking this at all? The re-ignited racial tensions, the shockingly militarized police force, the white governor, white city council and white police force – in a town that’s 67% black – panicking like animals and handling it all so terribly, first by defending the white cop who shot an unarmed black teenager six times (twice in the head) from 35 feet away without the slightest direct provocation, and then claiming the resultant outcry and (ignorance-ignited, police-provoked) violence is all the town’s fault?

You probably saw some of it. You probably also saw that the stunned community rallied peacefully at first, with only a few scattered outbreaks of lootings, only to be met by a bizarre and terrifying spectacle: tanks, snipers, tear gas, gangs of heavily armored, dumbfounded-looking Missouri cops who looked more ready to invade Afghanistan than to amble around the local McDonald’s and make sure no more windows were broken.

That was the moment, really. That’s when the turn occurred, when history collapsed into itself, when violence once again held a knife to the throat of peace, and spit in its face.

Fear immolates. Give a largely untrained (from a military perspective), stupefied police force a bunch of military-grade weapons, tanks, tear gas, sound cannons and other horrific tools of war, set them loose in an already tense situation, and guess what happens? They act like they’re at war. They act like their (mostly) peaceful neighbors and fellow citizens are potential threats, terrorists bent on bombing the town and raping the American flag.

As Glenn Greenwald points out, quoting a suddenly hotly popular book by libertarian scribe Radley Balko, Rise of the Warrior Cop: “There is no vital trend in American society more overlooked than the militarization of our domestic police forces.” Echoed by the ACLU: “The militarizing of policing encourages officers to adopt a ‘warrior’ mentality and think of the people they are supposed to serve as enemies.”

Worthy reads indeed. But does it matter? The scene these cops presented to the town – and the world – after one of their own killed an unarmed poor kid, verily begged for escalation. Even the world’s most oppressive regimes like China and Iran are delighting in our ugly Ferguson mess. Bring in the tanks and the guns and fear, amp up the arrests and the tear gassing of citizens, journalists and politicians alike, and suddenly the peaceful protesters are displaced by the exact element the police were ostensibly there to quell: More violence. More fear and hate, gunfire and looting. What a surprise.

Why did these elements show up? Because they were invited. Because this is how it works.

Surely you recognize this insidious human equation? Hell, give any group unchecked authority and power (and lots of terrifying weaponry), and watch the dynamic tilt toward the abusive and the hostile in a matter of minutes. Doesn’t matter if it’s police, politicians, the NRA, the prison system, gender dynamics or organized religion’s all-powerful popes and bishops and priests getting away with murder, pedophilia, sexism and calls to war for, well, pretty much forever. The dynamic is the same. So is the result.

Let’s ask it this way: Does anyone honestly believe that if you give every adult a gun – as the NRA wet dreams about doing – they will suddenly be nicer to each other, more peaceful and loving, help each other’s kids, look out for one another’s best interests, form a sincere and caring community?

Or do you think the exact opposite will happen, and they will look at one another with ever-increasing suspicion and dread, a lowly stench of violence and death slowly permeating everything like foul perfume?

The answer is as obvious as it is (seems) impossible to resolve. Guns are everywhere, so we just dumbly accept America’s staggering death toll. The gross militarization of America’s police has been going on for decades, exploded with particular force just after 9/11, and even Obama has done nothing to slow it, and isn’t going to. Meanwhile, as pointed out here and here and here and here and here and here and here, the consequences are far more dire than you might imagine.

Don’t feel much of it? Not particularly worried about tanks rolling through your neighborhood anytime soon? You must be an entitled white person. After all, the vast majority of abuse and extreme police force to date has been targeted at minorities and the poor. Same as it ever was, really. Only getting worse.

But don’t worry, they’ll eventually come for you (and me) soon enough. Just the nature of the beast, really.

After all, when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is a tank – and 100,000 machine guns, 800 other armored vehicles, countless M-16s, grenade launchers and night goggles and sound cannons and more than $4 billion worth of military gear sent to America’s dumbfounded, mistrusted cops since ’97 – everyone’s a potential enemy.

© 2014 The San Francisco Chronicle

Mark Morford's new book, 'The Daring Spectacle: Adventures in Deviant Journalism,' is now available at daringspectacle.com, Amazon, BN.com, and beyond. Join Mark on Facebook and Twitter, or email him. His website is markmorford.com. Mark's column appears every Wednesday on SFGate.

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Tear Gas for the Huddled Masses