Rockwell and Carroll in Ferguson
In the early morning hours of August 21, 2014, Capt. Ron Johnson, of the Missouri Highway State Patrol, dazzled the world in a press conference to commemorate the more peaceful atmosphere in Ferguson. He began the press conference by reassuring us that calm was returning to the city, proven by the mere fact that there had been “only” six arrests and no police acquisitions of civilian owned hand guns –or Molotov cocktails–earlier. He then went on to try to tuck us all safely into our beds by telling us the bedtime story about the friendly cop helping the children. This is such an old trope, it is shocking that he’d think it would be at all appropriate as an appeasing public relations stunt in the middle of a National Guard occupation of a U.S. city.
To paraphrase Capt. Johnson (you can watch the press conference video on Livestream.com’s “I am Michael Brown” page), three of his highway patrolmen were driving by a Ferguson basketball court and noticed it had no net. They immediately decided to do something about it, purchasing a net and basketball, and even taking time out of their precious days’ work suppressing protest to install the net. (There’s got to be a photo of this somewhere!) Before you know it, you are transported from Ferguson’s ground zero hyper-militarized surreal atmosphere to the reassuring soft-focus world of Norman Rockwell, where cops and soldiers are kids’ friends. If you’re a little white kid, they buy you slices of pie and maybe a fountain drink at the local soda shop.
If you are a little black kid, they graciously and voluntarily escort you into the first integrated school in the South (one of Rockwell’s most iconic paintings)… By no means do they harass and profile you, stalk you, kidnap you under false charges and throw you into jail, shoot you, murder you, execute you with two bullets to the head and four to the rest of your body. No. You started all the problems, while cops and National Guard troops have been simply looking to do playground improvement projects. What do you think is in those desert state trooper tanks? It’s basketballs!
It gets better. Amid national debate about alternatives to a militarized police state–trust me, demilitarization of police will be the new bipartisan bandwagon to parallel decarceration of prisons– Capt. Johnson figured if he was going to go ahead and try Norman Rockwell, he might as well go for broke. He offered the basketball net as an example of what “community policing” is all about. And we thought it was another bedtime story hoax to lull people into submission and accept mass arrest and wanton murders by police! We’ve seen threats to journalists to shut off cameras–at gunpoint. We’ve seen threats to protesters to “keep walking or else”–also at gunpoint. Johnson really set the record straight. Ferguson’s new (eventually demilitarized?) community policing program will be about basketball, and they might throw some apple pie in too, if everyone cooperates.
On a side note, just as my previous CounterPunch piece affirms new phraseology for our times, this one does as well. Most would say that Johnson’s press conference was “Orwellian”, but it goes further than that. It’s “Carrollian”– as in Lewis Carroll’s “The Jabberwocky.” It’s pure gibberish.
“Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!”
Michelle Renee Matisons, Ph.D. can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.