“It’s like deja vu all over again.” The last time the cry for law and order was heard throughout the U.S. to the degree it is now, the country got the likes of Nixon and Agnew, the former a cheap mass murderer and the latter a tax evader and ideologue. They pandered to the so-called silent majority. This was after Kent State and Jackson State, the police riot in Chicago at the Democratic convention in 1968, and the attack on protesters in New York City at the end of the week that began with the Kent State massacre. Police beatings were so common that a friend of mine was beaten in police custody after being picked up outside of the McCarthy for president headquarters in a small New England town. His crime? Being there.
When the New York Times reports in “On Eve of G.O.P. Convention, Law and Order Takes the Floor,” (July 17, 2016), those on the left instinctively know that both the chickens have come home to roost and the shit is going to hit the fan. Additional law enforcement speakers will appear at the Republican convention according to the article.
With fifteen years of war in the Middle East and Africa, it was only a matter of time before some veterans (a very small minority of veterans) coming home from those wars took their simmering anger out on a political system that seems to sit by while black people and poor people are routinely harassed and sometimes killed by the police. Mix anger, possible mental illness, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, the lethal uses of the Second Amendment, and nearly all of the ingredients are there for mayhem and murder. “Stop and frisk” was the darling policy of the middle class and the elite. When I wrote a simple protest against that policy in the New York Times comment section a few years ago, the vitriol of scores of readers was impossible to ignore. Harassing black and Latino/Latina men and women made New York City a safer place to live and work according to these people.
And why was the wrath of two veterans against the police, as a symbol of repression of their communities, so difficult to comprehend? Whether good cops or bad cops, the police are seen as an occupying force in many urban communities. This is not the congenial 1958 painting, The Runaway, by Norman Rockwell. The police are highly militarized, a product of the national security state after 2001 and lots of surplus military equipment from endless wars, and willing or not, a tool of the elite. All it took was training in how to use lethal weapons and lots of unbridled anger to unleash a paroxysm of violence against the force that appears to be the most visible entity in a society that has refused equality and equal access to so many in the areas of education, housing, nutrition, medical care, and the right to live lives unmolested because of the failings of a society that has relegated millions as spurious to its needs.
Readers can list the places that have come to represent violence in the U.S. almost reflexively. Columbine, Aurora, Minnesota, Missouri, Florida, Virginia, Baton Rouge, Staten Island, Orlando, California… The list goes on and on in a sickening endless repetition because inequality and insanity and the Second Amendment have all collided in a perfect storm of horror. It is as if parts of the U.S. have turned into A Nightmare on Elm Street. And the Republican Party and the NRA want more guns on the streets!
In a few short weeks, I’ll return to the college classroom and with the memory of Virginia Tech and other mass murders in public places in the U.S., I’ll check the exits from the room and whether or not the doors to classrooms lock and wonder how this obscene scenario ever came to pass.