FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Trump, the NYPD and the People We Call “Animals”

Photo by Adrian Owen | CC BY 2.0

Did you hear Trump call undocumented immigrants animals? It’s stirring up – rightly – a lot of concern. Among humans, “animal” is the essential, go-to word to deprive people of their humanity. It’s the permission some people give themselves to ridicule, enslave, and commit genocide against other people. “Animal” is a term we read as a danger signal, even in a society such as ours, which was built on ridicule, enslavement, and genocide. And “animal” is often used by law enforcement to describe anyone accused of assaulting a police officer. Interesting, how we’ve let this one go.

Over and over, my friend Herman Bell, who spent almost 45 years in NYS maximum-security prisons, has been called an animal. Herman was convicted in 1975 of killing two NYC police officers, and sentenced to 25-to-life – meaning that, after 25 years, he was eligible for parole. Thanks to his accomplishments and compassion over the years; thanks to advances in NYS parole regulations weighing who a person has become, and not just the “nature of the original offense”; thanks to enormous love from family and friends, Herman was released in April, after his eighth appearance before the Parole Board.

But this column isn’t about Herman. It’s instead about the institutions and the people who wanted him to die slowly over more decades in prison. As an animal.

When Herman’s parole decision came down last March, Patrick Lynch, president of the Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), declared at a press conference, “We’re gonna get you, we don’t care why you’re behind bars… We just care that you are behind bars.” The PBA also issued a “safety alert” to NYPD officers: “In the event of Bell’s release, all PBA members are urged to remain vigilant, both on- and off-duty, to ensure their own safety and to provide back-up to any other law enforcement officers in their vicinity.”

The danger to public safety posed by Herman Bell out of prison roughly approximates the danger posed by 99.6% of undocumented immigrants inside U.S. borders: NONE.

The real danger – which most of us are sleeping on – is the vigilante mentality that powers our law enforcement. Since way before Stonewall, cops have rounded up queers; they can still arrest and brutalize us at street protests. But queer communities don’t necessarily see how the cops also work alongside the prison system. So here’s another safety alert; this one’s about the police.

Be on the lookout for:

Use of Scathing Pejoratives. Words like “monster,” “vermin,” “blood-thirsty,” and, of course, “animal” used by police as synonyms for actual people accused or convicted of crimes. This degree of loathing is designed to authorize the deepest kind of lynch-mob contempt. These names are, in fact, used so often to describe people of color that you wonder if they’re simply society’s latest ploy to get away with saying “n*gg*r.”

Lurid Press Coverage. This is the aorta through which “law-and-order” pejoratives and vigilantism enter the public bloodstream. Mainstream media repeat – unquestioned and un-fact-checked – whatever police officials tell them. “Cold-blooded cop-killer” headlines boost ratings. Meanwhile, the press is too busy buying tough-on-crime accounts wholesale to ask journalism-101 questions, such as why a law officer such as Pat Lynch threatening, “We’re gonna get you, we don’t care why you’re behind bars” isn’t … well … illegal?

Copying down “cop-killer” denunciations, reporters seldom bother to question if adjectives like “cold-blooded” and “monster” are even close to accurate. NYPD Commissioner James O’Neill, on hearing of Herman’s parole, wrote that Herman should remain in prison because, “His mind has not changed, his heart has not opened…” Mainstream news outlets never asked how James O’Neill knew this.

It’s inconsequential that O’Neill (also Lynch, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and any other official denouncing Herman’s parole) never met Herman Bell or evinced an interest in parole records describing how Herman’s changed over the years. This sidelining of journalistic curiosity in favor of garish headlines is the foundation of media and police collusion. Through it, we’re bullied out of wondering if “criminals” might actually be people a little like ourselves.

Backlash Against New Parole Board Regulations. In another press conference, Patrick Lynch lamented the “coup” at the NYS Parole Board, where “right-minded” commissioners were ousted and replaced by those with an agenda. Already, conservative NYS Senators, who only noticed progressive regulation changes after Herman’s parole, have passed several bills overturning these advances.

Although the bills still need Assembly approval, they include regressions such as mandatory life sentences without parole for a broad range of offenses; requiring the Parole Board to accept statements from third parties – specifically, the police – which would remain confidential; and extending the waiting period between prisoners’ parole applications from two to five years.

These bills would enforce a penal structure denying mercy and equality to thousands of human beings who, for a moment, had hopes of not being seen as animals. Already, tabloids are carrying stories about why the Parole Board should not make the Herman-Bell mistake and deny parole to other “cop-killers.” Already, the PBA has bought radio ads to keep Herman’s codefendant in prison for the rest of his life.

Assuming the Life of a Police Officer Weighs More than that of a Civilian. In a May 17 editorial titled, “Will every cop-killer in New York now go free?”, the NY Postwrites, “cop-killers strike at the core of public safety. That’s why there was long a presumption against ever granting them parole.”

But the PBA’S “public safety” means protection from “animals” — not protection forpeople like Eric Garner or Sandra Bland. It encourages a “worst-of-the-worst” category, which, once established, endangers everyone’s humanity. Recently, in The New Yorker, Masha Gessen wrote about the plight of immigrants and refugees, of Hannah Arendt’s concept of “the right to have rights.” These rights, in theory, “belong to every person by virtue of existence.”

So either we all have this right to have rights or we buy into a safety that ultimately removes our individual agency. Accepting that we don’t matter as much as the person in blue with the badge and the gun sets the cornerstone for an oncoming police state. And – remembering why Hannah Arendt wrote in the first place – that kind of thing has happened before.

More articles by:

January 22, 2019
Patrick Cockburn
On the Brink of Brexit: the Only Thing Most People Outside Westminster Know About Brexit is That It’s a Mess
Raouf Halaby
The Little Brett Kavanaughs from Covington Catholic High
Dean Baker
The Trump Tax Cut is Even Worse Than They Say
Stanley L. Cohen
The Brazen Detention of Marzieh Hashemi, America’s Newest Political Prisoner
Karl Grossman
Darth Trump: From Space Force to Star Wars
Haydar Khan
The Double Bind of Human Senescence
Alvaro Huerta
Mr. President, We Don’t Need Your Stinking Wall
Howard Lisnoff
Another Slugger from Louisville: Muhammad Ali
Nicole Patrice Hill – Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
The Scarlet “I”: Climate Change, “Invasive” Plants and Our Culture of Domination
Jonah Raskin
Disposal Man Gets His Balls Back
Thomas Knapp
Now More Than Ever, It’s Clear the FBI Must Go
January 21, 2019
W. T. Whitney
New US Economic Attack Against Cuba, Long Threatened, May Hit Soon
Jérôme Duval
Macronist Repression Against the People in Yellow Vests
Dean Baker
The Next Recession: What It Could Look Like
Eric Mann
All Hail the Revolutionary King: Martin Luther King and the Black Revolutionary Tradition
Binoy Kampmark
Spy Theories and the White House: Donald Trump as Russian Agent
Edward Curtin
We Need a Martin Luther King Day of Truth
Bill Fried
Jeff Sessions and the Federalists
Ed Corcoran
Central America Needs a Marshall Plan
Colin Todhunter
Complaint Lodged with European Ombudsman: Regulatory Authorities Colluding with Agrochemicals Industry
Manuel E. Yepe
The US War Against the Weak
Weekend Edition
January 18, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Melvin Goodman
Star Wars Revisited: One More Nightmare From Trump
John Davis
“Weather Terrorism:” a National Emergency
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Sometimes an Establishment Hack is Just What You Need
Joshua Frank
Montana Public Schools Block Pro-LGBTQ Websites
Louisa Willcox
Sky Bears, Earth Bears: Finding and Losing True North
Robert Fisk
Bernie Sanders, Israel and the Middle East
Robert Fantina
Pompeo, the U.S. and Iran
David Rosen
The Biden Band-Aid: Will Democrats Contain the Insurgency?
Nick Pemberton
Human Trafficking Should Be Illegal
Steve Early - Suzanne Gordon
Did Donald Get The Memo? Trump’s VA Secretary Denounces ‘Veteran as Victim’ Stereotyping
Andrew Levine
The Tulsi Gabbard Factor
John W. Whitehead
The Danger Within: Border Patrol is Turning America into a Constitution-Free Zone
Dana E. Abizaid
Kafka’s Grave: a Pilgrimage in Prague
Rebecca Lee
Punishment Through Humiliation: Justice For Sexual Assault Survivors
Dahr Jamail
A Planet in Crisis: The Heat’s On Us
John Feffer
Trump Punts on Syria: The Forever War is Far From Over
Dave Lindorff
Shut Down the War Machine!
Glenn Sacks
LA Teachers’ Strike: Student Voices of the Los Angeles Education Revolt  
Mark Ashwill
The Metamorphosis of International Students Into Honorary US Nationalists: a View from Viet Nam
Ramzy Baroud
The Moral Travesty of Israel Seeking Arab, Iranian Money for its Alleged Nakba
Ron Jacobs
Allen Ginsberg Takes a Trip
Jake Johnston
Haiti by the Numbers
Binoy Kampmark
No-Confidence Survivor: Theresa May and Brexit
Victor Grossman
Red Flowers for Rosa and Karl
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail