Fear of a Blue Planet

I’m not entirely sure this is going to be a radical statement, but, hey, why not: I am afraid of the current state of the police.

I, like I think just about any other little white boy in the South (and surely America at large if the anti-BLM crowd is any indication), was raised to believe that Police Officers were superheroes, symbols of justice and peace who would come and defend the Innocent against the Wicked. We would play Cops and Robbers, shit, we would watch RoboCop and nod along without any hint of irony at his being Ressurected Murderbot JesusCop. Certainly this apotheosis of the guardsman is nothing new, and if we’re going to be fully honest, anyone willing to risk their lives to help another is A-OK in my book. But, and it’s  a big but, that self-same person needs also to apply their bravery in the line of duty to encompass being brave enough to stand against their corrupt colleagues.

One might think (one being me, if you don’t know BS essay speak [but you do, this is America, this is the only way we know how to industrially capture our ideas in writing {there’s a topic for another day}]) that having the huevos to stand against the Darkness in the Heart of Man would also give you the power to…well…stand against ALL of the Darkness in the Heart of Man, but there are clearly limits to how far a good officer (and surely there must be many, because to think otherwise will send me into a fit of despair right now) will go in order to Protect and Serve (sure, it’s a Hollywood imagination, but it’s a good example of the popular perception [because Americans learn about life through movies {God that explains so much…}]).

Before I get into some examples of the fear of the Men in Blue, I want to point out a good counter example, and then work my way back through countering that to the main point again. In the town I’ve largely grown up in (all but 5 years if we’re being honest here), we had an officer by the name of Daniel Ellis gunned down as he was responding to a report of an armed intruder. By all accounts (and there are many, from the community at large to many of my close friends) that he was a pillar of the community and an all around excellent human being, and I’m not about to dispute that. The outpouring of support this fallen man received was nothing short of amazing. This isn’t exactly Big Town USA over here (our population could nearly triple and it still wouldn’t fill Giant’s Stadium), and yet we had men and women from all around the country swarming in to pay homage. I cancelled classes the day of his funeral service because so few people would be showing up to attend (and because one of my courses was entirely a group of high school students, who studied under the wife of Daniel Ellis). An entire section of our town basically shut down in a way that, in this part of the country, only tends to happen when we host a rival football team. In short, his death was a massive blow certainly to his family, and also to our community at large.

So, we have this situation where a clearly honorable man is killed in the line of duty, and it has the ring of heroic inspiration to it. But (I like big buts [and I cannot lie]), being the kind of person I’ve been trained to be, I had a touch of the rhetorical umbrage (as disastrous to the health as it sounds, really) when I returned to my office and found that we had been left, nearly all of us on the floor, cardstock memorial placards that seem to have been intended to be placed over our door info in a showing of community solidarity. Being a union man who enjoys a bit of communing, I don’t take offense to that, like, at all. The problem came in how this item was constructed. Let me throw some quick and dirty analysis at you (because I know you love that, you filthy animal).

At the top, centered in black, we have his name (well, actually, just Officer Ellis [not even Detective Ellis, which struck me as odd], so not that spectacular, in point of fact…) in something of a size 32 pt font. A useful item, to be sure, and it is front and centre. So far, so good. And then it falls apart. Centred in the whole of the image is the typical black/blue/black configuration we’ve come to see trotted out with increasing frequency, representing the Thin Blue Line against the Darkness that the police popularly represent. It isn’t a bad idea, honestly, and it helps the viewer understand immediately, when tied with the Officer Ellis inscription above, that we’re dealing with a police officer. Visual Rhetoric 101. But this thing, with it taking up the majority of the space of the card, this symbol of station and of the mythology surrounding it, it completely overrides the fact that we’re mourning an individual human man who was a husband and a father. That, to this card, doesn’t seem to matter. We don’t even get his full name, as I mentioned above. What seems to be important, visually and rhetorically, is the fact that He Was Police. Further below, closing off the whole piece, is his callsign, #457, in font much larger, and bolder, than the name that began the whole thing. So basically what we have is a brief note that a man died, and then nothing else but reinforcement of what that man was as a Symbol. Nothing about his family, nothing about his actual job (Detective), nothing about him As A Man. Just as a Man in Blue.

Now, hey, of course, that’s the limits of the medium in a lot of ways. There are only so many combinations of laconic phrasing that can say so much in such a little space. The University here (which has a huge Criminal Justice dept [a very highly ranked and excellent one by all accounts {I may be biased since I only know very cool people who teach in it}], and a State Police Outpost on the campus proper) made a beautiful effort to memorialize the slain officer. They donated the use of the sports facility to host his funeral service, and did an all around amazing job honouring this man. But still, that little place card put a foul taste in my mouth. Again, we weren’t honouring him in putting that on our doors, not all of him anyway, just his station, and the ideas, again, that his station inspires in us. His squad car remains, three months on, parked outside one of the dispatches in town, and while the giant crane that lifted a massive American flag has moved, and while the shrine has been cleared away, the shell of that vehicle that seems to have so defined this fallen officer in our community remains on display, a reminder of the costs paid to defend. I have no problems with any effort to respect this man’s memory, and Daniel Ellis deserved a much better end to his life than he received.

But we cannot be blinded by respect for a good man into ignoring the actions of evil men, just because they share the haircut and the badge. I have no doubt that every last one of you has been party to the #BLM movement, and the inevitable backlash by our seemingly insane national police unions. Politicos from the right scream in outrage that an oppressed minority, the one group that seems to take the brunt of the cruelty of our laws (of course, they were designed exactly for that express purpose, let’s not kid ourselves, the system is working exactly as intended when it comes to Black Lives), could have take any issue with the police force at large. For the love of the dark lord Satan, the outrage of White America when it discovered Beyoncé was black at the Super Bowl is just as farcical. That confusion of Black Pride and Black Power with the violence of White Pride and White Power gives a ring of truth to the adage that White America fears becoming a minority group because of exactly how they have allowed (and yes, allowed, this is a democracy FFS, if the majority wanted change it’d happen) these people to be treated. But maybe I’ve lost you. Here, let me help. In response to #BlackLivesMatter we got the counterattack of #AllLivesMatter, as though Black Lives were trying to supercede any other. That’s…just not the case, but it’s a clear indication when someone posts something to that effect, they’re probably not the most progressive or tolerant individual. YMMV, of course, but hereabouts, there’s a tinge of racism? Don’t know if you’ve seen it. It’s kind of a big institution around this part of the…Post-colonial everywhere? Anyway, I bring this up only that, surely in a unfathomable grief that I hope never to experience, Daniel Ellis’ wife posts about her husband, and signs of with an #AllLivesMatter, the rallying cry of the police suddenly afraid of their constituency.

I cannot fault this woman for being hurt. I cannot fault this woman for being afraid. If I lost my wife to that sort of brutality, my mind would well go with it. But the man who shot Ellis was a white man. And no one, absolutely no one, stood up and said “This man, this Detective, he deserved it for being a cop!”. There was no call, absolutely none, for using such a hateful little hashtag with its burdens of centuries of baggage around the policing of black bodies in this country. I did not call her out at the time, and I don’t want to cause any trouble for his widow, I am not a monster (I am afraid of a backlash, though!). So why would this educated, grieving woman use this to memorialize her husband? I have only the one thought (since by all accounts, she is absolutely an excellent human being): we have been taught that any attack on  the police is an attack on the basic foundation of our civilization. We have been raised to believe that they are the glue that keeps the fractures from splitting apart and having everything devolve into chaos and anarchy. They are the Thin Blue Line, after all, even if you ignore how fat and armoured their budgets have become since 9/11. But it isn’t. Or at least, it isn’t always.

Yes, of course, if you were going to try and start a revolution, you would begin by either winning over the police, or by attacking them. You want to cut off any resistance at the local level from the constabulary before you have to deal with a military response (I promise I haven’t plotted to overthrow the government [beyond who is on a list {please, that’s a joke, don’t arrest me}]). I make no claims of denial that there are many people motivated by hate out there who would happily put a cop, any cop, at the end of their iron sights. But I don’t think that is anywhere near a majority of people, even those completely disenfranchised by the system. What I do think, though, is that there are a great many people in this nation who simply can’t see (or perhaps more worryingly, refuse to even consider) that there is corruption all throughout the ranks, and that the police are in direct cahoots (there’s a college word for you) with the DA, and that there is seldom going to be an indictment against any officer for murdering a citizen. I’d put in a bunch of links here, but you know their names. Garner, Martin, Rice…fuck it, here’s a link to all of that.

As seeming Agents of Order, it is understandable that Chaos would put the police on edge. It is not a safe job (though it isn’t even Top Ten Most Dangerous), but it does require, at least from my end of the spectrum of understanding, that you need to be fit and brave and care about your community if you’re going to be an effective officer. I always look to Pratchett’s Sam Vimes as a paragon of what a Copper should aspire to be. Less Dirty Harry, more…well, hell, more Daniel Ellis. But this is not the case, and the evidence is there before our eyes. We have all seen the man who shot Tamir Rice, and we’ve heard the lies about why and how, and we’ve seen how there is no justice for that baby boy. If that were the only case, that would be it. But it’s not. And we all know that. We know that Black Power is only dangerous to this corrupt system. We know that Prisons are Concentration Camps for Black Men. We know that schools funnel little black boys straight into those camps. We know all of this. But we do not act. We stand behind mythology, and fear, and yeah, a good dose of bare-ass racism, and we do nothing.

The time for that is ended. It is time for the Good Cops, and the Good Citizens, to stand up against the corruption that has seeded their ranks for far too long. There needs to be a purge of the violent, the obscene, and a resurgence in community outreach and care by the men and women in blue. We need this, as a country, to begin healing those long festering wounds of empire and subjugation; of hate and of fear and mistrust. But if the good among the ranks can’t do it, if we, the people, can’t do it, who can? The time is now. The time is always now. We must overcome.

Remember the names of the victims. And remember the name of Daniel Ellis. He is not just a number or a badge. He is not a martyr. He is a husband that will not grow old with his wife, and a father that will never see his son grow into a man. His is a story of tragedy, but we can make it right. We can make it right by remembering his name, and in honouring it push back against the darkness that surrounds us all.

This is how you honour a fallen officer.

Addendum: The family has requested donations to the Kentucky Law Enforcement Memorial Foundation, Funderburk Building, Eastern Kentucky University, 521 Lancaster Ave., Richmond, Kentucky, 40475-3102, or to Supporting Heroes, PO Box 991547, Louisville, Kentucky, 40269-1547.


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