Sandra Bland and Arbitrary Tyranny

As you are probably aware, Sandra Bland is a young woman who was found dead in her cell in Waller County, Texas on July 13. I have been giving no small amount of thought to this senseless series of events. I have watched as people in both mainstream and social media take sides to assign culpability in this sad, sad death.  I know I am coming late to the argument, but as details have arisen I have been reminded of the idea of arbitrary tyranny.

Whether or not the police officers who arrested and detained Sandra Bland actively participated in her death or merely stood by helplessly as she suicidally hung herself in her cell is really beside the point. She was in a cell to begin with because she was pulled over by Texas state trooper Brian Encinia for failing to signal while changing lanes. This woman is dead as a result of a minor traffic infraction.

Perhaps there have been several major tragedies happen as a result of improper lane changes by motorists in Waller County, Texas. I am willing to give the police officer the benefit of the doubt on that count. I will concede that he had a legal reason to pull Sandra Bland over; however minor this particular traffic violation may have been, it was still an illegal act. Therefore, trooper Encinia was well within his rights and obligations in pulling her over.

What concerns me most is that Sandra Bland went to jail for a minor traffic violation. Her behavior, however poorly it might be judged by the police officer involved, and secondary observers after the fact, did not provide the grounds for this woman to be denied her freedom and agency. People have a right not to be happy about being pulled over by the police. People have a right to record their treatment by the police. Whatever legal justification was given for her arrest, Sandra Bland’s real crime was contempt of cop.

Ben Mathis-Lilley of Slate writes about the concept of contempt of cop here. On the matter of Sandra Bland he writes:

…it seems clear from the video that Encinia’s actions, not to mention his initial verbal escalation of the situation, happened in large part because he took offense at what he perceived as Bland’s disrespectful attitude—what is known in legal circles as “contempt of cop”—rather than any belief that she presented an imminent threat to anyone’s safety.

Contempt of cop is important because it complements the idea of arbitrary tyranny. Arbitrary tyranny is the idea that there are things most people do on a daily basis that are illegal. Most of the time these technically illegal but common activities are ignored. However, because these things are illegal they consequently provide authorities with a rationale to detain or arrest people at will. The point being that, under a system of arbitrary tyranny, the only thing the state, usually in the form of a police officer, needs to arrest you is the desire to do so.

Time to be a proper blogger

I know that I am an intermittent writer at  best. Over the next few weeks I am going to attempt to resolve that. I am going to try to write two or three posts a week on this blog and on TDGP.

It may be cheating a bit, but I am going to count this post as my first one of the week.

At this point, it seems like it will be pretty daunting. I have a lot of ideas through the week, but for whatever reason rarely get around to writing about them. I hope to make a habit out of writing.

Please, wish me luck.

Introducing Jasper

My wife and I recently added a new member to our family. Jasper is a Labrador Retriever puppy. He was born on November 29, 2014, so he is about 11 weeks old. We got Jasper as a mutual valentine’s day gift, and he finally got to come to his new home yesterday, on Feb 21.

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Jasper seems to be adjusting well. He slept through the night on his first night home, not waking up until after 5:00 A.M. when he had to use the restroom. I wouldn’t call it a full nights sleep, but it was better than we expected.

Jasper is playful, like all puppies are. He is ready to run at any time, but is still learning how to do things like fetch. He seems to love running through the yard. I imagine it is a huge space for him considering that he has been in a kennel the last couple of weeks.

Not everything is perfect. He is more comfortable with his own feces than I would like, but some research shows that this is normal with dogs. He is semi-house trained, only a few accidents. But it is not completely his fault as it has been rainy today and he didn’t get much outside time. I am impressed that I can take him outside and he knows to pee. He is doing very well.

Jasper is a friendly and happy puppy and a welcome addition to our home.

American Sniper

It took me a while to sort out my feelings about this movie. I saw it on Saturday afternoon, but it has taken me until now (Sunday evening) (Note: I had a three day weekend so my timing was off, I didn’t write this post until Monday evening) to figure out what to write. This is a movie that has me feeling very ambivalent.

It is a technically good movie. It is well acted. The war scenes are very intense. I wouldn’t say this movie covers any new ground: the worried wife and family at home has been a cliche for a very long time and people have attempted to convey that war is hell for eons.

The protagonist Chris Kyle is portrayed as super patriotic and as somewhat of an automaton. I haven’t uncovered any new information to contradict that portrayal. In the film Kyle eschews politics and political thought. He fights for the men there fighting with him. He earnestly believes what he is fighting for, even as his comrades around him, including his brother, question the wisdom of what they are doing.

I don’t think this is an anti-war movie. Because it focuses on a jingoistic personality, the movie feels jingoistic. So much so, that it got me to thinking about jingoism generally. Is it always thoughtless and emotion laden? Are there thinking jingoists?

I would argue not in this movie. My experience in the army showed me the the men who were expected to die for politics were, and probably still are, acutely aware of politics and its meaning, even as they ostensibly ignore politics. For a man who spent four tours in Iraq, killing Iraqis (and presumably enjoying it), what does it say about him that he didn’t care about politics?

I also got to thinking about the fact that Kyle killed hundreds of people. He did this in prosecution of a war in which the United States invaded another country under false pretenses, in pursuit of weapons of mass destruction that the administration knew not to exist. I don’t see how this is not murder.

I am not accusing Kyle of being a murderer. He was a pawn, played like so many others by a president intent on his own ambitions. He admits to hating Iraqis and considering them savages in the movie. Apparently he wrote this in his book as well. Kyle arrived in Iraq as an invader, killed hundreds of people, and considered them savages because they fought back.

I know there are many people who consider Chris Kyle an unequivocal hero. I have no qualms about calling his actions heroic. Because I like to think about things I notice that his heroic and deadly actions in defense of God, country, and family were committed in a war of aggression commenced under false pretenses. This is what happens when you don’t care about politics.

Selma

Selma is a fascinating movie. Anyone with a sense of civil rights history in the United States has heard of the city of Selma, Alabama. I knew that there was a march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama some time in the nineteen sixties. It had something to do with Dr. Martin Luther King.

I know that there were many sacrifices of life and many courageous people who took part in the civil rights struggles in the United States. However, the way the history of this struggle is presented in the mainstream media is that Dr. King made a few great speeches, took part in some nonviolent protests, and in the end the white people who ran this Country made a considered decision to grant equality and the right to vote to minorities. Anti-civil rights violence is a series of aberrations which were righted through the courageous efforts of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That is not what this movie presents. This movie presents many things which I was already aware of: the FBI was surveilling and attempting to discredit Dr. King, the virulent opposition to civil rights in the South, Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference worked for civil rights.

That is the thing, we are always hearing disparate facts, good and bad and indifferent, about the civil rights movement and United States history in general. These facts are rarely put together in a coherent narrative. First this happened, it was a a bad thing. Then that happened, it was an indifferent thing. There was a victory here, that was good. And so on. A bunch of facts, a small narrative here and there, and we have a sanitized, management approved version of history. This movie, Selma, reminded me of the quote attributed to Woodrow Wilson about “writing history with lightning.”

I felt, watching this movie, that the march toward civil rights was not a point on the inevitable march of reason and justice in the United States, as it always seems to be presented; it was a victory  brought on through the hard work and sacrifices of people willing to put their lives on the line. It was a hard won fight wherein strategy and perseverance won out over power and prejudice. I learned something from this movie.

Though I was not alive to witness the events of this film, I have seen in the last several years that the battles are not over. Selma celebrates the events that lead up to the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. I was alive to witness the Supreme Court gut this particular piece of legislation in 2012. The film portrays the murder of activist Jimmie Lee Jackson by an Alabama State Trooper. A little research revealed that a grand jury failed to indict that trooper for this murder. Need I mention Darren Wilson or Daniel Pantaleo?

This movie made me angry. The idea of a brutal and ignorant system that dehumanizes and destroys wide swathes of people for no other reason than their skin color makes me rage. The events depicted made me forget that the movie began with a bomb that killed 4 little girls. It was jarring and disgusting and sad, but later scenes in the film caused me to forget all about that opening scene. It is hard for me to see all of the progress we have made in the United States since 1965. I have to wonder if anything has really changed at all.

On Veteran’s Day and Nonviolence

Today is veteran’s day. I am a veteran. My wife and I had a day off from work, so she treated me to a movie. I like war movies, so we went to see Fury.  It was basically two-hours worth of industrial scale inhumanity and slaughter; however, it did do its job of taking you away from reality for a while.

This got me to thinking about some things today. I did some two years and change in the army. As I have written previously, the army was where I first started to learn about conflict and its resolution in a systematic way. I am a man trained in violence. I have seen actual inhumanity and slaughter. I understand the havoc that violence wreaks on both its victims and its survivors. Yet, I still believe in the efficacy of violence.

This summer I did half of a training on nonviolence with Pax Christi. I only did half because I realized in the middle of the first day of training this it was not for me. I don’t have the complete faith in nonviolence that the leaders of this training did.

Some recent reading has helped to crystallize my thinking. I read an article, Nonviolent Resistance in Power Asymmetries by Véronique Dudouet, from The Berghof Handbook for Conflict Transformation (available at http://www.berghof-handbook.net/), that states in some circumstances, “nonviolent strategies might not have sufficient leverage to bring about necessary changes (p. 253).” The author writes about a very precise set of circumstances wherein one is trying to wrest power from another who will do anything to hold on to power. Wherein you are up against a mad dog with no morality or scruples; when you are fighting people with nothing left to lose.

I am convinced of the usefulness of nonviolent tactics. However, I am not convinced of their utility in all situations. Nonviolence is, in my opinion, a tool for the long-term. In the short-term, it is far too easy for precisely aimed violence to wipe out a fledgling nonviolent movement. There are mad dogs in the world; people who do not listen and cannot be reasoned with.

I believe that violence and nonviolence are both tools which can be deployed simultaneously, but must also be used appropriately. In the short term, violence can get you a few wins. In the long term you better have a plan to feed, clothe, and house people or you will not be able to win.

I know that violence absolutely works in the short-term, but without a long-term plan the winners in the game of short-term violence will always lose to somebody who is better at violence.

Making a living in conflict (resolution)

I am just about half way through earning a master’s degree in conflict resolution. I am beginning to think about what comes next, career wise. Can you make a living resolving conflict for other people?

The most obvious path seems to be mediation. There are several instructors in my program who are professional mediators. I have gone to a mediation conference (and am going to another one next month). I have gone to a mediation study group that discusses the trials and travails of professional mediators. I am just about to finish my mediation class. All indications are that I would make a fine mediator.

There is one problem, however; I don’t really seem to have the temperament for mediation. I am not really interested in other people’s problems. Personally, I think this is an advantage. If you don’t really care about the problems of the people before you then it would seem to me you are less likely to try and pick sides. I can remain neutral because i don’t really care.

My mediation instructor does not appear to be amused by this theory. She suggests careful and empathetic listening.

Anyway, I don’t care to put myself in the middle of other people’s problem. I am more interested in structural conflict and the policy implications of conflict.  This is what fascinates me; how the system creates and solidifies conflicts between the system and individuals.

This would allow me to use what I learned in studying public administration for my bachelor’s degree. It would also let me put my master’s coursework to use. I just wonder how much of a market there is for an expert on the mitigation of structural conflict.

Where would I find my customers? What would I actually do for money? I have a lot of questions right now, and not many answers. Stay tuned, because this seems to be one of those things you have to figure out as you go along.