Honeymooning!

Elijah McClain was a young black man, kind of skinny, glasses. He lived in the suburb or Aurora, in the city of Denver. He had no criminal record, had never been in trouble, he didn’t do drugs, there were none found in his system. He was a massage therapist, he volunteered at the SPCA, and he played the violin for lonely animals. He was just a sweet kid who never did anything to anyone. On August 24, 2019, he bought Ice tea at the corner store for his brother and began to walk home. Then police killed him.

The story goes was that it was a warm night, and he was wearing a ski mask. He did this because he had anaemia his face was cold, apparently there might be some mild autism, or some issue with thermo-regulation. I know people who are cold in warm weather. It happens.

Someone called 911 on him. The report was that he was acting “sketchy,” according to an audio recording of the 911 call released by the Aurora Police Department. The caller told a 911 that the person “has a mask on” and “he might be a good person or a bad person.” The caller went on to say no weapons were involved and when asked if he or anyone else was in danger, the caller said “No.” We don’t know what ‘sketchy’ means, and neither did the police. But what’s clear from the call is: No danger, no weapon.

Nevertheless, three police officer converged on Elijah McClain as he was walking home with his iced tea. He was indeed wearing a ski mask. There were no weapons or burglary tools visible. There was, apart from the ski mask, nothing unusual about his behaviour. He wasn’t furtive, looking into windows, checking car doors. He wasn’t running. He wasn’t acting bizarrely.

So basically, the police should have noted ‘unarmed man wearing ski mask, carrying iced tea, walking at a normal pace.’ No sign of weapons, no sign of danger, no sign of a crime. No unusual behaviour. And that was it, they should have pissed off somewhere else.

Instead, what happened was the officers demanded several times that he stop. He didn’t. He may have been listening to music, but that’s neither here nor there. But here’s the important thing – they had no right to make that demand. If you are in a car, they could demand your drivers license. But if you are walking down the street, then without probable cause, the police have no right to arrest you, to question you, to stop you, or even to demand your name. It’s different in some jurisdictions, but that’s the basic legal principle. And more importantly, that’s fundamental to a free society.

The officer put his hands on Elijah McClain. That’s assault. Elijah said ‘let go of me’ and ‘I’m just going home.

And that’s where things went wrong. Because without any provocation, three Officers piled on top of Elijah McClain.

McClain, meanwhile, can be heard asking the officers to stop, explaining that they started to arrest him as he was “stopping [his] music to listen.”

During the altercation, he says: “I can’t breathe. I have my ID right here. My name is Elijah McClain. That’s my house. I was just going home. I’m an introvert. I’m just different. That’s all. I’m so sorry. I have no gun. I don’t do that stuff. I don’t do any fighting. Why are you attacking me? I don’t even kill flies! I don’t eat meat! But I don’t judge people, I don’t judge people who do eat meat. Forgive me. All I was trying to do was become better. I will do it. I will do anything. Sacrifice my identity, I’ll do it. You all are phenomenal. You are beautiful and I love you. Try to forgive me. I’m a mood Gemini. I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. Ow, that really hurt. You are all very strong. Teamwork makes the dream work.”

He was wrestled to the ground. He was choked with a carotid artery pressure hold at least twice – the thing that killed George Floyd. He lost consciousness at least once. He was placed on the ground in handcuffs and threw up. At least three police officers were physically on top of him at one point.

He sobs, and vomits, and apologizes: “I wasn’t trying to do that,” he says. “I just can’t breathe correctly.”

One of the officers can be heard claiming that McClain reached for his gun. Another of the officers was also be heard threatening to set his dog on McClain if he “keep messing around,” and claiming he exhibited an extreme show of strength when officers tried to pin back his arms. Later, when other officers show up, the officers claim he ‘went crazy’ attacked them with ‘crazy incredible strength’ and that ‘he must have been on something.’ (He wasn’t)

We hear this, we hear what McClain said, and we hear what the officers said. But mostly we don’t see it, because somehow, all three officer’s bod cams ‘fell off.’ If you think that’s suspicions and raises massive credibility issues, you are right. Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, but three times?

Paramedics arrived, and sedated him with 500 mg of ketamine. The paramedic noted that he’d stopped breathing. He did not regain consciousness and died.

The police investigated, found that they had done nothing wrong, and that was the end of the story…

My ass. It was murder. They had no probable cause. They initiated an assault, they escalated crazily at every point. They knew there was no crime, so why were three of them piling on top of him, forcing him to the ground and applying choke holds to make him lose consciousness? There was no crime, no basis to arrest, therefore no resisting arrest. He died directly because he was attacked.

The fact that someone is walking around in a ski mask, or a clown suit, or a tutu, does not justify police assaulting someone. It doesn’t justify murdering someone. Period.

The lesson to be learned from Elijah McClain is that not doing crimes will not save your life. Usually when a black person is killed by the police we hear all about their criminal record, we hear about George Floyd’s armed robbery conviction. Usually, when a person is killed by the police like this, there’s a chorus that they brought it on themselves somehow. They resisted arrest, they wouldn’t show their hands, they tried for the gun, blah blah blah.

And in fact, we hear the usual bullshit – McClain ‘went for the officers gun’ – shouted, but not actually shown because the camera conveniently dropped off. McClain exhibited superhuman strength and aggression, as if he was on something… I’m sorry, look at the pictures, the guy was a toothpick. It’s clearly and obviously self serving nonsense, and it’s also clearly fraudulent.

So apparently, it’s just not safe for an innocent black person to walk home. The police can kill you. You don’t have to be on drugs, you don’t have to be doing anything. They can assault you. And whether you resist or not, you can be killed.

Lovely. Look, being a police officer, not an easy thing. I get that. Police have to exercise judgment. I get that. But you need to take responsibility for bad judgment, or in the end, there’s no judgment.

There is an afterwards to this. There was apparently a memorial demonstration for Elijah McClain. The demonstrators brought violins to play. The police showed up with batons and pepper spray. The demonstrators said they were nonviolent and the police essentially attacked and rioted, and their video shows this. The police claim that violent instigators were smashing things up, knocking over barricades, and that a gun was seen… none of that is on video. I guess all the bodycams fell off again. Funny how that happens.

Over and over, we keep seeing these horrible instances of police misconduct – often leading to death. There’s the litany, Rodney King, Ahmad Aubry, Breonna Taylor, Jean Botham, George Floyd, Tony Timpa, David Shaver, Philando Castile, Magdied Sanchez, J.J. Harper. And beyond that, there’s a lot of questionable shit – the Chicago police got caught running a network of secret jails and torture centers, Los Angeles had its Rampart scandal. New York’s corruption scandals start with Frank Serpico and extend to Adrian Schoolcraft. There’s a lot to talk about there.

But I want to talk about Honeymooning.

What’s honeymooning? Well, it shows up in abusive relationships. You see, sometimes in violent, abusive relationships, things get out of hand. The abuser goes too far. The victim gets thrown down a flight of stairs, or bones get broke, nor the end up in a hospital.

That becomes a ‘wake up’ moment. It’s the moment when both the abuser and the victim have their noses rubbed in the shit, that they have to acknowledge that the relationship isn’t a relationship, it’s assault and battery, that the abuser is a psychotic monster.

Let me tell you, that’s a tough thing to finally have to face – that moment of going to far, that appalling moment of utter honesty and truth, when the comforting lies can’t be sustained, and its exposed for sheer naked horror.

For the victim, it can change everything, it’s the loss of faith, the crushing of belief, it’s a the wake up call, and the message is, “Get the hell out!”

For the abuser, it’s a nightmare. Not only do they confront the fact that they’re a goddamned animal, but the relationship that they depend on is about to vanish. That’s terrifying.

Now in a decent, moral world, where things happen as they should, this should send the abuser on a pilgrimage of self reflection and self discovery where they confront and resolve these demons within themselves, they make amends, they go on to become a better person.

But that takes work!

So instead, what we get is honeymooning. The abuser literally goes into ‘honeymoon’ mode. They become loving, they become tender, solicitous, generous. There are gifts. There are gestures. Symbolic gifts and gestures of course, flowers and rings, restaurants, kind words, soothing songs, romantic shtick. It’s really nice.

And it’s a million miles removed from the incident. It doesn’t acknowledge the incident. It doesn’t admit it happened. It’s all about forgetting it, distracting from it, ignoring it. Because, you know, if you actually acknowledge the reality of the incident and its consequences, then you acknowledge being a psychotic bastard. So it’s all about changing the subject. It’s about avoidance.

So anyway, America has confronted the full blown dysfunction and corruption of its policing, of its entire justice system (particularly the lethal arm of it), in a series of horrific murders of black people, and this has been compounded by a series of psychotic police riots and provocations.

Black people have come face to face with the inescapable fact that the system is corrupt and racist, and that white America, the parts that are in control, are corrupt, racist and violent. Holy shit.

And white America has come face to face, Democrats and Republicans, urbanites and suburbanites, all those people who just thought that racism was a guy with a Nazi tattoo on his forehead, have come face to face with the fact that the system that they have created and uphold, the system that they have defended again and again, is psychotic.

There are still people that will just go on making excuses for cops. But for the majority, suddenly, it’s gotten really hard, the excuses have failed, and reality has hit them in the face.

So what does white America do?

Well, they’ve taken the episode of Golden Girls off the air, where the senior citizens wear mud packs, because that’s reminiscent of blackface! Isn’t white people wonderful?

I’m sure that the response of 98% of America’s people of colour to that was an astonished ‘WTF?’ Not anger, not outrage, not satisfaction, just an utterly bemused incomprehension, as if a pigeon had landed next to them, declaimed a short speech in french, and simply flew away again, with no explanation.

Seriously. ‘WTF?’

What does this have to do with police murder?

What does this have to do with police brutality?

What does this have to do with police racism?

Seriously?

Oh, and they’re getting rid of Aunt Jemima, and Uncle Ben. Okay? That’s really nice. These things are holdovers and relics of slavery and racism, sure, whatever.

What does this have to do with police murder?

What does this have to do with police brutality?

What does this have to do with police racism?

Seriously?

Oh and Mississippi is finally taking the Confederate flag out its state flag after holding onto it for sixty or seventy years. And all those racist statues of racist confederates celebrating slavery, segregation and Jim Crow are all coming down, after wildly defending them against all reason for a century.

This is nice. Yes. It’s very nice. Would have been nicer four years ago. Would have been nicer twenty years ago. Or fifty. It’s really nice that Americans are finally letting go of a half century of bone deep, ingrained, inbred racism, that they clutched to their bosom against all adversity. Totally nice.

What does this have to do with police murder?

What does this have to do with police brutality?

What does this have to do with police racism?

Seriously?

I’m not black. But if you ask me, I think black people these days are a lot more concerned with being hunted down, murdered or just having their children randomly shot by out of control psychotic police.

Maybe I’m wrong, but I suspect that black people’s attitude might be “Thanks for changing the picture on the syrup bottle, but maybe, could we possibly have the conversation where you stop murdering us?”

But here’s the thing. White America just doesn’t want to have that conversation. It doesn’t want to go anywhere near that conversation. Because there’s more honesty, ugly dark honesty and self knowledge in that conversation, than White America ever wants to deal with.

The real conversation would start with a massive housecleaning of police departments, purging racists (they’re in there), ending the blue wall of silence by whatever means necessary, ending the militarisation of the police, cutting back budgets and redeploying some of those budgets from tanks and helicopters to people other approaches. It means eradicating dysfunctional training and principles which escalate to extreme force in every situation. It means coming face to face with systemic racism in law enforcement. And in the criminal justice process, in sentencing guidelines, school to prison pipelines, three strikes laws, extreme sentencing, private prisons. Massive honesty, and massive housecleaning and reform. Not just the occasional cosmetic crap.

This has been due, it’s been overdue for fifty years. For fifty years, America’s been avoiding the issue and letting the problem fester. And white America would let it fester another fifty years if it could, except that all these incidents are showing up on video, or being documented or circulated, and it’s been impossible to wish away, or explain away, or to just ignore, or blame the victims. It’s a conversation that America, particularly white America, is simply desperate not to have.

So… honeymooning.

Now, there is a challenge to this interpretation. Someone will come to me, and they’ll say “But Den, white America is not a giant groupthink monolith, it’s individuals and corporations, acting individually. The company that owns Aunt Jemima is not the same company that owns Uncle Ben, and neither are the company that own Golden Girls. The flag is a decision of the Mississippi state legislature, which has no connection to these corporations. All these statue decisions are by individual states and municipalities. What you’re seeing is a whole bunch of individual decisions, by individuals who have decided to fight racism in their own way, and in the ways that they have control over. None of these individuals, corporations, municipalities, states, etc., have control over the police or justice system.”

And they’ll way: “And anyway, Rome wasn’t built in a day, you can’t reform the police overnight. This takes time, you have to proceed carefully. We can’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. We are working on it, and all these irrelevant gestures are signs of good faith. We promise, we’ll do better.”

To this I respond: Bullshit.

All of these municipalities control their own police forces. They pay for them. They direct them. They set policy, give them budgets, buy them toys. And a lot of these municipalities use their police to generate revenue. The states can pass laws eliminating qualified immunity, banning lethal choke holds. The massive systematic dysfunctions can be addressed. So what’s the point of these lovely symbolic, ‘do nothing’ distractions. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to see Confederate statues removed. But frankly, I care more about live people being murdered, than I do about rusting statues. And if removing a few statues allows all these bastards to evade the issue, and just allows them to turn a blind eye to larger injustices… that’s not acceptable. The fact that they’re pulling this shtick now doesn’t prove they’re waking up, it just proves they’re gutless hypocrites.

And yes, the company that owns Golden Girls, or the company that owns Uncle Ben, they don’t own the police. So what. They could take a stand. But taking a stand, as we’ve seen with the police riots and the assaults on demonstrators, is tough. The police and their allies and apologists push back. These companies aren’t interested in push back from police and police apologists. They don’t want to be involved in controversy. They’d rather just not get involved. So taking Golden Girls off the air, or taking Uncle Ben and Aunt Jemima off the shelves? That’s not facing the issues, it’s dodging them. It’s not principled, it’s cowardice. It’s cheap distraction, to evade the reality that is controversial, unpleasant and difficult.

So no. I don’t buy these excuses or explanations. I don’t give the benefit of the doubt. I am not satisfied with meaningless symbolic gestures, like a fresh coat of paint on a concentration camp.
If you have a real problem, the first thing you do is face it. And the second thing you do is solve it. No words, no flowers, no promises or gestures, no distractions. Face it, and solve it. Then you face the next problem, and solve that. And again. That’s how you build a better world.

Honeymooning?

To hell with that.

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