Last evening, I had the pleasure of attending comedian Dick Gregory's concert at the Promontory restaurant and lounge in Chicago.
He is a legend. Gregory is also a legend who delivers on the promise of his title and reputation. One must wonder does he have the secret of youth? Did he obtain if through a nefarious bargain? Or is Gregory's vitality the result of good living and a fortunate roll of the genetic dice?
Opening for a legend is difficult. It is also an honor. Some of the younger comedians who stepped out on the stage before Gregory are very early in their training. They are journeyman bards with much to learn. One of those lessons should be to not steal a.k.a. "borrow" jokes from obvious sources. It is tacky and poor form. Of course, there are few new ideas. The classics are the classics (I just flew in from Detroit, and boy are my arms tired!). But one should at least try to innovate as they would not want to be so easily exposed by either their peers or a student of comedy who happens to be in the audience.
One of Dick Gregory's themes was the impotence of misdirected black rage. As he observed, folks are angry about "injustice" and "racism" but do little substantive to counter it. They may huff and puff, but that is all bluster for their exhalations are aimed in the wrong direction.
Gregory, like the best performers in the African-American comedic tradition, was pointing out the absurd, the (not) dilemma of the colorline (for is justice ever really that complicated?), and offering a deep critique of Power.
Ultimately, Gregory concluded that "we" choose to not see the truth. It is not a hard thing to divine or to understand, but most people choose to enable their own powerlessness and learned helplessness.
One of Dick Gregory's most wickedly genius observations was about America's police and the colorline. He asked, "why would a white person with all of the privileges and power that come with being 'white' in America choose to be a cop when so many other easy options are available to them?"
The answer to that question holds the key to understanding white on black police violence and the necropolis of black bodies that are more visible in the Age of Obama and a carceral surveillance society, but which historically have been a fixture of American life since before the Founding.
We should never forget that America is a house built on the bodies of black and brown people. They are also the kindling for the fire that fueled the American melting pot.
The State has a monopoly on violence and force. The police are the day-to-day arm of the State. For black Americans, and the poor and working classes more generally, the police are part of a larger societal apparatus that is dedicated to creating a sense of "custodial citizenship". Police do not treat white middle class and rich people the same way that they treat black and brown people of any class background. This is by design. America's police exist to enforce a hierarchical arrangement of class and racial power.
Such a dynamic cultivates a type of delusional and willful ignorance for White America, one that is so powerful that even video recorded examples of police thuggery against black people (and others) can be explained away by white racial paranoiac thinking.
In all, because "Officer Friendly" is friendly to them, too many white folks incorrectly assume that Officer Friendly is not an authoritarian racist bully in his or her interactions with other people.
Hegemonic power is omnipresent. It does not work only by punishing those who transgress, but also by giving rewards to those who obey. Power creates legitimacy through schools, religion, the media, and more general and vague cultural norms that together create a sense of what is "normal".
Police legitimacy and authority in the United States has been increasingly exposed as corrupt and not deserved by the video-recorded murders of unarmed black men at the hands of the police, as well as other examples where police have killed and abused the mentally ill, the poor and homeless, people who were subdued and not a threat, and most notably engaged in a spectacular riot against the people of Ferguson, Missouri.
Thus, there exists a need to create a counter-narrative in order to subvert the justice claims of those who seek police reform. America's "approved public discourse" and "acceptable opinion" will retreat to a defensive bulwark of cultural myths about "heroic police" who have a "hard and difficult job" as cover for police thuggery and brutality. To counter the visual record of white on black police violence, the media will discover and highlight video-recorded examples of police behaving in a "heroic" and "noble" manner.
New Richmond, Ohio police officer Jesse Kidder has provided one such moment. As reported by CNN, he was "attacked" by a "suspect" who was attempting "suicide by cop".
CNN details how:
Police shootings stoke controversy as the public dissects the details of each incident and decides whether the use of force was unwarranted or if the officer acted in self-defense in the face of a truly dangerous criminal.
This isn't one of those cases.
On Thursday, Officer Jesse Kidder could have opened fire on a man in New Richmond, Ohio, and likely would never have heard a breath of the protest that followed the shootings of Eric Harris and Walter Scott.
What might have been a "suicide by cop" ended in the suspect's arrest and booking, thanks to what Kidder's colleagues say was his "great restraint."
If there were a checklist for when it's OK to shoot a suspect, Kidder could have ticked most of the boxes.The story continues:
The officer's body camera -- which Kidder's family bought for him after the Michael Brown shooting in Ferguson, Missouri -- captured the suspect rushing toward Kidder, unfazed by the officer's handgun. Dispatchers had told Kidder the suspect might have a gun under his car seat and might attempt to commit "suicide by cop," WLWT reported.
"I jumped out, and he's running toward me. I had my firearm already drawn on him, and I tell him to put his hands up in the air, and he was screaming, 'Shoot me! Shoot me!'" Kidder said.
Kidder backs away from the suspect, who puts one hand in his jacket pocket, then another. Still, the officer declines to pull the trigger.
"My eyes are watching that hand right now, nothing else," Kidder said.
Kidder yells, "Get your hands out of your pocket now!"
The suspect continues to advance, walking swiftly, hands still obscured.
"I was trying to open a dialogue with him. 'I don't want to shoot you; just get on the ground.' But he wasn't having it. He kept repeating, 'Shoot me!' At one point, he said, 'Shoot me, or I'll shoot you,'" the officer said.
Kidder keeps his composure, even when the suspect charges to within a few feet, forcing Kidder to tumble backward to the ground, his upended feet coming into the body camera's view.Because of a body camera, Officer Jesse Kidder was also able to provide video of the event.
Of course, the essential question is not asked by CNN's story on Officer Kidder's decision to not shoot the suspect. What if the man "attacking" Kidder was black and not white? Would Officer Kidder had exercised as much restraint?
Childish logic suggests that a video-recording of one "good" and "exceptional" cop trumps the many video-recorded murders and abuse of black and brown people by America's police. It exists in the same intellectually and morally empty conceptual universe as "both sides do it!" and "we need to consider both sides of the argument." Such claims are perfect propaganda for the simple minded and binary thinkers.
Empirical research has repeatedly demonstrated that police are more likely to use lethal force against black men, are primed on a subconscious level to shoot unarmed black people faster than they are white people, and are part of a "justice" system that practices racial bias on almost every level in its treatment of African-Americans.
Kidder exercised admirable and amazing restraint in his decision to not shoot a human being who was attempting "suicide by cop". The problem is not Officer Jesse Kidder's good character. Rather, how will Kidder's video-recorded decision to not kill a human being, when he had the legal power to do so, be located relative to a broader narrative and public discourse about American police violence and abuse?
As America's police reaffirm their legitimacy, they will be aided by a Right-wing media, petite authoritarians, cop fetishists, and other servants of Power who are desperate to find the "Good German" or the "Kind Slave Owner" in the form of "Officer Friendly".
There is a complication in this project. Critical thinkers and the enlightened immediately know that the search for such cultural figures actually highlights how barbarism and foul treatment are the norm and not exceptions to the rule.