Unacceptable Behavior

When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being. At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptable.

Delegate C.T. Wilson of the Maryland House
describing his experience dealing with police as a large Black man

There is no featured post this week.

This week everybody was talking about the Chauvin trial, and policing in general


The prosecution is getting close to wrapping up its case against Derek Chauvin. The defense should start this week.

I’ve found the defense attorney’s cross-examination of prosecution witnesses hard to watch, so I suspect the case they present will be even harder. In the words of The New Yorker’s Jeannie Suk Gersen, “The defense’s best hope is to instill doubt about what jurors can plainly see.”

The argument will probably be a kind of rhetorical sleight-of-hand that shows up fairly often, but doesn’t get nearly enough attention: Reduce the scene to a verbal description, then weave a new scene from that description. (I first noticed this technique during the Clinton impeachment trial. The public wasn’t buying that Clinton should be removed for having an affair and covering it up. So Republicans didn’t talk about that directly. Instead, they reduced Clinton’s actions to the legal categories of perjury and obstruction, then argued that perjury and obstruction were impeachable offenses, as they might be in other circumstances.)

So this week the horrified bystanders to Chauvin’s crime will become a potentially dangerous mob. The struggles George Floyd made while he was upright will be painted as plausible threats from his prone, handcuffed, unconscious, and dying body. Floyd’s death will be attributed to drugs and pre-existing health problems, with Chauvin’s knee on his neck merely incidental.

Reassemble that, and the defense’s question becomes: If an officer under threat from a dangerous mob is using force to subdue a resisting suspect, and the suspect happens to die for other reasons, is the officer really guilty of anything? Jurors will be invited to imagine other possible scenes that fit this description, and the blameless officers who might be convicted by the standard they set here.

Such a scene isn’t at all what the videos of Floyd’s death show, but if one juror can be induced to forget or ignore what he saw, Chauvin goes free. As the prosecutor said in his opening remarks: “Trust your eyes.”

Here’s why I expect: Chauvin won’t go free, but he won’t be convicted of the highest charge, second-degree murder. (IMO, that charge is already too low.) Consequently, he’ll face a sentence that will appear to devalue George Floyd’s life. Riots will erupt in Minneapolis and possibly elsewhere. The legal decision will be a done deal at that point, so the question will be whether Black Lives Matter activists can craft some demand that can still be met.

However the trial comes out, it’s worth appreciating that Chauvin was only charged because bystander videos went viral. If not for video, police would have circled the wagons around him and nothing would have happened. I have to wonder how many murders by police haven’t been prosecuted because the only surviving witnesses were other police.

If Chauvin goes free in spite of the video, I don’t know what comes next. Any conservatives who express horror at riots should have to answer this question: What is a community’s appropriate response when police can murder its members, the murder can be posted on YouTube, and they get away with it? What should people do when this happens over and over?

Meanwhile, Sunday afternoon another Black man was killed by a police officer in a Minneapolis suburb.

Chief Tim Gannon of the Brooklyn Center Police Department said an officer had shot the man on Sunday afternoon after pulling his car over for a traffic violation and discovering that the driver had a warrant out for his arrest. As the police tried to detain the man, he stepped back into his car, at which point an officer shot him, Chief Gannon said.

To me, it matters what the warrant was for. Was 20-year-old Daunte Wright a dangerous criminal whose immediate apprehension was necessary for public safety? Or might police have simply followed until Wright realized he wasn’t going to get away? Or did the officer decide that Wright’s failure to obey carried a death sentence, independent of whatever his original crime might have been?

The shooting touched off a riot Sunday night, and the National Guard was called out.

Nobody died in this incident, but it’s still not right: Two Virginia police approached an Army lieutenant at gunpoint, then pepper-sprayed him when he refused to get out of the car until they explained why they had stopped him. The lieutenant has filed a lawsuit against the officers.

Zack Linly comments at The Root:

Why are you like this?—when someone asks a police officer why he’s being asked to exit his vehicle or why he’s being stopped in the first place, why the hell can’t cops respond by…oh, I don’t know…answering the fucking question? Instead, the officers in this instance appear to have responded by typical aggression and equally typical police brutality.

Incidents like this give me sympathy for the “Abolish the Police” movement. I understand that laws need to be enforced somehow, but are men who behave like this really making us safer? Sometimes I think we should just fire everyone and start over (like the former Soviet republic of Georgia did). Maybe we should contract our policing out to civilized countries like New Zealand or Iceland.

I’m going to keep repeating this point until it’s widely acknowledged. Whenever you compare US policing to other countries, somebody raises the point that US criminals are more dangerous, because so many of them have guns. (“I’d rather be judged by 12 than carried by 6” police tell each other.) So: Trigger-happy police is a price we pay for not controlling guns.

In 2018, the Pittsburgh newsletter The Incline answered a reader’s question about what police can or should do when a suspect flees during a felony traffic stop. The answer seems much more reasonable than the police behaviors we’re talking about.

Tom Nolan, a 27-year veteran of the Boston Police Department who’s now an associate professor of criminology and criminal justice at Merrimack College, said, “Certainly it’s not in compliance with standard police training and protocol to shoot at individuals who are fleeing the police. The police are not trained to do that unless there is a threat to an officer or innocent bystander or an imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death. Absent that there’s no justification.”

A police reform bill passed in Maryland over Governor Hogan’s veto.

The changes do not go as far as some social justice advocates had hoped: Discipline will now largely be decided by civilian panels, for example, but police chiefs maintain a role. Some activists wanted the panels to act independently of police.

Still, the legislation imposes one of the strictest police use-of-force standards in the nation, according to experts; requires officers to prioritize de-escalation tactics; and imposes a criminal penalty for those found to have used excessive force.

A Democratic legislator described the danger he faces from police simply because he is a large Black man.

When I look into that officer’s eyes, they’re not looking at me like I’m another human being. At best, I’m a threat. At worst, I’m an animal. That is unacceptable.

Saturday Night Live’s opening skit featured a disagreement between White and Black Minneapolis news anchors: White anchors are confident that justice will be done in the Chauvin trial, while Black anchors say “We’ve seen this movie before.”

and the virus

Today should pass 120 million people at least partially vaccinated. (I get my first shot tomorrow.) The number of new cases continues to edge upward, running just below 70K per day. Deaths continue to slowly decline.

Anecdotally, I’ve been hearing for weeks that vaccination appointments were easier to get in red states, where more people are skeptical of the vaccines and even of the seriousness of Covid-19. Now there are numbers to back that up.

The official statistics on Covid deaths in Russia don’t look that bad: 707 deaths per million, according to Worldometer, compared to 1,732 in the US. But Saturday’s NYT reported that excess deaths in 2020 are far larger than the official Covid statistics account for. Deaths in Russia during the pandemic months of 2020 were 28% above normal, compared to 17% above normal in the US.

Russians understand that the government is lying to them about Covid deaths, and that produces a nasty result: They don’t trust the government about vaccines either. (Russia produces its own vaccine, which apparently is pretty good.)

One conclusion to draw is that of all forms of government, the one that has handled Covid the worst is authoritarian populism. Of all large countries, possibly the most inexcusably bad responses to the pandemic are the US (Trump), Russia (Trump’s role model Putin), and Brazil (led by Jair Bolsonaro, “the Tropical Trump“).

The Center for Countering Digital Hate (never heard of them before, so take this with a grain of salt) claims that most of the vaccine misinformation on Facebook comes from just 12 people.

Analysis of a sample of anti-vaccine content that was shared or posted on Facebook and Twitter a total of 812,000 times between 1 February and 16 March 2021 shows that 65 percent of anti-vaccine content is attributable to the Disinformation Dozen.

and Republicans


I should have linked to this last week: The Trump campaign solved a cash crunch late in the 2020 campaign by scamming its own donors. Recurring donations were the default, which you had to read carefully to opt out of.

The sheer magnitude of the money involved is staggering for politics. In the final two and a half months of 2020, the Trump campaign, the Republican National Committee and their shared accounts issued more than 530,000 refunds worth $64.3 million to online donors.

The money was paid back using the haul from Trump’s “Stop the Steal” campaign, which was a different kind of scam. Most of the money collected was not spent on contesting the election results.

I keep hearing that Republicans are bound to win back the House in 2022, because midterm elections usually favor the party that’s out of power. But I think the GOP faces an unusual number of problems this cycle, like explaining why they’re voting against things their voters like, and whether or not the party should continue to be a Trump personality cult now that he’s literally one of those crazy old men ranting about socialism.

An RNC donor retreat went to Mar-a-Lago Saturday for a Trump speech. (The Great Man could not come to them.) The speech made headlines for attacking his own party’s Senate leader. (He called Mitch McConnell a “dumb son of a bitch” and a “stone cold loser”.)

As Playbook and the New York Times have reported, Trump has become a complication for donors. They don’t want their money going toward his retribution efforts. Remember: These are exorbitantly wealthy people — some with egos as big as Trump’s — and they are not interested in hearing about how another rich guy had his ego bruised.

The 2022 GOP primaries are going to be nasty affairs, and many of them will be won by QAnon crazies or outright fascists. Republicans proved in Alabama in 2017 and Missouri in 2012 that a bad enough candidate can blow a race anywhere, and 2022 will feature some historically bad GOP candidates.

Fascist/supremacist rhetoric is getting increasingly explicit in Republican circles. Last week I quoted from an article from the Claremont Institute calling for a “counter-revolution” because “most people living in the United States today—certainly more than half—are not Americans in any meaningful sense of the term.”

Thursday, Fox News host Tucker Carlson explicitly endorsed the white supremacist “Great Replacement” theory:

I know that the left and all the little gatekeepers on Twitter become literally hysterical if you use the term “replacement,” if you suggest that the Democratic Party is trying to replace the current electorate — the voters now casting ballots — with new people, more obedient voters from the Third World. But they become hysterical because that’s what happening, actually. Let’s just say it. That’s true. …

It’s a voting-rights question. In a democracy, one person equals one vote. If you change the population, you dilute the political power of the people who live there. So every time they import a new voter, I become disenfranchised as a current voter.

In the link, Jonathan Chait points out how weird this framing is: The ordinary use of “replacement” would imply that current US citizens are being kicked out as new immigrants come in, which no one thinks is happening.

My employer hires new writers pretty often. If they fired me and gave my job to a new writer, that would be replacement. If they just created a new job, and assigned the writers to work alongside me, that would not be replacement.

If we take Carlson’s “voting-rights” view seriously — which I don’t believe he does, because he only pays attention to its anti-immigrant conclusions, rather than its full implications — then when my white ancestors arrived in the 1840s, they disenfranchised the previously established Americans; every American who turns 18 disenfranchises the rest of us; and our votes gain power whenever any other American voter dies. (Go, coronavirus!)

And let’s not ignore the racism of assuming that immigrants from the largely non-white Third World are “more obedient voters”, rather than human beings who can think for themselves. Also: No one is importing “new voters”. When immigrants arrive here (by their own choice rather because some sinister cabal “imports” them) the road to citizenship is long and full of obstacles. This is especially true for those who circumvent the legal immigration process.

Replacement Theory also comes with a lot of baggage Carlson didn’t mention, but that his white-supremacist fans are well aware of. Chait summarizes:

When Nazis marched in Charlottesville in 2017, they chanted “You will not replace us!” and, somewhat more clarifying, “Jews will not replace us!” The terrorist who gunned down 51 people in Christchurch, New Zealand, used this slogan (“The Great Replacement”) in his manifesto. …

“Replacement theory” imagines that an elite cabal, frequently described as Jewish, is plotting to “replace” the native white population with non-white immigrants, who will pollute and destroy the white Christian culture.

George Soros is frequently identified as the Jewish mastermind of the replacement plot. That’s why the MAGA bomber mailed him a pipe bomb. Replacement Theory is also why an anti-immigrant gunman killed 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue.

So why would a TV host mangle the English language in order to get the word “replacement” into his screed? Because he wanted to invoke the baggage. Tucker was giving a shout-out to the Nazis in his audience.

John Boehner has written a book in which he breaks with the Republican Party in its current form. I feel like I ought to read it, but I don’t want to, and I certainly don’t want to pay for it. I anticipate feeling the same frustration with it as the NYT’s reviewer.

Boehner doesn’t acknowledge the role that his generation of Republicans played in building the bridge from Ronald Reagan’s era to our current times. … Boehner’s memoirs are an X-ray into the mind of Reagan-era Republicans who did whatever was necessary to win and who today are seeing the high costs of their decisions.

Boehner’s generation thought they could pander to the reality-denying right-wingers while keeping them under control — basically the same mistake German industrialists and aristocrats made with Hitler. And their heirs are still doing it: Kevin McCarthy knows that Trump is an idiot and QAnon is insane, but he won’t say so. I don’t have a lot of patience with their self-justifications.

On the other hand, the way Trumpism ends is that everybody who’s not a Trumpist leaves the Republican Party, which then goes down to historic defeats until it reorganizes, once again becoming a political party with a message for the political center, rather than an authoritarian cult that sponsors political violence. Max Boot acknowledges that necessity:

those of us on the center-right can’t afford a third-party flirtation. We need to become Biden Republicans.

So I welcome Boehner’s book as a harbinger of a GOP crash-and-burn. But I’m not looking forward to reading it.

and you also might be interested in …

Matt Gaetz’ troubles aren’t getting any better. CNN reports that Trump has refused to meet with him, and Trump certainly failed to mention Gaetz during his Saturday-night ramble in front of GOP donors. Meanwhile, the attorney of his associate Joel Greenberg is hinting at a plea deal.

As I said last week, I’m waiting for some official documentation (like an indictment) before I follow this for any reason other than entertainment. But it is entertaining. The NYT told more of the Greenberg story yesterday.

While I was looking for the SNL video above, YouTube recommended I look at this Jen Psaki press briefing from March 10, where a Fox reporter peppered her with hostile questions about the situation at the Mexican border and school reopenings. This is why I love Psaki: no insults to the reporter, no rants about his network’s obvious bias or falling ratings, no threats to have his White House pass revoked. She fields the questions calmly and answers with facts.

The new Ken Burns series has people talking about Ernest Hemingway again. I’m reminded of a pattern I usually illustrate with Don Henley’s song “The Boys of Summer” (an old-guy reference that readers can update for themselves): A 15-year-old hears it and thinks, “That’s how it feels to be in love.” Ten years later he hears it and thinks, “That’s so immature. I can’t believe I ever liked that song.” Then another ten years pass and he thinks, “That’s how it felt to be in love when I was 15.”

In other words: First you’re captured by a point of view. Then you’re trying to get distance from it. But eventually you feel secure in your distance and can look back more fondly.

I think we might be ready for that third stage of reading Hemingway. First, people read his books and thought: “That’s what it means to be a man.” Then “His books are full of toxic masculinity.” Now maybe we can read him and think: “That’s what it’s like to wrestle with toxic masculinity.”

After all, Hemingway heroes are not John Wayne or James Bond. Their masculine virtues don’t lead to triumphs that right all the wrongs and let them live happily ever after with either the girl of their dreams or an endless parade of Pussy Galores. Hemingway stories center on lonely men struggling to get by in a world that is either godless or ruled by a God who is the Father in all the wrong ways. Maybe they’re a pretty accurate picture of where excessive masculinity leads.

As a writer, I feel indebted to Hemingway as a pivotal figure in American prose. 19th century novels still reflect old-time oral story-telling, where long florid descriptions help pass the endless winter nights. Hemingway changed everything by writing novels in the style of a newspaper, where each column-inch is valuable and needs to accomplish something.

We’re still influenced by him, whether we know it or not. If you’ve ever gotten impatient with an author and thought, “Can we just get on with this?”, or if you’ve had a writing teacher tell you, “Show, don’t tell” — you’ve been influenced by Hemingway.

I haven’t watched Burns’ Hemingway series yet, but I did watch HBO’s “Q: Into the Storm“, in which filmmaker Cullen Hoback tries to identify Q, and ultimately decides it’s Ron Watkins — “CodeMonkey” of the 8kun site that hosts most QAnon discussion.

I recommend watching this as entertainment, but not taking it too seriously. It is entertaining, though, and it’s fascinating/horrifying to see the people Hoback has been following for years show up at the Capitol on January 6.

and let’s close with something musical

Lubalin is a musician who turns “random internet drama” into songs. They show up on his Twitter feed, which is strangely engaging.

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  • Roger  On April 12, 2021 at 11:57 am

    For me, watching Hemingway – which I’m about 3/4 through -.is worth watching if only to help me with my astonishing ignorance of the Spanish Civil War.

  • TRPChicago  On April 12, 2021 at 12:12 pm

    A small grammatical cavil that, in my view, demands reassembly so as to make a very large point … Discussing police conduct on shooting at a fleeing person, the training officer’s quote is: “Police are not trained to do this …”

    Training must be much stronger than that, as in “Police are trained not to do this …”

  • Andrea Miller  On April 12, 2021 at 12:44 pm

    I remember Boehner speaking of how compromising is not in Republican vocabulary. If I do read the book it will be from the library – probably wearing gloves.

  • Dennis Maher  On April 12, 2021 at 1:35 pm

    Re Hemmingway: I discovered the article below this morning and commented: I hope this gets shared a lot. Burns left out churches entirely from the Civil War, and now he gets a life half wrong. I joined many others in accepting his take on Hemingway as a great writer flawed by various moral deficiencies. Here you will read about how he suffered from health problems unknown in the ’50’s and early ’60’s that probably caused some of his bizarre behavior, and most importantly, how Burns left out Hemingway’s significant political life.

  • Dennis Maher  On April 12, 2021 at 1:38 pm

    My eyes opened wide while watching Burns and friends salivate over how Finca Vigia, Hemingway’s home in Cuba and his library have been kept intact by the Cuban government. I understood right away that Hemingway’s support of Castro explained why Castro treated the farmhouse with such respect. In Wikipedia: “the Cuban government, without funding from the US, has responsibly maintained the house, contents, 38 ft (12 m) wooden fishing boat Pilar, and the grounds.” Ignorance about “the Left” is furthered by mass media.

  • Dennis Maher  On April 12, 2021 at 1:42 pm

    This morning’s news about Daunte Wright angered me. Is it usual practice to “arrest” someone for expired license plates? In the past I was stopped twice for this and never arrested. If police put handcuffs on me I would totally freak out, and I’m White. The mayor and police chief talked about “justice.” So I thought about this and concluded that Daunte Wright and others killed by police can NOT get “justice” because they are dead. Let’s end current police procedures about use of violence in response to minor infractions of the law.

  • Timothy Swanson  On April 13, 2021 at 1:01 pm

    A couple of things came to mind about the post. First, as a resident of a red county in a blue state, the phenomenon of vaccine availability being greater in Trump Country is very real. We literally had people driving four hours to get vaccines here, because local rates are disturbingly low.

    Second, I’m a younger (the last of Gen X) guy, but with older musical tastes. I’m a fan of The Boys of Summer. The best line, for sure, is in the third verse. “Out on the road today / I saw a Deadhead sticker on a Cadillac…” Update the vehicle and band for a new generation, but…that’s brilliant. I agree on Hemingway, which is more complicated than either “his protagonists are heroes” or “he’s just toxic masculinity.” Great writers are never simple, though, are they?

  • ccyager  On April 22, 2021 at 6:51 pm

    “The shooting touched off a riot Sunday night, and the National Guard was called out.”

    — The National Guard was already deployed in Minneapolis so they weren’t really called out. Brooklyn Center requested their help and they sent some there. The “riot” was really a riot by the police rather than the demonstrators because a few days later when the police stopped shooting demonstrators with rubber bullets, exploding flash bangs, and shooting tear gas at them, the demonstrations were peaceful. A wonderful example of how police fear and their response to it can make matters far worse rather than trying to de-escalate the situation.

    “Reassemble that, and the defense’s question becomes: If an officer under threat from a dangerous mob is using force to subdue a resisting suspect, and the suspect happens to die for other reasons, is the officer really guilty of anything? Jurors will be invited to imagine other possible scenes that fit this description, and the blameless officers who might be convicted by the standard they set here.”

    — The Defense did exactly that and it was terrible. I couldn’t believe how bad Nelson was. I had to keep reminding myself that he was trying to sow doubt, but I still didn’t think he did a very good job. And considering that the jury came back with guilty on all 3 charges just shows how awful it was. Not that I am complaining. I was 100% relieved by the verdicts. The Twin Cities were quiet Tuesday night, even Brooklyn Center. And I’m very happy that the US AG is now going to be investigating the MPD.

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