Occasionally I look at online videos even as I understand that the mirror neurons of my brain will absorb energies from watching them that are not necessarily good for me. This happens most often when "mainstream news" consists of crimes against humanity. Not the hipster game, Crimes Against Humanity. Real crimes. Against real humanity.
Three weeks ago, I looked at the video of the high-speed chase involving reportedly 53 police cars chasing three people who'd robbed a bank in Stockton, California. They'd taken three hostages. Two of the hostages jumped or were thrown from the getaway car during the chase. One of the hostages and two of the bank robbers got killed by the police in the scene's climatic shootout.
The day before, I'd looked at the video of half a dozen punks with badges choke an allegedly gentle man to death on Staten Island, breaking the code they'd sworn, as employees of their city and its citizens, to maintain.
Today I stare in disbelief at the images and video from Ferguson, MO, my neurons sucking up nightmares to last a lifetime. Can this be real? Can this be America?
I am not talking about good old-fashioned police work here. Or about militaries who police troubled parts of the world on their country's behalf and for humanitarian causes. I'm talking about waging and profiting from war. What went down in Stockton, Staten Island and Ferguson are part of a pattern of military responses to what do not begin as military problems. The disturbance is not in the streets. The disturbance is in the minds and hearts of people who profit from military responses to what do not begin as military problems.
In one form or another, wars come home when their soldiers do. That is happening in the U.S. Our wars have come home, and one of the ways this shows itself is when community policing turns into a war on the community's citizens. That is what we are seeing in Ferguson. What our soldiers brought home from a dozen years of war is beginning to touch us all.
Let's be specific here, war is fought and paid for by citizens but it is waged by politicians. The people who start wars, who fund them, and ultimately profit from them... the people who set in motion the gears lubricated by lives of young men and women like Eric Garner, Misty Holt-Singh (the innocent hostage killed in the Stockton shootout), and Michael Brown -- these are politicians. The gears of war do not lubricate themselves. They are made to mesh smoothly and quietly by politicians, whose own sons and daughters, by the way, are not at risk when the gears of war turn. We can no longer afford to be led by people whose idea of policy is to bring guns to negotiating scenes and war to policing scenes. It does not get us anywhere. In fact it sets us back. By now, way back. We need solutions, not more problems than we had before.
When war comes home, we see pandemonium where deliberation might have saved innocent lives. Heightening the alarm in an already-alarming scene reduces the chances of a peaceful resolution. Any sensible person knows this. When is the last time, in fact or fiction, you saw a hostage negotiator screaming at a hostage-taker? The Stockton police brought their guns and sirens to what could have possibly been a negotiating scene, and made what had already happened worse. Since when did selling contraband cigarettes require a chokehold, or jaywalking require an armed confrontation with a cop? When we get armed responses to jaywalking, the next step is armed responses to nothing at all. In a word, anarchy. And it will be anarchy not arising from citizens, but from the militarized police and the politicians who support their militarization.
What effect do videos of the Stockton police chase, the Eric Garner chokehold, and scenes in the wake of Ferguson have on our minds? They place stories there. The stories are worst-case scenarios regarding our future. Kill-or-be-killed stories, like the one that filled the empty head of George Zimmerman and caused another innocent to lose his life. That was war coming home and squatting in George Zimmerman's empty head. The worst-case scenarios are not yet truths, but by believing them, we begin to think and expect the worst of our fellow human beings. And when we think and expect things, fictions become facts.
War in a networked world is a meme that must be stopped before it goes any more viral than it already has. In championing war-based or even antagonistic policies that target "the other," politicians use ancient practices to try to solve brand new problems. This recalls Einstein's definition of insanity -- doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.
We live, the artist Clark Ashton says, "in the infrastructure of an uncertain future." When war comes home it destroys infrastructure. It hardens mutual distrust into manufactured hatred. It turns an uncertain future into certain chaos.
One way to wean ourselves of the war narratives that have pummeled our neurons for the past dozen years is to support politicians with stories that have better odds of positive outcomes., that are not kill-or-be-killed fictions that become facts at the end of a gun barrel. Stories that address the new problems and challenges we face, that work toward solutions by recognizing our commonalities, and building from that. Stories that are nuanced enough to see the difference between policing one's community, and waging war on its citizens.