Category Archives: Law Enforcement

Busted!

Sleeping in one Tuesday morning. There’s someone moving around in the house. Someone big. Someone noisy. Maybe a lot of someones. Open my eyes. Five someones crowded into my bedroom. They all look like Darth Vader. They got the helmets and the black armored suits, the breath masks and the trademark breath mask noise. So they all sound like Darth Vaders. And guns. Nothing Space Age about the guns all five are pointing at me. One M-16. One submachine gun of some kind. Possibly an MP-5, I don’t know. I’m not an expert on submachine guns. They all look like MP-5s to me. Three of those ever-more-stylized 9mm and 10mm automatics the industry likes to market to the army and police forces. Oh, fuck. OhfuckOhfuckOhfuck!

Where’s the shotgun? In the closet. I’d have to climb over Carla’s sleeping body to get there. It’s only got three shots in it. The rest of the shells are in the other room. I’d have to get past two guys who already have the drop on me to get there. Batman could do it on a good day. I’m not going to try. Crap. The next few minutes are going to be very interesting, and the next few days are going to be very boring… because I now realize we’re going to jail. I look to my left and see Carla’s awake now. “What is this?” she asks in bewilderment. “Just what it looks like,” I tell her. “We’re going to jail.”

Not immediately, though. First, we went out to our front lawn. Cops start taking off their raid gear… Which now apparently includes scuba tanks? What’s that for? Were they expecting my house to be underwater? The old joke pops into my head, and I crack an involuntary smile – “How can you tell when someone used to be a Navy Seal? Don’t worry, he’ll fucking tell you!” I turn toward Carla. She’ll read my idiot grin as reassuring. She loves that shit.

And under his helmet, one of these Nebraska SWAT-pigs is wearing a Mets cap. That’s even weirder than the scuba tanks. In Nebraska, baseball is considered a fag’s game. Men watch football. Hell, even gay dudes watch football. Fags watch baseball. And if there isn’t even a high school game on, and you absolutely must watch baseball lest the idiot box actually be turned off for a moment, Omaha’s a suburb of Kansas City. Not a suburb of whichever one of the outer boroughs Shea Stadium is in. So the hat’s a prop. Has to be. He’s going to refer to it in the next few minutes. He’s going to play the “Us New Yorkers” card. Holy crap do I hate that!

Now, let’s get one thing straight. It doesn’t actually mean that just because I’m from New York, I hate the other 97% of the country. As long as they don’t pretend they’re New Yorkers, I don’t mind them that much. Somebody has to raise the cows so we can have Omaha steaks in Peter Luegar’s after the Yankees game. Somebody has to grow the corn so we can eat it popped at Yankee Stadium. Somebody has to provide baseball teams who lose to the Yankees, you know, like that white team that lost 13 thousand games to the Harlem Globetrotters. Yeah, if pretending to be from New York was fuck-up number one, fuck up number two was not knowing that New Yorkers watch the Yankees. People from Jersey and Connecticut watch the Mets.

Back in 2004, when Abu Ghraib was the top story on the news, I made it my business to learn everything there was to know about interrogation. I’d read Nazi Interrogator in high school, but I went through it again just in case I had missed anything. I scanned a thousand pages of The Reid Technique, and developed strong opinions on whether police should be able to use it all (They shouldn’t. It produces too many false positives.) I read the old pre-Gitmo Army Field Manual FM34-52
http://www.globalsecurity.org/intell/library/policy/army/fm/fm34-52/app-h.htm
until I knew the difference between Futility Technique (“You know that at the end of the day, we’re going to find it”) and Fear Up (Mild) (“Tell us where it is and we won’t have to trash your house searching for it”).

I knew their most likely play was going to be Pride and Ego Down, so I was preparing myself for that. I mean, obviously, right? (“You’re not as good at this as you think you are. We got ten dead bodies in the morgue right now from hotspots in the shit you sold ‘em.” And then I’m supposed to jump out of my chair, “Not MY shit. My shit doesn’t HAVE hotspots.” Clang. One year mandatory minimum and the sentence can go as high as 50 years.) I’m in my late forties now, and my lifestyle isn’t the healthiest. I don’t HAVE another 50 years. So, the primary track running through my brain was me mentally preparing myself to not take the one kind of bait I have the most trouble letting lie – insults to my intelligence. A second track was keeping an eye on the pieces of evidence that were coming out of my house, and trying to guess if any of them added up to a manufacturing charge or an intent to manufacture. I knew there was enough in the house that, if put together correctly by a reasonably intelligent prosecution team, would be enough to put me away forever regardless of actual guilt or innocence. I just wasn’t sure if they knew it, or would know it when they saw it.

“Listen, you’re obviously a smart guy. You obviously know what you’re doing here, I mean in terms of handling fentanyl safely and all. I read your Wikipedia Page. Hey, you know, I was a rookie cop in New York when you were leading the squatter revolt in Alphabet City…”

When I was WHAT? I might talk about that one year of my life the way Navy Seals talk about being Navy Seals and vegans talk about being vegans. But I never once claimed I was LEADING it. I had so much respect for the guys who were; Frank Morales, Jerry the Peddler, and a few others. I learned so much from them that to this day, thirty years later, my father still can’t say their names without spitting.

Speaking of spitting, Carla sounds like she just tried to swallow a sewer rat. I flash her another idiot grin. In Married-Couplespeak, her throat clearing was actually her nagging me not to take the bait, and my grin was assuring her I had this. Thirty years ago I’d also have tipped my hand to the cop that I knew his playbook far better than he did, because he just fucked up again. That’s now three times in four sentences. That’s gotta be a record. I turn to look at Mets-Boy and briefly picture myself castrating him. Unfortunately, I try to avoid hurting women when I can, even in inappropriate revenge fantasies, and this one would have involved kicking his sister in the mouth. On what planet would my service in the War in the Neighborhood (as comic book artist Seth Tobocman called his graphic novel about those events https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/are-you-ready-for-war-in-the-neighborhood-history-comics#/) endear me to a New York City cop? What color is the sky in that world? Shit, I’d wash bedpans in the cancer ward just to watch a New York cop die. Anyway, dig it, Seth! You created me as a supporting character in War In The Neighborhood. Thirty years later, I’m spinning off into my own series. Dig that!

Mets-boy is using Pride and Ego Up. That only ever works on the dumbest guy on the team, the guy who’s so starved for a word of praise he’ll talk his way into a life sentence just to hear one from the pig putting him away. I’ve been getting “You’re a smart guy” free with my breakfast cereal every day since I was three years old. Under normal circumstances, I don’t much value it unless I have the same level of respect for the guy praising me. Pride and Ego Up is also a closing move, not an opening one. It’s like a Big Con that relies on fast-talk rather than a well-thought-out confidence play. The target eventually figures out he’s been had, and then you can’t do anything else with him.

I let part of my brain replay the conversation from last night where I’d heard the kind of praise from the kind of people that actually does mean something to me. I was showing Rick and Matt an idea I’d had for tweaking the Birch Reduction (what meth cooks call “the Nazi method”) by swapping the anhydrous ammonia solvent for one with the same properties that was much easier to get and much easier to work with. Half the risk in doing the Nazi method is getting your hands on a couple of pints of anhydrous ammonia. Legal risk if you steal it. Every farmer in town uses it as fertilizer, but it’s now a federal offence to steal it from a farmer’s field. Five years mandatory minimum, fifteen years mandatory minimum, something like that. Physical risk if you make it. The fumes from that shit can pull every drop of water from exposed soft tissues. You can lose your eyes, your mouth, your whole sinus cavity to ammonia fumes. It can turn the fat under your skin into soap. This ain’t like the cleaning product you make high-quality crack with (Or is it low-quality free-base? I guess that’s a matter of opinion). If you think you know how to work with anhydrous based on that, you don’t. Half the rest of the risk is the fact that the fumes can be smelled a mile away. Everyone in town knows when a major cook just got done. What if we could just sidestep all that, and still have the basic idiot-proofness of the Birch? I did a series of literature searches, and it turns out we can. There’s another solvent that should do just as well, that’s not even watchlisted. I could go to Midland Scientific today and buy a 55 gallon drum of it, and pay with small, circulated, non-sequential bills and nobody there or at the DEA will care. Well, I can’t TODAY. Today, I’m sitting in the one shady patch of my lawn with flexicuffs cutting off the circulation in my fingers and a cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass. You know what I mean, though.

I was showing Rick and Matt all the reasons I had to believe this new solvent would work. Rick and Matt are like the reigning aristocrats of the local kamikaze chemist scene. Rick was doing Birch reductions in the back seat of a moving car when he was in high school. And Matt doesn’t quite go all the way back to Silk Road One, but he does go back as far as Agora Marketplace, and that’s impressive enough. Rick’s been hanging around a lot lately, because he’s sweet on the ice-cold killer who normally sleeps in between my front door and my bedroom. Now that I think about it, the two of them took off at dawn looking like they had a bedroom of their own on their minds. Ahhhh… Let ‘em do it! It’s been way too long for both of them, and they are so adorable together. I’d never got a chance to talk shop with Rick or Matt before, and it did kind of feel like passing an audition. Rick was doing Steve Wozniak to my Steve Jobs. He had his mouth open and all he could say over and over was “This will change the world.” Hearing that from him, knowing who he is in this town, that meant something to me. A cop in a Mets cap blowing smoke up my ass, not so much.

Mets-boy wants to know if there are dangerous chemicals in the house that can hurt his men, now that they’ve taken off the scuba gear. That stuff is heavy, and if they have to walk in and out of my house in the sun wearing it, they’ll be wiped out in an hour. So if I could just tell him where the really dangerous stuff is now, he’d never use that against me. And then it clicked. Buddy here doesn’t know what he’s looking for. He busts meth labs all day long. He thinks a fent lab is more of the same. And he’s heard all the “one grain’ll kill you” stories. He doesn’t understand that my solvents and carrier medium are both food-grade, so I store them on my kitchen shelves. He’s already walked right past them twice. My “lab equipment” is a couple of pots and pans from my kitchen. When I’m done with them, I wash them and put them back. That’s the reality of a fent lab.

I probably shouldn’t have said ANYTHING, my lawyer will definitely kick my ass for this, but I told him (and told him again, and told him, at least twenty times, in response to twenty different versions of the same question), “There is nothing in the house that can hurt your men.”

And then the cop went into this long-winded explanation of how he doesn’t hate me, he’s just doing his job, see? And part of that job is writing “Cooperative” or “Uncooperative” next to my name on the report that the judge will see just before passing sentence. What I really need to understand, see, is just how brutally overcrowded the county jail is right now. (That’s the one part of this particular serving of pigshit that WASN’T a lie. County really is brutally overcrowded. No shit.) And so the judges understand they got no room to lock up guys who showed co-operation with law enforcement, who were willing to answer questions, and so on. Why, it might even be that I get released right there, with no charges at all, as long as I give him enough information to charge me with something right now… This is the Reid Technique, and this is why it needs to be banned. It’s World-Turned-Upside-Down and it’s based on a total lie. Confess the crime and you’ll go free, but ask for your lawyer or insist on your constitutional right against self-incrimination, and we’ll lock you up forever.

I shouldn’t complain too much. Two minutes later Mets-boy Mirandized me, I asked to talk to my lawyer, and that was it. Real Reid Technique is never over that fast. Real Reid Technique doesn’t end, ever, until it produces a signed confession. If it takes 50 hours of bouncing a suspect off the walls, then it takes 50 hours. The interrogators will sleep in shifts. The suspect won’t sleep at all. If it takes 100 hours, it takes 100 hours. Most guys, most physically and psychologically strong guys, can’t take 4 days and 4 nights of no food, no sleep and constant threats and intimidation. After 4 days and nights, they no longer know they’re in a police station and the men talking to them are police officers. All they know is if they sign the paper in front of them, they’ll be allowed to sleep.

There’s a wonderful little video that makes the rounds on Facebook every so often. A mile-a-minute-talking little Boston Irish lawyer gives a law school class his Ten Reasons Not to Talk to the Police. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pGGXjlIxEgs
(1. It can never help you. 2. If you do admit guilt, it will be with no benefit in return. Etc.) Take an hour and watch the whole thing and then finish reading my story. It will not be a waste of your time. And if you can’t remember all ten, just remember this one. “Boy, am I glad I told the police everything before I talked to my own lawyer!” said no defendant ever. I didn’t think I was likely to be the first.

Like I said, Track A was Interrogation 101. Track B was Wow, Rick and Matt Really Think I Could Be Good At This. How Cool Is That? Track C was “OK, what do they actually HAVE? And do they know what it is? And do they know what charges it can be used to support?” Carla was doing the same. And was already way ahead of me because she’s a much better jailhouse lawyer than I am. She’s got the functional equivalent of three years of law school and seven of working as a criminal defense lawyer’s junior partner. I could maybe pass for a paralegal, in New York and two or three other states (not this one) and even then, not if the light was any good. We both had a short list of smoking guns; objects that if we saw them coming out in a cop’s hands, we knew we’d be going away for a very long time. And to our surprise… none of them did.

In addition, Carla wasn’t just looking for her smoking guns, she was also mentally cataloging every object that came out and trying to reason why, as well as simultaneously keeping a mental inventory of what they were missing. Despite our different routes to get there, we got it at exactly the same time. My mental exercise was easier. There was one item, stored in one particular room that I was more worried about than any other. Alone, it was nothing and of very little consequence. Combined with other items in a well done display of circumstantial evidence, it would be my downfall. As other objects from that room came out, I was paying very close attention. As soon as I saw they’d moved on to the next room, I knew they missed it, and it was time for another Married Couple Conference. As I turned to make the eye contact, slight nod, wink, and look away, I saw Carla throw her head back and that million dollar smile flash across her face. She wasn’t even trying to hide it as her eyes flashed in joy. I saw her look up at the crystal clear sky and silently mouth the words “thank you!” She noticed the cops turn to look at her, and said “at least the sun is absolutely beautiful today!”

My slight nod and wink to her may have been more subtle, but in the end we were speaking the same language, and mentally high-fiving one another. “Do you see it, Baby? They got *nothing*! We’re going to jail today, it’s going to be a big drag, but in the long term, I ain’t worried because They Got NOTHING!”

Turn That Fucking Thing Off Right Now!

recording-policeOnce upon a time, in a city whose major streets have been subject to full-color video surveillance 24/7 for quite some time, in a shopping mall that subjects shoppers and staff to 24/7 surveillance, in a store that has its own private surveillance system, a brown-skinned man found himself surrounded by four hostile police officers—who, I hasten to add, have full-color video recording devices on their uniforms and cruisers. A 17-year-old bystander, a Dawson College student, who happened to be in the store, and was horrified by the way the officers were treating the guy, started recording the altercation with her cell phone. As soon as the cops realized what she was doing, one of them charged over to her and said: “Turn that fucking thing off right now!”

The surveillance state’s double-standard is made manifest in moments like this. We’re allowed to spy on you 24/7. We’re allowed to spy on your journalists. We’re allowed to read your emails and texts. We’re allowed to listen in on your phone conversations. But don’t you dare try to record us!

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Spying on Patrick Lagacé

“I lived in this fiction that this could not happen in this country.”—Patrick Lagacé, La Presse columnist

patrick-lagaceJust as healthy immune systems with less and less to do in a hypoallergenic environment often turn on completely harmless things like cat dander and dust with a ferocity that threatens the health of the body, overstaffed police forces with less and less to do in a low-crime environment often turn on the citizenry with a ferocity that threatens the health of the body politic. Am I disgusted by the fact that the Montreal police were spying on La Presse columnist Patrick Lagacé? Of course. Every cop involved, as well as the judge, should be fired, tried, and jailed. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that this is merely a symptom of a deeper disease.

The root cause of our police problem is that we’ve got way too many police. Crime has been dropping for decades now. And yet we spend more and more each year on law enforcement. This is a dangerously unsustainable situation! Bloated bureaucracies invariably find creative ways to justify their existence. When that bureaucracy is the Department of Education, we get buildings filled with PhDs writing stupid reports no one reads. When that bureaucracy is the Montreal Police Department, we get a dangerously militarized police force that poses a clear and present danger to the freedom and safety of the citizenry.

Singling out the bad apples isn’t going to fix this problem. If we’re going to address the root cause of this problem, we’re going to have to reduce the size of the SPVM by 25% in the next five years. There are a number of easy ways to do this: (1) institute an immediate hiring freeze and make no new hires for the next five years; (2) let no new students into police technology programs for the next five years; (3) offer ageing officers attractive early retirement packages; (4) lay off as much as 10% of the existence police force (starting with those officers who have the most complaints against them).

If the Patrick Lagacé fiasco makes anything clear, it’s that the SPVM increasingly exists, not to serve and protect the citizens of Montreal, but to serve and protect itself.

—John Faithful Hamer, Twilight of the Idlers (2016)

Would the real police state please stand up?

There’s an increasing trend toward thinking that the USA is a police state. You can tell that the USA totally is, though, because of videos like this and this and even this. There’s a problem with all of this, though. The USA is not even close to being a true police state. It’s far too incompetent at it to be one. It may be on the way toward becoming one, yes, but it isn’t there yet. So how do I know this? What makes me an expert on how police states work? Well, truth be told, I have no expertise on the inner workings of a police state. I do, however, have fifteen years of living in one to draw upon for their visible, outer workings. You see, I live in a bona fide, real world, living, breathing police state: the People’s Republic of China. I live, in short, in the real thing, not in the cartoonish caricature of one that people have in mind when they hear the term. And boy howdy, let me tell you, the reality of police states is vastly different from how they’re depicted in Hollywood productions and on various political commentary pages, especially those primarily inhabited by North Americans.

Police omnipresence

The typical image of the police state has policemen prominently visible wherever you turn. You can’t walk two blocks without stumbling over a police officer in this distorted view, usually one armed with some form of machine gun. And make no mistake, this can be true. It certainly was true when I visited East Berlin back in the ’80s. But, and here’s the thing, this is only true in potentially sensitive areas (or in very insecure states, but more on that below). Like East Berlin where literally hundreds of thousands to millions of western visitors enter per year. It wasn’t true for all of East Germany. And it certainly isn’t true for all of China. (Indeed it’s true for so little of China that it’s a statistical outlier if you happen to find such a spot, again in my experience.) The police, you see, don’t have to be everywhere. They just have to make you paranoid enough to think they might be. And it doesn’t take much to make people paranoid, let me tell you! By way of example, early in my stay in China I had my (English) colleague tell me in hushed tones that microphones were everywhere. She pointed to a discoloration in my wall as a site where a microphone was installed into the wall. To my eye it looked like a site where cheap construction caused a steel bolt to rust and discolour the paint, but to her eye it was definitely a microphone. Anywhere we 老外 went was bugged according to her. She even breathlessly told me about the time she and some friends found a microphone in a Santa Claus candle in a restaurant, revealed when the candle was allowed to burn too low, making its nefarious contents visible to all. Of course, at the time, I had no reason to disbelieve her. Until I heard the story again from two different people who’d never met her. And who’d experienced this in a completely different city from her. And, indeed, over the years, I’ve had seven sets of people, each swearing up down and sideways that they experienced this directly for themselves (!), tell me exactly the same story, with no detail changed but for one: where the story took place. From this I’m left with one of two options:

  1. Believing that the Chinese have a huge network of Santa Claus candles with microphones spread across the country … a network they continually screw up enough to reveal its existence; or,
  2. Believing that this is an urban legend that people have taken to heart to the point they honestly think that it actually happened to them. That these people are, in a very mild sense, delusional.

(I think the tone of this work will tell you which of the two I believe to be true.)

The truth is that, of course, there is some surveillance, but for reasons I’ll explore below it’s nowhere near as prevalent as it is in the imagination. And, indeed, I’ll go a step farther: the most-surveilled city in the world (in terms of cameras and listening devices) is not in China. It’s not in North Korea either, in fact. It’s London, UK. Western cities are far more prone to mass surveillance than is China. And if you go with computer surveillance, the undisputed champions are the good old US of A. As for other forms of police presence, I had a great opportunity this year to compare China to Canada, seeing as I’d spent most of July in Canada this summer. Leaving aside border crossings and other immigration factors (which are their own special brand of Hell no matter what country you’re in!) I saw more police presence in one month in Canada than I’d seen in the entire previous five years of living in China. In Ottawa I could literally not walk more than five blocks without seeing a squad car or an officer on foot. Even out in the boonies like Bell’s Corners I saw squad cars aplenty driving around. If police omnipresence is a sign of being a police state, then every western country I’ve ever been in (Canada, Germany, France, Switzerland, England, the USA, Italy … and more!) is a police state and, critically, has been since I was a child. By this metric, China is practically an anarchy, a rather stupid conclusion to reach thus a reasonably good disproof of the thesis.

Police control of citizen life

Another stereotype of the police state is the total control over every aspect of the citizen’s life. While this is true of some police states (North Korea leaps to mind, as does Cultural Revolution-era China), this is not universally true–nor is it even particularly common. Indeed the total control state, especially if it is paired with intense brutality as in the third video I linked to above, is usually a sign of a state that is insecure in its power. You see, the role of the police in a police state isn’t to control citizens’ lives. That’s a myth that’s almost laughable. Indeed if it weren’t such a commonly held belief I’d laugh every time I heard it. (Actually, I still do laugh. It’s just a more bitter laugh these days.) The role of the police in a police state is to protect the power structure from change. That is it in its entirety. Anything which doesn’t endanger the powers that be is unimportant to the police. Anything which does endanger the powers that be is brutally suppressed.

Going with that third video (the cartoon with the jaywalking), I laughed out loud (literally, not figuratively) when I watched it. It is such a ludicrously naive view of how police states work that it’s impossible for me to take it (and by extension its creator) seriously. Again, I stress, I live in a bona fide police state. A police state that is routinely denounced for its oppression. I also live in a state where jaywalking, despite it actually being against the law, is the norm. Nobody walks to the crossing to cross the road. You cross wherever it’s convenient for you to cross. The city sometimes puts up metal fences down roads where people jaywalk too much. When that happens, within a week the citizens have dismantled sections of that fence so they can conveniently jaywalk again. In fifteen years of living here, fifteen years of living in jaywalking central, I’ve not once seen the police do anything active about it. Occasionally, if you happen to actually have a cop outside of his comfortable, air-conditioned office, and if that cop had a bad day (perhaps a touch of indigestion?), you might find a cop ineffectually haranguing a jaywalker (who will ignore the cop nine times out of ten). I’ve never, however, seen a cop pull out a ticket book and write a ticket for jaywalking. And even on those rare occasions that a cop will get involved, while that cop is harassing one unfortunate, a hundred others will cheerfully jaywalk behind his back. The cop is just another inconvenience to be worked around like the metal fence that was so blatantly disassembled.

Other things that are blatantly illegal are openly done all around me. Prostitution is very illegal. Yet within about 300m of my home (and 500m of my son’s primary school!) are several (dozen!) small brothels who operate openly. As far as I can tell their sole interaction with the police consists of “cops get serviced for free”. Gambling, too, is horribly illegal here. Yet within just my residential compound, a collection of about 10 small apartment blocks, there are six openly-operating Majiang parlours open at all hours of the day or night. (One of them is operating in space they’ve rented from the local government office!) It’s pretty blatantly obvious that the cops don’t really care. Similarly selling food without a license is illegal, yet within a 30 second walk from my front door, when school is on, I can find dozens of different (and very tasty!) kinds of meals made from street carts. There are occasional half-hearted attempts to shut those down, but they’re gone for a week, tops, before they all return and continue flagrantly breaking the law.

On the other hand, stand at a corner and distribute leaflets supporting 法轮大法 or critiquing the Party and the cops will be on you like flies on shit. Or do anything that threatens disorder (because disorder is the wedge a lot of disaffected groups use to split the state in any country) and the same will happen. Get big enough and you may be unfortunate enough to meet the full might of the 中国人民武装警察部队 (a.k.a. the People’s Armed Police or PAP), the true enforcers of Party will in the nation. Go to Wikipedia and read between the “NPOV” lines for the horror that is this group of armed thugs.

I think the best way to summarize this delusion of the stereotypical police state is this: I have more direct, personal freedoms here in China than I ever had in Canada. So do most Chinese people. The only freedom they (we) lack is the freedom to criticize the government in public. (They don’t care what you say at home.) When I think back to the 36 years I lived in Canada or Germany, I really can’t remember any time where I stood in public and ranted about the government. I can remember, though, being fed up with only having sausages available as street food in Ottawa…

Police brutality commonplace

This is the one that is the most common. The police state obviously relies on brutality to control people, right?

Wrong.

A competent, stable, secure police state doesn’t need brutality to keep itself in power. It’s insecure states (of any kind!) that find the need to brutalize their citizens to ensure compliance.

About four years into my life in China I saw something unfold that amazed me entirely. The first amazing thing is that I saw a public brawl: I mean a knock-down, drag-out melee involving men and women—adults of many ages—in a parking lot. This was incredibly amazing to me since I’d not once seen anything like it. (Well, OK, that’s not strictly speaking true. I’d seen a small student riot too, but this had been provoked and understandable. More on this below.)

This is the kind of thing that had it happened in Ottawa, the police would have come in force with paddy wagons and riot gear and just arrested anybody they saw participating in the riot. This is not what I saw happen here. Yes, a van did arrive. A police mini-van. With room for at most five people aside from the pair of cops in the front. The cops came out without armour and without weapons beyond the truncheons in their belt (which were conspicuously present, but not readied). The police waded into the melee, separating combatants, yelling at them to stop, getting them to sit down at the edge of opposite sides of the parking lot. The truncheons did not get used. No guns were used. Just two cops, not particularly impressive examples of the breed physically speaking, and a bunch of authority. The riot calmed down, and then stopped.

God I wish this had happened in the era of smartphones with good cameras! I’d have filmed this for posterity! Because at this point the real amazement started. Canadian cops would have, as I said, arrested everybody they saw swinging and charged them with assault. The two Chinese cops—you know, the brutal agents of a horrific police state—patiently interviewed a bunch of people with questions that, from the little bits and snippets I could overhear and understand, consisted essentially of “who started this and why?”. What came out was that this was two wedding parties in the restaurant who’d come to blows because two guys in one wedding party were making snarky comments about the bride in the other. (Whoa, dudes. So not cool!) Everybody pointed at the two responsible. Everybody. Even those who were in that same party.

The funniest part is that those two hadn’t actually participated in the brawl that I saw. They were standing at the edges and seemingly egging it on. After the cops got all the stories, the two people who hadn’t actually swung a fist—at least that I’d seen—were the two arrested (I assume for “inciting”) and one other person who’d actually injured someone (drew blood) was also arrested. Everybody else was lectured and sent off on their way, chastened, shaken, but not charged.

I can’t even imagine that unfolding that way in any city in Canada. In Canadian law, for all practical purposes (with some exceptions) words aren’t chargeable, only actual battery is. Had this unfolded in Ottawa, everybody would likely be arrested except for the pair that had incited it … because they hadn’t actually participated in the violence.

The student riot I mentioned earlier was similarly amazing. The students were trashing (sorta—very polite trashing) their dorm over the terribly stupid restrictions they were under because of the SARS scare. Garbage and unwanted crap (like broken thermos bottles) were being thrown out the window and a lot of noise and fury were being generated. Even when the university president was driven up, upon exiting the car and walking to the dorm to “talk to the students” he was pelted with disgusting debris (used toilet paper featured prominently) and he had to flee back to his car (which was subsequently also pelted with filth) before the cops came in.

Now the cops came in numbers this time. Six of them. To tackle a dorm with about a thousand angry young men, hormones exploding around them. And they patiently and doggedly went into the building and calmed the students down. In the end five student ringleaders were arrested and never seen in the school again. A further dozen or two students (including two of mine) were later expelled from the school. But, importantly, the worst excesses of the college’s restrictions were also removed.

How does this fit into the narrative of the brutal, violently-suppressed police state? Because make no mistake, just to be absolutely clear, China is very much a vile, brutal police state!

So why am I telling you this?

I’m telling you this because yes, the USA and others are sliding into becoming police states. I’m telling you this because yes, police states are fucking evil. They need to be fought.

The problem, however, is that if you have the wrong image of what a police state is, you cannot fight it. You’re punching at shadows. All that’s going to happen is you’re going to break your fist when it hits the brick wall. To properly fight an enemy—totalitarianism in this case—you have to know what it looks like, how it works, and what motivates it. Delusional caricatures of your enemy don’t help and, in fact, can (and do!) cause immense harm to your cause.

To destroy your enemy, it turns out, you have to know your enemy.

—Michael Richter

The Real Legacy of Rudy Giuliani

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Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with Rudy Giuliani, he has been all over the news media of late as the go-to Trump surrogate on terrorism.  Perhaps he is hoping to cement his legacy as the sympathetic New York City mayor touring the destruction at Ground Zero turned proponent of the ‘tough-on-terrorism’ stance of the Trump campaign.  Perhaps he envisions that appointment to the Director of Homeland Security in a Trump White House.  And perhaps even if you disagree with his defense of the Trump campaign, you might buy into this version of Giuliani as terrorist/security politician legacy.  But if it’s a legacy predicated on the risk of violence and death to American citizens on American soil upon which Giuliani’s credentials and hopes are pinned, that legacy has already been firmly established.  And it has nothing to do with radical Islamic terrorism.

If you want to see Giuliani’s real legacy on full display, simply read the recent Justice department’s report on the Baltimore Police department’s pattern of unconstitutional stops, searches, arrests, and excessive use of force perpetrated against the black community in Baltimore City.  It is born of and popularized by the ‘tough-on-crime’ mayor Rudy Giuliani from the mid-90s that shaped the lives of a entire generation of police training and policy across the United States based on ‘zero-tolerance’.  Zero tolerance normalized aggressive policing.  It also normalized police brutality.

Continue reading The Real Legacy of Rudy Giuliani

The Much Misunderstood Alpha Male

“The ‘alpha male’ exists most loudly in the fantasy of omega losers, Last Men who dream they are the Overman.”—Joseph Gresham Miller

12o6dn (1)Pretty much everything you think you know about the alpha male is wrong. Our understanding of who they are, what they do, and their function has been seriously revised by the last two decades of ethological research. Two things strike me as especially fascinating:

(1) Alpha males are just as good at following as leading. They’re exceptionally good at working with others and deferring respectfully to the skills and superiority of others. If they’ve got a problem, it’s with horizontal (as opposed to vertical) relationships. In short, real alpha males have outstanding social skills.

(2) Alpha males are basically cops. They keep the peace within the group. And the biggest ongoing threat to social peace in most primate communities isn’t angry young men, by the way; it’s mothers. Yep, mom’s Public Enemy #1. A typical scenario runs something like this: two young primates are playing; one of them gets too rough and hurts the other; hurt playmate starts crying; hurt playmate’s mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the one who hurt her kid; now that kid starts crying; and his mom freaks out, runs over, and smacks the mom who hurt her kid. Now you’ve got two adult females in a full-blown brawl. Within seconds the grandmothers and all of the aunts jump into the fray.

Fights like this can quickly escalate, splitting a group in two, which is bad for everyone because smaller groups are less able to defend themselves against predators and other groups. Anyhow, that’s where the alpha male comes in. The job of an alpha male is to step in and break up the fight before it escalates. And he never plays favorites, even if one of the moms happens to be his sister.

The alpha male fantasy one finds amongst pick-up artists, and on websites like A Voice for Men, is largely a product of the adolescent male imagination. Real alpha males aren’t self-centered pricks who get to do whatever they want, whenever they want. All to the contrary, real alpha males are often the greatest and most selfless servants of the common good.

—John Faithful Hamer, Blue Notes (2016)

Cop John

If you see fraud, and don’t shout “fraud”, you are a fraud.—Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile (2012)

10eowgWhen we lived in Baltimore in our mid-twenties, before the kids and all the rest, Anna-Liisa and I went out dancing every weekend. Our favorite club was this place called “1722” on Charles Street. Everybody’s got a nickname in Charm City, even the house dealer at a nightclub: dude was known as “Cop John”. He sat at the bar and dealt ecstasy and coke openly. We assumed that his nickname was a joke (like calling a big guy “Tiny”) until we saw him in handcuffs on the six-o’clock news. He was actually a cop! And his name was actually John (John Harold Wilson). Officer Wilson had been selling drugs confiscated on the job for years. Had a bunch of his fellow officers in on it too. I couldn’t help but think of Cop John as I watched The Seven Five (2014) last night, a Netflix documentary about the crazy levels of criminality amongst New York City cops in the 1980s and 1990s. There’s a profound philosophical truth communicated by The Seven Five, and it’s something my Police Tech students don’t hear nearly enough: namely, that loyalty, like any virtue, can become a vice when it’s not balanced by the demands of other virtues, such as justice, integrity, honesty. Most cops aren’t like Cop John. But cop culture’s single-minded obsession with loyalty is precisely what allows the Cop Johns of this world to flourish and prosper.

—John Faithful Hamer, The Myth of the Fuckbuddy (2017)

You Are Your Own Worst Enemy, Mr. Policeman

occupy-pepper-spray3Do cops have enemies? Of course they do. The problem isn’t in cops believing they have enemies. The problem lies with cops believing everybody around them is a potential enemy.

I get it, truly I do. Coming from a community of people who put their lives at risk in service of the nation (military brat, plus military proper) and from a family with four consecutive generations of such service, I actually do understand the sacrifices and realities of such things.

But…

Where I draw the line is giving people who sacrifice for service carte blanche. When one segment of society is given literal powers of life and death over the rest (which both cops and the military have) it is OBVIOUS that these same people must be kept to FAR higher standards than the average citizen (who does not have such powers). It is OBVIOUS that these people with extraordinary powers must be monitored more closely for abuse than those who have no such powers to abuse. And when they fail to do what they’re supposed to do (serve society) it is also OBVIOUS that they must be punished and punished harshly for it.

The current anti-cop attitude of the average citizen is entirely self-inflicted injury. When cops drive around in armored vehicles and dress (and even act) like they’re occupiers in fucking Afghanistan there should be no room for surprise that they become despised rather than loved. When their default attitude when dealing with the citizens they’re supposedly serving is hostility and violence, any loathing that is thrown their way is purely an own goal.

Now another thing I get, I truly get, is that not all cops are this way. Indeed I’d go so far as to say that the majority aren’t this way. But you know what almost all cops *are* like? Clannish to the point of stupidity. “He’s one of us.” “He’s a bastard but he’s OUR bastard.” “Thin blue line.” All the usual bullshit sloganeering that is used to excuse inaction when fellow cops drag the name of the entire profession through the mud.

Perhaps if police officers want respect and even adoration again they could take a few simple steps:

1. Tone down the fucking militaristic bullshit. Don’t bring out the camo gear, the snipers, the clubs, and the shields because someone farted somewhere in a crowd.

2. Stop considering yourself separate from the community. Can the “us vs. them” bullshit attitude. If you don’t feel a part of the community you’re policing, GET THE FUCK OUT OF IT. Go live in the Rockies in a cave and STAY THE FUCK AWAY FROM PEOPLE. Because you’re doing nobody, yourself included, any good by ramping up a war, in effect, on your charges.

3. Pay very close attention to the proverb: “One bad apple spoils the barrel.” Notice how it doesn’t say “one bad apple is annoying” or “one bad apple is not representative of all apples” or even “one bad apple is an inevitable byproduct of having apples at all”? That’s because the advice involved is very specific: if, as a farmer, you have a bad apple in a barrel you THROW IT THE FUCK OUT. Do the same, very visibly, very publicly, with your more metaphorical bad apples. Fuck your clannish bullshit and clean out your God-damned barrels. Perhaps then you can re-earn the respect you once had.

—Michael Richter

I Didn’t Sign Up For This

“When Socrates, with four others, was commanded to arrest an honest citizen, Leon of Salamis, he sturdily refused to carry out the tyrants’ bidding.”—Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

“I was just following orders”—the notorious Nuremberg defense—has become an essential part of our culture’s moral vocabulary; it’s a phrase that’s tied up with so much of the evils of the modern world. When we hear the bad guy in a Hollywood movie say “I was just following orders,” an abyss opens up before us and we feel something strangely akin to vertigo. But there’s another phrase—also a central part of our culture’s moral vocabulary—which has precisely the opposite effect: “I didn’t sign up for this.”

Think about that moment in X-Men Origins (2009) when Wolverine refuses to participate in the massacre of innocent civilians in Nigeria. What does he say? “I didn’t sign up for this.” Think about that moment in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) when CIA Deputy Director Pamela Landy decides to leak all of the Blackbriar files to the media. What does she say? “I didn’t sign up for this.” Think about that moment in Clear and Present Danger (1994) when Jack Ryan (played by Harrison Ford) decides to blow the whistle on the President’s covert war in Latin America. What does he say? “I didn’t sign up for this.” Think about that moment in Avatar (2009) when Trudy Chacon refuses to open fire on the native people of Pandora. What does she say? “I didn’t sign up for this shit!”

When we hear someone say “I didn’t sign up for this” it ignites our moral emotions and we experience something profoundly physiological, something which the psychologist Jonathan Haidt has dubbed “elevation”. You get chills, a tingling sensation; your chest expands, as if with fresh air; and your eyes well up with tears. “I didn’t sign up for this”—it’s a beautiful phrase which signals that delightful moment when an individual decides to stop hiding behind the modern machine and take responsibility for their actions—viz., it signals that magical moment when a person decides to do the right thing.

At least two police officers have turned in their badges in Standing Rock. When this fight comes to us, when they come for our river, I hope all of my former students, all of those graduates of John Abbott College’s Police Tech Program, who now work for the Montreal Police Department, the SQ, and the RCMP, manifest the same kind of moral clarity and courage. Loyalty is important, extremely important, especially when you work in a dangerous, high-stakes field like law enforcement. But remember, sometimes loyalty to the badge, and loyalty to your brothers and sisters in blue, means disobeying evil orders that undermine the prestige of the profession, tarnish your department’s reputation, and make it hard for you to look your former teacher in the eye when you run into him on the street.

—John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)

A Patriotic Citizen of Baltimore Responds to Critics

Sarah Richards, a Canadian freelance writer and radio producer now living in Baltimore County (not Baltimore City) wrote this article as a response to protests and unrest in Baltimore City. Elise Swain, current resident of one of the neighborhoods that has made national and international headlines, responds to Ms. Richards:

For everyone who has not been present for the many peaceful protests, scattered riots, looting and fire that happened blocks away from my house that I saw with my own eyes: the national/international media is focusing on one section of one neighborhood where people not associated with the peaceful protests lashed out and took advantage of the situation. (Reminds me of the reason I do not like The Wire). What they won’t show you is hundreds and hundreds of my fellow Baltimoreans out cleaning up in the aftermath, handing out food to the 85,000 students that were kept out of school and away from the free lunch that 71,000 of them depend on AND giving food and water to officers of BCPD/BCFD, marching peacefully hand in hand, creating human barricades to protect officers in riot gear, etc.

Am I naive enough to think we don’t have more problems than your average city? Nope. There are neighborhoods that looked like war zones long before any of this went down. But nothing’s ever going to change if people like the author run out to the “rich, hidden” neighborhoods that upper-class white families “flee” to, to avoid dealing with issues. (Also, we in Baltimore City do know these “hidden” neighborhoods the author spoke of, because gentrification runs pretty much every aspect of neighborhood/community in my city so I resent the insinuation that no one knows these exist but that’s another discussion).

Mrs. Sarah Richards and her constituents are free to feel however they want about Baltimore, but I guarantee if you base your opinions off of the national media and/or shows like The Wire, you do not know my whole city, you do not know my people or the spirit most of us have. There’s a lot of fear mongering going on to distract from the positive things happening. I don’t think a perfect, permanent fix is around the corner in the slightest but for one of the first times in who knows how long, people in Baltimore (and the rest of Maryland for that matter) that don’t see these areas of the city are forced to see what gentrification has done and see how the other half live. These disenfranchised communities don’t need white saviors, they’ll raise themselves up without Mrs. Richard’s assistance. But maybe they’ll see that what the “3rd World” communities referred to in the article could use are allies that instead of telling horror stories, listen to the needs of the community and do what is asked of them to help.

–Elise Swain, East Baltimore