Saturday, November 19, 2011

Two Days In October, Two Days In November

Sorry, no real Saturday Entertainment today. It's the weekend, so I've got another 14 hour day ahead of me.

I'll try to embed some Buffalo Springfield, though, since they seem to be as relevant to things that are happening now as back in 1967:

The song was written, of course, about the protests and the turbulence of those times, of a war that no one with any sense should have wanted to fight, segregation and prejudice directed with no compunctions at African Americans, and the general feeling that we had lost something of ourselves as a people.

On the same subject as "The Limits Of Force", Dana Hunter wrote about another place on the West Coast where the cops seem to be getting out of hand, and the politicians are backing them all the way:
This is what America’s Finest are up to these days:

Note the technique: the insouciant [stroll], the pepper spray held at a casual yet effective angle, the expression that says he could just as easily be spraying cockroaches as students, because they’re equally vermin to him. Note that his safety and the safety of others is in no way imperiled by a bunch of students sitting on the ground, yet he feels it necessary to spray them full in the face with a chemical weapon because they were, y’know, protesting. Defying his authortay. Can’t have that.

My Country ’tis of Thee, Bad Land of Police Brutality
Little has changed since 1967, other than that police seem to prefer the look of black uniforms and body armor. I'm pretty sure that Dana's captured Lt. Pike's state of mind, because you can see it written in the history of the '60s. Back in 2005, PBS's American Experience produced a show about American's Vietnam experience called "Two Days In October". Even though I lived through the 60s as a boy, it's still startling. One of the more revealing bits was this bit of dialogue from two former police officers who were sent in to remove protesting students from buildings at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Their attitudes about the students are a portent of the tragedy of those days:
Keith Hackett, Madison Police: We would run into students on State Street where a person like me, who was from a farming community, would begin to realize that there was a different, different society out there, as far as students. A lot of them from the East Coast, a lot of money, new cars, nothing they couldn't buy.

Tom McCarthy, Madison Police: I used to ride the bus to work and there was this one guy who would get on the bus and he would just condemn and scream and holler about the government and about how mean they were. And I just looked at him and I said, "You know, if they ever wanted to drop the atom bomb as a test, they could drop it right on top of the university and I wouldn't give a [expletive]." He never said another word.

Keith Hackett: They were young and dumb. And they didn't really have any idea what they were doing and they thought this was a way for them to show their patriotism, and it wasn't. If you want to run this by anarchy, which is what they were trying to do, then you have a fight on your hands.

American Experience: Two Days In October: Transcript
I had no problem finding that bit of exposition in that long transcript. I just looked for the word "atom".

That was their attitude - all you rich kids at that college think you're so much better than we are, and you don't know jack. Just sit back and let the system handle it the way it will handle it, or we'll gladly come beat the crap out of your privileged little asses.

And that's exactly what they did. On October 18, 1967, UofW students occupied a building on campus to protest the presence of Dow Chemical, a company that was making napalm, among other chemicals for munitions that were being used in Vietnam. Madison police were called in to remove them, using nightsticks on the heads and bodies of hundreds of unarmed protesters. For years afterward, many of the cops who were there boasted about it:
When McCarthy went to church that week and heard the priest suggest that people ought to start listening to the students, McCarthy walked out and never spoke to him again. And the cops who stormed Commerce came up with a nickname for themselves, "the Dirty 30," making patches that they wore on their uniforms for years to come.

American Experience: Two Days In October: Policing Student Demonstrations at The University of Wisconsin
Having grown up in those times, I never really got over my distrust of the police. Incidents like these are a big part of the reason. The events of the last couple of months have shown that little has changed in forty years, except for the fashions.


lawguy said...

I hadn't see the PBS show, but it is interesting. I was in a state college during those years and almost all the students were from working class families. I was there on the GI Bill myself. It was the students from wealthier families who were the more conservative.

So when the cops thought and now say that it was rich kids who were doing the protesting they really had and still have no idea. Which bodes ill for just about anything you can think of.

Cujo359 said...

Cops have traditionally been working class. (There are even a few shows, like Inspector Lynley and Castle, that play off that at times). I think they tend to think that people who go to college are mostly (or all) rich kids, whether they really are or not. They're definitely kids who have an opportunity they don't, which is probably the real issue.

The separation between those classes is, if anything, becoming wider, thanks to the increased need for intellectual labor.

So, it's part of a larger division, but the division between police and the rest of us has particularly grave implications.

Expat said...

I perceive an unbridgeable chasm concerning protesters and police authority that will not be easily spanned. The chasm is authoritarianism, instilled relentlessly into the very essence of identity of the police; anathema to those who would protest, regardlessly how non-violently or however well conceived their protest may be, theirs is a challenge always to authority that will be met with the application of force that marks those with power.

The same holds for civilian society in their petitions for redress of grievance to power; the greater their effectiveness, the greater their exposure to authoritarian response. The country is too divided and will become more so. The police eat from the kings table and will do the kings bidding, they are NOT of the 99%, but the corrupt of the 1%.

Cujo359 said...

Hi, Expat,

If you haven't read Glenn Greenwald's Sunday column, you'll probably be interested. Not surprisingly, he's making the same point - that much of what's happening can be boiled down to the convenience of the elite and the penchant the rest of us have for authoritarianism.

I have to agree with both of you - it's a big part of the problem. That's one of the reasons I've been writing about the things that have gone in the 1960s as they relate to today, because we really need to understand that much of this comes from who we are, and what we were on our way to becoming.

The sad fact is that we're replaying the early 1930s now, with the additional burden that rather than doing almost nothing to ameliorate things, as Hoover did, our current government made sure that the rich were taken care of. I think it could fairly be said that in the Great Depression, the rich were more a part of America than they are in the Great Recession, because in the latter case the rich didn't pay any price for what happened.

That just makes them all the more ready to send their goons to beat the crap out of us.

Expat said...

Thanks for the link, I had not read that Glen Greenwald opus. He strikes a hit with the observation about the failure of and the subversion of law (for ideological agendas).

The '68 Chicago convention was a watershed moment in U.S. political history. Although the same tactics were used many times against the labour movement, this was the first time police riots were directed at political positions and 1st Amendment exercises, sadly to the approbation of great swathes of the voting public. Kent State and U. Mississippi (IIRC) confirmed the authoritarian abuse of civil liberties, the deprivation of right to life being no barrier. Nixon's politicalization of "Law and Order" began the corruption of the legal system's standing as unbiased adjudicators.

The intervening years have seen ever greater "rust and corruption" until now there is little remaining of the integrity of the legal system or of those who are licensed to practice law. Once law was the glue that bound together, the knowledge of equal treatment in settlement of dispute encouraged the use of the forum; now replaced by mighty pocket($) makes for right($) and settlement of dispute promises to take on a more violent form of redress. Not to end well.

Glen was spot on too about the creation and use of fear to smother dissent throughout the community. In both Ireland and Spain there are lingering effects still noticeable in behaviours of the fear generated in Civil Wars (/ Military Coups) both still fresh in living memories and the following generations so exposed.

In Spain, so intimidated by fear that the color red that was associated with socialist, communist, and labour unions that the word red was dropped from the common use in the language. Evidence is the word for red wine in Castellano (Spanish) is TINTO (also dyed or stained) where white wine remains vino blanco. Work backward and imagine the sort of fear that was necessary to alter the language in that manner. I suspect there are similar distortions of language taking place in the political lexicon of those incarcerated in the borders of the U.S.