Friday, September 27, 2019

Deadly Welfare

     Far too much fiction is becoming reality:

     He was with me for twelve days. On January 28th the ’crats came from the Bureau of Health, Education, and Welfare and said that since he was receiving Unemployment Compensation while suffering from an untreated illness, the government must look after him and restore him to health, because health is the inalienable right of the citizens of a democracy. He refused to sign the consent forms, so the chief health officer signed them. He refused to get up, so two of the policemen pulled him up off the bed. He started to try to fight them. The chief health officer pulled his gun and said that if he continued to struggle he would shoot him for resisting welfare, and arrest me for conspiracy to defraud the government. The man who was holding my arms behind my back said they could always arrest me for unreported pregnancy with intent to form a nuclear family. At that, Simon stopped trying to get free. It was really all he was trying to do, not to fight them, just to get his arms free. He looked at me, and they took him out.

     He is in the federal hospital in Salem. I have not been able to find out whether he is in the regular hospital or the mental wards.

     [Ursula Le Guin, “The New Atlantis”]

     Simon, the character being detained and carted away in the above snippet, has been deemed mentally ill by the government...for disagreeing with the government. While the story overall is a maximally fanciful anti-American fairy tale, sort of a bedtime story for anarcho-communists, the conclusion cited above should scare the shorts off anyone – because it’s starting to happen here and now, in the Land of the Formerly Free.

     I’ve never attributed a general-purpose gift of prescience to anyone. Yet the story above is eerily relevant to more than one recent event:

     Gay Plack, a 57-year-old Virginia woman with bipolar disorder, was killed after two police officers—sent to do a welfare check on her— entered her home uninvited, wandered through the house shouting her name, kicked open her locked bedroom door, discovered the terrified woman hiding in a dark bathroom and wielding a small axe, and four seconds later, shot her in the stomach.

     Four seconds.

     That’s all the time it took for the two police officers assigned to check on Plack to decide to use lethal force against her (both cops opened fire on the woman), rather than using non-lethal options (one cop had a Taser, which he made no attempt to use) or attempting to de-escalate the situation.

     The police chief defended his officers’ actions, claiming they had “no other option” but to shoot the 5 foot 4 inch “woman with carpal tunnel syndrome who had to quit her job at a framing shop because her hand was too weak to use the machine that cut the mats.”

     This is what happens when you empower the police to act as judge, jury and executioner.

     This is what happens when you indoctrinate the police into believing that their lives and their safety are paramount to anyone else’s.

     Suddenly, everyone and everything else is a threat that must be neutralized or eliminated.

     Author John Whitehead provides many other examples of the ever more common “shoot first; the commander has our backs” philosophy among America’s police. In several cases Whitehead cites, the police were “performing a welfare check.” In others, the individual they gunned down was disabled in some fashion: retarded, deaf, schizophrenic, what have you.

     It’s quite a list.

     Sometimes commentary is unnecessary. The facts speak for themselves. Either the reader “gets it” or he’s numb between the earphones. I’d say this is such a case.

     Time was, the policeman was expected to put the well-being of private citizens – the putatively innocent ones, at least – above his own life. It might have been an impossible standard to enforce, but as an ideal it was laudable. Today, for the cop to go home safe at shift’s end is the highest priority. I can’t find it in me to applaud at that.

     But I have no idea what can be done about it. It’s the culmination of the institutional incentives at work: We’re armed, we’re the good guys, and we’ve got a dangerous job to do. Everybody else is at best an impediment to doing our jobs. Either they clear out of our way or we clear ‘em. If we get a little rough and word of it gets out, the commander will defend us. That’s his job.

     The frontier West sprouted vigilance committees over this sort of horror. What are we doing? Anything?

     Hang on to your guns. And do have a nice day.

1 comment:

Linda Fox said...

Funnily, I was watching Line of Fire (Clint Eastwood is a Secret Service agent), and Clint's morality is in conflict with the agency nearly the entire movie.

His partner confesses that he is having nightmares after an undercover operation, and wants to resign. Clint talks him out of it. The partner is typical of many of his age - he just wants to be able to go home to his wife and kids.

He is shot shortly after right in front of Clint.

I do understand the desire to go home safely at the end of one's shift. Certainly, no one WANTS to die prematurely. Yet, for some jobs, accepting that risk is WHY the job exists. There is no purpose to a policeman/woman who is willing to sacrifice civilians to keep himself safe.