Friday, 13 July 2012

Heads, the NYPD wins; tails, you're busted

The propaganda apparatus is a marvel to behold, especially when the battle lines are clearly drawn. The immediate PR challenge this past week was a rash of shootings around New York, demonstrating at first glance that stopping and frisking nearly a million black and Latino teenagers a year isn’t working so well—that is, if the desired outcome is, as advertised, to ‘get guns off the street’ and reduce crime. Given the relentless references from city fathers to how great and crime-free New York has become, the sudden firefights logically would prompt to either question the promotional optimism or conclude that stop-and-frisk with racial profiling does not work.

Au contraire! Bloomberg with the assistance of the tabloids, managed to insist on both. The Murdochian Post promptly leapt on the outbreak of gun violence as a good reason to double down and frisk more kids. Police commissioner Kelly went on a weepy rant about how he is just trying to protect the city despite destructive nit-picking from civil libertarian do-gooders, and Bloomberg put his rhetorical arm around him for good measure.

Bloomberg had his panties in knots over the ProPublica exposé of his oft-repeated claim that 14 ‘terrorist plots’ have been blocked by the sturdy boys in blue—turns out to be more like two with at least some of the rest cooked up by the FBI’s agents provocateurs. ‘We have to be right every time’, insisted Bloomberg, echoing the authoritarian line that anything goes to prevent crime—including our protections against police abuse.

The display of twisted logic shows that this simply isn’t true. The security state uses violent crimes and terror plots to pump up support for more repression. If no plots materialize or crime is down, they then brag about how great their tactics are. In short, there is no empirical fact that cannot be put to the service of their lust for more weapons, more snooping, more carte blanche to harass suspects, and eventually the need for more people to be in jail for longer periods.

The classic example is 9/11 itself: imagine if Al Gore had presided over that event. We would have never heard the end of the liberals’ feckless incompetence and their dastardly failure to protect us by their wimpy, pantywaist regard for legalities. But despite Bush & Co.’s demonstrated failure to notice the bright, red warning signs of a coming attack, the argument immediately turned milico-patriotic. No one dared breathe a word of criticism for months, and the Bush team got a free pass to wage war on a country completely divorced from the crime.

It’s tough and counter-intuitive to abide by a state of laws, and demagogues will always appeal to the most brutish side of our bipedal natures, the side that wants bad guys rounded up and boiled in oil, including a few innocent ones if necessary, as long as it’s not us. Civic education might once have served to immunize the polity from these freedom-crushing habits of mind, but our legacy of race-based fear and the current upward redistribution of wealth make this unlikely to work, even if anyone felt inclined to try.

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