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Officers Ramos and Liu, RIP

The many recent protests regarding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner have often featured chants for the murder of police officers, and such evil wishes came true on Saturday. Two of New York City’s finest were shot down in cold blood, apparently in retaliation for the highly publicized deaths of two unarmed black men by police, and many of those who stoked the angriness of the protests are offering their condolences.
In Brown’s case an unassailable array of physical evidence and numerous eyewitnesses eventually corroborated the officer’s claim of self-defense against an intimidatingly large man who had gone for his gun, and in Garner’s case a videotape of the unhealthy man’s fatal encounter with a neck hold and pile of officers demonstrated what was arguably excessive force against his attempt to resist arrest but not murderous intent, yet both were widely exploited as proof of a deadly war by law enforcement against law-abiding black men. The use of deadly force by police officers has declined in recent years along with the crime rate, black men are still far more likely to die at the hands of another black man, and the death tolls for everyone would be far higher without police officers willing and able to defend themselves on the streets, but none of that stopped the usual racial provocateurs from egging on the protests that chanted for the murder of cops.
The ubiquitous Al Sharpton was on the scene, of course, along with the New Black Panther Party and the rest of the soap box orators who haven’t yet secured a network news gig or frequent invitations to the White House. Hollywood celebrities chimed in, as always, and professional athletes took to the field with the thoroughly disproved “Don’t shoot” slogan of Brown’s purported mayrtrdom or Garner’s sadly true last words of “I can’t breathe” emblazoned on the high-dollar shoes that the big time sneaker companies provide them. Much of the media did its usual muckraking, too, happy to let the fanciful but useful notion of cops murdering innocent black men in cold blood linger. This time around the crowd included the the Mayor of New York City, who publicly lamented that he had to teach his black son to be fearful of the city’s police, the President of the United States, who sent an emissary to Brown’s funeral and told the United Nations that Brown’s death left his country unable to assert its moral authority in the world, and his Attorney General, who launched an investigation of the department involved in Brown’s death even as evidence of the officer’s innocence was accumulating.
Some of those soap box orators are exulting about the murders on social media, which is the soap box of our high-tech age, and the same platform that the killer of those two New York City officers used to proclaim his vengeful motives, but the provocateurs who need to retain some level of respectability are now obliged to offer either sympathy or at least a respectful silence. Hollywood celebrities have publicity agents who will shrewdly advise against any comment, and any athletes who take the field with slogans in solidarity with the murders will likely lose his shoes. The rest have ratings or circulation figures or poll numbers to worry about, and have said all the right things.
Members of the New York City Police Department nonetheless turned their backs on Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, and in the most literal sense of the phrase. The broader public might have a similar reaction to the suddenly kind words offered to the police by erstwhile supporters of the protests that until Sunday had chanted for the murder of police. There’s no plausible way for the media to report the deaths of a Hispanic and an Asian police officer who were involved in a training exercise to deal with potential terrorist threats that will support the narrative of a white racist war against black men, and the killer’s race and name will make it impossible to blame the usual Tea Party suspects. That national conversation on race that the race provocateurs have long hoped to start has suddenly shifted to the facts that the deadly use of force by police officers has been declining along with the crime rate, that black men are far more likely to die at the hands of other black men, and that the death toll for everyone would be much higher if there weren’t officers willing and able to defend themselves and the rest of us against a threat that suddenly seems all too real.

— Bud Norman

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Race, Ferguson, and the Movies

Hollywood used to love making movies about brave independent thinkers standing up against the mindless passions of the mob. Dipping into a rich tradition of American literature and drama they came up with such motion pictures as “The Ox Bow Incident,” “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Twelve Angry Men,” “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” “Bad Day at Black Rock,” “The Crucible,” all those “Billy Jack” flicks, and several others that we’ll later kick ourselves for failing to mention. These movies vary widely in quality, but all share an annoying self-congratulatory quality. Hollywood types like to think themselves brave independent thinkers standing up against the mindless passions of the American mob, even as they pander to its basest instincts, so the oh-so-noble protagonists of those movies always seemed to derive in some saccharine way from the filmmaker’s heroic self-image.
That was back when the mobs were still likely to be central casting southern rednecks itching for some ad hoc justice against a black man or an Asian-American or a communist or a hippie freak or a space alien or some other sort of sympathetic “other,” and the consensus of bien pensant opinion was always solidly on the side of the brave independent thinker. These days the mob is invariably of a more politically correct hue, the polite people with the right credentials are therefore obliged to go along with whatever they say, the lone dissenters are such unwashed and un-photogenic right-wing bastards as ourselves, and Hollywood seems to have moved on to zombie movies. We don’t expect to see any big-budget epics about the lynch mob brewing in Ferguson, Missouri, or any of the other recent outburst of mob mentality, and if we do the movies will have to stand the old conventions on their head.
Monday’s funeral for the unarmed black teenager who was fatally shot in Ferguson by a white police officer, as he is invariably described in press reports, was a perfectly cinematic bit of mob mania that will never portrayed as such by any Hollywood director. Among the eulogists was the exaggeratedly buffoonish Rev. Al Sharpton, whose long disgraceful history of whipping up fatal programs against Jews in particular and racial animosities against  peopler another color in general would make him a perfect stock character if only he could have been portrayed by Strother Martin, the mourners included the former filmmaker Spike Lee, who became a Hollywood darling by romanticizing race riots in his breakthrough movie “Do the Right Thing” and such blatantly anti-Semitic fare as “Mo’ Better Blues,” and all were crying out for justice. By “justice” they didn’t mean a dispassionate examination of the facts of the shooting, but rather an immediate execution of the harsh verdict that the mob had already reached based on most dubious sort of hearsay and its pre-existing prejudices.
The facts of the matter are frustratingly unclear, but the intense media coverage has already yielded reports that suggest the mob’s verdict is premature. A popular narrative that the decedent was gunned down for no possible reason other than racial animus while peacefully surrounding himself to the unfairly suspicious police has been disproved by the independent autopsy conducted by his own family, an embarrassing video of the oversized decedent manhandling a diminutive convenience store clerk for a box of Swisher Sweets cigars just before his fatal encounter with the police has effectively undermined the heart-warming tale of a college-bound young exemplar heading to his grandmother’s house, and stories about injuries to the police officer’s face add credence to his apparent explanation that the decedent was going for his gun and it was all a case of self-defense. All these facts of the matter have been muddied by the ham-fisted response of the Ferguson Police Department, which managed to offend even the most law-and-order sorts of Republicans with its heavily militarized presence during the inevitable looting, but there’s still ample reason that at this point in the plot of a movie a brave independent thinking hero might start to harbor doubts about the mob. It would make a compelling scene, especially if interposed with a montage of headlines about the race-baiting Attorney General and all the fashionable media promising to placate the mob, but Hollywood is the fashionable media and is thus unable to get the scene quite right. Nor will they ever make a convincing movie about the fraudulent accusations of rape against the Duke University lacrosse team, which had a disgraceful 88 members of that supposedly august faculty proudly sign on the lynch mob that judged them by the holy trinity of race, class, and gender of the team and its accuser rather than the scientifically incontrovertible and entirely exculpating evidence, or the case of that “white Hispanic” down in Florida who shot a young black man for no reason except that the young black man was banging the “crazy ass crackers'” head against the pavement, or any of the other recent failed attempts at demonstrating the overpowering white racism that the independent thinkers of Hollywood still desire to bravely oppose.
By far the contemporary classic account of these ginned-up racial contretemps is the great Tom Wolfe’s novel “The Bonfire of the Vanities,” which somehow grows more classic with every new brouhaha. There are no heroes in that forlorn masterpiece, especially not the unexceptional young black decedent who hilariously becomes an “honor student” in all the frenzied media coverage, a peculiar feature of every racial controversy that has since come up, and the only character willing to defy the mob for principled reasons is a cranky old Jewish man who inadvertently suborns perjury in his court by the tale’s flawed protagonist. Hollywood completely ruined the book, of course, and changed the cranky old Jewish man to a more heroic black woman, but we suppose this is as close as we’ll get to a new take on the old brave independent thinking hero standing up to the mindless passions of the mob genre. It’s a shame, because we always liked those movies for all their self-congratulatory flaws and we need them more than ever.

— Bud Norman

The Riot This Time Around

Yet another riot is raging after yet another fatal police shooting of a young black man, and in most respects it seems all too familiar. Al Sharpton and the New Black Panther Party and Eric Holder’s Justice Department and the national press and all the other usual rabble-rousers are once again on the scene, once again the facts of the shooting are infuriatingly unclear, and once again individuals and businesses and public institutions that obviously had nothing to with it are among the victims. What’s different this time around, in the previously unheard of town of Ferguson, Missouri, is the reaction from the right and left ends of the political spectrum.
On the right there have been the usual denunciations of the pathological lawlessness that pervades too many majority African-American communities, the same wondering why the death of a young black man at the hands of the police warrants so much more outrage than the vastly more numerous deaths of young black men at the hands of other young black men, and the routine insistence that a police officer deserves the same presumption of innocence that would be afford to any person accused of a crime. Such obvious truths must be stated, and if not for right-wing bastards such as ourselves as they would go unsaid, so the points are by now almost obligatory. This time, though, there’s been a different emphasis from the conservative side. From the most robustly right-wing talk radio ranters to the more reserved columns of the venerable National Review, there’s been a painstakingly made acknowledgement that the most damning version of  the police officer’s actions might well be true and that the response to the predictable demonstrations might be dangerously heavy-handed. The heavily militarized police forces that many conservatives have lately decried has been on full display in Ferguson, where armored vehicles and the sorts of machine guns once trained on Iraqi terrorists have been on the streets of a little-known midwestern town, and those critics have stubbornly refused to recant their views even when such military might is deployed against opportunistic looters and the more criminally inclined sorts of Fergusonians that would not ordinarily inspire a conservative’s sympathy.
Some on the left will go ahead and charge those critics with hypocrisy for a failure to speak out about the issue now, lacking any sufficiently incendiary soundbites from any prominent Republicans, but this is easily refuted. Sen. Rand Paul of Kentucky was singled out for his silence on the armored response to the riots, but that was only because he was busily composing an updated diatribe against such law enforcement for Time Magazine. Those eminently respectable scribes at The National Review have remained consistent, too, as has the brilliantly pugnacious Canuck conservative Mark Steyn. Throw in Texas Sen. Mark Cruz and Michigan Rep. Justin Amash and our own misgivings about all that armor on the streets of Ferguson, and its fair to say that conservatism has been quite intellectually consistent. The only hypocrisy is on the part of the left, which is suddenly scandalized by a police force that was militarized by its beloved Obama administration. Even the Obama is administration is scandalized by inevitable results of its policies, it seems, and is apparently confident that it won’t be forcefully confronted with the contradiction.
No one on the right is abandoning conservatism’s inherent preference for law and order, of course, but as National Review’s headline writers put it, “More bobby sticks, fewer M-16s, please. The sort of rioting that has lately occurred in Ferguson is unfortunately routine in American history, and has traditionally been quelled with more low-tech methods, so traditionalists have good cause for continuing this policy. Almost all of those meddlesome bureaucracies now have their own armies to enforce their ever-expanding array of regulations, most of which aren’t so commonsensical as “don’t burn down the neighborhood convenience store,” and it no longer seems mere paranoia to wonder what sort of popular uprisings all that military power might yet be unleashed upon. The Department of Homeland Security has identified veterans and advocates of low taxes and limited government as national security threats, the “tea party” is routinely vilified as a brewing violent revolution, strict adherence to government’s wise mandates is the stated goal of modern liberalism, and no can seriously believe that President Barack Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder intended all that military might at your local police force to intimidate some black youths angered by the plausible but yet unproved claim that a policeman in a previously unheard of Missouri town unnecessarily caused a young black man’s death.
On the left there is the usual talk of income inequality and racial prejudice and economic deprivation and all the usual rationalizations for burning down the neighborhood convenience store, but without the usual enthusiasm. This comes more than six years into the post-racial era of hope and change, after all, and by now even the thugs burning down the neighborhood convenience store have noticed that the current administration has done nothing to improve their lot in life. They might never notice that the right is demanding a thorough and unbiased investigation of their grievances, or protesting the harsh methods used to put down even their most peaceable protests, or advocating policies on issues ranging from immigration to entrepreneurship to gun rights that would improve their economic fortunesErick, or that Republicans aren’t the racist rednecks they’ve been led to believe, but it seems unlikely that the left will derive any benefit from the latest riot. That’s something different about this time around, and something hopeful.

— Bud Norman