From Portside <[email protected]>
Subject The Blue Wall Of Silence
Date September 27, 2020 12:00 AM
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[Cops are at the crux of this cultural war of neoliberalism vs.
fascism. They are sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of freedom
while also operating legal torture chambers and killing people of
color. ] [[link removed]]

THE BLUE WALL OF SILENCE  
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Aurin Squire
September 18, 2020
Talking Points Memo
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_ Cops are at the crux of this cultural war of neoliberalism vs.
fascism. They are sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of freedom
while also operating legal torture chambers and killing people of
color. _

, TPM Illustration/Getty Images

 

“Most cops are punks. They ain’t going to say shit. But I don’t
care. I always say what I want.”

I sat a minute with that statement and not only because it was coming
from a friend. I sat with it because my friend is a retired NYPD cop
who spent 22 years on the force. David Wright, 69, was talking to me
from the comforts of quarantine. I was asking Wright why no Black or
brown cop I emailed and called was willing to go on record? I asked
him why no Black police organization was willing to reply to my
requests? “Punk” was about as succinct an answer as you can get.

Last month, the New York City Police Benevolent Association endorsed
President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign. It was the first time
the police union has endorsed a presidential candidate in over 38
years.

“Many times, people say that a union like ours, law enforcement
groups, give endorsements,” PBA president Patrick Lynch said to
Trump. “Not in the New York City PBA, sir. In the New York City PBA,
sir, you earn the endorsement and you’ve earned this endorsement.
I’m proud to give it.”

In the midst of civil unrest, active corruption investigations,
ratfucking an election by jamming the federal post office, voter
suppression efforts, and the GOP’s drive to cheat at every turn, the
police take a stand … in favor of Trump. Right-wing Trump teenager
Kyle Rittenhouse traveled to Kenosha, Wisconsin to brandish an AR-15
rifle and open fire on anti-brutality protesters, allegedly killing
two. He has become a homicidal celebutante of the GOP, receiving
hundreds of thousands of dollars in grassroots support from fans and
the subtle, non-condemning wink from the White House. Last Tuesday,
FBI agents stopped two right-wing terrorists with a large cache of
weapons who they said planned to “pick off protestors” in Kenosha
before driving to Portland to kill more. Terrorist acts are being
committed in the open by supporters of the President who declaim
“law & order” while spreading panic, murder, and hate. The
President doesn’t denounce it; he revels in the chaos.

And the PBA, apparently, stands in full support of this platform.

But the PBA doesn’t represent all police officers in New York, and
not all officers can be expected to share their union’s perspective
on the protests. According to the latest studies NYPD’s police force
is 29 percent Latino/Hispanic, 15 percent Black, and 7 percent Asian.
It should be easy to get a wide scope of opinions from officers of
color, right? Well not so much.

A few weeks prior, I sent out emails to Black and Latino cops to get
their opinions about recent protests against the police and got the
reply of … crickets. Nothing. None of my usual police contacts were
willing to go on record, including a few cops who had been outspoken
in the past about changes that needed to be made during the Ferguson
protests. I was coming up empty. But David was willing to talk. David
is always willing.

I met David 10 years ago at a Writers Guild of America workshop in
Columbia University’s Dodge Hall. The writers’ group was focused
on emerging POC talent of all races and regions. When I joined the
group, David was already in the writers’ group OG who knew everyone,
ran his own theatre company, dressed in colorful sartorial display of
his Yoruba faith. Where others might look like piss elegant poseurs in
kente cloth and carved walking sticks, David pulled it off in a regal
fashion. In the group we brought in scripts, traded personal stories,
gossiped, and shared home cooked food. In a raspy bullfrog voice,
David would occasionally share about his trials and tribulations as a
police officer but, at the time, I didn’t really pay any attention
to that. A decade later I found myself probing his history and the
psychology of his brethren in blue.

“If people really started to talk you’ll find out that there are
many more George Floyds [that] have been murdered. That’s why I’m
fine with the protests,” he told me. “I grew up in the 1960s.
I’ve been a Black Panther. I have a different mindset. But most cops
are mental midgets.”

But there had to be more nuance here — more to it than simply
dismissing hundreds of thousands of cops as punks and midgets, right?
After many more inquiring emails, I did start to get a few replies
from black cops, but all off the record. Every single one said that
they weren’t scared, but also weren’t willing to talk on record.
When I asked them if they feel intimidated or threatened, I got a
vociferous no from one, a noncommittal sigh from another, and silence
from a third. But if they’re not threatened and they think the cops
are right, why wouldn’t they be willing to express that opinion in
public? I was facing a stunning contradiction: officers who didn’t
feel comfortable in exercising their constitutional rights of free
speech out of fear of retribution who — at the same time —
professed there was no problem and everything was fine with how cops
operate behind a blue wall of silence. Nothing to see here, move
along! This struck me as indicative of a group trained to hold two
diametrically opposed thoughts at the same time, without noticing it.
George Orwell coined a term for this: doublethink.

But you can’t be free while biting your tongue out of fear. The
problem is that we don’t even know what freedom is to the everyday
person. In politics the word is tossed around — like “God” and
“patriotism.: But freedom is definable in the context of a republic.
Freedom means financial recompense and legal restitution for damages,
slander, injury, and death. Freedom means having a clear corrective
course when you are wronged because we all will be wronged at some
point. For Black Americans, recompense, restitution, and reparations
are at the heart of true freedom because our history is steeped in
kidnapping, murder, lynching and state-sponsored murder with no
consequence. But when you stop believing that there is a course of
corrective actions to restore one’s freedom, you stop believing in
the system. You clam up, shut down, protect your job. Even if your job
is being a cop protecting freedom, you work in a very un-free way. You
become a walking contradiction swearing to uphold the constitution by
unconstitutional means. Once again, doublethink.

I think it’s a skill that serves many POC cops well during these
times. It is the kind of mindset you also need to be a soldier, or a
surgeon. As a writer, I am the complete opposite. I can’t shut up, I
dig for answers and — if I find them — I ask more questions and
keep digging. I aggravate friend and foe, and don’t really care if I
stand alone or outside the ranks of my social group. That’s why I
would make a terrible cop, soldier or man of action.

One time in high school, our football coach wanted to test our loyalty
and asked each player if we would run through a brick wall for the
team. He went down the line screaming this question and each player
shouted back an enthusiastic affirmation, until he got to me. When the
coach asked me if I would run through a brick wall, a wry smile came
over my face.

“Are you serious? You can’t be serious right now,” I recall
saying. “An actual brick wall … yeah, you first coach. I can’t
believe that you would even ask me that. Think about what you’re
saying.”

I knew the question was hypothetical and the easiest answer would have
been to scream, “Yes coach, that’s right, I’d run through that
wall for my team,” but there is something inside me that resists
even the symbolic gesture of thoughtless solidarity.

Needless to say, that instinctive solidarity is necessary for groups
of people to work seamlessly in high-pressure situations. You probably
don’t want someone like me showing up to a burning building, bank
robbery, or battlefield. You want a hero who reacts without asking too
many questions and who falls in line with other uniformed brothers.
But that kind of solidarity isn’t natural. It’s nurtured by
society and subcultures, which ask the individual to subsume their
needs for the greater good. Some of us are indoctrinated into these
groups. And then we get used to doublethink.

When I look for answers about the strange phenomena of human group
behavior I take out an old blue textbook.

In college I took a course titled “Bargaining and Negotiations.”
The professor promised us that if we mastered the tools in this class
we would be able to make shrewd deals on everything from cars to
salary raises to relationships. If we knew how other people thought,
we would always have an advantage in any argument or negotiations.
Over the course of 20 years this class served me well. I am writing in
a Brooklyn apartment where I pay $500/month less than the market price
because I bargained. There have been several jobs in which I turned
down multiple offers because I knew what the other side was thinking.
I wasn’t a brilliant risk-taker in asking for more; I was just aware
of someone’s decision-making process. One of the course’s reading
materials was a blue textbook blandly titled, “The Dynamics of
Persuasion: Communication and Attitudes in the 21st century.”

I go back to the books regularly because they show how marketing and
PR sway public opinion. I opened the book while writing this to the
section on ELM: the “elaboration likelihood model.” I was trying
to figure out why POC cops were so silent. Traditionally, Americans
value independence, openness, individuality, freedom of expression.
How have American cops — and POC cops in particular — been so
staunch in displaying values which contradict everything considered
“American?”

In the blue “Dynamics” book, author Richard Perloff wrote about
centralized processing and peripheral processing. We either make
decisions based on the actual facts (centralized processing) or on
peripheral processing: tone, style, appearance. Peripheral processing
is style over substance. It’s why Mormons wear clean white shirts
and ties when they do missionary work. They know that their appearance
will convert people more than their beliefs about Jesus and aliens and
golden tablets buried in America. The average person looks at an
orthodox Mormon and thinks, “Oh they look clean-cut, honest,
direct” even if what they’re saying is a bit out of left field.

Most people — regardless of race, class, or education — make
decisions based on peripheral processing (unless it’s an emergency
life-or-death situation — then central processing kicks in). The
truth of police brutality that Black Lives Matter draws attention to,
and the demands to “Defund the Police,” prompt outrage from cops
because of peripheral processing of the protestors: their clothes,
their youth, their appearances. It short-circuits basic facts about
what the protesters are actually saying that are obvious to everyone,
including the cops themselves. Cops, it turns out, are not well
trained enough to get past peripheral processing in these situations.
In fact, they are not equipped to handle a wide variety of situations
in which they are nonetheless called on to get involved. They should
be re-trained, or the responsibility should be given to someone else.

Many Americans process the protesters just as the cops do. If you have
a choice between a clean-cut police chief and strong, military-looking
officers standing at attention over a rag-tag group of protestors,
most citizens will align themselves with the police just based on the
appearance of order, strength and law, even if they know that the
officers with whom they’ve aligned themselves may be a threat to
them, may even be, statistically, fatal for them. The peripheral
processing is so strong that it will even override the most direct,
brutal truths.

But it’s not like the left-wing side has been doing a good job of
convincing the public to pay attention to the reality of police
brutality. Activists have run afoul of a technique the right-wing
media uses again and again.

It’s called the Inoculation Theory Model. Inoculation Theory is how
you vaccinate a listener against a particular quality. You inoculate
against the idea that “cops oppose American values” by attaching
freedom from those cops to something perceived as dirty and unsavory,
like hippies, Black radicals, the Black Panthers, women district
attorneys, unrealistic liberals, snowflakes, college academic
eggheads. FEMINISTS!! Hillary Clinton. (The mistrust of women in power
is a very helpful trope in vaccinating men of all colors.) These are
all strong images that police unions and their allies have worked hard
to attach to today’s protests and obscure the truth of the situation
— police brutality — and the freedom protesters demand from it.
They have inoculated the public against the idea of cops trampling
values that — in any other circumstance — Americans would cherish.

This is what undoes neoliberalism in every culture: through
inoculation, freedom becomes female, liberal, weak, soft, for
snowflakes, the nanny state. Freedom is the thing we run to and then
want to crush in our children and our neighbors. It’s the concept
of, “I should have freedom because I’m strong enough to handle it,
but not you. You should be under my boot.”

Neoliberal societies always slip toward fascism because so many of the
people who enjoy the immense benefits of liberal values detest the
mental picture attached to them: women, LGBT folks, people of color,
immigrants, the “otherness” of inclusion that comes with giving
freedom to all. Novelist Charles Willeford wrote in his autobiography
about a period of his life during which he was homeless and riding the
railroads. Many homeless people he encountered emphasized the need for
stronger police to protect the country’s borders. And this was in
the 1930s. Many of these men who professed these values were Black and
Latino. These same men had countless awful run-ins with cops. This
opinion was crafted after being jailed, beaten and abused by the very
police forces they advocated for strengthening. The men in
Willeford’s autobiography ran right back into the arms of the
abusive father of law because they would rather be abused than be
“feminine” or open-minded. Right-wing values often embody this
exact, strong, clear, masculine, daddy energy.

Cops are at the crux of this cultural war of neoliberalism vs.
fascism. They are sworn to uphold the constitution and laws of freedom
while also operating legal torture chambers and killing people of
color. And they are able to hold these two completely contradictory
values at the same time, as long as they don’t speak or think about
it. It’s an ongoing and historically successful state of cognitive
dissonance. As long as they stand behind the blue wall of silence and
strength they are then also able to profess an allegiance to freedom
while bashing people exercising their First Amendment rights. And if
you’re more offended by David Wright saying “officers ain’t
shit” than police unions supporting a platform of right-wing militia
terror and murder … then you may have bought into the “law &
order” hypocrisy that is rotting this nation at its core.

“The police job has not changed in 6,000 years. It hasn’t been
redesigned. It’s been tweaked,” David told me. “But the job is
you have to maintain law and order. You keep citizens who are
supposedly good … out of their shit. But it’s really based on who
is in charge. You protect the people in charge.”

And that is why so many cops have to inoculate themselves against
freedom and justice — because the people they answer to are unjust,
corrupt and immoral. They are the attorney general, the President, the
corrupt court systems; all deeply flawed individuals and systems
straining under the weight of a society in the early stages of its
collapse. And the only thing police have to fight all this is a gun
and a badge.

As our freedoms shrink and our rights get battered in court and on the
street, we are slowly slipping toward technocratic fascism. Cops will
be at the heart of whether we abandon all pretense of American values
and embrace our inner Nazis, or actually turn the tide against a
frightening decline into the immoral horrors of our worst instincts.

_Aurin Squire is an award-winning playwright, reporter, and multimedia
artist. He is a two-time recipient of the Lecomte du Nouy Prize from
Lincoln Center and has received residencies at the Royal Court Theatre
in London, Ars Nova, Lincoln Center Lab, National Black Theatre, the
Dramatists Guild of America, and Brooklyn Arts Exchange._

_This article is part of TPM Cafe
[[link removed]], TPM’s home for opinion and
news analysis._

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