I was not impressed by the statement that the Officers of Avalon, an organization for Pagan police and first responders, released through the Wild Hunt. OoA acknowledges that political decisions to enforce curfew and sanitation laws by directing police to remove Occupy camps:

…has resulted in confrontations where a few officers have crossed the line and used unreasonable force. Let us state clearly, Officers Of Avalon believes that the use of excessive force on peaceable protesters is a violation of the rights of protesters, clearly immoral and in extreme cases felonious.

The rest of the statement is OoA expressing concern over the tone of conversations going on in the Pagan world. They say:

It is not the police who are the enemy of this movement. … Holding local officers accountable for the decisions of politicians is both unreasonable and illogical. It is no more reasonable than blaming your local bank teller for the actions of their CEO’s on Wall Street.

I agree that the police are not the enemy of the Occupy movement. But the end of that paragraph is a non sequitur. Asking people not to blame the cops might have been a reasonable thing to say a month ago, or even a week ago. But after recent events like the pepper-spraying of peaceful protestors at UC Davis, the analogy there completely falls apart. I’m not blaming police officers for political decisions; I’m blaming police officers for  tactical decisions that hurt people.

In these circumstances, laying the blame for police brutality on anyone besides the police is both unreasonable and illogical. It is no more reasonable than blaming the dogcatcher for the actions of the bank teller who robs me at gunpoint.

And to be clear, I am not blaming “the police” as a monolithic institution. I have studied combat psychology and am familiar with the massive unfairness of the American reaction to the military as a whole during and after the Vietnam war. I am more than willing to identify isolated incidents and so-called “bad apples,” and to recognize that they are not representative of police as a whole. I am also willing to acknowledge that tactical situations develop incredibly quickly and that split-second bad decisions are not necessarily a sign of malice aforethought.


But when I see the worst examples of police brutality and abuse of power in a generation, and I see them being repeated in city after city across the country, I begin to be concerned. When I see a clear pattern of undeniable on-the-scene evidence that at least some police officers are making reasoned decisions to use unreasonable force, and that the first reaction of the police and the government is to protect those officers and blame the victims, I begin to doubt. When I see that police forces as a whole are not being held to the same standards as our troops on the battlefield are, I begin to be afraid.

I doubt that the problem is isolated to a few individuals or a few tactical mistakes. I am concerned that the increasingly para-military culture of policing is not serving its officers or the public well. And I am frankly afraid that if we don’t address this issue now, it will only get worse.

Along with Officers of Avalon, I too call on the community to avoid vilifying an entire profession. But I am disappointed that OoA spent the majority of their statement making such half-hearted efforts to appease everyone, let alone tone arguments, because that’s not the way to convince me that you’re on my side; forceful statements disavowing the actions that you find reprehensible and reaffirming the values that you represent are. With the news the way it is, what OoA wrote might have made sense for an audience in Avalon, but not here.

4 thoughts on “Maybe in Avalon, but not here

  1. …and that the first reaction of the police and the government is to protect those officers and blame the victims…

    That right there is a big issue for me. If this was really a case of a few bad apples, the proper response from other police would be to condemn those bad apples. The proper response from those bad apples’ superiors would be to take strong disciplinary action.

    If the actions had been poor decisions made in a tense moment where split-second decisions had to be made, the proper response from those in charge would be to acknowledge the error, apologize, and determine what changes need to be done to training so thta better decisions can be made in similar situations in the future.

    So even if we accept the above explanations for the incorrect actions of officers, the way those actions were treated afterward were not congruent with those explanation.

    1. Yes, exactly. And if we’re going to start talking about tone, then the tone of the official responses that vary between “They were just doing their job” and “We’ll look into it when we get around to it” is at least as much a problem as any anti-police tone in the Pagan community. If the official responses had been more like what you suggest, then I suspect there wouldn’t be nearly as much anti-police attitude developing.

      And while I’m on the topic, if the police really wanted to learn important lessons from the military, they’d be looking at what the military has learned recently (often slowly and painfully) about the differences cameras make and about how you can’t discount the popular opinion of the civilian population.

  2. IMO, you are right on the money when you refer to the militarization of the police. You will, of course, be familiar with the Stanford Prison Experiment. The same principle obtains here. If the police are dressed up as if they were about to storm Fallujah and supplied with the corresponding equipment, they will start to think of themselves as soldiers; and they’ll start to think of people like the OWS participants as the enemy. Fred Clark commented on this in a recent post:

    “Police are not soldiers and citizens are not their enemy. When police come to imagine otherwise, they become, by their own declaration, the enemies of the public they were commissioned to serve. This is the opposite of what police are supposed to be, the opposite of why police are commissioned as police. Police who regard the public they are commissioned to serve as “the enemy” have forfeited any legitimate claim to their arms and badges.”

    To which I say, Amen.

    1. Yes, Fred’s comments are accurate and incisive, as always. And the SPE is not far from my mind, either. The problem of bystanders and authority is also an issue to me, as in the Milgram experiments, even though I’m mostly thinking in terms of other cops agreeing too easily with authority internal to the force. Where were the other cops? Why wasn’t someone else saying, whoa, do we really need to pepper-spray these folks?

      I’m getting the impression that most, if not many, of these abuses of power are happening either at the officer level or are group actions orchestrated by higher commands. This is not just old Sgt. O’Reilly who gets too free with the whiskey and his fists, but since he only beats up bad guys, everybody looks the other way. What’s a ruptured spleen among criminals?

      I’m also concerned, honestly, about the perception that less-than-lethal weapons are somehow “okay.” Before these became so danged common, the options were basically physical violence and guns. There were lots of beatings by cops, and I’m glad we’re not seeing that reprised. But one officer couldn’t beat a whole line of students casually, calmly, and with little exertion while inflicting the level of pain and distress the pepper spray does. Do these things probably reduce violence and save lives? Yes. Does that mean they can be used with as little thought as bug spray? No, no, a thousand times, no. We’ve seen that about tasers, we’ve seen that about mace and tear gas, we’re seeing that about pepper spray, and “rubber bullets” and the like. I think there’s a major problem in policing cultures that regard pepper spray as any less dangerous or threatening than the billy club.

      I’ll put the soapbox back in the corner now…

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