Growing up I’d always thought of being Liberal as a virtue. During the last Bush administration, it was liberals who were anti-war, who marched for peace, who demanded action on global warming, who were the backbone of the struggling labor movement.
With Obama in the white house, being liberal now means making excuses for war, remaining totally silent regarding Israel’s ethnic cleansing of Palestinians, ignoring Obama’s KXL tar sand pipeline, ignoring Chelsea Manning’s heroism and her decades long prison sentence, shrugging at mention of Edward Snowden’s world-changing sacrifice. Explain to today’s liberal how Obama’s militarization of the border has deported over 2 million migrant workers and refugees fleeing drug cartel violence, and they’ll stare at you blankly.
What concern liberals still have for climate change usually gets channeled into signing online petitions from MoveOn or 350. Rarely do they display solidarity with the people taking direction action against KXL or other devastating extraction operations. Liberals tell us to remain nonviolent during protests, regardless of the violence committed by police, and regardless of the institutional violence committed every day against marginalized communities. The liberal of today is concerned with better bicycle lanes, but not rising rents that soon follow. And why should they? Life’s pretty good with Democrats running the show, as long as you’re a Democrat.
This cognitive dissonance is no different than that of their alleged enemies in the Republican party or the Tea Party (they’re still out there, trust me). Strangely, these conservative libertarians seem far more willing to stand up to bullying law enforcement than today’s liberals. Perhaps this has something to do with the Right’s firearm fetish, while liberals relentlessly remind us we mustn’t defend ourselves from attacks by police.
Today’s liberal has embraced the state and the market as virtuous. They’ve rationalized there’s only one viable political party. They’ve resigned that solving poverty may have to wait while austerity budgeting becomes the norm. When they do celebrate a drop in crime and an increase in a community’s financial wealth, it’s usually only after crime and the poor were exported somewhere else via gentrification, which they’ve absurdly now argued has a ‘good’ side.
Yes, all is fine and good in the land of Liberalism today. While they must be ever vigilant against the regressive threat of Republicans stripping reproductive freedoms, or of wars started by Republicans, liberals are enjoying Obama’s second term, and likely a coming future 8 years of Hillary Clinton as president. The state is on their side. Law enforcement is here to keep them safe. Or are they?
It’s always disturbed me how blind some people can be to police violence, as though it’s some vague, rare occurrence committed by a few bad apples, that most cops are good people with the best intentions of protecting and serving. Unfortunately for most, until they personally witness the callous attitudes and savagery ubiquitous within police departments, they’ll effortlessly go on ignoring institutionalized brutality. They seemingly forget the full proverb reads: A few bad apples spoils the entire bunch.
Remember that cop who got famous for giving shoes to a homeless person? He shot and killed an injured man in handcuffs a year later.
It’s worth remembering the very creation of policing in America was not to protect and serve. It was to corral the ‘property’ of slave-owners. Police hunted down liberated slaves, beat them, punished them, and returned them to their ‘masters’. Targeting entire communities based on their race has hardly changed as an operating principle within law enforcement 3oo years later.
The world of active transit and bicycle/pedestrian advocacy can seem a homogenous world indeed, populated by liberal-identifying, university educated, middle-class whites in buttoned shirts. The range of acceptable terms and behaviors practiced within this circle is narrow. Politeness is expected at all times, passive aggression occasionally tolerated. Never is emotional confrontation or radical introspection of an institution allowed. Never is class struggle discussed. You achieve access to this clique through obedience, and you had better praise the police, as they are part of the government with whom you work to compel.
Every once in a while, though, a sliver of truth pierces this bubble. Recently, a precinct captain in New York City used the news of a woman’s traffic death after falling onto subway tracks to mock transit safety advocates, as well as a few of their more radical counterparts. In his own words, Captain Thomas Harnisch: “Let me guess, driver’s fault, right?”
The NYPD captain quickly deleted this Tweet, along with several embarrassing others, after a barrage of establishment criticism. However, before getting his ass handed to him, the ignorant captain doubled-down on snark, “Isn’t that exactly what you do? Seize on a tragedy and assign culpability having no facts, to further your agenda?”
Despite my above criticisms of liberal transpo advocates, their intention of making streets safer is noble, as the inherent harm automobiles pose is only just becoming understood as an issue of class and social justice. To label this an ‘agenda’ is actually honest, but for Captain Harnisch to imply that safer streets are not an agenda of the NYPD would be shocking if it wasn’t so historically accurate. I’m sure most livable street advocates remember this winter’s #VisionZero fail when New York cops beat and bloodied an 84 year old man who didn’t speak english for the ‘crime’ of crossing the street.
Now, I’m not arguing liberal silence is the reason cops are racist, patriarchal assholes who literally get away with murder. But as evidenced with this Captain Harnisch gaffe, we see how fast police will drop the attitude and start acting like human beings, albeit briefly for PR reasons, when intelligent people start speaking out. Negative social reinforcement can work wonders, especially on bullies.
There are dire urban and global socio/enviro issues that liberals and others on the Left have been quiet on for too many years of Obama’s terms in office, including routine brutality committed by the very police they often praise. If they want to reclaim their progressive laurels, they’ll have to risk their access to power and start speaking some real talk.
Ultimately, labels of identity politics do us a disservice. It’s enlightening to break down barriers, to start talking with people you’d been told were your enemy – those still capable of honest communication not corrupted by institutional obligation. We find more common cause than previously imagined. For people-powered politics to evolve, liberals and those of other political strata need to get just a bit more pissed off at the status quo .
See you in the streets.
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Portland bike cops gone wild, attacking and beating peaceful dance-party on May Day 2012 for marching without a permit, aka: jaywalking.