For me the central tragedy of this week is not the massacre in Dallas, horrific as it is.
It is the video shot in Falcon Heights of the aftermath of the police shooting of Philandro Castile.
Absolutely wrenching to watch. And it should be watched to the very end. It is a heartrending depiction of a family destroyed and the survivors desperately trying to keep it together with courage and dignity…until they can’t.
Micah Johnson, I expect, also watched it, and it may have contributed to his decision to shoot the police officers in Dallas. He probably also watched the video of Alton Sterling getting shot while struggling with two police officers in Baton Rouge. And a few other videos.
We can’t ask him because sending in a robot with some C4 strapped to it to kill Johnson was, in the judgment of the Dallas PD, preferable to waiting him out. I have a feeling part of the cop omerta code involves extrajudicially executing, well, murdering cop killers like Christopher Dorner as an example/deterrent, but we’ll probably never get the final word on that, either.
On July 8, an African American man opened fire on passing cars on a highway in Tennessee, killing one and wounding three. He was wounded, detained, and told officers “because he was troubled by incidents involving black people and law enforcement officers”.
Micah Johnson was less circumspect. Before he died, according to Dallas PD, he told “negotiators” he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers.
The New York Times started its story on Johnson with the misleading lede that “A military veteran who said his goal was to kill white police officers opened fire Thursday night in downtown Dallas…”
Pretty sloppy, Grey Lady. And shunning an absolutely dynamite, click-generating lead. Blacks hunting whites is hot. A vet blowing his stack at the cops…not.
I’m increasingly of the opinion that the fix is in, and that the US government at the highest level is determined to use the tools at its disposal to keep a lid on this thing lest it escalate into a national nightmare of copycat and retaliatory killings. I’m guessing it involves a crisis room (run by AG Loretta Lynch? Somebody higher up?), outreach to surrogates, media, and opinion leaders, with one message:
Ix-nay on the ace-ray ar-way
“Play down the race war angle” for those of you not fluent in pig latin.
Or as Loretta Lynch put it, “Do not let this precipitate a new normal”.
I expect it includes “outreach” to Donald Trump himself, explaining his statement on the Dallas attack that was characterized as “un-Trump-like” in its dignified avoidance of race baiting and, indeed, included a sympathetic if name-free shout out to Castilo and Sterling.
I think a high level of image management is going on, starting with the inevitable characterization of Johnson as a “lone wolf” (Talking Points Memo does the pro bono work of walking back the initial multiple shooter reports here using the NYT story).
Mid-day July 8, VOA does not seem to have received the “lone wolf” memo, by the way. Nor has Dallas PD.
Cornered by police after the ambush, a suspect — believed to be Johnson — told a negotiator he wanted “to kill white people, especially white (police) officers,” and said he was acting alone and was unaffiliated with any groups, Brown said during a news conference Friday. …
Later in the day, Brown said the investigation, however, has “revealed to us this was a well planned, well thought out, evil tragedy by these suspects.”
Note term “suspects” a.k.a. plural, which means that DPD probably regards Johnson’s statement that he acted alone as conspiratorial opsec.
But by the end of the day on July 8, the mayor of Dallas, got the memo, stating in a press conference—first reported by Buzzfeed!– “We believe, given the facts we have today, that Mr Johnson, now deceased, was the lone shooter.”
Then there’s the need to knock down the extremely unpalatable possibility that the attack could be characterized as terrorism, thereby tossing a nice grenade into race relations in the US. The “terrorism” framing is suitable for Muslims, apparently, but nobody wants to hang that tag on 13% of the US population.
The obfuscation was executed by the rather hasty pre-emptive announcement by the US government that there were no “terrorist links”.
Well, the FBI definition of “terrorism” does not involve “links”. It is defined entirely by actions and intent:
“Domestic terrorism” means activities with the following three characteristics:
- Involve acts dangerous to human life that violate federal or state law;
- Appear intended (i) to intimidate or coerce a civilian population; (ii) to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion; or (iii) to affect the conduct of a government by mass destruction, assassination. or kidnapping; and
- Occur primarily within the territorial jurisdiction of the U.S.
There is a determined effort to provide a pleasing narrative of a lone wolf outraged by cop violence and going berserk.
There is a distinct and understandable queasiness about exploring Johnson’s explicit black nationalist sympathies. One of the few photographs of Johnson shows him clasping hands with Professor Griff, one of the members of Public Enemy (Professor Griff by the way, denied any and all relationships with Johnson on his twitter feed).
In our clickbait driven journo world, one would think the magical intersection of celebrity, murder, and black nationalism would spark a feeding frenzy. But the story played overseas, at the Daily Mail, first, and only got picked up in the US by the NY Daily News, which led w/ Griff’s repudiation. In other words, crickets.
Another issue is the right-wing talking point that public expressions of sympathy for black victims of police violence by President Obama and Hillary Clinton created a condoning and legitimizing environment for expressions of black rage against police officers that might go beyond swelling the crowd at a Black Lives Matter rally. Awkward, but probably true. Again, we’ll never know. And the media is, I am pretty sure, disinclined to speculate.
So much to keep the lid on. So much lid-on-keeping going on. A story in itself. In my opinion.
In my opinion, America is not “torn apart” by violence. It’s held together by violence, in a complicated and extremely fraught way. The state lost its monopoly on violence virtually at its inception and managing the impact of non-state violent actors has been a full-time job for the last 240 years. Sometimes it gets very, very hard–remember the Civil War?–and I don’t think it’s a walk in the park today.
Today, thanks to the proliferation of guns and cell phones, and the rising narratives of white nationalism and black empowerment, and the liberal mantra that the best way to resolve social tensions is through economic growth and opportunity (while cops slice and dice the malcontents), job’s especially tough.
Plenty of tinder, plenty of matches. Plenty of suffering and frustration that the US government is trying to manage when they can’t be ignored. And for me, concern thatthe government focuses on managing the symptoms–and the optics– because it is losing a struggle to address the underlying causes.