“Be Proud You’re a Nazi”

I’ve never understood “The South.”

Born in Philadelphia, raised there and in Massachusetts (except for a tiny stint as a tiny infant in Florida where, legend has it, I was kissed by a campaigning Richard Nixon)  I found myself landing in Virginia and marrying a girl from a little further south – a land where I first learned the term “The War of Northern Aggression” and was treated as the Yankee come down to date  our Ruthie.  Love conquers all.

But I never got the dedication of some of my southern stock to the Confederacy.  And never believed the dodge that loyalty to Southern history involved dedication to states’ rights and resistance to federal power.   “Heritage, not Hate” I heard then, and it is the current term of defense of the flying of the Confederate battle flag, inaccurately referred to now as the Stars and Bars but usually called by its first users – the Army of Virginia – the Southern Cross.

Fortunately my immediate family is above bigotry, but out just beyond the edges…  Folks would work up to it, slip in a camouflaged reference to “them people” and “you know who” before graduating to the apparently careless but charged use of “nigger” and a sidelong but careful look to see how I took it.  And I took it, to my shame. Didn’t speak out, didn’t make an issue of its use down there.  I did when I was working as a police officer, chastising folks who used it when I was on calls for service, the overwhelming majority of its users black themselves. From self-hatred, cultural habit, social challenge?  I didn’t know but behind the badge I had the power to make things work my way, at least for tiny moments.

But the users drew a distinction, defending, arguing and maybe truly believing themselves that” not all blacks were niggers,” that the word connoted some lawless and worthless subgroup and so was okay to use because it specified specific people, not a race as a whole.   Not that racism was new to me, or limited to my newly-adopted capital-S Southern locale. I grew up taught that Philadelphia was the only major east coast city spared a major race riot in the 1960s because “any time more than three niggers got together on a corner, cops with sticks waded in and busted ‘em up.”  For that reason, I never considered being a cop myself until I came to Alexandria and got to know officers personally, to see they weren’t infected that way.  Racism may have been present, but it wasn’t a requirement.  And, oddly, our uniforms were both blue and gray.

The first officer I rode along with taught me a lot, and continued to do so throughout his and my career.  Rickie knew his stuff, and wouldn’t hesitate to tell you all he knew, not self- aggrandizement but to keep awake on a slow midnight shift.  But Rickie had a Confederate flag license plate on his pickup, and I couldn’t figure out why.  I thought it was funny, both funny-haha and funny-odd. I mean, they lost, right?  Why align yourself with losers?

Country singer Charlie Daniels sang a song that went:

“Be proud you’re a rebel ‘cause the South’s gonna do it again!”

What, lose?  That’s when I found out, these people are serious. They really believe “The South” is a thing to be loyal to. They construct elaborate historical rewrites to get around southern state’s secessionist declarations at the time that firmly laid out support of slavery as a reason to fight.  (Re-Reconstruction?  That’s a history joke. No?)  We play along too, in little ways.  We laugh at Bo and Luke Duke of Hazzard with the Southern Cross atop their orange Dodge Charger, itself called The General Lee. (Hmmm, maybe watching Daisy Duke is why I now drive a Jeep Wrangler, though Dasiy looks better in short shorts.)

But the Confederate flag was something I could ignore, slough off.  It didn’t matter, other than a warning of approaching stupid people or entry into weird-town.   Until a hate-filled kid killed nine churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina last week, his web identity proud under the same Southern Cross that I then learned flies above the capital grounds in South Carolina, just recently removed from atop the statehouse there.  That made me sick.

I used to jokingly mangle Charlie Daniels’s words to illustrate my point about losers.

Be proud you’re a Nazi, ‘cause the Krauts’re gonna do it again.”

                Not funny, but what’s the difference?  The Southern Cross signifies the legacy of hatred and dehumanization that allowed people to enslave, torture, sell other humans.  It is argued that that they weren’t evil for their time, that society’s morals and mores allowed or supported it,  that slaves were held by Northerners (thankfully not my family, traceable back only to our 1846 arrival in Philadelphia).  No, the Confederate flag symbolizes hatred and death as much as the Nazi swastika does.

How about we of German descent decide to boast of our heritage, leaving out the hate?  I mean, Adolph Hitler did imbue his people with renewed pride after the Treaty of Versailles ended the Great War and crushed German military and economic power.  He did manage to expand his country’s boundaries, and we didn’t care much about Poland and the Sudetenland back in 1939.

Yeah, let me go to the DMV and see if that swastika license plate is available yet.  Maybe that can replace the Confederate tags that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe is recalling.   How would that look? Hard to applaud restrictions on free speech but Germany currently outlaws display of the swastika flag, so hate groups there wave the Confederate banner instead.

I could wrap my arms around my Jewish friends and say, “No, don’t feel threatened or oppressed, you misunderstand, I am only showing my loyalty to a dead image of personal power and identity. It’s no threat to you I’m a loser!”  Well, I can’t do that, because there aren’t public swastikas to wave or attach to our cars.  But there are other hate symbols, and I don’t want to have to hug away the hate they convey.

Kudos to McAuliffe, and South Carolina Governor Niki Haley for calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina capitol grounds.   And darn her for doing it before I could get this blog written and so look good for calling for it first.    I’ve lost two friends so far (well, “un-friended” on Facebook, is that the same?) over their recent sharings of images of the Southern Cross.  I’ll probably unfriend more as this cultural crisis goes on, or be deleted myself because of the views shared here.  So be it.

Heritage not Hate is horseshit.

“Racist”

I’m a racist. I’m a bigot. I’m prejudiced, against black people probably. Or, at least, I must be.  Everybody tells me so.

I’m the little street crimes cop in Staten Island, grabbing the big man around the neck, not in a proscribed choke hold but in an attempt to control and arrest a combative man-mountain refusing me and my partners’ lawful commands. Because he was black.

I’m the injured, startled (I’ll never admit scared) patrolman in Ferguson, attacked and attacked again by an aggressive, drug-addled criminal and forced to take his life for mine. Because he was black

I’m the responding officer at an Ohio Walmart where a man with a rifle (alright, turned out to be a rifle-looking pellet gun) threatens shoppers and refuses my commands to drop it, so I drop him. Because he was black.

I’m one of six officers indicted in the death of a black Baltimore criminal who ran from police, got caught and died under suspicious circumstances in the back of a van.  Or, I’m one of the three white cops, the others are black so this case doesn’t easily fit in the narrative box.

Today, I’m a reviled policeman in Texas who manhandled a little girl at a pool party and pointed my pistol at her fellow partygoers.  Because they were black.

Actually, I’m a former police officer, sitting safe in retirement and fuming at all these cases, and others, where cops across the country are accused, no, convicted in the public or press eye of racism for their videotaped actions against individuals.  “Racist” white cops, as headlines imply and protest signs preach, with black “victims” as the national media easily calls them.

All of these cops, all of them “wrong.”

And I’d have done the same as they.

Eric Garner was told he was under arrest by Staten Island cops who’d arrested him before for the same thing – illegal cigarette sales – an admittedly minor offense but one that brought complaints from the neighborhood. He chose to fight.  Somehow what protesters classify as a chokehold didn’t prevent him from speaking. But if you can’t breathe, you can’t talk.

Michael Brown punched a cop who stopped him for jaywalking. How minor a moment, pushed over a cliff by the immature, unreasonable and unfortunately unstoppable actions of an angry and high teenager.  He grabbed a cop’s gun, defied lawful orders, and ran again to attack.  And was killed by a solo officer in fear of his life, who knew the only reason for a criminal to take your gun is to kill you.

John Crawford III picked up a rifle in a corner of an Ohio Walmart and walked around the store with it, pointing it randomly at shelves and items.  At people?  Hard to say, but reports of a man with a gun brought Beavercreek cops to the scene.  And to a quick confrontation with Crawford, who was shot when he refused to drop it.

Freddie Gray, awaiting trial on various charges, ran from Baltimore cops who approached him in a neighborhood marked for extra attention by the city prosecutor.  A civilian witness told investigators he heard Gray banging his head in the prisoner transport van.  When he was taken out, his neck may have been broken, according to press reports. We’ll know for sure when that same prosecutor releases the full autopsy report.

And this week, a police corporal in Texas found himself the first on the scene of a wild confrontation between a neighborhood and outsiders who defied private security, jumped fences to get into a private pool and got in at least one fight with at least one resident. Corporal David Eric Casebolt is seen on the ubiquitous video forcing kids to sit on the ground, a common police control tactic, then slamming a girl down when she defied him.  He also pulls a gun when confronted by others, said to be teens. Let’s read the Washington Post description in today’s paper, by Kathleen Parker:

“Video imagery doesn’t get much worse than a white police officer throwing an African     American girl in a bikini to the ground, kneeling on her back as she cries and drawing his gun on other teenagers. 

            “What in God’s name is wrong with our cops?”

What’s wrong with me?   I’d have done much what Cpl. Casebolt did, maybe leaving out the profanity he uses in his verbal commands to the unruly group. (And profanity is sometimes the only way to get someone’s attention on the street, though the bosses don’t like it.)

Here’s what Casebolt did:  He responded to a police call that a group of kids  had trespassed in a private pool and fought with residents.  He tried to contain a group of potential, maybe even specifically identified suspects (the police haven’t said or the press hasn’t asked) by making them sit so they don’t wander or run away.  A girl who thrust herself into this activity was also detained.  Casebolt put her on the ground, overcoming her admittedly low-effect resistance but also overcoming the challenge of controlling a girl in a bathing suit. Jokes aside, what or where do you grab?  He didn’t beat or TASE or pepper-spray, he only tried to make her stay still.

Then he pulls his gun on unarmed teenagers, as the press reports tell.  A viewing of the tape tells differently:  He is confronted by a large male who takes an aggressive stance, squaring off on Casebolt and reaching into his waistband as if to pull a weapon.  Of course Casebolt draws his gun, and when the aggressor runs away empty handed, Casebolt deconflicts, holsters his gun and gets back to doingwhat he was sent there to do.

So Casebolt is a racist?

No.  He did his job.

As did I.  In my 28 years on the job I: threw a girl on the ground to control and arrest her; had two prisoners injure themselves in custody and blame me for beating them; aimed my gun at males carrying what turned out to be BB rifles (and who turned out to be smart enough to drop them); beat with my baton and hospitalized a suspect grabbing for my partner’s gun (and didn’t shoot him only because I couldn’t draw mine); grabbed combative suspects by the neck, throat, face, testicles, whatever worked in the deadly scrum of a street fight. All of these were black, except, oddly, the two self-injuries – both Hispanic during a time we later learned that community agitators were telling immigrants that the police will pay you if they beat you up. But they were brown, so maybe they fit the “racist” narrative too.

I arrested black people, often forcefully, sometimes from their point of view brutally.  So I must be prejudiced, a racist, a bigot. But in all my cases of use of force, I was investigated and cleared of wrongdoing. Yes, cleared by my own department, but who else is there?

And what else would the press, the public and the pols have any of us do instead?  Picture Cpl. Casebolt, first on the scene, telling a beating victim, “Nah, not gonna go get those kids, might have to embarrass them and put them onto the ground, wrestle with them, what if they don’t do what I ask? Sorry lady, but please don’t bleed on my car.”  Picture Casebolt and the aggressor:  “Um, hey kid, by chance are you thinking of producing a firearm from you waistband there?  ‘Cause I am kinda concerned about that, being a cop and all, you might be fixing to hurt me so I’ll tell you what, I’m gonna pull this service weapon here and, oh, you’re running?

“Have a nice day.”

Officers had to confront Eric Garner, and arrest him when they determined he was breaking the law, whether he liked it or not.  Michael Brown broke the law, and assaulted a cop, and never raised his hands to surrender, according to the US Department of Justice.  John Crawford?  Who knows what was on his mind as he wandered through a store using a rifle to push merchandise around on shelves.  Freddie Gray?  The jury isn’t even impanelled on that case.  But the cops had their job to do.  Stop illegal cigarette sales. Repel an  attack. Keep shoppers and the public safe.  Arrest and transport a weapons suspect (despite the Baltimore prosecutor’s politically-tainted accusations of false arrest against the six, the knife in the Freddie Gray case was illegal under Baltimore code, if not Maryland state law.)

Yes, there are other, clearer cases of police misconduct out there. Individual cops who step or are pushed over the line to falsely arrest, or injure, or kill. They embarrass and shame all the rest, the overwhelming majority of fine, lawful and professional officers who hold themselves and their partners to the highest standards, sometimes beyond what the public can imagine.  The dedication to law, to the protection of all, and the self-control needed to resist emotional overreaction are so impressive among police, but so unrecognized by the public who seize on moments, tiny but awful moments, to broad-brush all cops as thugs.   As Ms. Parker wrote in her Washington Post piece today, “…a police officer shouldn’t be just ‘anybody.’ Armed with a gun and the authority to use it, he should always be the exception to ordinary human behavior.”

Wow. So I was a racist, and Superman.

A friend, the son of friends, recently joined my old department in part on recommendations I made to him when I was still a lieutenant and before this cops-are-racist “Hands-Up, Don’t Shoot” nonsense began. Today, I might reconsider my advice to him.  Cops are under fire from all sides, by folks who don’t understand what they have to do.  Think sausages and laws are hard to watch being made?  Try arrests.

Bad guys, and not-bad-but-mouthy-and-defiant guys, don’t go quietly into the back of a patrol car. They curse, run, fight, spit. Shoot.  The greatest thing in the world of law enforcement will be the universal adoption of body cameras for officers. Then the public will see clearly the belligerence, resistance and violence that cops see every day.  But the costs will be staggering and borne by a taxed public.  Equipment purchase and upkeep, officer training and regulation, data storage, review and redaction, release. Who gets to see what, and how much.  A camera that could capture a beating also records a mother reporting her son’s sexual predation, a battered wife’s plea for protection, a naked stoned coed in someone else’s back yard.  Who edits these certainly private moments out of the public eye, and who pays for it?

As of this writing, Cpl.  Casebolt has resigned from the  McKinney, Texas Police Department. He was put on administrative leave right after the pool fight, and his chief, Greg Conley, was quoted the next day in the New York Times as saying, “Our policies, our training, our practice doesn’t support his actions… He came into the call out of control, and as the video shows was out of control during the incident.”

That’s not what I saw. But then again, I’m a racist.