Wednesday, September 12, 2007

The arrest of Rev. Yearwood as metaphor for culture clash

Very recently a man called Lennox Yearwood was attacked in the US Capitol by its police force, and his leg broken. One can find the video of the arrest here ; it is important to listen carefully.

(Sidebar: I find it especially interesting is that Yearwood is an officer in the USAF reserve, and the service is trying to throw him out. He doesn't seem bothered by this, but it does rather shine a light on how much the US services hate their members actually exercising their citizens' rights that that military purports to defend when the views are contrary to established policy. Servicepeople who express pro-Iraq-war views are never targeted for discipline.)

Rev. Yearwood, it seems, been arrested at the US Capitol twice in the past year and a half. This may go some way to explaining (note: NOT condoning) why the Capitol Police singled him out. They may have believed that it gave them a right to deny him access to the hearings as he would be likely to cause a breach of the peace. They'd be wrong, but in cop-think they may have thought that they were doing right. I would hope, though, that a six-to-one gang swarming of an unresisting man resulting in a broken leg results in shame, if only of a macho variety.

I've been following this the thread on this at Pandagon and am fascinated by the defenders of the police action, in the way that one is both horrified and fascinated by a scorpion strolling across one's own kitchen floor. How vividly "Christie" and "The Sister" demonstrate the authoritarian mentality! In the authoritarian's worldview, everything is forbidden unless specifically permitted or permissible; the act or thought is judged not by whether it is good, necessary or societally acceptable per se, but whether it is good, or societally acceptable to authority. The sole rationale necessary is that Authority permits or denies. The mindset is perfectly painted by the officers themselves in the video, when they bark "orders" to people to obey them. Sorry, officers: a policeman in a free society has no right to give an order to somebody outside of his own chain of command. He can demand compliance with the law, and arrest you if you are in breach of the law, but he cannot order you to do anything. It is more than a semantic difference. The authoritarian state feels that all subjects are within a vast chain of command, and that armed, uniformed authority is by definition superior in the command chain to individuals. A free society stands as a direct challenge to such an obscenity. Why did the officers yell that Yearwood was "resisting" when he wasn't resisting arrest? Because he was resisting their lack of right to command him, he was properly negating their improperly exercised authority, and that in Authority's eyes is sufficient.

By way of direct contrast, the civil libertarian's worldview is that every act is -- and must be -- permitted unless harmful to others. Even when an act is forbidden, they why must be just, explicable and explained. Even if correct and just, Authority is never to be permitted the fascist luxury of saying, "because I said so!". This is where Yearwood was standing, and he was right to do so. Police officers have the right to move people along in or from a public space without indulging in lengthy explanations when public safety is threatened. They do not have the right to do so at any other time.

We see it all so clearly in the video. Yearwood is singled out, not told why; he denied entry, and not told why; is denied access to his elected representative, and not told why. Any or all of these things, in the eyes of Authority -- and in the eyes of lickspittles like Christie and The Sister -- is adequate reason for not only detention also but as meriting the use of force.

Yearwood seems to be a seasoned and savvy activist, so we may be watching a confrontation which he designed, and expected to happen. In some eyes that will be held against him, because that is what infuriates many authoritarians: intelligent or effective dissent. They argue that such things as "free speech zones" and restrictions on the ability of people to craft an effective message are permissible because somewhere, somehow, people are notionally free to say what they want. That's a lie. Such excessive restrictions are in fact happy faces put over the lock of a cell: if you can't see the lock then the cell must not be there, right? This is why words like "activist" and "agitator" roll so easily from their lips. They can deep-down hate your freedom, but they know they can't say so out loud. They do let the poison slip out, though, in the words they use to describe actual exercise of freedom.

In a free society the police are not allowed to attack people because they know how to work the system in a free society: the system is there to be worked by free people. It is just, necessary and important that people step outside the cell of potemkin freedom and seek to effect real change. This is what the Christies and The Sisters of this world will never understand, nor do they approve of it. They will -- as here -- frequently express their authoritarian views in the language of freedom, but they cannot objectively deny that they are hostile to freedom and effective dissent.

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