THURSDAY, MAY 6, 2021
The banality suffusing Our Town: In this morning's Washington Post, this news report describes a lawsuit about a local event—a bungled no-knock raid from September 2019, a raid gone badly wrong.
For the record, no one was killed in that bungled no-knock raid. That said, today's news report mentions another local raid gone wrong—an April 2020 no-knock raid in which Duncan Lemp, age 21, actually was shot and killed.
Amazingly, the lengthy Washington Post report doesn't mention the bungled Louisville no-knock raid in which Breonna Taylor, age 26, was shot and killed last March.
The Louisville raid has been widely discussed on the national level. The bungled raids in the Washington area—one raid fatal, one raid not—won't be discussed at all, except in the Post's Metro section.
Here in our rapidly failing town, this is the "journalism" we and our stars have chosen.
We can possibly chalk this up to "the banality of banality." More specifically, we can attribute this state of affairs to the banality of selective reporting.
A giant banality currently exists in Our Town. The Crazy is in control in many towns where The Others live. A typ of banality now plays a very large role in our fatuous village.
This banality regulates the things we read about in our major newspapers. It regulates the things our favorite multimillionaire "cable news" stars will pretend to discuss and lament.
This brings us to a violent arrest which occurred in Loveland, Colorado in June 2020. More significantly, it brings us to the banality of the way a group of police officers sat around the station house, chuckling about that remarkably violent arrest.
Across this very large nation, quite a few violent arrests occur in the course of a day.
In many arrests, the violence is necessary. What made the arrest in Loveland remarkably violent?
For that, we turn to another news report in the Washington Post. We turn to this news report by Andrea Salcedo, which appeared last Tuesday, online only, as part of the "Morning Mix."
Anthropologically, Salcedo's report is highly instructive. The headline offers this:
After violently arresting woman, 73, with dementia, police laughed about it, video shows: ‘We crushed it'
That headline only begins to suggest the dimensions of this situation. Salcedo's astounding report starts like this:
SALCEDO (4/27/21): Last June, Karen Garner sat handcuffed to a bench inside a booking cell weeping and in pain.
No one had come to treat her fractured arm and dislocated shoulder hours after Loveland, Colo., police violently arrested the 73-year-old with dementia, her family said.
Meanwhile, about 10 feet away, three officers sat hunched around a computer as they re-watched body-camera footage of Garner’s arrest, a new video released by the attorney representing Garner’s family shows.
“Ready for the pop? Hear the pop?” the officer who initially handcuffed Garner can be heard saying, referencing the moment he injured her shoulder.
The nearly one-hour booking cell video released Monday shows two Loveland Police Department officers who participated in Garner’s arrest fist-bumping each other while discussing the incident. At one point, they are joined by another officer as they mock and praise the arrest, which they claimed “went great,” while referring to Garner as “ancient,” “senile” and “flexible.”
“We crushed it,” one of the officers says.
At this point, we've only begun to understand why this particular violent arrest was remarkably violent. Later, Salcedo presents additional facts:
SALCEDO: Police aggressively arrested the 80-pound woman as she was plucking purple wildflowers and strolling back home on June 26. They had been called after she left a Walmart without paying for items worth $13.88, according to her family’s lawsuit. Walmart said employees called the police after Garner allegedly pulled off an employee’s mask during the incident.
Body-camera footage shows [Officer Austin] Hopp grabbing Garner by her arms and wrenching them backward to handcuff her as she repeatedly cried that she was “going home.” At one point, Garner fell to the ground as officers struggled with her before putting her in a cruiser. Prosecutors later dropped all charges against Garner.
In the lawsuit, Garner’s family argues that due to dementia and sensory aphasia, a condition that leaves her unable to understand speech or to communicate easily, she was unable to understand the police officers’ commands.
The news report doesn't address a fairly obvious question. If Garner was intellectually challenged in the manner described, it isn't clear why she would have been allowed to be out and about on her own.
That said, bodycam video of the arrest suggests that Garner's disability was fairly obvious at the point of her arrest. This leaves us with the basic outline of this remarkably violent arrest, in which a 73-year-old woman who weighed 80 pounds suffered a dislocated shoulder and a fractured arm in the course of a violent arrest over a charge that she (briefly) walked away from a Walmart with goods worth $14.
At this point, we've only begun to describe what made this incident so startling. For that, we must turn to the videotape of the conversation the officers had in the station house.
The Post report links to this edited, 14-minute videotape which intersperses that astonishing conversation with footage of Garner as she sits in a holding cell, having received no treatment for her serious injuries.
He arms are handcuffed behind her. She shifts uncomfortably on a flat bench as she tries to compensate for her physical pain. Ten feet away, officers are chuckling and fist-bumping.
It's important to understand a fact which many commenters don't. The officers who conducted that conversation are themselves and nobody else. In particular, they aren't "the police" in some unexplained global sense.
That said, Our Town has been pretending, for roughly ten years, to be involved in a long discussion about police behavior and police attitudes. The videotape of that conversation takes us to a place where no other tape has gone.
Last June, in that very same month, the videotape of George Floyd's death seemed to offer a window into the soul of one Minneapolis police officer, with two first-week cops thrown in. No one died in the course of this second violent arrest, but the subsequent conversation in that station house offers a window into the soul of one aspect of human behavior writ large.
On that videotape, several officers sit around laughing about the arrest as Garner writhes in her holding cell. Surprisingly, though, we would have to say this:
As we watch the officers conduct their astounding conversation, they don't strike us as standard-issue Hollywood sociopaths. As we watch them, we're truck by their overpowering banality—by the atttibute Hannah Arrendt described as "the banality of evil."
Others may see the tape differently. For ourselves, we've never seen such instructive videotape—instructive concerning the wide range of human comprehension and behavior.
How instructive is that videotape? Consider:
Last Thursday, Slate's Elliott Hannon became one of the very journalists here in Our Town to acknowledge that videotape.
Hannon posted this very brief report at Slate. Among an array of unintelligent comments which generalized wildly about "the police," one commenter offered this:
COMMENT TO SLATE: In its own way this is worse than the Floyd video. The woman was so clearly not a danger to anyone, and the use of force was so clearly unnecessary, and then the video of them laughing about it—the contempt for the public, the causal sadism, the total and complete lack of empathy. All the same things were there in the Floyd video, but the Floyd video you could chalk up to racism, and the fact that he was a big, strong guy: it's slightly more explicable. This is just naked awfulness by awful people.
Did they go into the police because they were awful bullying sadists, or did police training/culture make them into awful bullying sadists? Hard to know...
We're inclined to disagree with the reference to "sadism." In the main, that isn't what we thought we saw on that videotape.
We'd also be slow to attribute Derek Chauvin's bizarre-seeming behavior to racism. In the Loveland arrest, we see several "white" police officers behaving in a remarkably violent way toward a woman who is also "white." This shows that inexplicable, violent behavior can cut across "racial" lines.
We do agree with the commenter when the commenter says that, "in its own way," the Loveland tape is (almost) "worse than the Floyd tape." We agree with the commenter's reasoning:
Derek Chauvin's behavior on that Minneapolis tape seems very hard to comprehend. That said:
"In its own way," the behavior in Loveland is even more "inexplicable," given the fact that the victim of the violent arrest was 73 years old and weighed just 80 pounds. In our view, the commenters was suitably puzzled by that puzzling pair of facts.
However you assess such matters, we would offer this:
Even if we in Our Town weren't pretending to be involved in a discussion of police behavior, that videotape from Loveland would have been newsworthy—wholly startling.
The conversation in that station house is unlike anything we've ever seen. To our ear, it spills with the fatuous state of mind Arrendt once called "the banality of evil." In a rational world, that tape would be an anthropological sensation at any point in time.
Tht would be in a rational world. In our world, and in Our Town, that tape has been wholly ignored. The stars who entertain us here in Our Town haven't said one word about it.
The reason for that is obvious. No one was killed in that violent arrest, and the victim in question was "white."
To our ear, a banality suffuses the conversation in that station house. To our ear, a sepatare banality now suffuses reporting here in Our Town.
We discuss no-knock raids if the victim is "black." We discuss fatal shootings if the decedent is "black," and if the decedent was shot and killed by "the police."
The no-knock raids in this morning's Washington Post haven't made in out of the Metro section because of the existence of that potent news filter. So too with the fatal shooting of Bijan Ghaisar, a local event the Post has discussed for the past three or four years.
So too with the fatal shooting of Peyton Ham, age 16. In yet another local event, he was shot and killed by a state trooper as he lay on the ground, already shot, just two weeks ago. This shooting death never made it out of Metro because the decedent was "white."
A banality filled the air as those officers discussed that violent arrest. Ten feet away from the discussants, the target of their violent arrest writhed in a holding cell.
To our ear, a separate banality fills the air when we watch Our Town's "cable news." Loathsome people appear on the screen, though only if you believe in such beings, which we basically don't.
Tomorrow: The banality of Our Town's banality as seen in the (unmentioned) events at the Grace Church School