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Comply or Die: Betty Shelby Highlights Statist Mentality September 23, 2016

Posted by Summerspeaker in Anarchism.
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The official explanation of why Tulsa police officer Betty Shelby shot Terence Crutcher neatly illustrates the statist mentality: comply or die. During the encounter with Crutcher, Shelby radioed that ey had a subject “who is not following commands.” Ey pulled out eir pistol, pointed it at Crutcher, and continued to give orders. The pistol made the threat of violence behind Shelby’s command more immediate.

Crutcher didn’t do exactly what Shelby ordered, so ey shot em.

That’s the authoritarian mindset in a nutshell.

Shelby claims to have been terrified, but the material circumstances at the time put em in a safer position than Crutcher. Imagine, for a moment, if a civilian had treated another civilian in the fashion that Shelby treated Crutcher. I don’t know about y’all, but if I were to run into somebody standing in the middle of road beside an apparently inoperable vehicle, I wouldn’t presume to tell them what to do with their hands. If a random person told me to keep my hands out of my pockets, I’d likely put my hands in my pockets just on principle. If a person threatened to kidnap, taser, or shoot me for not positioning my body as they desire, I’d consider that gross oppression. That’s even thoroughly illegal for one civilian to do to another.

But of course cops are different, according to the law. They’re formally empowered to demand ritual submission from civilians in the name of safety. Why? Well, because the state ultimately replies on force and the fear of force. It ain’t called “law enforcement” for nothing.

Safety concerns don’t explain why Shelby pulled a gun on or shot Crutcher. A civilian in the same situation would have had scant reason to worry and certainly no reason resort to lethal violence. I can’t imagine how stressful urban existence would be if I concerned myself with the placement other people’s hands! Even within the logic of coercive authority, you might think Shelby and the other officers present could have simply retreated upon feeling threatened.

And sure, they could have backed off temporarily. They could have used less force to make Crutcher obey, as European cops often seem to do. Within the logic of the state, however, they couldn’t have just left Crutcher alone, as a reasonable civilian probably would have.

Safety for the police ain’t the same as safety for the rest of us. Their safety comes in the context of exercising power over others. Rather than the at least nominal equality that frames civilian-on-civilian encounters, police demand that civilians submit in police-on-civilian encounters.

It’s a fundamentally unequal and abusive arrangement.

Now, sometimes counterviolence serves a useful (perhaps necessary) function. In cases of interpersonal bullying, domination, and physical attacks, fighting back makes sense. If you see somebody viciously assaulting another person for no good reason, taking the cop approach and demanding the attacker cease and desist at the point of a gun makes sense. Ideally we can do better than counterviolence—and especially better than the ghastly act of punching holes in human bodies—but it’s hard to deny counterviolence’s utility.

The statist mentality, however, considers enforcement the appropriate to most any situation, as unpleasant as its extremes may be. Shooting people for not keeping their hands out of their pockets or for not kneeling on command sadly follows from the logic of authority. The state should be able to do it better, to control human behavior without such obvious horrors, but that’s harder than you might think.

The state wisely worries that without physical enforcement and the terror it inspires, people would start doing whatever they wanted. The state has enough of a challenge controlling us already; it doesn’t want to give an inch.

I want that statist mentality eradicated.

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