News of more police shootings of apparently innocent citizens in the U.S. last week set my stomach to churn mode. When, I wonder, will Americans begin to rise up and say, enough is enough? Enough with the racism, enough with the insane gun situation, enough of the politics of fear that has pitted black and white, poor and not-so-poor, educated and uneducated, Republicans and Democrats, against one another.
Try as I might, I simply cannot find a rational explanation for a driver whose vehicle has a broken taillight to be dead within seconds of being pulled over, shot four times at close range. Sure, there are bad cops — they are recruited from the human population, after all — but how many can really be going about their duties looking for the next opportunity to kill someone? And, never having been in that situation, I can’t imagine what races through a person’s veins when he or she learns that another person only inches away is carrying a firearm.
Only days before these latest killings (I can’t use a gentler term for them), I had a conversation with a friend about how damaging declarations of “war” have been in recent generations. War on poverty, war on crime, war on drugs, war on terrorism — the target doesn’t really matter. War implies victory and defeat — countries united to defeat Adolph Hitler’s Nazi Germany with an avowed intent to eliminate the threat. Declaring war on other dangers, though, is a fatuous and intentional plan to divide people into “them and us”, instilling fear and distrust.
It is worthy of our attention to appreciate that the latter intentions have worked brilliantly. Populations have been divided, and fear and distrust have grown to epidemic proportions — witness the popularity of Donald Trump. But the targets — poverty, crime, drugs and terrorism — have proven elusive, and we now have more than enough evidence that the fear approach simply does not work. Period.
Think about how the war on terrorism, which really took hold after the attacks on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, has served only to fuel the fire. Had the brain trust — and I use the term sarcastically, given who was running the U.S. at the time — chosen to define the attacks as a crime, and pursued prosecution as such, has turned out. Since poverty became a war issue back in the 1960s, I am quite certain no one would argue that the approach has had any success at all. In fact, since that time, food banks have become a societal expectation, homelessness is now an accepted condition. I suppose that the war on crime can claim some success, with violent crime and murder trending downward in recent decades, but other factors might have been at play, too. And the war on drugs has led to powerful cartels and gang involvement, as criminals band together to lead their side of the war. Billions, possibly trillions, have been wasted in the criminalization of drug use.
On the latter subject, I argued with my friend that a “war” on drugs should have been something in the order of Plan K, if it ever was to be a plan. The only reasonable approach to the problem is begin by asking why people, and young people especially, feel the need for drugs in the first place. But that’s just too touchy-feely for leaders who drool at the thought of sounding, looking and feeling powerful, isn’t it? Easier to simply declare war.
I think the real purpose behind these declarations of war is most likely to create fear in the general population, because fearful people are less likely to rise up and question the status quo. It uses the “either you are with us or against us” mentality to divide and conquer, and it has been a brilliant success, if one defines success as the devolution of government powers to the private, global business sector, and to reverse the trend will be neither quick nor easy. The bogeyman has us believing that doing anything beyond the status quo will lead to us paying higher taxes to combat the issues that the “wars” were going to solve. But he doesn’t acknowledge that the savings to be had in not going to war far outweigh the costs of more realistic and humane solutions.
Lorne Eckersley is the publisher of the Creston Valley Advance.