Cops in Canons: a Literature Post Lamenting Police Violence

Amid the fury I felt when white police officers weren’t indicted for killing unarmed black men in New York City and Ferguson, Mo., I thought about scenes of law-enforcement violence in various novels. And yes, as in real life, those fictional “public safety” people rarely paid any legal price for their destructive acts.

Heck, even irrefutable proof of police aggression often doesn’t lead to trials — whether in literature or the actual world. As we all know, a grand jury last week decided not to indict NYC cop Daniel Pantaleo despite his fatal, unnecessary chokehold on Eric Garner being captured on video. In contrast, there was reportedly some conflicting testimony about why Ferguson cop Darren Wilson killed unarmed 18-year-old Michael Brown in a not-filmed encounter, but the grand jury should have sent that case to trial, too.

In this post, I’ll discuss several fictional scenes of police violence, and also mention a few positive depictions of cops in the canons of various authors. My advance apologies for including some spoilers; please stop reading if you don’t want to see them. 🙂 If you do stop here, here’s my question of the week: Who are some of the law-enforcement characters, bad or good, you remember most in literature? (Detectives included!)

James Baldwin’s Go Tell It On the Mountain contains a sickening flashback moment when white police officers arrest and brutally beat innocent black man Richard (boyfriend of Elizabeth, who’s pregnant at the time with the novel’s protagonist, John). A devastated Richard soon commits suicide.

Another innocent black man, Tom Robinson in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, barely escapes being lynched while in jail (interesting that no police were there to protect him). Then, after he’s convicted by an all-white jury despite his innocence, Robinson dies in a hail of bullets shot by white prison guards who could have stopped his despairing escape attempt in a less lethal way.

A white man is the victim of law-enforcement violence in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath when compassionate ex-preacher Jim Casy is murdered for organizing migrant workers. (Ever notice that the police, in addition to targeting black people more than white people and the poor more than the rich, almost always crack down harder on liberals than conservatives? Look at the way the police forcibly dealt with the unarmed, economic-inequality-decrying Occupy movement while allowing Tea Party members to tote guns at public events denouncing the insuring of more Americans via “Obamacare.” Also, imagine what might have happened to Cliven Bundy this year if he had been a left-winger; the right-wing Nevada cattle rancher/tax cheat and his armed supporters were treated rather gently by the federal officers they confronted.)

Moving to novels that take place at least partly outside the U.S., we find violent Mexican police in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses and violent Dominican Republic police in Junot Diaz’s The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Arundhati Roy’s India-set The God of Small Things includes the kindly “Untouchable” character Velutha who’s savagely beaten by police officers for alleged crimes of which he’s not guilty — and then left to die a slow, agonizing death. When the officers learn of Velutha’s innocence, they participate in something the police often do well — a cover-up.

Emile Zola’s Germinal features French coal miners who toil in horrible conditions that impel them to stage a strike later crushed by the police and army. There was also the 1928 “Banana Massacre,” fictionally recounted in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, that saw hundreds of striking workers at the American-owned United Fruit company murdered by Colombian troops playing a “law enforcement” role.

Dystopian novels, of course, are frequently set in totalitarian societies that use secret police and other security thugs to terrorize citizens with the aim of keeping them cowed. That’s the case with books such as George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four, Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy.

Law-enforcement people do come off better in some novels. To name a few examples, there’s decent Sheriff Tate in To Kill a Mockingbird, cop-with-a-conscience Arevalo (who balks at killing a black man) in one of the radio serials within Mario Vargas Llosa’s Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, police officers who find Novalee’s kidnapped daughter Americus in Billie Letts’ Where the Heart Is, and friendly and competent cop Cynthia Cooper in Rita Mae Brown’s mystery Wish You Were Here. Plus all those justice-seeking sleuths in detective fiction!

The above paragraph illustrates that many police officers do what they’re supposed to do: try to protect all citizens, regardless of color. Unfortunately, a number of officers — in fiction and real life — have different policing standards for black people than white people.

This of course doesn’t just apply to killings. For instance, police disproportionately arrest African-Americans on drug charges despite statistics showing that whites use drugs at roughly the same rate. And don’t get me started on all the white-collar crimes committed by bankers, oil-company execs, and other wealthy Caucasian bigwigs who never see the inside of a jail.

(The box for submitting comments is below already-posted comments, but your new comment will appear at the top of the comments area — unless you’re replying to someone else. Also, please feel free to read through comments and reply to anyone you want; I love not only being in conversations, but also reading conversations in which I’m not involved!)

For three years of my Huffington Post literature blog, click here.

I’m also writing a literature-related book, but still selling Comic (and Column) Confessional — my often-funny memoir that recalls 25 years of covering and meeting cartoonists such as Charles Schulz (“Peanuts”) and Bill Watterson (“Calvin and Hobbes”), columnists such as Ann Landers and “Dear Abby,” and other notables such as Hillary Clinton, Coretta Scott King, and various authors. The book also talks about the malpractice death of my first daughter, my remarriage, and life in New York City and Montclair, N.J. — where I write the award-winning weekly “Montclairvoyant” humor column for The Montclair Times. You can email me at dastor@earthlink.net to buy a discounted, inscribed copy of the book, which contains a preface by “Hints” columnist Heloise and back-cover blurbs by people such as “The Far Side” cartoonist Gary Larson.

176 thoughts on “Cops in Canons: a Literature Post Lamenting Police Violence

  1. I was thinking back to all of the colonialist literature I have read that involved brutality on the part of the colonizers. A great deal probably of early American literature dealing with the British and quartering of their soldiers in people’s homes,

    Also George Orwell’s literature dealing with the citizens of India, especially in his canonical short story “Shooting an Elephant” shows just how much power people in authority can wield.

    The police in much literature come off as inept or just plain silly, as In many of Sherlock Holmes’ stories.

    Happy New Year, Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Great comment, Eric, and great observation that those imposing “order” can be violent AND inept. A very bad combination.

      Orwell was so insightful about so many things. And if I’m remembering right, he was in some kind of law-enforcement position at one point and thus saw various abuses firsthand.

      Happy New Year to you, too!

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  2. Howdy, Dave!

    — Who are some of the law-enforcement characters, bad or good, you remember most in literature? (Detectives included!) —

    Because I cannot imagine the detective-fiction genre without C. Auguste Dupin, I would go with the recurrent character in Edgar Allan Poe’s seminal “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Mystery of Marie Roget” and “The Purloined Letter.” It may be none of Dupin’s adventures are as eminently enjoyable as is their author’s “The Tell-Tale Heart,” but they all are great reads. And the Dupin stories have constituted a durable foundation for about a zillion more-recognizable fictional detectives to come, such as Nick Charles in “The Thin Man” by Dashiell Hammett, Sherlock Holmes in various pieces by Arthur Conan Doyle and the already discussed Hercule Poirot in even more various pieces by Agatha Christie.

    “To observe attentively is to remember distinctly”: Well put, Mr. Poe!

    J.J. (Alias MugRuith1)

    P.S.: I am happy you liked “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter”!

    P.P.S.: Check out the art illustrating the current lead item here (http://bit.ly/1fwSx6E).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment, J.J.!

      Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin’s character IS wonderful. Not sure if he was the first detective in literature, but he was at least one of the first and certainly a memorable one. As you say, one who influenced so many subsequent authors in that genre.

      I loved the three stories you mentioned, though, as you alluded to, there are some Poe tales that are even more memorable — though not necessarily better. “The Tell-Tale Heart” is incredible, as you note, and viscerally thrilling are stories such as “The Cask of Amontillado,” “The Masque of the Red Death,” “The Pit and the Pendulum,” etc. I also like Poe’s “The Tale of the Ragged Mountains” (one of the first time-travel stories) and his only novel “The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket.” The latter is wonderfully weird, and may have influenced “Moby-Dick.” (I might be telling you stuff you already know!)

      “Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter” is a fascinating novel — often hilarious and very multi-layered with the alternating “real life” and radio serial chapters. (Not sure if you saw it, but I also thanked you for recommending Mario Vargas Llosa’s book in the first comment way down below.)

      (I clicked on your link several times, and each time saw a brief glimpse of you before the page “continued” into a blank screen. The glimpse was not long enough to see details, but, if it is something for you to be congratulated for, congratulations! 🙂 )

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      • That’s right, jhNY! I remember you mentioning Hoffmann’s work. It’s not always easy remembering or knowing who was the “founder” of a genre vs. one of the early pioneers of a genre. 🙂

        (And I love the word “protean”!)

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  3. Hi Dave the book I was going to discuss was Les Misérables by Victor Hugo where the peasant Jean Valjean was sent to prison for stealing bread for his ailing hungry sister. The policeman Javert took it upon himself to punish Valjean all throughout the book..but has been discussed here.

    So briefly, since it is a thriller and you are reading it I will spare you with the details of the Millennium Trilogy, Salander and Blomkvist are presented with one after another adversary, the last one was from within the depths of the very government and police who should be protecting them. It’s all skillfully written and interlaced Dave, the wars between the police and intelligence agencies..and you would enjoy every bit of the books.

    Liked by 1 person

    • bebe, “Les Miserables” is a GREAT addition to this discussion! Thanks! I read the novel so long ago that I forget whether Javert committed actual violence on Jean Valjean or anyone else, but Javert certainly was guilty of inflicting psychological, fear-invoking violence on Valjean.

      I can already see there’s a major detective/police angle in the riveting “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo,” so the novel seems VERY relevant to this topic. Your mention of government and the police reminds a person of how the two often work hand in hand to serve/protect each other rather than the citizenry they’re supposed to serve/protect. I look forward to discussing the book more with you when I finish! I’m currently on page 129 of a 590-page paperback edition.

      Thanks for the excellent comment!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Dave, I’ve been thinking about your column today, that was so very excellent, that I can hardly respond. There is so much to think about the new reports about Ferguson and Staten Island over the last few weeks that it’s hard to know where to begin. You know how much I love detective/mystery/crime fiction, beginning with Nancy Drew when I was a young girl. I read my first adult mystery during my college years, “And Then There Were None,” by Agatha Christie, and I was hooked for life. Most of the books I read back in the Golden Age of mysteries starred an amateur detective who had a somewhat friendly policeman on his side, such as Inspector Japp (Hercule Poirot) or Inspector Parker (Lord Peter Wimsey). Through my years of reading crime fiction, I’ve read many different types of novels, and I think that there has been a change, especially in the portrayal of the police.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the kind words, Kat Lib. 🙂

      I’m very glad you discussed detective fiction in your excellent comment, because, as you know, that’s a genre I’m not well versed in. But I have read “And Then There Were None,” and that novel is memorable and eerily irresistible as the characters get bumped off.

      Also, you perfectly summed up the often-seen character pairing (during the mystery genre’s Golden Age) of “an amateur detective who had a somewhat friendly policeman on his side.”

      You mentioned that the depiction of police may have changed in crime fiction. In what way? Are they being portrayed more negatively?

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      • In Dashiel Hammett’s books and stories, the police are another gang on the make, at worst, and at best a group of humans like any other, with individuals running the gamut from decent to corrupted and everything in between. They are often harried, overworked and too quick to conclude that a bit of the third degree might yield them the answers they seek– but the best of them can be made, eventually, to see the facts behind appearances. But it’s a jungle out there, and everywhere.

        What’s missing is the sense of an abiding authority founded on democratic consent, or unspoken faith in the rightness of the social order. That may be the most significant distinction between the Agatha Christie-type detective fiction and the hard-boiled school, of which Hammett is foundational.

        Liked by 1 person

        • jhNY, there are so many examples of police on the make, in real life and literature; thanks for the example of the latter in Dashiel Hammett’s works. The irony is that cops, in the U.S. at least, are paid quite well, yet some want more. Of course, greedy millionaires and billionaires have even less of an excuse when they cheat, embezzle, avoid taxes, scream for lower taxes, etc.

          And you’re right that almost every profession — law enforcement included — has bad eggs and good eggs. (I suppose that also applies to chickens… 🙂 )

          Insightful second paragraph, too!

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      • Yes, I do think they are being treated more negatively, or perhaps it would be better to say more realistically. It’s been many years since I have read any of the early police procedurals, such as Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct novels, so I don’t recall how the police were treated, but it seems to me that in most of the books today, particularly in this sub-genre of detective fiction, there is almost always a “dirty” cop, an incompetent one, or even a killer cop. There is also at times an undercurrent of racism. But this is how it is in the real world. It’s just as ridiculous to say that all police officers are good, as to think that all young black males are “thugs.” A sociology professor once stated in class that there are more differences within a race (or group) than between them. I don’t know if they still teach that, but I have always believed it to be true.

        Liked by 1 person

        • “…they are being treated more negatively, or perhaps it would be better to say more realistically” — nicely stated, Kat Lib, as was your whole eloquent comment.

          In books as well as in other media (TV, etc.), police portrayals have been somewhat sanitized. There are of course admirable police along with not-so-admirable police, as you note, but the proportion seemed off in fiction until more recent times.

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            • Very true, Kat Lib. There isn’t much positive to be said about the CIA in real life (including its awful role in torture after 9/11) yet CIA agents are often heroes in fiction. I think that needs to be investigated — is the CIA up to the job? 🙂 (Bad joke.)

              Yes, a terrible week…and month, and autumn, and year.

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            • You would think by my recent posts that all I read is non-fiction. That is not the case, I read about one non-fiction book for every five fiction book I read. However – the recent topics have prompted me to comment on recent non-fiction books. Often, truth is stranger than fiction! I just finished a book today called “The Brothers – John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War” by Stephen Kinzer. This was an eye-opening book that recounts the effect that the Dulles brothers had on our foreign policy in the 1950’s. John Foster was Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, and Allen was the head of the CIA. The book recounts the many covert actions initiated by these two like-minded men. Most of these actions were based on incorrect assumptions, unsupportable arrogance, and cynical ideology, and the repercussions of their actions are still affecting today’s post -Cold War world. This book was enlightening in understanding the amount of Anti-Americanism that exists in the world today.

              I enjoy James Bond movies where mother, home, and country are saved by intelligence and quick wit. The good guys are well defined and the bad guys are pure evil, and Allen Dulles LOVED Fleming’s Bond books. John le Carre’s spy novels are more morally ambiguous, and more captivating because of this.

              But back to the real world: the Dulles brothers were partners in the law firm that represented many international corporations, including United Fruit (which was mentioned elsewhere in these posts). They were major stockholders in United Fruit. While most Americans at the time bought into the Cold War, and viewed the Soviet Union as the evil empire out to distroy the American way of life, most of the covert actions (Guatemala, Congo, Indonesia, and Iran) were against “neutral” countries that wouldn’t side with either the USSR or USA. These countries often looked to the USA as a potential ally in their fight against colonialism, but came to see the USA’s support of the interest of large corporations as an extension of colonialism. The Dulles brothers, under the guise of containing the spread of communism, assumed that if they didn’t buy into the US’s interests, than they must be under the influence of the Soviet Union. The book concludes that they had many more failures than successes, and only extended the costly Cold War.

              Liked by 1 person

              • A really stellar comment, drb19810. Thanks! I know you read a lot of fiction, but when you read nonfiction, you sure know how to pick ’em (great books)!

                The Dulles brothers did indeed wreak tons of havoc — helping push the U.S. to act as a bad “policeman” picking on certain countries and certain citizens of those countries that/who didn’t deserve to be treated so ruthlessly. And a bad policeman, whether literal (a person) or figurative (a country) often works in the interests of vicious, profit-is-more-important-than-people corporations (like the old United Fruit).

                James Bond and the stories he appears in are indeed like caricatures. And though Bond movies are a bit more PC than they used to be, I’m kind of puzzled about why those films are still so popular. I guess the acting, the handsome men, the beautiful women, the one-dimensional-but-colorful villains, and the clever gadgets mask how utterly stupid, pointless, sexist, and reactionary much of that franchise is.

                I haven’t read John Le Carre, but his work does sound more appealing!

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  5. Under Western Skies, by Joseph Conrad, treats police terror, terrorism, betrayal, loyalty…

    My favorite aspect if the novel is the exploration of the mental processes of the chief character as he decides not to help his revolutionary classmate, but to turn him in to the authorities after an assassination, so as not lose his sponsor at the university, and so as not to be suspected, by the police, of sympathy or participation in that revolutionary act. His interrogators play him accordingly, searching his rooms, hanging his friend the very day he has betrayed him.

    The book has been claimed to be Conrad’s response to Crime and Punishment, but it has a flavor all its own.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve read some Conrad, jhNY, but had never heard of that one. Sounds intriguing and very depressing. Betrayal is a tough pill to swallow when reading a novel, but of course Conrad is a good enough writer to make almost any book of his worth the time.

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  6. One more thing. I’m not sure if this hit national news or not, but Stevie Wonder gave a brief discussion on Ferguson and made a few comments on gun control when he performed here in Seattle last week. He made those statements while performing Living In the City.

    Stevie Wonder is certainly no stranger when it comes to social activism. He was prominent during the Civil Rights Movement, wrote songs like You Haven’t Done Nothing, which was in reference to President Nixon and his administration, and I believe he cancelled shows in Florida after the George Zimmerman trial. Not surprising he made political statements about current events at the concert.

    The audience was, I’d say, 60-40 in its response. Some people clapped, but most remained quiet. I didn’t take the silence as them necessarily disagreeing with what Stevie Wonder was saying, but more along the lines of them not wanting to hear any social-political speeches in the middle of a concert.

    I know that some people get angry when there’s the slightest mention of gun control/gun violence/race relations, so I’m glad the audience was at least respectful enough to not start booing or leaving the venue even if they did disagree with him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t read that about Stevie Wonder, but it’s so great that he continues to speak out on crucial issues (and that the audience gave him some slack). So many celebrities in various fields grow silent, not wanting to alienate their more conservative or apolitical fans. Or those celebs are so rich that they forget what life is like for most other people (Charles Barkley being one recent example).

      I still remember attending certain concerts (The Clash, Gil Scott-Heron, etc.) where political messages and political pamphlets were part of the mix. I loved it. Performers have a pulpit — they might as well use it, as long as they also entertain.

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      • I rarely see political literature distributed at venues anymore. I’ve been going to concerts since age 5 (my very 1st show was Sting & The Police…tickets were like $5 a piece, lol), and it is still nice to see performers shift into social activist-mode, if only for a few minutes.

        And you’re right. Performers have the stage, the audience, and everyone’s attention…use it for something positive.

        Liked by 1 person

        • I don’t go to many concerts anymore, so I’m interested — and very sorry — to hear that you’ve found little political literature at the many shows you attend. Not a great trend… 😦

          Terrific first concert that you attended! I remember some of those absurdly low prices. I think the first concert I attended by a superstar band was Yes more than 40 years ago, but I may be forgetting something. I’ll be seeing U2 in NYC next July! 🙂 When I saw U2 in NJ about five years ago, there was some mild political content (a little bit of film footage of Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi shown above the stage).

          “Performers have the stage, the audience, and everyone’s attention…use it for something positive” — nicely put!

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          • The most that gets thrust in my hand or placed on my car windshield nowadays is a flyer advertising a party at some club. Back in the 80s and 90s, there were flyers on protecting the environment, how and where to get tested for HIV, fundraisers for this cause and that cause. Don’t see that as much as I used to.

            I was going to ask you about Aung San Suu Kyi because I remembered that you attended a U2 concert on the 360 tour. The tribute they did at the concert I attended was nice. During the performance of “Walk On”, people came from backstage holding what looked like little lamps, and they formed a circle around the stage. Aung San Suu Kyi’s photo was placed in the middle while Bono gave a brief description of her life and work. The lights on the Claw were dimmed, so the lighting from the lamps gave a sort of haunting effect.

            Congrats man on your tickets (didn’t I say earlier that tour dates were being released soon…Ana knows these things). It goes without saying that I am attending both concerts in Vancouver. But I do have a rather serious question to ask you. Which tour t-shirt are you wearing: Joshua Tree, Popmart, or Elevation?

            Liked by 1 person

            • A shame about that shift in flyer content, Ana. I wonder — given all the stuff going on these days with police killings, the CIA torture report, etc. — whether some bands might get a little more political again at concerts.

              Sounds like more of a tribute to Aung San Suu Kyi at the U2 concert you saw than at the one I saw. What you describe does sound VERY haunting and evocative. Now, of course, that human-rights icon is an elected official, and is acting a bit more conciliatory these days with Myanmar’s improving but still problematic leaders.

              You were absolutely right about U2 touring again! (I hope Bono is fully healed from his bike accident long before the tour begins.) Luckily, my older daughter — also a big U2 fan — nabbed two tickets a few days ago. Great that you’re seeing BOTH concerts in your area!

              Your very funny T-shirt question? I regret to say I do not own any U2 shirts. But I’m proud to say that I own the first five U2 albums on vinyl, all purchased when those records came out on the 1980s. Those albums have sleeves, but not a whole shirt. 🙂

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              • It was indeed a beautiful sight, and they chose the perfect song to play in the background. “Walk On” is so inspirational and uplifting…love that track.

                I think we’re both in for a treat. The North American leg opens up on the West Coast, and closes on the East. U2 is known for putting on phenomenal shows during the tour opener and closer. This is going to be great. I need to dust off the old Vertigo tour shirt that I bought in Chicago. Feel free at anytime to send me your vinyl albums. They would like great in my music library.

                Duty calls, so enjoy the rest of your day, and have a good weekend in advance.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Ana, I totally agree about “Walk On.” One of the VERY best U2 songs, and they have dozens of great ones. Not many bands could write a song that good two decades after they started recording.

                  I didn’t realize we’ll be seeing bookends of the tour. Nice!

                  LOL — hilarious line about sending those vinyl albums. Not sure if “I Will Follow” that suggestion. 🙂

                  Have a good rest of the day, too!

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      • Seems like Stevie Wonder fared better than the Dixie Chicks a decade or so ago, when, as you both know, they mildly (and deservedly) criticized fellow Texan President Bush and subsequently got all kinds of threats, and their music banned by virtually every country station. I guess those people and radio stations weren’t very much into freedom of speech.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Yes..Dave power to Stevie Wonder an icon himself and they will not dare to threaten him. There was Dixie Chicks and we know the outcome. Linda Ronstadt another outspoken singer ( there are entertainers these days like Beyonce, Taylor Swift..bur Ms. Linda is a gifted singer) was kicked out from her own show also for criticizing Bush…now I wish her well with her illness.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Thanks, bebe! Well said! I also admire Linda Ronstadt for her singing (wonderful voice) and outspokenness — and hope she’s dealing with her illness okay. I saw her twice in concert in the 1970s — excellent shows.

            I’m not a huge fan of Beyonce or Taylor Swift, but like some of their songs. Swift’s “Shake It Off” is very catchy, and has sort of empowering “I’m independent and don’t care what you think” lyrics. 🙂

            Liked by 1 person

            • I have to admit..I have not paid attention to the songs of Taylor Swift…her on and off stage antics have turned me off..and on gorgeous Beyonce..it is more of her beautiful body movements than singing..i just don`t get it. 😉

              Liked by 1 person

              • bebe, I didn’t pay much attention to Taylor Swift, either, but when her “1989” album took off I figured what the heck I would give her a listen on YouTube. She and Beyonce seem overrated to me (I just don’t get it either), but obviously they both have their pulse on some marketing goldmine, to pathetically mix metaphors. 🙂

                Liked by 1 person

      • *waves at bebe*

        When I saw where Stevie Wonder was going with his speech, I told my husband to be prepared for a quick exit just in case the scene turned ugly. People are so unpredictable. The slightest comment can set them off.

        I’m glad that everyone was respectful. No booing, no leaving the venue, no violence, no offensive language.

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  7. “Ever notice that the police, in addition to targeting black people more than white people and the poor more than the rich, almost always crack down harder on liberals than conservatives?”

    Good point. Law enforcement has a historically shaky record in regards to their opinion of progressive ideologies, so their behaviour towards participants in movements such as Occupy, Fight for $15 minimum wage protests, and the state capitol sit-ins in certain states that were passing laws to weaken public unions is not surprising.

    What is interesting is their hypocritical stance towards unions, which is traditionally fought for and supported by liberals/Democrats. When cops get in legal trouble or are facing some kind of disciplinary action, the first thing they do is hide behind their unions. They have no problem beating, pepper-spraying and provoking protesters who are involved in social movements that seek to protect unions, but will quickly hide behind their own unions when they need it. In other words, law enforcement want the benefits of union membership, but fight against others who want that same benefit. They are fighting against the people and political party who’ve traditionally stood for worker’s rights and representation.

    So the lesson is: rights and protections for police officers = good; rights and protections for everyone else, including other public employees like teachers, = bad. Hypocrisy at its finest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • An extraordinarily insightful comment, Anonymous.

      It is indeed so hypocritical that the police often crack down on progressives while usually being unionized themselves. But, as you observe, it’s a whole other type of unionization, bereft of solidarity with others seeking better pay and less economic inequality.

      Related to this is the way anti-union conservative politicians — New Jersey Gov. Christie is one of many — make sure they leave police unions alone. So they’re a bunch of hypocrites, too.

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      • It would be interesting to see if the tables are ever turned on police unions. Since it was/is relatively easy for pols to weaken the unions of other public sector employees, I wonder if someone would eventually explore going after the police unions as well.

        If the overall goal of conservatives is to destroy public unions completely, I could see them chipping away at that solidarity profession by profession. Start with the teachers, then work their way to law enforcement. Sort of an old divide and conquer strategy.

        BTW, you don’t have to call me Anonymous. You’re ok to use my name:)

        Liked by 1 person

        • Ana, it would indeed be interesting if police unions were targeted, but it seems doubtful given how the police so closely serve the interests of more conservative politicians. Of course, politicians, CEOS, and other bigwigs can always assemble private, non-unionized police forces to do their bidding (as is already the case in some ways/situations).

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          • I remember some slight rumbling last year in one of the Mid-western states re: police unions, but wasn’t sure of which one. Did a little search. Turns out Scott Walker is/was flirting around with the idea to strip police and fire unions of their collective bargaining rights. This could get interesting down the road.
            http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2013/07/30/wisconsin-governor-open-to-limiting-police-fire-unions/

            Quite a few of my old friends back in Memphis are teachers. When the GOP-run TN legislature initiated the process of taking away their collective bargaining rights, every city and county union in the state supported the teachers except police and fire.

            Tables are turning. Memphis leaders are making unpopular changes to their pension and health insurance plans for all city and county employees and retirees; fire and police unions aren’t too happy with these changes.

            Now all of a sudden, they want public sector unity. Not gonna happen. They didn’t stand up to support the teachers, and shouldn’t expect teachers to stand up and support them. First they came for the teacher’s unions, and I did not speak out…

            Liked by 1 person

            • Thanks for the link, Ana! Interesting how the threat of the police going on strike was a big reason why Gov. Walker backed off from his verbal trial balloon. The police certainly wouldn’t hesitate to play hardball to protect their pay, perks, and power. I mean, who would politicians send to break a police strike…the police? 🙂

              It’s all a bit reminiscent of the big banks that can’t really be punished because of fears they would sink the economy. (Of course, greedy individual banker bigwigs could be deservedly prosecuted, but that will happen in the year…never.)

              Dismaying but not surprising that the police and fire people didn’t support the teachers in Tennessee. Heck, those public-safety people must have had beloved teachers when they were young, but that’s gratitude for you…

              As for the last two paragraphs of your comment, I guess unionized police and fire people do seem to be among the austerity targets in some places. Powerful final line of yours. Yes, if one doesn’t give solidarity, one often doesn’t get solidarity.

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  8. It is wonderful that you included The Grapes of Wrath and Germinal as examples of heavy-handed police officers’ actions towards labour movements and strikes. Law enforcement often served as private armies for elite business owners, and didn’t hesitate to use violence and murder to destroy any attempt of workers striking for better conditions and pay.

    In her autobiography, Mother Jones spoke frequently about violent police officers in the cities and states where she organised workers in the factories, coal mines, and mills. Some of the chapters are emotionally difficult to get through because of her descriptions of the bloodshed against striking workers. Men who simply wanted a small increase in pay and 1-2 days off per week to spend with their families were riddled with bullets; some were beaten or had their houses torched.Those who were “lucky” enough not to be burned out their homes were victims of illegal evictions carried out by police.

    Wealthy business owners had a monopoly on everything. They owned the mortgages of their workers, the grocery stores where the wives shopped, the houses of worship that preached “obey your bosses” sermons, and buildings where workers conducted their personal business. Any hint of organising made them lean on politicians, who leaned on the police to force poor workers to get back under control.

    Similar actions in The Jungle. Upton Sinclair did an extraordinary job with connecting police officers’ roles to the overall capitalist machine. Their job was to protect the status quo through beatings, illegal arrests, corruption, bribes, and to silence any rumblings of dissent amongst Chicago factory/meat packing workers.

    This is a very good topic, Dave. One of your best.

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    • “Law enforcement often served as private armies for elite business owners” — so true, Anonymous, and, as you note, the consequences were terrible for workers. Also, as you say, the workers frequently were asking for only modest things. There’s certainly a special place in hell for those owners, then and now.

      That Mother Jones autobiography sounds incredibly intense and harrowing, and inspiring, too, because of the fighting back. And “The Jungle”? What a gripping and important novel that actually led to some changes in the meatpacking industry, albeit not as much as was needed.

      Splendid and sobering comment — including your accurate observation about how owners, politicians, and the police worked hand in hand (and often still do).

      Finally…glad you liked the post!

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      • Mother Jones’ biography is one of those books that you think about long after you’ve read it. It’s surreal to see that so much of what she observed, experienced, and fought against is repeating itself in 2014.

        Hell isn’t hot enough for those “captains of industry” who made their fortune off poor workers. How could they in good conscious turn a blind eye to the poverty and desperation of the very people whose hard labour made them rich?

        That make-money-at-any-and-all-costs mentality is still prevalent today. Companies that are proudly boasting about their record profits won’t even reward their employees with just a small pay increase. They slash benefits, dodge taxes, then have the audacity to threaten to leave the U.S. if their companies don’t receive even more tax breaks (which our spineless politicians always give). Disgusting.

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        • Powerful and all-too-accurate comment, Anonymous.

          Yes, it IS depressing that MLK’s famous quote — “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice” — isn’t always the case.

          One does wonder how captains of industry, then and now, sleep at night. But I guess they can always trick their minds into some sort of self-justification.

          And, as you allude to, it’s beyond dismaying that corporations continue to amass huge profits they barely share with employees — while craven politicians either ignore that or actively enable that.

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  9. At some point, we are going to have to ask: what in their prior experience made those who join the police force wish to do so? Unless they are part of a family of police members, their impressions are liable to be based largely on our mass entertainments, as much or more than by actual experience of policing or police officers in action.

    And what do we see, over and over? Vigilante personality types who won’t be constrained by namby-pamby regulations or weak-willed pols, who do whatever it takes, including threat and violent persuasion to point of death,to get the “bad guys” off the streets.

    That viewing experience, plus nightly doses of over-hyped local news coverage of crime (much of which has taken place miles and miles from the locality) in which sullen minorities and paraded in a perp walk.

    So when people, seeing these entertainments and entertainments-as-news, become interested in police work, can we really be surprised that some among them will want to join precisely because of the violence these sources have led them to believe will be an integral part of the job?

    Similarly– consider the interrogation of captured enemies or spies or suspected terrorists. In movie after movie, from the ’70’s on, the suspects are beaten , slapped, threatened with electric shock, guns at their heads, etc., etc., etc.

    Then we find out our real-life interrogators behave badly and we shake our heads in hypocritical wonder….

    Ezra Pound famously opined that artists were the “antennae of the race”. Our entertainments have raced ahead of law and order, and we, for decades,have repaid those who make them with box office success, and with those same entertainments, attracted many to the ranks of police and intelligence services who do not belong within– unless of course, they’re doing what we want them to do, so long as we don’t have to be troubled by hearing about it.

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    • A VERY insightful and valid perspective, jhNY. I’m sure you’re right that media depictions of vigilante-type, don’t-play-by-the-rules cops directly or at least subliminally influence why some people become police officers and how they behave on the job. The tragedy, of course, is that those kinds of TV/movie cops are only fake-killing people, while real-life “rogue” cops do real killings.

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        • True, jhNY. I suppose some people become police officers for the pay, benefits, and early retirement. But that can be found in certain other jobs. So the opportunity to be in a position of life-and-death power, and all that entails, must be the main draw.

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          • Agreed– but those perks and pay rates are secondary considerations, I would think. And usually, you wouldn’t know much about them before you considered joining– which you would be attracted to do via the entertainments I mentioned, if the doings in those entertainments looked attractive to you.

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  10. Hi Dave, thanks for a heart-felt discussion of recent events. I cannot recall any violent incidents involving the police in books other than some you mentioned, “To kill a Mocking Bird” , “The Grapes of Wrath” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain”, aside from a few crooked cops in the many mystery novels I read over the years. Too bad not all policemen or police commissioners are not like those depicted in the TV series “Blue Bloods”!
    As someone who arrived to this country as a young adult full of admiration for America’s expressed ideals, I have to admit that over the decades I have become increasingly disappointed with the growing disconnect between the stated ideals and reality. True, some disconnect between ideals and reality is to be expected in all of us imperfect humans and therefore in any country, but from the perspective of a foreign-born citizen, such disconnect is reaching pathological proportions in America. There is a disturbing “1984” dissonance between the much touted “Christian values” or “All Men are Created Equal” and the reality of how non-WASP ethnic and racial groups are treated, or the way the poor and “the least among us” are viewed and treated. Hypocrisy is fast becoming the hidden norm – I have read a quote, do not recall by whom, to the effect that “Fascism will come to America waving a Bible and wrapped in the American Flag”. Disturbingly prophetic.

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    • Thanks, Clairdelune, for your kind words and eloquent, sobering comment.

      It’s such a shame that your idealism about the U.S. eventually turned into a good deal of disillusionment, but it’s totally understandable. Plus it’s very mature to be open to that disillusionment rather than pretend (as many people do) that things are all wonderful.

      I didn’t grow up outside the U.S. as you did, but as an American kid I also thought for a number of years that this country’s ideals were its reality. Heck, I remember memorizing all the U.S. Presidents and the facts about them, and thinking they must have been the best of the best to reach the White House — before learning that many of them were less-than-admirable political hacks. Sort of the Oval Office version of disillusionment with the police.

      I only read mysteries occasionally, so there are many bad and good cops, detectives, etc., in that genre with whom I’m not familiar.

      You mentioned TV law-enforcement characters. They’re often portrayed in heroic or at least sympathetic ways, which is obviously a distortion of the truth. There are of course many good cops. Citizens (especially those who are white, affluent, and not too liberal) often have positive interactions with police officers and find them helpful. But there are definitely way too many scary cops, and perhaps that’s the way America’s “powers that be” like it.

      I’m glad you liked the post. (I won’t use the word “enjoyed,” because who can enjoy thinking about the stuff some police officers do?)

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    • I believe the quote is from Sinclair Lewis, author of, pertinent to the discussion and the quote, “It Can’t Happen Here”, which is a bit heavy-handed, yet good-hearted, as I remember anyway, having read it decades ago.

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      • That’s right, jhNY. Sinclair Lewis! A GREAT quote.

        As we might have discussed, Lewis is an unjustly underrated author these days. I’ve read a half-dozen of his novels — “Babbitt,” “Main Street,” “Arrowsmith,” “Elmer Gantry,” “Dodsworth,” and the mentioned-by-you “It Can’t Happen Here” — and they’re all excellent.

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  11. Dear Dave, an overwhelming topic in real life, thank you. I read all your columns and enjoy them, even though I’m quiet mostly at the moment.

    As for literature – I can’t remember any law enfrcemnet person as an individual except the Sherriff of Nottingham (bad) and several characters in English detective novels (Christie, Sayers, P. D. James) who are not bad in a moral sense (rather likeable), but bad sometimes in a professional sense compared to the private investigators.

    There is one term in your text I usually stumble over reading US texts or talking with Americans: Caucasian. It is an obsolete term from the 19th century when the concept of “race” still existed among some scholars. Why is this used at all? I never understood that. I’m not born in the Caucasus region, so I am no Caucasian. Reminds of that story I heard about an American tourist (maybe an urban legend) who called all black people she saw in Europe “African-American”.

    For my passport I give my height and eye colour, if requested I can give the approximate colour of my skin to describe me, well, pink…… okay call me white, others you can call brown or light brown or black or whatever is true for this person. You can say someone has east-asian eye features or curly hair if the signalement needs to be more specific. But why use obviously racist terms? Get the concept of “race” out of the heads of people and break it down to invidual features of a person.

    Wouldn’t that change some attitudes over time?

    And I fear the racist aspect in recent cases is only the tip of the iceberg. That said, a big tip, but still – less violence in the police behaviour, less violent racist incidents IMO.

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    • So nice to hear from you, littleprincess. Hope you’ve been well. And I’m glad you’ve been seeing the columns.

      The Sheriff of Nottingham is a GREAT law-enforcement character: villainous and bumbling at the same time. Certainly no match for Robin Hood and his merry gang. And, as you allude to, English detective literature has so many interesting law-enforcement people — including the expert (often amateur) detectives who often know more than the police guys who can be rather clueless and unimaginative. I had the pleasure of reading Dorothy Sayers for the first time several months ago (after you were among the people to recommend her) and loved the depiction of Lord Peter Wimsey and the police in the “Strong Poison” novel.

      Excellent observations about racial characterization, and how it would be good if it were used less. My use of the term “Caucasian” was mostly an effort not to repeat the word “white” yet again in my last paragraph. 🙂 As you know, “Caucasian” does have a double meaning: someone “white-skinned; of European origin” (according to one online dictionary) and someone specifically from the Caucasus region (which I had the pleasure of visiting when I traveled to Tbilisi, Georgia, many years ago).

      Black people who are not American labeled “African-American” — I’ve seen that, too.

      Terrific conclusion. Certainly, if there were less police violence in general in the U.S., there would be less violence against unarmed black men. Violence in the U.S. is so epidemic — with the reasons stemming not only from racism and the country’s “melting pot” of colors and ethnicities but also from America’s frontier history, its overabundance of guns, the profit obsession of gun manufacturers, the huge clout of the vile National Rifle Association, the militaristic ethos of the U.S. government, the profit obsession of arms (for warfare) manufacturers, economic inequality and despair, etc.

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          • I can only imagine how insufferable we must have seemed to Europeans when we traveled among them before 1861, lecturing them on the superiority of our democratic freedoms and the inferiority of their old ways, having come from a nation literally built, in great part, by slaves.

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            • Serfdom was abolished in France by the French Revolution, in German countries in the first half of the 19th century, in Russia in 1861. I don’t think Europeans in general were too concerned about US hypocracy at those times 🙂

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              • There are certainly few, if any, countries without a lot of repression and other horrible stuff in their histories. And the U.S. never had kings after gaining independence, but corporate CEOS are sort of co-kings now. 🙂

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                • Yeah, isn’t it funny that we function as citizens in a democracy, but when we go to work we live in a feudal system with the boss telling us what to do. Kind of double-bind.

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                  • Great observation, littleprincess! The juxtaposition between a (somewhat) democratic personal life and a dictatorial office life can be REALLY jarring. In my last full-time job, at a huge corporate-owned media company, some of the things we were ordered to do did indeed make the employees feel like serfs. (And it didn’t involve “serfing” the Web. 🙂 )

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                    • The feudal systemn contains also knights, barons, bishops… some people have the say overall like a king, others in their little region, some only for the strength of their sword (violence), and it offers the opportunity to rise to more power, to have a say yourself. Feudal systems corrupt IMO. If your talking about freedom and democracy that should apply to all parts of society.

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                  • That strange contrast has irked me for more than a working lifetime. Serfin’ USA.

                    And when money talks to the point it is the loudest voice in the room, it speaks volumes in our democracy, to the point of drowning out other voices, or inspiring them to quiet accommodation,or buying silence.

                    And on not quite the same subject, I have always liked the saying:

                    The boss’ jokes are always funny.

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                    • “Serfin’ USA” — exactly, jhNY! With much less income than the Beach Boys earned. 🙂

                      And as you observe, money talks WAY too much — with things just getting worse.

                      “The boss’ jokes are always funny” — oh yes, the obsequiousness one has to go through. I think one of the reasons I was laid off from my last full-time job was that in meetings with our unfunny jerk of an editor, I was one of the few who didn’t (insincerely) laugh at his stupid jokes.

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                    • Funny coincidence, I just read an article about “humour at the workplace”, a dificult thing, and it said among other things “only crawlers (?) find the boss’s jokes funny” -:)

                      I’m glad, jhNY, to hear that someone else finds the contradiction in life hard to understand. I always thought this must have an influence on our society and how people behave in politics.

                      That said, the option to keep money out of politics (at least to a certain extent) is there, theoretically. If politicians wish they can change laws. They make them.

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              • Europeans in general thought we were hypocrites for our posturing on these matters, given slavery. But it is true that ordinarily they had other things to occupy their attentions most days.

                They weren’t holding themselves up as superior models necessarily, and obviously a great deal of the world hope for a brighter political outcome was invested in our democracy; they merely found our own modeling a bit much, given slavery.

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                • Great points, jhNY. A person or country can be very imperfect and still be struck by the imperfectness (and hypocrisy) of another person or country.

                  Yes, given America’s history of slavery and continuing racism (not to mention the genocide of Native Americans, not allowing women to vote until 1920, etc.), the puffed-up bragging about U.S. democracy was/is never pleasant to hear…

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                    • Hmm. When the topic is human behavior in any context, familial, national or global, I tend to step out of the proverbial forest so as to avoid being blinded by the trees — I try to look at the wider picture. Reaching for the cosmic view can be humbling and liberating. So, from outside the forest, the kind of feudal behavior detested by most of us – such as littleprincess and you, Dave! 🙂 – appears to be the result of the basic drive of all mammals, including us, to be the alpha-individuals, to be at the top of the heap in order to ensure our reproductive success. The corporate environment is just an extension of that behavior. And, to be fair and realistic, if in a corporate environment all members of the organization were free to do anything they wished, given our overall stage of social and psychological development, nothing would ever be done… I’m picturing a band of crazed monkeys taking over the zoo… What bothers me the most is that we are still at that stage as human beings, and in some ways we are backsliding instead of progressing if you consider the resurgence of the Ayn Rand mindset. The naked ape is once again thumping its chest. Sigghh.

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                    • I hear you, Anonymous. Eloquent, funny, sobering comment.

                      Corporations probably do need leaders and a certain “pecking order.” But ideally there should be a happy medium — with employees having more say than they now usually have and bosses having less say than they now usually have.

                      Plus there’s the issue of so many bosses not being qualified to run things; they often “rise” to the top via nepotism, ruthlessness, and/or being “yes men.” They don’t deserve to have almost the whole say, but of course they do have it. 😦

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                    • Yep, Dave, the boss isn’t always the best qualified or the brightest bulb in the box… just like the alpha ape isn’t necessarily the best qualified in his corner of the jungle, he just happens to have bigger muscles — of course in the case of the boss, the “muscles” are metaphorical, consisting of money and/or connections. And the same thing applies to way too many of the political “overlords”, both the current ones and the wannabes waiting in the wings: lots of metaphorical muscles, but sorely lacking in brain power. We’re still swinging from those trees…

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                    • So sorry, Dave, for some reason my last two comments appeared under the name “Anonymous”, leaving both of us confused. My apologies also to the original “Anonymous”, I was not trying to steal your identity!! 🙂 Hmm, let’s see, maybe I gotta push THIS button…

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                    • Anonymous, my apologies for initially referring to you by a specific first name in my two replies. I fixed that.

                      There’s another “Anonymous” commenter who said I could use their first name when replying. Now that there are two “Anonymous” commenters, I will go back to using “Anonymous” in my replies to both of you — and to any other “Anonymous” commenters in the future.

                      I totally respect it when people want to remain anonymous; they don’t deserve to be referred to by a name that’s not theirs!

                      Again, sorry.

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                    • No problem, Clairdelune! I’ve also accidentally made myself “Anonymous” a few times when replying, which is interesting given that it’s my own blog. 🙂

                      And as many commenters who want to be “Anonymous” are welcome to be “Anonymous.” (Not sure that sentence was grammatical.)

                      “Hmm, let’s see, maybe I gotta push THIS button…” — love the way you wrote that line!

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      • Ha! Thank you for a new word “bumbling”, useful! 🙂
        I’m glad you liked “Strong Poison”, I would recommend my favourite whih is “Gaudy Night”, but it might be a bit too feminine in attitude…. well, you could read it as an anthropological study about women in the early 20th century.

        The ending of your reply seems drift a bit into a dull mood, sorry, I made you feel that way. The world can be like that, I know. We have those things in Europe, too. Except the frontier experience, that’s a long while ago, well before the Sheriff of Nottingham.

        On the term “Caucasian”, like I said I stumble over it, feels foreign as a concept of myself, I didn’t realize it was a variation. But still, a dictionary can change explanations. I looked it up in wikipedia in a different languages, and the English is the only one that insists on a lengthy valid definition. If you speak French, it says “Le terme caucasien se base sur une ancienne théorie raciale du XIXe siècle qui prétend que toutes les personnes blanches auraient une origine commune située dans le Caucase.”

        The German wiki says it’s “outdated” as is the race-concept behind it. Outside scientific forensic anthropoly and archaelogy there is no context the term “Caucasian” relates to. And that makes sense, if races as closed groups would exist materially there would have been no necessity for proving Aryan descent in the 3. Reich by papers showing your family tree. If it only works by that, it doesn’t exist at all because there obviously are no definite signal putting you into a specific race. Let’s give up the word, let’s give up this concept of thinking..

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        • “Bumbling” is a nice word, isn’t it? 🙂

          I’d love to read Dorothy Sayers again, and, when I do, I’ll look for “Gaudy Night.” I love “feminine” novels as well as “masculine” ones!

          I’m angry about some aspects of the U.S. almost all the time, so your comment didn’t set that off. The extent that American institutions (politics, law enforcement, big business, the military, etc.) don’t even approach democratic (small “d”) ideals is endlessly depressing.

          Yes, the European “frontier” was SO long ago!

          Great thoughts, with a multi-country perspective, on the word “Caucasian.” I use the word rarely — usually just to not always write “white” — but after seeing what you eloquently expressed I’ll use it less or not at all.

          I appreciate your interesting, learned, wide-ranging follow-up comment!

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          • Thank you, Dave, it’s not really for me to teach you on matters of your own language… and I don’t think words are more important than reality, but they can shape our concept of reality. Looking from the outside the term “Caucasian” sounds weird transporting something wrong, something that’s pretending to be more than culture or language.

            I’m interested in what you will think about “Gaudy Night”.

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            • “I don’t think words are more important than reality, but they can shape our concept of reality” — absolutely true, littleprincess, and nicely put. I agree that Caucasian is a weird and rather clunky word.

              Will let you know what I think of “Gaudy Night” when I get to it!

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        • Ha interesting I find….c & p….the first definition by someone in urban dictionary…there are others..

          “caucasian

          1- The incorrect term used to label a “white” man or woman. The word Caucasian refers to a person who is from the region of Caucasus, which is in Europe bordering Turkey and Iran. Therefore, I am not a Cauasian being that I am not from Caucasus. I am, in general, European. Also I am not “white” being that I do not blend in with white paint, or white paper. I prefer to think that I have some amount pigmentation in my skin, thank you very much. “

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              • It WOULD be awful to be called pink — and of course most “white” people aren’t exactly that color. 🙂

                Then there’s that time in the 1950s United States when right-wingers called communists/alleged communists “pink.” Perhaps that was because the “ultra” communists in places like the Soviet Union and China were “reds,” and the alleged U.S. communists were not as “ultra” adherents to the ideology?

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          • Ha! Thank you.

            And ha! again, the sun will bring out the truth about the amount of pigmentation I have in my skin. More than some Celtic skin types I’m happy to say, I don’t look like a cooked lobster after sun-bathing. (That wasn’t meant racist against Celtic skin types, but I met this guy in a small hotel in Greece years ago, and he was totally red in the evening and pretty completely white in the morning. Needless to say he still was soaking in the sun all day, and I was always afarid he’s burn himself badly.)

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    • What a wonderful heartwarming piece…in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected as the first Black President in U.S.A..so many said in the next generation the race card will disappear, and how wrong they were.

      Move on to today…after Shooting of Michael Brown who was unarmed and black by a white policeman who was later not charged I watched a town hall meeting my someone in CBS.
      A young black woman said..” .why are we called African American ? I was not born in Africa, never been there, Charlize Theron is an African American not I.
      Please call us Black American.”

      My 2 cents why not call every Citizen..white, black, yellow, brown..as Americans.

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      • Thanks so much for your comment, bebe.

        You’re so right — some people said President Obama’s election in 2008 meant the U.S. had become “post-racial,” but how wrong they were.

        Great line about Charlize Theron by the woman you mentioned! I agree that it would be nice if all racial and ethnic labels would disappear. But perhaps bias would have to mostly disappear first, and that doesn’t look likely (at least until the year Zillion. 😦 ).

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      • Thank you for telling about the remark the young woman made, I think that’s what I meant in a nutshell. I throw my 2 cents in with yours, maybe we make a fortune collecting those coins 🙂

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      • The elimination of racial and ethnic labels would be fantastic. It would solve my problem of people asking me the infamous “are you really black and/or American” question.

        Black West African mother, white Canadian father…I can’t even begin to describe the idiocy I’ve experienced in the U.S. growing up as a biracial/bilingual woman. It is tough, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job of holding it together:)

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        • Anonymous, your comment about the difficulties you experienced growing up biracial/bilingual struck a chord. Nothing can totally erase the pain a child can feel when rejected or ostracized for no rational reason, but the pain can be overcome and used to make us stronger. Prejudices are not limited to racial differences; an illegitimate child growing up in the early part of the past century was expected to feel shame for someone else’s mistakes and to accept a status of inferiority regardless of personal qualities or achievements. I don’t know when irrational prejudice will finally disappear from the human psyche, if ever, but until then we cannot consider ourselves fully evolved socially, IMO. Glad to hear you have done a good job of holding it together – you’re a survivor!

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          • Excellent, heartfelt comments, Ana and Clairdelune.

            Ana, I loved the wry/serious way you described your racial/ethnic background. I’ve had a bit of experience with that in my family. My younger daughter (adopted) is of Hispanic/Mayan descent yet has an Anglo-sounding name. The double takes she gets in some situations are priceless.

            And Clairdelune, very well said about the human race not completely evolving until if and when “irrational prejudice” disappears. I’m not holding my breath. 😦

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            • Double takes are awesome. Nothing says *progress* like people actually staring when two women of colour greet their white father with a hug and kiss at a restaurant. My sister (VERY outspoken young woman) told this guy that he should stop looking because his food was getting cold.

              Can’t change people nor their mindset. Just live your life and ignore small-minded people.

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              • Ana, wonderful response to Clairdelune! It can be hard enough growing up even without the narrow-mindedness you had to deal with — and that you ended up soaring beyond.

                As for your response to my comment, double takes can indeed be great! Loved your description of that restaurant scene and your sister’s remark!

                Perhaps sometimes (we hope) those double takes can lead to the opening of people’s eyes to how multicultural, complex, and “uncategorizable” people are and the U.S. has become. Of course, people should know all that already, but better late than never…

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          • Love your post. I can’t disagree with anything you’ve said. You can have 100% positive affirmations at home, then go out in society and have to deal with people who attempt to tear you down with their hatefulness. It takes a lot of courage and strength to deal with that pressure.

            I was teased over my slight accent, the lunches my mom made (she prepared mostly kid-friendly cultural dishes for us), and the fact that both of my parents looked so different. It hurt, I won’t even deny it. But as I got older, I realised that people usually attack what they don’t understand, and I began to feel sorry for people like that.

            I took my childhood and teen experiences to help me develop into a confident, emotionally healthy adult. It took a lot for me to get to this point. I’m still growing, still learning.

            Racism and prejudice probably won’t ever go away. We can only hope that with each new generation, those old feelings will die down.

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        • My best friend has an African father and European mother. People keep asking “where’s she from”. I usually answer that they should ask her or with her German place of birth. Then many react offended. I find that weird.

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      • Thank you, bebe, like a poem (I need to listen again, I didn’t understand all of it). I watched twice, second time watched the guy in the background. He was nervous, sorting his papers. Then put his lips tight together, as if he wanted to say something but in the situation had to stop himself. Finally he seemed to … give in, not relaxed, but frustrated like a parent whose kid does something and can’t be stopped. I don’t know the guy. Well, both of them. But I liked the poem.

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        • It was a political arena that explains the man in the background, he was fidgeting to the point of rudeness. I liked the poem too…could not believe we would be talking about racism in this twenty first century.

          I always thought if I call someone ~racist~ that would make me one. There is always ignorance and stupidity of not knowing.
          One thing I do know that prejudice is a human nature…it is present in every single race and culture but hatred is something totally different and taking a life for just that is abominable.

          What has happened is the culprit in a police uniform was allowed to set free and a large black man is dead for some minor offense selling cigarettes illegally.

          Liked by 1 person

          • Hatred as well as fear I think, dear.
            No, calling someone a “racist” doesn’t make you one. Only if you reserve that term for white people, I think. And you are right, the guy in the police uniform doesn’t have to answer for the death of a harmless man in court, that’s a bad thing in itself.

            Liked by 2 people

            • I know , I just don`t point my finger at any foolish act someone does, i tend to thing..oh he/she must be having a bad day.
              I do not want to be philosophical…but in my Tai Chi Sunday morning class it is like going to a meditation park the teacher is a shrink professionally. He talks all throughout the one hour session and does it beautifully.
              He says make everything as a learning lesson and learn how to walk away instead of reacting .
              Then some others says..they can not stand his psychobabble..lol..( to each his or her own ).

              Liked by 1 person

              • Dear, I agree that we shouldn’t always look for a confrontation and if possible not get touched by foolish things. Doesn’t make our lives better, to get upset. But being white, pink myself I feel I should well point at other white people who make the colour of their skin an asset. One time I didn’t point my finger, but put my arm besides the other’s arm and asked him, given the difference in tone, how many black ancestors he has in his family… he got angry, but also got my point, if I may say so myself.

                Liked by 1 person

            • All racists are not equal. The racist with the entire apparatus of the state behind him can make terrible things happen to nearly all those who has deemed to be unequal to himself, whereas the objects of his malign intentions may well be inclined to hate their oppressor for his race, but will continue, nonetheless, to be discriminated against, and worse, by the racist with the entire apparatus of the state behind him.

              Liked by 1 person

              • You are right. All true, especially with the flowing racism and expectations between police and the black community, as we have seen in the recent incidents.

                I was reacting to bebe talking about racism on a personal level. There is racism all over the world, sad enough, but I just don’t live where it is so institutionalised, so I didn’t think that all stupid white racists have the apparatus behind them. I was thinking of interaction on a personal level.

                Liked by 2 people

  12. Tonight during a beautiful reading at a choral event, where a beautiful mix of young, talented college students sang to an enraptured audience, the minister discussed the sad state of affairs our nation is in, relative to Eric Garner, and to other murders (my opinion) happening just so very recently around our “republic”, and how we all can bring a measure of Christlike qualities to our lives and the lives of others, if we are willing. While many lament they do not want to be discussing this issue or being reminded of it during concerts or really at any time, I find it so offensive, that so many tax paying citizens are so willing to dumb themselves down, completely ignoring such crises, and the related issues, altogether. All because discussing them would mean they have to “think” and act like real citizens with responsibilities to address.

    Dave, thank you for bringing this topic to your page and sharing some memories of stories around the same topic. The Grapes of Wrath is such a haunting book, and the sad truth is, we haven’t developed the character of this great land much beyond the level of plot Grapes of Wrath portrays. We are still harming poor people, women, people of color, the sick and helpless – no matter their status in their own small towns, just as if they had no value whatsoever. Well, they do have value. They are valued by me.

    I hope during this season of Christ consciousness, we see people remembering to cast a kind shadow across all parts of their lives, during all their interactions with others. Christ would be so ashamed (I believe) of the way some sons and daughters are being taught to hate, to criminalize others, to belittle, and to demean others. It is a bully mentality we see through all these stories you mention, and it is that same bully training that is causing so many of today’s national problems. Problems that need national attention/focus, if we are to make any real progress towards kindness and compassion for all human beings.

    Thank you, Dave. Merry Christmas.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Wise, heartfelt, and eloquent words, HopeWFaith. Thank you. Things like the murder of Eric Garner (and I agree with you that it WAS a murder) DO need to be discussed. I’m glad the minister at the wonderful event you described did so.

      It’s depressing how the “class warfare” waged by the rich of 75 years ago, as depicted in “The Grapes of Wrath,” remains so recognizable today.

      And, yes, the Jesus Christ co-opted by people who oppress others bears no resemblance to the Jesus Christ concerned with the poor and powerless.

      Despite all the awful stuff happening in the U.S. and the world, I hope you have a very happy holiday season, too.

      Like

  13. The poor are also disproportionately targeted by law enforcement, in my humble opinion. In fact, the poor are disproportionately targeted by MANY others, not just law enforcement but that’s another discussion. Think of the injustices visited upon Jean Valjean by Javert in “Les Miserables”. Think of the injustices visited upon so many REAL people like him. The new world was populated by many of these people who were arrested and sentenced for minor offenses, deported, and forced into seven years of servitude for their transgressions.

    Liked by 2 people

    • VERY true, Mary, about the poor being disproportionately targeted by law enforcement. I kind of hinted at that in my column, but didn’t state it explicitly enough. And once the poor are targeted, they don’t have the money to get decent lawyers, they often can’t afford to post bail or pay fines, and so on. There is little or no “equal justice” in the U.S. 😦

      You also make a great point about the poor being targeted by others — whether it be exploitative employers, unscrupulous payday lenders, bad landlords, etc. Excellent observations, too, about indentured servitude as well as Victor Hugo’s novel.

      Thank you for your eloquent, heartfelt comment.

      Like

    • Alas, Mary, you are right — and if certain political/corporate parties have their way (they seem to be getting closer to achieving their goals) we are sliding back into a modern form of feudalism, with the powerful moneyed few on top and the rest of us laboring as indentured servants to insure their comfort. I hope I am too pessimistic.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Hot and topical topic to be sure Dave, in light of Staten Island, I don’t think the Ferguson case a cut and dried injustice, it would be just to pile on with discussions of dirty, sadistic or even inept law enforcement characters in fiction of which there are many. I think I’ll start by going in the opposite direction by suggesting one of Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s more nuanced creations Detective Porfiry from Crime and Punishment. While it is obvious that he is playing cat and mouse psychological games with the tormented and perhaps deluded Raskolnikov it always seemed to me he was genuinely concerned with the boy’s soul and was honestly offering him a lifeline. I think it significant also that there was never a question of manufacturing any kind of evidence even though it would have been easy for the inspector to do after he became fully convinced of his guilt. As an after thought it occurs to me I brought up Nelson Algren last week, his novels and stories have enough crooked, venal ,and off beat cops to staff a big city precinct .

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the great comment, Donny!

      I agree that the Ferguson case is not as cut-and-dried as the Staten Island case. I have to wonder just how clueless, gullible, and/or racist that S.I. grand jury was.

      Detective Porfiry is an excellent example of a law-enforcement figure in literature, and indeed VERY nuanced. You described him well. One of the many highlights of the magnificent “Crime and Punishment” is the tension that builds as readers wonder just how long it will take for Raskolnikov to get arrested and confess — and which of the two will come first.

      As for your last line, now I’m even more interested in reading Nelson Algren. 🙂

      Like

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