Wednesday, April 21, 2021


So imagine a Thanksgiving dinner with the whole extended family invited over. The turkey has one more hour to roast in the oven. Half the family is gathered in the living room, say, eating snacks, enjoying drinks, and telling stories. Maybe the other half is in the TV room, watching football. I'm gonna add snow falling outside to fill out this scene. 

Suddenly smoke starts seep from the oven. Not a lot, nothing alarming, but it's starting to smoke up the kitchen. Aunt Sadie says, "Oh, maybe I spilled a little grease when I basted the turkey fifteen minutes ago," and Uncle Ira says, "No, I think that's the scalloped potatoes bubbling over." A nice flurry of activity in the kitchen. Mom opens the window above the kitchen sink to let the smoke out.

Suddenly Uncle Bob bolts into the kitchen! He holds Aunt Sadie's face against the kitchen table and tells her to stay there if she knows what's good for her! He tells Uncle Ira to get on his knees and don't even think of getting up. Then he starts chanting "Fire! Fire!" as he turns his attention to the oven. He grabs a small fire extinguisher and yells at Mom, "Open the fucking oven! Open the fucking oven!" Mom quivers. "Bob, I'm sure if we just open another window...." Uncle Bob screams at her to shut the fuck up if she wants to live through the next three minutes. "Do it!" With trembling hands, weeping, talking about how early she got up to start Thanksgiving dinner, Mom opens the oven. 

Uncle Bob sprays fire extinguisher spray into the oven, unloading the entire cannister. The kitchen billows with white smoke and spray, the oven screams like a dying animal, and the entire Thanksgiving dinner is destroyed. Then Bob turns to the entire family gathered around the entrance to the kitchen. "Everyone keep their mouth shut!" 

Freezeframe the picture. Think. Every single member of the family - every single member - would say that Bob is completely, utterly, and without a doubt, out of his mind. Nuts. Crackers. Over the high side and into bananaland. But because we're rational people, we all stand there in stunned silence and obeisance, simply because the size of Bob's irrationality is so immense, his craziness so crazy, that we rationals are stunned into slack-jawed inertia. We might even convince ourselves that Bob must have had a reason to have behaved so irrationally. Maybe the turkey was going to kill us.

This is policing in America. 

It is about race, oh, absolutely, don't worry about that. But it's also about something else.  The fact is, cops in America are not temperamentally suited to the job. Nothing is going to change until we admit that as well. The George Floyd verdict addresses some of this, but aspects of the trial wouldn't and couldn't deal with that reality, otherwise Chauvin might have got off. I'll get to that in a second.

But first let's look at the case of 2nd Lt. Caron Nazario, who was pulled over by two cops in Windsor, Virginia. I watched the footage, and like everyone else I was horrified by the treatment of an active duty serviceman being threatened at gunpoint, pepper-sprayed, yanked from his vehicle, and physically and psychologically abused by the cops during a stop for a missing license plate - which wasn't, in fact, missing. Officers Joe Guttierez and Daniel Crocker clearly went beyond the bounds of their duty, but  the whole incident was more than what governor Ralph Northram described as "disturbing."

In fact, it was nuts. Guttierez is nuts. He's screaming and yelling. He threatens. Let's be clear: the infraction is a misplaced license plate. That is all. Yet the cops have their guns out in seconds.  Guttierez's hands shake so badly with rage that he can barely get the pepper spray out to pepper spray his detainee, who is speaking in a normal tone of voice even though also clearly shaking, except in this case the guy's shaking is well-placed fear. Guttierez's lack of control deserves full clinical evaluation. Is he so frightened of Nazario that he can't contain himself? Or is he, like Bob in the kitchen, unable to handle even the smallest non-crisis and he feels he needs to over-compensate? Or does the license plate mean so much to him? A yes to any of these questions makes it clear Guttierez should not be wearing a badge of any kind, but a strait-jacket instead.

Now let's go to the death of Daunte Wright, who was killed by cops because he was... driving a car. This nightmare is also on video - as is George Floyd's death, as is the stopping of Caron Nazario, as is the shooting in the back of Rayshard Brooks, etc etc. etc.  But ignore, if you can, what you're seeing in the Wright video and just listen to it. Officer Kim Porter is screaming. I mean screaming, "Taser! Taser! Taser!" Then a micro-second after that, she shoots Wright in the chest, then a micro-second after that, she says, "Shit, I just shot him."

By anyone's metric, Kim Porter is not in control of herself or the situation. She is a screaming, yelling, nut. A murdering nut at that. However, the reality that Wright was able to get back in his car and, even after being shot, pull away, shows that no cop was in control of the situation. Look at their stunned faces and slack-jawed expressions if you don't believe me. 

And that leads us back to George Floyd and Derek Chauvin. I don't know about the rest of you, but the look I have always read on Derek Chauvin's face as he kills Floyd over a period of nine minutes is one of satisfaction. Confidence. Even, pride? He is controlling the situation and everyone else on the sidewalk can go fuck themselves. The fact that this is over an alleged counterfeit twenty is beside the point, as is the license plate, as is Wright's misdemeanor. Chauvin is so hyped up on himself and his power and his role here that he is going to kill a man in front of all of us and get away with it, just to prove to us that he can.

And he was right! If you don't believe me, check out the statement the Minneapolis Police Department put out right after. Here is the meat of it: 

Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.

I'm not making this up. This is what the Minneapolis Police Department put out after Floyd died. In other words, they were covering up a murder and they were doing so with the casual insouciance of an institution that is used to covering up murders. "He appeared to be suffering medical distress." By the way, once they realized the fix was in, these same folks testified against Chauvin, all pious and making sure we understood he was an outlier.

It's simply not true, and by all traditions, Chauvin should have got off for killing Floyd, just as these other incidents would never even have made a blip on local evening news. The problem for the cops is the wonder of modern digital video technology. 

This technology, which we all carry, reveals who our cops are. Screaming, yelling killers. Terrified, yes, but also weirdly vengeful. How else do you explain cops chasing Rayshard Brooks in order to shoot him in the back? Who chases someone you're terrified of in order to shoot him in the back? What's going on in your head at that moment? If you tell me nothing, I'll itemize just how many deadly weapons a cop is carrying at any given moment.

The truth is obvious, even if we don't like to admit it. It isn't just a few bad apples. It's the whole barrel. 

How did this happen? I mean, on a human level.  Do crazed Uncle Bobs apply for jobs as cops so they can work out their inner demons and terrors? Or does the system turn them all into Uncle Bobs, screaming and yelling and killing?

We could argue this all day long, but even though I'm no optimist, I believe it has to be the system. I just don't believe there are that many crazy people out there who A) want to be cops, B) can figure out how to apply and pass the requisites, and C) get into the academy and graduate. It's too long a shot. The problem is, if I'm right, that it means the system creates murdering lunatics. Why? How? I don't know, but I do know that a 26 year veteran who loses her mind and just shoots a kid she means to tase ("Taser! Taser! Taser!") doesn't seem plausible unless you accept that the system turned her that way over a period of time, otherwise her complete incompetence for the job would have been outed long before.

Worse, the system is able to keep doing its thing because the rest of us are willing to go along with the myth that it's either one bad apple or something that can be fixed with retraining, or defunding, or whatever silliness we tell ourselves is going to fix the thing. We may as well tell ourselves that Bob just had an extra beer before Thanksgiving dinner, or he just needs some air; anything, really, other than the truth, which is that Bob needs to be put away.

Part of our problem is cultural. We want to believe the cops are the good guys and most of them are looking out for us, but after year and  years of hearing them (Val Demings in the House Judiciary committee the other day), I am searching for the hard evidence on that score. I know TV tells us they're all good, and I know people believe that myth. We do that simply because the alternative requires too much work on our part. 

And I have a weird story on that front. Not to go off on a personal sideroad, but in 2019 I made a feature film called "American Hangman," which played on Netflix. In that film, the cops are portrayed as doing pretty much two things: sitting around talking and looking stuff up on computers, or dressing themselves up in riot gear and smashing into houses, screaming and shouting, and shooting people randomly. At a test screening, many of the (totally white) audience said the portrayal of the cops was totally unrealistic. And how did they know? Not one, but two people said, "Well, I watch a lot of Law and Order, and I can tell you that's not how it is." (Interestingly, the film has developed a much more diverse following, and once that was added to the mix, the "this is unrealistic" voices seem to have been drowned out.)

In other words, our myths perpetuate our perception of reality. We believe because we want to believe. The alternative is too hard to handle.  The Floyd prosecution team knew this, which is why they made sure to paint Chauvin as an outlier. They knew that the jury would be hesitant to condemn police in general, because it is simply too terrifying a thought. And they got their verdict.

But nothing is going to change on any level until we admit the problem is far far bigger than that. It's even bigger than racism itself, which can eventually become  a kind of perverted solace for white people.  "Well it's really a race issue" is a boo hoo, but it's also a kind of weird "get out of jail free" card. Of course it is a race issue, that's obvious, but it's also a power issue, a temperament issue, and a failure of society to control those who control us. We fucked this up royally, and moved cops from those who are supposed to calm situations down into an invading force who inflame all situations.

How many of us are relieved to see the cops pull up to a streetcorner where a bunch of teenagers are having an argument? How many of us are happy to see the cops banging on our neighbor's front door? How many of us believe the cops entering our house - at ANY time - is a good thing? 

In light of the George Floyd verdict, do not be snowed. The folks who put out that false news report from the Minneapolis Police Department are still in charge, and the crazy cops who killed Daunte Wright are still cruising your neighborhood looking for action. Pray to God they don't stop you, or your teenager - especially your Black teenager - for having run a Stop sign. Because they will escalate the situation, they will turn it into a crisis, and they will kill someone.

That's what they do.

Saturday, January 9, 2021



     I’m not sure how many people standing outside American mythos can truly appreciate how devastating and soul crushing the events in Washington on January 6th were.
For those of us who have bought in, however, no matter where we were born or even where we live, the desecration of both the American citadel and the illusion of order was killer.
We’re still numb. Shocked. Trying to sort it out. The key question seems to be, “How could this happen?”
I believe I am in a unique position to answer that question.
Why me?
Because for the last three years, I have been planning just such an attack on the U.S. Capitol building. That includes how to get around the Capitol police, the National Guard, how to enter the building, how to hold it, and even how to hold its occupants as hostages.
That’s because I am the author of a novel called “The Feast of Wolves and Wild Dogs,” which has been serialized online since October and is still rolling out as we speak ( Let’s be clear: this is a work of fiction. And as a work of fiction, and narrative fiction at that, the book is built around a fairly simple premise: what if a French Revolution came to modern day America, complete with Twitter, 24-hour cable news, and whatever the ambitious psychopath can pick up at Dick’s Sporting Goods?
I put a lot of what I thought was outlandish stuff in this book. Not just the capture of the U.S. Capitol, but the takeover of statehouses across the country; racial protests; riots against income inequality; media manipulation; guillotines; gallows; invoking the 25th Amendment; Vice Presidents under threat; and even people dressed as animals wandering around the sacred halls of Washington (hence the wolves in the title). Needless to say, I have been spooked in recent months by certain similarities to real events.
(The kidnapping of government officials I largely left out, because I already made a movie about this. It’s called “American Hangman,” and it’s on Netflix right now. This is another piece of fiction I thought kind of over-the-top until the events in Michigan sadly proved me wrong.)
But here’s the catch: while the book is still unveiling itself, the truth is that I actually started it in 2017 and finished it early in 2020.
So, that leads me to some real concerns when I hear officials and elected representatives in the last 48 hours, all aquiver, say things like, “Who could have known? Who could have guessed this would happen?”
Well, I say... ME! Apparently, I knew!
And that, of course, raises some pretty big questions.
Primarily, how did some guy sitting in Southern California with his feet up on the coffee table figure out how to breach the Capitol where none of the people truly responsible for the building even considered the idea? How did I figure out just how important the Virginia National Guard would be – and just who would need to trigger the request to federalize same – where no real official on January 6 had the foggiest idea who to even call to get physical protection for Members of Congress? And how did I alone recognize the importance of the 25th Amendment in such a crisis?
Clearly, there are only so many viable answers to these questions.
1.    I’m a genius. I alone saw with clarity what no one else could imagine.
2.    The maniacs who invaded the Capitol on January 6 are avid readers.
3.    Our political leaders and law enforcement officials DID in fact know what fire they were playing with; they just didn’t see the repercussions in practical terms.
4.    Law enforcement was not clear about their role in defending the Capitol.
Sadly, in examining these options, I have to eschew the first one.
It really strikes me as unlikely that a middle-aged man with four kids and a small orange cat – a guy who spends more of his time going to the hardware store or trying to find Jack Finney novels on Abebooks - has unique insight into the forces of disorder beyond those available to the FBI and Homeland Security.
Option number two – that the forces of disorder were tremendously inspired by my fiction – is also, sadly, unlikely. Firstly, while the book is gaining a solid readership, it hasn’t even been traditionally published yet, and more importantly, it’s unlikely that the green guy wearing antlers is spending a lot of his time reading.
Option three – that our political leaders never saw the practical repercussions of their own actions – seems more likely, but even when you combine it with option four, the bases still aren’t totally covered.
Because we’re still left with the lingering question of how you breach a Capitol. I don’t just mean the mechanics of how people smashed through windows and squirmed into the Senate chamber, but how?  Truly, how?
Which leads us back to fiction, and the definition of speculative fiction itself.
The great Margaret Atwood defines speculative fiction (and I’m paraphrasing here) as a shout of “Watch out!” and “Be careful!” This definition is as solid as it gets. Certainly, that was my intention in writing my book, as I imagine it’s the intention of any author who sets out to lecture a waiting world on what seeds it should or shouldn’t sow. But in order for the warning to work, the novelist has to show not just the gruesomeness of what might happen, but the why.
I believe this is a pretty important function in society. It’s the value of an Orwell, a Huxley, a Philip K. Dick, or an Atwood. But that job shouldn’t rest solely with writers.
Far from it. The folks who should really be in charge of “Watch Out” and “Be Careful” are the ones who are actually given the jobs of managing our society on a daily basis. Our elected representatives, our law enforcement, and our judiciary. It is their duty to not just react but anticipate, to be prepared, and to avert disaster borne of the natural, even animal, propensities of most human beings. In short, manage the why as well as the mechanics.
In the case of January 6, this view was turned upside down. The manner in which the beast was able to run rampant through our citadel made it very clear that it was the elected representatives, law enforcement, and judiciary who birthed the animal in the first place; fed it, protected it, pet it, and finally let it loose.
Take it from someone who has been thinking about this for three years. You can’t just storm the Capitol and take it over with ease unless the folks guarding the place have some weird notion that you have the right to do so, or at the very least that they shouldn’t interfere with your intentions; you can’t just stumble upon the private offices of elected Members of Congress unless you’ve been told where to go; and you can’t just take the dais of the U.S. Senate unless someone has decided not to shoot you.
If you don’t believe me, let’s look at the argument about race. I certainly agree that if all the invaders had all been Black, they most certainly would have been shot. And perhaps if they’d all been waving Soviet flags they’d also have been shot. But there was something about the color of the invaders (white) and the flags (Confederate), which made the people who were supposed to guard our Capitol step back and say, “These guys are okay.”
(This is something I didn’t get into my book, because I could never have imagined it. Nor am I a fine enough poet to have dreamt up the image of Black janitors and custodians having to clean up the mess of white people, including, yes, Confederate flags. Their job is to return the nation’s Capitol to its pristine state, an institution which has worked assiduously to deny them rights for more than 240 years. What poet could dream that up?)
No, what played out on January 6 required more than the ability to just breach a building. This was about the breach of something far greater, and the fault lies with beings far more powerful than a bunch of dickheads wearing MAGA hats.
The fault lies with the elected representatives of this country, on both sides of the aisle but primarily the Republican side, and those who refuse to hold them to task. That’s you and me. It also lies with a culture that allows something as ludicrous as Fox News to sell its swill 24 hours a day for decades without any blowback from the people. It also lies with an education system which refuses to instill any basic knowledge of civics, social responsibility, or moral understanding. It most certainly lies at the foot of every pulpit where the sheer madness of Trump (and he is, most of us now agree, literally mad) is preached as part of Christian truth, to the point where an army of uninformed cultists equate Trump not with other Presidents, but with Christ. But most of all, the fault lies with a culture of greed and self interest that allows people who are educated, informed, and enlightened, to support and vote for such moral vomit because it’s good for the Dow, their investments, their 401k’s, their business, the value of their property, and their jobs in Congress.
These are the elements necessary to breach the U.S. Capitol and desecrate the concept of America.
When you combine all them, it’s not a question of, “Who could this happen?” It’s a question of, “How could this NOT happen?”
Yet it should not be the sole province of writers or filmmakers or poets to dream up these scenarios, imagine the very worst, and show their genesis.
It is the place of the political, economic, and judicial leaders of this hopelessly naïve nation to look in the mirror and reckon with these truths. To realize that they are the most naïve and absurd among us, and to understand that their childish antics and actions have real life consequences. They need to accept that they are responsible for what happened on January 6, and that they should be the ones cleaning up the mess, not the janitors. They should stop pointing fingers and say - every single one of them - “Me. Me. I did this.”
Because they did, whether directly or indirectly, by speaking out loud or through silence or obeisance. Some more than others.



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