What we have become.

Following the BART shooting, I've seen a lot of people ask why none of the civilian bystanders intervened. 

To me it would have been a big surprise if someone had intervened.

If there is one thing that we have been taught over the past 8 years, it is that you need to fear anyone in uniform.   If you so much as speak in a firm tone of voice to them, pointing out that they are in the wrong, you risk much unpleasantness -- from being physically subdued to, well, getting shot. The message that they can and will do as they please, has been so effectively driven home that the threshold for approaching them has become much higher.

By now, people also understand that there is a certain asymmetry to these situations.  If you put your hand on a police officer, there will be dire consequences.  If a police officer steps out of line and abuses his or her power, a proper disciplinary response of an appropriate magnitude generally does not seem to occur.

Not unless there is massive public outcry, serious injury, death or significant investment in legal muscle.

Injecting yourself into a tense situation with armed police would amount to stupidity on a scale where you are very actively competing for a Darwin Award.  This is more true now than it has been in a long time.   

And imagine what would have happened if the civilians on the train had managed some sort of concerted effort to stop what was happening.   It would most likely have resulted in a phenomenal number of deaths and it would only have made it easier for the police to justify shooting unarmed civilians.

And besides, why should the bystanders have intervened?  If you look at the videos: up until the moment when the shot was fired, nothing out of the ordinary was taking place.   Some men were being detained, albeit brutally so, but that is normal these days.  It is the norm accepted by society.  There was nothing, nothing, out of the ordinary about the situation. The bystanders had no way of knowing that one of the police officers was about to execute one of the men being detained.

The bystanders did not intervene exactly because we, as a society, do not want them to.  We accept that the police are held to a lower standard when it comes to being punished for their wrongdoing.  We accept that they are allowed to use excessive force.  We accept that if you do intervene, then force may be directed at you.  We accept that they are armed.  We accept that they can ruin our lives on a whim and terrorize us for no good reason.

We must have accepted all these things because we did have a choice.  It's a democracy.  It says so right there in the CIA world factbook -- it says that the US has a "strong democratic tradition".  If we didn't want this, we would have made sure we chose leaders who would address these issues.  But we didn't.

In this we are all bystanders and we all did nothing and we are all guilty of doing nothing.

1 comment:

UNRR said...

This post has been linked for the HOT5 Daily 1/12/2009, at The Unreligious Right