Wednesday, November 21, 2007

"Giuliani Time" Starts for Whites

When New York police officers rammed a plunger up the rectum of Haitian immigrant Albert Louima in August 1997, they crowed to Louima that "this is Giuliani time . . ." I was reminded of the Giuliani cops when I saw a video of a Utah police officer "tasing" a quarrelsome white driver named Jared Massey he had pulled over for speeding. When the guy decided to argue about speeding rather than sign his citation, the police officer made him get out of the car and then poured 50,000 volts into him with his taser. What makes the officer Giuliani-like is that he believed he had a right to torture the driver because he thought the man was annoying. The Giuliani police in NYC thought they had a right to torture anybody like Albert Louima for any reason they wanted. The same is the case with this police officer in Utah.

The other Giuliani element was the vaunting over the guy he had tortured. When a second officer arrived on the scene, the original cop laughed that the man "took a ride with the Taser" while the second officer put in his sadistic two cents by adding "painful isn't it." The boasting is important. In Rudy Giuliani's world where power, strength, and masculinity are established through military attacks, torture, and threats vaunting over opponents is an important way to represent the distance between your strength and their weakness. In the case of the cops and Albert Louima, their bragging represented the distance between their power as police officers and white men and Louima's powerlessness as a Haitian immigrant. The Utah cops were sharing their sense of power when they laughed about the guy who was tased.

Liberal blogger Digby formulates the incident in terms of the erosion of constitutional rights.

Police in the country are now allowed to torture speeders by the side of the highway in order to get them to comply. The only difference between this officer slugging the speeder in the stomach and putting 50,0000 volts of electricity in him is that the latter doesn't leave any marks. The intent, the pain and the goose-stepping authoritarian message are exactly the same.

Word to the wise. Do not ever question the police, no matter whether they are violating your rights, ignoring the constitution or breaking the law. It is perfectly legal for them to torture you on the spot if you do.

I'm feeling so free I can hardly breathe.

This is a place where Digby and I disagree. In fact, being able to count on not being arbitrarily arrested, being framed for crimes, or tortured has always been a privilege of white people, and fairly respectable white people at that. This is something I realized when I had an incident where a local University police officer pulled me over for running a stop sign. The original charge was bogus because the stop sign was a new sign. Then, the officer started adding on charges for not wearing a seat belt, not having registration, proof of insurance, and threatened to put me in jail for those even though none of them would even result in a fine. On top of that, he wrote up my court date for an hour before court even started.

In the end, the stop sign charge was diverted and I got my paper-work in order which meant that all the other charges were dismissed.

But I also had an epiphany when I asked myself what would have happened if I had been black? Or a poor man? Or a student? And the obvious answer is that it would have been worse, perhaps a lot worse if I had been a black guy. When the prominent African-American writer Cornel West was arrested for driving in the wrong neighborhood and protested that he was a theology professor, the cops baited him with the n-word. I'm sure they would have been harsher than that with a black guy in Morehead.

That's the significance of the Utah case. What's changed is that the police have expanded "Giuliani time" to well-dressed white guys with nice wives and little babies.

The police have never hesitated to refuse to recognize rights, defy the Constitution, or break the law when dealing with large parts of the American population. Now, they're extending their abuses to nice white people as well.

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