Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Rage of Justin Barrett, Part I

One of the limitations of contemporary political discourse on race is that guys like Justin Barrett don't get more sustained attention. A police officer and National Guard member, Barrett wrote an e-mail to the Boston Globe's Yvonne Abraham that exploded with racial and gender rage, revealed the extent to which police officers think they're laws onto themselves, and formulated a dangerous view of the military as the foundation of American society.

But almost all of this is going to be swept under the rug.

Because Justin Barrett used a racist monkey image in relation to Henry Louis Gates, he will be fired from the Boston Police force and removed from the National Guard. He'll also have a difficult time finding an equivalent job in a tough economy (will the Boston Fire Department want him?). Indeed, Barrett might not be able to find any kind of position that involves working with people who aren't committed racists.

Barrett claims to have black friends. I imagine he'll also lose all of his black friends not named Clarence Thomas.

But Barrett will be forgotten after he either loses or gives up his appeals to keep his job. He'll have his fifteen minutes of infamy and then the incident will be swept under the carpet of American public awareness. That's the way the media works on race. It focuses attention on "racial incidents" primarily as a way to reassure everybody--well, whites anyway-- that America is not a racist country. When that comforting thought is achieved, people like Justin Barrett are then dropped from the collective memory.

Still, it's important to fully illuminate Justin Barrett's views. Barrett is a racist, a misogynist, and an advocate of police tyranny. But he's not just an immoral person. He's also somebody who ties these views together into a violently authoritarian system of political thought. Given the hostility toward democracy that's become more prominent in some circles over the last three years, t's necessary to understand how Barrett's thinking works. It would also be important to figure out whether Barrett's ideas are shared among conservatives, members of police forces, and the various branches of the military. There's not much hope there though. Given the desire to sweep Justin Barrett under the carpet of history, it might be a long time before anyone knows how widely held his views are.

Barrett, the Racial Analogy, and Police Power.

An important kernel of Justin Barrett's world view is the justification of the tyrannical rule of police through the analogy of Henry Louis Gates to a "banana-eating jungle monkey."
Your defense of Gates while he is on the phone being confronted with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and always will be a suspect. His first priority of effort should be to get off the phone and comply with police for if I was the officer he verbally assaulted like a banana-eating jungle monkey I would have sprayed him in the face with OC (pepper spray) deserving of his belligerent non-compliance.

I won't hide my bias. Given the history of white racism in this country, it's sickening to see a black guy like Gates analogized to a "banana-eating jungle monkey." I'm nauseous even typing it. It's even more disgusting that this analogy is so important to Barrett's view of the power of the police. Barrett starts his presentation by seeking to disabuse Abraham of the view that Prof. Gates should be considered a citizen of the United States. "Your defense of Gates while he is on the phone being confronted with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and always will be a suspect."

Barrett's second sentence here explains the meaning of the first. To Justin Barrett, Prof. Gates is not and can never be a citizen who can claim "rights" according to the Constitution. For Barrett, Gates "is and will always be a suspect" in the sense that Gates is permanently under suspicion for committing crimes and therefore always subject to police action. This is where the circular reasoning connected to the monkey analogy begins to take effect. In the world according to Justin Barrett, any claim by black persons to have rights reveals their racial essence and constitutes proof that they are sub-human and therefore do not deserve rights. By complaining to Officer Crowley, Gates revealed his essence as a "banana-eating jungle monkey" who did not deserve the rights he claimed to have and merited his status as a police suspect.

Because he does not view black people as having any rights, Justin Barrett assumes that police officers have a right to do anything to a black person like Prof. Gates they want. Barrett claims that he would have sprayed Gates in the face with OC or pepper spray for his "belligerent non-compliance" in claiming his rights. This is a startling claim. Gates was not committing a crime and he posed no danger or other impediment to Officer Crowley (who could have arrested him at any time). As a result, Barrett is posing himself as having a right to pepper spray Gates simply because Gates was demanding to know the officer's name and badge number. Therefore, Barrett was presuming a right to consider Gates "non-compliance" to be a crime and to serve as judge, jury, and agent for executing punishment in relation to that crime. It's important to emphasize that Justin Barrett is claiming the right for himself and other police officers to decide themselves on punishment for black guys like Gates. In Barrett's mind, police officers would have been well within their rights to club, tase, beat up, or even shoot Gates for his non-compliance. If Gates has no rights as a citizen, how cops punish them is a matter of whim and Barrett only chooses OC because that's the particular way he enjoys the thought of Gates' suffering.

For Justin Barrett, the supposed racial inferiority of blacks justifies an assertion of total police power over black people.

Next Time--Justin Barrett and the Military as Foundational


Anonymous said...

So, all cops and members of the military are racists? Way to generalize, Caric. Hypocrite.

I think you also protest too much about how the phrase "banana-eating jungle monkey" offended you. It's like you're so desperate to prove that you are not one of "those" white people, but one of the "good" ones.

Ric Caric said...

To Anonymous. So you're saying that Barrett's racism formulation didn't offend you. Likewise, where did you see the generalization in relation to the cops and the military?

Anonymous said...

Yes, it offended me. There, happy?

But that's beside the point. The generalization you make with regard to police and military is contained in this sentence: "It would also be important to understand the extent to which ideas are shared among conservatives, members of police forces, and the various branches of the military."

So at the very least, you are implying that Barrett's views are widely held amongst members of the military and police. All without a scintilla of evidence, and based only on your own personal prejudices. Classic guilt by association.

Ric Caric said...

Hmm, I can see the ambiguity in the sentence that would lead you to think that. But what I meant was that it's important to investigate the extent to which Barrett's opinions are held by others. For me, the important thing right now is to tease out Barrett's ideas in their full monstrousness. As I say in the post, I doubt we'll be able to learn the extent to which they're held more generally.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for a thought provoking article. I do not think Civics is taught in the school system the way it used to be taught. You have to know your form of government and the way it works. That is why we have to many incidents. A lot of citizens of the United States do not know their form of government or the way it works. SIMPLE!!

Inspector Clouseau said...

Had we, as a society, a bit thicker skins, we would broadcast these lunacies far and wide, with an appropriate apology to the more sensitive among us, demonstrate a little Common Sense for our fellow man, and let the fringe element drown in the laughter and public ridicule generated by their own thinking or lack thereof. Along with the right to free speech comes the right to make a public fool of oneself; and like the naked, fools have little or no influence on society. We should "Never Underestimate the Power of Laughter."

Ric Caric said...

There's a way in which I agree with Inspector Clousseau's comment and I certainly try to "drown" the fringe element in laughter. But the fringe element is about 20% of the American voting public and 50% of the Republican Party. That's too many people to laugh out of existence.