18 September 2010

Marc Estrin: Don't Tase Me, Bro...

Killer Klowns. Image from Out of the Grave.

Don't Tase me, bro...

By Marc Estrin / The Rag Blog / September 18, 2010

Another Taser-related death this past week, this time, not of an ancient great-grandmother in a wheelchair, but of a healthy young man. Those involved with toting up the corpses count more than 500. Google "Taser deaths" for their names and ages.

Tasers don't kill people. Cops with Tasers kill people. Cops with other weapons kill people too.

In contrast to the United States, British police don't routinely carry lethal arms. Only a limited number of specialist officers are permitted to use guns in special situations. Britain's Home Office said being unarmed is part of the "character of the police" in the U.K. The "character of the police" chez nous is something rather different. With our taste for arms sales and permanent war-making throughout the world, could we expect it to be otherwise?

In looking through SKULK last week for its 9/11 resonances, I came across this chapter I had forgotten about. I present it for your bleak amusement:

Modest Doubt Is Call'd The Beacon Of The Wise

Could they do this? Did they even approve of it being done? Violence? Large-scale, possibly lethal violence?

Teresa had never even hunted or fished with Daddy: the idea of threading a worm on a hook had always seemed too yucky. Richard had the comical habit of crushing plastic milk containers with his hands: stomping on them seemed unseemly. Now they were challenged to embrace something like...the Truth. Teresa heard Thomas Aquinas urging her from potency to act. Richard felt ripeness was all, and things were very close to ripe.

But both were now smitten by a sudden cloud of fear and abdication. And it was in this eddying cloud that they now accompanied WSU’s speaker, Rashid Khalidi, towards Levitt Arena on an otherwise cloudless early evening for his talk on “The New American Empire."

Why book the Shockers’ home basketball court? Because Khalidi was tall in stature in the academic world? No. Because He was a Shocker (to some) himself? No. Because this was the summer session’s culminating major-speaker event? No. It was because Buildings and Grounds had for some reason denied Richard’s request for Wilner Auditorium, though its schedule seemed open. No matter, Richard thought, Levitt will be fine, if slightly less comfortable in the bleachersswirlin and folding chairs. Desmond Tutu had spoken there last year, and Khalidi would make a nice followup.

But meteorological cloudlessness was a poor predictor of the gathering storm: streaming up Hillside along with Rashid, Teresa and Richard, were tens, then hundreds of sign-carrying students and community folks. Some wore yarmulkas, most wore crosses, and a scant few sported kuffiyehs, the traditional Palestinian headscarf. Uh-oh, T&R thought, looks like a religious war. Khalid was unruffled. “My fans,” he reassured them. Au courant, though. The yarmulkas and crosses seemed to populate the same side of the path, while the kuffiyehs and assorted peaceniks lined up sparsely on the other. Law enforcement was nowhere in sight.



Both sides seemed to share a strong commitment to the exclamation point. The three of them ran the gauntlet.

The Levitt basketball court had a small stage constructed at one end, as for other large events like rained-out graduations, and Richard and Khalidi took their seats on the well-flowered platform. At 7:40, having allowed ten minutes to accomodate the late-arriving crowd, Richard stood to open the evening.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Students and Faculty, Members of the Community,” he began, “it gives me great pleasure to introduce the final speaker of our Contemporary Issues series, a man who himself has become a contemporary issue. Rashid Khalidi is Edward Said...

Some cheers and boos from the audience. Richard admonished it gently with his famous Groucho waggling-of-eyebrows.

“...Edward Said Professor of Modern Arab Studies and Literature at Columbia University. Professor Khalidi has written more than seventy-five articles on aspects of Middle East history and politics including pieces in the New York Times [some boos], the Boston Globe [a different set of boos], the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and many journals. He has received fellowships and grants from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation, and is a recipient of a Fulbright research award. He has been a regular guest on radio and TV shows, including All Things Considered [applause from the liberals], Talk of the Nation, the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer, and Nightline.

“His latest book, Resurrecting Empire: Western Footprints and America’s Perilous Path in the Middle East, examines the record of Western involvement in the region and analyzes the likely outcome of our most recent Middle East incursions.

“Let’s give a warm welcome to our guest, and I’m sure that, in spite of the controversial nature of his topic, we will show him the respect and hospitality for which Kansas is so justly famous. Ladies and Gentlemen, Professor Rashid Khalidi.”

General applause, with a scattering of boos and cheers. Operation Rescue, The Mid-Continent ADL and WSU Hillel stood up in back with their signs.

Khalidi began with many thank yous for the honor of the invitation, invited questions and discussion after his talk, and launched passionately into his topic.

“Since September 11, we've heard a lot about the ‘intelligence failures’ that left the United States unprepared for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. But these failures were not simply the result of poor espionage or bureaucratic incompetence. They reflected a deeper failure to understand a region and its historical wounds, a number of which -- though not all -- were inflicted by the Western powers.”

Serious pre-uproar among the audience. Khalidi remained calm, but did respond:

“I hope you will agree that the future of America's relations with the Arab and Muslim world depends a great deal on public education. Yet the very people who are in a position to perform this vital task have instead found themselves under siege from the media, from extremist pressure groups and craven politicians. Our crime? Challenging those formidable authorities on the Arab world, George W. Bush and Ariel Sharon.”

Standing and yelling from the audience:


“If you don’t like it here, go home!”

“Nazi Jew-killer!”

“Terrorists off campus!”

Richard stepped forward, and took the mike from the lectern.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, this kind of behavior will have reverberations country-wide. Internationally. This is an institution committed to academic freedom! Please, please, reserve your comments until after Professor Khalidi’s talk, and then keep them polite. Believe me, the whole world is watching.” He inserted the mike once again in its holder and took his seat. Khalidi, continued, apparently unflustered.

“Back in 1992, a decade before 9/11, a group of right-wing thinkers from the administration of the first George Bush created the Project for a New American Century, PNAC. I strongly suggest you google them, and study their documents closely. Their platform demanded that the United States take advantage of the fall of the Soviet Union to achieve unchallenged, unchallengable domination of the planet, and control of its dwindling resources. They called on America to substantially increase its military budget, to deny other nations the use of outer space, and to adopt a more aggressive and unilateral foreign policy that would allow it to act offensively and preemptively in the world. The elimination of states like Iraq figured prominently in this grand vision.

[Applause and a quickly abating “U-S-A! U-S-A!”]

“In a widely-circulated 1998 letter to President Clinton, the members of PNAC -- Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz, Eliot Abrams, Richard Armitage, Richard Pearl, Robert Zoellick, William Kristol and Francis Fukayama among them -- challenged the president to move forcefully and militarily to remove Saddam Hussein.
[Again some applause, with annoyed shushing from the liberals.]

“And in their defining document, 'Rebuilding America’s Defenses,' written in September 2000 -- a full year before 9/11 -- they acknowledged that the process of transformation was likely to be a long one, absent -- in their own chilling words -- ‘some catastrophic and catalyzing event like a new Pearl Harbor.’ One year later that event would arrive.”

It was time for the Blintz Brigade, a group whose motto was “Cream Pies Are For Cream Puffs!” From left and right, two nightmare gaggles of gabardined clowns invaded the platform, firing blintzes at the speaker, splattering his dark suit with crème fraiche (“For The Blessed, Nothing But The Best!”), and greasing the ground with doughish offal.

Now a blintz is no mere crêpe. The baked and semi-hardened dough raised second-degree welts and third-degree contusions on Professor Khalidi’s face -- and let loose bedlam in the audience.

Richard sprang from his seat, and Teresa ran up on stage to help battle the clowns. In the arena, folding chairs clattered as the yarmulkas attacked the kuffiyehs, and the crosses attacked them both and one another. Neutrals scattered at first, then tested out testosterone in random directions. Even women have testosterone.
Enter the campus police. Exit the campus police. This was more than they could handle.

The uproar grew from forte to fortissimo as the entropy increased. The clowns had disappeared. Poof! On stage, Richard and Teresa were madly wiping down the distinguished professor with hankie and scarf.

Sirens without, and onto the stage poured the burly Wichita police in an overly-tactical rear-entrance maneuver. With macho seriously compromised from slipping all over the spent blintz shells, they nevertheless succeeded in throwing an orange net over Teresa, Richard and Khalidi before confronting the audience. This latter they did from the edge of the platform, using academy sharpshooters to practice with the new paint-ball and itch-powder 12-gauge shotguns. The chaos on the court was enhanced by scratching and sneezing and wiping of semi-enameled eyes.

Paint transmuted into war-paint, during which the orange-net enforcers, donning ski-masks, resorted to the old-style tactics of punching, kneeing and kicking their capturees. “This is what you get when you fuck with us!” one blue-garbed protector informed Teresa.

Yet more sirens, and more again. The Kansas State Police had not had a chance to try out the $5.3 million worth of advanced tactical weapons they had amassed from the Homeland Security Gift Shop and Cafe. The gym-space echoed anew with concussion grenades; rubber bullets bounced off walls and public; bean-bags (aka FBs, or “flexible batons”) crescendoed the havoc while wooden dowels percussed from skulls to floor.

Was there reaction? You bet!

Anarchists in the crowd organized an ad-hoc protest by stripping naked and arranging themselves non-hierarchically in a peace sign, and were soon trampled by old hippies in tie-dyes and pony-tails shouting ancient slogans, and threatening to call the ACLU.

This was too much for the mid-level officers, who up till now had let the rookies rock and roll. Out came the temporarily-blinding strobe lights, and then the Tasers which, in case you haven’t been following, fire barbed darts which deliver a 50,000 volt jolt. Those hit lose muscle control (including sphincters), and collapse instantly. The gym floor became littered with bodies, clothed and un-.

Still there was resistance from the quickly-erected holding pens. Insufferable: chanting and most provocative of all, videotaping and flashbulbs. It was time for DARPA-level crowd control using weapons that had never been used, not in Wichita, not in Kansas, not in the continental United States, save possibly at the U1a Facility at the DOE's Nevada Test Site -- and maybe not even there. Semi-conductor lasers to create plasma “flash-bangs” stunning and disorienting the target; heat-compliance weapons -- directed-energy prototypes that would instantly raise body-temperature to an intolerable level. Taser-type darts variously tipped with four varieties of incapacitating, psycho-active drugs.

But alas, before any of these could be brought into play, the gym lights went out. The clowns had struck again. Several hands copped major feels on Teresa. This was not to her liking. Richard’s hammerlock was tightened through the net, and Khalidi was only just recovering from the baton-twirling routine especially for Ragheads. Then the sprinklers came on strong, dampening the mood and the firepower. And a Jewish clown laugh-track filled the room, with arena loudspeakers cranked up to max -- which is pretty loud.

Then silence. Blackness and wetness and silence. The evening seemed over. The police withdrew, fading out under cover of darkness, walkie-talkies crackling obscurely, diminuendo to nothing. The audience walked, limped, staggered, crawled, swam for freedom.

The next day, the Wichita Eagle quoted Mayor Mayans as declaring the police action “a model for homeland defense,” and noted that all officers had demonstrated “a tremendous amount of restraint,” and were thus able “to refrain from arrests.”

Of the three on the platform, one began to entertain modest doubts about remaining in his adopted country, while on a related subject, the other two harbored no more doubts whatsoever.
[Marc Estrin is a writer and activist, living in Burlington, Vermont. His novels, Insect Dreams, The Half Life of Gregor Samsa, The Education of Arnold Hitler, Golem Song, and The Lamentations of Julius Marantz have won critical acclaim. His memoir, Rehearsing With Gods: Photographs and Essays on the Bread & Puppet Theater (with Ron Simon, photographer) won a 2004 theater book of the year award. He is currently working on a novel about the dead Tchaikovsky.]

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