Not Enough Harm

« August 2008 »

Memo to the Minneapolis Police Department: YOU'RE NOT HELPING.

One of the underlying philosophies of You Are Dumb Dot Net is also one of my own underlying philosophies - that society should operate largely on the basis of harm. The way that reads seems like I'd be as happy as a clam, as our society does seem to be predicated on doing as much harm as possible, but that's not what I mean.

It's basically an extension of the Wiccan saying, "an it harm none, do as ye will", which is a good start, but like most things Wiccan, it's underdeveloped and a bit wanky. What I'm saying is that society, and by extension government and institutions, should punish what harms and reward what helps. This should be the primary metric. Motive is secondary. History and tradition and personality and all the other shit that we use on a daily basis to decide things and do things aren't what matter. What matters is, are you harming, or are you helping?

Now, I know that you run into problems deciding on a consensus opinion of whether some things hurt or some things help. Abortion "hurts" a blob of cells, and "helps" a living, breathing, functioning member of society. Teaching creationism in schools "hurts" children's developing brains, but "helps" tiny-minded young-earth fuckers who think their special book trumps reality. Reasonable people can, and do, disagree on these points, even if they're very fucking wrong. But sometimes, you can look at a situation through this lens, and the answer is as clear and uncomplicated as a creationist's EEG.

In December, Minneapolis police raided a home looking for a violent gang member. Police say they'd been told the gang member was there by an informant. A SWAT team with a "no-knock" warrant burst in. The family who actually lived there, none of whom were violent gang members, thought they were being robbed. The father, Vang Khang, fired three shotgun rounds at the intruders. The intruders, from the MPD, returned fire. Nobody was hurt, and the police apologized for their mistake.

The family has since lost the home. The children, according to their mother, are still traumatized. And on Monday, eight of the officers involved got medals for the incident.

Now, if you're following the simple metric of rewarding help and punishing harm, this makes no fucking sense. It doesn't matter what they -thought- was happening. The reality was they busted in and shot up the house of an innocent citizen. I'm not saying necessarily you punish the cops themselves, assuming the cops who performed the raid weren't the ones who picked the wrong house. But you don't commend them for their actions, because their actions harmed innocents, and harming innocents is bad.

So what freakish calculus was at play? Policy and tradition. According to police chief Tim Dolan, "we've never not recognized an officer shot in the line of duty." Which is fine, except that it relies on ridiculously loose definitions of both "shot" and "duty". According to the Strib, three officers got "shrapnel damage" to their body armor and helmets. Combine that information with an earlier story that reveals Khang shot at them with his hunting shotgun, what I conclude is that three officers got hit by pellets in the line of duty, five officers didn't get shot in the line of duty at all, and the "duty" itself was a horrifying mistake.

Medals for everybody, then! Maybe a round of applause and a ten dollar gift card for Starbucks. It would have been $20, but, you know. They didn't actually catch any criminals in the raid. The police chief even admitted he KNEW people would look at it badly, but he did it anyway, because, well, that's how it's done. And that's how it's increasingly done as we get more and more authoritarian in this country.

The police get medals because they were police. Because being a cop is difficult and dangerous and if they ever do something to you and you think you didn't deserve it, you're wrong, because you must have done something to bring them down on you. If they Taser you, it's because you were resisting and needed to be subdued, even if you're lying on the ground with a broken back and foot from a fall*. And if you shoot up the wrong house, you get a medal, because except for that pesky "wrong house" thing, you did everything like you were supposed to.

And people accept it, because... I have no fucking clue why they accept it, but they do. Like they accept torture and illegal spying and running fifty thousand volts through the Don't Tase Me Bro kid just because he was annoying. Fear and stupidity and the incredibly misguided conviction that good people can always be safe from bad people, and we can always tell who the good people and bad people are. Or maybe we're all just fucking nuts.

*An actual case from Ozark, Missouri. The kid got Tasered nineteen times because he wouldn't stand up when he was ordered to.