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Language Manipulation and Police Violence

Screen Shot 2020-06-06 at 11.26.35 AM

credit: Ellis family

Another black man, Manuel Ellis, was asphyxiated by the police in Tacoma, WA. Medieval restraint methods and all – it makes me ill reading the details.

I’m increasingly aware and angry about how language is being used in these cases. The lying by the police is obviously pervasive – and ham-handed in the face of clear video evidence to the contrary. What’s more insidious though is the careful wording of the official statements that essentially deny direct responsibility for the crimes.
Here’s the mayor of Tacoma, “Manuel Ellis and too many other black lives have been lost…We can no longer allow black residents or any residents of our community to die in the hands of our police officers because of broken processes and systems.”
This is an infuriating jumble of accountability denial.
For starters, “…black lives have been lost,” sounds like an umbrella went missing. There is no perpetrator in that sentence and therefore no responsibility. It just happened. We’re familiar with this kind of passive voice skewing of the crime from rape cases: saying, “A woman was raped,” or, “She was assaulted,” instead of, “Brock Turner raped her.”
Then there’s this: “In the hands of our police officers,” as if it happened while he was in custody (notice the comforting ring to it), vs. “AT the hands of our police officers,” which would indicate that the officers were his killers.
Most notable is that last qualifying ‘because’ clause which displaces the blame onto “broken processes and systems,” rather than the officers themselves.
Blaming “processes and systems” FIRST serves to neuter what should be the primary focus, namely the indictment of the criminal actor. Addressing the much longer-term and thorny problem of “what to do about the American police state” gets top billing even though it is a separate and secondary priority in the handling of a murder case. (Any reform would also presumably be handled differently if it were based on stopping the murder of black citizens rather than some vague indictment of police misconduct.) It reminds me of focusing on “campus culture” or alcohol in the prosecution of collegiate rape instead of, oh, I don’t know, the rapist.
The mayor is not wrong that this is a systemic problem and there is ALSO an overhaul of the system that needs to happen to address it (not “more funding for training” btw because that demonstrably does not work). But there was a murder. By the police. And that is the lede.
These are conscious linguistic choices. This kind of language manipulation assists in the effort to cover up the crime. It is insidious and intentional.

Pandemic Parking Lot

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 12.10.09 PM This is a friend’s view of the drive-through corona testing site for front-line workers here in San Francisco.

First, let me say I’m glad it’s there. Second, that’s a lot of cones. It looks like…an agility course?

“OK, so here’s the swab thing done and done. Now I’m gonna have you meet Bobby over there in the hazmat suit – I know he looks like everyone else but he’s the tall one  – and he’ll give you a bib with your number and kind of a map for how we want you to run through these cones.

Just don’t worry about your time on this one – we’re looking for accuracy more than speed this first run through. Watch out for the teeter-totter on the  turn. Lot of people trip up on that one. I know you probably have diminished lung capacity, but do your best and stay safe out there. Inhalers available at the finish line. And ambulances. For injuries. And pandemic-related symptoms.”

Not to make light of an evolving catastrophe. But that is a lot of cones for medical testing, isn’t it?

COVID continues

Screen Shot 2020-03-17 at 1.08.58 PMI guess Darwinism is headed back to work in May: the midwest is looking to “restart their economies” before the viral threat has even remotely diminished. To those who feel their “freedom to pick up fish sticks without wearing a mask or social distancing” is more important than other people’s “right to continue to be alive,” I urge you to reconsider.

In Another Country Who Is Doing Better Than We Are news, Germany, a place run by a woman, is killing it. (And by “it,” I mean the virus, not rational, scientifically-based thought.) They are throwing so many resources at this that they have medical professionals roaming neighborhoods, assessing early-stage cases and sending some to the hospital preemptively to – gasp! – preclude the need for emergency intervention later.

And finally, not new news, but still very sad: the Edinburgh Festival was finally officially cancelled, dashing our plans for August. I’m considerably more upset about this than the summer Olympics’ deferral, which goes to show how far I’ve come as a person since I was 12 and was truly upset at realizing I would not become a breakout gymnast despite only having done, like, one vault in 4th grade.



This week, some thoughts

Great, now they’re all in the same room: study links “climate change skepticism” to right-wing misogyny  and white nationalism. For having the lion’s share of power, white men sure seem to find a lot to be upset about. Might just be easier to sink that time and those resources into a solid therapist, but who am I to make suggestions?

Sex and Prosperity: “Women’s freedom is central to making our societies more prosperous, more equal and more environmentally sustainable.”

Related: it’s ironic that it’s the same people (conservative white men) who are against women’s access to abortion and birth control (see: global gag rule, abortion bans), and are racists paranoid about “white replacement.” Since restricting access to fertility management disproportionately affects non-white women, that means more non-white babies, no? I mean, obviously, thinking things through to their logical end point isn’t a strong suit of the reactive right, but for the sake of consistency, it really feels like they should pick misogyny OR racism. White male privilege, I guess, to support two morally repugnant, indefensible positions that also contradict each other.

Screen Shot 2019-09-09 at 9.12.59 AMLife goals: Maid of honor wears T-Rex costume after being told she could wear ‘anything.’

I don’t know Kate Lewis at Hearst Magazines, but I am now a fan: 100% going to try her to-do list hack.

Worth a reminder every once in a while: How to Complain.