Photo: Officer Montrell Jackson, one of those killed in Baton Rouge today. Courtesy PBSO.
It would be a relief of inexpressible proportions if we could go just a few days without the kind of event that feels like it really does herald the collapse of society. But today, unfortunately, keeps with recent tradition. Today, once again, we're reminded that the fabric that holds our culture together is basically gossamer and the terror and violence we like to believe are the hallmarks of distant shores can be found right outside our door. In fact, the kind of terror and violence that plagues us is inherently American, as intrinsic to our nation as apple pie, baseball, and the proliferation of military grade weapons meant to kill as many people as possible as quickly as possible and from the farthest distance possible. When war can seemingly be declared by civilians against the very people licensed to carry weapons in the name of protecting us -- and those civilians can indeed inflict nightmarish damage -- you know that the soul of this country has rotted. The wheels have come off our great experiment in democracy.
You've heard the news and know the details. Three Baton Rouge police officers dead and three more wounded, all apparently by a man armed with an assault rifle. That shooter is now dead; police say he was wearing all black, including a black mask meant to hide his identity. It looks as if the police were ambushed, the initial attack erupting into an extended firefight. Then, of course, the end result: at least six officers shot, three of them dying. And once again we're left to wonder whether we've descended so far into the abyss of violent, virulent madness that there's no way back. Three more families have loved ones who'll never come home and three more than that now wait patiently in a hospital, tears and prayers the only response to this horror they can conjure. A police department now in mass mourning and police as a whole now, after Dallas and after today, surely living with the knowledge that they're marked men and women.
A truly miraculous revelation in the investigation notwithstanding, two Baton Rouge cops shouldn't have killed Alton Sterling earlier this month. Sure he appeared to resist arrest, but that alone isn't justification for putting round after round into his chest. He didn't deserve to die and the police handled that entire situation, to say the very least, contemptibly. Since that shooting, the Baton Rouge Police Department as an entity hasn't exactly performed up to exemplary standards in terms of deescalating tension and even if you dispute this there's no arguing that public perception of the department is in the toilet. First there was the arrest of Black Lives Matter protesters on private property, with a raid by police captured on camera. Then there was possibly the defining image of the avalanche of protest we've seen in the wake of Sterlings death and that of Philando Castile in Minnesota (another man shot dead by police for what sure seems like no legitimate reason): the photo of Baton Rouge police in full riot gear confronting a peaceful female protester.
But make no mistake: Even if you believe strongly that far too many black men have been on the receiving end of an immediate death sentence at the hands of police -- and they have -- or that, specifically, the Baton Rouge Police Department is rotten to the core, it doesn't give you the right to shoot and kill police officers. All killing cops does is add to the body count -- the body count of the innocent, since none of the officers shot or killed today was responsible for the death of Alton Sterling and certainly none of the officers killed in Dallas were responsible for the death of a person of color. If you shoot at cops, or if you're ghoulish and reprehensible enough to celebrate the murder of cops, you're not the solution to injustice -- you're part of the problem. You're exactly the person this country's racist reactionary underbelly will point to as proof that the war they've wanted to fight in the streets for decades is necessary because the "first shots" have already been fired.
Violence always leads to more violence. Always. And killing innocent people, whether it's blue-on-black, black-on-blue or any variation of any combination you can come up with is simply wrong. Somewhere along the line it feels like we forgot that. We started to believe the bullshit about guns making us righteous because they're what allow us to stand up to tyranny, when the reality is that guns just give us the ability to kill -- and 99% of the time there isn't a damn thing noble or heroic about that, certainly not when it drags us into the streets to gun each other down like dogs. Again, it's that particularly American form of terror -- the kind administered at the end of a constitutionally protected killing machine. None of us is safe. Not anymore. Because if the police are targets, and they're armed to the teeth, what chance is there for any of us? The answer, they'll say, is to arm ourselves, right? Get our own guns so we can be good guys with guns ready to confront the bad guys with guns at our doorstep.
But some of the good guys with guns, the police, have killed unnecessarily. Now someone who no doubt thought he was a good guy with a gun, likely got revenge on them. In the end, innocent people died regardless. Because that's how it is and will always be in a nation where guns and violence seem to be the answer to everything. Death. Suffering. Going on and on and on until even if we survive, there's nothing remaining of us to call decent. There are no good guys left.