As readers of my blog know, my work on the Ethan Saylor case led me to coin the phrase the "cult of compliance." This phrase allows me to link diverse moments in which authority figures respond to non-compliance with egregious acts of violence and place them against the backdrop of normalized veneration of compliance in our culture.
We only get the stories that make the news, often when a person with disability (which excuses the non-compliance in our eyes) gets hurt. These events are serious, often tragic, and deserve media attention, but the bigger picture of the non-news matters just as much, because recognizing the disease, over the symptom, is critical to effect change. Individual authority figures, whether police officers or principals, need to be held accountable for their actions, but we also need the broader context to understand why the stories keep occurring. Hence, the cult of compliance.
In Albuquerque, New Mexico, police shot and killed a mentally-ill homeless man named James Boyd. Lefty Coaster wrote an excellent diary on it, though focused on the criminalization of homelessness (also a problem!). But I want to think about this big picture of the veneration of compliance.
Here's the story:
A week ago, APD officers found a 38-year-old man camping in the foothills. A man in mental crisis, he first threatened officers. Then he agreed to surrender, gathered his things and began to walk towards officers as instructed.So the man complies, they throw a grenade, he panics and reaches for knives, but is retreating. Again, he is retreating (follow the link and you can watch the video. I choose not to re-post it here).
That’s when an officer shouts “Do it!” and officers targeted him with a flash-bang grenade normally used in SWAT assaults. He drops his things, steps back from the blast and pulls out two small knives he previously put away at officers’ request.
Then he turns away and they open fire with live rounds and a police dog. He later died.
We have videos like this because of lapel cameras and car cameras. A good criticism of the concept of the "cult of compliance" is that it's nothing new, that it's not linked to the militarization of police or any other cultural shift - it's the way human nature mixes with authority - only now we have video to prove it. I think technology has played a role in raising awareness about this kind of abuse, and surely specific populations have long been subjected to mandatory compliance. African-Americans call it "the talk," a conversation in which they tell their children to obey police instantly and completely in order to keep them from being shot.
I think the cult of compliance is spreading, not retreating, not even in the face of greater access to police video and the near-universal presence of cell-phone cameras in most situations. And maybe as it becomes a white suburban problem, white suburban Americans will take notice and push to effect change that can help protect those minority families and people with disabilities (my specific topic) that are so endangered by the cult.
But not so far in Albuquerque. ProgressNow reports that the Albuquerque police have, since 2010, shot more people than the NYPD, despite the relative size differential between the two cities. The DOJ is investigating.
Meanwhile, the local police chief has ruled on the killing. "Justified."
I am a freelance columnist, blogger, long-time Kossack, and History Professor. You can read my blog at How Did We Get Into This Mess? This diary is an edited version of today's blog post.
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