I was living comfortably as a middle-class stooge in Manhattan when a discussion among friends moved to police killings. I mentioned that the little I knew about the police was that their training was insufficient and the shootings, though certainly race-based, could be laid upon the doorsteps of this training.
Looking back at this moment, and at my current views, I sense a part of me that’s solidly bourgeoisie and instinctively stands up for the status quo. I’m not mocking this survival mechanism; I full well know why it exists. Still, it’s hard to excise that belief in power for some form of the truth, but I’m trying—emphasis on trying. Nevertheless, let me properly frame the past by highlighting the fact that my previously held stance was backed by the then “obvious” truth (in my circles) that the decrease in crime in NYC was a direct result of being “tough on crime”. Even if the nuanced among us thought it wasn’t the long sentences or roughing up of the youth—stop and frisk—but rather the flooding of the streets, or “hot-spots” with cops that was the panacea. This was coupled with my military belief that better weapons training would make anyone less likely to pull the trigger for nothing.
Thus the wont to be comfortable came back to the surface when I first heard the protests against police shootings, and especially against the militarization of said police forces. I thought the focus on the militarization, via weaponry and veterans joining the forces, was misplaced even if the problem itself, attacks on minority groups, was a problem—to say nothing of the general oppression, in terms of policies and other forces. Interesting, then, that I chose to focus on the complaints about veterans and especially military equipment. Like I said, or now admit, this might have been more of an issue—morally expedient and all—of not wanting veterans to be blamed. After all, the mob is fickle and views veterans as a single group or in binary terms (broken or violent).
Know that, at the time, I was pretty cognizant of the effects the forever war was having (the one on drugs and the one on terror) on our society. From the mindset behind it to the other consequences of carrying it out. In fact, a couple of my novels looked at the war on terror and the loss of rights we’ve accepted so timidly. But I didn’t think that the cop shootings were a direct consequence of the militarization of said police forces. I, ultimately, clung to my view that all the police shootings came down to bad training—how technocratic of me, right? Even if there were military paraphelinia in Ferguson, it was all visuals, all a sad testament to state power being directed at the oppressed, nothing more. I also thought most veterans who joined the police force would be the last to act so irrationally. For the thought-process behind “winning hearts and minds” would not result in shooting at every shadow. And what was the increase in the police if nothing but a surge?
Cracks in this view of mine first appeared when I saw conservative veterans comparing BLM to terrorists or to the KKK (still something the right is doing, I'm afraid). I'm certainly nuanced enough to know that many in the veteran community came from more conservative backgrounds and are representative of those backgrounds, to say nothing of their relationships with those communities and roles as possible “sheep dogs” in maintaining the siege mentality. Such views made me take a closer look at my own “don’t rock the boat” views.
In the end, it was these reactions, by fellow veterans and civilians that pushed me to see that my focus on training alone was not enough to explain the reality in front of me. I read Baldwin and saw how the pushback was a case of “the lady doth protest too much,” and indicated a sick culture, one that included me. The culture behind the oppression, the thoughts behind it, were what BLM were trying to change, highlight, overcome. And since there is a large power behind those who oppose BLM—both implicit and explicit—there would naturally be pushback. One that both the claims of “terrorism” and “ALM” are a part of. And I saw that even if it isn’t veterans in the force causing this latest attack on oppressed people, the system that so easily labels terrorists overseas is now labeling these BLM activists in the same way. In other words, it’s rarely the pawns on the ground, but the people up top pulling the strings that matter: they are the ones making money by selling the siege mentality and the military equipment to control people. And since the system is based on white supremacy, the first to be harmed will be minorities. And—as if anyone needed proof—one need only look at how Justine’s death was treated both on the right and in the mainstream media.
I recently wrote about the siege mentality in our streets and how some people in our nation, some veterans included, act deluded and look to fight shadows, usually in the form of the “other”. I now know that BLM was the first group to help me see through the fog of the zeitgeist—self-preservation—and to see this for what it was. As for my fellow Americans, I implore you to open your eyes to this sickness. And start healing this nation. Don’t succumb to the evil of unthinking reactions, of siege mentality, even if these can be comforting. Think about how you want the future to view us, or perhaps try to just leave the world a slightly better place. Because our future requires it.
Nelson Lowhim is a veteran and writer. He is the author of many novels, short stories and essays to include CityMuse, The Struggle, 1000001 American Nights and the Labyrinth of Souls. You can find more about him and his work at nelsonlowhim.blogspot.com. Find him on Twitter @nlowhim