The world as it is
Unilateral disarmament and the threat it poses to Democrats
Dahlia Lithwick writes about law and the courts for Slate, and hosts their Amicus podcast. Her December 6 essay, “The Uneven Playing Field,” examines her ambivalence toward the Democrats cleaning house of sexual abusers and predators while Republicans take a more transactional approach. I share the ambivalence. Like most liberal-minded people, I believe victims of sexual predation, and I want to see the perpetrators held to account. I’m glad Al Franken resigned. I’m glad John Conyers is out. But, as Lithwick writes, “When Al Franken, who has been a champion for women’s rights in his tenure in the Senate, leaves, what rushes in to fill the space may well be a true feminist. But it may also be another Roy Moore. And there is something deeply naïve, in a game of asymmetrical warfare, and in a moment of unparalleled public misogyny, in assuming that the feminist gets the seat before it happens.”
How can Democrats balance morality with their obvious need to take back at least one chamber of Congress next year? How can two sides compete with such wildly different rulebooks?
Lithwick appeared on WNYC’s On the Media podcast this week to discuss her essay with host Brooke Gladstone. Gladstone asked her if her argument could be summed up in this way: “If you want to make the world a better place, you have to function as effectively as you can in the world as it is.”
Lithwick’s response? “Yup. Sorry, buddy.”
Presented without [much] comment
TV is kind of slow to respond to cultural and political shifts. I don’t mean TV news. I mean dramas and comedies – the fun stuff. But I’ll be damned if the second season of The Girlfriend Experience, a Starz anthology series created by Lodge Kerrigan and Amy Seimetz, isn’t shaping up to be the most compelling political thriller of the year. It is the perfect complement to rage-tweeting about the Republican tax bill.
The acquittal of Daniel Shaver’s murderer makes a strong case for police reform
This week, The Atlantic published two essays by Conor Friedersdorf on the murder of a 26-year-old man named Daniel Shaver. He was shot five times by a then-police officer, Philip Brailsford. Shaver and Brailsford are both white. This fact matters because, although black people are disproportionately harmed by police brutality, over-policing and officer training that seems geared toward escalating tense situations puts Americans at increased risk regardless of race.
Shaver had been having some drinks with one or more people in his Arizona hotel room, and took out his pellet gun, a tool he used as part of his work in pest control. From the vantage point of another hotel guest who could see Shaver’s window, that pellet gun looked like a more lethal weapon, and that guest called the police for help. Six officers showed up and asked Shaver into the hallway, where he was killed a short time later.
Brailsford had the phrase “You’re fucked” engraved on one of his service weapons, and he and another officer appeared to give Shaver numerous and conflicting instructions to follow. Shaver tried to follow the officers’ instructions, but was also afraid to make a mistake: at least one officer said repeatedly that failing to follow their instructions would get Shaver killed. Shaver begged and pleaded for his life and, while trying to crawl toward the officers as he was asked, faltered. When he stopped to try to pull his shorts up, Brailsford shot him.
On December 7, after a six-week trial, Brailsford was acquitted of all charges against him. The engraving on his weapon, and the substantive part of the body cam footage that shows Shaver begging for his life, were not admitted into evidence in the trial.
In the video, several things seem evident: Shaver might be intoxicated, and he’s doing his level best to follow conflicting orders in what was likely the tensest situation of his short life. The police – all six of them – don’t appear to be in much danger. And at least one of them appears to enjoy psychologically torturing Shaver.
What isn’t clear: why one of the six officers couldn’t approach Shaver and detain him manually instead of playing this lethal game with him.
I can’t, in good conscience, recommend that you watch the footage of Shaver’s murder. But I also think that seeing the execution of an unarmed young white man – and the bizarre, cruel taunting of him by one or more officers before his execution –may have the power to activate a person’s conscience in a lasting way. As I argued in an earlier edition of the work, as long as racial animus is one of the defining characteristics of Americanness, progressives have to seize on narratives wherein the victim and perpetrator are both white to enlarge their coalition for political gains. But as Friedersdorf explains, most media find the execution of Daniel Shaver narratively inconvenient because it doesn’t conform to our current script of police brutality. Hopefully, the acquittal of Shaver’s murderer will help to rewrite part of that script. Reforms to police training and to how we prosecute crimes committed by those sworn to protect us are essential to creating a safer society.
header image: "al franken," ryan j. reilly / flickr