Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Well-Trained, Courageous Police Won't Stop Another Uvalde

There's a lot of chatter right now about reports that police waited quite a long time before police entered in force the Texas elementary school where a shooter had murdered nearly two dozen people. Much of that chatter is of a very typical brand of Twitter discourse of the "what good are cops, what were they waiting for, they're cowards, even in a situation like this they won't risk they're lives" variety.

I think that at least some of this criticism, though not all of it, is probably unfair. But more to the point: it is because I think that some of this criticism is probably unfair that I am very confident police responses are not going to stop another Uvalde. 

Here's the blunt truth: a school shooter, who does not care about his own life and hopes to kill as many other people as possible, has (to put it extremely bloodlessly) flexibility that those trying to stop him do not. To take one example: the gunman can, whenever he wants, enter any room he wants firing entirely indiscriminately. The police, by contrast, cannot simply enter any room they want firing indiscriminately; nor would we want them to. It's not a matter of courage, or numbers; it is a structural imbalance that favors the gunman over those trying to stop him.

But that's exactly why all this talk of "hardening the target" or bringing even more cops with more guns is so clearly not a viable response. Putting aside (though we shouldn't) the problem that this "solution" is basically to convert our schools into fire traps or prisons. Once a shooter is on site with a gun and a disregard for human life, they have a built-in advantage that no amount of police presence can fully reverse. Sometimes their rampage will be stopped earlier, other times later, but it's all mostly a matter of luck. Short of turning schools into bunkers, the idea that the "right" security measures can stop a man who doesn't care about his own life and can freely and easily access high-powered weaponry without breaking a sweat is nonsense. 

I have no idea whether the Texas police who were on site during the Uvalde shooting responded with ideal tactics. And, as awful as it is to say, if a shooting is ongoing, there really isn't much replacement for bringing it to an end other than armed officers. But if a shooting is ongoing, we've already failed in the most relevant respects. If the goal is to prevent these shootings from occurring outright, not to shrug our shoulders and say "it could have been worse", armed police are not going to do much good -- and it has nothing to do with courage, or armament, or tactics, or temperament.

Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Uvalde Parents Are About To Learn Just How Little the American People Care About Them

A shooting at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas has killed nearly two dozen people, including nineteen children.

I grieve for the parents and families of those who were killed. They are going through a tragedy I cannot even begin to fathom. But as awful as things are right now, I cannot imagine what the survivors will have to endure starting about a week or a month from now.

Because that is when it will be hammered home just how little the American people care about them.

I want us to really understand this point. We love to talk about tragedies bringing out the best in the American people. We love heartwarming stories about blood being donated and volunteers flooding hospitals and homes being opened up. I don't want to discount any of those things. But we never talk about, and we should talk about, how tragedies like this bring out the absolute worst in the American people -- and here I'm not talking about the shooter. I'm talking about us, all of us, as a collective polity, who in a democratic society is tasked with making a collective response to catastrophes like these and has consistently collectively decided to shrug and carry on as if nothing happened.

It is human nature to shout, holler, cry out when we are hurt or scared. The more grievous the injury, the louder the scream. Why? To attract attention. Deeply rooted in our psyche is a fundamental belief that if others become aware of our hurt, they will help us.

The level of grief and pain the Uvalde parents are going through is unimaginable to me. Experiencing it, and knowing that others know you're experiencing it, naturally breeds the assumption that others will try to help you. How could they not? How could they be impervious to such raw, acute anguish? How could they just ignore the cries?

Imagine if you were shot on a public street. You cry out; people see your distress. Imagine if they do nothing. They just keep going about their business. Perhaps a few shoot you a sympathetic glance as they carry on with their errands. You beg for help -- maybe your leg can be saved if you get to a hospital quick enough. Nobody does anything. You are left alone to fester in agony -- seeing with your very eyes people who you know know how hurt you are and are consciously electing to do nothing about it.

And yet -- we know from far too much experience that ignoring is exactly what will happen to the Uvalde parents. We all are witnesses to their anguish, we all hear their cries for help. They know we hear them, and we know they know we hear them. Even still, there will be no serious efforts to respond to this catastrophe or ensure it does not happen again; same as there were no such efforts for the catastrophe before this, or the one before that. In a few days, the American people will have moved on. In a few months, they will make choices at the ballot box that could be responsive to the pain of the Uvalde parents, but most likely will not be. We could choose to elect politicians who would enact policies that might stop tragedies like this, but we won't -- stopping CRT in schools or maximizing our tax breaks will be far higher priorities. And so our politicians will continue to not pass meaningful gun control measures, and our judicial overlords will continue to pick away at the few that are enacted in slavish fealty to a maximalist interpretation of the Second Amendment. Nothing will change. The Uvalde parents will have been utterly abandoned to their grief. They will know, in their bones, that Americans simply do not care.

I've been struck, when reading about the "anti-CRT" panic, how often the complaint of the activist-rabble rousers sounds in the register of avoiding "guilt". "I don't want my kid to feel guilty!" I absolutely do not believe anyone should feel guilty for who they are. But we absolutely can justly be made to feel guilty for the choices we make, or fail to make. Our collective decision to turn away from scores of grieving parents, to not take any meaningful action to try to ameliorate their pain or at the very least change course so the next tragedy does not occur, is indeed a choice, and one we should feel very guilty about.

Maybe that's the right approach. Fear that our children might be next doesn't motivate us; nor does justice and retribution for the last batch of victims. Perhaps being forced to sit with the guilt that our choices represent abandoning our fellows in their moments of greatest need, to really stew in our own callousness and confront our abject indifference to the searing pain around us -- maybe that will be enough to motivate a change in behavior. I'm doubtful. But maybe.

Inventing "Fraud" Isn't Necessary for the GOP's 2024 Robbery Plans

In 2020, Republican politicians made bogus claims of fraud in order to justify attempting to steal an election they lost. But why bother with the "fraud" allegation at all? Why not just attempt the robbery? The answer, presumably, is that claiming fraud -- however spuriously -- was necessary to justify overturning the will of the voters and assigning electoral college voters to a candidate who got fewer votes.

The problem with this strategy was, of course, that the fraud claims were obvious nonsense and every sane observer -- including virtually all judges -- knew it. Insofar as the strategy was based on a flagrant lie, it was vulnerable to rejection once it actually hit the judiciary.

Fast forward a few years, though, and Republicans are coming to a realization: They don't need to claim fraud. They can cut out the middleman entirely and just assert the right to ignore the voters entirely. The claim being developed is a version of the "independent state legislature" doctrine that just asserts that state political officials (themselves often in highly gerrymandered seats that bear no relationship to the popular will) have free reign to decide who gets their state's electoral votes. Their decision need not be in any way constrained by such piddling trivialities like "who the voters of their state actually voted for" -- even in the funhouse mirror sense of "well if you discount the votes that we assert are fraudulent because *mumble mumble brown people*, then the voters actually chose our guy." The new version of the steal is a straight line argument that if the state legislature wants to assign their EVs to Trump, Trump gets them. The people can pound sand.

Unlike the concocted fraud allegations, this is fundamentally a legal assertion -- an extreme, terrifying legal assertion, but a legal assertion all the same. Getting the GOP judiciary to accept it does not depend on forcing judges to deny reality, it just depends on getting the right mix of reactionary nihilists who can issue a chin-stroking pontification about how slave states in 1810 organized their elections with a straight face -- and recent history suggests that a welter of federal court judges will be eager to accommodate them. 

Nonsense fraud claims might gild the lily of this endeavor, but they aren't necessary to the strategy. And for that reason, this strategy for stealing the election is far more likely to succeed than the last one. The 2020 steal attempt was a largely ad hoc, on-the-fly paint splatter thrown together by the least competent attorneys Trump's money could buy in a context where it still was mostly taken for granted that the vote tallies ought determine the winner. In 2024, the GOP establishment will have had time to prepare itself logistically, but also mentally -- it will have come to terms with making the argument that in our allegedly constitutional democracy votes don't have to matter at all (See the Senate! See the electoral college itself! We're a republic, not a democracy!).

Republicans swung as hard as they could in 2020, but they just weren't strong enough to ring the bell. This time around, they'll be trained, toned, and ready. I hope we are too.