The Cult of Compliance

I’ve been trying to write about non-compliance and police violence to no avail, so far. I’m not sure what’s not catching editors’ eyes about my various essays (and soon I’ll just start posting them here), as I think there’s a very big story happening before us, but we get distracted by tasers, by drones, by tanks, by SWAT, by racial profiling, by guns, by all the VERY REAL and very troubling symptoms of deep problems in American police culture. I call it the Cult of Compliance, in which police demand instant compliance or feel free (and unaccountable) to respond with force.

We only hear about it in the news, in fact, when something goes horribly wrong, such as recently in Indiana. In Evansville, IN, a firefighter waved at some police officers. They thought he flicked them off and charged him, put a taser in his face, made him drop his phone (he was calling the chief of police, a buddy of his), cuffed him, and then found out the mistake they made.

The story made the news (links below) because the firefighter had connections and we fundamentally know he was wronged here. I’m not worried about the firefighter. I’m worried about the stories that aren’t making the news because they happen to poor people, to people of color, and to people who just don’t have connections, to people who the police successfully blame, etc.

Digby, who writes about police violence (especially tasers), blogged about the incident (here’s the original link) and went on to talk about the way that the cult of compliance has permeated every aspect of our law enforcement, from police to the TSA and beyond. Digby writes:

This is creeping authoritarianism. We’ve got millions of people in
America wearing uniforms and carrying some kind of government authority
and we’re all going to have to learn that they will not be
disrespected, even if they are delusional idiots. No, it’s not the end
of the world and we’re not being rounded up and sent to the gulag. But
it’s not exactly freedom and liberty either.

 My good friend Bruce Schneier always says the following: “I tell people that if it’s in the news, don’t worry about it. The very
definition of “news” is “something that hardly ever happens.” It’s when
something isn’t in the news, when it’s so common that it’s no longer
news — car crashes, domestic violence — that you should start

The cult of compliance is in danger of slipping out of the news and into the normal. We can’t let it happen.

2 Replies to “The Cult of Compliance”

  1. The Bastard's bed says:

    How the fuck has no one commented on this yet? This is very concise writing and strong observations; the implication of the title may even scare some people away from the reality of this piece. Sensible and well sourced.

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