A Public Sphere for Poetry, Politics, and Nature
The murders by cop go on – the latest, Lymond Moses (above), was asleep in his car – prompting furious calls for police reform from many weary of the carnage. Along with systemic racism, rabid militarization, fascist police unions, no accountability and infamously inadequate if not deranged training, we can thank messianic warrior-cop, uber fear-mongerer and “killology” expert Dave Grossman, a former Army ranger who for 20 years has traveled almost daily to every state in the blood-soaked union to offer popular police “trainings” to tell young acolytes they’re “the royalty of this land” – alas, a war zone of thugs and terrorists where they must learn to fight back with “righteous violence,” shoot first and think later, and per Radley Balko’s Rise of the Warrior Cop, “make the threat die” – which, as the grim headlines remind us, they are, at a rate of roughly three a day. Since retiring from the Army in 1998 – video shows him in camo and face-paint shouting for “a symphony of death and destruction – Grossman spends 300 days a year on the road as “one of our nation’s leading trainers for law enforcement, mental health providers and school safety organizations.” Founder of the Killology Research Group, “the scholarly study of the destructive act,” he’s written several books: “On Combat,” “Bulletproof Marriage, “Secrets of Mental Marksmanship,” “Assassination Generation,” which improbably argues every school in the country has a potential mass murderer thanks to video games. He also offers online seminars like “The Bulletproof Mind” and “The Sheepdog Seminar,” which uses an analogy of sheep – innocent neighbors – wolves – unnamed bad guys – and sheepdogs – yay cops! – that he zealously embraced at an Iowa church event last year: “I am a sheepdog under the authority of the great Shepard! And this is as far as the minions of hell are going!” If we went “but a single generation” without cops going out to “confront evil,” he says, “We should surely be both damned and doomed.”
During “trainings,” Grossman reinforces his ominous vision of an unrecognizably perilous country with unglued tirades about omnipresent if imaginary threats of mass shootings, terrorist attacks, armed gang-bangers and “an explosion in violent crime.” Little wonder today’s cops – in gear, mindset, use of deadly force – are virtually indistinguishable from military. “If this isn’t war, you tell me what is,” he says to one group. (Umm: war?) In his world view, even those who film the police abusing or killing are suspect via “creative editing to make police look bad,” as are the media: “We are dealing with an industry functioning at the moral level of drug dealers.” Given the dangers out there, Grossman often focuses on teaching police that killing any of these scumbags isn’t a big deal. “Is it possible to see a gun pointed at you, draw yours, and shoot without conscious thought?” he asks an intently listening audience of hefty, buzzcut, young white guys with badges on their belts. “It’s not just possible, it’s highly desirable…Any natural or learned resistance to killing, any sense of the sanctity of human life, any remorse or compassion at the moment of truth can all be overcome with training.” “Once you’ve made the decision to take a human life, you’re a transformed creature – you’re a predator,” he says at an Ohio event. “What does a predator do? They kill…Are you emotionally, spiritually, psychologically prepared to snuff out a human life? If you can’t make that decision, you need to find another job.” If you take it on and suffer afterwards from PTSD, you can manage it “if you immerse yourself in the lore and spirit of mature warriors.” And if you err on the side of force and get sued, don’t worry: “Everybody gets sued – it’s just a chance for overtime.” Bottom line: “At this dark hour, our mission is to rise up and nurture the next generation of warriors.”
Grossman’s commando/predator/We Are The Avengers conceit that those ostensibly there to serve and protect are in fact the last thin blue noble line against the collapse of civilization is….problematic to many who believe America’s streets are not a war zone and black bodies should not be targets, dispensable. Warrior-style policing “teaches all the wrong values,” notes a Nebraska criminology professor of a military mindset that starts in a place of fear and is thus bound to escalate into unnecessary violence: “The message is, the minute you go on duty, your life is in danger. The threats are everywhere.” And the results are damning: The cop who shot Philando Castile at a 2016 traffic stop had attended Grossman’s “Bulletrpoof Warrior” training; over his career, he’d taken over 100 hours training on firearms usage and use of force, but just two hours on de-escalation. Hence, the towering body count: The last several years, about a thousand a year, disproportionately young and black; this year already 985, including six people in the 24 hours after Derek Chauvin’s verdict; in the last couple of weeks Andrew Brown, shot in the back of the head, Adam Toledo, with his hands in the air, Anthony Alvarez, runnning away – “Why are you shooting me?” – Mario Gonzales, two cops on his back and neck though their report only said he’d had “a medical emergency.” Mysteriously, it turns out the exemplary warrior cops often lie: This week, the family of Lymond Moses, shot in the head last January in Wilmington, sued police who claimed he’d threatened their lives. The suit charges cops first accosted Moses as he slept in his car outside his mother’s house; when they told him to get out, he drove away, did a U-turn, and tried to drive past police who “deliberately shot nine times at Mr. Moses’ vehicle as it was going by.” Over decades, the list of causes of death goes on and on – shot, shot, brutal force, shot, shot, mauling by K9, shot, shot, run over by police car, suffocated, electrocuted by taser, shot 24 times, shot, shot.
Given he must surely take some responsiblity for 20 years of instilling in thousands of cops the sociopathic belief they’re entitled to and immune from such brazen violence – and he got paid by police departments and unions to do it – it’s remarkable Dave Grossman flew under the radar of most Americans until recently, when videos and a film about him started to surface. Last year, he faced opposition after he was booked in Spokane, Washington, where 66 organizations and thousands of residents signed a petition and open letter to the sheriff condemning an upcoming training and charging, “Killology Kills Black People”; a guest editorial blasted his so-called research as “invalid and unreliable.” But the County sheriff refused to cancel the event, arguing Killology has “nothing to do with race,” and besides opponents were “socialists.” Still, Miinneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has banned police from “fear-based, warrior-style” trainings, last week Michigan’s Association of Police Chiefs cancelled a Grossman training after community outrage – though they argued “there was a misperception he was brought in to teach officers how to kill people” – and a nearby church scheduled to hold the event apologized, conceding that “our mission of ‘making disciples to know Jesus and make Him known” might not fit a guy who preaches overcoming any sense of the sanctity of human life. Online, the videos still circulate. Some of their most disturbing moments show a casual, off-guard Grossman: Signing books amidst burly fans, he quotes Ecclesiastes 3:3: “‘A time to heal, a time to kill.’ Good to have you onboard, brother. Hoo-rah – stay hard.” In one infamous scene, he describes the aftermath of a killing, its “strange and wonderful feelings,” to an eager crowd: “Cop says gun fight, bad guys down, finally gets home. And, they all say, the best sex I’ve had in months…Not a whole lot of perks come with this job. You find one, relax and enjoy it.” This is policing in America. This cannot be reformed.
Charlotte, North Carolina
Killing Philando Castile
First published in Common Dreams.