Hey, PoPo–Leave Those Kids Alone

Is the behavior described in this story immoral? Yes. Stupid? Yes. Punishment-worthy? Maybe. But the appropriate subject of a police investigation? No.

We’re all justifiably outraged when someone calls the cops on black people engaged in some innocuous activity–be it barbecuing, babysitting, or whatever. But calling the cops to “assist” in a school investigation into fascist speech is no better than that, and fundamentally, no different. It’s a misuse of the powers of the police, and yet another illegitimate broadening of the scope of their activities.

Police departments exist to investigate genuine violations of substantive criminal law. They’re not there to function as adjuncts to the investigatory powers of hapless high school officials, or to investigate malfeasances of a non-criminal nature. Nor are they there to function as generalized arbiters of moral or political speech or conduct–fascist, communist, nationalist, or otherwise. Would you entrust the latter function to people who voted in droves for Trump? I wouldn’t. Evidently “Fight Trump” does.

If the school has a photo of the wrongdoers, as it obviously does, it doesn’t need a police investigation to figure out what happened. A person of ordinary intelligence should be able to start and finish whatever “investigation” needs to be done. Feel free to call the students in for “questioning” to figure out what they thought they were doing when they did this. But leave the cops out of it until one of these students is reasonably suspected of genuinely criminal behavior–like raping someone, robbing a bank, showing up at school with a gun, or initiating a putsch.

As a general proposition, criminal justice reform in this country requires ratcheting back substantive criminal law, and ratcheting up the protections of criminal procedure–not the other way around. There are too many crimes on the books, not too few, and too few protections against police malfeasance, not too many. Real criminal justice reform is incompatible with a conception of law enforcement that unapologetically embraces police mission creep while slighting the need for procedural protections for vile or unpopular suspects–especially in the educational context.

It doesn’t surprise me to see right-wing Trump supporters indifferent to criminal justice reform, or just all-out wanting to live in a police state. It should surprise me, but really doesn’t, when I see so-called “progressives” or conventional liberals doing the same. But the love of force is strong in these ones: evidently, if you give almost any American half a chance, he’s happy to sic the police on the least popular targets on “the other side.” Meanwhile, the same websites applauding police intervention in the Baraboo case have no problem unapologetically trying to stoke viewers’ outrage with videos like this. Because when the cops illegitimately investigate Immature White High School Boy Behavior, it’s OK, but when they illegitimately go after Rude Black College Student Behavior, well, that’s a different story.

Just my two cents: hauling the cops into every 2×4 dispute or half-assed case of wrongdoing is not the defining characteristic of liberalism, but the prelude to a fascist police state–the exact pattern and practice that prevailed during the Weimar Republic in the years before the rise of the Nazis. You’d think that with all of the sloganeering we do–that we’re legally mandated to do–about never, ever forgetting the Nazis, we’d remember how they politicized their police force, and expanded its jurisdiction to all aspects of ordinary life.

But no. I suspect that the people most alive to police mission creep are the ones on the receiving end of unwanted police attention. As someone who’s been there since age 7, I have a piece of advice for all you well-meaning people so eager to call the cops on someone: how about putting the fucking phone down, and solving your First World problems on your own for a change? Once you do, you may discover that the best helping hand you’ll ever find is the one at the end of your arm–not the gun-, baton-, and Taser-toting one at the end of the long arm of the law. Guns, badges, and subpoenas are useful things, but they have a limited place in human life. Let’s try to keep them there– before we find them everywhere.

5 thoughts on “Hey, PoPo–Leave Those Kids Alone

  1. Last time I checked, it’s not against the law to be a Nazi. It should go without saying that I don’t like Nazis, and I’m not going to defend their ideas, but I will defend our constitution and free speech. I don’t like what these kids ostensibly did, but I don’t know the entire situation and I don’t know the motivation.

    I want to say first that I’m always uncomfortable with media stories that provide half the information we need. I think it’s intentional — they sensationalize such events to draw attention to their incredibly bad (and I might add lazy) journalism and sell advertising that we have to watch before we view these videos/stories. The journalists often lie by omission, and the damage they do is inestimable. The photographer said the kids were waving. Doesn’t quite look like waving to me, but who knows?

    The problem I have with the other video you put up is that we can’t see what the student was doing, and we didn’t see what happened before the police came. The assertion is that she was removed by police for having her feet up. I’d like to hear more. Maybe this teacher is just that stupid, but people can be threatening. I’d like to know if this was simply a matter of a lack of civility or was it more than that?

    Neither of these situations appear to be police matters.

    As an aside, you should know that your wife got a ticket for putting her feet up in our precious Liberal bastion, New York. I was accosted by a cop in the subway at two in the morning. I had my feet up on a seat. My boots were clean, there was almost no one in the train for me to take an additional seat from, I was new to the city, I didn’t even know it was illegal (there were no signs posted), I told this to the cop, and he saw I had a California driver’s license. Didn’t matter. He still gave me a ticket, and New York State took over $200 from one of my tax refunds years later after I disputed it by mail, never got a response, but they apparently still kept the ticket on the books.

    I was also run off the George Washington Bridge one New Year’s Eve by Port Authority police who told me and a group of very sober friends who wanted to watch fireworks that there were signs everywhere saying that the bridge was closed after midnight. He was obviously hallucinating as there were no such signs. My friends and I were stalked by a police truck until we were well off the bridge, and for at least a couple of blocks more. I found it frightening to say the least. Later, I wrote a letter to the Port Authority and did get an apology from them in writing.

    It appears that our raging country is giving cops more and more permission to act out anger on our behalf. These are dangerous precedents to set, but people are so darned angry and irrational, they can’t seem to think about the long-term consequences of making everything that offends them illegal. The Jews “offended” the Germans by their very existence, and look what the Germans did.

    I find it funny/not funny that I could never get the cops to help me with a crazy neighbor who threatened me and disturbed our entire building on a regular basis for years, but these cops responded to a complaint that someone’s feet were up. Is that all it takes to get the cops to help?

    Police state? I’m afraid we’re already there, and we’ve been here a while.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The best reporting on a local news story is bound to be local reporting. From the local paper:


      There are some crap stories out there, but I think these reporters do a good job.

      The only hero here turns out to be the one kid, Jordan Blue, who didn’t salute and explained why he didn’t. His story is a lot more plausible than the photographer’s, who claims that the kids in the photo are just “waving goodbye.” They don’t look like they’re waving goodbye, and it makes no sense for him to brag that he “even” got the black kid wave goodbye–as though black kids are reluctant to wave goodbye. It also makes no sense to wave goodbye to your parents because the prom is taking place.

      I don’t think anyone should accept this kind of response from a police department:

      The Baraboo Police Department said officers are assisting with the school district’s investigation into a “controversial photo.”

      Baraboo PD
      The Baraboo Police Department is aware of a controversial photo of a group of high school students that has been posted to social media. Officers are assisting the Baraboo School District with their investigation into this matter.

      Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf declined to comment on his department’s involvement in the matter and said it is an ongoing investigation.

      Well, I guess he commented on his department’s involvement–but he also declined to comment. In other words, he regards himself as having unlimited discretion to comment or not comment, and zero accountability to anyone who asks him what he thinks he’s doing or why.

      At a minimum, the police need to be asked the obvious question of what crime they think might in principle have been committed here. What is the “ongoing investigation” investigating? “A controversial photo posted to social media” is not in itself a criminal matter. Do they regard it as a crime, or do they suspect some other crime? It’s insanity to allow a police department to “investigate” anything it wants for any reason it wants without having to explain its actions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I wonder how many of these boys were really on board. As a psychotherapist, I have to wonder what went on there. I did see that boy’s interview, but do you really think all of those boys meant to convey that they support Nazism? I might be naive here, but I don’t think a majority of even white kids are Nazis so I have to wonder how this came about. On the other hand, I don’t know the culture of that area so who knows? But your point is well taken: it’s not a crime regardless and the police should not be involved.

    But what do you say about the cop who detained me because I had my feet up?

    This was in the late 1990s, around ’97 or ’98. If that had been videotaped, I wonder what others would have said.


    • Ticketing people for having their feet up was an element of “broken windows policing,” care of Rudy Giuliani–that 1990s fad so many people claimed to love so much. I think it’s stupid and unjustified. You don’t fine someone $200 for something that trivial. The most obvious thing to do is to post a sign saying that it’s illegal, and/or tell people not to do it if they do. Which, by the way, is how things are handled on New Jersey Transit.

      We have a strangely ad hoc attitude toward the role of the police. Sometimes, we see them as informal “moral guardians” in the community, just there to “help out,” rather than enforce the law. Other times, they’ll drop the informal pose and take a legalistic posture straight out of Les Miserables.

      I don’t think the kids made the Nazi salute because they’re really committed to Nazism. They did it because they were encouraged to by an adult, and found it “funny.” It’s become cheap and easy nowadays to get away with bigotry by treating it all as a big joke. But I would take the non-saluting kid’s testimony seriously.

      But one of the teens in the image, Jordan Blue, who can be seen in the upper right corner of the photo not participating in the salute, contradicted Gust’s account. Blue told the publication that Gust instructed the group of mostly white men to pose that way.

      “I felt upset, unsafe, disappointed and scared,” Blue said. “I felt unsafe because I go to school with them, I don’t believe in what they represented and the symbol they shared … they knew it was wrong, but they still did it.”

      Imagine having to be this kid, surrounded by such assholes.


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