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Tune in, and turn out

SoVaNow.com / June 17, 2020


One thing I would think we all can agree on nowadays is there’s so much bad news floating around — between mass protests, looting and rioting, eruptions of violence committed by and against police, a deadly pandemic, and, not least of all, a U.S. political system tottering on the brink — that it’s hard not to look away from daily outrages against the domestic tranquility. Bad acts roll in like hurricanes. Who among us can be faulted for wanting to tune everything out?

We should resist the urge. In the famous words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” What are the evils of our current era? The list of particulars is too long to broach here, but let’s boil it down to just a few words. Injustice. Intolerance. Inequality. Bigotry. Resort to violence. Hate.

Seeing the country up in arms over the killing of George Floyd and other African Americans, at the same time the United States has been brought low by the coronavirus, is like nothing most of us have experienced in our lifetimes. The most comparable event, the late ‘60s riots in America, is known to many of us only through books and documentaries. I was six or seven years old at the time and just figuring out life in elementary school. (In first grade, my class at Halifax Elementary was racially integrated midway through the school year, which both put me at the tail end of the Jim Crow era and imbued a certain innocence about the nature of the racist project, since us seven-year-olds, white and black, had no trouble co-existing at all.) Southerners, having a healthy respect for the paradoxical nature of race relations — I’ll put white/black interactions in South Boston, Va. up against those in South Boston, Mass. any day of the week — shouldn’t be too quick to draw lines in the sand where our collective history is concerned. Because it’s a reproachable history for the most part, one that should be understood and mined for wisdom, not reflexively defended in the face of present-day demands for a fairer society.

Teach history, don’t glorify it. White Southerners today aren’t responsible for the evils committed by our forebears, but neither are we absolved of our responsibility, shared by others, to continue the hard work of achieving a more perfect union. This is a roundabout way of saying that we should not be honoring the atrocities of the antebellum South, committed as they were in defense of a chattel state that robbed black people of their land, their dignity, their loved ones, their very existence as human beings. Because the time is short, let’s set aside for now the question of whether Confederate monuments should be taken down. More urgent matters beckon.

I was talking with a friend this week about an item in the news, which, I admit, I hadn’t heard about at the time and I haven’t checked out since. It involved an assault against cops by rioters in one of our major cities. It isn’t hard to find such stories in the headlines; indeed, the genre is so laden with examples that it’s easy to cherry-pick the ones that support one’s point of view on current events. Yet aside from the obvious — violence and lawlessness are intolerable and should never be condoned in any shape or form — there’s a difference between hot rage and cold brutality, which is a difference that can be readily spotted as the nation’s turmoil plays out. Violence perpetrated by police has a lone justification — as a last resort — that is widely respected, sanctioned by general society, and sometimes critical to protect innocents. What we’ve seen time and again over the past few weeks has nothing to do with that, as cops (in defiance of the investigative tool of our times, the cell phone camera) plow vehicles into crowds, unleash tear gas on peaceful protestors and, yes, pin black men to the ground under their knees. This is nothing less than a perversion of policing — an assault on the legitimacy of the profession that the most committed of nihilists could never hope to wage on their own.

It’s not exactly a secret that America is trapped in a fierce tug-of-war between political forces — voices with little patience for the existing order, and the counterpart implacable in its defense. Only in the past few weeks, however, has it seemed that Americans, by and large, are ready to come down on the side of believing that systemic racism is real, and changing this system is an absolute necessity. Honestly, who would have expected beforehand that protestors in major American cities would prevail in the court of public opinion over the clarion call of law and order? Obviously, it remains to be seen if the emerging consensus on the desirability of social change will endure. November should reveal quite a lot on that score. Yet as matters stand today, it’s a different country than what it was a few short months ago. Not only do we need to learn from history, we need to keep up.

In the vein of defending our honorable defenders of the public safety, I’ll offer a little cherry-picking of my own. In California this week, prosecutors filed additional charges in the killings of two law enforcement officers in the Bay Area. One of the deceased officers was a sheriff’s deputy, the other worked for Federal Protective Services. The San Jose Mercury-News carried the story of Steven Carrillo, a U.S. Air Force sergeant who has been charged with the murders of the Santa Cruz deputy in June and the federal officer, Patrick David Underwood, in late May. Carrillo is said to have been abetted by a California man named Robert A. Justus Jr. Here’s the takeaway from the Mercury-News:

In announcing the charges, authorities alleged that both Carrillo and Justus had ties to the extremist anti-government “Boogaloo” movement, whose self-described libertarian, tropical-shirt-wearing adherents anticipate a second civil war. The criminal complaint states that Justus and Carrillo met on Facebook, and plotted the Oakland attack in chats with other boogaloo followers there.

After Carrillo’s June 6 arrest in Ben Lomond, police recovered a patch with Hawaiian print and an image of an igloo — common bugaloo symbols — on a bulletproof vest in the van used in the Oakland shooting, and the messages “Boog” and “I became unreasonable” scrawled in blood on the hood of a car Carrillo stole ....

The Oakland attack occurred near the intersection of 12th and Jefferson streets, as two guards, including Underwood, patrolled the building while protests against the police killing of George Floyd unfolded blocks away near City Hall. At about 9:45 p.m., a van pulled up to the building; Justus got out and conducted “surveillance” on foot, authorities said, while Carrillo waited inside the vehicle. What followed was essentially a drive-by shooting, with Carrillo opening the sliding van door and firing on the officers before speeding away, according to the FBI.

The duo purposefully chose the night of massive protests to gain cover for the attacks, said Jack Bennett, special agent in charge of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. “There is no evidence that these men had any intention to join the demonstration in Oakland,” Bennett said. “They came to Oakland to kill cops.”

The complaint points to Carrillo’s Facebook posts, in which he voiced support for violence against law enforcement and made references to the Boogaloo movement, as evidence of his motivation. A former friend Justin Ehrhardt told this news organization that Carrillo’s Facebook page was rife with memes related to the ideology.

“Go to the riots and support our own cause. Show them the real targets,” Carrillo allegedly wrote in one post. “Use their anger to fuel our fire. Think outside the box. We have mobs of angry people to use to our advantage.”

... “Let’s boogie,” Justus allegedly responded.

Eight days later Carrillo struck again, authorities said, when he lobbed pipe bombs and opened fire with assault weapons on law enforcement officers outside his home at 120 Waldeberg Road in Ben Lomond, killing [Sgt. Deputy Damon] Gutzwiller and injuring two other Santa Cruz deputies. Federal authorities said Tuesday that a gun used in that attack — an assault rifle equipped with a silencer that did not have serial numbers — was also used in the May 29 shooting.

The attacks are one of several recent incidents law enforcement have linked to Boogaloo, whose affiliates have made headlines in recent weeks for their participation in “red arrests ranging from alleged domestic terrorism to firearm offenses. The decentralized movement emerged in 2019 online but has gradually moved into the real world, with ties to both white supremacist and guns’ rights groups, according to Joanna Mendelson, an associate with the Center on Extremism at the Anti-Defamation League.

Carrillo is now being held in Monterey County jail, and has not yet appeared in federal court. At his arraignment in Santa Cruz last week, his attorney said Carrillo suffered from trauma and suggested that there was more to his story than the public knew.

Justus made his first appearance in court Monday, federal prosecutors said .....

Moral of the story: What may seem like rabble in the street acting out against police is maybe not the rabble you should be worried about.



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