A week ago, Micah Johnson opened fire on police officers during a #BlackLivesMatter rally, killing five and wounding seven before committing suicide by cop. Every professional TV face in the nation has been weeping over the brave boys in blue since then and not one - pundit or politician - will admit that the only mystery about Johnson's shooting is that it's so far a very isolated incident.
In 2016 alone, leading up to Johnson's shooting, American police murdered over five hundred unarmed civilians. Some might quibble over Philando Castile, a registered gun owner and a repudiation of the all the NRA's claims to defending liberty, but any Virginian will tell you there's a world of difference between armed self-defense and politely informing the trooper you have a concealed carry permit before getting drilled in your own car. And even then - five hundred! We're fast approaching the numbers usually associated with tinpot dictatorships or our own imperial misadventures.
In fact, that latter is a good parallel. Despite the rhetoric of community and service, American police have mutated over time into something like an occupying army. A distrust, even hostility, towards the civilian population, driven by a siege mentality that manifests in everything from these rampant shootings to an Abu Ghraib franchise opening in Chicago.
And to be clear, it ain't just black people:
An extraordinary pair of paragraphs from the Breitbart reporter arrested in Baton Rouge. https://t.co/dOmhwO5tsR pic.twitter.com/YcZHpF0Mpg— Matt Pearce (@mattdpearce) July 13, 2016
This is abetted not just by a news media industry reluctant to criticize police but also a popular culture that - wrongly! - prefers Dirty Harry over Columbo. Add in the discomfort the comfortable middle class feels every time race gets mentioned and many abuses by police simply disappear down the memory hole.
...[U]nless there's video, or multiple witnesses, there's usually no consequence at all for police violence, not even on the civil side. The overwhelming majority of incidents simply disappear.
Because for the longest time, this was all normal. That might be the worst aspect for the cloistered TV culture of America - the absolute normalcy of abuse and intimidation by armed agents of the state. The sort of thing seen in movies about Eastern Bloc underdogs, dodging Stasi and KGB on their way over the wall and into the American Dream of an office job and blue jeans.
This sort of oppression in a modern western democracy is abysmally normal though, and there's a very pertinent historical parallel: Ireland under British rule at the start of the 20th Century. White Americans love to brag about the one great aunt or great great grandmother who came from Erin, but they sure are ignorant of why...
The police state of modern America was very much the norm of British controlled Ireland, from subtle hiring prejudices all the way to casual brutality by the security services. And all normal - I cannot stress that enough, normal - leading to the bold and doomed Easter Rising of 1916.
Like #BlackLivesMatter, the Irish nationalists and republicans who barricaded Dublin were much more of a minority of Irish political life than one might assume from their volume. They were also similarly outraged by isolated if common instances of insult and oppression, the sort that can be easily ignored by the Anglo impulse towards authority and obedience. And the bloody crackdown that followed served only to spread nationalism and republicanism better than any pamphlet or Yeats poem.
While poorly organized and over in less than a week, the Easter Rising met with the sort of ruthless British response usually employed in the tropics against browner folks. The leaders were executed after brief, perfunctory trials, the Irish Volunteers and other militia were accompanied into exile and prison by those rounded up in sweeping raids that gave very little thought to evidence or due process, and even pacifists and Unionists - as in Irish Protestants who didn't want to be a damned republic - found themselves targeted by British authorities who didn't understand and didn't care to understand Irish grievances.
The singular case of Francis Sheehy-Skeffington best illustrates this clumsy, bully's response to the rebellion. A devout pacifist and a radical feminist when such a term actually had meaning - he campaigned tirelessly for women's suffrage and took his wife's surname - he was summarily executed by a British officer named Clothurst while trying to prevent looting. That is, Sheehy-Skeffington was trying to prevent the looting. Clothurst also shot an unarmed man who wandered out into the street to see what all the commotion was about, after issuing a command to get back inside which the man then couldn't obey because Clothurst murdered him.
The quintessential "bad apple" that American pundits try to blame the systemic problem of police brutality on, Clothurst was punished mildly by his superiors in a manner seemingly designed to rile up Irish sentiments. Much like even the most blatant cases of murder and abuse are either dismissed, buried, or declared a justifiable use of force in modern America. Taken along with the severe punishments meted out to rebels, this presented the very stark picture of the British government not giving a damn about Irish well-being, treating them as just another colonial property to be exploited and brutalized. So too does the constant stream of police shootings in America capped off by friendly grand juries and cable news rationalizations present the unambiguous statement on behalf of the System that black lives do not matter.
...But there's a snag in my comparison here. The Easter Rising, while rooted in resentment against an oppressive regime, was also an explicitly separatist act. The Fenians and Irish Volunteers and everyone else wanted not a redress of grievances but a complete break with what they saw as an alien power imposing itself on their own political and personal lives.
Further, the Irish nationalists organizations were really very organized. Not in a military sense, as demonstrated by the Rising, but as fully developed political parties with clearly stated goals. When previously apolitical Irish men and women felt outraged at the executions by the British, there were actual opposition movements ready to take them in. Sinn Féin, one of the smaller parties at the time, saw their membership boom after 1916.
There is no parallel in modern America. #BlackLivesMatter, while involving many different activist groups, is still just a hashtag without any coherent political purpose beyond "Stop murdering us." Further, neither of the major parties are willing to accommodate such a wacky and radical demand and the only party of any significance that can will likely lose out again to fussy white liberals voting for the Lesser Evil.
Most importantly, despite their behavior, American police are not an occupying army. They are the same citizens and subject to the same laws - theoretically - as the people they brutalize. This greatly complicates the problem: British troops in Ireland could always go home and the IRA pioneered the guerrilla strategy of outlasting the occupier. American police are already home, even if the schizophrenia of zoning and local economics makes their homes comparatively better and wealthier than the homes across town they raid. Insurgency serves no purpose other than to exacerbate the existing fear and spite of a police culture that already thinks everyone hates them. And if everyone hates you anyway, why not taser that mouthy old lady?
Micah Johnson had legitimate grievances but he is not James Connolly. And #BlackLivesMatter are not the Irish Volunteers, just as the many fragmented police departments are not the Royal Irish Constabulary. The Irish and the English could leave each other alone, American civilians and police are stuck with each other.