Friday, March 28, 2014


I watched part of a popular network tv program last night in which the actor portraying a supervisory-level policeman enters a holding cell and takes a knife to the ear of a prisoner, threatening to fully cut off the man's ear to get a confession.  Other similar shows I have watched show a similar proclivity for portraying acts of violence against people in police custody.  Torture of prisoners is a regular event, for instance, in the popular Hawaii Five-O series.

Why torture has become such a regular feature of popular crime shows is something of a mystery in itself.  While there is no doubt that police brutality is a fact of life, the ways in which it is typically portrayed on tv is totally lacking in credibility.  It is also notable for the fact that the torturers are invariably represented as being morally upstanding defenders of public safety.  It is hard for me to imagine what the writers and producers of these shows are trying to accomplish.  Do their marketing surveys show a big demand for torture scenes?  Is a substantial portion of the prime-time tv audience made up of Dick Cheney Republicans?  It is hard to avoid the conclusion that a large part of the American population is living in a fantasy world in which more guns and more violence makes us all safer.

My suspicion is that the skewing of tv entertainment toward an acceptance of officially propagated torture is closely related to the universal trend toward the militarization of U.S. police departments.  No municipality of whatever size lacks a SWAT team these days, and most seemed to be armed with high-power weapons and equipped with surplus armored vehicles.  This is certainly the case in Albuquerque where the police armored truck shows up frequently at neighborhood events, apparently as some kind of public relations gesture.  There is also clearly a shoot-first cultural tradition in the department which has led to many questionable deaths over a period of years.  A large street demonstration a few days ago against the latest killings showed that public sentiment is swinging toward a demand for the establishment of control over the excess violence by the police, and possibly support for a Department of Justice intervention.

(Deming Headlight photo)
Some details about the militarization of small town police forces are available in a recent article at the AlterNet site.

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