Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Obey, Good Citizen

A cop with the City of Mishawaka Police in Indiana is producing a T-shirt with the slogan, “Breath Easy: Don’t Break the Law.” Although he denies it, it is a clear reference to the last words of Eric Garner as a NYPD policeman was chocking him to death, “I can’t breath.” The shirts producer, John Barthel, claims that it is merely telling citizens that they can breath easy because the police are there to protect you. Right.

The first thing that came to mind when I read this was Shephard Fairley’s ubiquitous “Obey” stickers and posters closely linked to Orwell’s 1984. All you must do, good citizen, is obey and everything will be fine. Clearly, the scary part of this is the mentality behind this thinking, which equates obedience with subjugation and law breaking with terrorism.

If only the issue was as simple as Barthel wants us to believe. In Barthel’s make-believe world, there is no such thing as racism or racial profiling or different rules for different populations and everyone is treated equal under the law. The fantasy is that if you are a good little citizen, you will never have any trouble from the police. Justice is blind. As we have seen from headline after headline over the past few months of police murdering people of color and getting away with it, Barthal’s hallucinogenic image of America and actual life on the streets are totally at odds.

“Breath Easy. Don’t Break the Law” is not “To Protect and Serve.” Police no longer see themselves as public servants but as the thin blue line between civility and anarchy, which has them constantly on a war footing and feeling above the laws they were hired to uphold. If Barthal’s sentiments are representative of the average cop, America’s law enforcement community is in serious need of an attitude adjustment.

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