October
17th 2011
Support the troops!

Posted under: American history

(Unless they’re participating in Occupy Wall Street.) This is some pretty powerful stuff, via ChePasa at Corrente.

“Why y’all do this to our people? I been to Iraq for 14 months for my people. . . they don’t have guns! THEY DON’T HAVE GUNS!”

The NYPD officers here look even younger than USMC Sgt. Shamar Thomas here. Tenured Radical has more useful thoughts about the Occupy movement, although it sounds like the scene up in Shoreline was considerably lower in risk, adrenaline, and anger.

27 Comments »

27 Responses to “Support the troops!”

  1. Emma on 17 Oct 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    I wonder how many Iraqis and Afghanis would like to confront Sgt. Thomas in the same manner? Except for the fact that they’d end up in hoods and flexicuffs and sitting in an Iraqi prison or dead and nobody documenting either.

    There’s no honor in what you did Sgt. Thomas. You and the NYPD are just following different orders, with different consequences.

  2. koshembos on 17 Oct 2011 at 10:49 pm #

    Sgt. Thomas does not have to be a two penny intellectual to have honor. The bottom line is simple, Thomas was called by his country to war; he went; he understood what it meant; he did his duty as he was ordered. You cannot demand heroism. If you do, you miss the point.

    Thomas grew a lot. He now fights for you Emma. He understands how our society has to work, which most of us don’t. He stands up for us.

    Thomas is hurt. We are all damaged one way or another by the overly powerful. I respect his depth and emotions.

  3. Comrade PhysioProf on 18 Oct 2011 at 3:24 am #

    There’s no honor in what you did Sgt. Thomas. You and the NYPD are just following different orders, with different consequences.

    Whereas sanctimonious assholes who live in Western industrialized nations and enjoy the fruits of petroleum-based empire without getting their hands dirty are totally honorable.

  4. Tenured Radical on 18 Oct 2011 at 3:33 am #

    Wow. Very powerful. Reminds me of some of the $hit that was going down in the 1970s at anti-war rallies when vets came out in support of the peace effort.

  5. anonymous on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:19 am #

    Re: youth, those officers may be younger than the Marine.

    On the other hand, police departments across the country are recruiting Iraq/Afghan vets in remarkable numbers, which is why there appears to be a sudden uptick in a)American civilians getting shot by cops, and b)police vehicle crashes (from driving too fast in the center of the road, like other vets tend to do as an IED/hijacking defense).

    I don’t think there’s much data on these incidents (yet) other than what cops say to each other.

    But the degree to which the past 10 years of war have militarized our supposedly civilian police force is pretty shocking; it adds another interesting layer to the military man taking offense to cops who overpolice (in a military manner). If they’re not vets themselves, they statistically could be.

  6. anonymous on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:22 am #

    And to think, some people find stories like this heartwarming:

    http://www.masslive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/05/four_rookie_police_officers_ar.html

  7. Susan on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:28 am #

    Watching the video I, like Historiann, picked up how young the cops were. But also: they had a kind of deer-in-the-headlights look which suggested that they were not comfortable with the role they were given to do.

    As to Sergeant Thomas, he served *us* (because whether we like it or not, it was in our name he was sent to Iraq); and it appears that he still does — though now as an activist citizen, not a soldier. Whether he’s hurt or not, I can’t tell — except insofar as Koshembos suggests, we all are. At first I thought, “Oh, a New York crazy”, but by the end I thought, “This guy is being very deliberate about what he’s doing.”

    Our local protest is more like TR’s Shoreline than NYC: lots of conversation, small, but lots of support.

  8. Widgeon on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:37 am #

    I was hit by NYC cops during the Tompkins Square riot in the late 1980s. The cops covered their badge numbers with black tape. Most were young and from the outer boroughs. It was pretty terrifying and I feel for the OWS folks who have to confront this new generation. Meanwhile the cops at Occupy Buffalo have been friendly and helpful.

  9. Indyanna on 18 Oct 2011 at 9:42 am #

    The 1960s/1970s analogy is interesting but I didn’t see a whole lot of Grant Park going on in this episode, or sense that it was going on in the background, beyond an ambiguous reference to “October 5.” The battle of Brooklyn Bridge was pretty bad, but nothing like the hardhats showering bolts down on the hippies in May 1970. Old (anti)-war stories, I realize. New York cops have always seemed skinnier, of face and of frame, than their studio-version “burly” Chicago cousins.

    Four days before I went to graduate school a Long March of Vietnam Veterans Against the War came through my little town, spraying imaginary “rounds” from black plastic machine guns at real and imaginary civilians. They camped in a cornfield owned by a local Quaker and we all swarmed over there that night to gawk at the spectacle and/or join the circus. It turned out to be as much about girls as about guerillas. The next day they marched off toward Valley Forge and any local civilian supporters who hadn’t been gunned down the night before were welcome to walk in the train of the brigade. Except girls below the rank of Jane Fonda, who were required to ride out of sight in the supply train of Econovans. Just like when Gen’l Washington marched the Continental Army through Philadelphia in 1777.

  10. Historiann on 18 Oct 2011 at 11:15 am #

    The gender & sexual dynamics of these things tend to have a disturbing continuity, don’t they?

    Here’s something you might appreciate: via Big Tent Democrat at TalkLeft, OWS and other “Occupy” events are “Anti-Democratic,” according to Anne Applebaum at Slate. (He adds, “There is a reason people don’t read Slate anymore.”)

    Anti-capture, so far, is more like it.

  11. truffula on 18 Oct 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Widgeon and anonymous at 9:19 touch on an important theme. I’ve been toe-to-toe with the same rank and file officers under two different Chiefs and the various experiences were quite different. One Chief was quick to call for the riot gear, pepper spray and “less lethal” projectiles, with the results you might expect. I believe in nonviolent civil resistance and have never been hit or shot but I’ve been in the crowd when comrades were. Rubber bullets and bean bags do a lot of damage while avoiding unsightly blood splatter.

    In my experience, it is very easy for the police to provoke an ugly confrontation if the crowd is large and that is what they want to do. The Occupy folks in my town got themselves nonviolence training straight away and then moved on to conduct trainings on their own. I imagine it is the same elsewhere. This is beautiful to me.

    Rank and file police officers are caught up in the same absurd reality as the rest of us, with the same hopes and desires, triumphs and tragedies. For many, their job is to seek out ugliness and do something about it. The uniform and the gun both serve to alienate the police from the policed (as they are intended to do, I think) but the framing established by the Chief and promulgated down the ranks yields different trajectories when confrontations happen.

  12. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 1:22 pm #

    Hey, you can call me a sanctimonious asshole. That’s fine. But I was a marine, too. People don’t become saints because they put on a uniform. People’s actions don’t become inherently ok just because they put on a uniform. Sgt. Thomas went up against a whole lot of people who were similarly unarmed. Sgt. Thomas similarly was following his orders. The police officers are called to duty just like Sgt. Thomas.

    If the police officers can be excoriated for their inability to defy orders to harm unarmed people, so too should Sgt. Thomas. Especially so since Sgt. Thomas’s actions in following orders in Iraq undoubtedly led to the actual deaths, rather than temporary detentions in NYC jails, of unarmed people.

    It seems to me that if Sgt. Thomas wants to talk about honor being the motivating force, people don’t get to rely on “he was just following orders” to insulate him, or his actions.

    This is exactly the problem with making veterans “heros” and then everybody and their brother jumping on their backs for an easy climb up the mountain.

  13. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 1:27 pm #

    And despite my initial post, I have no problem with Sgt. Thomas doing or saying what he said and did. Whatever, dude.

    What I really have a problem with is the “Look, we’ve got a VETERAN! We da bomb, now!” attitude on the putative left. I think a reality check about the military’s dubious relationship to “honor” and “heroism” in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is appropriate as the left so eagerly crawls on the veterans = heroes = we win! bandwagon.

    And the knee-jerk responses here just confirm the vacuousness and unprincipled nature of “hate the war, love the warrior” position.

  14. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 1:33 pm #

    Sgt. Thomas does not have to be a two penny intellectual to have honor. The bottom line is simple, Thomas was called by his country to war; he went; he understood what it meant; he did his duty as he was ordered. You cannot demand heroism. If you do, you miss the point.

    Thomas grew a lot. He now fights for you Emma. He understands how our society has to work, which most of us don’t. He stands up for us.

    Thomas is hurt. We are all damaged one way or another by the overly powerful. I respect his depth and emotions.

    Wow. That’s a lot of assumptions from a 5 minute video of a guy flashing his his medals and yelling about how he’s da man, as his medals prove. I’m also not a fan of “combat makes you a real man, ya’ll are just a bunch of p*ssies beating up unarmed civilians” mode of military thinking. “You want to be a real man, go to Iraq, like I did!” How can any feminist support that?

    I understand how society works. I fight for me, and you, every day. And I don’t do it with sexist BS about real men and unreal men.

    You don’t know why Sgt. Thomas joined the marines. You don’t know why he went to Iraq. But here’s a tip: lots of guys join the marines because they like the big guns and specifically want to to into combat. That’s the measure of their manhood, and it was on full display with Sgt. Thomas. He doesn’t fight for me because he clearly doesn’t understand how is “real manhood” is detrimental to me.

  15. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 1:37 pm #

    Whereas sanctimonious assholes who live in Western industrialized nations and enjoy the fruits of petroleum-based empire without getting their hands dirty are totally honorable.

    It’s pretty much undebatable that nobody here supports the Iraq war or the Afghanistan war. That everybody here, given a chance, would point to Abu Ghraib as emblematic of why that war is so very, very wrong and the conduct of the soldiers in it less than honorable. But let *one guy* with a bunch of medals and combat experience *in that very war* get on YouTube bellowing about how real men go to *that very war*, and people just start with the knee jerk attacks and frothing at the mouth.

    Gee, sorry, I’m not convinced of the rightness of OWS by manly-men invocations of “honor”. Why are you?

  16. Historiann on 18 Oct 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I thought the video was powerful because of the stunned reaction of the NYPD officers, not because of the vet status of the person who appeared to flummox them. While I think that identity was key to the flummoxing, I don’t think Sgt. Thomas speaks for any vets but himself.

  17. cgeye on 18 Oct 2011 at 3:50 pm #

    Emma,
    Since you were a Marine, should we say the same about you? Should we presume, by default, that you have no honor?

    I’m not saying he’s da man because he was a Marine; it’s that, in this time of stealth fascism, that’s the type of person that cops actually listen to.

  18. Historiann on 18 Oct 2011 at 3:57 pm #

    I was reminded in this video of the advantages of being an enormous man in confrontational situations. It almost made up for the historical disadvantage of being an enormous black man in confrontations with police officers!

  19. truffula on 18 Oct 2011 at 4:31 pm #

    I think I read that video differently than most folks here. I’ve been in that kind of situation in a few ways and what I see is the police using a nonviolent deescalation tactic. They are letting an angry man say what he needs to say while congregating around him and distancing him from something (I don’t know what, you can’t see it in the video). We might hope that what he was saying had traction for some of them–given who he is and the better motivations for choosing a police career–and we can suppose they used this tactic because of who he is but those are both conjecture.

  20. Comrade PhysioProf on 18 Oct 2011 at 4:42 pm #

    I have no idea whether the dude is honorable or not. My only point was that neither does Emma, and her assumption is completely ungrounded.

  21. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 5:43 pm #

    Why the hard-on for on “honor”? I don’t care whether you think I have “honor” or not. You’re using the word unreflectively and reactively to shut me down. It has no content the way you use it. None. You may as well call me a commie as call me without honor. It’s meaningless crap.

    Now, the way Sgt. Thomas uses it *does* have a very specific meaning, which you all are studiously avoiding. Sgt. Thomas’ definition of honor consists of masculinity as achieved and expressed through combat in a war where marines mostly faced unarmed civilians and other persons who, while armed and violent, posed zero actual threat to the U.S. and its citizens. It’s an unreflective adherence to being violent when, where, and how directed. It’s marines killing 15 civilians in Haditha – for which not a single marine was convicted. It’s 7 marines killing an unarmed, disabled civilian near Hamdania. It’s taking people out of their houses in the middle of the night, putting them in flexicuffs, with bags over their heads, calling them ragheads, and delivering them up for “interrogations”.

    I know what marine corps honor is and I know what it serves. Do you?

  22. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 5:45 pm #

    I have no idea whether the dude is honorable or not. My only point was that neither does Emma, and her assumption is completely ungrounded.

    Give me a break. I didn’t say Sgt. Thomas was without honor. I said what he participated in in Iraq is exactly as dishonorable as what the NYC cops are participating in. His individual participation is exactly as honorable or dishonorable as those cops’ participation — it’s the same damn thing. And if you’d get over your reflexive love for dudely manliness upstaging other dudely manliness in a man-off, you might see that, too.

  23. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    I don’t think Sgt. Thomas speaks for any vets but himself.

    Yet he’s presented as a) speaking for all of us and b) having some specific, special legitimacy, i.e. his words being “pretty powerful stuff”. Why? Because he’s vet? Because he’s a dudely, manly man with “honor” that he whips out on our (assumedly) behalf?

    Hey, I’m a vet too! When do I get highlighted with my own “pretty powerful stuff”?

  24. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 5:50 pm #

    Actually, CPP, your point was to be an aggressive, contentless ass.

  25. truffula on 18 Oct 2011 at 8:15 pm #

    If you link through to Corrente you will see two videos, one of this fellow and one of a grey-haired lady engaging in the same kind of discourse with police. I’m pretty sure both are viewed in the same way. Both “pretty powerful” because they chose to stand up and say something in the face of uncertain consequences. That is in my humble opinion, honorable.

  26. Emma on 18 Oct 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    I only see one video here. And I see several very personal attacks on me for daring to suggest that maybe we oughtn’t mindlessly valorize the “honor” so cherished by the US military and many of its members. I don’t need the “honor” Sgt. Thomas relies on and, frankly, the world would be a better place without it.

    But you’d rather repeat an empty phrase, trading on the veneration thoughtlessly given to veterans, than engage about the substance of the “honor” Sgt. Thomas brings to the table. But, hell, keep talking your way around Sgt. Thomas’s actual words and conduct which belie not a thoughtful or liberal response to police brutality, but a dick-swinging hypermasculinity that attacks the cops for not being man enough to go to Iraq and not just mace and arrest innocent people, but kill them and turn them over to torturers. Woot! We certainly need more of that! That’s a *real* change of paradigm. You know, I really hope the cops all take heed and run out and join up today!

  27. Historiann on 19 Oct 2011 at 5:28 am #

    You’ve made your point, Emma.