Tuesday, September 12, 2006


This is complicated and I'm not sure how to write it. In "Code of the Streets" Elijah Anderson casually mentions a by-pass that allows people to drive above a violent and poverty-stricken neighborhood without ever seeing it. In a different article, the author talks about modern warfare and how the US is attempting to apply the concepts of modern warfare (an affair between states to further political goals, limited by treaty and international law) to the essentially tribal warfare of the terrorist networks (non-state, driven by deep hatreds, largely free of explicit goals, centralized leadership or critical infrastructure). Today teaching Use of Force policy I found myself emphasizing again and again how important it was to enter any violent situation at the right level of force and how critical it was to change the level when you found you were wrong.

Life is stratified in so many different ways and so much misunderstanding comes from refusing to recognize when someone is acting, fighting or talking from a different level. Missing that their goals, morals and strategies are not the ones that you think of as "normal".

This is readily apparent at the confluence of my two worlds. On the one hand I deal every working day with people who believe it is stupid to accept a responsibility you can avoid; that people who feel that working for your livelihood is proof that you are stupid and should be exploited; that using force is natural and right and the only reason everyone doesn't all the time is fear; that jail is a place to rest and take care of health problems.

These are not exagerations, not even slight exagerations. And these are not the super-predators. These are the attitudes of the day-to-day low level criminals- the addicts and pushers, the guy holding the sign saying "Will work for food" (who will turn you down if you actually offer him a job. Try it.)

This mindset is so alien to the other half of the people I know (the "citizens") that many refuse to believe that it exists. It makes them uncomfortable when someone they know to have good judgment and wide experience makes a statement like this because it strikes them as impossible or wrong. But the mindset isn't that alien- it's adapted to its environment and reinforced in its own subculture.

People get uncomfortable with anything that strays too far from their strata, and they'll do incredible mental gymnastics to justify and explain behaviors as "bad decisions" because they are more comfortable thinking that there is a connection, that under the right circumstances even "I" could be driven to kill a child and this poor criminal just happened to hit those conditions. This is more comfortable than believing that there are people who will kill a child because her crying might annoy a boyfriend who supplies drugs. Or might just not think of it as an event at all.

So we sit in our air conditioned, genteel, polite world and refuse to believe that there are people who will deliver a savage beating while deliberately planning how they will defend it in court.

We will look at politics as a matter for discussions and sanctions... and be laughed at and people will be murdered because we are trying to negotiate trade, land and access with an entity whose goal is the absolute extermination of a people.

There is talk of trying to deal with terrorism as a crime when our legal system is predicated on rights and priveleges; intelligent, unafraid and truthful witnesses and compelling evidence. No decently organized group that is willing to be lethal could be convicted much less defeated by our legal system.

When your level of perception departs largely from the level of reality, a skilled opponent will note that and use it- so when the US pulls on Israel's leash and a cease-fire is declared, Hezbollah immediately reoccupied, Iran started shipping missiles and E-INT equipment... and we all pretend it isn't happening because a civilized country wouldn't violate an agreement and we are far too polite to call a terrorist group who kidnaps and murders and a state who supplies them "uncivilized". That would be rude.

In police Uses of Force there is a line that each officer must understand. There are different numbers and names assigned to it, but it is critical. For us, on one side of that line is Level 4, the restraint and control and pain holds used to get a threat into handcuffs. On the other side is level 5, survival fighting. If you attempt to resolve a level 5 situation with level 4 techniques, you will get hurt. If you try to handle a level 4 at level 5, you get sued. If the threat decides you are in a fight for your life and you decide to try to just control him a little, you will bleed.

So much of this comes together. In any area, mistaking the level of the situation, the level the threat is working from or assuming that the rules that you and your friends use at your level will be respected by someone who operates from a different level is disasterous.

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