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Saturday, June 3, 2023


(the title borrows from the great observation by James Carville when he was the top political strategist working to elect Bill Clinton; “it’s the economy, stupid.”)

Why are we the only developed nation with mass incarceration of non-violent criminals?
Why are we the only democracy with a police force becoming more militant instead of more peaceful?
Why is history’s arc towards justice bending backwards in the USA?
Why do our taxpayer/voters support huge police forces armed with weapons that only Marines should need?

Because we are the nation of guns for everybody, everywhere, anytime and anyhow.
That’s why.

Part 1

Police brutality is out of control in the USA. Police violence against black people is widespread, intentional and tolerated inside police culture. Even knowing that there will be videotape does not discourage many bad cops from doing brutal things to unarmed citizens just because they can.

Good cops operate within a bad culture. Good cops know that whistleblowers against bad cops get fired while the bad cops remain on the force. Too often, I have tried to focus on the 95% of cops who want to do the right thing each day but that’s not me anymore. I now think that the majority of GOOD cops go along with a culture of silence instead of transparency and so, they end up complicit.

George Floyd’s murder, in a vacuum, was a psychopathic killer taking advantage of an opportunity to kill a man he knew well and did not like. The game-changer was that the psychopathic killer was a cop who knew he was being filmed and observed by other cops and citizens in broad daylight and still, he was certain that he would get away with 1st degree murder – I know the charge is 3rd degree murder but that is bullshit waiting for the prosecutors to pull together the evidence to go for 1st degree murder if they can get the evidence they need.

Most important, George Floyd’s murder brought horrific police brutality from almost every state in the nation into the limelight. Police brutality, especially against black people, has become systemic again. Maybe it never improved following the civil rights success we thought we enjoyed in the 1960’s but I think things did improve in terms of police culture, at least in my part of the country which was the NY metropolitan area. But, something changed – something turned us back in the wrong direction. My beloved city of New York gave us the murder of Eric Garner and the cop on the video killing Eric got off with a wrist slap. I was horrified but I eventually drifted back into my cocoon of naivety.

In the middle of a pandemic, I woke up to police brutality as an endemic problem. Incredibly, it seems we all needed this wake-up call badly and way too many of us did not know it. The only good thing is that so many of us white middle class, white collar workers being at home with much more time to absorb the news helped George Floyd’s murder become the catalyst for desperately needed real police reforms. The stay at home lifestyle of the pandemic helps important news stories live past today’s 24/7 news cycle. We are staying focused on the most important news items now. That’s a good thing.

Part 2

Martin Luther King’s observation that the arc of history bends towards justice has been warped backwards over the last few decades. Injustice, incarceration, unchecked police brutality and police killings of unarmed citizens have all been on the rise. (Prove me wrong if you want to try, data about this stuff is suppressed on purpose by the police.)

How did things go so far wrong? Why did the civil rights momentum generated in the 1960’s reverse course so insidiously in the decades that followed?


In the USA, the police unions have gotten a law passed in virtually every state. If a cop kills a citizen, that cop is protected under the law “if he felt like his life was in danger.” Every cop has the right to go home to his family at night alive and healthy. No cop should wait until a gun is pointed at his chest by a bad person to take action to defend himself. But, in today’s culture, the abuse of this law is now the norm. Juries are instructed by judges that the jury cannot question what was going on inside the head of a cop if that cop wrote an incident report where he stated that he was in fear for his life. This law has become a license to murder innocent civilians with impunity and prosecutors don’t even try to bring cases against bad cops because this law makes it impossible to win the case. This is doubly so because the prosecutor will never ever be able to get the other cops who were at the scene of a police killing to testify that the situation felt safe and under control. Prosecutors who bring cases against cops and do not win those cases have very short careers. It’s institutionalized and it’s endemic.

It should be obvious that this post is no defense of cops, not even close, but cops now operate in a nation with at least 310 million guns that are more or less, undocumented and unaccounted for. When a state cop pulls over an out-of-state car for speeding on the highway, the police officer is right to assume that there is probably a gun in the car that he is approaching when he walks up to the window. Certainly the odds suggest that either a registered gun or an unregistered gun is in that car. A cop who wants to get home to his family each night is rational and sane to assume that a gun is within arm’s reach of any driver of any car that the cop walks up to after pulling it over. A cop who has received military style training has been inundated with videos and anecdotes about cops who were killed while approaching a car pulled over for a traffic violation. A cop who says that he feels in fear for his life EVERY TIME that he walks up to a strange car pulled over for a traffic violation is not a bad cop. He is a cop living in fear because in the USA, guns are everywhere and cop shootings are commonplace.

When a cop testifies that he was in fear of his life, it is not lost on the jury that he has every reason to go about his business everyday anticipating that a stranger has a gun.

So, that part is complicated.

Part 3

Why is the NRA and the PBA in bed together?

Let’s back up. In the 1970’s, the NRA shifted from a public service devoted to gun safety and gun control into a lobbying organization for gun manufacturers. Around 1975, the NRA created a branch called the NRA-ILA (National Rifle Association – Institute for Legislative Action.) While the original NRA continued on as the resource that millions of Americans subscribe to – essentially a magazine and a lot of stuff about hunting and gun ownership and Boy Scout stuff – the new arm of the NRA became the lobbying and marketing resource for gun manufacturers.

The NRA switched from pushing for gun control towards a new message that suggested we are safest when all of the good people carry guns. The NRA also castrated the second amendment by reducing the actual amendment from “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed” to just being this: “The right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed.” It was horrific but it was brilliant.

The NRA became the goddamned voice of America. It’s political power became insane. Voices against the NRA were crushed. Even so, I was always really confused by the police unions. If any institution should be the loudest voice on Capitol Hill fighting for gun control, you would think it would be the police unions, right? After all, their dues paying members are the ones who literally fear for their life every time they pull over a car for a traffic violation because there is likely to be a gun in that car. Every cop lives in fear for his life because there is no database for ownership of guns, there is no real licensing of guns, there is no required training for becoming a citizen gun owner. There is only chaos because 310,000,000 million guns are out there somewhere, many of them are rifles with no other purpose than to kill humans in combat situations, and the cops have absolutely no idea where they are.

Why the hell would the PBA stay silent? Well, you have to remember that unions are corrupt organizations and that union bosses operate like the leaders of gangs. The language used by the mafia and the language used by police unions have a lot in common. All whistleblowers are called “rats” in both cases.

You see, the police unions want to see their memberships grow bloated with more and more cops as dues paying members. Unions want to attract cops who are bullies with a very aggressive mentality about fighting a war in the streets. Unions want their cops to be provided with huge arsenals of weapons. Union bosses want the NRA to make sure that they get to keep their job as the union boss. The USA has become a police state because the NRA, the PBA and the lawmakers who are all under the thumb of the NRA want massive incarceration, they want the public living in fear every day, they want the police force to have autonomous power protecting them from liberal politicians who might want to move things in a different direction.

Average citizens watching the news are led to believe that there is an unseen America where white supremacists loaded up with guns live in the rural areas while black gangs loaded up with guns live in urban areas. The NRA and the PBA both love this story line. You can see that, right?

THE PBA CANNOT HAVE IT BOTH WAYS. The unions cannot demand laws that allow cops to kill people because they were in fear for their life and also stand by in complicit silence when the NRA insists that everybody in America should be able to own any damn gun that they want. That is bullshit and I won’t stay quiet about that anymore.

“Defund the Police” is not about eliminating the police. It is about backing down from the idea that the police are some kind of militaristic front line of defense that can do whatever it takes to protect the citizens in a land filled with guns.

The whole god damned country is upside down when it comes to civility and civil rights because we are a nation of law abiding peaceful citizens living on the fringe of a war between dangerous people with guns and a police force with the mentality that they are soldiers in some kind of ungodly war.

Yes, we need dramatic and significant police reform. Yes, police brutality is out of control. Yes, the good cops are complicit because they cannot or will not act as whistleblowers against the bad cops. But, come on folks, there can be no serious initiatives around the idea of “defund the police” unless we also drive very serious initiatives to get control over the chaos of guns in our country.

The two challenges are deeply interlocked. So, why the hell don’t I hear the protestors and the talking heads in the news screaming for gun control reform every time that they scream for police reform?

After the massacres of elementary school students in Newtown CT and of high school students in Parkland FL, we all took to the streets demanding gun control laws. After Eric Garner was killed and now, after George Floyd was killed, we all take to the streets protesting against police brutality. There are plenty more examples in both circumstances, you get my point.

The NRA and the PBA both need to be cut down to size at the same time.

When the hell are WE, we the protestors, we the voters, we the people who are supposed to be fighting for “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” going to get our act together and realize that these protests are about one thing, not two?

I don’t get it. We can do better. We have no choice.

VOTE like your f**king life depends on it.

Mark McLaughlin (American Grind)
In my career with large corporations, they gave all the employees psychological profile tests. It turns out that I test over-the-top for something called “strategic.” I can assure you that this is not an indicator of a high IQ. Haha. My brain sees the connectedness between things that often seem disparate to other people. My rote memory for details is awful but my instincts for what the details imply is way above average. I’m no futurist but I anticipate outcomes. I’m not a mind reader but my empathy is intense. Tomorrow, I might not recall exactly what you said, but I will definitely remember your emotions when you said it. Combine “strategic” with my GAD (general anxiety disorder) and you’ve got a guy who is attuned to worst-case scenarios. I’m a pragmatic optimist. I’m a problem solver because I can’t relax if a problem is being ignored. My brain grinds hard when I am worried about the future. My brain grinds in the era of Donald Trump – not because of the man but because of what he tells us about ourselves. My brain grinds hard when the news media is not addressing something that seems critical to me. Writing about the stuff that is grinding helps me to quiet the chaos and organize my thoughts. So, I write. There you go. This op-ed column is the outpouring of a brain that grinds hard regarding national affairs today. Welcome to “American Grind” and thanks for reading.


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