On Shepherds vs Sheep Dogs

(post-script: this one was written during a bout of insomnia. I’m leaving it unedited for now as a reminder to myself to leave things in “draft” shape until I’ve actually slept.  There are some things in here I absolutely stand by, but the same points could have been made much more constructively and with less derp, and it’s the mark of a grown-up to own it when you step on your own crank — Happycrow)


Col. David Grossman needs to either fix his goddamn metaphors, or sit down and shut the fuck up.

Grossman is a smart man who’s done a lot of research, and a lot of very necessary research.

The problem is that he’s exported some of the metaphors resulting from his research into contexts where they doesn’t apply.  One of these places is Law Enforcement, where Grossman’s research has been used to excuse innocent people being killed by those who are theoretically there to protect them.

Consider Eric Garner.

  1. Man resells cigarettes loosely. This is illegal because it gets in the way of NYC’s tax-farming schemes.
  2. Cops take on Garner, who objects to constantly having police in his face all day (issue with “broken windows” policing combined with the fact that, duh, Mr. Garner is breaking the law)
  3. Garner is taken to ground by police, where an illegal chokehold is applied, but more specifically, police apply body weight to his diaphragm, preventing him from breathing.
  4. Mr. Garner dies.
  5. ME rules it a homicide, case is wrapped up into larger agenda regarding Ferguson MO (justified) shooting.  Cop gets free vacation time, skates.
  6. Public is horrified at apparent new policing equation: “protect and serve = obey or die.”
  7. (Bad) Cops respond: “you don’t understand our jobs. Put on a badge or get back in the herd.” (This is a true quote from an aquaintance who will remain unidentified, but you can readily find similar examples all over the web)
  8. Public respect for Law Enforcement goes into the shitter at the spectacle of police telling the public they supposedly serve that they have no voice in discussions of how that’s carried out.
  9. Civilians who shouldn’t be dead and/or crippled continue to be dead and/or crippled. Good cops suffer and are less safe.

There are several issues here, and a big one is police accountability in general, or bad cops balls-out lying and faking police reports.  That’s not the topic here.  I’ll leave that one to Serpico.  The issue here is, “why is force being used so much more predominantly than it used to be?”  One answer is “they’re not, it was always this way.”  I actually don’t think that’s the case. We can track when various policies were implemented, and there’s little question that the War on Drugs has done a lot to change how policing is carried out, often in negative ways.  That’s one of the reasons that police officers are one of the major groups pushing to end Prohibition.

One of the major problems, as I see it, is Grossman has taken his research, applied it out of context, and used his influence, which is considerable, to peddle a false and pernicious ideology to Law Enforcement.  Let’s look at what Grossman has to say about the public:

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. […] Thus there is a paradox, and we must grasp both ends of the situation: We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

I mean nothing negative by calling them sheep.

Except, he does.  His entire essay drips with contempt for the non-violent public.

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.

Did you catch that extremely subtle shift?  If that sounds patronizing and full of contempt, you should see what comes after that quote – by the end of the essay, it’s quite clear that “sheep” and “ignorant sheep” are clearly synonymous within the metaphor.  Grossman goes from one pretty basic metaphor based on talking to a veteran which is somewhat backed up by his own research, albeit conflating those who are capable of aggression but who engage in it as a last resort, and those who are incapable of it.

From there, he proceeds to what I believe is a quite fair paraphrasing, expressed this way: “Dave Grossman can’t tell the difference between somebody who chooses not to commit violence, and somebody who’s incapable of it.  Dave Grossman believes that non-aggressive citizens are ignorant bumblefucks.  Dave Grossman is trying to push a militarized perspective into law-enforcement.”

Dave Grossman is an asshole.  Okay, why do we care?

We care because plenty of cops are fucking terrified of the supposedly harmless sheep they’re protecting, and instantly equate even the subtlest whiff of suspected danger with “this isn’t a sheep, this is a wolf, blam blam blam.”  Law Enforcement has adopted “The Sheepdog Metaphor” whole-heartedly, and thus many otherwise good cops have become a warped caricature of what they’re supposed to be.  Cops shouldn’t be sheepdogs. Cops should be shepherds.  Because sheepdogs are fucking stupid, capable of seeing the world only through a single context. That’s why you don’t let them play with other peoples’ pets or kids. Or why they sometimes get loose in airports and herd humans (successfully, since humans in airports have been intentionally disarmed).

Let’s look at the life of a sheep-dog.  The sheep dog does not work for the sheep.  The sheep-dog works for a shepherd, whose job it is to fleece sheep.  The sheep dog’s job is to bring the sheep in for fleecing.  And lest you object to the logical extension of the metaphor here, there’s a fuck of a lot of fleecing going on even before we get into the batshit fascist insanity of the War on Drugs.  The sheep-dog doesn’t give a fuck what the sheep think. They’re sheep. They don’t protect sheep from wolves because they give a shit about the sheep: they protect sheep from wolves because wolves don’t have a license from the shepherd to fleece.

What does a sheep dog do when one of the sheep is out of line?  He bites him.

Sounds like the men who killed Eric Garner.  Cops who see themselves as separate from the community that they police.  Cops who only hang out with other cops and can’t relate to civilians.  Cops whose response to “this isn’t right,” in whatever flavor that comes, is to respond with aggression.  Cops whose response to being called out for all of the above being “put on a badge or shut up, sheep.”

In case you can’t see where I’m going here, let me spell this out explicitly.

Sheep-dogs make shitty fucking cops.

GOOD cops see a situation that’s not right, and they try to figure out what’s going on in a way that is concerned for the welfare of all involved.  And yes, Col. Grossman, and please get this through your thick fucking skull, cops aren’t “operators.”  Police have lethal force at their discretion, but GOOD cops don’t actually enjoy being violent, and are bothered by having to drop the hammer on somebody.  That’s why we have cops in the first place.  We outsource it to a group of people with lots of training and high standards, because society has learned the hard way that “instant justice” may make for a polite society, but it tends to go off half-cocked and condemn/execute people who shouldn’t be condemned or executed (let alone majority-vs-minority and all those other extremely related issues).

Shepherds do violence (to wolves) on behalf of their flock. They’ll also corral a sheep who’s gone astray, and bring them back home to safety, and sometimes that means collaring a sheep who’s gone so far out of bounds that they’re a danger to themselves and/or others. Shepherds endanger themselves for the sake of their flock.

Sheep-dogs? They just bite.  Sheep-dogs sit on MRAPs pointing machineguns at protestors.  Sheepdogs throw flash-bang grenades into cribs.  Sheep-dogs work for the government without respect for citizens. Sheep-dogs are frequently dirty cops.

“9 out of 10 sheepdogs can’t figure out why Mister Kitty feels stressed….. unless he’s doing something wrong.”

Being a cop is dangerous. Less dangerous than a lot of jobs that are far more likely to get you killed. But when cops are killed, it’s usually violence rather than accident, plus high stress and shitty hours staring up society’s asshole all day and frequently having to deal with People Who Have Gone Horribly Wrong.  When you’re patrolling a neighborhood at 3 a.m. because Mrs. Grundy might have seen a burglar, or Mrs. Grundy is kinda wrinkled and old-school and is freaked out about having seen a black man walking around in her neighborhood… cop doesn’t know.  Cop doesn’t know if he’s getting shot at during his next traffic stop.

Good cops sublimate that stress in healthy ways, realizing that John Q. Public they meet doesn’t walk in their shoes and isn’t responsible for their stress levels.  Bad cops, Dickless Napoleons, and people who’ve had it and need to retire and move on, handle that stress badly and flip out in ways that are hilarious, tragic, or both.

Sometimes, good cops have to shoot people to death. Sometimes, when that happens, it’s not instantly apparent to the public whether a wolf just got taken down, or the officers in question have flipped out and gone way overboard.

Sheep-dogs? They just bite.  And hate the public for questioning why they bite.

Civilian exercises his right to film you?  Bite him.

Amputee in a wheelchar won’t put down his pen?  Bite him.

Kid answers door with something in his hands?  Bite him.

Stroke victim walks and talks a little funny?  Bite him.

Man is suspicious because “taking afternoon walk while not white,” and doesn’t speak English?  Bite him.

Drunk kid behaves badly?  Bite him.

Known mentally ill man acts funny, while known to be mentally ill?  Bite him.

So. Before you point it out, I”m aware.  Some of these sheep-dogs were taken off the force. Others were sued. Some are in prison, where they should be, and should remain. News flash:  getting a bad cop taken off the force doesn’t bring dead people back to life.

The public loves good cops.  Shepherds who go into harm’s way for the sake of their flock get praise. Not enough of it, but they deserve all the praise they get.  On the other hand, if you’re a sheep-dog whose first reaction to any unusual situation or to lack of instant compliance is to resort to violence, John Q. Public is right to fear and despise you.

Col. David Grossman has a lot to answer for.

Be a shepherd, not a sheep-dog.

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