NEW YORK – Drive across the border.
That’s all you need to do, really, to figure out why so many Americans are so enraged about the killing of Michael Brown.
The fact that an unarmed teenage boy was shot six times – twice in the head – is part of it, of course. So, too, the fact that eyewitnesses say he had his hands in the air when a Ferguson, Missouri police officer gunned him down. Like he was, you know, a rabid dog.
All of that – the killing of a boy who had nothing between his fingers except the August air above his head – is part of the reason why this country has awoken from its late-Summer torpor, and is in a state of apoplexy.
But there’s another reason for the ferocity of the reaction by Middle America to Michael Brown’s killing. And that is the police themselves.
Like I say: drive across the border. I did, with my kids, and it felt like I was back in Bosnia in 1996, approaching a Serbian paramilitary checkpoint.
It wasn’t just the cameras, which we counted to be about eight, per car. It wasn’t just the general appearance of the border crossing, which closely resembled what the Berlin Wall might have looked like, back in the day.
It was the uniformed folks at the border, themselves.
They looked like they were fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan, still, instead asking suburbanites if they had an extra bottle of wine to declare. Military-style uniforms, military-style weapons, and attitudes to match. Pompous, rude, vaguely threatening.
It would be a cliché to state that the mass murder that was 9-11 changed the world. Most reasonable people would also agree that the world needed changing: we’d been living like we were Switzerland, and we needed to start living like we were Israel.
That is, in a dangerous world, one where men in caves possessed weapons – if not of mass-destruction, then at least destructive to the masses, on a World Trade Centre scale – and an unkillable desire to kill us. For our faiths, for our way of life, for our modernity.
So we changed, and understandably so. Homeland Security, checkpoints on Parliament Hill, shoes off at the airport. Oh, and massive – truly massive – amounts of cash, uncritically shoveled in the direction of the cops and the soldiers.
Post-wars, some of the latter drifted into jobs as the former. Training manuals changed. Politicians signed blank cheques and looked the other way, daring not to question the wisdom of rendering ourselves a police state. For fear of being seen as “soft on crime” or “soft on terrorism.” (Ask Justin Trudeau: the Cons do it to him on a near-weekly basis.)
Thus, Ferguson. The killing of a boy without justification – anywhere, anytime – is a crime. That is why so many down here, black and white, are so upset. With a black president in his second term, some of Americans had thought all that was behind them. Apparently not.
But they are in a state of rage, in the United States, for another reason: the terrible crimes of 9-11 were used as an excuse – dishonestly, unethically, diabolically – to justify pumping untold billions into the creation of paramilitary forces where none were needed. To create, as noted, a police state.
The boy named Michael Brown has awoken a nation from its sleep, as it had been drifting into becoming something less than what it was. They mourn him, of course.
But they mourn the loss of their freedom, too.