Monday, December 3, 2018

Photos and the Fallen : History Isn't About Our Feelings

*evidence photo from the Newhall incident, 1970*

*updated December 2018, originally posted in March 2017*

Photos from life's front lines force change, and sometimes change the course of history.
What we remember, and how we remember it, is shaped by the images we associate with the events. That's why we remember a boy named Emmett Till, but don't have names for thousands of other crime victims.
It's why modern law enforcement understands deeply the effects of the North Hollywood Bank Robbery, but not so much the effects of a century of train robberies.

Like everyone else, I've been monitoring the news from London. As usual, I'm going to sound less-than-sensitive just now.
You can disagree if you want;
If I were a delicate flower, I'd have had to find something else to do a long time ago.

I've seen some outrage over upsetting photos on news articles today, cries and criticism that they should be un-published.
*MP Tobias Ellwood renders aid to a fallen officer*
The photos are meant to be upsetting.
They are meant to be an outrage.
They're not supposed to be sensitive to anyone's feelings, even the families of the victims.
The photos are a record of history.
Photojournalists , and now dash cams, body cams and common citizens with cell phones, stop time and record it, so that we do not forget.

Someone committed acts of evil today.
Someone will tomorrow.
Someone will lose a loved one.
Their lives have meaning, and worth.
They deserve recording, and remembering.
There are iconic photos of moments in history, whether lovely, or heartbreaking or horrifying, that all of us have seen because someone else took a photo, and an editor published it.

These images and events, whether a churchyard in Antietam strewn with soldiers, emaciated corpses in a mass grave in Bergen, the Zapruder film, the scorched little girl fleeing napalm, the bravery of a student in Tienanmen Square, a thousand yard stare in Iraq, the Dinkheller video or the fallen in Westminster, must not be airbrushed, edited into acceptability or hidden away.
*Secret Service Agent Tim McCarthy, Reagan assassination attempt*

It's not about your feelings.
It is evidence: that this happened, that real people fell, that we must remember, that this must not happen again.

If you are highly sensitive to visuals, or caring for someone who is, turn on the radio, turn off your TV, and get off social media for a while.
The fault is not with the photos.

It is not correct that only what is lovely should be visible.
We who can bear it owe it to those who died and those who survive them not to look away--and to make sure that those responsible are called to account.

That is not only for someone in a uniform.
Any of us with a mind and a voice or a keyboard can do this.
Turn the page, if you must.
But don't turn your back because that's easier.
And don't require that anyone else does.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Hypocrisy and Free Speech : Words Mean Things

I shouldn't have to qualify this, but I will-- I am an ardent believer in the freedom of the press.
It's one of the five First Freedoms enshrined in the constitution, and I frequently annoy friends and readers who haven't worked with journalists, by defending them.
I'm an advocate for free speech, another of those First Freedoms.
That said, I'm stuck.

^^ Up there is a quote from Assemblywoman Michele Fiore , NV (R) during a 2016 news interview. She was exercising her right to free speech, and access to a free press.

Following the coverage of journalist Jamal Khashoggi's murder in the Saudi consulate, I heard the following accusation against influential people who have been critical of the press:
that saying nasty things about people incites violence, and allows those committing crimes to justify their actions against The Other, the one who 'deserves' it, the one who has been demonized.

When progressive politicians and news outlets were targeted by a domestic terrorist sending explosives through the mail, the refrain was repeated again, this time on behalf of the elected officials as well.
Criticism of insulting metaphors, and controversial depictions of representatives from past political contests filled the airwaves, and acres of print.

While activists and commentators blame ugly political speech for violence against women, immigrants and racial or religious minorities, I want to know why divisive politicized rhetoric is acceptable when it targets cops, even after violence resulting in multiple casualties at a time.
(In 2008, 42 officers were killed by gunfire; when this post first published in 2018, we were already up to 49. Despite the protests from copblockers, more cops have been killed feloniously than accidentally for a long time now.
Go ahead and fact check me on's statistics page. )

I have been told many times to shut up and get over myself--- that it's free speech, protesters blowing off steam, people expressing themselves, words don't have that power, cops know what they signed up for and can stop being one any time they want.
I was told that people just doing a job they can quit shouldn't expect any sort of protection from threats,stereotyping or dehumanization, whether it's by an authority figure or on social media.

Hypocrisy makes me angry.

Journalism is a profession, like law enforcement, not a protected class like sex, race or religion.
So is being an elected official, like the ones targeted with mail bombs by the nutter from Florida.
Law enforcement officers are United States citizens just like journalists and elected officials.
Just like them, they have civil rights, including an expectation that they may live without being targeted for the job they do.

Academics, journalists, politicians and the public have a choice to make here:
either words can be destructive and incite destructive behavior, or it's all just permissible free speech, immune to criticism.
No one gets to have it both ways.
It's time to grow up and own the damage.

In the words of the famous, fictional LAPD Detective Harry Bosch, "Everybody counts, or nobody counts."
We don't have second class citizens in our country.
Or, at least, we shouldn't.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Sheepdogs of His Pasture

I've got a Sunday story to tell.
I write for people who call themselves sheepdogs.
They're my family--blood, not just blue. Sheepdogs, I get.

But sheepdogs necessitate the existence of sheep, and I confess: even as a believer, I never understood that sheep metaphor.

I'd learned all the right verses, and names.
"It is He who made us, and we are his: his people, the sheep of his pasture." (Ps. 100:3)
And that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.
And we know his voice, and He knows our names.
Lost sheep.
Found sheep.
Gently-carried sheep.
Sheep walking through the Valley of the Shadow of Death without fear, know.
I got it.
But I didn't get it.

I grew up on military bases, and in cities, surrounded by concrete, jet engines and chain link fences.
There wasn't any context for farming and ranching analogies.
I only knew what I'd heard about sheep, and goats, and cattle, and other flock- and- herd creatures--- and honestly, I was vaguely insulted.

Sheep seem kind of dumb.
They get scared, of everything. They don't smell very good, and they get lost all the time.
They fall down and get stuck, until someone else helps them up.
They can't even find their own food, or clean water to drink, or keep their own lambs safe.

That's how He thinks of me?
What do I do with that?

Military and law enforcement families pride themselves on strength, on resourcefulness, on self-sufficiency.
Sheep never seemed like a good fit with that, at all.
I never said it out loud, because I never heard anyone else admit they didn't get it, either.
What did stuff about sheep even have to do with me or my family?
We were a family of sheepdogs.
How can you be both, at the same time? And if you can't, then who am I?

My family had learned the hard way that it's crushing to be self-sufficient, and resourceful, and fearless every minute.
We didn't know how to be anything else, though, so we just kept on, pretending when it wasn't the truth anymore.
That was exhausting too.
The veneer got thinner and thinner over time, as we pretended even to each other.
After a while, it was like rotting ice on an Arctic pond: it looks solid and safe, if you don't know any better.
As long as the sun reflects just right, you can't see the cracks, and dark spots.

An interpreter for confusing metaphor showed up in the most unlikely place: Paul, a contractor friend from church whom we hired to help us add on to our little house. (It had good bones, that house, but a monster case of ugly--the product of decades as a rental before we bought it. )

As we worked alongside Paul, and got to know him better, he told us that he raised goats.
Some were milk goats, and his wife made yogurt and cheese with the milk.
The others were pack goats.


"Pack goats. I like to hike long distance, and they carry my stuff."

Pack goats.
I knew of pack horses, and mules, even llamas. But goats? They're kind of like sheep, aren't they?
Prey animals, flock animals.

"How do you keep them together? What happens when they get scared? Don't they run away? How do you ever catch them again?"
I ask a lot of questions.
(Who knew, right?)

I envisioned goats trailing behind Paul on a tether, like a miniature string of mules.
I envisioned goats spooked by mountain lions or bears, scattering through the chaparral in inky, starless night.
I envisioned Paul's stuff , strewn off-trail to the sound of pointy hooves clattering on granite and shale.
Paul looked down from the trusses, and laughed at me.
"No," he said.
"I don't tie them. They follow me.
I'm the first one they see when they're born, and they're all imprinted on me. Wherever I go, they follow.
When I make camp each night, they lie down around me, and we keep each other warm.
And when they're scared, they don't run away---they run to me and hide behind me.
I'm their safe place, and they know it."

It was like the sun coming out after years of fog and drizzle.
Paul never knew, but I finally---finally--got it.

If I'm a sheep, I don't have to be big, or strong, or smart, or brave.
I don't have to figure everything out.
All I have to do is get up every day,and look for the Shepherd.
My job is just to follow, and carry whatever He gave me that day.
I don't even have to know where we're going.
I'll stop where He stops, and He'll keep me warm that night.
If I'm scared, I run to Him, and it's His job to keep me safe.
Then, we do it again the day after that.
That's all.

That's the thing: God has no trouble keeping two opposing thoughts in his head at once.
We are the ones who have a problem with that.
Turns out that we are a family of sheepdogs, and we are sheep.

It really is that simple.

Thursday, July 19, 2018

What a Rural Badge Wears

I want to clear up any misunderstanding about who matters, and what this blog is about.
It's called The Rural Badge---but, what is that?

I'll explain. It's what I do.
A rural badge works in small towns, and out in the country.
They work in the desert, and in the mountains.

They may be sheriff's deputies.

Or park rangers.

Some live way up north. Like, RCMP definitely counts, including (especially) their K-9s.
Some are even further north than that.
They drive (and drive) or fly, or boat to the next call. Same as with city cops, bad guys are involved, but also sometimes a SAR and once in a while, grizzlies. ( City cops don't get grizzly calls much.)

There are rural badges in the green forests and hills of New York.
They patrol the White Mountains of New Hampshire on snow machines, protecting wildlife, the environment, and humans from each other and their own sketchy decision making skills. (Pro tip: use a paper map. GPS and cell phones aren't as reliable as the officers who will eventually find your lost self.)
They work for the state, for the feds, for small towns, or for sovereign native tribes with their own police force.
Some work in settings so beautiful that rich people and movie stars have bought all the good parts up and fenced it for their own private playgrounds, driving prices up till waitresses sleep in shifts in vans behind the diner, and game wardens live in elderly, state-owned cabins.
Some work in desolate places where poverty grinds hope and prospects and hard work to powder, gritty and stinging when the wind blows.

They work where the sun is hotter, the cold is colder, where humidity can drown a strong swimmer.
They work where city cops drive for hours 'to get away', because they think there aren't any people here.
There are people everywhere. Anywhere there are people, bad things can happen.
Rural badges are just farther from everything--backup, a gas station, the cell tower, a trauma center, a flush toilet.
Their uniforms come in green, and brown, black or blue or khaki, and their patches and badges are all different. Ball caps, campaign hats, Stetsons and helmets cover their heads.
They're men, and women, of all sizes and ages.
Rural badges will drive lights and sirens for as long as it takes, wherever they have to, to back up someone else, because they know next time it could be--will be--them. They don't care what's on the patch or who issued the badge.

Just, come.
Bring a gun. Bring two. Drive fast. Tell dispatch where you are, at least till you lose radio contact and cell coverage. Hope someone's listening when you talk anyway.

Rural badges love their angels---the eyes in the sky that look out for them, back them up, longline task force guys in or out, evacuate them when they bleed. There aren't many fancy toys out here. No one takes the wings for granted.

Rural badges love to drive fast, like any other cop.
Where there are huge distances to patrol, the faster you can cover it,the better.

Traveling fast isn't always an option on a rural badge's beat. In some places, even a four wheel drive won't hack it.
Four legs are slower, but getting there is better than not getting there.
Horses make good patrol partners: they're tall, quiet and suspicious. Nothing sneaks up on your camp when a horse is picketed there. You have to brush him out, balance your packs and check his feet, but there's no back seat for drunks to puke in either.
City horses are a novelty, not a necessity.

Besides, you can't cut sign from inside a truck, and there aren't any gas stations out here.

The rural badges are hard to tell from their city counterparts, in a picture.
The difference is in what they do, and how they do it.
There's a lot of smugness in an urban attitude that stems from not knowing what they don't know: that there aren't any specialists in a rural agency.

There's no supervisor to make the hard call, if there's only one deputy on in the whole county,only one warden in the district.
There's no crime scene tech, no photographer, sometimes not even a detective.

Dead moose mystery?
Post your own moose.
What are you waiting for?
Get your hands dirty, actually , really dirty.

Take the measurements, and the pictures, lift the prints your own self, there isn't anyone else.
Rural badges from solid agencies learn to process their own scenes, and do their own followup, from the initial call to the courtroom.

What makes a rural badge isn't uniforms, or agencies, or training, it's the places they work and the people they protect.
It isn't the government branch that issues the badge or certification they have in common, but that, no matter what color the uniform, they all bleed red. That they're all real , with real people who love them.
And that I write about them, advocate for them, and tell their stories.
I'm a small writer, from a small place, who believes they matter.
I've made it my mission to convince you that they matter, too.