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Meditations (Politics): Iraq Comes to My Backyard

Meditations (Politics) - From Martin LeFevre in California

Iraq Comes to My Backyard

It’s a sunny afternoon, and there isn’t a cloud in the sky. A golden light streams into my study as I make some notes. Suddenly I hear tires squealing on the street in back, followed immediately by the sound of metal scraping metal. An instant later 8 or 9 shots ring out.

Though the street isn’t visible because of the wooden fence, I go into the backyard and listen for further sounds. It’s dead quiet. Something serious has happened just 100 meters away. Within minutes a black police helicopter is circling overhead, and continues to do so into the evening. Though there is no bullhorn, its message is clear: stay in your houses.

On a quiet residential street in this bucolic college town, police killed the city’s most wanted criminal, as the compliant local news media put it. “Several” shots were fired they said, as the suspect repeatedly attempted to ram an unmarked police car. “We don’t like it when investigations end this way,” the police spokesperson said, “but this man was a grave danger to the community.”

One of a small minority of African Americans in one of the most outwardly beautiful little cities in California, the suspect was shot at mid-afternoon. He was in violation of parole for burglary, but had no gun.

The incident described on the news that night was very different than what I heard that afternoon from my home. The report said that the suspect “rammed” an unmarked police vehicle, with clear intent to do harm to its female officer. It also said that the suspect was shot when he backed up and attempted to hit the vehicle again. That is untrue. The entire incident, from screeching tires to final shots, lasted no more than five seconds. There was no way the man could have even backed up, much less struck the unmarked police vehicles more than once, as initially reported.

Since I didn’t see what happened, but only heard it, I cannot know whether the cops who had staked out the house where the suspect was known to visit were in real and imminent danger, as the spokesman said. But I’m certain that they opened fire on him immediately, since the screech, scrape, and shots all followed in rapid succession.

Either way, the spokesperson misrepresented the facts when he said, “several shots were fired.” Did they also misrepresent events by giving the clear impression of escalating danger to a female officer? Did they overreact, and effectively execute a suspect trying to escape capture? We’ll never know. They blocked the street off until nearly midnight, and the local news reported things in a subservient fashion, spinning the story the way the authorities wanted it perceived, just like the news from Iraq.

Indeed, the entire episode evokes comparisons to the incident involving the freed Italian journalist who was wounded (and Italy’s highest ranking intelligence officer killed) at an American checkpoint. They were quick on the trigger then, and they were quick on the trigger here.

But why should anyone be surprised? They shoot first and spin the story later, because, after all, ‘perception is reality.' The atmosphere of fear and police state control lurking just below the surface must return home, since it emanates from here.

There is less and less space for freedom, not only in the supposed “land of the free,” but everywhere. The rings of control, the tightening net of fear, are evident everywhere. In the “global war on terror” every transgressor is dangerous, and can be shot on sight.

Until midnight the lights flooded the street and houses, like some macabre movie set where scenes of choreographed violence are shot over and over. Fire trucks shone high intensity lamps down from ladders hoisted over trees, while backlit figures in black scoured the streets, literally and metaphorically, looking for shell casings and other 'evidence' before washing everything clean. A group of residents sat on lawn chairs, forming a laughing, gawking party. Life quickly returned to normal, only a little more so.

Two days after the incident I went for a walk at 10 in the evening, as I sometimes do on hot summer nights. The streets were deader than usual, and the retreat into personal domains of video games and rented DVDs seemed complete.

Flags waved ominously in the breeze. The few people slowly driving by in vehicles looked at me quizzically or suspiciously. But I saw no reason to fear the night, when fear rules even sunny California days.


- Martin LeFevre is a contemplative, and non-academic religious and political philosopher. He has been publishing in North America, Latin America, Africa, and Europe (and now New Zealand) for 20 years. Email: The author welcomes comments.

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