The Pornography of Violence

No matter how one abhors it, the pornography of violence has become part of our life these days. There is rarely a day when we are spared of its horrific images invading our privacy, being shown on the TV screens and newspapers. There is something absolutely wrong and hideous with this American culture.

Gone are the days with TV programs like ‘I Love Lucy’ and ‘Gilligan’s Island’ that one could watch and enjoy with all members of the family – parents and children alike — without worrying about when to switch the channel for its offensive or gruesome contents! Even the children’s programs (including the cartoon shows) on the TV are full of sex and violence these days! But who can deny the influence of what one hears and sees?

In my line of work I travel a lot, often traveling to the southern U.S. states. In my rental cars, when I turn on the radio, thanks to the choice of the pervious renter or rider of the car, it is often the arrogant and hateful voices from radio talk show hosts bombarding the airwaves. And there are times that the previous rider had been listening to music, but never did I come across any car that included the NPR (National Public Radio) as the last rider’s choice of radio stations. This tells a lot about our American culture down south, its preferences and its obsessions!

I dislike listening to guys like Rush Limbaugh that thrive on selling violence and hatred. I prefer listening to the NPR for its balanced coverage of news around the globe and search for it by scanning the FM channels. In some of those southern towns and cities I drive to I may end up coming across at least half a dozen radio channels selling hatred before I find my choice and that too, if I am lucky. In some of these southern cities I can’t find the NPR, but there is no shortage of stations poisoning the airwaves with racism, bigotry and xenophobia. Even in the hotel lobbies and restaurant bars the most viewed TV channel appears to be the Fox News with its line of hatemongers poisoning viewers’ mind.

So, when I learn about the unnecessary and untimely death of Trayvon Martin in Florida I am not shocked. My personal experience as a frequent traveler has prepared me well to absorb such shocks! I am a firm believer in cause and effect. What those hateful politicians, preachers, radio and TV talk show hosts have been spreading is bound to reveal its ugliness through actions here at home and abroad. These executioners of violence owe it to their evil mentors and preachers that have taught them to hate others.

Trayvon was a 17-year old Afro-American high school student who was shot to death on February 26 by a neighborhood watch volunteer, or more correctly, a trigger-happy vigilante. This tragedy happened in Sanford, a small city north of Orlando, Florida, that houses the Disney World, a tourist spot for families with children. Trayvon was returning home at night after buying a bag of Skittles candy and an iced tea from a convenience store. He was trailed by George Zimmerman (28), a white Hispanic, who claimed that he fired at Trayvon in self-defense, although there is no apparent evidence that the teenager was doing anything wrong. Trayvon did neither trail Zimmerman nor provoke him anyway, but there is evidence that he called out in alarm over his cell phone as the armed stranger (Zimmerman) closely pursued him.

At the heart of the controversial killing is a Florida law, passed during Jeb Bush’s tenure as the state Governor that not only enshrined the doctrine of “your home is your castle” but took this doctrine into the public square and added a new concept called “stand your ground.” As noted recently by John Timoney, a former Miami police chief and Philadelphia police commissioner, “Laws like ‘stand your ground’ give citizens unfettered power and discretion with no accountability. It is a recipe for disaster.” As Florida police chiefs predicted in 2005, the law has been used to justify killings ranging from drug dealers’ turf battles to road rage incidents. Homicides categorized as justifiable have nearly tripled since the law went into effect. In spite of such a horrendous record at least twenty other states now have passed this law.

“Stand Your Ground” laws are abominations that should be repealed. It is high time that these states reject and repeal such misguided laws that are strongly backed up by the National Rifle Association, a pro-Republican lobby group that promotes gun-owner-rights.

In Albuquerque, New Mexico, the police union has a practice of paying officers involved in fatal shootings as much as $500 –” a program that critics have compared to a bounty system that promotes and legitimizes brutality. The department came under additional scrutiny last year after an officer who had been involved in a fatal shooting described his occupation as “human waste disposal” on Facebook. Another officer wrote on Myspace that “some people are alive only because killing them is illegal.”

In a statement released to The Journal, the Albuquerque Police Officers’ Association said “a deadly force encounter leaves a police officer with a particular kind of stress” and that, as a result, “this association has often assisted its members when they have been involved in critical incidents.” The group denied that the payments were awarded “for the officer merely ‘shooting someone,’ ” but to cover costs for officers “when they decide to get away from the area for a few days” after a shooting. 

Last Friday, the mayor called on the city’s police chief to “work with the [Police] union to ensure this practice no longer continues.” I hope that the police union wakes up to the reality of what their reward program could unleash in a culture that literally worships violence.

I am not surprised either to learn about the My Lai style murderous orgy executed by a U.S. Army Sgt. Robert Bales (38) on March 11 in Afghanistan that killed 17 innocent Afghans. Nine of the dead were children; some others were women and elderly men. The bodies of some of the victims were set on fire. These innocent victims were attacked as they slept in villages that were supposed to be protected by soldiers on Bales’s base. What a betrayal! In terms of number of victims while surely Bales’s massacre is much smaller in magnitude, it is no less criminal than what had happened in Srebrenica in July of 1995 when the Dutch-speaking peacekeepers of the UNPROFOR did nothing to stop the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims by Serbian and Greek Orthodox Christians under the command of General Ratko Mladic.

Contrary to some early reports, the latest massacre in Afghanistan had neither anything to do with the PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) nor was it an isolated event done by a rogue member. It is inconceivable that a soldier like Bales could get out of his base at 3 a.m. unchallenged and without anyone’s knowledge. How did he manage to do so much damage alone?

As the Christian Science Monitor (CSM) reported there is something sinister about the entire massacre and the responsibility for the crime goes up higher in the chain of military command. Just days before the massacre the villagers were threatened by American soldiers: ‘A bomb exploded on our vehicle. … We will get revenge for this incident by killing at least 20 of your people.’ (CSM, March 20, 2012) It was not surprising that the U.S. government kept the identity of the soldier hidden until he was safely flown out of Afghanistan.

It has been quite some time that we have been hearing about the Kill Team within the NATO forces stationed in Afghanistan. Last year, Mark Boal of the Rolling Stone magazine published a lengthy expose on this “kill team” group that included a link to a number of the photographs. He wrote, “Indeed, it would have been hard not to know about the murders, given that the soldiers of 3rd Platoon took scores of photographs chronicling their kills and their time in Afghanistan. The photos, obtained by Rolling Stone, portray a front-line culture among U.S. troops in which killing Afghan civilians is less a reason for concern than a cause for celebration. “Most people within the unit disliked the Afghan people, whether it was the Afghan National Police, the Afghan National Army or locals,” one soldier explained to investigators. “Everyone would say they’re savages.” One photo shows a hand missing a finger. Another depicts a severed head being maneuvered with a stick, and still more show bloody body parts, blown-apart legs, mutilated torsos. Several show dead Afghans, lying on the ground or on Stryker vehicles, with no weapons in view.” (March 27, 2011)

So, the recent massacre of Afghan civilians is part of a much broader trail of war crimes that has allowed brain-washed hateful soldiers to commit the so-called collateral damages, bombing ‘mistakes’, drone attacks, the urination on dead Afghans, collect body parts from their victims as souvenirs and the burning of the Qur’an, and has given them a sense of immunity knowing from past records that the perpetrators of such heinous crimes may not even serve time behind the bars. And these criminal soldiers cannot be blamed for entertaining such thoughts when we know that not one of the eight Marines charged in the 2005 massacre of 24 people in Iraq, including women, children and a man in wheelchair, was imprisoned. One was acquitted and the charges against six others were dropped. The Sergeant who admitted ordering his men to ‘shoot first and question later’ was given a plea bargain, serving no time behind the bars.

It is this culture that glorifies violence through pre-emptive strikes not just in the towns and villages in harm’s ways in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan but also everywhere within the USA. It finds excuses for the trigger-happy executioners that shoot and kill their victims (often a minority inside, and of ‘other’ race or religion outside the USA) without feeling any guilt or remorse. In a clear case of cognitive dissonance, the general public, mesmerized by hateful messages from the ultra-nationalist, racist and bigoted elements within the politics and political discourse of America, thus see no evil or crime for these criminals. At most, they see Zimmerman as a threatened victim within the society, and Bales as a victim of unpopular wars — started by George W. Bush, and now continued by Barack Obama –” who had made bad decisions or acted in self-defense.

It is this evil culture that is again trying to push America to launch pre-emptive strikes against Iran. Forgotten are the facts that Bush Jr. and Cheney were wrong in their perceptions about the Iraqi WMDs and should be tried for misleading the American public, let alone bankrupting the country and committing crimes against humanity.

When America refuses to punish its criminals for their crimes against the ‘other’ people, it destroys more than its concept of justice. It devalues the lives of their victims. These criminals deserve the contempt of this nation and not either excuse or applause.

The death of Trayvon was the result of a long line of violent acts, the culmination of hate and suspicion and doubt in this country. This country has allowed people to kill and brutalize those they don’t like. This pornography of violence must stop. Otherwise, as Malcolm X once said, America’s chickens are coming home to roost. It will reap what it had been sowing.

Is America listening, esp. her politicians, that have in the post-9/11 era sold the poison pills of hatred against the ‘other’ people?