What A Nail Sees

A reader wrote a comment on my post about what was happening in Ferguson, Missouri,(“GoveWhat a nail seesrnor Jay Nixon Should Call Out The National Guard—To Protect The Citizens of Missouri From The Police“) that went like this:

The events occurring there only show the militarization of many police forces across the US. Surplus automatic army weapons and armored vehicles give local cops an opportunity to use them as lethal weapons. Remember the adage, “If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

My response:

Yes. And when you feel like a nail, as many African-Americans do, everything coming at you looks like a hammer.

If you don’t understand that, if you can’t fathom what it might be like to be the nail and also believe, with good reason, that those charged with enforcing the laws of this society have hammering on their minds, then you don’t understand what is going on in Ferguson and elsewhere across the country.



  1. I was startled and did a double-take when on Rachel Maddow’s show last night I saw two lines of white shirts advancing down the street, with and in the forefront of protesters, and was told that they were members of the Missouri Highway Patrol! At last, somebody does understand. What a relief.


  2. ansonburlingame

     /  August 15, 2014

    I would suggest that part of life for anyone is being a “nail” from time to time.


  3. ansonburlingame

     /  August 15, 2014

    Sorry, hit post comment too soom. Certainly anyone with military training, or police training for that matter starts out as a nail. They are simply taught to “take it”. In such cases the “hammers” are themselves trained professionals, only doing their best to show young men and women how to take what comes at you, keep your mouth shut and “just do it”, follow orders.

    Most police forces, military forces, any elements of society responsible for law ENFORCEMENT are such usually trained professionals and do a good job, UNTIL some jackass decides to take on such law enforcement, on the spur of the moment and “on the streets”. That is when things really start to go crazy and who knows what might happen.

    We are even approaching the point in our society that when lawbreakers, criminals decide to either run or confront police with force we expect police to just “back off”, all for the sake of ………., what, safety to other citizens??

    Previously Ben Fields challenged that I have no idea what it is like to be black and under a police “gun”. He is right as I am not black, just white. But I have been a nail under the hammer of legitimate authority many times in my life as well and I learned how to react to such authority when it was wrong, as well. And later in my life I became a “hammer” as well using legal or administrative authority, correctly most of the time.

    So it cuts both ways in my view. No I have never been a black nail confronting police. But some of you have never had the RESPONSIBILITY (and thus the authority) to be a “hammer” in tense and potentially dangerous sitiuations. In particular I doubt that anyone commenting routinely herein has ever be ordered to go patrol a ghetto (a potentially dangerous area where real harm can come your way) and keep it safe for everyone. And in such cases a “ghetto”, a methapor, does not require just an area filled with poor and angry blacks. Hell I have seen “ghettos” in corporate boardrooms, with rich and angry fat cats, ready to take your head off at a moments notice. methaphorically at least.

    Our Constitution gives us the right to petition government, as it should. But when “petitions” become violent, well is that “constitutional” under any circumstances?

    But take none of these comments offer about Freguson to think that I in any way condone brutal and errant behavior on the part of police. I don’t and believe such individuals and sometimes the men or women leading them, RESPONSIBLE FOR THEM, get a hammer themselves after all the facts are in and well considered impartially.



  4. kabe

     /  August 16, 2014

    For what it is worth, I once started the process of becoming a police officer in St Louis in the early 90s. At the same time I was offered employment by UPS and USPS, both of which I decided was a better option and ultimately chose the full time work offered by USPS.

    Shortly after this time there was a local controversy in the area. The city was attempting to hire more African American officers, but were having trouble finding willing and qualified candidates. One solution was to lower standards for African American candidates. This of course is not fair and was not a solution. Efforts were made to recruit better candidates for minorities. I do not know the results of that effort, but it does seem logical to me. Some areas in law enforcement have seen positive results with female officers, the logic being that there is less chance of confrontations. As I asked AB in a previous story, how would Joplin respond to a majority minority force? I think we know it would not go well with many just as white officers in predominantly black or even Hispanic cities does not go well. I believe that some people just do not know how to speak with others that they know little about.

    My point here is that I believe better human relations between the public and its officers is sorely needed and even the “Federal Government is evil” rhetoric needs to toned down as well. Even Glen Beck has admitted as much recently. Look at the initial reaction in Ferguson when a local man was brought in. Although temporary, it was a huge improvement. I disagree with ABs opinion that trained military and law enforcement are trained to turn the other cheek, so to speak. That is the goal of top brass of course, but was not what I saw at the lower levels of my training. I completed training in SWAT schools, crowd control training, basic law enforcement, arrest techniques, search and seizure, Minimum force rules,ect. I trained with the Albuquerque PD as well. The attitude by many trainers was an “Us Vs Them” mentality that I think has become worse and worse over the past years. I was not comfortable with this approach and it ultimately led to my decision to not go into a law enforcement field. Although I must admit, I did enjoy all the new toys we would train with! It is sort of addictive. It is almost as if some departments are a gang themselves. I just read a article by Army veteran Rafael Noboa y Rivera (twitter @Noboa) from Billmoyers.com. He tells how he sees better military equipment in Ferguson than what they had in war in the middle east. It is worth a look for sure.

    All of the prior mentioned points will only lead to more confrontations of the “hammer v nail” if it is not checked soon. Just think if the officer in Ferguson simply had a dash cam? We would know much more as to what happened and perhaps avoided the further violence and any suspect could easily be identified. Much cheaper than tanks also.



    • Glad you expounded on this topic, Kabe. Policing is obviously much different from battle-fighting, or at least it needs to be. The Kent State massacre should have taught us that. The Watts riots too. But an us versus them culture is only natural for any organization that acts collectively under common rules and which faces danger and is mutually interdependent for support. That applies to both policing and armed conflict. Camaraderie and esprit de corps are important elements in either case.

      A dash cam would have helped a lot in the Brown case. So would helmet cams. I think those are going to be important elements for the future. And, they’re a lot less expensive than machine guns and armored vehicles.


  5. ansonburlingame

     /  August 17, 2014

    Kabe and others,

    I am not of the opinion that military forces are adequately trained to “turn the other cheek”, nor, in my view, should they be so trained. Turning the other cheek in a war gets people killed, the “good guys” so to speak, our men and women under arms, fighting under the legal authority of our government.

    But Kabe is also very correct in that the “top brass”, under difficult political pressure “want” to train military forces to “be nice” to the enemy, or “fair”. I suspect most of us would be amazed at the amount of “sensitivity training” that all military personnel are subjected to today, or even in the late 70’s, early 80’s when I was on active duty. Anyone serving during that post Vietnam era might remember the infamous Z-Grams sent out to the “fleet” by a well meaning, but rather ineffective Chief of Naval Operations at that time. I was a personal witness to the reaction to such missives “down on the deckplates” if you will by both junior officers and many, many enlisted personnel.

    I cannot speak to police training as Kabe eloquently did so, above. But I can imagine what it must be like for a young man or woman confronting an angry mob, ready at a moments notice to turn very violent over a “hang nail”. NO, the death of an unarmed 18 year old is not a hang nail, for sure, but mob violence will never correct such situations either. Those mobs will call for essentially neutering police “force”, police power, to keep the peace. But when a white racist goes storming through a black community, well would that community want a neutered police force? I doubt it.

    Another point, not yet really mentioned other than by Jim, perhaps. The “militarization” of police forces is creating great concern now. It seems to me that is simply a reaction, go get a “bigger stick”, to increasing power reflected by mob violence with thugs carrying very large sticks themselves.

    As we have seen repeatedly now in current and recent wars, the enemy hids amongst innocent civilians, “over there”. Seems to me like thugs and criminals hid in the same manner in mobs these days right here in America. And yes, there are some thugs hiding amongst the ranks of police forces, as well, or at least their emotional responses under great stress turn thugish to say the least.

    Finding such people, on either side of a protest, or even kids (“hoodlums”) entering our schools routinely is a huge challenge today. I have no idea how to do so effectively as well. My only thought is greatly restrict, legally, the access anyone might have to “bigger sticks” (guns) to at least mitigate such issues. Limit the ability of thugs to use force to the strength of their bodies alone, not guns, knives, etc. But we are hopelessly mired in THAT solution, politically.

    One other “current” question about Ferguson. Should Nixon have imposed a curfew? The “mob” doesn’t think so it seems.



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