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Mere Anarchy Loosed Upon the World



“We would do well to disabuse ourselves of the notion that institutionalized violence creates order. It does not.”

This is a piece I wrote back in 2011. It is more relevant than ever now:

As I write this, my son is running around the house naked, even though I’ve asked him twice to put his clothes on. I can hear the bathroom sink swooshing on and off as he makes a swimming pool for his zoo animals. I weigh getting up and possibly waking his baby sister, who is sleeping on my chest, against the lesser likelihood that he will catch a cold from running around the house naked and wet. I decide to stay put. The swooshing continues.

I wonder how a man named Scott Oglesby would deal with my son’s exuberance, his lack of “respect for authority,” his occasional noisiness. Last December, Oglesby, a police officer, was at Stevenson Elementary School in Bloomington, Illinois, when he heard a seven-year-old special-needs boy having a seizure. Oglesby ran into the room where the boy was being restrained by a school psychologist, shouted “you’re giving me a headache!” and grabbed the boy by the throat, holding him up in the air until he turned red, before throwing him down in a chair. Oglesby is now on “restricted duty,” but no criminal charges will be filed against him.

I’d like to think that cases like Oglesby’s are rare exceptions. But every week there seems to be another story about someone being shot with a taser over a traffic violation, or for not responding the way the officer wanted them to. There was the paralyzed man thrown from his wheelchair by an officer in a Florida jail; the New York City cop who stopped a woman from driving her dying daughter to the hospital; the mentally handicapped teenager who was tasered to death after waving a stick around; and, in May of 2010, in another increasingly common militarized raid on a family’s home, the shooting death of seven-year-old Aiyana Jones as she lay sleeping next to her grandmother. (There is little doubt as to what happened because the 20 officers who burst into the girl’s home had brought with them a camera crew for a reality-TV show.)

“Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world…”

When I first read Yeats’ “The Second Coming,” years ago, I saw in the first stanza a lament about the loss of a central authority, of political authority. Now I think he meant something else.

I have to believe that there was a time when people would have responded to the likes of Officer Oglesby by unceremoniously dipping him in tar, tossing a bucket of feathers over his head and casting him out from civilized society. Today he and his ilk are given “administrative leave” at best, and are soon back on the streets to endanger the rest of us. At the same time, more than half a million Americans sit in prison for the crime of using or selling substances the government disapproves of. Our nation has the highest per-capita prison population in the world by a very wide margin. Yet people like Officer Oglesby and the officers who killed Aiyana Jones do not count among the incarcerated. We are told that it is a punishable crime to ingest certain prohibited substances, a bigger crime to sell them. But, it is not a crime to shoot a seven-year-old girl in the head while she lies sleeping next to her grandmother. We have become deeply confused as to who the criminals are.


You can read the rest here.

And please check out "Why Peace?" the collection in which this essay first appeared.