Austin at Large: Call the Cops, Send In the Clowns

Austin at Large: Call the Cops, Send In the Clowns

We could just not put up with the same old nonsense, for a change.

This past weekend, thousands of Austinites peered out of our virtual and social-mediated windows in the direction of the Texas Capitol, saw the usual suspects shrieking about their impaired freedoms and liberties, quickly spotted Alex Jones among them because that train is never late, and clicked “close tab” while muttering about stupid white people. You may have been one of those aghast observers; I know I was. But since I have a job to do, I searched our digital archives to see when I had last mentioned ol’ Alex in this space, and it was back in December when I was writing about big dumb puddles of racism at the Austin Police Department. Those same puddles were the subject of the Friday-news-dumped Tatum report that I was already reading on my desktop! What an amazing coinkydink (keyword: toxic masculinity).

I have covered both Alex Jones (and his gang of idiots and fashie camp followers) and the ongoing ABC Afterschool Special that is the executive corps of your police department for a long time. It’s always been much like this – guys who have problems with women, with people of color, with LGBTQ+ folks, finding their own kind in person and online and getting up to bullshit and calling it the Lord’s work. Not everyone, of course. But the two crews have a lot of overlap, and it takes practice to know which ones at which moment are the cops, and which are the clowns. Less trained eyes may be confounded.

It’s been this way since Alex was just a fixture of Austin access television and APD Chief Brian Manley was in the police academy, when the department was run by a previous generation of Bad APD Stepdads (when we’re done here, go look up “Mala Sangre” in our archives). The good news is that, since we are living in the Chaos Timeline and aren’t even pretending to be shaken by what now passes for normal, we can just not go about our business and let inadequate toxic white men bring us down to their level! Now’s as good a time as any to kick them straight to the curb.

Governor on the Verge of a …

Right now, Manley and Gov. Greg Abbott are both trying really hard to come across as decent chaps doing the right thing, while their rowdier kinsmen are out screaming, “You’re not my real dad!” and sticking firecrackers up their noses. We watch them sweat and strain to keep everyone calm and project a vision of leadership, even as it’s clear that they haven’t the faintest idea what to do.

Abbott has been saying that everyone in Texas should be able to get tested for COVID-19 “later this week” for at least five weeks, during which 99.5% of Texans have not been tested. We all know that our choices here are pretty simple. We either wait until we each have been tested and, if need be, treated or isolated before we go back to our routines, or we say, “Screw it,” and don’t wait because we have no discipline and just accept that a bunch of people will die who would have otherwise lived. Yes, improved data and, down the line, therapies and vaccines will make it easier to do that with more sophistication and thus less damage. Yes, what we have done so far has worked to soften the COVID-19 blow in Texas, even as Abbott has quite openly chosen to lead from behind. But the end-of-day decision is no less binary: Some people wait, or some people die.

That’s made far more difficult by the deliberate and transparent choices that have been made by people with money and who’ve been in power for my entire Generation X lifetime to induce about 30% of our fellow women and men – mostly white, mostly older – to get hooked on the bad biker crank that is right-wing outrage, and to view every single choice before us as a society as a way to get another fix. There have been such people among us forever, but they were not considered to be “normal” and the rest of us “exceptions.” (Those who were hooked on the variant drugs of left-wing outrage, on the other hand, have long been banished from the public square.) Trump changed all that. People like Trump, or Dan Patrick, or Ken Paxton, or Ted Cruz – people who are obviously damaged and should be kept away from sharp things – have gained control over everyone else’s lives, now quite literally in the face of a pandemic.

People like Greg Abbott (and Joe Biden!) are by no means the best among us, but they’re not actively making things worse yet. Abbott, next week, will have his chance to fail spectacularly at the challenge he signed up for: that of leading the great state of Texas in a crisis. So far – and look, y’all know I’m not a big fan of his – Abbott has at least acted as if he is aware that those are the stakes. To me, he seems haunted by the burden now upon him. I hope he doesn’t fuck it up.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Let me tarry a bit here: No, I do not think that our health care heroes(!) “signed up” for the risks and trauma they’re facing on the viral front lines. They are being ill-served by the neglect and negligence and bad decisions and bad character of the people in charge. Other essential workers are in similar straits, even journalists like me. We’re glad to be of service and it feels good to do something meaningful in quarantine. But no, this is not what we “signed up” for.

You know who did sign up for this? Greg Abbott! Donald Trump! Every elected official. And who else? Police officers! No, do not misunderstand me here – I don’t think there are people other than APD cops who should get more hand sanitizer instead. But it is their job, for which we pay them well, to protect and serve and maintain order. They can’t do that if they start, from the jump, with the mindset that some of the Austinites they work for and work with are less than, and that their own middle-class white asses and the first-world problems that bedevil their souls need to be tended to before we can fairly expect them to help people as they have need.

That all becomes even more piquant as you move up the ladder, as is so in many institutions; buried within the tick-tock of the APD racism probe are familiar tales of white-boy angst and people who can’t stop hurting themselves. The overwhelming weight of resignation, of disappointment, of knowing that Austin can never have nice things because our cops will always be f’ed up because that’s just the way they are – that all drifts off the pages of the Tatum report like smoke from a campfire that the boys just put out by pissing on it.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! We don’t even have to decide right now what it should be instead, just that it not be that. The past is not prologue here. We don’t have to accept that the old order of things can’t be changed and that we can’t have more equity in our streets and good sense in our governments just because we don’t have them now. All we need to do is take advantage of a good crisis, to understand that nobody is forcing us to risk our lives and hurt each other, and to make better choices, starting now.

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