Thursday, April 10, 2008

Olympic Torch Farce: San Francisco joins the Culture of Control

Watching Tuesdays shameful display of police over-reaching by the San Francisco police and mayor in their effort to assure that that Olympic torch "run" would not be disrupted by protesters, I could not help but reflect back on the far more violent police overreaching in Chicago 40 years ago this summer at the Democratic National Convention in July of 1968.

In both cases, mayors and their police decided that civic pride over the ownership of a largely symbolic ritual required maximum effort to assure that ordinary people could neither protest nor participate in the events. In both cases extremist demonstrators were blamed. (Read the SFChronicle coverage)

In SF, fortunately, the violence of Chicago was replaced by comedic gestures worthy of an Opera or a BBC satire on overbearing authority. "Runners" who were supposed to run down the City's lovely Embarcadero Boulevard (a "gift" of the '89 Loma Prieta Quake that required the tearing down of the Embarcadero expressway), were whisked by bus to ugly Geary Blvd, where they ran with a phalanx of police escorts by surprised residents. The stirring closing was confined to the SF Airport.

In China today, and Chicago of '68 (Chairman Mao and Chairman Dailey being roughly equivalent in the arts of power), this kind of orchestration would reflect the abiding demand of the Communist (or Chicago Democratic) Party that any show of protest is a form of a sedition, to be punished harshly.

In SF, repression comes in the name of "safety," with Mayor Newsome and Çhief Fong, guaranteeing the press that honoring the scheduled course of the "run" would have necessitated a violent show of force by the SFPD, in which case everyone was really better off with the Disney version they orchestrated, for what could be more sacred in America today then "safety."

The fact that the City has a transit system with a casualty record worthy of Murder Inc. should not distract us from the sincerity with which safety is reduced to the problem of crime and disorder. What David Garland brilliantly characterized as our "Culture of Control" has made "safety" from crime and disorder, the fundamental mandate of our democracy.


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