Monday, May 19, 2014

Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux, Police Violence, and our Complicity in Same

Who is Dave Robicheaux? 

He's the protagonist in 20 books written by James Lee Burke, a New Iberia, Louisiana, writer.

Dave is a homicide detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun. Recovering alcoholic. Vietnam war veteran. A man who marries. A father.

You can read more about Dave here. And what he thinks about north Louisianans here. And alcohol here. And some music here. On human exploitation here. On Angola here. On Louisiana's shadow self here. Ack. I just realized that my selections might give the impression that Dave Robicheaux (channeling James Lee  Burke) is a real downer about southern Louisiana. Of course, Dave Robicheaux is a homicide detective, so that has an effect on the topics he talks about, but even so, Dave's love of Louisiana, the people, and culture do shine through.

Dave and violence 

Dave Robicheaux is a violent son of a bitch. So violent, it can be difficult at times to rationalize that Dave is a good guy, and not one of the bad guys. It doesn't help that Dave has tremendous admiration for sometimes-partner Clete, who's got to be a psychopath. (Lucky for Dave, he's not Clete's enemy.) 

Dave does have some insight into his violence, which he attempts to explain in Dixie City Jam below.

Police violence - or abuse of power

From Dixie City Jam (1994)

I always wanted to believe that those moments of rage, which affected me almost like an alcoholic black-out, were due to a legitimate cause, that I or someone close to me had been seriously wronged, that the object of my anger and adrenaline had not swum coincidentally into my ken.

But I had known too many cops who thought the same way. Somehow there was always an available justification for the Taser dart, the jet of Mace straight into the eyes, the steel baton whipped across the shinbones or the backs of the thighs.

The temptation is to blame the job, the stressed-out adversarial daily routine that can begin like a rupturing peptic ulcer, the judges and parole boards who cycle psychopaths back on the street faster than you can shut their files. But sometimes in an honest moment, an unpleasant conclusion works its way through all the rhetoric of the self-apologist, namely, that you are drawn to this world in the same way that some people are fascinated by the protean shape and texture of fire, to the extent that they need to slide their hands through its caress. 

A Stained White Radiance (1992) 
Policemen often have many personal problems. TV films go to great lengths to depict cops' struggles with alcoholism, bad marriages, mistreatment at the hands of liberals, racial minorities, and bumbling administrators.

But my experience has been that the real enemy is the temptation to misuse power. The weaponry we possess is awesome - leaded batons, slapjacks, Mace, stun guns, M-16s, scoped sniper rifles, 12-gauge assault shotguns, high-powered pistols and steel-jacketed ammunition that can blow the cylinders out of an automobile's engine block.

But the real rush is in the discretionary power we sometimes exercise over individuals. I'm talking about the kind of people no one likes - the lowlifes, the aberrant, the obscene and ugly - about whom no one will complain if you leave them in lockdown the rest of their lives with a good-humored wink at the Constitution, or if you're really in earnest, you create a situation where you simply saw loose their fastenings and throw down a toy gun for someone to find when the smoke clears.

It happens, with some regularity.

People like Sheriff Joe Arpaio in Maricopa County (Phoenix), Arizona, are real-life examples of what Dave Robicheaux is talking about above. Including how we are complicit in such activities. Since my September 2013 post referencing Sheriff Arpaio, Maricopa County has spent even more millions of dollars to settle lawsuits that have arisen during Sheriff Arpaio's watch. .... And the people of Maricopa County keep him in office, re-electing him as recently as 2012. He won't be up for re-election until 2016. Reminds me of the perhaps-apocryphal statement made by a past president about one of our murderous allies in Central America: "He may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch."

The New Orleans Police Department has a woeful reputation for corruption and brutality.What does it signify that "everybody" knows this, and has known it for a long time, and yet ... it continues?

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