October 08, 2004

When All The Elders Are Gone

Read this. I'll wait. The discussion will begin when you open up the extended entry.

Initially I was going to title this "Now That's What I'm Talkin' 'Bout" in reference to the main theme (unarmed government agents) but as I read I found a more subtle & perhaps more important point to make.

Now I'll admit freely that I think cops should not be armed while on the job. But this is not a stand alone goal: for it to work the citizenry would have to understand & act on the idea that they, not the cops, are responsible for their welfare & safety & that of the community at large. Disarming government agents is like giving the people a firearm, but it does not achieve its intended purpose unless you make them aware of their responsibility to protect themselves & each other (which is like giving them cartridges for their firearm). A firearm without the proper ammo is merely an awkward club; disarmed cops amidst an apathetic citizenry would be just as clumsy in operation.

As I said though, there's another point hidden within this story & that's the one I'll try to focus on.

"One of the more curious aspects of life here has to do with firearms. Every household has an assortment of rifles and shotguns. When people are hungry, they go out and shoot something, like a walrus in the surf.
Every adult has legal access to guns — except the police.
The elders won't allow it."

Now that's what I'm talkin' 'bout! (Sorry. Couldn't resist.)

The people, or in this case the elders (which I'll assume is a representative of the people according to the system of the Hooper Bay people) tell the government "no". They have control over what occurs, not the agents of the state. But keep this is mind as we'll come back to it, albeit for a slightly different reason.

"Hooper Bay is the only known municipality in the United States that prohibits officers from carrying firearms. Police Chief James Hoelscher wants to change that. For the past two years, the chief, half-Eskimo, has tried to convince leaders that a growing town of 1,200 needs a modern police department."

That's a shame. But it gets worse.

"It's been like pedaling backwards going uphill,' says Hoelscher, 28. He has a deep voice and friendly dark eyes that can turn intimidating in an instant. 'They [town leaders] think we're still in the days of dog sleds and harpoons."

Let me point out something that's glaringly wrong about the chief's last statement: they are. I submit to you the following passages from this very article:

"This Eskimo village sits on the edge of the continent, part shantytown, part suburb, part Wild West. One can't go farther west without stepping into the Bering Sea — and just beyond, onto the frosty eastern tip of Siberia."
"No roads lead to Hooper Bay, which is why the modern world has taken its time coming here, and then only in spots. Clusters of plywood shacks stand a short distance from subdivisions of lookalike modular homes. There's no running water, but lots of VCRs and satellite dishes, and computers hooked up to the Internet."
"One of the more curious aspects of life here has to do with firearms. Every household has an assortment of rifles and shotguns. When people are hungry, they go out and shoot something, like a walrus in the surf."
"Hooper Bay has been able to hold on to many of its old ways because of its remoteness. The nearest large city, Anchorage, is more than 500 miles away. The town lies on a massive knob of land called the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, where Alaska's two largest rivers run into the Bering Sea."
"From the air, the surface of the delta, which is roughly the size of Utah, looks like a lime-green sponge: flat, endless, grass-covered tundra pockmarked by hundreds of thousands of ponds, lakes and streams.
It is the Alaskan bush at its most remote, and to outsiders, its most inhospitable. Temperatures range from minus 80 degrees in the winter to a humid, mosquito-infested 80 in the summer.
Hooper Bay is the largest of about 50 Eskimo villages in the delta. The only way to get here is by bush plane or boat, and during the winters, by snowmobile, when the delta becomes an ice field.
The town was incorporated in 1965, the same year it got electricity. A sewer system is scheduled to be finished by the end of the decade, if funding comes through."

& to top it off we find this paragraph:

"More than 40% of residents live below the poverty level, and hundreds receive public assistance. Most of those not employed in government or construction get by on fishing, hunting and gathering."

A remote place with harsh conditions, some but not many amenities, & a population that sill has its fair share of hunter gatherers. People shoot walrus' in the surf for sustenance & the police chief is accusing the elders of living in the past? Here's a newsflash: that village is still in the days of dogsleds & harpoons. In spirit at least.

& do not think for a moment I mean to belittle the residents of that village for their ways. If they're happy with it, that's cool. In fact I'd wager they're happier in general than I am, or any one of you are. There is absolutely nothing wrong with living a simpler lifestyle. In quite a few ways it's preferable to the complex world I live in. Your opinion may vary about its desirability, but I think we can all agree there's no shame in living the way you see fit, even if it seems antiquated by our standards.

"The two sides are divided according to how they view their community. Those in favor of arming the nine police officers tend to see Hooper Bay as an American town; those against view it as an Eskimo village."

That makes sense. One side not wanting to deviate from things that have worked for decades if not centuries & the other demanding things be changed because the world is changing & they want to keep up.

Reminds me of an old joke:

A politician held a banquet & invited several of the local Indian Chiefs to attend. The Chiefs were cordial but not overly enthused & this irritated the young politician to no end. Finally he asked them why they hadn't at least thanked the U.S. government for showing them how to be civilized. One of the older Chiefs replied. "Before the white man came this whole land was ours to use or neglect as we saw fit. We hunted when we wished, we fished when we wished, and we trapped when we wished. Our women cooked & made our clothes. Our children grew up learning the ways that had been handed down to them from our great great grandfathers." He took a breath & continued; "Now our children go to government schools & don't even learn our people's language, our women shop & send out for food & we can't go hunting unless we get time off from the factory. Now who did you say was civilized?"

Okay, not the funniest joke but you get the point. Unfortunately it seems lost on the Hooper's Bay police chief.

"There are many ways to deal with dangerous situations,' says City Administrator Raphael Murran. 'If the police had guns, somebody might get shot. Somebody might get killed. Then there would be real trouble."

That man does not belong in city government. He belongs in the u.S. congress. Somebody nominate him. Quick.

"Alcohol is the bane of his department. Hooper Bay, legally, has been dry since 1983. An underground economy has thrived ever since, with bootleggers making home brew and smuggling in a steady supply from the outside."

Please let the record state that prohibitions on any sort of consumable good are largely ineffective.

"Hoelscher recalls an incident that happened July 14. A local man beat his girlfriend, who went to the police. Before officers could respond, the man, inebriated, called the department on a VHF radio. He knew the officers, and they knew him. He was 21 and a convicted felon. He barricaded himself in his house and said he would shoot anyone who came near. He dared officers to come get him.
The officers stayed put. They now cite the incident as an example of the inability to do their jobs because of a simple lack of weaponry. 'Like a bear with no teeth,' as one resident described the department. Had the officers been armed, they would have had more options, including, but not necessarily, confronting the man. Or so the argument goes."

Things look grim for our side don't they? (Assuming you side with the elders.) Fortunately it's all about the rebuttal.

"Town leaders, however, use the rest of the story to support their view. The morning after the incident, officers went to the man's house and arrested him in his sleep. The officers found four loaded rifles and shotguns on the floor around his bed. What could have been a deadly confrontation, town leaders point out, ended peacefully."

If only people like these town leaders had been calling the shots in Ruby Ridge, Idaho & Waco, Texas.

Now I'll grant that there are times when force is necessary to apprehend or defend against violent people. But instead of demanding that the cops be armed why not demand that the citizenry, which is almost universally armed up that way, perform their civic duty & back the cops up when force is called for? & the first person who starts leaving comments about litigation gets ot go to the back of the "reform society" class.

"Officer Dan Decker says that in his five years as an officer, he has been shot at four times, once when a man went on a shooting rampage in the middle of town. The man even shot at the police building. Officers ran, hid for cover and waited until an armed state trooper arrived to arrest the gunman."

The proper response would have been to call forth the militia. In other words, tell the residence that they were needed to stop this criminal from hurting anyone. It's not the cops’ job & the cops’ job alone to protect society: it's every member of society's job to protect society. In this instance I'm with Heinlein; specialization is for insects. Those who would say that the cops are paid to protect society & that it’s their job alone will join the litigation mentioning people at the back of the "reform society" class.

"The nearest troopers are based in Bethel, more than 150 miles southeast. It takes at least two hours by plane for troopers to arrive in Hooper Bay. With fog, it could take days."

All the more reason to rely on the citizens rather than a handful of cops.

"We've responded to calls in the villages where there are 20 long rifles in the house,' says Sgt. Perry Barr, the trooper who flew here the day of the rampage."

I wonder what he'd think if he had to respond to a call about someone breaking objects & cussing at senators at the du Toit's place?

Responding to a call where 20 long guns are in the home is no more dangerous than responding to a call where a baseball bat is in the home. Sounds odd you say? Nope. Neither is more dangerous than the other. When it becomes a danger is when a person has malevolent intent at that point the number of weapons in the home don't matter nearly as much as the person's intent to use them. Now if there were 20 malevolent people with bad intentions in the house then 20 long guns might be relevant, but only as a tactical piece of information.

Mentioning the number of long guns in a home is about as hoplophobic as mentioning the thousands of rounds of .22 LR ammo found in a persons' "arsenal" by an ignorant reporter. Sadly I expect no better from cops or journalists when it comes to firearms.

"In its 45-year history as a state, Alaska has had 42 officers killed in the line of duty, many of them in the bush, most by gunshot.
'Everyone out there has guns. It's odd to me that they won't let the officers have them,' Barr says. 'I tell you this: I don't ever want to go on a call where an officer has been killed because he couldn't protect himself."

I wonder how many deaths from gunshot wounds among cops constitute "most"? 22? 32? 41? Unfortunately I'm not Kevin & I have no patience for statistical searches right now.

Now I wonder how the last statement would go over if two details were changed: first substitute "citizen" for "officer" & then change the context to a discussion about D.C. or NYC or Chicago.

"In a ramshackle house on the edge of town, elder Joe Bell, sitting like a smiling brown statue in a flannel shirt, explains the town's refusal to arm their officers: 'The elders say 'no,' Bell says. No further explanation is offered or deemed necessary. An elected council administers city business, but when it comes to the most important issues, the elders have the last say."

As it should be. I'm all for open government but when it comes to decisions to not expand government power, I think “we say so" is more than adequate.

"Like Bell, some elders speak a little English; many don't. Or won't. Some are old enough to recall the days when the Eskimos of the delta were nomadic.
Until the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the Native people lived in extended family groups that followed the fish and game during spring and summer, and returned to fixed encampments during winter.
Most of the communities became permanent villages within the past 50 to 100 years, as clans were forced by the government to settle in one place."

I'd be curious to know how the government forced them to change lifestyles, though I won't look it up as I already dislike government to the nth degree. I have a feeling that the details wouldn't diminish my dislike or distrust one bit.

"These micro-urban environments are artificial creations, and the people are still trying to figure out how to live together in this situation,' says Darryl Wood, an associate professor at the University of Alaska's Justice Center in Anchorage. Wood has done extensive studies on law enforcement problems in Native villages.
Wood says Hooper Bay is evolving from a loose-knit village to something closer to a modern American town, and that it is 'very wise' of the community to carefully deliberate something as potentially divisive as armed police."

Yeppers. Humans weren't meant to live together in large groups. Small groups yes; large ones - no (well depending on what you call large.) By forcing them into a lifestyle that they didn't naturally slip into the problems of society in general will be magnified. It's too complex a subject to get into at the moment, but cities of a certain size become problematic in many ways once they go beyond a certain population threshold. I'd assume that the same principle is at work in a small town, albeit with less apparent side effects than a large city.

"Traditional Eskimo communities had no equivalents to police officers, says anthropologist Mary Pete, a Yupik Native who lives in Bethel. Pete said conflicts and disagreements were settled within family clans, usually by the elders or by the most influential couple in the group.
Someone who committed a transgression, such as stealing food, would be subjected to rituals in which clan members would ridicule him in song. Humiliation was an effective punishment in a culture that regarded saving face as paramount, Pete says.
More serious transgressors could be ostracized. Life was a constant struggle on the delta; clan members depended on each other to survive. A person who was ostracized would be left on his own, which could mean death from any number of causes, such as starvation."

< moonbattery > But those methods can't be effective: not only are they not modern they don't rely on a specialized segment of society. Wait, they mentioned the elders again so that might be a specialized part of society. But still, it's not modern so it can't work! < /moonbattery >

They had the right idea: leave it up to the people in the community to handle things.

"The concept of outsiders enforcing societal laws — as when a state trooper flies into a village to make an arrest — was viewed with suspicion, even resentment. This is reflected in the Yupik words for 'police officer.' One word, tegufta, translates to 'the person who takes you away.' Another word, qillerqista, means 'the person who ties you up."

At least some aspects of the anti-federalist arguments haven't been lost. You should never view any agent of the state (even local ones) with anything less than suspicion.

"Many Yupik Eskimos believe it's bad enough to be forced to tolerate the occasional tegufta. Having armed officers in town, says teacher and lifelong resident Maryann Nukusuk, would be tantamount to 'giving a gun to one family member and telling him to keep watch over other family members."

Not quite the analogy I'd have used, but it gets the point across.

"If an officer were to shoot or kill someone, Nukusuk and other residents say, that officer could become a victim of another Eskimo custom: revenge killing by other family members. But what if an officer were killed? 'It's the job they chose,' she says."

Harsh? Yeppers. But I'd rather see a harsh attitude that's pro-individual than pro-state. As for the custom of family revenge, as long as it's ascertained beyond a reasonable doubt I'm fine with this. In fact it wouldn't take too much refinement for me to get behind the idea of turning a murderer or a rapist over to his/her victims families for a set amount of time. Helluva lot cheaper than the chair & odds are it would be more of a deterrent.

"Nukusuk acknowledges that violence happens in town, but she says the true Yupik way is to do everything possible to keep the peace, even if it means an unarmed police officer negotiating for "hours and hours and hours" to defuse a confrontation."

Someone make Janet Reno write that a trillion times.

"Back at his house, elder Bell concedes that times are changing, and that the delta is changing along with them. Just last spring, on May 31, three teenagers went on a four-hour shooting spree in the tiny Eskimo village of Stebbins, about 180 miles northeast of here, which by delta standards qualifies as next door.
Hooper Bay was abuzz for days with the news. Comments were made to the effect that the outside world was on the town's doorstep."

I can imagine the shock the local felt. But the answer isn't to arm a few government agents - it's to make sure an armed populace understands its role.

Now here's the kicker:

"Bell, reflecting on the incident for a few moments, says Chief Hoelscher will probably get his way, and that the town will most likely have armed police.
'Someday,' Bell says, smiling. 'When all the elders are gone."

There are two ways the last quote from Bell can be taken. The first is that a change won't be made as long as the elders are around to protect the old ways. The other is that it's just a matter of time before the elders are gone & the change occurs.

Think about this: is that any different than our fight for the Right to Arms? Is it not also a war of attrition? Are not the people who wish to keep the old ways (the pro-gun side) worried that over time not enough of us will be left ot protect everyone's Right against the attacks from the people who advocate new ways (the anti-gun lobby)?

That's the subtle point that this story contains. We are the advocates of our elders: Ciscero, Jefferson, Locke, Madison, Henry, Lee, et al who tell us that owning & possessing weapons is the only way to remain free, while the newcomers (i.e. the anti-gun lobby) urge us to ignore this ancient wisdom & adopt a new way of life.

Only time will tell who will win in our contest. In Hooper's Bay it's a given that eventually the cops will be armed. The old wisdom will be disregarded in place of a new theory. Right after the last elder is dead. So be it with us.

Posted by Publicola at October 8, 2004 03:27 AM

I didn't get enough sleep last night to really give that the contemplation it deserves.

But I will say that it reinforces the argument that it's culture, more than guns, that affect crime rates.

There's certainly a lesson there for police though. I'm reminded of Waco. They could have busted Koresh easily without any conflagration.

Posted by: jed at October 9, 2004 09:42 PM
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