Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Thoughts about Coverage of the Black Lives Matter Protest in Baton Rouge

The Black Lives Matter Network* and its activities have attracted much attention across the globe, particularly in the aftermath of events in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and St. Paul, Minnesota.** There is much being said about the events and reactions thereto, and there is much more to be said about them. One such thing, although little enough against the enormity of what has been going in, has to do with a photograph taken by Jonathan Bachman and discussed by the BBC here, among many others. I saw in an online discussion of the image comments about the equipment of the police forces displayed, with one commentator noting being "Fairly certain that these cops are wearing more gear than soldiers in Fallujah." The comment gave me pause, and I looked at the image more closely--and I was struck by the medievalism of the approach being taken by law enforcement to the event being policed.

There is, to my eye, something medieval about the line of armed and armored officers stretching across the road (and an irony in that they were there, ostensibly and in part, to clear the right-of-way--by blocking it far more fully than the woman, Ieshia Evans, against whom the image shows them moving), holding shields and clubs emblazoned with heraldic emblems. (I address similar heraldic devices here; even before the militarization of police forces in the United States, there was overlap between military and law-enforcement practice.) There is something medieval, as well, about the form of the armor itself. With visored helmet and cuirass, pauldron and rerebrace and vambrace, tasset and cuisse and poleyn and schynbald and sabaton, blackened despite the encroaching heat of a Baton Rouge summer, the officers approaching Evans and their counterparts standing behind seem very much in the mold of medievalist films such as Peter Jackson's Middle-earth movies or medievalist television such as Game of Thrones--and rarely among the protagonists in those works.

Somehow, the Peasants' Revolt comes to mind for me as I look at the police facing Evans and moving against her. I am minded that social and economic upheaval not entirely dissimilar in type--with the degree of similarity depending on credence to certain conspiracy theories about diseases of one sort or another--to what has pervaded recent years preceded the Great Rising; suppression of wages and destabilization of labor combined with concerns about immigration and about "lower-class" domestic support for foreign influences seem common between then and now. I have to wonder, given the similarities I see and the correspondences that suggest themselves to me, if there is not something in the past that we continue to study that offers some idea, if perhaps not of what to do, of what must be avoided in what protesters and many others see as the pursuit of a more just and equitable society in the United States, as well as elsewhere in the world. I have to hope so.

*I was able to access the linked website briefly at around 1720 on 12 July 2016. My access to it seemed to have been cut within a couple of minutes. It may be nothing, but I have to note that it is somewhat suspicious.

**I am aware that "events" is a pallid term. I use it because the Society has not, as of this writing (12 July 2016), expressed an opinion about them, making more...descriptive terms not appropriate for this venue at this time.

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