Violence in a Free Society

Feb 15, 2018

TAA 0008 – C. Travis Webb and Steven Fullwood discuss whether free, heterogeneous societies must tolerate some degree of violence. Is violence the cost we all must bear to live with difference?

C.T. WEBB 00:16 [music] Hello and welcome to The American Age podcast. Today, I’m speaking with Steven Fullwood. Steven, how are you?
S. FULLWOOD 00:21 I’m actually pretty good. Thank you for asking.
C.T. WEBB 00:23 That’s good to hear. Today, we’re going to talk about what is a free society’s commitment or tolerance to a level of violence. And by that, I mean– and what we’re going to be talking about is getting so many different kinds of people together in the same space with so many different cultures, and peoples, and traditions. Clashes are inevitable in a heterogeneous society like that. What level of violence do we have to tolerate, accept, make room for in order to maximize the liberty that we might want people to enjoy in that society? Obviously, the conversation is inspired by the school shooting this past week in Florida. I don’t know that we’re going to talk about that specifically. There’s a lot of people talking about that, but we were going to try and take the conversation to a different level and sort of think about the principles that underlie something like that. So we’re going to jump right in. I know Steven has some stuff to say about that and we’ll begin our conversation.
S. FULLWOOD 01:33 So when you first proposed we talk about this topic, I think what threw me for a loop was that there’s so many kinds of violence. So there are paradynamics, sexual violence, there’s violence in our education, whether it’s actually in the school or whether it’s a part of the educational process in terms of what you leave in and what you take out, there’s violence in the workplace, literally, and then there’s also 24/7 violence in our entertainment, in our news sources. And all of these things are sort of informed by race, and races, gender, sexuality, and most potently, I think, economics. And so how much should a free heterogeneous society tolerate when it comes to violence? It was so hard to parse and to pull apart this question, and I’m still thinking about it. So I want to ask you a little bit about what you mean. Could you tell me a little bit more about your take on this? And then maybe I can kind of come in. Because I felt like we have a very schizophrenic society where we do the thing where– using school shootings as an example. We’ll talk about how terrible guns are and how easy it is to get a gun. There are thoughts and prayers. There’s sometimes some kind of national action but it really doesn’t stick. And then there’s a quiet period, and then it happens again. So there’s this loop. And so right now, actually, I’m in the loop, and I kind of need some help to kind of think this through.
C.T. WEBB 03:02 Yeah. You know, it’s funny, but you’ve already added an element to it that I’ve certainly considered previously but wasn’t immediately thinking about because of the power and the drama of what is going on now, with mass shootings, particularly in the last decade, five years. Obviously, they seem to be intensifying. But the level of symbolic violence that exists in American culture, I didn’t immediately think about when I asked you that question. But, of course, that has to be on the table. Right? I’m somewhat familiar with the research that shows that exposure to violence and media, whether it be video games, movies, television, etc., at least the research I’m aware of– and this is probably a few years old now, but it doesn’t show a strong connection between exposure to violence and media and the commission of violent acts. But what it does show is a correlation between sensitivity to violence, namely being desensitized to it. So these images of bodies that– of wounded, murdered, brutalized bodies become familiar to us. I have to say, even as I– I have no reason to question that research. Intuitively, that makes a kind of sense to me.
C.T. WEBB 04:39 That being said, I remember– I didn’t read the article but I did see the headline – it was on Fox, I think – basically saying that what we need to do is resensitize our awareness of violence by releasing photographs of the inside of those classrooms with those dead kids in a way that we did in the Vietnam war. And I know in the way that– I know the image of Trayvon Martin was really powerful. I mean, obviously, I know you’re super familiar with that. But there is one particular image that didn’t make its way through mainstream media but kind of on that sort of second tier of media of his kind of atrophied body and how just sort of thin, and young, and just– I mean, it really brought the power of that tragedy to home – to me, at least – seeing this other body affected in that way. And so I wonder if– so if that research was true, I wonder if Americans saw those kids shot through the forehead, shot in the chest, shot in the gut, wounded, murdered children, teachers. I wonder if that wouldn’t break through some of the nonsense around this debate. So I’m skeptical that we are totally desensitized to violence. Part of me wants to say that in reality, naked exposure to that kind of violence is something that you could maybe never become desensitized to.
S. FULLWOOD 06:33 So when you initially started with that premise that the idea of actually showing the effects of violence, I must admit, I was like, “Well, is an actual body any different from a body you see on television or a body in a digital universe?” Of course there is. There are differences. There’s one that’s actually in your face, and then there’s the outcrying of the parents and the community about this violence, about what is done to their family, how it’s gutted their families. But I feel like– and I’m glad that you’re critical of it, maybe even suspicious of it, about whether or not we actually are desensitized to it. I feel like violence has permeated my being through and through. I don’t play video games. I don’t watch horror films. They’re very gory. I’m more of a [inaudible] mind kind of guy. But I listen to and have been privy to watching people play games, or watch horror movies, or explain away a certain kind of violence till it happens to them. Unfortunately, I haven’t been on either–
C.T. WEBB 07:47 Can you give a specific example?
S. FULLWOOD 07:49 Specific example? Tell me precisely what I say.
C.T. WEBB 07:52 Meaning that they’re okay with a particular kind of violence until it’s happened to them.
S. FULLWOOD 07:57 Well, they can explain it away. “This person shouldn’t have been in this place at this time or else he or she would– she shouldn’t have been wearing that. Wow, that’s just the way of the world. I won’t be going over there.” Sometimes we’re kind of– not even levity, but just sort of like a dismissal of it. Because I think the enormity of it is too heavy. And I also feel like when I’m listening to these sort of explain away the police violence against the black communities, people start to expect it. I mean, not start to expect it. We’ve expected it all our lives. I was told when I was younger to not go here, not go there, don’t do this, don’t do that, along with a number of other things living in a racialized society. And violence makes me sick. It makes me physically sick. And I don’t know why it doesn’t make other people sick. And so I’ve witnessed it. I’ve watched it. And don’t get me wrong. I don’t want to make it sound like I didn’t grow up with Looney Tunes or horror movies and watch people stab each other. I had that too, but it’s not entertainment for me. And so when people say they just want to sit back and relax from the day’s workload and what have you, and then they turn on the news and the news is showing a death [inaudible] of a police, something happened, someone was shot, someone was here, the police are around, they see the flashing lights, the desensitization, I’m sure that has something to do with it, but I also feel like it’s going somewhere else in our body. We’ve come to expect, as a culture– and I told myself at the beginning of the podcast, I was not going to do any grand generalizations, but I can’t seem to help it.
C.T. WEBB 09:36 Please, generalize away.
S. FULLWOOD 09:38 There’s something about the culture that produces– there’s so much more access to media now than it ever has been. I mean, you can walk around with your phone on watching videos and so forth. I mean, there’s just so many things that are sort of– I don’t know if this is the right word. I won’t even use it. I’ll just say that masquerading this entertainment, that troubles me because I think it does do something. And, sure, there may not be a cause and effect. I watch it, I go kill somebody. I watch people get killed and it’s okay. But there’s something about the levels of– not the levels, the amount, the sheer amount, of what you can watch and watch someone be mangled. And what do you do with that? The Saw movies. I’m 52 and I feel like– I mean, I had a reaction to it. I was like, “Oh, I’m getting older.” No. I’ve always felt this way. I just really hated violence. I hated fighting. I hated watching people fight. It didn’t make me feel good. It made me feel sad. It made me feel upset. And there’s a friend of mine who, at one point, could not stop watching videos on YouTube of people fighting, and he was just fascinated.
C.T. WEBB 10:53 Yeah. Seeing it in the remove – so in media, video games, whatever – I don’t have the same sensitivity to violence that you’re describing. A well-choreographed fight scene, I might find thrilling, like The Matrix, or something like that. There’s a kind of degree of artistry involved in it. It doesn’t move me – at least that I can detect – to watch people just beating the hell out of each other. In real life, to see violence– I grew up in a neighborhood where it was not uncommon to see fights. I don’t mean they happen once or twice a year. I mean, they happened every week. Not every day or anything like that. And so that was not ever fun for me to watch. Like you’re in the school yard and all the kids get around, the fight’s going on – I don’t know if this is how it was for you – and you see these two kids going at each other. I always hated that. I was never one of the kids cheering. And if I was in the middle in a fight, I definitely was not enjoying myself. So for me, there is a separation. I’m not saying that there is for everyone. And you had said something earlier– you made a comment earlier which– you didn’t follow it, but I’m going to ask you about it because I think there’s something to that. You had said seeing that violence might go somewhere in the body. Right?
S. FULLWOOD 12:36 Right, right.
C.T. WEBB 12:37 It registers on– let’s use kind of a common place description, so like at a gut level. It goes somewhere. It lives somewhere inside of you. I’m pretty open to those arguments. I’m pretty open to the fact that our bodies process the world in a way that our conscious mind does not necessarily have access to. And so I don’t know. Did you have a thought about where you were going with that, the idea of sort of just like what it means for bodies to be watching other bodies commit these kind of acts?
S. FULLWOOD 13:19 Well, I remember becoming really impatient with the word resilient. “Children are so resilient,” as if they [crosstalk].
C.T. WEBB 13:28 [inaudible]. Things like that.
S. FULLWOOD 13:30 Right. And I was like, “Well, no, they’re not resilient. I feel like they’re sponges. I feel like we are constantly soaking up things.” Now, obviously, I have no scientific data available to me on that, but I felt like I was watching–
C.T. WEBB 13:41 You don’t need scientific data for that. Of course you’re right. Of course that’s right.
S. FULLWOOD 13:42 Oh, I’m an American. I can talk about anything I feel like. Of course. I’m the doctor. I’m an astrologer [laughter]. I’m all these things.
C.T. WEBB 13:49 But I don’t mean that. I mean, that’s just like baseline human experience. Of course you’re right. Of course kids absorb things like that.
S. FULLWOOD 13:54 And so the whole idea that your body absorbs things, when we talk about food, I think that we’re constantly taking things in, and that maybe our brains are more of an attenuator rather than the thing that just pulls things in. Right? So we’re pulling things in, and we’re processing [crosstalk]–
C.T. WEBB 14:14 This is William James’s– you’re in good company. William James has this argument, that essentially, consciousness in a filter, this attenuation thing. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to interrupt.
S. FULLWOOD 14:22 Oh, it’s okay.
C.T. WEBB 14:22 I was just saying that you’re in good company.
S. FULLWOOD 14:24 And so that– I guess because I would watch– because I’m 52. And so I’ve seen and thought about the effects, for example, that growing up in a household where my father was abusive to my mom and–
C.T. WEBB 14:40 Emotionally?
S. FULLWOOD 14:40 Physically, and then emotionally abusive as well. So physically and emotionally, which also– I mean, it affected us as children. And there are times when I’ve talked with my sisters and brothers about what happened and everyone has a slightly different take on it. So together, we might have some version of the truth, but we all felt it differently. So I was like, “Well, I’ll never do that. I’ll never do these things.” And as I grew older, I noticed that– so when I became a godfather, basically a parent, then I started thinking about how I grew up and what I expected from kids versus learning when I was a kid and what I was feeling. So I had to move some things around in my brain about needs. Kids were not simply there to be seen and not heard. They had desires. And when I was a kid, I remember feeling very upset that adults, at times, didn’t take me seriously, or they didn’t think that I was worthy of their time to talk to because they were busy with other kids or that they were just busy being adults and doing other things. And so I started talking to my kid more about that, and I gave him a lot more space– or I gave him the space I think he deserved as a kid, was to have his own thoughts. And so, “You can have these thoughts, but here, this is what you’re going to do, and this is the reason why we’re doing this because we want you safe. We want you to eat your food so that you can grow older and healthy. We want you to get enough sleep so that you can focus in school.”
S. FULLWOOD 16:05 And so I started to become a lot more of an explainer. I think my dad came out of the rural south. He lived under Jim Crow, and men and women did this, and they tried to avoid being killed by whites or being victims of racism. And so I think there is– when I talk about the emotional toll that violence has on people, thinking that you’re never safe, or that you’re always being watched, or being evaluated by a really ridiculous standard, then I think those things resonate, and they do something to the body, and they make people drink more, or make people more or less unsympathetic to other people’s plights. You know, “I just got to live. I got to get my gun.” After these shootings happen, typically, gun sales go up. People are worried about this. Is it the second amendment? I always goof it up. The right to bear arms?
C.T. WEBB 17:03 That’s right. It’s the second amendment.
S. FULLWOOD 17:05 People feeling unsafe after something like this has happened, but then there is sort of that high period and then the vibration goes lower and the frequency is a lot longer. And then it happens again and I’m like– the shock of it happening, it doesn’t shock me anymore. It hasn’t shocked me for quite some time. I’m depressed by it. It makes me feel– definitely, I would say helpless at times. It makes me feel helpless. And it also makes me wonder– I thought earlier. I was like, what would we have to do to live in a society that has reduced its level of violence? Ban guns, teach different things in schools, really work with the police to protect its citizens rather than shoot them? What kinds of things do we need to do? But I do think it’s possible to live without violence. I do. I’m just not sure how to do it with this mind, and with these eyes, and with this brain.
C.T. WEBB 18:04 Right. So we drifted– which I appreciate. We actually drifted back from symbolic to actual violence, right, and sort of how that violence lives inside of us. I had two thoughts in relation to that. One, when you’re describing your dad’s background. So my father also– so he grew up in the south, in Arkansas, and his father was just an asshole. I mean, just a piece of shit and was very abusive. And my dad left home when he was 17 to join the military and go to Vietnam intentionally to just get away from his home. And he said he got in an actual fist fight with his father that day that he left, and he said– the thing he promised himself when he left was that he would never treat his son the way that he was treated. And my dad never did. My mom would occasionally– she did not feel the same conviction to not raise a hand [crosstalk]. It’s her German blood. But my dad never did. But I could see– when I got older, I could see that violence lived in my dad’s body, and he would have these moments of just– I mean, barely contained rage at me. I was an asshole as most 14-year-old boys are. You know, headstrong and think they know shit they don’t. I thought I knew all the stuff I didn’t know anything about. And, of course, that’s difficult to parent. And having had a teenage son that’s now an adult, I empathize with that.
C.T. WEBB 19:51 But my dad, we would have these arguments, fights. I don’t mean physical fights, but just kind of like really raw emotional encounters. And I would see the physical desire to lash out at me, just like in my dad’s body. I could see it in him. I could see it in his doubled-up fists. I could see it in his crouch. But he never did. Never. Not once. Not once. I mean, he held the– and what did that do to my– I mean, how many years is that going to take off my dad’s life? How many sleepless nights? What has that done to his back, to his heart? I mean, that stuff doesn’t go away. And so I thought about that, and then I thought, where does that– so if we just make one symbolic move over and we think about the body politic of America, and where does this violence go? What is this doing to the American body if we can think of ourselves as one people, even though I know that is very difficult to do in the 21st century, in 2018. The constant reminder that we hold one sacred right– and I mean right in the double sense of the word. Rite, as in R-I-T-E, and right as in a legal right, R-I-G-H-T. The second amendment. The right to keep unfettered or nearly unfettered access to weapons of murder. These are weapons of murder. These are not weapons of self-defense. An AR-15 is not a weapon of self-defense. So an AR-15 is a murder weapon.
S. FULLWOOD 21:50 Exactly.
C.T. WEBB 21:51 And what are we saying to ourselves as a people that we will permit these weapons of– because it’s not a mystery why there are more gun deaths in America. They’ve controlled– for all of the variables, it’s the number of guns straight up. There are too many of them. there are too many guns for as many people as we have. That’s the variable. Now, I happen to be sympathetic to the suspicion of government. If you look at the history of the world, governments are not trustworthy. I mean, as a black American, I can’t imagine why your ass would trust the government. Like it’s not–
S. FULLWOOD 22:43 And I would say as you. As a white American, I can’t understand why you would either because it depends– it’s your level of clarity and understanding. It’s kind of what you said earlier. So for me, obviously, there’s a racial dynamic here, but there’s also a conscious decision that I think people make– who are Caucasian who think that the government is on their side when it’s really largely about money. I mean, because we’re seeing it in the south, and we’re seeing it with dispossessed whites who don’t have money who join the KKK, who join these groups who feel very much left out of the American dream. So that’s a very good thing. But distrusting the government’s really important here. I want to say something about this. Where does this violence go? Because I think it’s a really good question to kind of think about.
C.T. WEBB 23:29 Yeah, please.
S. FULLWOOD 23:31 And I have some thoughts about it. I think on the one hand, we don’t have enough rituals to rid ourselves of this rage that you were talking about earlier, and it’s a lot of rage. It’s a rage at injustice. It’s a rage at working insane hours to make a little bit of money to feed your kids or to yourself. It’s a rage at feeling alienated. There’s a rage at, “I should’ve had this by this age and I don’t have it.” It’s a rage at being born outside of a particular– not just racial dynamic, but a good looking– or a lookist. You know, “I shouldn’t look like this.”
C.T. WEBB 24:09 An aesthetic. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 24:09 Right. There’s a rage there. And so on the one hand, I think that the shootings are almost like a relief. They’re almost like– for both the person perpetrating it and for the people who kind of– and I haven’t really worked it out. It’s still something that’s twirling in my head about something happening, like something breaking, something– so maybe as the body politic is the US specifically when we talk about violence, I go back to my first point, which is, there’s nothing to exercise it. So the exercise is shooting. The exercise is violence. Watching violence as opposed to maybe doing violence. And I’ve heard these arguments before as well. And so I’m still working it out. But can you imagine what it would feel like or be like? Because I feel like the US has rituals in terms of its holidays. It has its rituals– and it has no – what do you call it? – rites of passage for its girls and its boys. They just become. Right?
C.T. WEBB 25:11 It used to be high school. So they’re used to– I know that in early 20th century America, your dress was literally different between middle school and high school, like when you would stop wearing shorts and start wearing pants. Now, it’s a very white aspect. Clearly, there was a racial component to it.
S. FULLWOOD 25:32 But I think that was true for some well-to-do, well-heeled black people as well, and also people who are black middle class aspirational. So, yeah.
C.T. WEBB 25:40 Absolutely. Yeah, yeah, yeah. But there was a dominant– I mean, this is one of the– I mean, because you have to look at the pro-social aspects of it too. This is one of the pro-social aspects of a clearly-defined dominant culture. Right? So it’s easier to keep those rituals that you’re talking about when you have a clearly-defined dominant culture. And that dominant culture justly was and is being dismantled. Like, there’s no downside to the deconstruction of that dominant culture, except the cost of a coherent, cohesive society like you’re talking about. Right? So where do we– I mean, I know for– and this may not be the case for you. But for me, when I was growing up, when I was in my teens and 20s, football was a pretty– you know, like super bowl Sunday, this kind of thing. Football was very much sort of in across the board, from working class, to middle class, to upper– you definitely had kind of a cohesive engagement with something. Like in my mind, at least in my memory, football, even more so than baseball. I know that’s the American pastime. Basketball has become ascended now and I think there’s a lot of positive things around that.
C.T. WEBB 27:00 But leaving sport aside, and a handful of holidays that you mentioned– yeah. So you have Thanksgiving, you have a sort of Christmas kind of– but I think you’re on to something– I mean, in a really– it’s dark, but that there is some kind of emotional valve that gets– just a little air gets let out when these terrible things happen.
S. FULLWOOD 27:30 I mean, because they’re often linked up to other things. Gun violence. Well, the government. The government is not doing what it needs to do to protect its citizens, and there are all these sort of think pieces, and talking heads. And for a while, it almost feels like– I’m sure some very smart person– quite a few people have already linked this up and they’re taking the last four, five shootings. It’s just mapping on the responses, and they’re all the same. And there’s something that I find– I’m not sure how to think about it, honestly, because the rituals that people do in their personal lives, or maybe with their family, maybe yoga, or some kind of healthy thing, it needs– I don’t think that we do things in community as much as, say, maybe some indigenous societies or maybe even other places right now on the planet. But the US is very big on claiming it’s the best at everything and turns a blind eye to so many things that have never worked, have never been good. I’m going to go back to rituals, though, before I lose my mind, because it’s all messed up kind of moving in a different direction.
C.T. WEBB 28:42 You can move in a different direction.
S. FULLWOOD 28:43 Well, the ritual thing is exciting to me to talk about because I think, how do we arrest that? How do we arrest– because when you were talking about this, my brain went, “I really don’t think that we care about our kids.” We’re not really educating them all that well. We feed them a lot of different things. Up until the mid-20th century, they were working in coal mines [laughter].
C.T. WEBB 29:08 That’s right. That’s right.
S. FULLWOOD 29:09 Do you know? And then I remember being– so as a kid, I remember feeling a different shift. There was a shift. And I was born in 1966. But in the ’70s, it was right after the Vietnam war– or the Vietnam war was still going on up until a point. But the assassinations, the Black Panther Black Arts Movement, the gay/lesbian movement, the women’s movement, these weren’t things that were generally known– I don’t know the specifics of them, but I remember feeling there was this notion of unsafeness, of unsettling. I remember towards the end of the ’70s, that was the Jim Jones– the tragedy in Guyana. There was a big report on that. And then they were killing black children in Atlanta. And so these things– then we’re being called [inaudible]. Our parents were calling us [inaudible]. And earlier, we had to be at a certain place at a certain time so that fear was palpable. But I remember not getting any– I told you earlier they were telling us where to be and what to do and all of that. But the rituals were largely confined to holidays, and birthdays, and sports pastimes, and whatnot, and national tragedies. And so these were sort of– and the national tragedies in the sense that– then I started to pay more attention. That’s when I started becoming a little more thoughtful about the news rather than just be something my parents want to watch. There were things happening in the world.
S. FULLWOOD 30:40 The rituals for a healthy society, I think– there needs to be a great deal of communication, and there’s– although we have a lot of communication going on, I’m not sure if we’re listening, and we’re not really taking it into heart about how we have to train to transform ourselves to achieve the society that’s largely mouthing. We’re just mouthing the words. I remember at one point, [inaudible] is like, “Well, someone think of the children.” I don’t think we think about children. I don’t, overall. I think that we pay lip service because we wouldn’t be– these kids would be safe. And it’s not about arming the teachers.
C.T. WEBB 31:16 I know. I know. That’s just [inaudible]. We don’t even have to tell you. That’s just a nonsense statement. That is a nonsense statement.
S. FULLWOOD 31:22 It’s nonsense, but it’s the language in which people live and imagine in. And that’s kind of what I want to get at too. It’s like, if you can’t imagine a non-violent society or definitely a significantly-reduced violent society, these are the tools that you have, and this is how you come at your mouth. And the NRA– I mean, if we really wanted to do– it’s not the NRA. It’s the manufacturers. The NRA’s made its position. It will lip service, “I’m sorry about this tragedy. If it hurt anybody, I’m really sorry, da, da, da,” and they’re going to keep selling guns. I mean, that’s them, but they’re going to advocate for that. And so that’s a pretty strong lobby.
C.T. WEBB 31:58 It is. You’re steering things in– one of the other questions I had sent to you to sort of– where I think as a society, as a culture, as a people, we’re really woolly-headed on both sides right now about how to think about something like this. One, to just kind of put a cap on what you had said, I entirely agree with the observation about ritual, and I think a certain segment of the country is literally saying to the rest of it, “These sacrifices are worth our sacred right to keep and bear arms.”
S. FULLWOOD 32:43 Oh, absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 32:44 I think that’s not necessarily what they are saying, but what is just below the surface is they’re saying these kids, these people at concerts, these office workers, these deaths are worth it for us to be able to keep access to the murder weapons and the weapons of war that we desire. So I said earlier, my dad’s from the south. I grew up around guns. I’m pretty open to the idea that a citizenry should have some access to weapons of defense. Like you can get me into that argument in a productive way where I think on the left, right, which is where I would probably find myself in a lot of arguments, though not all, where I feel like there’s kind of an incoherence and not a really serious conversation around it is, one one hand, you will get these very aggressive knee-jerk reactions against the state monopoly on violence: the cops, the military, the policing methods in minority communities or high crime areas, “Fuck the police,” this kind of thing. And at the same time, you want the same institutional bodies– they, not you. They want the same institutional bodies to police the acquisition of weapons. So there’s a deep distrust of police forces on one hand. And on the other hand, there is a fervent desire for those police forces to exercise their monopoly on violence to take weapons away from other communities. And I feel like there’s a– that the left has a schizophrenic relationship with authority and power.
S. FULLWOOD 34:52 So that’s an interesting thing. I’m not sure if you’re aware of it, but there was a time in the ’90s where a lot of gangs were coming in prominence in some of the larger cities, and those mayors, who happen to be black, were asking the police for more rigorous policing in those communities to protect the citizens. I’m not sure– in different gradations, obviously, of the left and the right. And so what I wanted to point out was that right now, those black mayors are being scapegoated for asking for the police to do what they’re supposed to do. So I don’t it’s that there is a– there’s accountability, and then there is– we want to be safe too. And I’ve lived in Harlem since 2000, and I’ve noticed that the police presence sort of was amped up around the time. The whites moved into the neighborhood on mass, and so kids were being harassed. In fact, we stopped some police– three friends of mine and I, we asked the police what was going on because we saw some kids being pulled into paddy wagons. Some of the police officers yelled back at us and told us if we don’t shut up, then they’re going to arrest these kids. And we were like, “What the fuck is going on? What are they talking about?” Gradually, it settled down. They took this kid away. We were like, “Why can’t you call his parents? Why can’t find some way not to put him in the system?” And so there were two police officers that had some measure of their head but they were still blue, and they were like, “Well, you know, this is a high crime area,” and I’m like, “Dude, I walk here all the time. I’ve never felt unsafe. What are we actually talking about here?”
C.T. WEBB 36:40 This would be the broken windows theory of police seeing at that point. I mean, so that’s kind of that idea in action, right? Yeah.
S. FULLWOOD 36:45 Absolutely. And then there’s also just flat out biased. And so when people see that, we’re not asking the police to come in and kill us. We’re asking them to come and protect us. And this is the conflation of the two. Because what they’re saying is– okay. I won’t go even go to that place. I’m just going to stay with what you said earlier. So when I think about what folks are saying, we have the right to bear arms, it’s because they don’t feel safe because the government is not going to save them, and they know this. And so I think just below the surface, to use one of your phrases, they feel like they will safer with a gun, and I think it’s the actual opposite. If you have a gun, I think–
C.T. WEBB 37:28 Oh, it’s the opposite.
S. FULLWOOD 37:30 Right.
C.T. WEBB 37:30 Statistically, it’s bad for you.
S. FULLWOOD 37:32 Yeah. It’s not a good thing to consume. But there’s something about the way we even measure masculinity around guns and the way we measure our importance. If you have a gun– I mean, it was funny to watch, in a sort of weird way, Zimmerman, George Zimmerman, the way he– the aftermath. This man was very cocky and getting into fights, and brawls, and pulling out guns on other people right afterwards. And so initially, I remember thinking, “This guy just doesn’t get.” And I said, “Oh, no. This is just what he’s made of.” And we actually have a live version of someone that we might  have fictionalized in the past, but here he is. He thinks that he had a right to shoot that boy. He didn’t.
C.T. WEBB 38:19 I know.
S. FULLWOOD 38:20 He thought he had a right to pull a gun on his girlfriend, and do some other things, and threaten other people’s lives. He didn’t. But he believed that because that’s what, I believe, he had been fed all his life. “This is what men do, and I’m a man.” Violence is the link [inaudible] in the US. It just permeates all parts of our society. And it makes me wonder how you can pull back from that, how you can find a center or become a better human being in a culture that really doesn’t nurture you.
C.T. WEBB 38:54 So I think one of the ways– I would have a direct response to that. I don’t know that it’s an answer in every instance, but it directly related to what I was saying, and I think it connects with exactly your point, which is that– so you’re talking about sort of the black NGOs and black groups in the ’90s that were advocating for more aggressive policing in some of these communities to help bring down the crime rates. I mean, this is connected to the Clinton administration and that kind of stuff. And those were good faith efforts, and they went too far. Right? But what we do now, certainly amongst people in my tribe, right, and maybe people in your tribe – I mean, people of a certain type of disposition in class and education level – is– there’s a way in which we want to flatten out the discourse. And so again, I use this handy– you know, “Fuck the police.” The intractable racism of cops or something like that. Or on the other side, just the total ignorance of the left about human nature, just like Blue Lives Matter, and like how police are– like every cop is an altruistic hero on the line, or something like that, when they just want to get home to dinner and their kids or whatever. But there is a way in which there are lots of people in the Black Lives Matter movement on the police force, in city governments, in these communities, that are actually interested in common sense, good faith efforts to improve the lives of the people in their communities and the people in the communities that they serve.
S. FULLWOOD 40:48 Absolutely.
C.T. WEBB 40:49 Yeah. I mean, you and I have had some good conversations around this. But I feel like that voice of reason is precisely what is missing amongst progressives, amongst us. I want there to be– I still believe that there’s great unfinished works to be done in our culture around race. There are a lot of– there’s a lot of poisonous vegetation in that jungle that needs to be pulled out by the roots. I believe that. And I believe that the tools that we are currently deploying are completely ill-suited to the task. So when you said you just want– you want more protection, less crime in these neighborhoods, and then what causes that to happen is the presence of more white people, and then you get kind of all this racial profiling. That’s a serious problem. That’s a real problem. That is real. That’s happening. Go ahead. You look like you’re about to say something.
S. FULLWOOD 42:05 Oh, just very quickly because then we’re coming up on the end. And one things is that there also needs to be an equilateral look at crime. So whether it’s actually physical crime or if it’s corporate crime. These things should matter and hold equal weight. Obviously, they don’t. So even when people say, “We need heavy policing in the area of these dangerous neighborhoods,” how about corporate America? I mean, that obviously needs to happen as well. And so as long as we have the disenfranchise looking at– so many people get away with so many things on the nightly news, it’s very disempowering.
C.T. WEBB 42:43 So let me ask you a question and then I’ll actually still give you the last word.
S. FULLWOOD 42:47 Oh, thanks.
C.T. WEBB 42:48 Do you actually– and so as much as it’s abundantly clear post-financial crisis, post– I mean pick any period of American history, that people with money, and status, and power do not pay the piper in the same way the people without money, and status, and power do. Do you really believe that for most human beings living in America, that the urgency would be felt to prosecute corporate crimes over violent crimes? Like if it came down to it, right, if there was one cop, right, in the whole world, and that one cop could go stop robberies and murders, or that one cop could go stop greedy assholes from taking more money, I would put that one cop on murders and violence. So I think there– go ahead. Jump in. Jump in. I give you the last word.
S. FULLWOOD 43:54 It’s an impossible question.
C.T. WEBB 43:56 Of course it is.
S. FULLWOOD 43:57 It’s impossible. And that’s the funny thing about it. Because I think that that– earlier on, when you were talking about this sort of flattening the dialogue and the discourse around violence – we can just parse it form there – is that it doesn’t lend itself to easy dialogue. But what I do think is useful about flattening the dialogue and people saying, “Fuck the police,” or whatever is because it’s this notion of the resistance and identifying the problems. And so that’s one step. But the issue is– because the conversations has become more complex because people don’t take that moment and develop it, and grow it, and live with it, and think about it, and think about it not only for what’s good for them or their community before everyone. And so I do think that that cop that you’re talking about [laughter]–
C.T. WEBB 44:40 The one super cop that can go–
S. FULLWOOD 44:41 The one super cop. The superman. Oh, goodness. The hero myth. And so it’s [laughter]– I don’t want to be–
C.T. WEBB 44:48 That would be the next podcast.
S. FULLWOOD 44:48 I don’t want to be a murderer, but I also don’t want poison food. That’s what I’m saying [laughter]. You know, and regulations.
C.T. WEBB 44:54 I mean, it was a silly– I mean, it is, itself, a flat question, so I definitely can see that. The only reason I offered it was because I see them as two different tracks. Right? I see the need to protect and police the mass accumulation of greed as different than the need to dial back the chance that you’re going to get shot by an AR-15. I don’t want to intersect– personally, I don’t want to intersect those two things, even though I understand the issue of hypocrisy is [inaudible].
S. FULLWOOD 45:42 Yeah. And I also feel like they’re intertwined with all these other elements as well. So there’s not one or the other for me. It’s all these other things. Because I feel like a stronger, more benevolent actual government that lives up to what it says rather than just mouths words would be better for everyone, and it may reduce crime. And I think it probably would because people would be a lot happier and maybe live.
C.T. WEBB 46:04 Right. So to wrap up, I think Steven’s last point is the one to stick with, that we want a government that is more invested in doing what we have invested it to do, which is to serve the people and all of those people. Would you basically agree with that?
S. FULLWOOD 46:24 Oh, yeah. Yeah, absolutely. That would be lovely.
C.T. WEBB 46:28 Yeah. That is a little bit of a soft ball. Steven, thanks very much for joining me on today’s podcast.
S. FULLWOOD 46:34 Thank you.
C.T. WEBB 46:35 Obviously, there’s a lot to pack and we barely scratched the surface, but violence doesn’t appear to be going away in America and there is not a simple solution. It requires smart people, and dedicated people, and honest people trying to deal with the problem. So thanks very much for joining us today, and we hope you’ll listen next week. [music]


First referenced at 14:14

William James 

Philosopher and psychologist William James was the best known and most influential American thinker of his time.


Share This