Insofar as the state, and the prison administration, know that solitary confinement drives people insane through isolation and torture, its use signifies that the state desires this outcome. That is a political desire, a desire to do irrevocable damage to people. It happens silently, as punishment for thinking autonomously, for self-respect against the violence of imprisonment, as a political stance. On the street, however, when comparable irrevocable damage occurs, as when a cop shoots someone, he must give an account. “He was reaching in his waistband, and I felt threatened” (Gary King). “He attacked me and tried to grab my gun” (Michael Brown, shot as he stood a 100 feet away). “She became uncooperative, and made a threatening gesture.” These appear as mantras in all parts of the country. The uniformity of these excuses give them away as formulas, not reasons. They are tacit admissions that no threat existed, only disobedience, and self-defensive resistance.
In California, a small 80 year old black woman, a grandmother, was shot 6 times as she stood in her driveway with a one inch kitchen paring knife in her hand for having ignored the cops’ screams to “drop your weapon.” A black teenager in North Carolina, while undergoing some emotional trauma, was shot on his own living room floor in front of his mother for resisting being handcuffed.
To disobey an unauthorized command is to defend one’s freedom. For a cop to demand obedience, under threat of arrest or execution, is to criminalize that freedom. Inside prison, it is unfreedom that is criminalized. On both sides of the wall, what is the same is the police demand for obedience, for acceptance of lesser status as a person and a withholding of rights. It marks the power to control. And insofar as it happens to people of color mostly, it is racialized control. Control, obedience, and the imposition of lesser status dimension a process of racialization.
And like all anti-democracy, it deploys extremes. A homeless man, camped on a hill above Albuquerque, faces four cops training their rifles on him (in the police video). When he agrees to come down off the hill, picking up his bundles, the cops shoot a stun grenade, and then open fire with bullets. They approach his corpse, and like demented drunkards, shoot him again and again while shouting “drop your weapon.”