Last week I read an article from my hometown news source which announced that during spring break, several local agencies would converge on the local junior high for preparedness drills. The exercise is supposed to cover a number of emergencies. The focus, of course, is on school shooters.
In what officials are calling one of the largest and most unique emergency drills ever staged by Jasper County agencies, an active shooter and mass casualty drill will take place March 18 at
the Berg elementary and middle-school complex in Newton.
From shortly before noon until about 4 p.m., medical, fire and law enforcement will converge on the complex for a drill scenario that involves at least one active shooter on the campus. March 18 is the Wednesday of the Newton Community School District’s spring break.”
Given the great success of police agencies in stopping these incidences, I am sure the drills are completely unnecessary. That was sarcasm. I use it when the truth makes me feel icky inside. The truth is that displays such as these help to create the fear, distrust and divisive ideologies which themselves lead to psychologies of deviant violence. And in turn, those lead to the sort of alienation, marginalization and disempowerment that causes individuals to go overboard and shoot up buildings full of other victims of the state.
I have little confidence that these drills are necessary or helpful, yet I have a firm suspicion that they add to an overall culture which creates both criminal and institutional violence. Drills like these are useful in training instinctive reflexes into officers. Reflexes that often become deadly when officers are unable to separate the automated behaviors they are trained to have with real life situations that require finesse and human guile. At the same time, I doubt local police agencies are making federal grant cash by holding training exercises which hone finesse or human guile.
Let me tell you a bit about Newton, Iowa, the town this is happening in and the town that I grew up in. In the early nineteen nineties it’s greatest employer was Maytag Appliances. The employees were some of the best paid union workers in the nation. There was prosperity and growth, but lurking beneath this was a nasty methamphetamine culture. Newton was affected by this narcotic especially hard, at one time making the top ten ‘meth use per capita’ in the entire country. The police responded with greater numbers and resources as well as new training and a different attitude. Yet it was not enough. As Maytag began shipping jobs away, the unemployment rate rose and so did meth use. When the company finally left over a decade ago, Newton became an economic ghost town. It’s problems continue to this day.
Newton is not unlike most midwest towns. Its social, economic and political structures revolve around a very small core. Yet there was always something different about the place. My junior year in high school we received our first full-time in-school police officer. While this may not have seemed out of place in a larger city, Newton was twenty five thousand people. There were no gangs and Columbine had yet to kick off the modern school shooting phase. Me and my friends knew right away why there was a cop in our school. Intimidation. If you think that a town like Newton would have a Mayberry-style law enforcement agency that was above participating in the social engineering of youth, let me just point out that the City Police have in their possession a monster truck with their’s and a D.A.R.E. logo painted on it.
While it may not be Mayberry, Newton is not a violent place. The necessity of preparing for violence that will likely never come does not exist. Large scale displays of police force and capabilities are nothing more than social conditioning for the embittered and hopeless citizens. While Newton has earned the nickname Meth & Maytag, it was not just these disasters that led to the towns fall from grace. Like many other towns it has eroded from within under the sort of ideological conditions which gave rise to addictions. Both to methamphetamines and federal policing grants alike. A place without hope, where fear treads heavily in boots, is a sitting duck for overbearing law enforcement and violent crimes alike. Today it is just a drill, yet under such conditions it likely to become an eventuality.
By the way, the town is Newton, not Newtown; where a few years back they held a similar drill.
What do you think, Cop Blockers? Are these drills just good honest practice or a part of the larger problem?