Tuesday, March 24, 2015

High-Speed Car Chases (2 June 2013)

        I just watched a Fast and Furious movie — it was the 2013 edition, but that's irrelevant — and then Now You See Me, a somewhat more thoughtful film, although that's not saying a whole lot.

       Anyway, I enjoyed both movies, and the previews for similar films, and I got thinking about a lot of movies I've enjoyed less because I've been bored by the car chases. And then I got thinking of my life in the greater Cincinnati area 1971-2007 and about real-world high-speed police chases.
       And then I got pissed off at the makers of many "action" films.

       The web is unfortunately overstocked with troll-attorneys trawling for business, but try a search for actual "high-speed police chase" and accusations of "wrongful death." What popped up first in my search was the story of how "Kelly Spurlock, the widow of NASA engineer Darren Spurlock who was killed when he crossed the path of a high-speed police chase in 2008, is moving forward with her wrongful death lawsuit against the fleeing driver, the City of Huntsville [Alabama], and three officers who participated in the chase" — apparently a "high-speed chase at midday" in a busy area "where it […] put other motorists at risk."

       The Cincy case that comes up early on Google is the recent one reported by the AP with the lead: "The wife of [Mohamed Ould Mohamed Sidi,] a Cincinnati cab driver killed in a crash at the end of a high-speed police chase" in March of 2011 "is suing the city." The short form of the story ends with the sentence, "Cincinnati Solicitor John Curp said the city is not responsible for the criminal acts of others." Now it is certainly true that the City of Cincinnati is not responsible for the criminal acts of its "civilian" residents, but there remains the question of the potential responsibility of the City if three of its police officers "were negligent and caused," fairly directly, "Sidi's death."

       (The "civilian" isn't part of what I'm quoting; it's in "scare quotes" because I recall the chuckles when I first heard cops talk of "civilians," meaning their non-cop fellow citizens. That was during The Troubles in the spring of 1970, on a college campus in central Illinois and far, far away from the slaughter of the Vietnam War, where there were more old-fashioned varieties of civilians and combatants. This encounter with a new word-usage occurred at a meeting between police and protesters arranged by local Christians who took their faith seriously ["Blessed are the peacemakers"]. We protesters chuckled and then both groups adopted the usage: "'civilians', plural noun: neutrals at demonstrations or just in town, not cops and not protesters — folks neither out protesting nor policing the protests." But I digress, though relevantly.)

       It may be hidden on the web — at least without LexisNexis — but very strong in my memory is the debate over high-speed police chases in Cincinnati occasioned by one that killed, injured, and/or endangered a mother and child. My memory is a baby in in a baby carriage while the mother pushed it across the street, resulting in legal action where the cops were cleared and so was the City — although the City at least undoubtedly struck some deal out of court.

       The point here is the debate, which included some older police officers' complaining in public about cop cowboys and an tendency among their younger colleagues to substitute for "Serve and Protect," "Get the Motherf*ckers!"

       I paraphrase, or at least I paraphrase what went into the media, but some older cops did criticize strongly a kind of macho cop culture. The accusation was general, but as the debate went on, at least one cop blamed COPS, the TV show, and nowadays I'll blame even more the techno-porn speed-worship of the high-speed car-chase movie, especially when those chases are engaged in by officers of the law. Cops and many other armed agents of the State are sworn to serve and protect; and the have at their disposal such low-key technological wonders as radio, not to mention nowadays traffic cameras and computers and devices for tracking down an escaped suspect.

       Some place along the line, I want to see a movie where some sympathetic hot-shot cowboy cop buddies hit that baby carriage, kill the little girl therein (and her new puppy) and have to live with that the rest of their lives. I want to see some movies where the camera goes back to a flipped car and gets some medium-duration fairly close shots of what a real-world-style traffic disaster actually does to the human body.

       I came out west mostly for the climate, but in part to live on the edge of the film industry and as much as I can whore myself to Hollywood. So far — in my usual joke — I've made it only to Chicago chippy and Toronto trollop, with some hope of getting to Burbank bimbo; and, indeed, I lust after the sort of resources that allow filmmakers to execute a high-speed chase sequence. Also I taught literature for forty years and film long enough to know that most people can differentiate quite well between real life and power fantasies.

       But come on, guys!

       Those chase sequences normalize policemen behaving badly, irresponsibly; they set up a kind of perverse ideal of disregard for everyday people. This fits into a larger pattern of normalizing bad behavior by cops and other sworn agents of the State — more on that elsewhere — and such normalizing (romanticizing, idealizing) is not right.

     The City of Cincinnati is not responsible for the criminal acts of criminals, and moviemakers are not responsible for stupid and dangerous acts by people who don't know fantasy when they see it. The City of Cincinnati is, however, responsible at least in part for the actions of its employees and agents; American cities and film-makers, story-tellers and artists are responsible when they encourage bad behavior by peace officers by presenting as an ideal the shift from the wimpoid "To Serve and Protect" to macho (and nowadays macha), "Get the Motherf*ckers! (And if Some 'Civilians' Get Smashed, Well, They're Not Our People)."

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