Robert Pickton was one of the most prolific serial murderers ever to be identified and captured. He was convicted of murdering six women, had charges in the murders of twenty others stayed, and is suspected of murdering a number of others; by his own account to a cellmate (and undercover police officer), he fell one short of killing an “even fifty.” In the aftermath of his arrest, the Vancouver Police and RCMP came under withering public criticism for taking so long to catch Pickton. He had abducted many of his victims within blocks of the Vancouver police headquarters, and several of them had been reported as missing. A Vancouver police sergeant who tried to alert his superiors to the pattern of disappearances of women from the Downtown Eastside was dismissed as a crank, and there’s a fairly strong consensus that these women’s disappearances were not given serious investigations because they were streetwalkers and drug addicts from poor, and often Native, families. What finally led to Pickton’s downfall was the RCMP’s execution of a search warrant for illegal firearms on Pickton’s pig farm; also discovered on the farm in a subsequent series of much more thorough searches was the DNA of 33 women.
The Pickton case attracted plenty of Monday morning quarterbacking, some of it much needed. The cops repeatedly dropped the ball in investigating the disappearances of women who turned out to be his victims. At the same time, the connections between Pickton’s victims weren’t blatantly obvious at the time; in addition to his Vancouver victims, he targeted women along Highway 16, hundreds of miles to the north. And the most appalling incident of negligence I’ve read about from the Pickton case, if it can be believed, didn’t involve the police at all: a neighbor came forward after Pickton’s arrest, claiming that she had seen him skinning a woman’s body on a meat hook, and that although she had been too scared to call the police, she had not been too scared to repeatedly blackmail Pickton over the incident.
Gee, you might want to call the Mounties after you’ve seen a thing like that.
Pickton (and his brother David) occasionally showed up on government radar for years before he was arrested for serial murder. From Wikipedia:
The Pickton brothers gradually neglected the site’s farming operations. They registered a non-profit charity, the Piggy Palace Good Times Society, with the Canadian government in 1996 as aiming to “organize, co-ordinate, manage and operate special events, functions, dances, shows and exhibitions on behalf of service organizations, sports organizations and other worthy groups.” Its events included raves and wild parties featuring Vancouver prostitutes and gatherings in a converted slaughterhouse. These events attracted as many as 2,000 people.
In March 23, 1997, Pickton was charged with the attempted murder of prostitute Wendy Lynn Eistetter, whom he stabbed several times during an altercation at the farm. The victim informed police that Pickton handcuffed her, but that she escaped after suffering several lacerations, disarming him, and stabbing him with his weapon. Pickton sought treatment at Eagle Ridge Hospital, while Eistetter healed at the nearest emergency room. He was released on $2,000 bond, but the charge was dismissed in January of 1998. Months later, the Picktons were sued by Port Coquitlam officials for violating zoning ordinances – neglecting the agriculture for which it had been zoned, and having “altered a large farm building on the land for the purpose of holding dances, concerts and other recreations.” The Picktons ignored the pressure from the officials and held a 1998 New Years party, after which they were faced with an injunction banning future parties; the police were “authorized to arrest and remove any person” attending future Piggy Palace Good Times Society events at the farm. The society’s non-profit status was removed the following year, for inability to procure financial statements, and it subsequently disbanded.
The Piggy Palace Good Times Society: I shit ye not. But as we can see, the authorities were not totally derelict about Pickton. When a victim came forward alleging that he had restrained her and tried to kill her, they filed criminal charges. When Pickton and his brother turned their pig farm into an unlicensed event venue serving no agricultural purpose, contrary to local zoning ordinances, they obtained a broad public nuisance injunction putting an end to the piggly-wiggly Good Times. As I mentioned above, when the Mounties got a tip that Pickton had unlicensed guns on the property, they raided it and arrested him. What the authorities failed to do was to promptly connect the dots.
We have worse south of the border. Much worse. Perhaps Pickton’s mistake was to go about his campaign of unprovoked violence against prostitutes in a jurisdiction where such violence is criminally prosecuted. Had he worked for the Galveston Police Department, he would have been able to get criminal charges brought against his victims, although even in Galveston fully murdering a hooker, or a young teenager one mistakes for a hooker, might be considered rather gauche.
Again, might be. American cops get away with murder all the time; just ask Daniel Pantaleo. They also get away with obstruction of justice; just ask Pantaleo’s colleagues on Staten Island, the ones who charged at citizens trying to film the chokehold and cop pile-on that was killing Eric Garner.
The police develop a reputation for not being trustworthy. This is because they cannot be trusted. Look at Ferguson: cops taking off their name tags (according to one, for “security”), shoving television journalists in the chest on live camera, dismantling a television crew’s camera equipment, restricting the press to a holding pen in a commercial strip and then rolling down residential side streets firing tear gas, Lt. Ray “Go Fuck Yourself” Albers pointing a loaded weapon at a journalist and then being pulled away by two colleagues, one of them grabbing him by the belt. In Ferguson, Sir Robert Peel was wrong about the police being the public and the public being the police, but really he was just behind the times. The public wasn’t rioting much in Ferguson, but the police sure were.
The police do worse in private citizens’ houses and yards. In rare cases, they get shot for their trouble; in rarer cases, their shooters get no-billed by a grand jury for capital murder. Anyone else putting on combat gear (lately including balaclavas) and barging into another person’s house with assault weapons drawn and without explanation could expect to be fatally shot on sight. Why not feral cops? This vigilante attitude has troubling implications for civil order and the rule of law, but it would be confined to the craziest fringes if the police acted like peace officers, not banana republic death squads.
In a decent and peaceable society, the police can be trusted not to commit violent home invasions by way of serving drug search warrants or commit strong-arm kidnapping, false imprisonment, battery, perjury, and false arrest against young teenagers under the pretext of vice abatement. These things go without saying. Perhaps an especially depraved criminal gang would do some of these things, but if that happened one would call the police.
Hence the macabre joke: “What’s the difference between the Crips and the cops? Blue Cross/Blue Shield.”
This style of factional violence in lieu of policing is the result of a massive failure of institutional and personal ethics. A good cop blowing the whistle on bad cops isn’t a rat; she’s a good cop looking out for her department’s interests and the public interest, and only incidentally for her own. In the Portland Police Bureau, this type of whistleblowing may still be known as “pulling a Lindsay,” after Lindsay Hunt, a junior officer who told her commanders that other cops in the Northeast Precinct were taking free merchandise from convenience stores and the commanders put a stop to the freeloading. If I strapped on a Glock 9 and told a Dari Mart clerk that I’m gonna just take these Swedish meat pies and maybe you could throw in a free burrito while you’re at it, I’d be arrested for shoplifting, or maybe for armed robbery.
But let’s have another quick chat with our friend C. S. Lewis about robber barons versus moral busybodies. Officer Quantin Ho will probably reach his own limit for extorting free chimichangas, coffee, PBR, Chef Boyardee, Nutter Butters, and whatever in a matter of minutes, not because he’s a man of great moral character (he is not) but because he just walked out of 7-Eleven with Wow Much Foods. It won’t get too expensive, especially if the price the clerk would pay to a truly bad cop might include orbital fractures.
What usually attracts the really bad cops isn’t the prospect for extortion, but the opportunity to clean up vice. In the United States these days, it’s usually prostitution, marijuana, and hard drugs; in olden times, it included homosexuality, adultery, and alcohol. Depending on the era and the jurisdiction, gambling may have been in their line of fire, too, although these days violent suppression of black-market gambling is mostly a pretext to harass black people in the ghetto. In very recent years, agricultural inspectors have started doing armed raids on merchants of unpasteurized dairy products, on the basis that raw brie is unwholesome but federal agents holding farmers up at gunpoint is not.
I’ve hardly read any C. S. Lewis, but it should be easy enough to see why he’s one of my main crackers. Having to pay off a police watch in order to have a blind eye turned to one’s den of gambling, prostitution, opium, demon drink, or homosexuality is an annoyance, but it potentially keeps a lot of bad cops at bay. (A friend of my maternal grandmother’s did, however, say that her parents had to close their gambling den after the local NYPD precinct added a third watch. Two watches with their hands held out for first fruits was manageable, but the third watch put them into the red, killing that golden-egged goose.) Officials who just want to make a dishonest dollar are reasonable enough and easy enough to understand. They suck, and if practical they should be reported to the authorities (or to the parts of the authorities that they themselves do not constitute), but it doesn’t take much to make them go away. They may even be willing to negotiate on their price.
The busybodies? They’re batshit fucking crazy. What is it to them that you’re schtupping some whore, or some dude, or some manwhore, or that you are the whore or the manwhore under contractual schtup, or that you’re selling some moonshine or some unpasteurized cheese or running an unlicensed barber shop? Maybe it really is because you’re black. Unfortunately it often is, and the racists who use moral panics as excuses to repress black people aren’t doing a whole lot to make black people less paranoid about Whitey. If these invasive regulatory regimes were really about public health and safety, they’d apply to major livestock operations and meatpackers on the basis that no, you may not mix antibiotics into your chicken feed as a prophylactic to encourage growth and, no, you may not hire people who are not authorized to work in the United States to run your slaughterhouse, and yes, you have to run your slaughterhouse according to best standards on pain of federal imprisonment because we are not going to tolerate preventable workplace fatalities. Instead, the regulators usually end up going after piker yeomen like Joel Salatin, because the yeomen aren’t as well positioned to corrupt the regulatory agencies from the top down.
At the lower levels, many regulatory and police agencies end up being staffed by officious fuckheads who want to tell other people how to live their lives. The more meddlesome and intrusive the agency, the more meddlesome and intrusive, if not also violent, its agents. The NTSB attracts few busybodies because its mission, that of investigating and preventing mass-casualty transportation accidents, is one that any sane person considers reasonable. Social services and general police agencies attract applicant pools of mixed quality, including decent people who genuinely want to protect the vulnerable from grievous harm and indecent people who want to use moral panics as pretexts to harass, humiliate, and traumatize those they dislike for various reasons usually having to do with class and race. Towards the bottom of the heap are vice squads and the DEA, organizations whose sole missions are to disrupt illegal but consensual trades and to punish their participants.
Agencies like these attract some seriously disturbed people. If you get a rush out of impersonating prostitutes and busting their clients, or vice versa, you’re fucked up. Full stop. If you enjoy doing drug stings on peaceable users and dealers, you’re fucked up. Narcotics officers at all levels of government are probably the most overtly, unabashedly deranged group of police. Sex cops, being better actors, are better at hiding their twisted worldviews. A few years ago, I watched a low-class documentary about the NYPD featuring a smoking hot vice detective by the name of Nicole Papamichael. This chick gleefully went out on the streets of Manhattan to impersonate a streetwalker, dressed in a fashion that wouldn’t so much scandalize as baffle the average Asian massage parlor whore (a woman who believes in sensible shoes will never grok four-inch stiletto heels), then went on camera to express disgust at how all these guys, some of them priests, made crude sexual overtures to her and then complained that they didn’t enjoy being humiliated by working-class cops. Yeah, lady, they told you those things because you were dressed up exactly how you and they imagined a flashy whore being dressed; they wouldn’t have said anything of the sort to you had you been in the bag. She told a cameraman that, to her incomprehension, her best friend from high school had become a prostitute. Birds of a feather, etc. If Papamichael had really wanted a wholesome assignment, she would have applied for a mounted patrol spot, so that she could hang out on Times Square letting tourists pet her horse. She works vice because she’s trashy.
It must be the wrong cops who retire on fraudulent disability pensions. I’m all for cops like Papamichael faking a disability in order to augment an honest living in the sex trades. It would get them out of our hair and into our pants, but the right way, not the way intake officers go about it at jail. These sworn prostitution aficionados totally wouldn’t go into the profession without a pension; the risk of being caught is too great, and the work is too sporadic and doesn’t offer any bennies. You know, the difference being Blue Cross/Blue Shield. At least, from what I hear, the ones who do retire with nondisabling disabilities usually open delicatessens. I’d be interested to compare their Reubens to Arby’s.
The way to abate these meddlesome dipshits and outright thugs is to establish a limited government. No, I do not mean limited government in the sense of some batshit crazy Libertarian Kool-Aid hobbyhorse like abolishing Amtrak and the FAA because they aren’t specifically enumerated in the Constitution. I mean it in a much more fundamental and meaningful sense, one in which it is all but universally understood and accepted that government does not have a proper role, absent extreme circumstances, in interfering in the private lives of citizens. Private enterprise can straddle the line between private and public life in such a regime, but as a rule of thumb, increasing the scale of a business increases its interaction with the genuinely public sphere and hence brings it more fully under the legitimate purview of the government. E.g., a farmer personally butchering livestock on his farm and selling it to local acquaintances through word of mouth cannot legitimately be held to the same level of official scrutiny as a Hormel slaughterhouse. I assume that most Americans would agree with me on this basic principle, even if they might phrase it differently; many of our government agencies and their agents would disagree, usually because they’re power-hungry and crooked.
Having unshakable faith in some particular institution is no substitute for having morally straight first principles (and no, Mr. Baden-Powell, I am not referring to heterosexual proclivities). Institutions with formerly rock-solid ethics and discipline, or at least the pervasive reputation thereof, can be degraded by evil ambient morals. This happened in small measure to the Mounties not long ago, when one of their tactical teams stormed a commercial aircraft in paramilitary uniform with assault weapons drawn in response to a report of a moderately disturbed passenger. Canadian chauvinism notwithstanding, the United States is an intercontinental political and cultural hegemon, one whose border and common language with Canada make its influence on Canada inevitable. The pertinence of this influence to the police is that Canadian cops end up reading the same law enforcement trade journals and online fora and attending the same law enforcement conferences as their American counterparts.
Increasingly, this means that decent cops find themselves outnumbered by indecent ones, the latter including all too many who are frankly fit to be shot in a police station basement in the tradition of the late Lavrenti Beria. The bad cops usually make a lot more noise than the good cops; hence, “pulling a Lindsay,” not “pulling a Quantin,” which is barely the tip of the iceberg. I’ve never visited any online police message boards, but what I’ve read from people who do keep an eye on them, especially Radley Balko, is that a lot of the things cops and their hangers-on post on them are absolutely vile. Sworn law enforcement officers hang out on fora like Police One, writing things that are shocking to the conscience and apparently meant completely in earnest. The Anglo North American police hive mind is a very dark place. It does bad things to good cops and good police agencies on both sides of the border. It’s probably about as hard for decent Canadian agencies to escape its evil influences as it is for good American agencies in culturally idiosyncratic parts of the United States, such as college towns or rural parts of New England and the Upper Midwest. They are all sucked into the same miasma of mainstream American police gang violence. (The Latin American police hive mind is pretty awful in its own right, but in a different way. Some bad Latin American police tactics, especially ones pertaining to militarization, have been adopted by American police agencies, but the cultural context in which they’re deployed in Latin America doesn’t seem to transmit across the Rio Grande nearly as easily. Instead, death squad militia tactics and equipment are used in a distinctly gringo fashion, and most often in a distinctly Southern one, even in the old Union states.)
It’s a bad idea to go down such a rabbit hole. One may not make it out alive. Even one’s descendants may not emerge from the rabbit hole until the third, sixth, or twentieth generation. Germany was shocked back into a state of civil society after a mere twelve years of Nazi rule, but this was done at a cost that included pulverizing Cologne and barbequing Dresden. I hope and pray that the United States will turn away from its path of wrath and paranoia in short order and that Canada will not follow it into the abyss, but I can make no such assumption. What many of our police agencies have today is a critical mass of psychopaths, sadists, and paranoid authoritarians. Some of them have had this critical mass for most of their histories. In parts of the South, this sadism can be traced back to the settlement of Jamestown, or at the very least to the immediate aftermath of Bacon’s Rebellion. These cultural sicknesses endure.
The truth is that governments that give quarter to authoritarian sadists will attract and harbor authoritarian sadists until reformists drive them out. Authoritarian sadists are a lot easier to admit than they are to expel. See: J. Edgar Hoover, bipartisan blackmailer of official Washington, who retired from the FBI directorship in a pine box, a career white-collar criminal who ran the closest thing his country had to a unified national police force and now has the headquarters of the same agency named in his honor.
And no, in case you’re really dense, the threat does not just come from civil governments. Torquemada and the Borgia popes were some fine chaps, were they not? And how about Innocent III, whose papacy included this expression of Christian charity, recounted by Steven Pinker, that had to be seen to be believed:
In the 13th century the Cathars of southern France embraced the Albigensian heresy, according to which there are two gods, one of good and one of evil. An infuriated papacy, in collusion with the king of France, sent waves of armies to the region, which killed around 200,000 of them. To give you a sense of the armies’ tactics, after capturing the city of Bram in 1210 they took a hundred of the defeated soldiers, cut off their noses and upper lips, gouged out the eyes of all but one, and had him lead the others to the city of Cabaret to terrorize its citizens into surrendering.
Read on in that link and you’ll learn that the Cathars used some hideous tortures of their own, including mass enucleation, and that there may have been far fewer than 200,000 casualties. Lawyers dwell on small details/since Daddy had to lie, but regardless, reading about any of this stuff is the eeeeeeeeeeeeeeend/of the Innocence. It’s a rich name that that bastard took on for his career of profaning the cloth in a brutal, most worldly military alliance with a regional imperial upstart. Innocent III held the apostolic office of St. Peter, but no sensible person can argue with a straight face that he took up his own cross. No, he was much more a chap to hang his fellow man on a cross. Far be it from him to enter willingly into his own passion when he could enter others into theirs.
Martyrdom for thee but not for me has a long and sometimes ugly history in the Catholic Church, one that roughly coincides with the Church’s history of temporal power. It showed little such hypocrisy in its early centuries, prior to Constantine’s conversion, and its recourse to this hypocrisy has diminished markedly within living memory. Mother Teresa celebrated the Christlike suffering of her patients more than that of herself and her staff, what with their being flown to Western hospitals for their own medical care, but she’s revered largely as a woman of compassion and medical ministry, not an enthusiast of the misery of others for being spiritually edifying. Smug martyrdom my proxy reached its zenith in the Catholic Church during the Late Middle Ages and Renaissance. There were the Crusades, which were crass church-state partnerships to send young men into combat on foreign military adventures against stronger imperial powers. There were the statist intrusions of the Counter-Reformation, most notoriously including the Inquisition, but also including the Index, one of the most thorough censorship projects of its time. There were the missions of conquest in the New World, in which the Church gave dispensation to Spanish and Portuguese officials to enslave Indians on the basis that they were heathens in dire need of conversion by their new masters.
One of the most disgusting vignettes came from priests accompanying Francisco Pizarro’s party of conquistadors, who averred that the Inca Empire’s provision for social welfare through state storehouses was immoral because it denied the poor the opportunity to be united to Christ’s suffering through privation. It figures that these priests were working for the Spanish crown. Spain has one of the most consistent track records for intrusive and yet ineffectual government of any country in Europe. It equally stands to reason, then, that tradcon concern trolls make a big deal about how Spain has lost its moral and existential bearings since Franco’s death, at a time when it has enjoyed some of the least awful governments in its national history.
The hideous psychopathy of ISIS makes sense in this historical context. ISIS operates in countries that are experiencing power vacuums due to the abysmal unpopularity of their incumbent regimes. When the alternatives include Maliki and Assad, both of whom have their secret police torture dissidents and both of whom have presided over collapses of civil order, b’ismullah er-rahman er-rahim I behead thee starts to sound merely very bad, not singularly unconscionable. This is especially true for Sunnis at times when ISIS is focusing its bloodletting on other religious factions or foreigners and turning its energies from unrelenting carnage to the proper administration of captured cities. When an extremist faction like Hezbollah or a totally batshit off-the-rocker extremist faction like al Shabab or Boko Haram gains power, it is consistently in the face of a weak and ineffectual central state. In Somalia’s case, the central state has been practically nonexistent for a generation. This has resulted in harmless spectacles like warlords selling passports for $40 and deadly serious problems like the obliteration of the country’s ocean fishery by foreign trawlers in the absence of a coast guard.
What scares the hell out of many Westerners about ISIS is that while Boko Haram tries to stick with local crazies (one of whom decreed evaporation to be haram), ISIS has an open affinity for Western psychopaths. It features Westerners, or else fluent English speakers who speak without Arab accents, in its beheading videos. The fear is that these Westerners will take their training and indoctrination home with them and unleash campaigns of terrorism. The assumption underlying this fear is that they’re religious fanatics. Some of them probably just have a nasty case of bloodlust. Maybe ISIS will direct their hatred and sadism towards Western targets with deadly effect. It is not, however, a given that it will make them deadlier than they otherwise would have been. These guys are hardcore, stone cold murderers. Nothing about staying stateside would have kept them from lives of murder. Military and terrorism training from ISIS raises the stakes, but they had killing in their bones before they went to the desert. Absent such a slick PR campaign from ISIS, they might have fallen in with militia nutters or gangbangers.
Consider Nidal Hasan. The major did nothing at Fort Hood that he couldn’t have done at a post office or a career college. He’s just another hothead who snapped and went on a shooting rampage, but he contrives to cast it as a righteous act of jihad. Far be it from him to be a loose cannon working for an abusive employer who shot up a roomful of colleagues before getting his own ass shot. His talk of jihad is extraneous, a self-aggrandizing gloss on an all-American crime. A Virginian who fatally shot a dozen people in a workplace rampage in Texas, he wants us all to know that he is no common murderer.
This would be as ridiculous as the Twinkie defense if so many Americans weren’t so foolish and paranoid as to believe it.
Would that we only had lone wolf common murderers in our armed forces. They’re easy enough to take down. Much worse is a crew like Graner, Harman, England, and company, or the nameless torturers at Guantanamo Bay. Charles Graner was a prison guard in my second home state of Pennsylvania before he shipped out to Iraq. It’s nice to know that the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections has no recruitment standards, either. At least the US military has relatively few cannibals in its officer corps, as far as we know.
But these these evils are in the national zeitgeist. Ponder the sad-ass circumstances of Dinesh D’Souza, enthusiast of all tortures except the sexual kinds, being widely regarded on the right as a leading conservative (sic) public intellectual (sic). This incredibly daft bastard with no sense of the cycle of repression and vengeance that chronically hobbles Arab government and civil society continues to be more or less taken seriously after writing crazy shit about how same-sex marriage is on the same moral plane as bestiality with camels and therefore much more depraved than any asexual torture committed by the US or its Arab allies, such as waterboarding or beating prisoners on the soles of their feet. He still gets airtime and speaking gigs. He isn’t reduced to hawking samizdat pamphlets in front of Penn Station, or even to Rod Blagojevich’s former level of endorsing pistachios on the boob tube.
The psychopaths in the American clandestine services are never reduced to such a level. Only whistleblowers like John Kiriakou are laid so low. An international kidnapper and renditioner like the improbably named Robert Seldon Lady can expect at worst to spend a few days in a Panamanian jail before shadowy figures in the US government cry “Canal!” Not setting foot in Maastrict Treaty countries might be a good idea, though. Masonobu Tsuji, our liver-eating friend from the most recent link, is reputed in some circles to have been a CIA asset and in others to have been assassinated by the CIA. Maybe he was both, and also a North Vietnamese Army advisor. We may never know for sure. There is, however, some sick shit in the Pentagon Papers indicating that he’s an entirely plausible CIA asset. The CIA is, after all, a mob organization with direct Congressional funding.
Psychopaths and cryptopsychopathic sadists exist. They’re a fact of life. What isn’t a fact of life is giving them quarter in the police, the military, the clandestine services, or any other government agency so that they might draw a salary to ply their depredations on their country. This is why I’m in favor of a judicially or legislatively authorized paramilitary search warrant raid on the CIA and NSA headquarters, using all available law enforcement and military personnel and equipment: DC Metropolitan Police, local cops from Maryland and NoVa, FBI, US Marshals, military police, Virginia and Maryland State Police, the Seventh Army, Ron Johnson and his chaplain praying over a table of sidearms. And I’m only kidding about the chaplain and the benediction. This would finally be an opportunity to do something worthwhile with all the bad cops working for the rotten boroughs of St. Louis County. They’d be good for muscle. The CIA and NSA are little more than whiter, higher-tech versions of the Gambinos. A truly self-governing country gives no quarter to agencies behaving in such a criminal fashion. It sends in as many police and soldiers as it needs to root them the fuck out of their nest and clean house by force. This is exactly what the FBI has always tried to do to mob families. The CIA and NSA are just bigger mob families that have blackmailed more politicians.
Yea, I wax idealistic and no-true-Scotsman, but it’s worth a try. All countries have psychopaths. What distinguishes the well-governed ones is that they relegate their psychopaths to prison cells, or at worst to the Good Times of the Piggy Palace.