The Morning Call looks at police (in)action in Uvalde

UVALDE, REDUX

As you likely know, the pain and sorrow of the residents of Uvalde, Texas are swiftly – and justifiably –turning to anger and rage.  While 19 children and two adults were slaughtered by a lone gunman, dozens of heavily armed law enforcement officers stood by, outside the school, doing nothing.

Actually, we take that back.  They weren’t exactly “doing nothing.”  They were mostly fighting with parents and bystanders who wanted to save their children:

Ramos entered the school at 11.40am, 12 minutes after crashing his truck outside the school and walking towards campus with his AR-15. That is when police were alerted to the scene. 

At 11.44am, the first cops entered the school. Ramos shot at them and they retreated. 

It's unclear if he had already shot the kids and teachers in the fourth grade classroom by then, or if he went on to attack them after those cops retreated. 

It then took an hour for specialized SWAT teams to arrive. At 1.06pm, the incident was declared over after Ramos was shot dead. 

In the meantime, 150 cops were gathering outside. Some of them were filmed pinning parents to the floor and some were even placed in handcuffs, according to witnesses….

When the first cops entered the building, he fired at them, injuring at least two of them. The cops then retreated, leaving him to carry on with his killing. 

'They hear gunfire, they take rounds, get back and take cover... they don't make entry initially because of the gunfire they are receiving. They are calling for additional resources, tactical teams, we needed body armor, precision rifles, negotiators….

Javier Cazares, whose nine-year-old daughter was murdered, says cops were 'just standing there' and waiting for protective shields to arrive at the scene before they went in. 

'They said they rushed in and all that, we didn’t see that,' he told The New York Times, adding that many were 'just standing there.'…

Angel Garza, whose daughter was killed, was handcuffed after trying to run into the school when he heard that a 'girl called Amerie' had been shot. He later found out that she was among those who died while giving medical aid to other children who escaped. 

Derek Sotelo, 26, who works in a tire shop nearby, said parents were begging to be let into the school.  

'They were just angry, especially the dads. We were wondering, "What the heck is going on? Are they going in?" 'The dads were saying, "Give me the vest, I’ll go in there!' 

Frustrated parents were standing outside the school begging cops to go inside when the shooting was unfolding.

My God.

Like many police departments across the country, the Uvalde PD has a tactical operations team and military-grade weaponry.  And they did nothing.  More than 100 law-enforcement personnel were on the scene, and they did nothing.  The murderer stood outside the school shooting his gun for 12 minutes before he entered and started killing children, and police did nothing.

Over the next several days, weeks, and months, various governmental agencies, legal teams, and journalists will spend countless hours trying to understand why nobody did anything, why police froze outside the school, why one 19-year-old kid was able to hold an entire police force at bay while he murdered children for over an hour.

They’re not going to like what they learn.

And they’re not going to like what they learn for two reasons.

First, what they’re going to learn will be incredibly mundane.  Why didn’t anybody do anything?  Why didn’t police just rush the school?  Why did they waste their time engaging in crowd-control and handcuffing would-be heroes?  Because they were following protocol.  They were doing what they’d been trained to do.  They were following the police manual to the letter.  They were being “good cops.”

The second reason that they’re not going to like what they discover is that this mundanity has the same root causes as does the shooting itself.  As far-fetched and absurd as it sounds, the two are connected, and they are connected in ways that indict the entirety of contemporary Western society and its moral principles.

Yesterday, we cited Alasdair Macintyre, among others, explaining the importance of virtues and the repetitive practice of those virtues.  This is, more or less, the conclusion to MacIntyre’s inquiry, one that begins with the examination of the collapse of morality and moral behavior in the West since the Enlightenment.

While MacIntyre’s critique of the Enlightenment and the corresponding collapse in morality are vitally important, After Virtue’s true genius is in the author’s depiction of the consequences of this collapse.  Among the most notable and serious of these consequences is the devolution of morality to a state of emotive expression, a condition in which feelings and sensations are elevated above objective reality and traditional conceptions of right and wrong, good and evil, etc.  MacIntyre wrote that emotivism is the “doctrine that all evaluative judgments and more specifically all moral judgments are nothing but expressions of preference, expressions of attitude or feeling, insofar as they are moral or evaluative in character.”  He continued:

Factual judgments are true or false; and in the realm of fact there are rational criteria by means of which we may secure agreement as to what is true and what is false. But moral judgments, being expressions of attitude or feeling, are neither true nor false; and agreement in moral judgment is not to be secured by any rational method, for there are none. It is to be secured, if at all, by producing certain non-rational effects on the emotions or attitudes of those who disagree with one. We use moral judgments not only to express our own feelings and attitudes, but also precisely to produce such effects in others.

What MacIntyre is saying here is that there is a difference between factual judgment and moral judgment, between simple fact and moral emotivism.  In our society today, emotivism is the dominant moral doctrine.  And that, in turn, means that objective reality, which is to say, simple, basic facts, are overwhelmed and subsumed by feelings and attitudes of moral interpretation.

This critique of morality and the descent into emotive incoherence also underlies MacIntyre’s unique but incredibly important and perceptive critique of “administration,” (or “bureaucracy,” if you prefer).

Broadly, MacIntyre’s critique is that bureaucracy/management is emotive in practice.  Because management is concerned EXCLUSIVELY with process, with means and NOT with ends, it is, almost by definition, an amoral scheme.  Management is purportedly rational, but rationality can only apply to means, and therefore the ends become the purview of the manager/administrator who substitutes his own personal preferences for genuine moral positions:

[I]t at once becomes relevant that Weber’s thought embodies just those dichotomies which emotivism embodies, and obliterates just those distinctions to which emotivism has to be blind.

Questions of ends are questions of values, and on values reason is silent, conflict between rival values cannot be rationally settled.  Instead one must simply choose - between parties, classes, nations, causes, ideals … Weber is then, in the broader sense in which I have understood the term, an emotivist and his portrait of bureaucratic rationality is an emotivist portrait …

In Weber’s view no type of authority can appeal to rational criteria to vindicate itself except that type of bureaucratic authority which appeals precisely to its own effectiveness.  And what this appeal reveals is that bureaucratic authority is nothing other than successful power.

MacIntyre further argues that this bureaucratic effectiveness – or managerial competence – is itself a myth, which is to say that this successful application of power is just one more example of society’s attempts to manipulate and dominate people, not to deliver goods or services more effectively.

In short, then, the bureaucratic protocols dictating police behavior – demonstrated in infuriating detail the other day in Uvalde – are merely the amoral tools used to enforce the will and the values of the law enforcement community as a whole.  Under present conditions and in light of contemporary concerns about police action, the values that predominate are those of caution, restraint, situational control, and deference to the ideal of preserving, when possible, the life of the assailant.

This is not to say that police behavior has always been animated by those values or even that it must be animated by them going forward.  It is merely to say that these are the values that dominate that behavior right now and that an over-reliance on protocol in emergency situations reflects those values well.

In order to change the behavior of police in such a situation, one of two things would be necessary: a commanding officer on-scene would have to have the authority and moral clarity to dispense with precautionary protocols in favor of off-the-books emergency action; or a broad moral principle that is able to precede emotive preferences would have to be agreed upon and accepted nearly universally in advance.  And since the latter is nigh on impossible in our fragmented and morally obtuse society, the best that we can hope for is the former, which means that we will, in all such situations, be compelled to rely on the discretion of one person who understands that the substitution of his own preferences for the amoral rigidity of protocol will make him liable for all negative consequences should anything go wrong.

To be clear, this may, indeed, be what happened in Uvalde, when a border patrol agent entered the school and killed the assailant.  Or, it may be that protocol eventually allowed a full tactical team of agents to enter the school.  Details are murky at present.

Whatever the case, however, it took well over an hour and well over 100 law enforcement officers on the scene before anything happened.  This is one of the costs of moral breakdown and of devolution to emotive moral reasoning.

And it’s not going to change anytime soon.    

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