Training Day

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"…in
a stateless society there would be no regular, legalized channel
for crime and aggression, no government apparatus the control of
which provides a secure monopoly for invasion of person and property."

~
Murray Rothbard, Power
and Market
p. 7

The
new movie Training Day is an excellent fictional demonstration of
how the State, in this case the police, provide a u2018legalized
channel for crime.' Training Day's subject is a policeman's
first day on the street with the LAPD narcotics division. Ethan
Hawke plays the rookie cop, who will spend the day being trained
by his new boss Alonzo, played by Denzel Washington.

The
movie is a standard set up — the experienced cop and the rookie
on the tough streets of LA fighting the war on drugs. There are
the usual ingredients — convoluted plot, classic California locations,
cool cars, crazy looking thugs, rappers acting, guns, drugs, violence,
and women. The cast and story are good, especially if you're an
easy sell for cop, gangster, or noir movies. The movie's differentiator
is the unique portrayal of an experienced officer. Alonzo is in
narcotics, charged with stopping a victimless category of crimes
and inherently problematic work. Throughout the movie Alonzo commits
criminal or hypocritical actions that must be defended by legitimizing
rhetoric.

Alonzo
is a dramatic and commanding personality. He has a depth of experience,
success, knowledge, and connections. Since Alonzo provides a running
commentary on the day's events, the audience can see the relationship
between Alonzo's rhetoric and action. He can offer an excellent
story for all of his actions, and when it suits him, the story is
changed. He always keeps the audience guessing.

Many
of the events are to be expected: violence against suspects, confiscation
and use of drugs and especially money, violations of due process,
graft. Towards the end an accused drug dealer is robbed and murdered
by a group of officers. Part of the money is divided among the cops.
This is done in violation of due process, but arranged so the policemen
responsible won't get in trouble. This is a perfectly legal crime,
done in the name of the war on drugs.

This
unrelenting string of criminality, even the final murder, is constantly
justified by Alonzo's rhetoric. The rhetoric relates to the war
on drugs. However underlying this is the rhetoric that the cops
are u2018the good guys' and they're u2018getting the bad guys.' Questions
are raised about Alonzo as a good or bad cop. Is he effective, or
not? Does he believe in what he's doing? Does he just prey on the
criminals? There is some question as to whether he's corrupted and
trying to do his impossible job, or if he's cynically exploiting
the situation.

There
is a scene where Alonzo's legitimacy is questioned. He's unarmed
in an armed neighborhood, surrounded by people who hate him. Alonzo
may well be killed. However he brilliantly exploits his status as
a state agent. He prophesies that those who resist his will shall
suffer mightily from his wrath. Faced with a display of authority
and confidence by an unarmed Alonzo, the crowd wavers. If Alonzo
wasn't a cop, he'd be shot by criminals or as a criminal. The crowd
backs down, because they know the state will defend Alonzo rather
than question his legitimacy.

The
state must defend cops, when possible, because publicity about u2018bad
cops' does not reflect well on the state. The state and the public
will accept what state agents sell. It must merely be spun right.
The murder and robbery of a drug dealer can be spun as self-defense
and confiscation. The state and public don't know what happened,
and it didn't happen to them. The victims are real or imagined criminals,
and their story doesn't count.

The
War on Terrorism is creating new frontiers in dubious police work.
There is already a clear disconnect between state and media rhetoric
and the state's actions so far. Lately I was disappointed at a dinner
to see my companion’s superficial concern with George Bush's latest
speech. It is likely too much to ask that the public will gain much
appreciation for the differences between rhetoric and action. Still
the audience is confronted with an unrelenting and realistic contrast
between the two. One of the weaknesses of the movie is its attempt
throw too much into one day. This creates improbable chains of events
toward the end, damaging its realism. The sordid events, though
dramatized and accelerated, could and apparently do happen. Anything
encouraging skepticism towards the War on Drugs, the State's servants,
and their rhetoric and actions is certainly to be commended.

November
1, 2001

Anders
Mikkelsen (send him mail)
is a computer professional happily living in New York City
and looking for work.

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