Training Day

"…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