Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Tom Connolly-Performance Artist

If you live in Maine, you've heard of Tom Connolly. Connolly, a prominent Democrat, defense lawyer, former gubernatorial candidate and the one who alerted local media to George W. Bush's 1976 drunk-driving conviction prior to the 2000 election, is no stranger to the spotlight. On Tuesday morning, he took it to a new level, engaging in guerilla theater, by donning an Osama Bin Laden costume, complete with assault rifle, while waving an anti-TABOR sign, during morning rush hour. You can imagine what happened--a motorist alerted the authorities and Connolly was arrested at gunpoint.

While I'll have more to add to this story, later this evening, here is a link to the video up at our local NBC affiliate, WCSH-6. (Click on the video link-you'll have to endure a short commercial, but be patient)

The simplistic reaction to the entire affair is the usual knee-jerk, which says Connolly was "stupid" for pulling this prank--in fact, that was exactly the word uttered by South Portland Police Chief, Ed Googins. However, there is more to this story that I hope to comment on later, when I'm not rushing out the door, in pursuit of mammon, or as the Marxists say, selling my labor.

*[Addendum added to above, at 7:15 pm]
I have no doubt that law and order types to a person will diverge with me on this. Their typical response would be that Connolly is “lucky he wasn’t shot,” which is implied in quotes from the South Portland police chief. Yet, does one automatically run the risk of mortal injury any time they venture out of the house with a toy gun? Has the societal shift over the past five years become so oriented towards force and firepower that police, when faced with a potentially volatile situation, always resort to deadly force? It was instructive to see the video clip, witnessing the officer, gun drawn, proceeding towards Connolly. Would a bullhorn, from a greater distance, ordering him to put down his toy, not been a better choice? Obviously, the noise from nearby I-295 was loud enough that Connolly did not hear the commands of the officer, which would account for the delay in actually laying the toy and his other props, aside.

Let me say, so my point is not misconstrued, that the officer in the video did exercise restraint. Obviously, we could be looking at an entirely different scenario if this public servant, who I'm assuming was someone with some law enforcement experience (not some "wet behind the ears" young buck just out of the criminal justice academy), had gone "Rambo" on Connolly. Can you imagine the reaction and subsequent condemnation that would have been showered on the police officer, if Connolly had been shot, or worse?

Was it obvious that Connolly was in fact dressed as Osama Bin Laden and was holding a gun, dynamite and grenades, or were the imaginations of drivers, police and others, over stimulated from a cultural reference point impregnated with 24/7 news coverage of the “war on terrah”? In fact, while Connolly was holding a sign that said, “I love TABOR,” a passing motorist thought the sign read, “I love the Taliban.” While recent reports clearly indicate some serious educational concerns around performance and perhaps the motorist couldn't read, but maybe, they misread “TABOR,” as “Taliban” due to media conditioning? I wonder how long Connolly would have been aloud to carry on if he was dressed as George Bush, holding a sign that read, "support our troops"?

I'm writing this purposefully ignorant of any local media attention this has received throughout the day. One of the things I'm attempting to do more of is formulate my thoughts and opinions, irrespective of "reaction" journalism. Even as I type, it's hard for me not to flick on the television and catch my local affiliate(s) reporting. In a state like Maine, believe me, this is a major news story.

Unlike many of my fellow U.S. citizens, I don't think the solution to crime is putting more police on the streets. Personally, as someone who has participated in several public demonstrations, involving political themes, more times than not, I've felt less safe in the presence of a law enforcement. Just recently, it was the law enforcement community, in fact, that had an integral role in the censorship of a university art display, by someone who identified themselves as a political prisoner. (In order to be "fair and balanced," here is the mainstream account--notice the headline?)

Our local communities would be better off if first, we identified the root causes of acts of criminal intent, if in fact we could all reach a consensus on what constitutes a crime. Secondly, we then would have to accept the responsibility that comes with that identification and find ways to engage all our fellow citizens in helping to make our communities places where uniformed officers, lethal force and protection of private property wasn't necessary. But of course that would be way too "utopian" for the average American to wrap their little law and order brains around. So instead, we assign the power of life and death to some of our flawed fellow citizens and wonder why 465 page reports detailing human rights violations are part of our reality (a reality that many would deny). As Chomsky has written, the "rabble must be instructed in the values of subordination and a narrow quest for personal gain within the parameters set by the institutions of the masters; meaningful democracy, with popular association and action, is a threat to be overcome." Let me go just a little further with my "egghead" reasoning and quote a little Murray Bookchin, and you tell me if those commuters passing Connolly on I-295, aren't apparent in the following quote:

"...the modern city is a virtual appendage of the capitalist workplace, being an outgrowth and essential counterpart of the factory (where "factory" means any enterprise in which surplus value is extracted from employees.) As such, cities are structured and administered primarily to serve the needs of the capitalist elite -- employers -- rather than the needs of the many -- their employees. From this standpoint, the city must be seen as (1) a transportation hub for importing raw materials and exporting finished products; and (2) a huge dormitory for wage slaves, conveniently locating them near the enterprises where their labor is to exploited, providing them with entertainment, clothing, medical facilities, etc. as well as coercive mechanisms for controlling their behavior. "
[The Rise of Urbanization and the Decline of Citizenship]

Connolly will be interviewed tomorrow morning on WGAN, AM-560, during their morning show. For those of us in its signal area, it should be worth tuning in to.


Rikki said...

Your fascination is my fascination. I'm just now crafting my follow-up to the junk I posted yesterday about the Man with the Big Duck Billed Hat.

I'm sure we're not the only ones holding some suspicion about the tone and substance of the initial complaint issued over the phone to SPPD. I understand the difficulty of fully comprehending a picket sign at 73 miles per hour, but why is it that the words "ill motive" pop into my head. Methinks the caller might have an inclination, if not a tangible stake in this TABOR mess.

weasel said...

...Because we all know that if the "terrrrrrrrrists" strike again, it will be bin Laden himself, on a bridge in Portland ME, waving a 3/4 sized gun and a placard at passing motorists.

I love how "all threats must be taken seriously" has usurped "deploying critial thinking skills" among our public servants. Connolly has a perfect right to act as idiotically as his pleases without thinking through the consequences*; police officers do not.

(*I'm hugely anti-TABOR too, but I have my doubts that suggesting that those who support it are akin to messianic Saudi religious fanatics is the best way to convince the waverers. Lest we forget that when the other side uses the "a vote for X is a vote for the terrorists" style we do our nuts).