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General News    H3'ed 2/27/23

Tomgram: Michael Gould-Wartofsky, "No Hunting Like the Hunting of Man"

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

Yes, the Memphis police department did come up with a reasonable explanation for the name. It was short for the Street Crimes Operation to Restore Peace in Our Neighborhoods unit, which just happened, acronymically speaking, to be SCORPION. Though there hasn't been much discussion of that name since Tyre Nichols was killed by members of the SCORPION team, you have to wonder what might be expected of a police unit named after a poisonous arachnid, certain species of which are indeed capable of killing human beings. Admittedly, scorpions are generally far less deadly than, say, a cobra, whose bite can do in anybody in 15 minutes. Oh, and curiously enough the Greater Boston-area tactical teams on wheels, or Cops on Bikes for Regional Assistance, just happens to be COBRA.

You have to wonder about the very urge to name an "elite" police unit after a deadly creature. Or put another way, no one should be surprised when the cops from such a unit act in a lethal fashion, as so many police officers in so many such units have, including the one in Los Angeles that came to be known far more directly as "the death squad." Still, it's not easy to imagine a blunter decision than designating your most "elite" unit dispatched into high-crime neighborhoods as a poisonous creature.

And as TomDispatch regular Michael Gould-Wartofsky makes clear today, with the police ever better funded (just as the U.S. military is), war has come home to roost (yes, another animal metaphor!) no less disastrously than it did abroad in the years of this country's war on terror. In fact, the Pentagon has quite literally been arming police departments across the country for what can only be thought of as "the kill." In that context, let Gould-Wartofsky take you into the predator state of America, or PSA. Tom

Welcome to the Predator State
Where the Scorpions on the Corner Just Might Kill You


To residents of Memphis's resource-poor, predominantly nonwhite neighborhoods, the Scorpions were easy to spot. The plainclothes patrols were known for driving their unmarked Dodge Chargers through the streets, often all too recklessly, sowing fear as they went, spitting venom from their windows, jumping out with guns drawn at the slightest sign of an infraction.

On the night of January 7th, Tyre Nichols was two minutes from home when members of that squad pulled him over. Probable cause: reckless driving (if you believe the official story). Five Scorpions, all of them trained use-of-force specialists, proceeded to take turns hitting him with everything they had, including boots, fists, and telescopic batons.

The 29-year-old photographer died three days later. Cause of death? "Excessive bleeding due to severe beating." A body-cam snuff film of sorts was later released, showing some of Nichols's last moments. The video transcripts speak for themselves.

Officer to Tyre:
"You're gonna get your ass blown the f*ck up. Oh, I'm gonna knock your ass the f*ck out!"

Tyre to officers:
"OK. You guys are really doing a lot right now""

"" "Lay down!"
"" "Stop! I'm just trying to go home."
"" "Spray him! Spray him!"
"" "Stop! I'm not doing anything."
"" "Tase him! Tase him!"

Tyre cries out:
"Mom! Mom!"

Officer to Tyre:
"Watch out! I'm gonna baton the f*ck out of you!"

"" "Dude, hit him!"
"" "Hit him!"
"" "Hit him!"
"" "Mom""

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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