“How many reports there have been in the last two to three years of police brutality in Jackson? None. Our kids have been brainwashed.”
This honor was bestowed upon the meddling “kids of Jackson” (aka progressives under 40) by conservative mega-donor Foster Friess.
The comment came at Aug. 17th’s pro-police rally outside Town Hall. Fueled by rumors from recently retired Jackson Police Chief Todd Smith and Jeff Brown of the Teton County Sheriff’s Auxiliary, the turnout was due to an ominous robocall that incorrectly claimed that the Town Council was going to defund police that day and that support was needed to stop this. The robocall was from Turning Point Action, a pro-Trump action group funded by Mr. Friess.
But there was nothing on that day’s Town Council agenda related to police, and the energy of the group had nowhere to go. Besides maligning the brainwashed kids, of course.
As a member of Act Now JH, I will accept Friess’ descriptor and would like to express my thanks to him. We do want to defund our police, but more on that later. As much as we may want to dig into the merits of someone like Friess, who is in the infamous Koch brothers’ million-dollar donor club, supports Islamaphobic organizations and makes comments such as “Back in my day, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees ...” we see discussions about individual actors as less important than the analysis of systems as a whole.
Where does our brainwashing come from? Systemic analysis, I suppose: The land of the free incarcerates 22% of the world’s prisoners, despite accounting for only 4% of the world’s population (No. 1 in the world in absolute and relative incarceration rates). Not to be outdone, the Equality State of Wyoming has a higher incarceration rate than the country as a whole. U.S. police also kill at a higher rate than any other wealthy country (Prison Policy Initiative).
Systemic racism reveals itself through the overrepresentation of minorities in prison. It is found in the brutality and killing of Black people by police, as well as the white supremacist vigilantes who get a pass from police.
Is the U.S. just more criminal than the rest of the world? Are our people just so dangerous that it warrants state violence at higher rates than any other wealthy country?
Simply, no. There are many underlying forces, but in simplistic terms it’s about the inevitable poverty that must exist under capitalism and criminalizing those at the bottom. Most often this involves using punitive justice to solve public health crises with substance abuse, mental health and lack of affordable housing, instead of looking at their root causes.
Teton County is the richest county in the richest country in the history of the world. However, we are not an anomaly, for our economic inequality is indicative of the nation at large. Our violence travels disguised as poverty, hunger and housing insecurity. Its harm is spread disproportionately on minoritized populations: 60% of our Hispanic population lacks health insurance.
Some say the killing of people at the hands of the police has nothing to do with Jackson.
We say violence takes many forms, and all injustices are interconnected through social, economic and political institutions.
As a group, Act Now JH wants local government to reinvest away from policing and into community services that materially better the human condition. This summer we stood before town and county officials numerous times, presented to the Rotary Breakfast Club, met with eight of 10 elected officials, did ride-alongs with police and published two reports about the need to redress injustice in Jackson.
Many people of good will see our logic but recommend toning down our “defund” messaging so as to not be so confrontational.
We lean on history, understanding that those who had the courage to clearly denounce slavery and segregation were seen as radicals inconsiderate of privileged folks’ fear of a world without these forces.
We remember that Dr. Martin Luther King’s critiques of racism, militarism and capitalism were seen as extreme ideas that made the majority of the country uncomfortable.
We are proud to do this work, standing on the shoulders of liberationists (mostly Black women) who faced dangers far beyond insults in the local paper. If the cognitive dissonance to challenge American exceptionalism is an indication of brainwashed children, then we will proudly carry that praise. At this controversial moment in history, we seek solace in our position and invite our community to join us in this tension:
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” — Dr. King