Ferguson, Police Militarization, and Shame

20140814aProtect and Serve. Remember that phrase? I do. I miss it.

I’m a former LEO (Law Enforcement Officer). Granted, it was in the Navy while in Jacksonville, Florida, but that actually emphasizes a point. Even as a LEO in the Navy, I didn’t have access to the tactical equipment that police use now. I didn’t drive an APC or wear tactical gear or respond to a peaceful protest with shotguns, assault rifles, and snipers on rooftops. I responded with my badge to protect and serve my fellow sailors and their families, as well as civilians and retirees who were on the base. The militarization of our police should scare the shit out of everyone, regardless of your political affiliation.

There are good police out there. I know them. I’ve worked with them (in the Navy as a liaison for mass casualties with local law enforcement and as a civilian working in jails). There are also bad police out there. The problem is that the bad police get all the press, so we suffer what is called confirmation bias when it comes to our view of police. All we see are the bad cops on display in viral videos as they engage in police brutality, over-aggressive tactics, and generally treating the civilian population like dog shit. And so we think all police are bad because that’s all we see.

But think about this for a second. Every day the police interact with the general population thousands and thousands of times across the United States. Out of those we see an incident or hear of an incident every now and then. I wish I had the actual numbers to come up with a hard statistic/figure for the number of bad police incidents compared to the overall number of police/civilian interactions that happen without John Doe getting his head bashed in or thrown to the ground because he dared ask the police a question. Just remember to not let confirmation bias cloud your judgment. Call out bad cops, but also recognize there are good cops as well, who genuinely want to serve their communities.

That being said, mob mentality works not just for the mob protesting an injustice or rioting after a team wins the playoffs (or loses), but it also works on police. Police responding to a riot or a peaceful protest with the possibility of becoming a riot, can easily fall into the mob mentality. There’s a lot of psychology going on here, so much so that psychological studies on police have been done to determine why police behave the way they do. Ever hear the phrase “contempt of cop?”

When that mob mentality breaks out with a police force that is militarized, then we create a recipe for disaster. That disaster is playing out in Ferguson, Missouri. It is at times like these when officers with a moral compass must make a stand and speak out. It is times like these when officers in the chain of command must question the orders of their superiors. It is times like these when every officer must be aware of the psychological effect of mob mentality, “contempt of cop,” and other psychological forces that come into play to exacerbate the interaction of police and protesters and “possible rioters.”


“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.” – J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

As a former LEO, as a taxpayer, as a citizen of this country, I am greatly ashamed of the behavior of the police in Ferguson, Missouri. I am greatly ashamed of the leadership in that city and county, who have decided that the best way to respond to a tragedy is to create a new one and attack the citizens of their city and county. I am greatly ashamed that nothing is being done to stop the police brutality being inflicted upon those citizens by either the Governor or the federal government. The constitutional rights of Missouri citizens are being violated and no one in government seems to give a rat’s ass about it.

It is time to end the militarization of our police forces under the idiotic guise of terrorism. Terrorists are not going to strike Ferguson, Missouri, so why does their police force have an APC? Any why the fuck are they wearing camouflage in an urban environment? We can see you guys, because your green camouflage doesn’t hide you against the brick building and the yellow-painted house.

It is also time to make sure all police are educated and trained on how to spot when mob mentality begins affecting them during crowd control situations. It is also time to train police on how not to exacerbate a situation. I was trained to deescalate a situation and to bring calm and peace whenever possible. Is that training no longer provided? Why is it so hard to realize that when you use violence against a non-violent crowd, you are going to piss them off and make them violent? It’s that fucking simple.

One more thing: the media needs to sue the hell out of Ferguson for violating the Freedom of the Press. There is enough damning evidence that the Ferguson PD actively shut down media, arrested them, shot tear gas and rubber bullets directly at media, and dismantled media equipment once the press ran away.

All of you swore an oath to uphold the laws and constitution of the United States (and the State of Missouri) and you are all failing to uphold that oath. Shame on you. Shame on you for making your fellow officers look bad. Shame on you for failing to use your moral judgment and question the illegal and unconstitutional orders handed down to you by your superiors. Shame. Shame. Shame. Shame.

Seeking Advice from Fellow Atheists & Activists

I have been an atheist activist for twenty-three years. Wow… has it really been that long? Whew!

I started my activism in the twelfth grade in high school in 1989 attempting to start an atheist club in Moreno Valley, CA. My attempt failed and I did not know about any groups or resources to go to for help. After I joined the Navy I continued activism: going after evening prayers over the 1MC (ship’s PA system), stopping the Chaplain from presiding over my reenlistment and award ceremonies, making sure non-Christians religious sailors were taken care of by the ship’s Chaplain (you know, actually doing his damn job), etc.

When I got out of the Navy I started a local group (Mobile Area Freethought Association) and the Freethinkers Letter-Writing Cooperative (FLWC), Alabama Citizens for Education in Science (ACES), wrote for the Secular South E-Zine and coordinated the first atheist protest in the state of Alabama (against Judge Roy Moore). I would later go on to form the North Alabama Freethought Association and help form thirteen other groups across the Southeast and start The Critical Eye Podcast with my friend and fellow comedian Tom Hand.

In 2000, I found American Atheists. Holy national support, Batman! I became the Alabama State Director and then the National Affiliate Director and then the Communications Director and finally the Director of Outreach. During that time I was a staff writer for American Atheist Magazine and ran the NoGodBlog for a while as well. I ran their Facebook page and Twitter account and YouTube account, etc. I was named Atheist of the Year twice and received the Meritorious Service Award for my activism while working for American Atheists. I have greatly enjoyed my time with American Atheists and being a part of the advance forces in the trenches in the battle for our Constitutional rights and the Separation of Church and State.

I got to be part of the movement as it grew exponentially and started its peak in 2007 and continues to peak. I got to experience the amazing feeling of knowing that the groundwork we and those before us lay down was now finally being used to push the movement forward and that things were on the upswing and we were beginning to finally take some ground in that same battle. To be a part of the movement as we struggle to find space on the calendar for events that do not coincide with other events being held nationally (what a beautiful problem to have!)

But lately I have lost that feeling. I have found myself dreading each day on Facebook, the blogs, etc. Each day having to defend myself and American Atheists not against the hordes of Christians: but against our fellow atheists. Our fellow atheists who find a single word, or the font used on a billboard, or the color of a web page, or a single sentence in a two-thousand word essay worth creating an eruption of vitriol against fellow atheists on blogs and in comments.

I found myself dreading having to deal with the nit-picking of appearances on a news channel from atheists who had never been in front of a camera, criticism of a billboard from atheists who had never erected a billboard and were basically demanding that we put an entire thesis on a billboard, thus eradicating the entire point of a billboard. I dreaded dealing with atheists who reveled in taking on their fellow atheists instead of our common enemy: theists and theocrats. I dreaded the emails, the comments, and the constant in-fighting that is holding our movement back.

I would give an hour-long speech and the audience would agree with 99% of what I said, but because I said one word or one sentence that someone disagreed with, the blogosphere would erupt in idiotic drama. Over what? Where was the eruption of support for the 99% of what we agreed upon? I take exception to things people say on a daily basis, but I don’t make an issue of it. I can think of dozens of my fellow activists who have said stuff that drives me bonkers, but I’m willing to bet that my Facebook friends couldn’t name two or three of them. Why? Because I don’t talk about it or make an issue of it because while they say something that drives me bonkers, we agree on enough that it’s a non-issue to me.

No matter the trivial stuff we disagree on, there are always at a minimum three core things we all agree on: separation of church and state, civil rights for non-theists, and true freedom of religion (meaning freedom from religion as well).

Ultimately I became an asshole and just lashed out at my fellow atheists who engaged in that type of behavior. I realized that a few months ago that I no longer could rationally discuss these issues with those detractors because all I wanted to do was smash their smug fuc… (deep breath.) I realized that I had lost my patience. I had more patience with theists at this point than I did with my fellow atheists who felt the need to attack and belittle everything that was being said or done in such a pedantic and nit-picky fashion that it was almost laughable. Throw into that mix my fellow atheists who are not skeptics and believe all sorts of hokey nonsense, and it was a matter of time before I imploded.

The tone debate is a complete waste of time. Every methodology and approach is needed for the movement to reach every possible demographic. The anti-firebrands are failing to recognize the history of the success and necessity of firebrands in every past movement before us: gay rights, civil rights, women’s suffrage, abolition, etc. Stop beating each other up and arguing over method. What really matters is our destination. We’re all on the same highway; we’re just driving different cars, so why are we trying to drive each other off the damn road? Everyone should keep doing the method of activism that they are good at: firebrand, accommodation (I know, you hate that word), anti-theists, militant atheists (yeah, I hate that one, too), etc. All of you play a key role in the forward ability of this movement. How many blog entries are actually activism related versus blog entries attacking fellow atheists over pedantics, semantics, and tactics?

I have no more patience for it. I have become what I detest the most because now I find myself attacking my fellow atheists. It repulses me that I have become this.

I am seriously considering resigning from everything that I do and leaving the movement. No more blogging, no more Facebook, no more videos, no more writing, no more activism, no more conventions, and no more working for American Atheists. I talked to David Silverman (President of American Atheists) today (11/26) about this (we’ve had talks in the past about this) and told him he would have my final answer by Friday (11/30). David told me that I was getting sucked into the things that I hated instead of staying involved in the things I loved. Fair and valid point: but how does one stay above the fray when everything we do causes the fray to come to us?

And so now I’m reaching out to my Facebook friends, fellow bloggers, fellow podcasters, fellow video bloggers, and fellow activists for advice. What would you have me do?

Debate 018: Heather and Blair debate prayer in school

Heather Rebuttal #001:

I somehow stumbled across your article “What Is Wrong With Prayer In Public Schools” on Yahoo. I know since you’re athiest you’re not going to like what I have to say, but please just listen. I used to think exactly like you do now. I used to not believe in God. I was living a horrible life. For the first 14 years of my life I was raised a Catholic and never really had God in my life the way I have him in my life now. Last year, in the middle of my Sophomore year in high school, I visited a non-denominational church for the very first time in my life. For the first time I really felt God’s presence. I then decided to give my heart to Jesus. Prayer being outlawed in public schools is horrible. That is the reason there are so many problems and so much violence in schools these days is the lack of prayer. If God was allowed behind the walls of a school building, so many great things could happen and everyone could be in peace. There is no saying “Well what about offending the wiccans, athiests, or jews”, because once God’s presence hits you it changes your life and the way you view things forever. Once your born-again, and washed and cleansed by the blood of the lamb, you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been. I know I am now that I’m living my life for God. Also, you mis-interpreted that verse you added in your article from Matthew 8. God meant to be humble when you pray and have your prayers come from your heart and not from your head. He meant to not to show off while praying to fit in, but to be completely sincere. Meaning that when you pray, NO MATTER WHERE YOU ARE AT, to have your prayers come straight from your heart and not have any other purpose behind them. Nobody, not the governent or anyone, can tell me or any other Christian how to pray at school. If the Holy Spirit hits us with tongues in the middle of class, I will obey the spirit. It’s as simple as that. You may chose to ignore everything I just said to you and go on living your life full of sin, but I promise you, knowing that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Saviour and that he’s coming back for you agian one day is the most satisfying feeling ever. Just know that I, and probably everyone at my church, will be praying for you, and for anyone else who doesn’t know God.

God Bless


Response to Heather #001:

HEATHER: “I used to think exactly like you do now.”

Based on what you said, I doubt that. If you ever thought like I do you wouldn’t have switched over to the dark side (religion).

HEATHER: “Prayer being outlawed in public schools is horrible. That is the reason there are so many problems and so much violence in schools these days is the lack of prayer.”

Really? Do you have any data to back that claim up? It just so happens that I do have data that backs up the complete opposite of what you said.

First, prayer is not outlawed in public schools. You can pray all you want. You can read your Bible all you want. You can pray to Jesus, Allah, Zoroaster, Mithras, Buddha, Yahweh or any other of the almost 4,000 gods worshiped by humans. In 1963 the Supreme Court found forced prayer to be unconstitutional. Would you agree with the mandatory prayer if your teacher was a Muslim and Islamic prayers were read over the PA system? Would you agree with teacher-led prayer if your teacher were a Wiccan? The fact that the school cannot endorse religion or promote religion or lead in any religious activity is what gives you the freedom to practice your particular brand of Christianity. You have the freedom to pray to your god because no one is forcing you to pray to another god.

The Department of Education has some really interesting information available for those that want it. When the Supreme Court ruled in 1963 that forced teacher-led prayer was unconstitutional, only 37% of all public schools in the US still had teacher-led prayer (DOE, 1965). Only 24% of all public schools in US still had Bible reading in the morning (DOE, 1974). Most of the country had stopped the practice long before the Supreme Court decision.

Another interesting report from the Department of Education and all the State Boards of Education, which is confirmed in the book Violence in American Schools: Colonial to Modern Times, notes that violence in public schools was at its worst during the late 40’s and 50’s and that school-related violence began a steady decline when teacher-led prayer was fading out and finally found unconstitutional. Today, schools are statistically the safest place for children to be (DOE, 2001).

The only reason you think they are so bad is because when an incident happens in California, the entire nation hears about it on MSNBC and CNN. Fifty years ago when a shooting or stabbing occurred in a Florida school, no one heard about it in California, Washington, New York, Montana or anywhere else. There was no 24-hour news channels, cable, or national newspapers. The media loves school violence and plays it for months after each incident. In the last three years how many school shootings have you seen on the news? Think about the entire number of schools in the country and then about the ones covered by the news. There are over 200,000 public schools in the US (DOE 1999) and only six mass media school shooting in the last three years. How do you see that as a massive moral decline and increase in violence?

HEATHER: “If God was allowed behind the walls of a school building, so many great things could happen and everyone could be in peace.”

How do you keep a supposed omni-present and omnipotent god out of school, anyway? Do you pray at school in private and on your own? Do you pray with your friends during break and lunch? How is your version of god kicked out if you still pray? No one kicked god or prayer out of school – they made forced prayer unconstitutional. I know for a fact that most students pray, and yet your so-called version of peace evades you. It sounds like the only person with the problem here is you – not the schools. No great things happened when forced prayer was in school.

HEATHER: “There is no saying “Well what about offending the wiccans [sic], athiests [sic], or jews [sic]”, because once God’s presence hits you it changes your life and the way you view things forever.”

So the only thing you care about is not prayer in school, but Christianity in school. All you care about is your particular religion and not about prayer in general. The fact that you don’t care about offending others makes you a bigot. As an atheist I’m concerned about the Constitutional rights of everyone; even those that I disagree with. I want everyone to have religious freedom and freedom of speech and other constitutional guarantees. I also understand that in order to have those freedoms, you must be free from the aggressions of other religions. You can’t be a Christians unless you are free from Islam. You can’t be a Buddhist unless you are free from Christianity.

HEATHER: “Once your born-again, and washed and cleansed by the blood of the lamb, you’ll be the happiest you’ve ever been.”

Then explain this for me. Fundamentalist Christians have the highest suicide rate among all demographic groups (APA, 1998). Christians and Jews have the highest divorce rates and Baptists have the highest of all Christian denominations (Barna, 2000) and the highest divorce rates are in the Bible Belt. Christians make up the highest percentage of the prison population (FBOP, 1997 & SDOC, 1999). The highest murder rates are in the Bible Belt (DOJ, 1998). The highest infant mortality rates in are in the Bible Belt (AAPP, 2001). The lowest education standards and highest high school drop-out rates are in the Bible Belt (DOE, 1999 & Fordham Foundation, 2000). The highest teen pregnancy rate is in the Bible Belt (PPA, 1997). Based on this information it sounds like the Christian god is a cause for social depravity, not happiness; and that speaks historically, as well as in modern times.

HEATHER: “Also, you mis-interpreted that verse you added in your article from Matthew 8. God meant to be humble when you pray and have your prayers come from your heart and not from your head. He meant to not to show off while praying to fit in, but to be completely sincere.”

That is not what the verse said. You are the one that is interpreting. I didn’t interpret the verse. The verse is literal. That’s the problem with most Christians – they interpret things in order to justify their own views. Jesus was clear about public prayer – he said it was what the infidels and hypocrites did. Are you a hypocrite that prays in public?

HEATHER: “Nobody, not the governent [sic] or anyone, can tell me or any other Christian how to pray at school.”

Exactly! So why do you want the government to bring back government-endorsed and teacher-led prayers? I guess you are a hypocrite, after all.

HEATHER: “If the Holy Spirit hits us with tongues in the middle of class, I will obey the spirit. It’s as simple as that.”

Suit yourself, but you’ll be the one in the principle’s office explaining why you interrupted class with a bunch of gibberish.

HEATHER: “Just know that I, and probably everyone at my church, will be praying for you, and for anyone else who doesn’t know God.”

Pray all you want – it doesn’t work. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve had entire churches pray for me and others. It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that individuals prayed for me. I’m still an atheist and always will be. I’ve tried the Christian brand of religious clothing before and quickly realized that it was nothing more than the Emperor’s New Clothes.


Heather Rebuttal #002:

It’s really sad that you feel that way. You obviously don’t realize what Jesus did for you. Actually, I think that if the whole world was full of Christianity, it would be a better place. I am respectful of others religions, but I do know that mine is right. I know that others feel that theres are right too, but that’s only because Satan makes them think they’re right. You’re only right if you’ve excepted Jesus Christ as your own personal saviour, it says so in the bible. Also, as long as people are praying for you, things are happening. We have something you don’t have, and that’s faith, and the guarantee of everlasting life with God. It’s sad you don’t have the same.


Response to Heather #002:

HEATHER: “It’s really sad that you feel that way.”

I’m sorry you feel that way about me feeling that way. I support your right to believe whatever you want. Of course the Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Shaman and Zoroaster are all saying the same thing about you because you believe in Jesus. Please keep in mind that your religion is not the only one. Christianity is not the majority religion worldwide – only in the US is Christianity the majority. To others – it is you that are the heretic and infidel.

HEATHER: “You obviously don’t realize what Jesus did for you.”

I realize what you think Jesus did for me. I’ve read the Bible many times (straight through). I’ve probably read the Bible more than you have. Just think about the other options out there. Do you not realize what Mohammed did for you? Have you no clue the sacrifice that Krishna made on the cross for you? Were you not aware that Dionysius was sacrificed on the cross to die for your sins 2,400 years before Jesus?

HEATHER: “Actually, I think that if the whole world was full of Christianity, it would be a better place.”

History has proven the exact opposite. When Christianity ruled Europe it was called the Dark Ages. When Christianity ruled Europe there were the Crusades, the Inquisition and other atrocities. Whenever cities were ruled by Christianity, it was the bloodiest time in their history. Christian City (Constantinople) was replete with bloodshed and violence during the time when it was ruled under a Christian theocracy. Ultimately the government succumbed and the theocracy was banned because it was so bloody and violent. The worst harbinger of doom is not Satan, but the cross. It has been such for 2,000 years and will continue to do so until the church stops preaching dogma and doctrine and begins to actually teach the message of Jesus himself. That will never happen, because when it does the church will become obsolete and they will lose their power and wealth.

HEATHER: “I am respectful of others religions, but I do know that mine is right.”

How? Have you studied the other religions to be sure? Have you read the Qu’ran? Have you read the Torah? Have you read the Verdi? Have you read the Qabalah? Have you studied Shamanism? Zoroastrianism? Mithraism? Paganism? Hinduism? Islam? There are over 30,000 religions in the world. That means you have a 1 in 30,000 chance of picking the “right one”. Of course that denies the possibility that none of them are correct.

HEATHER: “I know that others feel that theres [sic] are right too, but that’s only because Satan makes them think they’re right.”

Funny you should say that, because they said the same thing about you.

HEATHER: “You’re only right if you’ve excepted Jesus Christ as your own personal saviour [sic], it says so in the bible.”

The Bible also says that you are to keep slaves. The Bible also says that you are to kill infidels and non-believers. The Bible also says it’s okay to have a brothel. The Bible also says its okay to kill women and children and keep virgins as your wives. The Bible also says you’re supposed to burn a bull in sacrifice to Yahweh because the “odor is pleasing to the Lord”.

The Bible is full of contradictions, errors, inconsistencies and fallacies. Anyone with a remote understanding of Biblical scholarship knows that. I would remind you that other sacred texts say the same thing a bout their saviors. The Verdi says that you can only arrive in Heaven (they call it something else, of course) by accepting the sacrifice that Krishna made during his crucifixion and his resurrection after being buried for three days. Of course Krishna was crucified and resurrected 1,200 years before Jesus was supposedly crucified and resurrected.

HEATHER: “We have something you don’t have, and that’s faith…”

That’s the first true thing you’ve said so far. You are right, all you have is faith. You have no evidence. You have no proof. You have no foundation to stand upon. The only thing you have is faith. Faith is nothing more than believing in something that you know is not true, cannot prove, or has been proven wrong but you refuse to admit it.

HEATHER: “It’s sad you don’t have the same.”

Yeah, your version of a vengeful and spiteful god condemns me to hell because I don’t love him. Love me or burn in hell forever. How is that a moral doctrine?

NOTE: Heather has not responded to my last email.