Yesterday afternoon, Rachel Barnhart posted a video to her Facebook profile from the Gates Police Facebook profile, showing two dangerous recent interactions that Monroe County police have had with the public. One depicts a woman who already states to 911 that she wants the cops to shoot her. The second shows what appears to be a distraught and listless man shuffling around, not obeying police officers’ repeated commands to keep his hands out of his pocket.

Both of these situations are unquestionably dangerous. They’re two great examples of exactly the kinds of situations for which we rely on police. And had the video simply said, “this is what we do, thank you for your support,” it probably would have been a fine video. I would have applauded the outreach.

Sadly, the video did not stop there. It continued with the following statement:

The mentality around our country right now of no respect and challenging authority is the root cause of many of these violent encounters with Police.

This statement is troubling on a number of levels, the most obvious of which being that the mentally ill do not need a “mentality around our country right now,” to wish harm to themselves or others. If that was the message they intended to send to the public, they did themselves a disservice by not having shown actual instances of disrespect to law enforcement. Those instances cannot be rare in any age. Instead, they undercut their message with video that does not come close to fitting the situation.

The real problem, however, is that there is a real and legitimate debate happening “around our country right now.” The debate is about police procedure; the debate is about race and policing; the debate is about the militarization of our nation’s civilian police forces, as seen in Ferguson among other places; it continues, as ever, to be about the use of tasers as suppression tools.

The Gates Police video seems to want to jump into the middle of all that and just start throwing round-house punches. The blanket statement that there is a culture of disrespect seems to group everybody who objects to police procedures into the same camp with the two mentally disturbed people in the video. Somehow, a legitimate and perennial socio-political debate about how a free people chose to police themselves becomes a nation of lunatics, clawing at the walls of their cages.

To be fair, there is probably no one at the Gates Police Department who is a skilled activist, marketer or even PR person. Nor do I suppose there should be: we rely on the police to give us unvarnished truth, and resent the polished bullet points of larger metropolitan police statements. I’m sure that the message was a heartfelt one, if badly communicated.

Still, it may be impossible for those of us not directly connected to law enforcement to see these words as anything less than statist: we do a dangerous job, we protect you, so you shouldn’t question our methods. Doing so is disrespecting our good graces. The message seeks to end debate with an oversimplified generalization. It leaves no room for discussion, no quarter for anyone who quibbles with the details and displays no shred of self-reflection or awareness.

“Challenging authority” is not the same as not respecting it, and indeed, open public debate is the best route to building respect and trust. That, and acknowledging that the police are civilians, too. That there is no separation between the police and the policed.

As citizens of that same free state to which the rest of us belong, police officers have as much right to voice their opinion as anyone else. But when that opinion comes not from a single law enforcement officer, but an entire department, the effect is monolithic and antagonistic. I would like to hope that this was not the intention of the Gates Police Department. But it serves as a pretty good example of how bad messaging could, in perhaps less harmonious communities, begin a race to the bottom of our civic nature.

Now that some time has passed since Leonard Nimoy’s death and we’ve all had time to process, can we discuss the infamous “Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” that he recorded? I mean, it’s been featured on everything from Entertainment Tonight to Brother Wease’s shows as Exhibit A of celebrity awkwardness. But have we ever taken an honest look at it?

The truth of the matter is this: people hate nerds. And before the Internet, nerds had no particular recourse. We all had to just sit and take it while popular culture beat up on everything science fiction and fantasy that lacked the necessary gravitas. Even Star Trek TOS, which for the most part received popular respect, remains the go-to nerd semaphore.

Meanwhile, the Ballad of Bilbo Baggins is an actual ballad in the classical sense. Everything about it, including Nimoy’s baritone voice, is authentic to the genre. It is a storytelling song with a simple melody and repeated chorus. It uses minimal harmony and focuses instead on the basic melody and simple rhythm. It is, in short, everything that modern American music is not. The whole genre is an open target for nerd jokes.

So, put Spock together with a classical ballad and it is practically an anti-nerd singularity. A perfect storm of geek that combines both science fiction and fantasy with a healthy scoop of awkwardly-uncool music. Of course, everybody laughs at it.

On the other hand, this video does not help one bit. Who the hell choreographed it? And had they ever heard of either a Hobbit or J.R.R Tolkien before preparing for the show? I doubt it. Because Bilbo is not, as the choreography suggests, a flaming-gay Keebler elf on Molly. Not that there’s anything wrong with that: some of my best friends are gay Keebler elves with a taste for Molly.

Leonard Nimoy and some Hobbits. I guess.

I mean, for fuck’s sake, people. What the shit is this?

If this video seems awkward and silly to you now, just imagine what popular culture would have done with it in the homophobic 60’s? It just seems to confirm and amplify the unmanliness of geek culture. Even if he got to spend several hours in the company of comely lady dancers, I suspect even Nimoy himself knew this wasn’t the way his imagined hero was supposed to have been portrayed. Even as he spent who-knows-how-many hours filming this god-awful segment for some long-gone variety show.

Personally, I think Spock got robbed. I think he recorded a perfectly good song about J.R.R. Tolkien’s diminutive hero that he spent a lifetime having to defend as “just good fun,” whenever some jackass reporter wanted to poke geek culture in the eye. I think that more than any other hero of the sci-fi genre, Leonard Nimoy took a heaping helping of shit to defend not simply his artistic vision, but an entire culture that wouldn’t get it’s chance to speak for another forty years.

I’m not suggesting that we declare The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins as the geek national anthem. But after more than forty years, I think we can give ol’ Spock a break on this one. He wrote a decent song. It was never going to top the charts. Let it go.

Officer approaches Emily Good, demanding that she stop taping.

Growing up in Wayne County with a lot of bored cops who harrassed kids with long hair, I’m disinclined by nature to side with cops in circumstances such as the big Emily Good news. The video clearly shows the cop arresting a woman who insists that she’s done nothing wrong and is on her own property. And I can’t help noticing the flashlight that is pointed directly at the camera, which seems at first blush to be intentionally blinding the camera.

But while we’re waiting on context, here’s a few things to consider:

  1. Someone took the camera phone off Emily after she was arrested, and there were certainly plenty of people watching. How many? One person on her own property is one thing, but a crowd milling around the cops might be provocative. In fairness, though, he should expect a crowd in a neighborhood, regardless.
  2. What happened before the camera rolled? How did her friend end up getting in trouble in the first place? And where?
  3. Cop says she said something to him *before* she started taping. What?
  4. Cop is not in a position to give “orders” on her own property.
  5. Cop says he’s, “Not going to explain myself.” That’s sorta his job, isn’t it?

Late Update: @rachbarnhart just posted video of Emily Good protesting in another context to her Twitter feed. And Johnathan Turley, Constitutional law professor and MSNBC contributor, also picks up the story.

Meanwhile, back in the world of *fake* protests. . .

Check out this video from TalkingPointsMemo.com. They posted it because they want you to note that the Fox News Anchor basically admits to giving the Tea Bagging movement “P.R.” and “promotion.” But what I want you to notice is the absurdity of the Conservative talking head getting all “clutch the pearls” over the sexual innuendos surrounding “tea bagging,” and how that proves MSNBC is so biased against this noble protest.

Um. . . “Tea Bagging” has been an expression meaning lowering one’s genitalia into the mouth of a willing participant for well over fifteen years that I know of. It was you guys who decided to adopt the name, bonehead. Not our problem, just live with it.

Today’s been a pretty good day for video news in DFE land. First up is a great wrap-up of how the credit crisis got started and where it’s at now. Granted, it’s a big, complex issue on which I think they missed a few details. But the basics are there and solid.

The next is actually a PSA from the Working Families Party. Can you guess how much money you have to be making to be in the top tax bracket in New York State? Do you know how much money you have to make to pay the highest rate of taxes in this state? If you don’t already, the answer is going to make you sick, I promise. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

A video blog. Looks crowded at the polling stations, people, get the hell out there and vote your asses off!  Plus, don’t forget about the state ballot initiative to allow veterans to get a few extra points on their civil service applications.  As it stands now, only injured vets get those added points, and only if they’re getting benefits from a specific agency.  The ballot initiative seeks to widen the program to all veterans, which seems only fair.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XDilufitgkk

Keep your browser logged in here today, as I’ll be blogging from the Rochester for Obama headquarters on St. Paul St. during the morning and early afternoon hours.  Then, tonight, check out the live blogging event happening with myself, Rottenchester from the Fighting 29th and Exile on Erickson St. from The Albany Project.  It’s all happening right here on DFE, plus the other two will be on CW-16 and WHAM-13 this evening as well, live blogging the whole time.  Bitchin, eh?