Homeland Security Watch

News and analysis of critical issues in homeland security

November 19, 2011

Homeland security: tasks applied in context

Filed under: General Homeland Security — by Philip J. Palin on November 19, 2011

Occupy activist Dorli Rainey, 84, after being hit with pepper spray during a protest in Seattle. Photograph: Joshua Trujillo/AP

This week the Seattle police provided the Occupy movement a powerful image of martyrdom. Dorli Rainey was not killed – let’s not overdo any analogies between economic protests in western democracies and the desperate struggle for freedom in Egypt or Syria. She was “only” pepper-sprayed. But she happens to be 84, and photographer Joshua Trujillo happened to be on hand to take a haunting photograph of her reddened eyes and shellshocked expression that subtly and strongly portrays Rainey as a modern martyr.

I am not suggesting this lightly. The martyrdom in Seattle conforms, in Trujillo’s photograph, to the deep religious roots of the idea of suffering for a cause. Rainey resembles a humiliated Christ in this picture. She is supported by two men, one on either side, who both lower their faces – one has his eyes closed in self-protection, the other wears defensive goggles – in what may be a sensible precaution to avoid getting sprayed themselves, but which also looks like a gesture of compassion, of quiet rage and dignified sorrow. It is at once a real moment – the men shielding their eyes while showing her hurt to the camera – and an image straight out of a Christian Renaissance painting.

The men look disconcertingly similar to the supporters of the dead Christ’s tormented body in paintings such as Giovanni Bellini’s The Dead Christ Supported by Angels. The Bellini painting is a great banner of emotion. Bellini depicts Christ nearly naked, his body frontal and wide, the expanse of his pale chest filling the painting with pity: in a similar way, the men supporting Rainey in this photograph frame her strong, striking face, which seems to grow to fill the scene with injured courage. The men display her political wounds just as Bellini’s angels display the spear wound in Christ’s side.

America is a religious nation and I can’t help thinking that either the people in the picture, or the photographer, consciously or unconsciously reached for an image from the iconography of Catholic faith. No movement, in its early history, recognised the power of martyrdom more thoroughly than Christianity did. Obviously, martyrdom is a Christian concept. To die for the faith, by being pinioned to the ground and beheaded – say – or crucified upside down, was to imitate Christ, to reenact the suffering of a God made flesh. The courage of the early Christian martyrs – fact or fiction – provided the church with a popular repository of heroes, relics, and sacred memories. Not all martyrdoms result in death, so even from a pedantic standpoint, Rainey conforms to the tradition – the arrows that pierce Saint Sebastian in so many paintings did not kill him, for instance.

Trujillo’s photograph recreates the image of Christian martyrdom in a modern context in a way that resembles contemporary spiritual artworks such as Bill Viola’s videos – yet it happened in the heat of the moment, on the streets of Seattle. This is not a staged photograph, it is real life. And as such it is a warning to the police and political bosses not to create too many martyrs, if they really want Occupy to disappear.

Lest we sentimentalise radical politics too much, let’s remember that no political movement guarded the memory of its martyrs more fulsomely than National Socialism did. Or that one of the most potent images of secular political martyrdom, David’s painting The Death of Marat, elegises a bloody architect of the Terror in the French Revolution. What does seem to be the case, looking at this photograph and its echoes of Christian art, is that from the time of the French revolution in the 1790s down to today, the idea of suffering for a cause has drifted from the declining cloisters of western Christianity onto the streets and the barricades. As they sing in The Red Flag: “The people’s flag is deepest red/ It shrouded oft our martyred dead.”


The previous paragraphs were written by Jonathan Jones in Friday’s edition of The Guardian (UK).  I edited out a few Brit-centric sentences.

I admire Jones’ writing,  insight, and analysis.  I have been impressed by The Guardian’s extraordinary coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  See its aggregation site for a very full perspective.

Several days before the first Brooklyn Bridge foray, which stimulated considerable US media attention, The Guardian was giving front page attention to OWS… which I mostly dismissed.  The Guardian is reliably left-of-center and I initially perceived its New York reporter and London editors were over-indulging personal passions.  My mistake.

The Guardian team recognized an emerging social phenomenon at its earliest stage.  They engaged unfolding reality very effectively, given their place, resources and purpose.

Over the last several months I have been working with a Homeland Defense/Homeland Security agency to enhance its operational effectiveness implementing a key strategic objective.  The recurring problem is that agency professionals — and they are truly professionals by education, training, and commitment — are so task-focused as to be context-blind.  As a result, the tasks they undertake tend to have no influence on context or interact with context to produce outcomes contrary to the agency’s purpose.

How many of us are ready to recognize the context that Jones perceives in Trujillo’s photograph?

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Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2011 @ 1:48 pm

Training and education don’t give a person good judgement or even common sense. They may alert people to subtleties otherwise not capable of being learned by experience. But experience usually over time culls those with good judgments and proper motivations from others.

Determining that those who are given power or take it have good judgement is very tough. I don’t believe psychology testing can measure it either.

FEMA is at its largest staffing in history. Hoping some of those newer employees and appointees have good judgment. A new US Fire Administrator Ed Mitchell has been confirmed by the US Senate. The position has been vacant since the departure of Administrator CADE.

Also the career SES position of Administrator of EMI at Emmittsberg has been posted to fill. By law SES positions cannot be restricted to only those in the agency or even in the government already. So hoping a good candidate appears and is selected.

Many outside the federal government do not understand that all SES positions that are career and usually the GS-15 positions are politically vetted by the head of the agency. This has led to problems in the past. The quality of the selecting official often is not up to the task. And even the screening panels often are stacked in favor of someone in favor with the head of the agency. This is one reason I blame President James Earl Carter for assisting in the destruction of the career civil service. And by the way when FEMA became part of DHS it lost 26 Career Reserved SES positions although some became incumbency only and so passage of time lost them to FEMA.

The US Coast Guard continue to dominate the retired military in FEMA. A story worth some analysis. IN a book chapter I just reviewed on the BP spill even their active duty positions resulted in some Coast Guard personnel completely untrained in the National Contingency Plan for Oil Spills and Hazardous Materials Releases [40 CFR Part) the so-called NCP last comprehensively updated in 1994 and almost no one in the Coast Guard understood the funding of that plan especially in the BP catastrophe.

Congress has again refilled the President’s DRF [disaster relief fund] but few organizations operating emergency response functions understand that if no Presidential declaration their duties and ops will have to funded from some other source. Since the chapter was written by a retired USCG officer I am suggesting a detailed study of how the response was funded would be appropriate.

I don’t know but if anyone has a good source on that funding of the NCP in the BP situation please let me know.

And also of note of course is that the NCP was mandated to be rolled into a National Response Plan that no longer exists–now the National Response Framework so wondering how that mandate escaped from being a priority. I suggest that in addition to other plans and SOPS that someone, somewhere focus on how Emergency response is funded. FEW seem to know. And there are usually drastic limits on reprogramming and especially when not much to reprogram if the incident or event occurs in the 3rd or 4th quarter of any given fiscal year.

Comment by Philip J. Palin

November 19, 2011 @ 6:39 pm

Bill, I agree that experience is the best teacher of good judgment. And hard knocks tends to be the best method.

But if experience is the limit of one’s learning the result may be pretty narrow. Too many lives — especially professional lives — tend toward repetition.

Literature, history, classics, (especially experimental) science, anthropology, speculative and applied philosophy, et cetera can enliven the imagination and offer practical analogies that are very helpful complements to experience.

When the hard-whiskey of experience is mixed with these softer liquors, I find the fire just as hot, but easier to drink. More to the point, the man or woman seems better prepared to engage the unusual and unexpected.

Comment by William R. Cumming

November 19, 2011 @ 10:58 pm

The above explains why good judgment is so rare a commodity!

Comment by Comrade Misfit

November 20, 2011 @ 12:10 pm

Nice backhanded way to compare Occupy Wall Street to the Nazis, by the way.

Comment by Mark Chubb

November 20, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

From Seattle, a first-hand account of this incident by the Rev. Rich Lang lends added poignancy to this incident:

Seattle Police Pepper-Spray Pastor

November 16, 2011

U.S. authorities and major news media are quick to condemn leaders of foreign nations when they unleash police to rough up and intimidate protesting citizens, but a different standard applies inside the United States, as Rev. Rich Lang discovered when he walked with an Occupy protest in Seattle.

By the Rev. Rich Lang

You could feel the tension and raw energy crinkling throughout the air as the marchers once again began their journey into downtown Seattle.

The Occupy Movement is the prophetic voice of God calling out to the nation to “repent” and turn from its ways of corruption. Those who camp are a rag-tag, motley crew made up of mostly young adults, mostly unemployed, almost all of whom are alienated and cast out of America’s promise of liberty and justice for all.

They are … the first fruits being devoured by the Beast of Empire.

The police were once conceived to be a citizen force created to serve and protect the public. Today however, the police have been militarized and view the populace as enemy combatants, as threats to their well being. The police, like our Armed Forces, are well-trained, disciplined and exceptionally talented. They follow a chain of command and are increasingly apprenticed into a culture of institutional conformity.

Because America has always affirmed the right of dissent, the role of the police is to keep the peace. They are trained to enter the protesting arena as unfeeling protectors of property and people.

What has changed in our time is that the police are entering the arena of protest as agents of provocation. They push and shove at will, they ride their bicycles up the backs of protesters, they engage in verbal abuse. Their commanders allow this breach of discipline. Their comrades silently condone the bullying.

The police become the agitators encouraging violence. It is as if they are spoiling for a fight – a fight, mind you, against the citizenry, against the youth, the unemployed, and those who are trying to return America back to its promise, and dare I say it, return America to its covenant with God, “we hold these truths to be self evident …”

On Tuesday night, a small group of the rag-tag campers of Seattle’s Occupy Movement left their camp to protest the destruction inflicted upon the Wall Street Occupy site.

Throughout the march, I — as a Pastor in full clergy alb, stole and cross – acted as a peacekeeper placing myself between the police line and the Occupy Movement. On four occasions I stepped between verbal battles between the police and the protesters. The point being that it was evident to all who I was and what my role was in this non-violent march of the few escorted by the many.

The incident was minor in nature. A girl, dressed in Anarchist black waving the Anarchist black flag, was plastered side by side with an officer on the bike. They were jawboning each other. At one point her flag was thrust in his direction – a provocation yes – threatening? – no.

The officer grabbed the flag and in the pulling, pulled down the girl. Her friends reacted jumping in to pull her away from the officer. It was at this point that the first wave of pepper spray went off.

Point: One might think the officer acted within reason, that the officer was suddenly threatened. But with what? By whom? The friends of the offender were grabbing for the girl, they were not grabbing at the police. Basically the officer and his comrades were trigger-happy as if they couldn’t wait for just this moment. And so the spray went forth.

I leapt to the front and tried to place myself between the parties – with spray in the air the protesters were also fleeing. Separation between the police line and the protesters was clearly visible … there was certainly no threat of the “mob” suddenly rampaging into the well-armed police.

The separation had occurred (as can be clearly seen on the video captured by King 5 News). But the spray continued. I walked between the lines, I was alone, I was in full clergy dress, everyone knew who I was and what I was – with the protesters fleeing and the police line holding – with my back to the police and my hands waving the protesters to get back.

I was alone in full alb, stole and cross when six officers turned their spray on me thoroughly soaking my alb and then one officer hit me full throttle in the face.

I praise the courage and compassion, the discipline and the decency of the Occupy Movement. Out of the rag-tag mob came help, grabbing my hands, leading me (I was blind by then) to the wall and administering care and concern for my well-being.

The protesters were assembled around all the wounded, and maintained the discipline of nonviolence (granted the nonviolence was in behavior but not language). And they were not afraid.

The spraying had been a baptism sealing them into the security of knowing that their prophecy of repentance was indeed the Spirit-Word through them – it is as if they did not prophecy their very bones would melt within them. Against the wall in increasing pain and burning I realized I was in the midst of church.

The police, on the other hand, were afraid. Their quick use of chemical warfare reveals how cowardly they are. The unwillingness of their commanders to maintain discipline reveals how incompetent they are becoming.

The only tool in their bag is brutality and like a drunken-raging father beating wife and kids, the police have increasingly disgraced themselves. Step by step, they are being shaped into the front face of fascism, the emerging police state that protects the property interests of the Marie Antoinette’s who have seized control of our government, commerce, media, military and increasingly the Church itself.

My question to my clergy colleagues is this: “Where are you? How much longer can you preach without practice? How dare you remain protected in your sanctuary while your people (the rag-tag mob of the least, last and lost whom Jesus loved) are slaughtered doing that which God has commissioned you to do (prophecy!).

“Where are you? Who have you become in this age of baptism by pepper spray? Do you not know how much power you have to stop our national descent into chaos? Don’t you realize that the world is your parish and right before your eyes the Spirit of God is doing a new thing?

“Can’t you hear that God’s judgment is upon the land? God is against the thieves that bankrupted our nation. God is against the armies of the Beast who pillage other lands in our name, and turn and destroy our people on our own soil.

“Are you blind? – Perhaps you need a baptism of pepper spray in your eyes to restore your vision.”

And to the police I say this: “There are always the brutal ones in our midst. As colleagues you have the moral responsibility to police your own. If your commanders order you to brutalize your people you have a Higher Command that says, ‘disarm yourself, turn away from your sin, renounce the orders of unrighteousness.’

“And in doing so, cross the line, come over and join us because we are the winning side of history. And we welcome your repentance and heal you of your shame.”

And to the church, beloved church, I say: “You cannot sing the hymns of faith if you are too afraid to live that faith. In Amos it says to silence your sacred assemblies and let JUSTICE burst forth. Our nation, with the nations of the world, are under an assault of tyranny and treason of the 1 percent against Creation itself.

“You may not worship God until and unless you care for the image of God living in those tents and prophesying on your behalf. Once the Powers sweep the Tents away, if you dare to lift your voice even a peep, you too will be swept away.”

But the destiny of the church, the Body of Christ, is not one of quiet passivity and fear, our destiny is to bear witness having no fear of the Cross because even now we have crossed over into resurrection.


America, America, my country ‘tis of thee,

Sweet land of liberty

Of thee I sing

America, oh America

America the Beautiful has fallen.

Rev. Rich Lang is a pastor at University Temple United Methodist Church http://www.utemple.org. He can be emailed at rich@utemple.org. To watch a video of the pepper spraying, click here.

Comment by twshiloh

November 20, 2011 @ 10:03 pm

Nice post. I’m not sure about the ending, however.

“…agency professionals…are so task-focused as to be context-blind. As a result, the tasks they undertake tend to have no influence on context or interact with context to produce outcomes contrary to the agency’s purpose.”

I’m not sure I agree that the tasks undertaken have no influence on context. The problem seems to be that the whole idea of context and consequences plays little role in the task oriented decision making that you describe.

I think the picture you opened your post with highlights that point quite well.

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