Cops and Cosplayers:

Two Minorities in Conflict

In the last year, cops have killed average citizens, black, white, and otherwise. How many? No idea. Sadly, a Facebook bot page is likely the best count available. In the last year, average citizens have killed cops, black, white, and otherwise. How many? No idea. The best data available from the FBI is 48 officer deaths for 2012. Of the nation’s roughly 17,000 law enforcement agencies, only 750 or so participate in the voluntary self-reporting program. We can’t even get decent information on what’s going on so it’s little wonder so few are talking about it intelligently.

Many of these deaths on both sides have been for no apparent reason, or at least not a good one. But one side has several advantages backed up by custom, law, and precedent, and it’s not the people at large. With the recent SCOTUS decision that a policeman making a “mistaken understanding of the law” can still lead to a valid arrest and conviction, one is given to wonder if that idea might be expanded to excuse still more deaths as some cops abandon even the minimal restraints they exercised on themselves and citizens with an axe to grind do the same in response.

Among all these events, two stand out in the fandom community involving cosplayers, actual or putative. The first was the married couple Jerad and Amanda Miller who killed two policemen, Igor Soldo and Alyn Beck, as they ate lunch in Las Vegas on 8 June 2014. They also killed Joseph Wilcox, a “good guy with a gun,” a particularly stupid phrase from NRA Executive VP Wayne LaPierre, who tried to stop them as they ran into a nearby Walmart. Both attackers died in the confrontation.

I won’t link to sites claiming that it was cosplay that made them do it. Their claims are charitably described as absurd. I will, however, point out that the Millers were considered too extreme to remain with the supporters at the Cliven Bundy ranch. This is a group that takes its cues from conspiracy theorists who believe in the nefarious intent of Agenda 21, think the Federal Reserve is unconstitutional, and actually stated that they would start a confrontation with federal agents on purpose and put women and children in front so the carnage would make their side look good on the news. Things got so bad by the end that even far right “news” site expunged their support for the madman and deleted all the comments. I would need an entire separate article to describe the ways in which the folks behind this movement are legally, historically, financially, and morally wrong according to any sane principles recognized by our great nation. My byline says “history professor.” I should add that my specialty is in constitutional history and theory. I don’t know enough polysyllabic German cuss words to express how angry this sort of nonsense makes me. Moving on.

Unsurprisingly, still others, who I will also not link to because I respect my readers and their browser histories, have claimed that the Millers were dupes for the government to advance some hypothesized anti-freedom agenda. While so called false flag, or ruse de guerre, operations have occurred in the past, they had nothing in common with the Millers’ actions and the laws of war require that the pretense be dropped before firing begins. If these are the rules of engagement for foreign combatants of whatever sort, I have a hard time believing our government, seriously stretched though it is, would use them against our own citizens.

Cosplay was not the problem here. Sadly, though, even media outlets that sometimes cast doubt on fandom affiliation as the cause of their madness often consider cosplay and other fan activities to be “a sign of disconnect with reality.”  The Millers’ underlying anti-authority positions, and those who deluded them and others like them into similar headspaces, are the ones to blame as can best be shown with screen captures of Jerad’s own Facebook page. For those who still have their doubts, go check some of those links. I need to take a break for a moment to gather my thoughts. This kind of nonsense makes me angry.

Ten minutes, two cigarettes, and a whiskey shot later.

Darrien Hunt was shot in the back in September 2014 according to an autopsy and contrary to police reports in Saratoga Springs, UT, near Salt Lake City. Given that the Salt Lake Comic Con was the previous weekend, it is not impossible that Hunt was dressed as Mugen from Samurai Champloo; he was certainly seen dressed that way while at the convention. Given that Utah has an open carry law, a policy even the NRA briefly described as “downright scary,” and armed citizens are a common site on city streets, it is difficult to believe that armed officers Matt Schauerhamer and Nicholas Judson would consider a toy sword a genuine threat from a distance. That the police officers’ version of events changed at least twice and then leveling accusations that the media was deliberately distorting events doesn’t help their position. Refusal to release the footage from one of the officer’s bodycam is similarly damning. Given that Ofc. Judson was a well-known advocate of the technology, it is unlikely he would have operated his unit incorrectly. Security camera footage also makes it appear that Hunt was simply walking while the officers were stalking him. Without the bodycam, it may not be possible to know what happened between him and the officers. The internal investigation, as so often happens, had ruled the shooting justified. As a final insult, Hunt’s family, members of the LDS Church and interracial, were stunned that no church officials attended his memorial service, a nigh-universal custom.

Only Wisconsin requires truly independent inquiries, but even that was only passed into law this year in response to a decade’s worth of community activism and an impossibly perfect record of all shootings being ruled “justified” for the last 129 years. So, unless the Feds step in, there will be no such investigation in the Hunt case. It is a sad fact that racial minorities are more likely to be shot by police when whites, in otherwise identical circumstances, are talked down or captured via non-lethal means. That said, even white folks are being shot at unprecedented rates by police officers around the country. Please don’t think I mean that there are no justified shootings. Police officers, the good ones, choose a dangerous job to keep the rest of us safe. But a few bad apples can ruin it for everyone.

While almost everyone who faces a grand jury is indicted, police officers in such situations almost never are. There hasn’t been such an indictment in Houston since 2004 and only once in Dallas from 2008 to 2012. In the rare event an indictment is reached, most DAs are accused of political motivation and few are ever convicted unless facing charges in federal court. And this in a system where Chief Judge Sol Wachtler of the New York State Supreme Court once derisively said that “any prosecutor who wanted to could get a Grand Jury to indict a ham sandwich.”

Public confidence in the process, at least regarding police officers, has been further eroded by St. Louis County DA Robert McCullouch who admitted he knew witnesses were lying but let them go on the stand anyway, and that he will not file charges against the perjurors, a felony if they are convicted, no matter what. That is, in itself, a compound crime committed by the DA formally known as misprison of felony under Title 18 USC 4. He concealed it before and during the event, and is actively refusing to report it properly after the fact. Those are the material elements of the crime of misprision and he should face the appropriate consequences, but he won’t, because without a federal investigation, it will be his own office doing the inquiry if one is done at all. Trust me, it won’t be done.

How Does This Affect Me?

The example of the Millers means that any cosplayer can be seen as a potential danger to the community when it’s really their political ravings that are the source of the danger. Hunt’s case shows that cosplayers, particularly those of color, are seen as sources of danger. This may apply doubly for cosplayers of color. These are modern moral panics focusing on the strange, the different, the outré. Moral panics have ranged widely in their intensity and consequences, but have ranged in effects from the Salem Witch Trials to the McCarthy Witch Hunts. This means you and your friends are potential targets because authority figures believe you are a source of danger to them or will become dangerous in future. I’ve already written on the consequences of cosplayers being awful to other cosplayers. Now imagine that instead of mean comments in internet forums, the other side is sending real world bullets and tasers. That’s what we’re talking about here.

So what can be done? We borrow a page from The Doctor’s playbook and talk to people. Since at least my first year with A-Kon, they have had Dallas police officers as part of the security arrangements, even helping us deal with various online threats (read: me, since I run the social media pages). The similar responses from DPD and thousands of fans demonstrated that, in this at least, we all shared the same concern: having a safe environment in which everyone can have fun. Over the years, many have come back to us because they genuinely enjoy our events and love working with the fandom. When spots for the detail become open, there’s even a bit of competition to get in. One gent, who was with us for seven years but has since retired from the Dallas PD, still comes every year and enjoys the complimentary pass we give him. Mayors and convention bureaus have courted our support as have many local newspapers and magazines. Why? We approached them to explain who we are and what we’re about. We had to overcome the clannishness inherent in fandom, not just between groups so as to keep the peace, but between fans and non-fans. Treating what we do as an open proselytization commons has humanized fandom, normalized it, in the eyes of our community. The strategy has worked.

It’s not perfect and may not succeed everywhere, but it is honestly the best place to start: people talking to people.

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J. Holder Bennett spends his time in the “real” world, whatever that means, as a history professor in North Texas. The rest of the time he focuses on his real love: fandom. For the past fifteen years he’s helped run A-Kon, an anime and manga convention in Dallas, and recently organized the Fandom and Neomedia Studies (FANS) association to bring together fans and academics for the better understanding of their mutual love. He has also done work on historical fiction and collaborated on analyses of science in cinema. Yes, he’s that guy.

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