In the eight part of Night Watch, Vimes makes a “new” friend and sends a clear message to those who want to take him down. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Discworld.
Trigger Warning: For extensive discussion of police brutality and corruption.
I am missing something, right? You can watch me on video try to figure out if I merely forgot some important detail, but part eight of Night Watch has me convinced that the lilacs, Keel, and this alleged “revolution” were not mentioned outside of this book. So… what the hell? WHAT AM I MISSING? What happened? Why is such an important event not being described or explained in the beginning of the book? I suspect that it’s kept from me because SPOILERS. All I know is that the Watch commemorates it, everyone wears lilac, it took place on May 25th, and Keel died… at some point? During it? Just after? Years later? I DON’T FUCKING KNOW.
So, I have a lot of thoughts on this, and I’ll admit to straight-up bias here: I have not-very-positive thoughts on our modern policing in the United States and how it has evolved over the years, from its origins in slave patrols to its monstrous applications in this country. Swing is an invention for Night Watch, but he’s very real, the kind of person who amasses power in a position where power translates to the ability to do harm. Real, substantive, life-ruining harm. And it’s an element of policing that is often not spoken about in great detail, so I’m glad that Pratchett is talking about it. There’s a reason people are terrified of the police; there’s a reason they run from them; there’s a reason they resist; there’s a reason so many of us care so deeply about the direction the police have gone in this nation.
Swing is a symptom and a disease all in one. I don’t know if Pratchett intended this, but the whole craniometrics thing was HORRIFYING to me. I am only partially susceptible to the logic behind this kind of policing, so I don’t want this to come off as if I’m speaking for everyone. But there is still a horrific amount of profiling based ENTIRELY on physical attributes—skin color, height, weight, beards, tattoos, etc—that affects certain people more than others. Pratchett address this in a more literal way through the measurement of facial features so that Swing can determine whether or not a person was Bad or not. But it’s not exactly a stretch to wonder if Swing thinks that people with wider noses, thicker eyebrows, bigger lips, or anything associated with the “other” means a person is destined to be a criminal. IT’S REALLY FUCKING DISTURBING, ISN’T IT?
But that’s reality. I say this as someone who was assaulted because I was assumed to be someone else. I don’t talk about it that much because it’s such a traumatic event, but I’ve been prepping myself to do so. I have to. My book is coming out soon, and it’s heavily based on my panic disorder and my experiences with police brutality. And one element that I was reminded of while reading this was that a cop literally thought I was another person just because we were both Latino. Nevermind that the actual suspect was a good six inches taller than me and had about 100lbs on me, too. He just heard “Latino man” and targeted me. And it seems so absurd, right? How do you make a mistake that seems so utterly senseless? Why did that cop lash out and attack me once he realized he had gotten it wrong? Did he really think we all look alike? Was he trained or socialized by his fellow cops to view as a monolith?
It didn’t matter, though, because I was hit with a charge of Assault on a Peace Officer, which is treated exactly as Pratchett details in the book:
That was Assault On A City Official, a very important and despicable crime, and, as such, far more important than all these thefts that were going on everywhere.
In one instant, my life was ruined. I never laid a hand on that cop, and when the footage of my assault and arrest was handed over to the district attorney handling my case, all the charges were finally dropped. The video showed the opposite of what the cop said happened. Yet I was given a possible felony charge, hit with $20,000 bond, and was treated like a demon by practically everyone who handled me in that police station. It was like I’d personally murdered all their family members, all because of the charge attached to me. They were dutiful in their support of the cop who said I had assaulted him. Can I say that they were just as dutiful towards other crimes reported to them?
I think you know the answer.
So, I’m very interested in all the ways in which Vimes is going to nudge the Watch in the right direction. One of those nudges comes in the form of Nobby Nobbs, who finally makes an appearance in Night Watch AS AN ACTUAL CHILD. It’s also another element of Ankh-Morpork society that we haven’t addressed in full as much as other issues. But once we find out why Nobby was following Vimes, it’s clear that many people in power are paying Nobby terribly to do work that they can’t do themselves. HMMMM, I WONDER WHY THAT IS. Perhaps it could be that they’re willing to exploit him because they know that he is desperate for money? Thus, I am incredibly pleased that Vimes does something so substantive for Nobby. He hires him, first of all, and he pays him more than ALL THE OTHER PEOPLE COMBINED. Secondly, he feeds him. And I know this might not seem as important, but as someone who has been in poverty, who has been homeless, it means the world when someone is able to consistently provide you with food. Good on Vimes, you know???
Given that this is a time travel book, I also figured that at some point, Vimes would be revealed to be the source of something we’re familiar with in the present time. In a million years, I never would have guessed what that first thing was. Y’all, he gave Dibbler his nickname/catchphrase! ENTIRELY BY ACCIDENT, MIND YOU. Let’s not think of the paradox it creates, but STILL.
And finally: Vimes is NOT here to play. We can all have a good laugh at me for completely not figuring out why Vimes broke back into the Watch House and found the inkstand. I GET IT NOW, OKAY, SOMETIMES IT TAKES ME A WHILE. But I wanted to take this moment of Vimes being a badass and turning this framing around on others to make a point: this is fiction. We know this. Yet there’s a part of me that recognizes that what we’re witnessing here is the exact sort of retaliation that happens when “good” cops try to change the system. Again, maybe Pratcett didn’t intend to comment on that, but the virtual cult-like environment in many American precincts is very much like this. How many “good” cops have been retaliated against? Hazed? Set-up? Hit with life-destroying legal cases? Killed?
Vimes has a lot to work against, and I’m glad he’s doing it.
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