By Curtis Price
Posted on September 30th, 2020
But trucking is also work that relies on the commodification of the trucker’s body. This body has to be primed for maximum efficiency, pushing itself to the limits to overcome the inevitable routine obstacles and delays. Trucker’s work life is determined by an intersection of time and distance and at this intersection is where their money is made. (1)
COVID19 has thrown a new spanner in that equation, besidse the shutdown in commercial traffic in the early days of the pandemic: increased piracy.
Industry sources report a 56% increase in incidents of theft and 80% increase in the value of goods stolen in the first quarter of 2020 compared to the same time in 2019. In April 2000 alone, thefts skyrocketed 300%. But actual thefts are notoriously under-reported because trucking companies don’t want to get a bad rep for not securing their trucks. The true figures are much higher and the reported figures misleading because there are incentives for all parties concerned to keep quiet. Since industry reporting is voluntary, the federal crime figures woefully underestimate the true extent of theft and piracy on the highways..
The type of goods stolen since the onset of COVID-19 has shifted too. Before COVID19, electronics scored high, with most electronics stolen by professional gangs that then shipped the goods overseas to South America to be broken down and sold in Asian markets. But with slowdowns in international trade in the first few months of the epidemic, thieves turned to food, bottled water, and other household consumer items. These goods are easy to unload on the domestic black market and thieves with a determined hustle can peddle food stuffs to mom-and-pop stores with virtually no ability to trace such transactions. As one industry loss expert says, “You can’t put serial numbers on almonds.”
But as the economic pain from COVD19 spreads, the incentive to pirate trucker loads has only increased. As good capitalists, criminals will tailor thefts for local markets; for instance, nitrate gloves were stolen for areas with shortages and stolen bottled water gets diverted to hurricane-struck areas where drinking water fetches premium prices. In one heist, 18,000 pounds of toilet paper were spirited away for black market destinations.
Another factor boosting opportunities for theft is lay-offs or absenteeism because of COVD-19 at shipping docks, which leaves less eyes to keep track of goods and gives thieves more opportunities. Even before COVID19, truckers faced a shortage of berths at truck stops and with COVID-19, many truck stops closed or cut-back staff and hours, forcing truckers to bunk down in less secure areas, which has led to a number of violent attacks. Trucks, for instance, have been commandeered at gun point. In one case, a trucker who had pulled over for the night in a parking lot in Detroit was shot and his rig set on fire,
Many of these attempts are small-fry crimes of opportunity where attempts to steal unprotected goods devolves into violence. The big boys use more sophisticated technique such as hacking into logistics computer systems, posing as legitimate cargo shippers and even setting up phony shipping companies.
The figures for shootings and other violent acts against truckers have mushroomed since COVD-19, leading some truckers to start a “Trucker Lives Matter” Facebook group to fight for the right of truckers to carry arms. Trucking companies for insurance purposes forbid drivers to drive strapped and state laws don’t recognize gun permits held out of state so even a trucker with a permit in Oklahoma can be arrested for carrying the same weapon in Arizona. Truckers are demanding not only that companies allow them to carry arms for self-defense but also are demanding a federal law letting truckers traveling cross-state to be armed without legal repercussion.
COVID-19 is having a ripple effect throughout U.S. society and if economic hardship grows, it logically flows that attempts to appropriate necessities by any means necessary may stand to increase too. The uptick in violence and piracy in the trucking industry is just one of those hidden, unacknowledged markers of social disruption following in the wake of COVID-19. As one truckers posted on a trucker’s list said, “It’s wilder out here now than anything I’ve seen in 35 years of driving.”
1. See Benjamin H Snyder, Dignity and the Professionalized Body: Truck Driving in the Age of Instant Gratification, The Hedgehog Review, Fall 2012. Accessed from https://hedgehogreview.com/issues/work-and-dignity/articles/dignity-and-the-professionalized-body-truck-driving-in-the-age-of-instant-gratification
Below is an account of police brutality written on Facebook by “R,” a white female rural-dwelling acquaintance of mine from a small town in Northern Alabama. We had worked together in a chaotic environment in which one crisis bled into another and working conditions were so bad people would go on lunch break – and never come back.
“R” struck a picturesque figure, long raven-black hair, pale skin, bright red lipstick, and the finely chiseled, aquiline features of the rural Scots-Irish, looking like a cross between Vampirella and a more glamorous version of any hardscrabble Melissa Leo character struggling against the odds for a place in the sun.
In the middle of all the madness, “R” was the rock in the stream forcing the raging waters to part. She exuded natural leadership and many of the mostly black women we worked with turned to her for help and advice. These women, all single mothers raising children and often working two jobs to make ends meet, had to endure lives of endless crisis such as children that had to be taken to the ER in the middle of the night when their mothers needed sleep to work 16 hours the next day, meaning they were often up 24 hours straight, sometimes half-falling asleep while standing up.
“R” helped them survive the day; deeply religious, she told these women God was looking out for them and things would get better. Her religion was not a moral finger-pointing at others for their alleged sins but a spiritual discipline against resentment, in Christopher’ Lasch’s poignant words, and a springboard propelling a determined resilience. Whether Divine Intervention ever came is questionable but “R” at least gave others the strength to make it through another day.
Of course, much of today’s left, like terriers rooting out truffles, will sniff out “whiteness” in this story and, having made such profound analysis, retreat to their boutique-leftist, hipster ghettos of Brooklyn, Oakland, Portland, and Seattle, content that they understand the world. This story, frankly, is not for them, but for those who want principled unity instead of the endless identity-derived divisions of today’s posturing, radical-chic middle-class left.
I have lightly edited the story for conciseness and grammar.
“On 6/13/2020, my husband, SG, called the Madison County Sheriff’s Department to file a complaint against a man that was threatening us via text and Facebook Messenger. He was speaking to the officer on the phone via speaker and SG told him he wanted to file a harassing communications complaint. The officer asked him what he knew about harassing communications. SG told him that he used to be an officer. The officer got some information from S and stated he was coming out to take the complaint.
It must have been about an hour or so and the next thing I know there are three officers at my door. They state they wanted to see SG. I told them he was no longer there. The officer told men he knew SG was there and needed to see him. The officer stated that they had a warrant for him but would not tell me what for. But he never produced any paper work. He just spoke very belligerently to me.
They then came into my house looking for SG as if he had done some heinous crime. My children were sitting on the couch. I was told to stay in the living room at that time. I told the officers my husband has a shattered shoulder blade as they were going into the bedroom.
Then the older officer told me to come into the hallway at which point he placed handcuffs on me. I heard my husband again tell them about his shoulder and then I heard him yelling out in pain.
I was then taken into the living room in front of my children handcuffed. My mother came out of her room and I asked her to take the kids to the garage because all three officers were making statements that never should have been spoken in front of my children. I don’t drink, I don’t do drugs. I am a dedicated nurse and mother. Yes, I made the mistake of saying he wasn’t here, but they then started making comments in front of my children that should never have been said!
I was still asking what the warrant was for, with no answer. Two officers then went out the front door with my husband, leaving the door open. They were discussing something and I am standing in my living room handcuffed just crying and watching them. The main officer looked at me and said, “Don’t look at me, you need to deal with him” and nodded his head to the older officer. The older officer asked me where I worked and wanted to know my supervisor’s name. I gave him the info and he told me he would be calling my boss to let her know what type of person is working for her.
I was then taken into my kitchen, still cuffed. The taller officer then told me we had a lot of guns, which really I don’t think I do but he then asked me about them and checked to make sure they were registered and not stolen. I asked again what my husband had done that was putting us in this position and they told me it was about a bad check in 1991 (or 1993 maybe). And then they say we told you. NO THEY DIDN’T!
I was completely flabbergasted. All this brutality and bad mouthing over something that was NOT a violent crime and well past the statute of limitations! The taller officer then proceeds to tell me it’s just stupid to want to do a harassing communication on someone over Facebook. I tried to explain that it was also a text and that this man knew where I lived and had actually been to my house. This man had not only threatened my husband but me and my kids. But the taller officer completely blew me off. It was his civic duty to make a report but not one of the three of them would do so!
The older officer uncuffed me and told me, “You’re welcome.” Later we found out they had the wrong man on top of it. Ludicrous! This was handled very badly! They spoke to us like we were the lowest scum the whole time they were here and half of it was in front of my children. Yet you all go around trying to make kids believe you are the “good guys.”
My brother is a cop in another state and I told him what happened. All he could say was “Remember, not all cops are like this.” And I’m sure there are some good cops in Madison County but they are really paying for the brutality of cops like this.
My husband was brought home because he wasn’t the right guy and told me the arresting officer told him he got upset because he doesn’t like being told how to do his job. Which is ridiculous! . . . There was a study done a few years ago on officers and domestic violence and how domestic violence with police officers is rising. I can imagine why, if you allow officers to go in and treat people the way they do based solely on the bruised ego of one officer. . . . Maybe more people need to realize that police brutality is alive and well in Madison County and it’s not race related – it’s ego related! And something needs to be done about it.”
Now, how can we dissect “R”’s understanding of what happened to her at the hands of the cops? She doesn’t see the underlying structure of policing and its role in controlling working class people, instead passing it off as a few bad apples in the bunch. She lacks the conceptual tools or connections to a larger analysis that would position her experience in its wider context. Her response is like that of most working class whites (as well as large numbers of working class blacks too), a matter of personalities.
But working class blacks have the continuity of a historical context in which to place such experiences that working class whites don’t have, even though they face police brutality as vicious as blacks do, as black scholar John McWhorter has documented. (1) (An even better text, too important to be buried in a footnote, is the Institute for Family Studies article, “They’re Out to Get You: Police Misconduct in White, Working-Class America,” https://ifstudies.org/blog/theyre-out-to-get-you-police-misconduct-in-white-working-class-america?fbclid=IwAR1oz0wef5jN8N39XHpht3a8N6CbzvCE25mCkeXaA-lg2FA-6BeArw24hWs) A major difference, though, lies in the fact that even isolated rural areas, a local NAACP will serve, however imperfectly, as that repository of memory and mechanism for making abuse public.
But rural working class whites fall short in such infrastructure. In these areas, there’s an absence of intermediate organizations, those “little platoons,” as conservatives so love to gush. It’s only the immediate family and church – and beyond that, nothing. In case of the single, religiously unaffiliated, there’s just nothing. Lots of it. I know of such men, shaggy, disheveled, who tramp through the woods daily to the liquor store and then stay cooped up in their apartments drinking, with only the TV to keep them company, men for whom fantasies of “fully automatic luxury communism” is nothing but a sick joke.
This breakdown – or perhaps more accurately, since in some cases there weren’t dense social networks to decompose to begin with, social stasis – and the ensuing loneliness and isolation is more accurate a predictor of Trump support than racial attitudes. As Timothy Carney argues in his book, “Alienated America: While Some Places Thrive While Others Collapse,” “People enmeshed in strong communities rejected Trump in the early primaries while people alienated, abandoned, lacking social ties and community rushed to him immediately.” As an economist put it, describing the hollowed-out areas where Trump did best, “These are nothing economies. Other than the hospitals and local government, there’s not a whole lot going on.”
This is supported by Carney’s analysis of Iowa Trump-supporting counties such as Pottawattamic, showing that the larger numbers of “the unattached, unconnected, dispossessed” living in “civil society deserts” the more correlation with voting Trump in the primaries. Nor is this phenomenon confined to the United States. A recent survey of European social attitudes found a connection between social isolation and support for right-wing populist parties. One respondent, an “Eric” in Paris, said he joined the Rassemblement National (the former National Front, France’s far-right populist party) because he found more genuine community in the RN then he did in any of the other parties, including the left-wing ones. (2) It doesn’t take much imagination to see the same development here, in the communal fervor of Trump rallies. Or for that matter, in the streets of Portland.(3)
“R” is more fortunately placed because she’s mobile, works in a larger nearby city and is Internet savvy so she has access to news and information (if what’s on the Internet can properly be called that). She reposted, for instance, Dollie Parton’s meme in support of BLM. But many in her situation don’t go online so they try to make sense of their world with the tools at hand, which of course, reinforce the ways things are, the inertia of the everyday that weighs on lives and consciousness, stifling awareness of alternatives and maintaining the status quo.
1) John McWhorter, “Racist Police Violence Reconsidered.” https://quillette.com/2020/06/11/racist-police-violence-reconsidered/