michaelbrown

Fiction: “To Serve and Protect”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Two years ago, in response to the senseless deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner at the abusive hands of the police, I wrote what turned out to be a highly controversial short story called “To Serve and Protect.” It was my effort to portray the institutional trappings that perpetuate racism, police brutality, and our endemic gun culture. I submitted the story to several literary journals. All rejected it. While many of these outlets praised the story, the editors were greatly unnerved by the story’s hard truths. One editor informed me that she didn’t want to alienate her readers. And as my story made the rounds at a snail’s crawl, there were more murders, needless murders, of innocent and unarmed men by the police all around the nation. In the past week, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile also lost their lives, their final moments recorded in harrowing video that will numb and horrify anyone who is human. And that wasn’t all. Last night, five police officers were killed by snipers during a Dallas protest against police brutality. Clearly, the problem that I was attempting to dramatize isn’t going away. Clearly, the literary world is a timid and gutless bunch when it comes to publishing fiction that provokes and reflects the realities of our time. What is especially shocking to me is that, while I have not changed my story in any way, every sentence still applies. I cannot stay silent about the headlines any longer. So I have decided to publish my story here, with the hope that it might help at least a few readers to make sense and find solutions to the terrible American nightmare. Silence is not an option when it comes to stopping racism and violence. It’s on us to confront the ugly realities — through peace, art, and action — that cause these pointless plagues to endure.

* * *

We left the nigger’s body rotting on the dark and filthy asphalt for four hours as we swatted away the flies swirling around the exit wounds in drunken loops. The insects hoped to plug their thin trunks into six fresh holes spilling out the nigger’s once young blood, which dried into the baking black cracks, absorbing the funhouse light of our whirling sirens. You chided us for hitching the yellow tape into your front yards, but we can’t fulfill our duties if we don’t stretch the perimeter of a crime scene into your personal space. We asked you to move back as you lashed out with rubber necks and flimsy accusations. We enforced curfew so you wouldn’t kill yourselves and you scolded us for not calling the paramedics fast enough. You aligned yourselves with the helicopter journalists after we threw those pesky gnats into vans and cells and any space we could call prison when they pressed past the limits of their credentials and tried churning their tyro familiarity with our precinct into a national story. You never saw the fear that clouded inside the whites of our eyes.

Not that we’d let you.

Modern policing demands the deafening squelch of our sound cannons when you won’t heed our crystal-clear commands through the speakers. We are the ones in control. Not you. We crank up our warnings because your ears choose to deafen.

The nigger wasn’t armed, or maybe he was. Maybe it was a gun we couldn’t find. Maybe it was the half-melted Hershey’s bar we found buried in his hoodie pocket or the burner phone lodged in the seat of his jeans. The evidence will show that we had to take the nigger down, that he was a credible threat, and all this will wash out your social media speculations. We are working with the FBI, the Department of Justice, the Highway Patrol, any old coot with a badge pushing his beak into our jurisdiction. We will never have our men found guilty. We have the President of the United States, the Governor, and the Mayor all on our side. We can produce videos, radio scanner chatter, logs, reports, just about anything needed for a slam-dunk case. We will respond to your sunshine requests, but you must understand that it will take time for our overworked and underpaid staff to sift through your poorly worded entreaties. And by the time you get the docs you so desperately crave, it will be too late. Our first priority is to keep the community safe.

We asked the nigger to cooperate, but he wouldn’t raise his hands in the air. Dig all you want into the back story of the two primary officers involved. Why do you think we gave you their names? We know when whiny lions need measly scraps to chew on. We can assure you that every member of our department hoped the nigger would adhere to our request and step peacefully into our protective arms. The tape will show that our voices did not quaver or waver once when we crooned through our bullhorns. We were calm and professional and the nigger told us to fuck off. He cited an institution abolished 150 years ago, but we’ve read our history and we know that we’re on the right side. The nigger told us that he was tired of being harassed and that he would never be questioned or taken in. And he started waving his arms and jumping up and down, which is something you should never do in front of boys in blue. It was a common tale we see all the time: a terrified man hiding behind bold talk and false bluster. So we shot him. Because we never look in the mirror. All told, it took about two seconds. Happens all the time. If you were walking in our lead brogans and you saw that the devil had something more than fight or flight to offer the universe, wouldn’t you make the same call? Are you up on this year’s statistics? Do you have any real idea how many niggers have reached into their pockets to shoot our guys? And don’t give us that old song and dance about banning firearms or limiting our supplies. We know the Constitution (including the Thirteenth Amendment) as well as the local criminal codes, but there’s only enough room to enforce one canon. We’re here because you couldn’t form a well-regulated militia to save your hides. You’re so busy shooting up your families and blowing up stores that you never notice the bullets hurled our way as we’re trying to help you. So we’re the ones who take the rap and the crap. Look at it from our perspective. If we let one nigger walk away, then all of you will. And, yes, contrary to your racial profiling conspiracies, we’d let a dumb cracker who won’t show us his ID expire in the street the same way. There are monkeys of every color on the rainbow and they all need to learn how to behave.

So now that the nigger is dead, what do you want us to do? Stop our operations? String up the guilty parties in front of the central precinct? You don’t want to work with us and we don’t want to work with you. We know you’ll always view us as grim grunts lusting over the next 1033 shipment from the Beltway. You think our cocks harden over the wet dream of rushing into a broken hood with fresh Hummers. Well, if we were so committed to shooting tear gas at you at all hours, why do you think we let you steal some of our toys? Sure, there’s some under-the-table income that smooths out our take home pay, but maybe we wanted to give you mouthy cunts a fighting chance. You were the ones who photographed us and shared your slanted stories on YouTube. You call us pigs and crackers (and Oreos and Uncle Toms if we share your shade).

All told, we’ve been pretty fucking forgiving. It isn’t our fault that we have quotas to meet and misdemeanors to invent. We’ve given you plenty of opportunities to wiggle out of a trivial ticket, but you still insist that you’re better, even as you slip up and give us lip. Do you want this to become Detroit? How long would you uppity fuckers last if we left the streets? If you think we’re putting down our guns and letting you animals take over our turf after we’ve managed to make a few blocks safe over fifteen patient years, then we’ve got a subprime mortgage for you to sign. By all means, shoot yourselves up with semiautomatics. If you’re going to shoot someone, why not kill all the bankers? Get the city council to pay one of our officers more than thirty-five thou a year and we wouldn’t have to take any…

…time before I punch out, as soon as I squared away the next shift with the sarge. Eight years of this shit and the gray was debuting at the top of my chops and my heavy body was coming home more sore with the shellacking each night. Chasing down suspects, perp walks executed with a more elaborate show, more time testing out the latest from Washington, having to fire back shots more and more as the crime rate soared and we were busting our asses to beat the CompStat numbers and our computers malfunctioned and the paperwork rose in tall rough impossible towers. Fiddling thumbs before the door, watching the sarge lurch left, right, left, right, as a burly suspect was two minutes away from confessing to a crime he never committed, the good cop burning the sin into his brain with a bullshit plea bargain from the Frank Castle playbook. Empty squares on the shift sheet staring back, the texts coming in from the wife, who was waiting, like me, to know when I had free time.

“Tomorrow,” said the sarge. “Collect your car at midnight.”

The kid’s shift. Rodriguez, that hotshot flyboy who’d only been here two years. He called in a favor. The way I once did before they tilted their ears to the new blood. That gave me eight hours to unwind, including sleep. I’d supported Gibson and Jiminez when they shot up that unarmed kid. Fingers were itching harder these days. No more apprentice period. Small wonder that the community we tried to defend didn’t trust us anymore.

I checked my gear into the locker. In desperate need of a shower, but I never hit the stalls with these guys. They’re still shaking off the sticky dregs of rapid-fire indignities doled out by the top brass when they can’t type out their reports on time or they don’t meet the daily quota. The same eyes that size up a crime scene have a way of searing into you. I can’t even count the times that something I’ve muttered in a stressful haze gets recalled by another grunt fond of chewing out my ass when the captain calls us in for a new sting.

Sure, I’ll meet the boys for basketball and barbeques and donuts. Never in bars. I know other cops get off on walking behind a 7-11 counter and grabbing the greasy pot that’s been rusting there for hours and hours. They fill up their Styrofoam cups of shady joe without paying a dime. That’s never been my way. These guys mark their territory because there’s nobody waiting at home. You learn who the lonely ones are because you forge tight bonds fast, especially if you want to survive. The endless stream of code and calm crackling through the radio leaves little time for jokes, unless, by some miracle, you’re ahead on the calls. But the never-ending pace doesn’t halt the young hungry fucks, the ones hungering for a detective badge, from nipping at your battered heels.

I’m a good cop compared to most of these animals. But even good cops lose their cool and take out their shit on a casual scumbag. You don’t rat out your peers, not if you want to live tomorrow. You look the other way and hope that the other guy softens over time.

I don’t take bribes, but I will take gifts. I stick within my salary. I take the old lady out for dinner at the seafood place once a year on her birthday, but we do have two kids and that sucks up expenses. It’s hard enough to come home and not beat the brats within an inch of their lives for something that has nothing to do with them. I don’t know what’s harder. Keeping expenses within your frugal budget or never blowing up. But it’s too late to change. By the time my youngest hits eighteen, I’ll be well past the age for a graceful career change.

I never would have had this life if I hadn’t walked into a donut shop one foggy morning. I helped nab one of those scam artists who target the dopey guys working the register. The fucker was a big man with long dreads grown from some reggae obsession lasting longer than an old fuck’s Reader’s Digest subscription. I watched the scammer lay into the register guy, claiming he never got change back from his twenty. He came in during the rush, scoping out the place to make sure it was understaffed. There are better ways to squeeze ten bucks out of a dummy, but his crime was so small time that nobody wanted to step in. Nobody wants to do anything anymore. But I saw the whole thing. The bastard had to be stopped. So I grabbed his arms and slammed his head onto the counter and told him that I was making a citizen’s arrest. The dopey guy behind the counter called the cops. The whole donut shop cheered me on, telling me that I was a hero, telling me that they wished they had my courage because the scammer was a big man with the kind of presence that suggests homicidal intent. It was the last time anyone told me that I did a good job, that I had a place in life. I told the detective everything: the crooked slant of the scammer’s upper teeth, the faint scar he had on his chin, the suspicious boom of his voice, the banged up Chevy Beretta with its dopey diagonal frame. He laughed, fired up two cigarettes, passed me one, and said I’d be a good cop. I called the recruitment line. The rest is my sad personal history.

We hate ourselves. We go to bed angry and wake up angrier the next morning. If we could blow our collective brains out, we would. We’re so wiped out at the end of the day. It’s an exhaustion most of you can only dream about.

Yes, we shot the nigger. We aren’t going to deny that. But we became the niggers of the workforce a long fucking time ago. There’s no escaping our destiny. We’ll go on killing niggers until the captain gives us the bright gold watch and sends our spent and battered husks to Florida. There’s no room for idealism in this job. If you want uplift, join a glee club.

The one thing that keeps us going is our responsibility to stub out crime, to do the best we can. But sooner or later, you come to understand that everyone is a criminal. And while you can check in your brain and keep your head down and wonder how the years rolled by so fast, we have to endure the riffraff and live with the burden of too much authority. But we’ll keep on going. We’ll keep on going because our mission is to serve and protect.

nypdmyrtle

The Cop Shootings Were Awful, But This Doesn’t Let the NYPD Off the Hook

Two cops were gunned down near Myrtle and Tompkins Avenue on Saturday afternoon. It happened near my old neighborhood. There was a palpable panic that hit the latte drinkers like an epidemic, as if one shooting had the power to halt the eastward wave of gentrification. The more troubling question, of course, beyond the immediate concern for the victims’s families, was whether this incident would serve as a smoking gun for an altogether different war against peaceful activists, Mayor Bill de Blasio, and any person standing in the NYPD’s way.

Ismaaiyl Brinsley, the gunman who killed Officers Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, was neither a protester nor a political agitator, unless one counts Instagram photos as a manifesto. He was a mentally disturbed man, admitting to an unspecified illness in court, and he shot his ex-girlfriend on Saturday, only to continue his spree at Bed-Stuy. Thus, Brinsley’s “motive,” which has been widely associated with Eric Garner, could just as easily have been hearing one too many treacly Christmas carols at the supermarket.

In all the finger wagging and op-ed quarterbacking, there has been little ink devoted to how a man like Brinsley obtained his silver pistol. Much like Elliot Rodger back in May, Brinsley was eager to communicate his plan (“I’m Putting Wings On Pigs Today”), motivated by hate, and carried out his violent rampage on people who were doing nothing: in this case, two cops who were merely eating their lunch. Whether Brinsley felt oppressed in an altogether different way, and didn’t feel he could express himself through peaceful means, is a matter that will likely have to be settled when further evidence pours in. But in light of 2014’s repugnant buffet of brutal violence, sexual assault allegations, #gamergate and other misogynist outings, and relentless racism, one must legitimately ask why it all seems to be spilling out now.

The loss of two cops deserves our sorrow and our respect. This was a violent and ineffable act, and the NYPD certainly deserves to mourn these losses.

Yet this incident must not be used by the NYPD to elude culpability for the murders of Eric Garner and Akai Gurley, who were both killed while unarmed and who both did not need to die. The NYPD must not stifle the necessary protests that will help bring about reform, much less any investigation into deeply inhumane and flagrantly over-the-top practices. The NYPD can complain about “NYPD KKK” epithets in chalk until it is as blue in the face as it is in uniform, but is not the written word better than the loaded gun? Surely, the NYPD must understand that there is a lot of rage over Garner, Gurley, and Michael Brown. The protests have attracted tens of thousands of people and, despite one questionable incident involving a bag of hammers, these efforts have been relatively peaceful.

Moreover, the NYPD is contributing to divisiveness. There were the I CAN BREATHE shirts brought by a Colorado man on Friday night, actively mocking Eric Garner’s dying words and heating up tensions with protesters on the other side. Then there was the NYPD’s astonishing disrespect for Mayor de Blasio on Saturday night, in which cops turned their backs when the Mayor entered a presser with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton at Woodhull Hospital.

The NYPD has been accustomed to getting what it wants and, as 1,000 more cops will be hired next year, there is little doubt that its militarized presence will escalate. And maybe that’s the problem with America right now. If everyone insists on being greedy and eating what little they have left of the pie, how will we learn to get through hard times?

johnpike

2011: The Year in Broken Windows

Alexis Madrigal: “Brooklyn College sociologist Alex Vitale, who has specialized in tracking police tactical changes, found that the the ‘broken windows’ theory of policing, which was introduced to a national audience by this very magazine, has also had a major impact on protest policing. As we wrote in 1982, broken windows policing did not attempt to directly fight violent crime but rather the ‘sense that the street is disorderly, a source of distasteful, worrisome encounters.’ As Vitale would put it, the theory ‘created a kind of moral imperative for the police to restore middle class values to the city’s public spaces.’ When applied to protesters, the strategy has meant that any break with the NYPD’s behavioral preferences could be grounds for swift arrest and/or physical violence.”

* * *

In the December 2011 issue of Philadelphia Magazine, there was a list printed on Page 72 with the heading which read THINGS WE NEED TO GET RID OF. Among the items listed? The Mummers. Poet CA Conrad went onto Philadelphia Magazine‘s Facebook page and demanded that it write a letter of apology. There was no response. He kept writing. He was blocked from the site. So Conrad went to the magazine’s office in person. He was polite. He did not yell. He asked to speak with the online editor. He was told no one was in. Nobody had the courage to talk with him. Instead, the Philadelphia Magazine receptionist called the police. “The truth is that they were embarrassed by what I was saying,” wrote Canto on his blog. “And they gloated over my removal from the office on Face Book. Oh, and while I was being escorted OUT, one of the magazine’s enforcers said that I was to be arrested if I ever stepped foot inside the building again. NICE!” (I learned of this story from HTML Giant.)

* * *

“Behavioral preferences.” That’s not unlike the highly elastic term “juvenile delinquency.”

* * *

A parent in Calvert County, Maryland wrote into The Bay Net. Her six-year-old daughter Brianna had made an “inappropriate comment” at Dowell Elementary, saying she was going to kill another student. This was a joke. She was pulled from recess by a teacher and ordered to sit and wait in various administrative rooms. Brianna assured the principal that she was only joking and that she had no intent of killing her fellow students. Despite her confession, the principal then grilled Brianna about her home life. Other students were brought in. One of Brianna’s good friends was pressured to rat her out — this, after she had already confessed as to the nature of her comment. The parent asked in her letter, “How do you justify not calling the parent of a six year old and holding her in the office for 2 hrs asking her about her life at home over an innocent comment? Do not get me wrong, I know what she said was inappropriate but to all that know my daughter know that she would never intentionally hurt anyone!! How do you justify treating her this way? This is the problem, noone will or can justify this to me. I email jack smith the super of cc schools, I of course get pushed onto someone else who calls me asks me what happens and about the only response I get it ‘well as ling as you do understand what she did was wrong!’ Really? I have yet to speak to the super as I’m told he is very busy with meetings….!”

* * *

The Guardian: “James Harding, speaking at the Society of Editors conference on Monday, was talking days after Tom Watson accused James Murdoch in parliament of being the ‘first mafia boss in history who didn’t know he was running a criminal enterprise.’ A clearly irritated Murdoch responded that he thought this was an ‘inappropriate’ comment.”

* * *

Etymology for irritated: 1530s, “stimulate to action, rouse, incite,” from L. irritatus, pp. of irritare “excite, provoke.” An earlier verb form was irrite (mid-15c.), from O.Fr. irriter. Meaning “annoy, make impatient” is from 1590s.

It took only six decades for “irritate” to have its meaning corrupted.

* * *

At a Cannes press conference on May 18, 2011, the filmmaker Lars von Trier stated, “I understand Hitler but I think he did some wrong things yes absolutely but I can see him sitting in his bunker.” These words were received with understandable umbrage. Von Trier apologized the next day, purporting that his remarks were meant in jest. “I am not anti-Semitic or racially prejudiced in any way, nor am I a Nazi.” Despite this apology, he was banned from the Cannes Film Festival, declared persona non grata with the decision supported by French culture minister Frederic Mitterand. Mitterand remarked of the ban, “There is a major difference between a film that was chosen in a calm atmosphere and a director who clearly blew a fuse.” Yet in 2009, Mitterand protested Roman Polanski’s September 26 arrest in Amsterdam, “To see him thrown to the lions and put in prison because of ancient history — and as he was traveling to an event honoring him — is absolutely horrifying.” Why are terrible words uttered in 2011 more “horrifying” than terrible action in 1977? It took a day for Lars von Trier to apologize and nearly 35 years for Polanski to apologize.

* * *

In January 2011, the BBC apologized for remarks made by Stephen Fry on the comedy quiz show, QI Fry had made a quip about Tsutomu Yamaguchi, a man who had survived both the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Fry called Yamaguchi “the unluckiest man in the world.” Japanese viewers, watching the clip on YouTube, became irate and wrote in. Japanese blogger Yuko Kato wrote: “So, in this sad case, literally a comedy of errors, the lack of knowing and understanding goes both ways. The BBC and the people involved in the QI segment (including Stephen Fry, whom I dearly love) failed to anticipate Japanese sensitivities; and if they had but still went on with the broadcast then that’s even worse. For as a Japanese (despite my unabashed love of British comedy), I was very uncomfortable with the segment, especially with the audience tittering. On the other hand (no limbs left), most of the Japanese public have absolutely no idea what British humour is about; they simply don’t know that it’s a form of expression that strives to tell things like it is, that it’s an art form that tries to illuminate all the foolishness and idiosyncracies and negativities of the world through irony.”

* * *

In February, fashion designer Kenneth Cole tweeted, “Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available online.” Outrage ensued.

* * *

DJ Gardner was ranked the 64th best college basketball player in the country. He was a freshman forward standing six-foot-seven, an accomplished shooter described by a former high school coach as “an unselfish kid” who understood that it didn’t matter which player made the points. He was wooed by Mississippi State, told by the smiling men that he’d get serious time on the court and, like any hardworking kid baffled by the two other young men rotating as shooting guard, agreed to a redshirt year for the freshman season. On Twitter, he let off some steam:

These bitches tried to fuck me over.. That’s y I red shirted .. But I wish my homies a great ass season.. I don’t even know y I’m still here

He called the top brass “liars.” Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury booted Gardner off the team for his tweeting, claiming his words to be “repeated action detrimental to the team.” And while Gardner’s mother, Angela, was hardly happy with the behavior of her son and the coach, she said, “I felt like there should’ve been some communication.”

* * *

On July 3, 2011, Charles Hill was shot by BART police in the Civic Center station in San Francisco. Hill was drunk. He pulled a knife and threw it at the floor. And the police shot and killed Hill. Witnesses reported that Hill had neither ran nor lunged at the two cops. The police claimed Hill was using an open liquor bottle as a weapon. BART police chief Kenton Rainey claimed he was “comfortable” with the decision of his men.

This brutal incident led many to exercise their First Amendment rights to protest Hill’s death. But on August 11, 2011, BART muzzled cell phone service at four stations, ridding the protesters of their right to coordinate a peaceful assembly. The ACLU of Northern California replied:

All over the world people are using mobile devices to organize protests against repressive regimes, and we rightly criticize governments that respond by shutting down cell service, saying it’s anti democratic and a violation of the right to free expression and assembly. Are we really willing to tolerate the same silencing of protest here in the United States?

* * *

On November 21, 2011, a Kansas high school student named Emma Sullivan attended a Youth in Government program, listening to a speech by Governor Sam Brownback and ridiculing him on Twitter under the hashtag “#heblowsalot.” Brownback’s office spotted Sullivan’s tweet during “routine media monitoring” and forced Sullivan’s principal to ask Sullivan to write an apology letter. Sullivan refused, but she did say, “I think it would be interesting to have a dialogue with him. I don’t know if he would do it or not though. And I don’t know that he would listen to what I have to say.” Sullivan’s mother said that she wasn’t angry with her daughter. The story made the rounds. Brownback issued an apology.

* * *

On the afternoon of July 19, 2011, I was contacted by a detective from the Cheverly Police Department. The detective was a nice and reasonable guy. He explained to me that blogger and critic Mark Athitakis was accusing me of harassment. What was so harassing? Several comments — all under my real name, really a bunch of silly performance art that I had been leaving intermittently over the last few months, nothing intended to harm and more than a bit absurdist — one evoking a fictitious Shakespeare quote reading “let’s kill the critics” and the like. I told the detective that these comments were clearly satirical. That a comment containing the lyrics for Rebecca Black’s “Friday” could not possibly be written with violence or threats in mind. The detective agreed that he and I both had better things to do with his time. He was merely checking up on the complaint that he received.

At no time did Mark ever contact me personally to (a) clarify the beef that he has with me, (b) state that I was harassing him. He did email me on July 14th, writing, “Your behavior is abusive, disrespectful, and unacceptable. It has to stop.” I emailed him a suggestion on how to clear things up, writing, “If you want to use this email as an opportunity, then I’m all ears.” He repeated the same line in another email on July 15th. I replied, “This comment is not abusive. Here are the facts: you have no sense of humor, you are disrespectful of my thoughts and voice, and you cannot take criticism.”

That was the last direct contact I had with Athitakis. I did not visit his site again until July 19, 2011, when I was attempting to explain the situation to the detective. So Athitakis must have filed the complaint with the Cheverly Police Department after this exchange.

* * *

On October 2, 2011, then New York Times freelance journalist Natasha Lennard was arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge while covering the Occupy Wall Street protests. On October 14, 2011, she spoke before a panel at Blue Stockings, expressing her opinions about organizing protests and using colorful language. A right-wing website, unable to see the distinction between reporting and opinion, posted the video with speculation, demanding “appropriate disciplinary action against Lennard” and asking her to rat out “any potential planned criminal activity by Occupy activists.”

Natasha Lennard responded with a Salon essay, “Why I quit the mainstream media”:

As the Times publicly noted, they found no problem with any of the reporting I had done for them on OWS. Indeed, a court hearing upheld that I had been on the Brooklyn Bridge as a professional journalist and as such, deserved to have the disorderly conduct charge against me dismissed. The only reason I was on the Brooklyn Bridge that day was as a reporter, gathering and relaying information on what I saw, and nothing else. However, as has become clear, if I — or any other journalist — want to express a strong opinion on a political matter, I cannot contemporaneously report for a mainstream publication.

* * *

From a New York Times opinion piece written by Rebecca MacKinnon (November 15, 2011):

Adding to the threat to free speech, recent academic research on global Internet censorship has found that in countries where heavy legal liability is imposed on companies, employees tasked with day-to-day censorship jobs have a strong incentive to play it safe and over-censor — even in the case of content whose legality might stand a good chance of holding up in a court of law. Why invite legal hassle when you can just hit “delete”?

The potential for abuse of power through digital networks — upon which we as citizens now depend for nearly everything, including our politics — is one of the most insidious threats to democracy in the Internet age. We live in a time of tremendous political polarization. Public trust in both government and corporations is low, and deservedly so. This is no time for politicians and industry lobbyists in Washington to be devising new Internet censorship mechanisms, adding new opportunities for abuse of corporate and government power over online speech.

pepperspray

Occupy Wall Street: Was the NYPD Authorized to Pepper Spray Peaceful Observers?

On Saturday, the New York Police Department arrested approximately 80 people — many participating as part of Occupy Wall Street, a peaceful protest against Wall Street and the economy.

But one incident suggests very strongly that the NYPD exceeded its authority and failed to follow appropriate procedure. In videos that have been making the rounds in the past 24 hours, three bystanders — all occupying the street and captured inside orange netting erected by the police — shout “What are you doing?” and “Oh my God!” in response to unseen arrests in the distance. The women, who offer no resistance or violent behavior, are seen and heard shrieking in pain as police officers pepper spray them without any apparent warning. On the main video, the young woman on the right clutches her hand over her mouth in shock, looking around and doing nothing, just standing there. She is clearly unaware that she is about to be maced. (The Daily Kos’s MinistryOfTruth talked with one of the women. She confessed in the report that she had no idea what prompted the attack.)

Two police officers clad in white shirts approach the women. One of them is equipped with pepper spray. He has been busy off-screen. He points fiercely at the three penned women, barking, “You guys are all going to be going” — presumably in response to the legitimate question “What are you doing?” The young woman on the right, still stunned, stretches out her hand. And he responds by spraying her in the face with pepper spray. He moves his arm to the right and sprays the others.

As the three women scream in pain and flail their arms, the netted orange perimeter is broadened. But not a single police officer steps inside to aid the women, much less arrest them. Other people scream for someone to bring water to the three women.

Here is the original video:

Here is the original video slowed down:

Here is the incident from another angle:

The NYPD would not confirm with The Gothamist whether or not it used pepper spray in any of the arrests. Yet the videos clearly indicate that it did. According to CBS News, the NYPD called every arrest justified. But an equally important question is this: Why did these officers consider the use of OC justifiable against these peaceful observers?

These three videos contain enough information about the macing incident to reconstruct a substantial portion of it. Reluctant Habits has also obtained a 2005 edition of the New York Police Department Patrol Guide, which outlines the specific use of pepper spray in Section 212-95. By the 2005 standards and based on the available evidence, it is clear that the NYPD did not follow appropriate measures.

In most cases, pepper spray is used to effect the arrest of a resisting subject. And the Patrol Guide specifies five uses for OC pepper spray:

  • Protect self, or another from unlawful use of force (e.g., assault)
  • Effect an arrest, or establish physical control of a subject resisting arrest
  • Establish physical control of a subject attempting to flee from arrest or custody
  • Establish physical control of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP)
  • Control a dangerous animal, by deterring an attack, to prevent injury to persons
    or animals present.

We see in the above videos that the women were not assaulting the police officers (unless stretching out one’s hand to get one’s bearings is considered “assault”). There was no need to establish physical control. They were not fleeing from arrest. (Indeed, how could they when they were trapped in orange police netting?) They were not emotionally disturbed persons. They were not dangerous animals who were going to injure anybody.

In looking at the Patrol Guide, we learn that the police are obligated to arrest the person who is pepper sprayed and charge them with a crime. Yet we see that the police do not make any moves towards the three women. They are left to scream, kneeled in the streets and in pain. They are not criminals. But they are clearly examples of what befalls “bad” citizens.

The Patrol Guide specifically orders the uniformed officer not to use pepper spray on “subjects who passively resist (e.g., going limp, offering no active physical resistance).” But the white shirted policeman has clearly ignored this procedure. In the same note, the uniformed officer is instructed to “avoid using O.C. spray in small contained areas such as automobiles and closets.” It is hard to determine with all the pandemonium going on in the video, but the orange netting erected by the police may very well fall into the scope of “small contained area.”

Patrol Guide procedures also request Emergency Medical Services “once the situation is under control.” But we see these women screaming and no apparent EMS members in the frame. Did the NYPD fulfill this option? Probably not. Because the women were left in the contaminated area to scream. They were not relocated to fresh air, contrary to another Patrol Guide mandate: “Remove the subject from the contaminated area and expose to fresh air while awaiting the arrival of EMS, or transportation to hospital/stationhouse if tactically feasible.”

Given the distance of the officers from the victims, it’s likely that none of the officers asked the women if they were wearing contact lenses. Nor were the women placed in a sitting position to promote free breathing. They were left to fall to the ground and suffer. The Patrol Guide also specifies that officers should provide a source of water and flush the contaminated skin of those who are pepper-spayed. Even if we give the NYPD the benefit of the doubt, and accept that the situation was an anarchic one and that it was hard to enforce these guidelines, one would think that this flushing proviso would be followed to the letter — if not as an enforced code, then at least as a basic quality of humanism that requires no explanation. But for a good twenty seconds, the women are left to scream and to experience pain, with one woman stretching her arms in an effort to find some relief for her anguish. The women who are not sprayed appear to want to help her, but, trapped inside the orange netting, they cannot offer water.

The NYPD’s conduct does not fall into the five general categories of pepper spray use. It fails to adhere to the NYPD’s own guidelines. And since the NYPD cannot own up to its inhumane behavior, despite repeat inquiries, it suggests very highly that the police are not especially committed to Fidelis ad Mortem — especially that vital faith in innocent bystanders whose only crime was to ask what was happening to fellow human beings.

Here is P.G. 212-95 reproduced in its entirety:

P.G. 212-95 Use Of Pepper Spray Devices

Date Effective: 01-01-00

PURPOSE

To inform uniformed members of the service of circumstances under which pepper spray
may be intentionally discharged and to record instances where pepper spray has been
discharged, intentionally or accidentally.

SCOPE

Use of Oleoresin Capsicum (O.C.) pepper spray constitutes physical force under the New
York State Penal Law. Use of pepper spray is proper when used in accordance with
Article 35 of the Penal Law and Department procedures. O.C. pepper spray may be used
when a member reasonably believes it is necessary to effect an arrest of a resisting
suspect, for self-defense or defense of another from unlawful force, or to take a
resisting emotionally disturbed person into custody. In many cases, pepper spray will
reduce or eliminate the need for substantial physical force to effect an arrest or
gain custody. It will often reduce the potential for injuries to members and suspects
that may result from physical restraint and it should be regarded as a possible
alternative to such force and restraint, where practical. Pepper spray shall not be
used in situations that do not require the use of physical force. O.C. pepper spray
may be used in arrest or custodial restraint situations where physical presence and/or
verbal commands have not been, or would not be, effective in overcoming physical
resistance.

PROCEDURE

When necessary to use pepper spray device:

UNIFORMED MEMBER OF THE SERVICE

1. Hold pepper spray in an upright position, aim and discharge pepper spray into a
subject’s eyes for maximum effectiveness, using two (2) one second bursts, at a
minimum distance of three (3) feet, and only in situations when the uniformed member
of the service reasonably believes that it is necessary to:

a. Protect self, or another from unlawful use of force (e.g., assault)

b. Effect an arrest, or establish physical control of a subject resisting arrest

c. Establish physical control of a subject attempting to flee from arrest or custody

d. Establish physical control of an emotionally disturbed person (EDP)

e. Control a dangerous animal, by deterring an attack, to prevent injury to persons
or animals present.

2. Effect arrest of criminal suspect against who pepper spray was used and charge with
crime which initiated use of the pepper spray.

a. Add resisting arrest charge, when appropriate

b. P.G. 210-13, “Release Of Prisoners – General Procedure” will be complied with if
it is determined that arrested person did not commit the crime or that no crime was
committed.

c. P.G. 216-05, “Mentally Ill Or Emotionally Disturbed Persons,” will be complied
with, when appropriate.

NOTE: Do not use pepper spray on subjects who passively resist (e.g., going limp,
offering no active physical resistance). If possible, avoid using pepper spray on
persons who appear to be in frail health, young children, women believed to be
pregnant, or persons with known respiratory conditions. Avoid discharging pepper
spray indiscriminately over a large area for disorder control. (Members who are
specifically trained in the use of pepper spray for disorder control may use pepper
spray in accordance with their training, and within Department guidelines, and as
authorized by supervisors.). In addition, avoid using O.C. spray in small contained
areas such as automobiles and closets.

3. Request response of Emergency Medical Service (EMS) once the situation is under
control.

a. Advise person sprayed that EMS is responding.

4. Remove the subject from the contaminated area and expose to fresh air while
awaiting the arrival of EMS, or transportation to hospital/stationhouse if tactically
feasible.

a. Determine whether the person sprayed is wearing contact lenses. (It is strongly
recommended that contact lenses be removed as soon as possible after exposure to O.C.
spray.)

5. Position subject on his/her side or in a sitting position to promote free
breathing.

a. The subject should never be maintained or transported in a face down position.

b. Do not sit, stand, or kneel on subject’s chest or back.

6. Provide assistance to subject as follows:

a. When consistent with member’s safety, and provided a source of water is readily
available, the uniformed member should flush the contaminated skin area of a subject
with profuse amounts of water.

b. Repeat flushing at short intervals, if necessary, until symptoms of distress
subside.

c. Continue flushing the contaminated skin of the subject in custody, at the
stationhouse as needed.

d. Commence the flushing of a subject’s contaminated skin upon arrival at the
stationhouse, if this has not already been done.

NOTE: Do not rub or touch skin of contaminated person, as the initial effect of
pepper spray does not dissipate for 15 – 20 minutes. Also, do not use salves, creams,
ointments, commercial eye washes or bandages. The desk officer will ensure that all
prisoners who have been sprayed with pepper spray receive appropriate first aid, if
needed, upon arrival at the stationhouse. Desk officers are also responsible for
ensuring that prisoners who have been sprayed with pepper spray are properly observed
throughout the arrest process, and that they receive prompt medical attention if they
need or request it. A Command Log entry will be made stating whether the prisoner has
had his/her skin flushed with water, been examined by EMS, or been transported to the
hospital.

7. Transport prisoner immediately to the emergency room of the nearest hospital if
he/she is demonstrating difficulty breathing, or exhibiting signs of severe stress,
hyperventilation etc.

a. Windows of transport vehicle should be kept open

b. Members who come in contact with persons who have been exposed to pepper spray
must thoroughly wash their hands afterward and avoid having any contaminated clothing
make contact with their face

c. Advise hospital staff that pepper spray has been used on prisoner.

8. Prepare ON LINE BOOKING SYSTEM ARREST WORKSHEET (PD 244-159) and MEDICAL TREATMENT
OF PRISONER (PD 244-150) in arrest situations.

9. Complete the AIDED REPORT WORKSHEET (PD 304-152b) in non-arrest situations, e.g.
EDP, and:

a. Check box “O.C. Spray Used”

b. Enter rank, name, and tax registry number, of each MOS who discharged spray in
the “Details” caption

c. List the time, doctor’s name, and diagnosis under “Details” caption, when
applicable.

COMMANDING OFFICER, M.I.S.D.

10. Provide a quarterly printout of all arrest and aided incidents where pepper spray
was discharged to the commanding officer, Firearms and Tactics Section.

COMMANDING OFFICER, FIREARMS AND TACTICS SECTION

11. Analyze situations where O.C. spray was employed to evaluate its effectiveness.
a. As appropriate, modify existing training/tactics relative to the use of pepper
spray.

ADDITIONAL DATA

The only pepper spray authorized for use is the type issued to all uniformed members
through the Firearms and Tactics Section.

In order to maintain the effectiveness of the spray, it is recommended that the device
be shaken at the start of each tour. Carrying the pepper spray device during normal
patrol duty should be sufficient to keep the solution thoroughly mixed.

Pepper spray will not automatically stop all subjects, and even when it does
incapacitate, the effects are temporary. Members should therefore be ready to use
other appropriate force options and tactics.

When performing duty in uniform, the pepper spray shall be carried in its holster
attached to the non-shooting side of the gun belt. When performing enforcement duty
in civilian clothes the pepper spray must be carried, in the holster attached either
to a belt or in another appropriate manner. Undercover members may opt not to carry
the pepper spray. Members of the service may carry the pepper spray device during off
duty hours.

UPDATE: The Village Voice talks with Chelsea Elliott, one of the protesters: “We lay on the ground like little worms. One of the other girls was a medic, and was able to pour milk in her eyes. The cops left. They moved the net. All I know from what happened afterward, I watched on YouTube. For like 15 minutes, I couldn’t see; I couldn’t breathe at first. It was so out of the ordinary and unprovoked. Our medical group poured milk into my eyes for like 10 minutes, and apple cider vinegar on my face.”

UPDATE 2: The NYPD officer who pepper sprayed the protesters has been identified as Anthony Bologna. A Downtown Express profile of Bologna reveals that he became a police officer late in life and there is this telling quote: “You read in the papers about cops doing things that you can’t believe because you think everybody’s like you. But a department this large can’t really be completely free of it. If you don’t find anything wrong, you’re in real trouble because you’re not looking.” I am also investigating this article from 2001, which suggests the possibility that Anthony Bolgona attacked another protester at a Mayday NYC protest in 2001.

UPDATE 3: Jeanne Mansfield, “Why I Was Maced at the Wall Street Protests.”

UPDATE 4: The Guardian reports that Anthony Bologna may have committed civil rights abuses during the 2004 demonstrations at the Republican National Convention.

Police Taser Naked Wizard at Coachella


Naked Wizard Tased By Reality from Tracy Anderson on Vimeo.

A six-minute video that is now quickly making the rounds around the Internet (see above) depicts a naked man at the Coachella Music Festival being tasered by police. The Desert Sun has the best summary of events, but essentially Johnathan Frederick Feich, a 23-year-old-man, ran around naked without his wizard costume. Three police approached him — two from Indio and one from Banning — trying to persuade him to put on his costume.

“I’ll tell you what,” says one of the officers. “You can have a great time, but you can have an even better time if you put your clothes on. Can I get them for you?”

According to the Sun article, Indio Police Department spokesman Ben Guitron claimed that it was the officer from Banning who elected to use the taser.

If this was indeed the case, then the Banning Police Department’s Departmental Policy and Procedures (PDF) suggests that the officer may be out of line in using his taser.

According to Policy 309.2(d), an Electronic Control Device can only be used to overcome resistance from violent or potentially violent subjects. And while the Policy doesn’t specify a requirement that the subject has to strike the officer, the officer must have “sufficient information (i.e., verbal threats, verbal defiance, or physical stance) to believe that a person is physically threatening and has the present ability to inflict harm.”

The Banning Police Department has not yet returned calls to reporters. The Indio Police Department stands by the actions of its officers. I will be making some calls this afternoon and I will attempt to obtain the police report.

The question that the investigators will have to answer is whether Feich’s actions constituted a potential for violence. The other question is whether repeated tasers to the skull, the heart, and other areas constitute use of an ECD that is acceptable under the circumstance. Is a man who throws his clothes off violent? And why didn’t the police officers escort Feich from the facilities and avoid a public spectacle?

UPDATE: I spoke with a very helpful woman in the Records Department at the Indio Police Department. She tells me that there isn’t a police report that they have available. (I gave her the name and the time of the incident. She didn’t recognize the name, but she certainly knew “naked guy.”) It appears that Mr. Felch may have been taken to a jail and a command center nearby the festival, but not directly to police headquarters. I have also left a voicemail with police spokesman Ben Guitron and I hope to put forth a number of questions to him about this matter.

UPDATE 2: I have not heard back from the Banning Police Department. Mr. Guitron has been inundated with media calls, but I will be putting forth questions to him very soon.

UPDATE 3: On Friday afternoon, I spoke for about ten minutes with the very polite and very helpful Ben Guitron of the Indio Police Department. He was very generous with his time and his answers. Mr. Guitron informed me that Indio didn’t have enough staff in place for Coachella. For large events like Coachella, the IPD regularly coordiantes with four municipal agencies for events of this size. And in the case of Mr. Felch (apparently pronounced “Fletch”), the IPD partnered up with the Banning Police Department. Mr. Guitron told me that the BPD has the arrest report.

I have left a few messages with the BPD and have heard nothing back from them, and I will continue my attempts until I can obtain a copy of the report. Apparently, the investigating and arresting officer was BPD, which meant that the BPD controls jurisdiction. When I asked Mr. Guitron if it was the IPD’s position that the BPD bore the responsibility for ECD use, he said that this was indeed the case. I also tried pressing him on whether he considered Mr. Felch to be violent, and he again deferred to Banning. But he did note that the three officers’ behavior was guided very much by firm policies and their training and experience.

Here’s what happened, according to Mr. Guitron: There was a call from Coachella. The gist? Some gentleman appears to be on drugs or alcohol. He appears to be very drunk and naked. The three officers moved in. The reason that they did not take Mr. Felch away from the crowd was because one of the officers was attempting to keep a lookout for one of Mr. Felch’s friends. As Mr. Guitron explained to me, “With a large crowd, there has to be an officer watching the crowd.” The officers tried to talk Mr. Felch into putting on his clothes and, as Mr. Guitron conveyed to me, “This lasted longer than expected.”

“In our perspective,” said Mr. Guitron, “nobody’s looking for a violent tack.” But because Mr. Felch did not obey the officers’s orders and refused to be cuffed, this exacerbated the circumstances and caused the ECD (i.e., the taser) to be used.

The IPD is very well aware that cameras document these arrests at large events. As he told me, “Everybody uses their camera. It was to be expected. I mean, we’ve had people with nudity who have been drunk before. Girls without their tops.”

Of course, nobody at the IPD expected all this to hit the Internet as much as it did. And there remain additional questions. First, did Mr. Felch come to Coachella with friends and why didn’t they help him or talk him down? Second, why did the Banning Police Department use an ECD for a nonviolent act of authoritarianism? I hope to determine the answers to these questions as my investigations continue.

UPDATE 4: This Vancouver Sun story reveals that Felch was arrested and released on $2,500 bail.

Amy Goodman, Democracy Now! Producers, AP Photographer Arrested

The Washington Post is reporting that Democracy Now! radio host Amy Goodman was arrested in St. Paul after inquiring with the police over the arrest of two Democracy Now! producers Sharif Abdel Kouddous and Nicole Salazar. Goodman and her producers were in St. Paul to report on the Republican National Convention. Goodman was held in custody for three hours, and Goodman has claimed the Secret Service ripped off her press credentials to get on the floor of the Republican National Convention. Meanwhile, the two producers are still being held in custody. (An audio file of the arrest can be found here. In addition, The Uptake has a camera view from another angle.)

Also arrested (in a separate incident) was Associated Press photographer Matt Rourke. While the charges against Goodman, Kouddous, and Salazar are uncertain, Rourke was charged with a gross misdemeanor riot charge.

Glenn Greenwald has more, writing:

Beginning last night, St. Paul was the most militarized I have ever seen an American city be, even more so than Manhattan in the week of 9/11 — with troops of federal, state and local law enforcement agents marching around with riot gear, machine guns, and tear gas cannisters, shouting military chants and marching in military formations. Humvees and law enforcement officers with rifles were posted on various buildings and balconies. Numerous protesters and observers were tear gassed and injured.

Let us be clear on this. This goes well beyond Josh Wolf refusing to turn over evidence. Journalists who had the decency and the effrontery to ask hardball questions were prevented from conducting their work. None of these people were causing a riot. They were in St. Paul doing their jobs. They were there talking to people and reporting the news. Their collective right to be there, which was confirmed by their press credentials, is protected by the First Amendment. If the St. Paul Police Department does not come clean with details and specific allegations, then it is up to the American public to ensure that the police who arrested these journalists are levied with the appropriate penalties.

[UPDATE: Democracy Now has issued a press release indicating that Kouddous and Salazar have been released. Goodman was charged with obstruction. According to the press release, Kouddous and Salazar were charged with felony riot charges.]

Play

NYPD Police Brutality

WCBS: “Cephus said he was bringing ice into a park, when he encountered two police officers checking for liquor. He dropped his bag, and says he was hit 10 to 12 times on the shoulder and upper arms, before a bystander’s camera even started.”

Amazingly, Police Union President Patrick Lynch claims this to be an appropriate amount of force. And while the officer involved has not been suspended, he has been confined to desk duty.

This violence comes only a day after a NYPD officer assaulted a Critical Mass cyclist, brutally pushing him from his bike while he was simply riding down the street.

The officer who assaulted Cephon is Michael Harrington. The officer who assaulted the cyclist is Patrick Pogan, and even Mayor Bloomberg believes Pogan went over the line.

John Kerry, Students Do Nothing as Student is Tazered for Asking Question

CBS 4: “A Weston student at the University of Florida was shocked with a stun-gun and arrested Monday when he tried to continue speaking at a forum with U.S. Senator John Kerry after the question and answer session had ended. The whole incident was caught on camera.”

Here’s another camera angle. The chilling thing is that nobody did a damn thing while Andrew Meyer cried out for help. Is this a free society?

And to show you just how acceptable this kind of over-the-top police reaction has become, here are some comments from the NBC 6 site:

This was so hilarious that I watched it several times. The demented liberal freak is yelling “what did I do?” while trying to punch out police officers. It’s nice seeing an anti war protest thug receive some of the street justice that they love to meet out at their “peaceful” protests.

Taser him again!!!!

Use a bullet next time

Hit him again….

what a douche

And here’s another video angle. To be fair, there are some queries here from the crowd. But the detail that creeps me out is the blonde woman who stands on the left edge of the frame smiling while this student is being hit with a stun gun.

UPDATE: More details from the Miami Herald: “Members of the student group sponsoring the event summoned UF police to escort Meyer out, according to a police statement. At first, students can be heard cheering as he is asked to leave.” In addition, a website has been created containing a number of links to what happened. A protest is planned at the University of Fresno this afternoon at noon.

And here’s more from Emil Steiner:

Before his Miranda rights had even been read, the outspoken student asked loudly, “What are you doing? I want to stand and listen to him answer my question. Why are you arresting me for asking a question? I didn’t do anything.” The six officers then grabbed ahold of his shirt, pulled him to the ground and cuffed him.

Throughout this disturbing display, Kerry remained stoically focused on answering the young man’s questions (the ones to him, not the ones he asked the police). Even as Meyer’s shrieks grew in urgency, the Massachusetts senator reflected calmly on the importance of not contesting the results of the 2004 election.

Kerry’s voice, however, was no match for Meyer’s, who despite not having a mic continued to hog the audience’s attention with such glib catch phrases as: “Help me! Help!” and “What are you doing! Get off of me! Don’t Taser me, bro! Oh my God! OH MY GOD!”

Nothing, incidentally, on this posted by Daily Kos or Atrios.

MANDATORY VIEWING

This is the United States of America.

UCLA. A kid goes into a library. He doesn’t have ID. They ask him to leave. And he starts to. But he’s not fast enough. And the campus police Taser him not once, but multiple times. All the while, the kid screams, “Don’t touch me!” The kid shrieks that he has a medical condition. But these cops don’t care. And when he’s frightened and screaming in pain, trying to explain that he was minding his own business, the police still demand that he stand up. And they Taser him again. Torturing him with total equanimity. Telling him to stand up.

The horror finally kicks in around the students and a few of them are brave enough to ask for badge numbers. The officers refuse.

The kid’s dragged out into the vestibule. He begs with the officers, “Please! Please!” But they insist that he stand up. One cop has the temerity to declare the kid “mentally ill,” perhaps communicating to the considerable crowd of onlookers that the police is in the right. Mind your own business. Go study some more and be good consumers.

Finally, the kid is dragged out of the library. The students look around, slackjawed, shocked that this can happen in a library. They only came here to study.

The UCPD owes us an explanation. UCLA Acting Chancellor Norman Abrams owes us an explanation. UC President Robert Dynes owes us an explanation. The police who were involved in this torture of a harmless student need to be shitcanned on the spot.

If you found this video as disgusting as I did, then you need to let the UCPD know how you feel.

Here’s the contact info:

University of California, Los Angeles
Police Department
601 Westwood Plaza
Los Angeles, CA 90095-1364
Telephone: (310) 825-1491

A man named Karl T. Ross is the UCLA Chief of Police. Direct your mail and your phone calls to him.

Here is some more contact info:

Karl T. Ross, Chief of Police
kross@ucpd.ucla.edu
310-825-1633

John Adams, Captain
adamsj@ucpd.ucla.edu
310-825-4406

Interim Chancellor Norman Abrams
Telephone: 310-825-2151
Fax: 310-206-6030
chancellor@conet.ucla.edu

I will be calling them tomorrow myself, demanding answers.

[UPDATE: The police statement: “The officers deemed it necessary to use the Taser in a ‘drive stun’ capacity.” And here’s the LA Times’ report.]

UCLA Cops = The New LAPD?

Sister Rye points to this remarkable overstepping of authority. At UCLA, a student who was using a computer in the library was asked to leave. While he was in the act of leaving the library, the police then grabbed his arm and the student asked the police to let him go. He then began to scream, “Get off me!” This (and perhaps the student’s profanity) resulted in the student being Tasered several times by the campus police.

What’s more, these UCPD officers threatened to Taser another student when she asked the officer for his name and badge number.

It’s terrible that thuggish behavior like this would happen in a library, a sanctuary intended for anyone to pursue the humanities without violence. And based on my own experience with violent police officers, it’s even more terrible that these cops will likely get off without so much as a slap on the wrist.

Perhaps the only solution is to lobby the newly Democratic Senate and House of Representatives to consider legislation that would permit nationwide accountability for this type of excessive force. If the police know they can get away with this, they will continue to engage in this kind of behavior.

[UPDATE: Video. This is utterly disgusting.]

Houston Police Assault Concertgoers & Band

houstoncop1.jpg
houstoncop2.jpg

At a small club in Houston, a cop entered the club to investigate a noise disturbance. Reports are coming in that, instead of having the decency to talk with the management, the police officer walked directly up to the stage and slammed a musician to the ground. Not stopping there, this police officer then tasered three people just for kicks.

This rampant abuse of authority, which resembles behavior that I was subjected to earlier this year by San Francisco’s “finest,” is uncalled for in any context. There were numerous peaceful methods that this officer could have employed to deal with the situation. But instead of talking reasonably with the club owners or the crowd, he gave into stress, pressure, violence, or who knows really, and created a situation that escalated out of control.

I sincerely hope that the victims of this officer’s abusive behavior plan to file a report against the officer and that they do not remain silent.

Links: YouTube video, Houston Metblogs, more video, more links, band’s message forum. (via Boing Boing)

[UPDATE: According to this site, the cop’s name is G.M. Rodriguez and his badge number is 7854. You can air your complaints by calling the police station’s public affairs division at 713-308-3200.]

[UPDATE 2: The Houston Chronicle has presented this incident as if Rodriguez was the one attacked. It would seem that the video links suggest otherwise.]

The Drunk

“I can’t breathe, motherfucker! I can’t breathe!”

The drunk had only his voice left, but he was determined to fight. A neighbor and I called from the window. We begged the police not to harm the man, to give him oxygen, and the fuzz knew they were being watched. So they didn’t beat him. The drunk had only blurred stamina and a voice that alerted every adjacent domicile that there was a skirmish in the premises. His limbs were pinned down by seven of San Francisco’s finest in the alley adjacent to my apartment. I had to wonder just what the hell it was he did exactly. Had he spurned chase? Had he assaulted an officer? Was he simply belligerent? There was a savage determination in the man’s voice to beat the odds. It took seven police officers to hold him down. Seven.

The liquor had fueled him. It had told him that he was immortal, whatever his problems, whatever his affliction. It had worked the same way that PCP might in another: the abject faith that he was above the law, that he would win in the end, that vengeance of an altogether irrational sort would be his. But the addiction, apparently, was too much for him to operate in society. Tonight, anyway.

Of the seven cops, one was a woman. The drunk, singular in his rebellion, had bitten her hand while they pinioned his limbs down. He called her a dyke. he egged them on. Aside from a feral “fucker” from the lady (an understandable impulse from anyone who had blood drawn from their hand), the SFPD did their job containing him without beating the man down. This was no Fajitagate. They only wanted to get him into the wagon. And the wagon arrived, backing into the alley and colliding into a few trash cans. There was a mesh grille behind the double doors, and I wondered if anyone else was there.

The drunk had been in the Marines at one point. He had been stationed on Treasure Island. So he said. You meet a lot of homeless people in this city, many of them claiming some military stint, some pledge unfulfilled. And he was determined to “fuck your fascist shit up,” thank you very much.

Me? I felt like one of Kitty Genovese’s watchers. Who the hell was I to cast judgment? But if the police clubbed this guy to death, I was determined to run into the alley and stop the violence. Fortunately, they didn’t.

But I sympathized with him. I wondered if he had been left behind at some point. I wondered about his military experience. I wondered what had caused him to become so blotto and so enraged. Had he been abandoned? Had he served in the Gulf War? Or was his life a grand lie?

One police officer for every limb. They threw him into the van and laughed a bit afterward. But I pondered the man’s fate. What would our current local services do to help him? What would our social programs do to reach him? Would he be released to the streets, only to unleash violence again? Or would he somehow find himself? Was this a drunk left to drink himself to death? Another high-maintenance person abandoned to the fateful gods of the streets?