Tuesday, March 3, 2015

So The President's Police Commission Report Was Released And...

I missed it. Well, no. I saw the headline but had to gloss over it due to more pressing matters. Turned out the news report I saw didn't link to the actual report anyway.

Apparently, its main recommendation is to form a task force to make further recommendations.

Punt!

Yeah, no real change at all, no real change likely, not now, not ever. The way things are is the way they are supposed to be and the way they will be for all time to come, world without end, amen.

Bill Bratton, Dave Grossman and all their acolytes and devotees have yet again won the day.

How and why does this happen over and over and over again? Just like police shootings, the same scenario plays out again and again, study after study is commissioned, excuses and made, nothing changes

I finally found a news report that actually links to the commission's findings and lists the major other recommendations made by the commission. It took some searching, and that tells me that the commission is being treated as irrelevant, its recommendations optional, and that the media-government has no particular interest in the matter. Things will stay as they are.

But these are the main recommendations of the Commission as listed by Philly.com in a post titled:

TLDR: Key Recommendations from Obama's policing task force

(Link to the actual report. 115 pg PDF. You be the judge.)
1. Embrace a guardian mindset to build public trust and legitimacy.
2.  Acknowledge the role of policing in past and present injustice and discrimination and how it is a hurdle to the promotion of community trust.
3.  Establish a culture of transparency and accountability in order to build public trust and legitimacy.
4.  Law enforcement agencies should promote legitimacy internally within the organization by applying the principles of procedural justice.
5.  Proactively promote public trust by initiating positive nonenforcement activities.
6.  Consider the potential damage to public trust when implementing crime fighting strategies.
7.  Track the level of trust in police by their communities just as changes in crime are measured.
8.  Strive to create a workforce that contains a broad range of diversity
9. Build relationships based on trust with immigrant communities.
10.  Collaborate to develop policies and strategies in communities disproportionately affected by crime.
11.  Develop comprehensive policies on the use of force that include training, investigations, prosecutions, data collection, and information sharing.
12. Mandate external and independent criminal investigations in cases of police use of force resulting in death, officer-involved shootings resulting in injury or death, or in-custody deaths. Report data on all officer-involved shootings to the Federal Government.
13. Adopt identification procedures that eliminate or minimize presenter bias or influence.
14. Release department’s demographic data.
15. Collect demographic data on all stops and arrests.
16. Implement response protocols to mass demonstrations that prioritize de-escalation.
17. Use civilian oversight of law enforcement to strengthen trust with the community
18. Refrain from quotas for arrests, tickets or summonses. Don’t use quotas to generate revenue.
19.  Seek consent before a search and explain that a person has the right to refuse consent when there is no warrant or probable cause.
20. Adopt and enforce policies prohibiting profiling and discrimination
21. Federal agencies should provide technical assistance and incentive funding to jurisdictions with small police agencies and encourage small departments to  consolidate.
22.  Establish national standards for the research and development of new technology, for instance, body-worn cameras and social media.
23. The Department of Justice should develop best practices that can be adopted by state legislative bodies to govern the acquisition, use, retention, and dissemination of auditory, visual, and biometric data by law enforcement.
24. Update public record laws.
25. Federal government should support the development of new “less than lethal” technology to help control combative suspects.
26.  Require both basic recruit and in-service training on policing in a democratic society.
 Read more at http://www.philly.com/philly/news/politics/TLDR-Key-recommendations-from-the-21st-Century-policing-task-force-report-Philadelphia.html#UcekdW3YCCytZRHL.99

Sigh.

Well, this is pure Bratton and Grossman, it has little or nothing to do with what the public has been trying to communicate to the Powers That Be about national problem of violent policing.

What this report tries to do is re-conceive the problem, not as one of violent policing, but as one of perceptions -- perceptions which can be changed by better communications and slight modifications in behavior.

In other words, keep doing what you're doing, only be smoother and less aggressive about it.

Keep on your killing spree because that's what's driven down crime rates. But do it with a bit more.... finesse. So as not to rile the peeps so much. M'Kay?

Recommendation #1, this "guardian mindset," is pure Grossman and his "sheepdog" bullshit. It's time to take the blinders off. Grossman uses that "sheepdog" analogy all the time and it's now emblazend on the minds of movie-goers thanks to its uncredited use in "American Sniper." It's been a factor in police culture for decades, and it is one of the reasons why there are so many killings by police.

The police are brainwashed to believe that their highest accomplishment is to "kill the wolf" -- and the "wolf" is defined as anyone who deviates from the fold, not someone who preys on the flock at all, merely someone who doesn't quite fit the standard set by the shepherd and ultimately by the owner of the flock.

The Guardian/Sheepdog doesn't work for and doesn't care about the flock per se. The Guardian/Sheepdog works for the shepherd -- who in turn works for the owner(s) of the flock, an the Guardian/Sheepdog's highest goal is the approval of the shepherd and the owner(s).

When the Commission says their first recommendation is for the police to adopt a "guardian mindset" all it means is that they are recommending that all police start with the insane premise Grossman has been promoting for decades.

It doesn't have anything to do with police violence and killing; it may in fact increase  the level of violence and killing overall.

Yes, indeed, let's have another task force with more recommendations. Let's have more Best Practices.

Sigh.



Monday, March 2, 2015

An Automatic Death Sentence From Which There Is No Appeal



I can't tell for sure what all is going on here, but a man is dead after being shot by police in Los Angeles, that much is clear.

Yet another execution on the streets of LA. Happens all the time.

The man is seen in the video disobeying and struggling with the po-po. He should have known that would be a death sentence. Many of those commenting on the video say as much. Po-po seem to believe it without question: disobedience and struggling with the police is justification for use of lethal force in most jurisdictions, most especially in places like the meaner streets of Los Angeles where this incident took place.

The police claim that the man they shot and killed was "going for the gun" of one of the officers. This is the justification police use almost as often as the "reaching for his waistband" justification. They are often false justifications, but you can see for yourself that it is difficult/impossible to tell whether the man they shot and killed in this video was "going for" a gun or anything else. It looks like he's simply trying to ward off the blows raining down on him, but it's too dark and the distance is too great to be sure.

Po-po lie routinely and they are routinely allowed to get away with it, so I would not take their word without question.

On the other hand, video isn't necessarily conclusive. This one certainly isn't, but it will have to do until something more definitive shows up.

The point here, obvious as sin, is that the man who was shot and killed was disobedient and struggled with police, and whenever that happens, it seems that the police have full authority to kill at will.

Just as they have the authority to kill any Negro they see with a gun -- or who they think has a gun. It doesn't matter whether it's true or not. All that matters is their perception.

At any rate, another man is dead on the streets of LA, killed by police. He was black and homeless and possibly mentally ill or impaired, but all that really matters in the eyes of the police is that he was disobedient and struggled with the police.

Doing so is in their eyes justification for summary execution.

They are cowards, every one of them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

On the Meaning of Homan Square and Places Like It

Yesterday there was a rally of a couple of hundred or maybe more protesters at the Chicago "black site" known as "Homan Square," a former Sears warehouse that has been turned into an off the books police interrogation and detention site.

Thanks to Spencer Ackerman's reporting for the Guardian, Homan Square has become a Big Deal in the civil liberties community. It wasn't back in the day. The anger and protest that has been elicited since Spencer and others at the Guardian have been reporting on the connections between domestic policing and corrections practices and the torture regimes in our various gulags, particularly Gitmo and Chicago, are due to the confluence of various factors, movements and protests.

In 2012, though Homan Square and what went on there was known of and reported on, it didn't cause the kind of outrage or the level of outrage and public pressure for change that it does today. In 2012, most people -- including the victims of the Homan Square practices -- pretty much took it for granted. They knew it was wrong and said so, but at the time, it seemed like nothing could be done about it.

Now it seems that something can be done about it, thanks to the various movements against police misconduct and violence that have arisen more or less spontaneously around the country. The people are sick of it. And they are not passively tolerating it anymore. They are pushing back, and they won't quit until and unless the police desist in their fantasy of "protecting and serving" -- by brutalizing and killing at will without consequence.

The Chicago-land media is falling all over itself trying to diminish the importance of Homan Square and what has been going on there for years. They're extremely defensive about the lack of local reporting over the years about the facility and its functions. They've been trolling lawyers to come forth and say that Homan Square is no worse than any other Chicago police precinct when it comes to legal representation and detainee abuse.

"It's a systemic problem!" they say. Well, yes, yes it is. "So stop focusing on Homan Square!" No, to stop now would not be wise.

The subtext, of course, is that because Homan Square has been primarily "processing" accused gang-bangers and the like, what goes on there is A Good Thing, because it's Keeping Us Safe. Yet so much of the testimony of those "processed" at Homan Square, whether accused of gang-perfidy or not, has involved innocent people who were detained and abused just... because. "They fit the profile."

This is -- or should be -- unacceptable on its face.

Unfortunately, for too long it wasn't.

It was thought to be proper.

And it is still going on.

Not just at Homan Square, but all across the land.

It's time to shut down the domestic Gitmos and the Gulags, and it's time to overhaul the whole idea of police, policing, and "corrections" in this country. It's past time.

That's the of this and other protest movements that have captured the imaginations of so much of the country. We can do better than this. We are better than this. And we don't need Homan Squares to be safe.
------------------------------------------------------
The story is being covered very well at the Guardian.

The Chicago Tribune and Sun-Times however have basically been caught with their blinders on...

Much of the rest of American media has largely ignored this story, though some have re-printed some of the Guardian's coverage.

Amy Goodman interviewed Spencer Ackerman for Democracy Now!:



Thursday, February 26, 2015

Homan Square -- Chicago, America



Finally.

 Notice is being paid. There are black sites in the American Domestic Gulags where particularly interesting or difficult detainees are being taken and held for more or less time.

One of them is in Chicago, a warehouse blandly referred to as "Homan Square" where (mostly) black and brown suspected gang members are taken to be worked over in hopes of coercing confessions. At least that's what they say.

But in 2012, CPD raided crash pads ahead of the NATO summit in Chicago and nabbed several white men who were taken to Homan Square and -- at least for a time -- were disappeared there.

Now, years later, on the eve -- indeed the very day -- of Chicago's mayoral election, the Guardian posts a story by Spencer Ackerman using testimony from one of the NATO 3 detainees describing the Homan Square detention site and what happened to him when he was taken there. Other testimony is emerging of much worse treatment at Homan Square, including the death of a certain detainee under interrogation.

We can be sure it's not the only domestic black site nor is the reported death the only one in custody.

Testimony from one of the other detainees from the NATO summit raids was posted at FDL and dKos shortly after he was taken away in handcuffs and questioned and held at Homan Square until his release was arranged.

Three of the others who were taken that day were not released but were charged with various ridiculous crimes, including "terrorism" -- which led most sentient beings in those days to comprehend that in fact, according to Our Government, protesters against the Established Order are equivalent to and should be treated as terrorists. 

There is no other way to interpret what goes on with regard to protests and protesters and the police in this country.

This is a link to TarheelDem's testimony regarding his detention at Homan Square. Note the date of the post: June 7, 2012. His testimony matches almost exactly the testimony of the detainee who spoke with Spencer Ackerman at the Guardian link.

As they point out, this is not new. This has been going on for decades, and the problem is that Americans tolerate it, and some actively encourage it, regardless of political persuasion.

When that's the case, it's little wonder that police act the way they do. They don't just think it's a game and a joke, they think it's their job...

Sunday, February 22, 2015

The Killing Spree Continues

But the data seem to be showing a concentration of police killings... interesting.

By state since January 1, 2015:

TX -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1  (24)
CA -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (21)
AZ -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (8)
FL -1 1 1 1 1 1 1 (7)
CO -1 1 1 1 1 (5)
OK -1 1 1 1 1 (5)
MO -1 1 1 1 (4)
UT -1 1 1 1 (4)
GA -1 1 1 1 (4)
MN -1 1 1 1 (4)
NC -1 1 1 (3)
AK -1 1 1 (3)
IL -1 1 1 (3)
MT -1 1 1 (3)
MD -1 1 1 (3)
TN -1 1 1 (3)
PA -1 1 1 (3)
KS -1 1 1 (3)
MI -1 1 (2)
ID -1 1 (2)
MS -1 1 (2)
OR -1 1 (2)
WA -1 1 (2)
NY -1 1 (2)
VA -1 1 (2)
NE -1 1 (2)
NJ -1 1 (2)
OH -1 1 (2)
KY -1 1 (2)
MA -1 1 (2)
AL -1 1 (2)
IN -1 1 (2)
LA -1 1  (2)
AR -1 1 (2)
IA -1 1 (2)
NM -1 (1)
NV -1 (1)
HI -1 (1)
NH -1 (1)
ME -1 (1)

The Zero States (so far this year):

ND
SD
SC
VT
DE
RI
CT
WV
WI
WY
and DC

The pattern is stark and obvious.

The killingest states BY FAR are Texas and California. They are ranked #2 and #1 in population, #1 and #2 in police killings, but their populations are not so much larger than states with far smaller kill rates -- such as New York with ten times fewer police killings than California. Something else is happening. It's not just about population.

We could put it simply by saying that the authorities in Texas and California don't put much value on human life and police kill with apparent abandon whenever they choose. Like police nearly everywhere, they face few or no consequences when they kill; it's part of their job, a job that they are expected to do, and so they do.

For all the justified rage about NYPD brutality and killing, New York police do not kill at anywhere near the rate of other police forces. Their kill-rate is almost insignificant compared to others, and not just compared to the rate of killing maintained in Texas and California.

New Mexico has reduced its police kill rate substantially, demonstrating that it can be done without society unraveling and descending into utter chaos.

Arizona and Florida have a comparatively high police kill-rate compared with other states, but Arizona maintains a slightly higher police kill rate with a population only a third of Florida's. On a proportional basis, Arizona's kill rate is among the highest in the nation.

But then perhaps human life, particularly brown human life, has little value in Arizona.

It's barely two months into the year, and already at least 152 people have been killed by police, a national kill rate of one every eight hours, three a day, comparable to the kill rate documented throughout the period "Killed by Police" has been maintaining records gleaned from mass media outlets.

The kill rate has been rock-steady at three a day for almost two years -- despite all the protests and public outrage at the constant bloodshed that arose last year and continues this year.

Almost as if by design. As if a certain number of "sheep" must be culled on a daily basis... to keep the rest of the herd in line?

If it worked, of course Our Rulers would require such a thing. Pragmatists to the end.

The protests continue, though somewhat abated by time and exhaustion. Some things have changed, and there will no doubt be more changes before too much longer.

But it's unlikely the basic premises of policing in this country will change substantially for the better any time soon.

The police state will most likely consolidate and endure, even if its domestic kill rate is reduced (and let's pray it is.)

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Mental Health Care and the Problem of Violent Policing

Surely by now many people understand that if they call 911 when a loved one is having a mental health crisis, their loved one is liable to be killed. This is doctrine all across the land. In any case where police are dispatched and they sense a threat of any kind, to themselves or others, they are supposed to neutralize the threat with whatever level of force they deem necessary under the circumstances.

Indeed, even when someone is suicidal and only threatening their own lives, the police doctrine is to "neutralize" the suicidal individual -- with deadly force if needed -- so as to... protect?

Police are dispatched any time a caller to 911 says they fear for their lives, or a loved one is armed and making threats, or there are guns or other weapons in the house, or it looks to them like a scary person is armed, blah blah blah, in other words, most any time there might-could be a threat of some kind to someone or some inanimate object.

If a diagnosed mental illness such as schizophrenia is mentioned, the likelihood of police killing the subject goes way up. Way-way up.

It is what the police are trained and expected to do.

Consequently, I have long said, "Don't call 911 in such cases unless you want your loved one dead."

Often enough in such cases, SWAT teams and snipers are sent on the call, the primary purpose being to kill. Period.

These are rules of engagement the public seems to be oblivious to is unaware of, because practically every day another call to 911 for help in dealing with a mentally ill loved one leads to another death, and families are shocked. "I called for help," they say, "but they killed my loved one instead." Yep. That's right. That's the kind of "help" first responding police are trained and expected to render. Why is this still a surprise? It's been SOP since most of the mental hospitals were closed decades ago.

Because so many loved ones in mental health crisis are killed by police year in and year out -- by my reckoning close to 400 a year, about a third of the total killed by police each year -- there is a nascent movement to revive the mental health care system something like it was before the Reaganite push to dismantle the system in the name of "civil liberties." Yes, that worked out well, didn't it?

Liberty for whom, to do what?

There is no doubt that there was a problem in the mental health care system as it was prior to the Reaganite dismantlement. It was enormous, for one thing. At any given time more than 4 million people were incarcerated in public and private mental hospitals and asylums across the land. This is about double the outrageous current prison population. Too often, patients had no way out, and many were held for life against their will, and sometimes against the will of their loved ones.

Too often, too, the care patients received in state run institutions was abominable. Private institutions were not much better.

The Reaganite solution was just to shut the institutions down and suggest that relatives and communities take care of their mentally ill -- or let the police do it in their stead.

This policy led to an enormous increase in the homeless population to start with, an increase that has never abated. Prison populations skyrocketed as well. It's often pointed out that a third or more of those in prison are mentally ill and most of them receive no treatment -- apart from periodic beatings, solitary confinement, pepper-sprayings and such like.

There are inadequate community mental health care facilities in the best of circumstances, and in many areas, there are none at all. Families are rarely prepared to cope adequately with a mentally ill loved one, and even their best efforts may lead to tragedy. Especially when they call for Emergency Services to "help."

Service providers and consultants milk the system for money while providing as little care as possible. This is how the system, such as it is, is set up. Mental health care budgets are often the first cut when times are tough -- as they have been for years during this Permanent Recession. Too bad for the victims.

Reviving and restoring the previous system of state run asylums and mental hospitals is probably not the best idea under the current regime of public parsimony and brutality. I can see it easily leading to something like the eugenics programs that operated in this country and abroad, most horribly in Nazi Germany.

A better system is one that operates locally not centrally, and is tied in with the communities served. This was supposedly what the devolution of mental health care from the closure of state hospitals to communities was leading to, but it never did. Instead, the police and prison system expanded to take on the difficult cases, and the rest were pretty much left to fend for themselves as best they and their families could manage. That was the "civil liberties" solution.

It's not working.

Or perhaps it is working but not the way anyone of compassion envisioned.

No, it's cruel and deadly. It's violent and catastrophic. It's corrupt and dangerous.

When a third of the police killings in the country are of mentally ill and/or suicidal individuals, it should be plain as day that there is a structural and institutional problem that might be correctable. Unfortunately, pro-police propaganda has worked well to convince many people that the proper course of action toward those who do not obey police is to kill them, regardless of mental health or suicidal tendencies.

If it's only 400 a year, what's the big deal, right? More than that die in a week in traffic accidents. More than that are killed in a week by non-police firearms. This is a violent country. Always has been.

A compassionate mental health care system would not dispatch police, snipers and SWAT teams on every 5150 call. It just wouldn't happen. Instead, there would be crisis teams available to perform interventions, and care facilities would be available that would provide more than a 72 hour observation window and a few prescriptions for psychotropic drugs -- which can cause more problems if not monitored carefully.

There would be mental health care facilities in the community provided as a public service like any other, staffed by professionals and available on an as-needed basis.

Care would not be restricted to certain hours or days of the week, and appointments would not be so limited that weeks or months pass before someone could check in for care and treatment.

A proper mental health care system would include homeless and addiction services, without discrimination toward patients based on the nature of their homelessness and/or addictions.

All this can be done, probably for less money than the current violent policing and imprisonment "treatments" for mental illness, homelessness and addiction cost, but money isn't the real issue. More public money is going to prison systems these days than to higher education in many jurisdictions, and there is little notice, let alone complaints about it. Mental health care spending is a relatively minor component to many public budgets, and what little is being spent is constantly on the chopping block when public budgets need tightening.

In some places like California, taxes were raised specifically to fund more adequate mental health care provisions, and the additional tax revenue was immediately -- and perhaps permanently -- diverted to fund other state budgetary needs.

We need to be clear with one another and with our elected representatives that the current system of incarceration and killing the mentally ill is not acceptable.

But that's only the first step.

Creating and sustaining an acceptable system will take a massive effort, but it can be done.

The question is, when will that first step be taken?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

In the Matter of Jamar Nicholson -- Dumb and Dumber With A Gun



This is insane, and the LAPD is defending it? This is Bratton's old stomping grounds, do not forget, and he is ever-so-proud of how the department was turned around under his watch and of how the community now loves and respects their police.

Then something like this happens. It's not the only incident of its kind, but it's one of the dumbest, and the department is determined to do what all departments reflexively do: blame the victim(s), maintain the ranks, insist that even in obvious error, they were right.

It won't be long before the smears of young Jamar begin. It's so routine, many just accept it as the way things are supposed to be.

A cop sees what he "thinks" (I use the term advisedly) is a Negro with a gun, and his automatic, "split-second decision" is to shoot. He hits a bystander -- Jamar Nicholson. Oh well, too bad so sad. Bystander is wounded, so he is handcuffed for transport to the hospital. At least he did get medical attention. As we know, so often in these cases, none is rendered until it is too late.

Nicholson remains handcuffed at the hospital until some brighter light in the LAPD recognizes that, oops, he was completely innocent of having a gun or of threatening anyone -- let alone a cop.

Oops. Oh well, all in a day's work for the Manly Men of the LAPD, right?

Jeebus.

A "Negro with a gun," whether or not said Negro actually has a gun, whether or not said "gun" is real, is routinely a target for amped up police who see threats to be neutralized everywhere, especially among youth of color. Just the report of a "Negro with a gun" is enough to get the supposed suspect shot on sight (re: Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, etc.) 

This situation is very closely related to the behavior of troops in Iraq: the very sight of a Iraqi with a gun -- or the perception that an Iraqi had a gun, whether or not s/he had one -- was sufficient cause for immediate execution. Hundreds were killed in practically every city in Iraq on that basis. Hundreds more were killed at make-shift checkpoints for "failure to obey" orders they could not understand. Every time, or almost every time, the killings in Iraq were ruled "justified" because the brave trooper -- who was actually scared out of his wits of the local Natives -- was "following procedure" and the rules of engagement (even if he wasn't.)  This is not much different than the behavior of police departments and district attorneys in ruling (almost) every police killing "justified" because of policies and procedures, training, and unstated rules of engagement.

Clearly the unstated rules of engagement domestically are that Negroes who are perceived or reported to have weapons are to be shot on sight. They needn't be threatening anyone -- they don't even need to have a weapon. The report of a Negro with a weapon is sufficient cause for summary execution. Many police departments employ and deploy snipers to carry out executions -- just as the military does. And it does not matter whether the target has a weapon or is an actual threat. The perception is all that matters. "What was in the officer's (trooper's) mind at the time?"

In the case of Jamar Nicholson, the officer who fired claimed to have perceived a weapon in the hands of Jamar's friend with whom he was walking to school at the time. The police officer claims that he ordered the friend to drop the weapon, but the friend refused. The officer then fired, unintentionally striking and wounding Jamar -- who was unarmed and a witness not an offender.

The LAPD at its press conference regarding this officer involved shooting displayed an air-soft pistol which was claimed to be the one Jamar's friend was holding "in the shooting position" when the officer fired, striking and wounding Jamar. For his part, Jamar says he never saw his friend holding a gun that day or any other day, and that the only thing he can remember is that he asked his friend for some cologne, and his friend had sprayed some on him. Was that what the amped up officer perceived as a weapon justifying the shooting?

Where did the air-soft pistol displayed at the press conference come from, then? Speculation is that it was a "throw down," a toy weapon planted by the police. I suspect there was no "weapon" on the scene. The air-soft pistol came from the department's storage room along with all the other replica guns displayed at the press conference.

This incident was a cock-up from the get-go, but I will bet cash money that the officer has no idea he did anything wrong and basically cannot comprehend the  outrage this and so many other officer-involved shootings generate.

The department will back him up to the bitter end. More than likely, there will be no charges against him, as long as the case is made that he was "following" procedures. Jamar will probably get a financial settlement in the 6 or 7 figure range, and that will be that. Case closed.

Policies and procedures regarding shooting at suspects thought to have weapons might be slightly adjusted but not sufficiently to prevent the next shooting of an unarmed Negro who the cop perceives to have a weapon.

The makers of air-soft replicas will be blamed for these incidents, as they already have been in numerous previous cases.

But wait. Gun ownership is prevalent and legal in this country. White people with guns are considered normal and natural. The issue with air-soft and other "replica" firearms isn't that they look real, it is that Negroes sometimes have them, and thus represent an existential threat that must be neutralized.

White people with replica or real weapons are not automatically perceived by police officers as existential threats.

There's your trouble.

Another part of trouble in this case is that the young man who apparently precipitated the incident by standing in "the shooting position" and not immediately obeying the officer's commands about dropping a weapon that he may not have had in the first place, has not been produced. The LAPD asserted that he was arrested and is in custody, but their assertions in this incident have turned out to be false on more than one occasion.

The young man who was shot and was treated as a criminal after he was wounded, Jamar Nicholson, is the only one so far who has been named and presented to the public. In news reports, the other boy is described only as "the person with the gun."

The problem here is rigid and dumb police policies which enable and require shooting at Negro suspects perceived to have a weapon.

Those policies can be changed from the top. Legislation is not required.

I advocate changing those policies forthwith.

Friday, February 13, 2015

In the Matter of Sureshbhai Patel

This one's getting a bit of notice:



In response to a non-emergency call from a neighbor regarding the sighting of a "real skinny black man wearing a toboggan on his head" walking in an upscale Alabama neighborhood, two officers and then another approach a man named Sureshbhai Patel walking on the sidewalk on the street in question and attempt to engage him in conversation so as to determine his origin, purpose and intent. The 57 year old man who apparently understands very little English indicates that he is from India, and he doesn't understand much else that the police officers want from him. He is repeatedly ordered not to walk away, but he attempts to step back from the officers nevertheless.

As an officer holds the man's hands behind his back and attempts to pat him down for weapons or contraband or who knows what, the man takes a step away and the officer, named Eric Parker, throws him violently to the ground, breaking his neck. Paralyzed, Mr. Patel cannot rise or respond to officers' commands from that point onward, and yet the officers continue to badger him with questions and orders and toss his limp body around like a rag doll.

They do not offer of first aid of any kind but they do apparently handcuff his limp body "just in case" and call for emergency medical attention.

While initially defending the actions of his officers it soon enough became apparent to the police chief that this was a "misunderstanding," and Mr. Patel, grievously injured, was inappropriately controlled or neutralized. He had done nothing wrong or illegal, he was not a threat to anyone, not even himself, and the officer in question had overreacted. An apology was offered Mr. Patel's family and the officer was suspended, then fired and arrested on charges of assault.

Mr. Patel had recently arrived from India and was staying with his son and family in the neighborhood, looking after his grandson and probably helping out as needed around the house. In the mornings, he took a walk as is common among middle aged and elderly men from India  -- as I've seen myself many times in California's Central Valley. There is nothing unusual about it, certainly nothing threatening about it. Walking is good exercise and clears the mind.

While there was nothing unusual about Mr. Patel or his actions that morning, a neighbor called the police non-emergency number to report what he believed was a suspicious stranger in his neighborhood, a real skinny black man with a toboggan on his head, walking along and looking into garages and what not, and giving his wife the heebe-jeebes. He wanted the police to check out this stranger, and dispatch was made.

When the police arrived and challenged the man, the encounter seemed fairly cordial (there is a longer video at the Al.com website which documents the encounter from the beginning) but Mr. Patel clearly does not understand what the officers want from him and he is unable to comply with the officer's commands -- to produce ID, state where he lives, account for his presence in the neighborhood, etc. He establishes right away that he is from India, however. He is not a "real skinny black man with a toboggan on his head," he is  (East) Indian, probably a Hindu, out for his morning constitutional, and that's really everything the police need to know. His presence in the neighborhood should not need an explanation.

The upscale neighborhood in question is Madison, which is suburban Huntsville. Huntsville, AL is the home of NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and a thriving center of advanced research and development. Mr. Patel's son works full time in the Huntsville area as an electrical engineer and was studying for his master's degree prior to the birth of his son. East Indians are hardly strangers to the area or to the space program, but at this point, given what happened to his father, Mr. Patel's son wonders if moving to Madison, where he thought his family would have a better quality of life, was a mistake. 

He's sued the Madison police department, and so far, the GoFundMe campaign on his father's behalf has raised over $88,000 to help cover medical expenses.

This incident is an example of police on a power trip using their power and authority against the most vulnerable -- because they can, and because they will almost always get away with it. In this instance, Officer Parker was training a rookie and probably wanted to show how to control a non-compliant offender. The fact that they were responding to a suspicious person call, and the man they stopped to question was non-compliant with the officer's orders (irrelevant at the time whether he understood) was sufficient for Officer Parker to make the split-second determination that Mr. Patel was an offender who had to be controlled using what the officer considered to be appropriate force -- ie: taking him down to the ground.

The move used was one you often see employed at police academies. You certainly see it in video after video of police take-downs. While it can result in injury, it usually doesn't result in severe injury. It appears that Mr. Patel sustained severe injuries to his neck and spine when his face and head hit the grass covered rise that he was thrown down on. Had the surface been flat and padded (as is the case in police academy takedowns) Mr Patel might have sustained only minor injuries.

As it was, his injuries were severe enough to induce immediate paralysis which was exacerbated by the officers' attempts to get him to stand and walk and otherwise tossing him about.

The officers made no attempt to render first aid or to lay Mr. Patel flat and stable. While every police officer in the land has been trained in first aid and many are certified EMTs, I have never seen a police officer render first aid to an individual s/he or a colleague has shot or assaulted no matter the apparent gravity of the injuries. I have seen them prevent emergency aid by others -- even fire department EMTs. This seems to be a protocol -- one that is not announced to the public. Police officers are not to render first aid to those they or their partners or colleagues have shot or assaulted, and they are to prevent others from rendering aid until and unless they declare the scene "safe and secure." By that time, of course, the victim may be dead, but oh well.

In fact, it is this typical and casual disregard for human life by police in so many circumstances that has raised the hackles of so many people. The officers are often blamed personally for this behavior, but it is obviously policy, one the public is unaware of.

Policies are not law. They can be changed by fiat by the police chief. Police disregard of human life is protected by law, but it is not required by law. Policies enable -- and sometimes require -- such callousness, however, and that is what can be and needs to be changed forthwith.

It won't be, of course, but the mounting chorus of protest has already had an effect, and as the various threads of protest and response are woven together, policies will change despite the resistance of police unions, city managers, and police captains.

The current level of police violence in this country cannot be maintained.

Here's wishing Sureshbhai Patel a full recovery and an end to police killing and violence.

The Summary Execution of A Rock-Thrower in Pasco, Washington and the Tricky Arguments Over Police Violence

A few days ago, a man was shot and killed by police in Pasco, WA in front of dozens of horrified onlookers, some of whom captured part of the incident on their camera-phones.



Those of us who have followed the issue of police violence for any length of time know that killings similar to this one -- summary executions in the streets of America, often in front of witnesses -- go on all the time, practically every day, and that for the most part they are ruled "justified" or are even regarded as "heroic" by police departments, grand juries, DAs and courts.

In other words, regardless of the facts of the matter, the only things that matter to the men and women who determine -- shall we say -- "the rules of engagement" between police and the public is that the officer(s) who kill and brutalize say the magic words, "I was afraid for my life" and that's the end of it.

There is no appeal to a higher authority.

The dead are dead and the officers who kill (almost) always go free to kill again, and even if they are not publicly hailed as heroes, internal rewards can mount up handsomely.

The police are doing the job they are assigned to do, and summary execution is part of that job.

Yesterday, James Comey, head of the FBI, offered his wisdom on the current confrontations between police and protesters over the matter of police killings of black men, often unarmed, greatly out of proportion to their alleged criminal actions.

It's really quite stunning for its apparent blindness to what is going on and why there is such an outcry against police killings and violence across this land. Mr. Comey, along with most police chiefs and their departments, appears to be living in a self-generated dreamland of perpetual threat -- everywhere -- that must be neutralized with as much force as necessary, even if the "threat" is only in the mind of the police officer who kills or brutalizes.

An ever-present threat that must always be neutralized before any other consideration is the ground state of American police forces, and it comes in part from the beliefs propagated at the FBI and the Department of Justice. What happens in the streets is a direct consequence.

What happens in the streets too often involves brutality and death by police when such action is not necessary or warranted.

Except that the rule-makers almost always say it is OK for police to brutalize and kill.

So arguing that the police are out of control is somewhat specious. They are out of control in many cases, but making that argument is practically irrelevant. The police are just "doing their jobs" according to those who make the rules. Acting like out of control, violent freaks, shooting and killing whenever they sense a threat or fear for their lives is a part of doing their jobs.  It's what they are expected to do, required to do, by their peers and supervisors, and by the power structure they are a part of.

Summary execution in the streets in front of witnesses is a part of doing their jobs, and according to leaders like (Lt Col) Dave Grossman, it is their highest achievement and a great honor for them to kill the enemy. It is fulfillment of their reason for being.

Beating to death someone like Kelly Thomas -- who was no threat at all -- is a part of doing their jobs.

This is what they have been hired and trained to do, and the violence with which they do their jobs is part of their very identity.

Arguing against police violence is arguing against the very identity of the police themselves. This identity, distinct from that of the people they ostensibly protect and serve, is a major reason why demonstrators were unable to convince police to go against their orders to suppress the Occupy demonstrations when time was, and why they will not go against orders to suppress the Black Lives Matter demonstrations these days.

The tactics of suppression may change, just as the tactics of protest and demonstration do, but the practice of violent policing and death doesn't -- not unless intense scrutiny is applied, and pressure that cannot be ignored is employed.

I've often mentioned that the practice of violent policing and death seems to have changed in Albuquerque, for example. The issue was a spate of bloody and deadly encounters between Albuquerque police and citizens that left dozens dead and injured, encounters often initiated by police and almost always escalated by them into deadly confrontations. Police were never held to account, never disciplined, never charged with crimes during this killing spree. As the dead piled up, the police department and city officials insisted that there was nothing wrong with what was going on, Albuquerque was just a super-violent place where criminals would be running wild if the police weren't on top of the matter and killing them right and left.

Except that so many of the dead weren't criminals at all or were at most low-level miscreants. Half were mentally ill. Others were drug users, alcoholics, homeless, or other marginalized residents whose encounters with the law may have been frequent but whose crimes were mostly status crimes.

Too often shots were fired by police because their target "failed to obey." That was also the case in Pasco documented at the top of this post.

Failure to obey is a capital offense.

So is "reaching" for anything near ones waistband if only to hold up ones trousers while one is running away from the threat to ones life that police have become.

Police are so convinced that everyone (within certain categories) represents an existential threat to their own lives that they feel justified shooting and killing even the most benign individuals even in the most non-threatening circumstance -- because of what they sense "might be."

They're programmed, conditioned and trained that way.

They are expected to sense and respond to "threats" -- even when there are none -- and to neutralize them with whatever force is necessary.

Defiance is a threat, disobedience is a threat, an armed Negro is an existential threat to be neutralized on sight, even if the Negro is not armed... the perception that he/she is armed is a sufficient threat for immediate neutralization with deadly force.

Mental illness is a threat, alcohol and drug intoxication is a threat, homelessness is a threat, being black or brown in America is a threat, and on and on, through the lists and categories of threats to be neutralized by the police.

The litany is long.

Arguing against the violence of police officers assigned to neutralize threats, however, is often ineffective because they are almost always protected by higher authority, even when judgements totaling millions of dollars are assessed in civil court. Almost nothing can be done against police violence in criminal courts -- at least not so far -- but civil courts often award substantial sums to survivors and victims' loved ones, or civil settlements are reached prior to trial. This may not be justice but it is a means of acknowledging that police violence isn't always appropriate. Sometimes -- perhaps rarely -- it may not be...

Oops.

But overall, with few exceptions, the pattern of violence does not change.

An exception is in Albuquerque where the police department is undergoing overhaul and reform based on a consent decree reached with the Department of Justice to correct "unconstitutional policing." It has meant a spectacular decline in the rate of police killings. They haven't completely stopped, although for six months, APD refrained from killing. But the number now is nowhere near previous levels of police homicide.  It appears that the level of police violence against the public has also been significantly reduced, though it is harder to assess that number.

The resistance in Albuquerque has had a multi-pronged approach, never focusing on only one aspect of police violence to the exclusion of all others. The resistance protested every killing, even if the facts seemed to suggest it was truly justified. They fought in every venue and on the streets against police violence. They documented and detailed incidents as they occurred, and they let it be known that the killings and police violence were not tolerable prices to pay for a "civilized society."

They identified and shamed individuals within the department -- men and women who had killed or who enabled killing and violence by police -- and they were relentless in exposing the cozy relationships between police administrators, city administrators, the district attorney and the criminal courts which almost all and almost always backed the police, no matter the facts.

They shamed the media for its fawning coverage of police violence and its continual smearing of the victims of police violence.

The cumulative effect of these and other actions combined with an apparent decision by those who make the rules in Albuquerque to reduce police violence has apparently had the desired effect.

But there are thousands of police departments in the United States, and reforming them one by one is a monumental task. As we can see from the statistics maintained by Killed by Police, the three-a-day rate of police homicide across the country remains almost constant, no matter what happens in individual jurisdictions.

And as we see in the Pasco video, summary execution in front of witnesses is still a common police practice.

Change comes when there is no alternative.

For many police departments, perhaps for most, there are still plenty of alternatives to changing a culture of violence and death that's become the standard or best practice.

The argument against police violence needs to focus more on the culture of violence and death than on the individuals. Yet shaming the individuals who kill and enable killing and violent policing is necessary as well.

Still a long row to hoe.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

OT: Irish Soda Bread

Irish soda bread is one of those easy, good things that comes around every now and again. There are almost too many variations on the basic recipe, but here's one we use a lot. Readers may want to try it:

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1/2 cup wheat bran
  • 1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 - 2 cups buttermilk*
Method:

Preheat oven to 350°

Combine and mix dry ingredients in a large bowl.

Pour 1 1/2 cups buttermilk over the dry ingredients and mix with a large wooden spoon until moistened. If there are still dry sections of the dough, add a bit more buttermilk till all is moistened. The dough will be rough.

Place dough on floured board and shape into a circle about 8" in diameter, patting rather than kneading into shape. (Dough might be sticky, so flour your hands or wear disposable rubber gloves while working dough).

Make a cross-shaped incision in the top of the dough with the back of a long knife.

Bake on a parchment paper covered baking sheet for approximately 45 minutes. Bake time can vary between 40 and 50 minutes. Check doneness after 40 minutes. Bread is done when a tap on the bottom of the crust sounds hollow.

Let cool sufficiently to handle or to room temperature, slice thin or thick, slather with favorite spread and enjoy, or toast lightly in a toaster oven and enjoy plain.

*If you don't have buttermilk or would rather not use the commercial variety, clabber fresh milk by mixing in a teaspoon of white vinegar to 2 cups milk. Wait approximately fifteen minutes before using.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

For Art's Sake


Gerald Cassidy, Cui Bono? c. 1911, New Mexico Museum of Art

My hiatus has been longer than I anticipated. Part of it is due to some sort of strange reaction to Zocor, an anti-bad-cholesterol medication, and part of it is due to simple weariness at the continued relentlessness of police violence -- as well as other violence at home and around the world, with a particular emphasis on financial violence.

At any rate... had to go to Santa Fe today for R&R at the Museum of Art. Yeah, I know, how saddidy -- a word I learned from a sometimes saddidy negro if there ever was one. He was the eldest son of the prominent civil rights attorney in town (Sacramento). He wanted to be a playwright. We worked with him for a year or two, staged several of his works in progress, and then sent him off to LA to become a... well, I don't know exactly what. He's still making his living by attorney-ing as far as I know (of course the son follows the father into the practice of law, always... well, not me!), every now and then we hear tell he's scripting something. He taught me sadiddy and I will be forever grateful. Heh.

The topic at the museum was one of my favorite old-line Santa Fe artists, Gerald Cassidy, aka Ira Diamond. I didn't know that the talk would be presented by Lois Rudnik, Mabel Dodge Luhan's pre-eminent biographer. So it was a great time, and we all learned something. Oh yes. Including Lois.

The topic was this painting, Cui Bono?, supposedly the only one of Cassidy's the Museum owns. http://online.nmartmuseum.org/nmhistory/art-activities/cui-bono1.html

He gave it to the Museum when it opened in 1917, and it's usually on display somewhere inside, though you may have to scout around to find it. It's quite striking, but in a magazine illustration way -- which isn't a bad thing, not in my estimation, it's just a style that many fine artists adopted to make a living. Cassidy -- real name Ira Diamond -- painted this work in 1911, before NM Statehood -- indeed, apparently even before he moved to Santa Fe and set up his easel with the Santa Fe Artists Colony. Lois said he never painted anything like it before or after. I've seen a lot of his works, and this one is actually more finished than many of his others -- which come across as well-rendered sketches. He tended to work very large scale, and his rendering was always extraordinary and very striking. This painting is almost muted by comparison, except for the face of the Indian, which is sharply rendered and intensely colored compared to the brilliant white of his shroud and the almost misty mutedness of the rest of the painting. It is a corner of Taos Pueblo as it was.

'Cui bono?' indeed. What would statehood bring to the Pueblo peoples? What does the presence of artists colonies bring to New Mexico and do to New Mexico? It's still an open question after all these years, and many Indian artists are intensely aware of the colonization that "art" per se represents in New Mexico. That  gives rise to the whole issue of "traditional" vs "contemporary" art.

And what to make of Cassidy's illustrations? Or are they Art, with a capital A?

What I find so striking about them is that Cassidy really did try to capture the spirit and the authentic look of the place and the people. Many others did as well, but Cassidy's efforts seem more spirited and thus fuller and richer.


Maybe even more authentic.


I think I mentioned in other posts that I used to do art and renderings and illustrations for my own pleasure as well as for theater projects. I have a surprisingly bulging portfolio out in the studio. I really had no idea of the bulk of it.


Last year I did a handful of sketches in pastel and charcoal, the first I've attempted in more than a decade, probably more than 20 years come to think of it. I have some more recent "artistic" photographs that I'm fairly pleased with, but no easel art or drawings until last year's rather paltry efforts. I thought I used to have a fair amount of skill if not talent, but I found out last year I no longer had skill or talent.


Oh.


Cassidy died in 1934 from the consequences of inhaling toxic fumes and carbon monoxide as he worked on a mural for the Federal Building in Santa Fe.

He remains one of my favorite members of the Santa Fe Artists Colony.

Other Gerald Cassidy works:

http://www.lafondasantafe.com/photo-gallery/art-of-la-fonda-photo-gallery/

http://www.geraldcassidy.com/

El Palacio, November, 1917, opening of the Museum and an extensive article on Gerald Cassidy (pdf)

 http://archives.elpalacio.org/cdm/ref/collection/p15026coll5/id/3

There's a good deal more on the Google Machine.

Relentless

Despite the fact that the protests against violent policing continue -- though not on as large a scale as they once were -- nothing seems to have changed, and the killing by police continues as well. Men, women, children (well, not so much children...) shot down or run down in the streets, three a day almost like clockwork, pow-pow-pow. The dead continue piling up.

The dead tell no tales. It's been said that one of the rationales for so many of the killings is to ensure that there will be only one "side" to the tale of what happened, the police side. And of course, we hear all the time that the police are not allowed to "shoot to wound." They are trained to "shoot to stop," which means they must aim for center of mass or head, whichever seems most effective in "stopping" the culprit, and unfortunately for the culprit, that means they frequently... die. Oh well!

The fact that the police and media are eagerly complicit in smearing the dead after their demise has been noted as well. The point of the media campaign launched with nearly every police-involved shooting is to justify the killing on the basis of the deceased person's presumed "badness." It doesn't matter what happened in the incident in question, at least not usually. What matters -- really all that matters -- is the deceased's "long record," his (or sometimes her) tattoos, his/her drug use, his/her demeanor.

So every mug shot will be paraded around, his/her relatives' run ins with the law will be highlighted, the criminal statistics from his/her neighborhood will be bandied about, some traffic warrant from years ago will be cited, on and on.

What happened in the incident that got the culprit killed will not be clearly stated, even who killed the culprit will not be known for days, weeks, or months as the "investigation" goes on. The "investigation" is most often conducted by the killer's own comrades, and it can drag on indefinitely, as the killer's comrades "piece together" the events that led to the killing and the events of the killing itself. Almost always, the killing will be ruled justified and what is "pieced together" is mostly what was going on in the mind of the killer. He or she was scared. He or she was reacting to a "reaching" movement by the culprit. The culprit "lunged," therefore the officer fired in self-defense. There's a litany of approved justifications, and as long as the killer-officer invokes one or more of them, it's all good.

 Investigations tend to be lengthened when there is serious dispute over what happened and the culpability of the police is highlighted. Nevertheless, police will generally not be held liable for anything they do in the conduct of their jobs -- so long as what they do can be excused via policy, protocol and training. Thus, for example, the killing of sweet little Aiyana Stanley-Jones is ruled "just one of those things." The officer walks free. Of course.

There's a must-ness about it. There's a must-ness about three-a-day killings by police, and there's a must-ness about letting officers who kill get away with it, no matter the circumstances of the killing. They must go free (to kill again?)

I'm not the only one who's noticed the relentless pattern and commented on it, but the whys of it remain a bit murky.

*Why three-a-day almost every day?

*Why are killer-police enabled and almost always set free to kill again?

*Why are the victims almost always smeared by the police and media acting in concert?

*Why can't this pattern be broken?

Who do you protect? Who do you serve?

I continually run into claims that the People should be going to City Council meetings and getting in the face of mayors to demand an end to police violence. It's fine if they do, but I point out that doing so will rarely make much difference because the police are usually not under the authority of the Mayor and Council. The person with authority over the police is usually the City Manager or his/her equivalent. The City Manager is not elected, and s/he only listens to the voice of the People to the extent s/he must in order to pursue his/her civic agenda. In other words, the City Manager operates nearly independently of the Mayor and Council. The Mayor and Council can direct that the City Manager (or "Staff") do something, but the City Manager/Staff don't have to comply or can comply in such a way that their "compliance" is actually "defiance."

When it comes to the police, City Managers will rarely ever do what electeds and the public want unless what they want coincides with the City Manager's agenda. There is little or nothing the electeds and public can do to force a resistant City Manager to do what they want. In a pinch, they could get another City Manager, but more than likely any replacement would have the same agenda or a similar one as the Manager who has been dismissed. But even dismissing a City Manager is typically difficult, requiring a supermajority on the Council, and generally requiring a very expensive buy-out of the Manager's contract with the city.

It's much the same with school district administrators, indeed with high ranking civic officials of any kind.

City Managers rarely listen to public officials, rarely have any interaction with the public at large. Often enough, the public has no idea who they are or what their authority really is. In most municipalities, however, the City Manager or the equivalent is the one person in actual charge of every or nearly every aspect of city government. He or she is the one who runs things. Not the Council, not the Mayor, not the Chief of Police.

City Managers talk to one another, and they listen to the Powers That Be in their cities -- the men and women who have wealth, power, and influence. They typically don't listen to the Rabble at all.

The nearly universal practice of violent policing in this country comes from a consensus of City Managers directing their Chiefs to implement certain protocols and policies which are considered "best practices" in the field. They are often not the announced "best practices," they are instead a set of protocols and policies which authorize and underpin a hostile relationship between police and communities. In other words, they are "best practices" which posit the police as a "protective-occupation" force rather than a protective-service force. One of the consequences is a vast increase in the utilization of para-military SWAT teams, often for the most mundane of police activities. Police departments now routinely have and deploy snipers where none are called for. Any Negro-with-a-gun scenario and many domestic violence scenarios are treated as "active shooter" situations in which the police are expected to advance and "neutralize the threat" -- whether there is a real threat or not.

The mentally ill are often treated as if they, too, were "active shooters."

All this comes from a spate of school shootings in the 1990s and the everlasting effects of the 9/11 attacks in 2001.

A so-called War on Crime that had been going on for years was transformed into a War on Threats. Anything or anyone who either posed an immediate threat or might pose one was to be "neutralized" -- often that meant killed -- forthwith. No quarter, no mercy. Potential threats were seen everywhere, in every police encounter, and in every deviation from the norm. To be black was to be an ever present danger and threat. Depending on where you were, to be Indian or Hispanic was also considered an existential danger and threat to police and everyone else.

This has been going on so long, many people just assume it's natural, but it's not.

Violent policing was not always the rule, though it was frequently the exception to the rule.

The relentlessness of violent policing comes from policy decisions made in City Managers' offices throughout the land, made in concert with the "best practices" as determined by consensus of the Managers themselves. Violent policing is the rule because City Managers have determined and declared it to be the rule. They don't want another Columbine. They don't want another 9/11. Not on their watches. So, if a few darkies or other members of the Rabble get a bullet in the head to prevent something much worse from happening, so what? "Protect and Serve," get it?

But who tells the City Managers to implement such policies?

Where do they come from?

They come from people like Bill Bratton and Dave Grossman who have studied the matter closely. Bratton, of course, is NYPD commissioner now, as he was in the past, and he's apparently decided to go full Bull Connor against the uppity Rabble-Terrorists. No more Mister Nice-Guy, beat the crap out of them and kill them he will. Or at least hold the perpetual threat over their heads.

Grossman is in the shadows, whereas Bratton is right out front. Grossman psychs the cops up to kill and kill some more, relentlessly and without remorse. That's his function. Bratton soothes the Rabble with talk of "community and peace." Grossman celebrates and energizes a cult of punishment and death among the police. That is their calling, that is their job, to rain punishment and death on the populace.

The policies of violent policing also come from the Department of Justice in Washington, and from numerous court rulings which say in essence that when push comes to shove, police are above the law and absolved from wrong-doing.

We note that the relentless killing spree and practice of violent policing has not abated -- except for anomalies here and there such as the apparent stand-down of the Albuquerque police and the temporary slow-down of NYPD actions during supposed disputes with the Mayor.

In St. Louis, there are suggestions of reform -- or maybe not. In Seattle, the police continue their resistance to change and acting out violently at the least provocation or none at all.

Chicago, on the other hand, celebrates their reform of the police -- while actually changing very little if at all.

The problem of violent policing is nationwide, almost universal. City-by-city "reform" is not really addressing the problem adequately. How many thousands more must die before "reform" is implemented nationwide?

The way to stop the killing, from a policy perspective, is to put "preservation of life" policies in primary place and remove or reduce policies which posit "neutralizing the threat" as the most important objective of policing.

It's actually not that hard.

Friday, January 30, 2015

The Menace That Is (Lt. Col.) David Grossman

I've mentioned this man on these pages a number of times since I was clued to his ravings about "sheep, wolves and sheepdogs" last year.

Once I dug into some of his arguably puerile if not completely whacked out writings and statements -- after resisting for months because I considered him a crazy-maker -- I began to see him as the primary source of the quasi-religious "philosophy" of policing which is at the root of so much police violence and killing in this country, and forms the principle belief-system which justifies the various overseas military operations the country has engaged in since 9/11.

Apparently in the wildly popular (?) movie "American Sniper" released at Christmas last year, one of the characters expounds about the "sheepdog" theory without attributing it to Grossman, telling the character of Chris Kyle, American sniper, of his calling as a "sheepdog."

Chris Hedges puts it this way in his polemic against the film at TruthDig:
The camera cuts to a church interior where a congregation of white Christians—blacks appear in this film as often as in a Woody Allen movie—are listening to a sermon about God’s plan for American Christians. The film’s title character, based on Chris Kyle, who would become the most lethal sniper in U.S. military history, will, it appears from the sermon, be called upon by God to use his “gift” to kill evildoers.
The scene shifts to the Kyle family dining room table as the father intones in a Texas twang: “There are three types of people in this world: sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe evil doesn’t exist in the world. And if it ever darkened their doorstep they wouldn’t know how to protect themselves. Those are the sheep. And then you got predators.”
The camera cuts to a schoolyard bully beating a smaller boy.
“They use violence to prey on people,” the father goes on. “They’re the wolves. Then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression and an overpowering need to protect the flock. They are a rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog. We’re not raising any sheep in this family.”
The father lashes his belt against the dining room table.
“I will whup your ass if you turn into a wolf,” he says to his two sons. “We protect our own. If someone tries to fight you, tries to bully your little brother, you have my permission to finish it.”
I haven't seen the film and I won't -- at least not for quite a long time. As a rule, I don't get off on violence, and because so many American movies are saturated with blood and violence, I don't often go to the movies or even watch them on the teevee. But when I read that these words and attitudes are attributed to characters in "American Sniper," I recognized immediately the influence of Dave Grossman and his peculiar notions of "Killology."

Killing being the highest achievement of the... "sheepdog."

I don't know if Grossman is ever mentioned in the film, but he's been selling his claptrap quasi-religious nonsense to military and police forces around the country for decades, conducting hundreds of seminars a year with recruits and seasoned veterans of military and police forces, and he is regarded as something of a guru -- if not a god -- in the police and military fields.

Until recently, Groosman's existence seems to have been overlooked by the mainstream, though he is well-known in the circles in which he runs. I seriously doubt that Hedges has ever heard of him or has any knowledge of his beliefs.

Most Americans seem to be oblivious to him and the menace he represents.

Years ago it was routine to attribute some of the worst aspects of American behavior and government to specific individuals, whether it was Bill Kristol, Dick Cheney or whomever.  Individuals actually were the ones behind the appalling policies that were causing so much destruction and bloodshed around the world, especially after 9/11. But somehow, Grossman escaped notice.

A few days ago, though, Slate ran an article that exposed the connection between Grossman's claptrap and the lines in American Sniper that are taken from that claptrap -- claptrap which is, by the way, believed by many Americans in the police and military forces. It's still sort of their secret religion.

The Slate article puts it this way:
Grossman crafted this analogy in response to 9/11 and the war in Iraq. And it’s not enough to classify the human race into these three simple categories; Grossman—and those who parrot his metaphor—are issuing a call to action to defend yourself against your enemies. In a country where innocent, unarmed, mostly black Americans keep getting killed, it’s a pernicious worldview to hold.
In Grossman’s original essay, now available on his website, he credits an “old war veteran” with first telling him about wolves, sheep, and sheepdogs. He writes:
If you have no capacity for violence then you are a healthy productive citizen: a sheep. If you have a capacity for violence and no empathy for your fellow citizens, then you have defined an aggressive sociopath—a wolf. But what if you have a capacity for violence, and a deep love for your fellow citizens? Then you are a sheepdog, a warrior, someone who is walking the hero’s path.    
In Grossman’s telling, the wolves will do anything they can to hurt sheep. Grossman variously identifies wolves as school shooters, terrorists, criminals, and anyone looking to hurt the innocent. Internationally, think ISIS, al-Qaida, and Boko Haram.
Domestically, think gangsters, criminals, and thugs. Grossman makes it clear that, no matter how much society fears its sheepdog protectors, the sheep need their sheepdogs. That means that a sheepdog cannot “take out its teeth.” In gun rights terms, this means that gun owners should never go anywhere without a concealed firearm: “If you are a warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today.”
And the wolf will come, says Grossman. “If you want to be a sheepdog and walk the warrior’s path,” he writes, “then you must make a conscious and moral decision every day to dedicate, equip and prepare yourself to thrive in that toxic, corrosive moment when the wolf comes knocking at the door.” He emphasizes practicing “when/then” thinking as opposed to “if/when” thinking. He encourages sheepdogs to view their surroundings with fear and paranoia. 
The authors describe Grossman's perspective as toxic, and it is. It's toxic, it's pernicious, and it's lethal. It is due to beliefs like this that people like Tamir Rice and James Boyd -- and so many, many others -- have been killed by police in the recent past, and why so many are still being killed.

It's not because of any actual threat, either to police or the public -- certainly Tamir Rice, John Crawford and Darrien Hunt didn't represent a threat -- it is because of the belief that killing is the highest achievement for an officer of the law or a sniper... They kill to be fulfilled, they kill because they must, they kill because it is who they are -- or who they have been convinced to believe themselves to be.

I've said Grossman is a cult leader, a guru not unlike the various Maha and Raj -Neeshi and other religious cult leaders who have come and gone throughout recent American history. His devotees and acolytes are in the military and the police forces throughout the land. And they kill, mostly without conscience or in many cases without even consciousness, because that's what they've been told they are there to do. It is their mission in life. They are told that killing is their highest achievement. They are convinced -- like Chris Kyle apparently was -- that every kill is a "good shoot." Every one is a "good shoot" because they have done the killing -- which is their highest achievement. It's circular, it's insane, but that's the belief.

Everyone they kill needed killing or they wouldn't be dead. You can't get much closer to a religious faith than that.

I've said that it's going to take a massive level of deprogramming to undercut and eliminate this faith-based killing spree by domestic police forces, and I don't know what it will take to turn the military around.

When even the killing of little Tamir Rice does not move the police to reform themselves but only leads to ever greater levels of rationalization and justification, we should recognize how deep-rooted this faith is among police forces and how difficult it is to change those deep-rooted beliefs.

Part of it will require exposing Grossman and what his nonsense has done to police forces and the military. Grossman must be exposed and rejected before there can be serious reform of police forces.

And then a very carefully designed and implemented de-programming effort will have to get under way at nearly every police department in the land.

It's a huge task. I don't know whether there is the will or the ability to carry it out.

The killing must stop. Stopping it -- when police are inculcated with the belief that killing is their highest achievement -- will be a monumental task.

But I'm glad others are recognizing how pernicious Grossman is.

He is a menace.



Thursday, January 29, 2015

"We Support! Our Police!"

Public authority is breaking down in St. Louis. I've witnessed it through a number of livestreams, but Bassem Masri's has been among the most compelling, in part because he puts himself in the middle of the action and comments fearlessly and fiercely while he's documenting the events he's very much a part of.

During a rally at the St. Louis County (In)Justice Center in Clayton the other day, Bassem waded in to an almost entirely white and hostile "Pro-Police" crowd of a few dozen, maybe 100, chanting "We Support! Our Police!" and was set upon by the crowd which was turning into a mob. I have little doubt that they would have killed him if they thought they could get away with it -- if they had "permission," in other words --  just like a lynch mob. And Bassem got it all on video:



Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

It's long, an hour and forty minutes, so feel free to scroll.

As Bassem suspects, these people are not really supporting the police at all. Instead, they're expressing their contempt and outrage for the protesters who have been disrupting their little lives since Mike Brown was killed by Darren Wilson in August. They'd be happier if the police would withdraw and let them handle the thugs* themselves. But the police on that day (Monday) intervened to prevent the mob from following through on its implicit threats of harm to Bassem and the others there to counter their.... for lack of a better word.... bullshit.

*"Thug" is the new N-word it would appear. 

The people in the streets love them some Bassem, his stature rises with every action he is a part of. He always claims he's not a leader of the protests, and that's true enough from the evidence of his livestreams. He doesn't lead the protests, but he often inspires the protesters with his personal bravery and his unshakable sense of justice. 

And then, on Monday, he let it be known that he was a heroin addict in recovery, that he's been clean -- and more or less sober -- for the last 16 months.

Oh my.

Well, I'm neither surprised nor horrified. Years ago, I dealt with addicts of all sorts when our theater company was "adopted" by an NA/AA group. One of them (that I know of) was a heroin addict, and he was the one who raised the most ruckus, caused the most problems, and did some of the most astonishing -- and often very brave -- work of any of the others.

When I see Bassem's livestreams and hear and read his commentary, I am reminded...

Heroin, they tell me, is one of the most difficult drugs to get off of, and even when an addict is able to get free from it, there are often irreversible changes in personality, behavior, and perspective that come about due the addiction and stay with the addict for the rest of their life. It's not necessarily a bad thing, it's simply something to notice. Heroin changes addict's personalities, but not necessarily in a bad way.

One of the consequences of heroin addiction -- at least in some cases -- is bravery in the face of injustice, and empathy for those who suffer. I really can't object to those consequences. Some of the people at the rally documented above could learn from them.

When Bassem told his story of addiction and recovery on Twitter, there was an immediate outpouring of love from his many followers and fans. It was remarkable to see, but not surprising.

He made his case that he's changed his life, and now he's on a new path, a path of service to his people. That would be the people in the streets of St. Louis and so many other cities where opposition to police violence is a matter of principle and a matter of community building and a matter of strength. That would also be the Palestinian people (Bassem is a Palestinian-American) who are under brutal Israeli occupation.

Like many others, Bassem sees direct parallels between the Israeli occupation and oppression of Palestinians and the widespread police violence and murder in the United States. They're not the same by any means, any more than the Apartheid regime in South Africa was the same as Jim Crow in the American South. But they echo one another, and there are direct interactions between the Israeli oppressors and the American police forces.

Those who support their police are simply and directly saying to those who protest police violence, "You don't count matter."

That's it in a nutshell. You don't count matter .

One man at the rally insisted that everyone killed by police in the recent past  -- all those names of men and women and children who have died in repeated hails of police gunfire -- deserved to die.  And a big reason why? They showed disrespect.  Their pants were too low, they threw gang symbols, they had guns or knives or something that a police officer interpreted as a threat, they insulted an officer, they disobeyed, they were black, they were standing there, they were advancing, they reached for something... etc, etc. In every case, the killing was justified in the eyes of most of those rallying on Monday primarily because the victim showed disrespect, contempt of cop.

Not much different than whistling at a white woman in Money, Mississippi, is it?

You do that -- boy -- and you deserve to die.

If one of the ralliers showed similar disrespect for authority -- as many of them no doubt do in their daily lives -- of course it would be different, and it would be different because they are white and right, and authority must yield to their demands.

That's the proper way of the world.

"We Support! Our Police!" 

And you don't matter.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

"It Was A Breakdown In Public Order" -- The Indianapolis Streetcar Strike of 1913

While I've been on somewhat of a hiatus -- due to infirmity and feeling vaguely out of sorts, not sure what it is -- every now and then, I've looked back into my ancestry, filling in some of the missing links and pondering the nature of my mother's father, the outlaw who spurred my research in the first place.

One of the things I was told about him when I was young was that he was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis who was killed in a tragic accident. He was crushed between the cars when my mother was five years old. That would have been in 1916.

I learned something about the Indianapolis city and interurban traction -- or streetcar -- system years ago. It was immense, not just in the city but throughout the region with routes from Cincinnati to Chicago. It was the major way people got around in those days and it was one of the main ways of moving freight between cities and towns in the region.

And there was a strike in 1913; there was another one in 1918. I wondered if my grandfather had participated in the 1913 strike. Because he must have been such a rebel, I wondered if his death was not an accident at all but was retaliation for his union activities -- assuming he was a union member. It wouldn't surprise me. Not in the least.

I've recently looked into the 1913 Indianapolis Streetcar Strike again to see if I can get a better picture of what was going on and what the outcome was.

The strike was instigated by the Amalgamated Street Railway Employees of America, and it started on Hallowe'en night, October 31, 1913. The strike was called because the traction company essentially refused to negotiate pay and working conditions for the employees and then fired hundreds of union workers then employed by the company and refused to hire any union workers in the future. We often think that employer/employee relations are bad now. They were much worse then. Almost inconceivably worse, which should be a clue to how bad things can get once again.

The company offered workers nominal pay of 20¢ or 21¢ an hour; work schedules were typically ten or twelve hours a day, but schedules were often arbitrarily cut, days off were random -- if there were any at all -- and workers could never depend steady employment or regular pay. Many workers reported they were not paid for the work they did and often received much less than the company's nominal pay rates. Instead of 20¢ or 21¢ an hour, they received 10¢ or 15¢; the company would dock the pay of workers for any reason or no reason, and workers were essentially at the complete mercy of the company and its management. There was no sick leave, no vacation, but the company provided paid meal breaks -- so long as the workers weren't en route which motormen and conductors almost always were. Workers had few or no rights, they could be assigned or fired at will, and they they were afforded neither dignity nor justice within the company. They were little more than disposable and replaceable parts. It was a rough time for workers in every industry, but the streetcar systems of America -- and particularly Indianapolis -- were particularly mean and soul crushing to their workers.

My mother's father worked intermittently as both a conductor and a motorman in Indianapolis from about 1905 until he left town -- which would have been between 1912 and 1914. I know that he was arrested for burglary in May of 1912 and waived his preliminary hearing, but I've found no record of the disposition of his case. I thought he might have gone to prison, but there is apparently no record of that. I thought maybe he'd left town in 1912, but the other day, I found a brief reference to him in Indianapolis in a newspaper clipping from June of 1913. This was getting very close to the beginning of the strike -- and the notice referred to him as a conductor.

Ah ha. So he was still in Indianapolis -- and apparently still working for the traction company -- as late as mid-1913. By that time, the Amalgamated Street Railway Employees union were organizing in Indianapolis and running into all sorts of duplicity from the company. It would have been difficult or impossible for Lawrence Riley (my mother's father) to stay out of it. Given his rebellious nature, I doubt he'd want to stay out of it in any case. I can easily envision him stirring things up instead.

The Indianapolis Streetcar Strike of 1913 was the biggest transit strike in the country up to that point, and it snarled or stopped transportation throughout the upper Midwest for days. There was a police mutiny in Indianapolis as well. Sympathetic policemen refused orders to quell the strike. They would not fire on the strikers. Many resigned from the force; others were fired for "insubordination." The company brought in Pinkerton strikebreakers from Chicago to run the cars. The strikebreakers were promptly set upon by strikers and other citizens of Indianapolis. The police -- what few were still on the job -- refused to protect the strike breakers. Street cars were vandalized, overhead wires were cut, the whole system was brought to a screeching halt. The situation was characterized as "a breakdown in public order." Restoration of law and order was the chief demand of the streetcar company, but they faced the devil's own time getting their way.

Four strikers and two strikebreakers were killed in the ensuing mayhem, hundreds were injured in the so-called riots. A considerable portion of the company's rolling stock was damaged or destroyed. Electric wires powering the streetcars were cut. There were reports of extensive vandalism throughout downtown Indianapolis, though how true they were it's hard to say at this distance. The governor eventually called in the National Guard to restore order and they were even going to be assigned to run the cars if the strikers did not go back to work. There was a mass gathering of strikers and their sympathizers at the Capitol building at which a list of demands was presented to the governor. He spoke to the crowd and promised that he would present labor reform legislation to be voted on early the next year. The crowd was not mollified, but in the end, he met with strike leaders and company management and mediated some of the issued sufficiently that the strikers agreed to return to their jobs under certain conditions and workers and management agreed to submit grievances to binding arbitration.

The company, after refusing to even acknowledge workers and their grievances, finally faced the necessity of dealing with the problems workers had been pointing out for years, specifically abysmally low pay and arbitrary working conditions. While the union demanded 35¢ an hour minimum, the company granted 28¢ -- after defending their lower pay scale as just and proper and quite sufficient for their workers who were, with few exceptions, satisfied. After all, workers who had been with the company five years or more were already receiving 25¢ an hour, so what were the whiners complaining about anyway? The company also agreed to minimum weekly and monthly schedules and pay. Minimum per month was set at a princely $45. About $11 a week. It's easy enough to imagine how little transit company workers were paid prior to the agreement.

My grandmother, Edna, was working as a telephone operator at the time, and I did a little research on what operators were paid in the early 1900s. It was pretty bad. Starting pay was around $20 a week and it was considered by telephone workers to be insultingly low. Telephone companies justified the low pay by claiming that it took years and years for operators to become skilled enough to warrant higher pay, after years and years of training and experience, it wasn't uncommon for them to make $25 or even $30 a week, considered a magnificent sum for the day.

My grandmother didn't work for the telephone company, she worked for a bank -- which coincidentally enough was managed by Lawrence Riley's brother George. She worked there for years and years. I don't know how much she made working as an operator at the bank, but it was probably more -- conceivably quite a lot more -- than Lawrence Riley received from the traction company as a conductor or motorman before or after the strike.

In the bigger picture, the strike led the Indiana Legislature to pass all kinds of labor reform. Minimum wage, end of child labor, establishment of worker rights, rules and mechanisms for grievances, on and on. It was an extensive package of reform, one of the most extensive in the country at the time. Compared to where national labor law was at the time, Indiana's reforms were stunning.

All because of a week-long strike and the determination of workers in the face of violence and duplicity by the state and the company and in the face of provocation from strike breakers.

Let's be clear, though. It was not a "peaceful" strike by any means. It wasn't as bloody and violent a some would be both before and after, but the key element, I think, is that the police mutinied and refused to carry out orders to suppress the strike. The people of Indianapolis for the most part stood with the strikers and with the police mutineers. Even though the traction company got most of what it wanted in the arbitration, and workers seemed to get very little, the results overall were remarkable.

A lesson can be learned from this 1913 "breakdown in public order." Don't give in and don't give up. Stand for what is right. Stand with one another. You have nothing to lose but your chains.

"Ain't no power like the power of the people 
'cause the power of the people won't stop."

Be not afraid...