Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Down Country and the Persistence of Colonialism in New Mexico

I've been thinking about colonialism as endemic to New Mexico.

It's part of Pueblo culture and other Native culture, too, including Diné/Navajo.

I've been reading Lucy Lippard's magisterial "Down Country" (mostly) about the Tano people of the Galisteo Basin, just to the north over a ridge from our own place in the Estancia Basin. The Tano came as colonizers from the north and west in -- perhaps -- 1200AD or so; there were already scattered settlements in the Galisteo, some a thousand years old, perhaps (then again, maybe not so old.) The inhabitants were overwhelmed, driven out or incorporated into the new Tano pueblo villages, the ruins of which are found all over the Galisteo. The Spanish, in their turn, overwhelmed the Tano pueblos, and eventually, they were all abandoned, the remnant Tano people moving to Hopi-land where their descendants still are.

The Spanish settled in after a while, and they in their turn were overwhelmed and the Anglo colonists moved in. Galisteo itself has been a Tano pueblo, a Spanish pueblo and it is now (mostly) an Anglo artist colony, an offshoot of Santa Fe's art colony.  Fancy people, all 250 of them,  in their fancy houses and studios, with their fancy (non-functional) mailboxes, lording it over... well, their own domain. A domain taken from others, who took it from others, who in turn took it from others still.

I'm a colonist too. Ms Ché is in a slightly different category being Native and all, but Cherokee are not the local indigenous even so.  Cherokee are more or less in charge of IAIA, and even though it is Indian-centered and Indian run, IAIA is very much a colonial enterprise.

Where we are, the Empty Quarter, has a similar pattern to that of the Galisteo Basin, though much attenuated, as no one (much) lived here to take the land from, and there were few resources easily exploitable.

The closest pueblos were fifteen/twenty miles away. This was an open grassland where buffalo roamed. The deer and the antelope played in the hills and mountains round about, among the cholla, pinon, and juniper. Before the Spanish, the Tompiro people coming from the west established a few outposts which became large pueblo trading centers, the chief product being salt which the people collected from the salt ponds to the east, the remnants of the once mighty lake that had filled the Estancia basin. The trade was between the local pueblos, the pueblos along the Rio Grande on the west side of the mountains, and the Plains tribes, chiefly the Kiowa and Comanche who roamed and were fierce in their war paint wherever and whenever they wished. They followed the buffalo, but so did the Pueblo peoples whose hunts were legendary.

The Tompiro fought the Spanish and submitted to the Spanish and that was their undoing, for once they sumitted, they no longer were able to rely on their own customs and resources to ensure their survival, they had to rely on the Spanish -- who literally had no concern for the well-being/survival of the People, only for themselves. Ultimately, the remnant Tompiro people (perhaps only a few hundred by then) left en masse and joined the Rio Grande pueblos, chiefly Isleta, just before the outbreak of the Pueblo Revolt.

They never came back. The land was empty -- except for the birds, the buffalo, the deer and the antelope, the coyotes and the occasional forays from the Kiowa and Comanche, who now had to scale the mountain passes to get to the pueblos and the Spanish settlements for slave-raiding and trade. Such an inconvenience, but they managed somehow.

This land became part of contested and competing land grants and was used primarily for sheep-raising when it was used at all. It was wild-country, no-man's land.

There were a few Spanish villages along the east foothills of the Manzanos and there was a ranch headquarters at Estancia, and that was pretty much it for settlement. The ruins of the stone-built pueblos did not dissolve back into the ground like adobe would but still stood stark, rigid and crumbling, not unlike tiny versions of Chaco and Mesa Verde.

Anglo colonists came from Texas with their multitudes of cattle and claimed the land for their own, demanding that the sheep-ranchers and their sheep withdraw forthwith. There was a notorious shoot-out after a friendly poker game. The colonists came from Texas, but the Anglo colonial enterprise was directed from California, via Boston, or vice versa. I had no idea until after I'd lived here for a while that the cattle operation was owned by the Whitneys who had a vast ranch and experimental farm outside of Sacramento which turned into one of the many microchip suburbs and where I had worked from time to time. The Whitneys came from Boston at the tail end of the Gold Rush. In New Mexico, the Whitneys claimed to be from Boston, though their entire expansion program was being run from their California ranch. Colorado didn't escape their ministrations, either, I'm told, but that's another tale for another time.

(I'm sure I've told this story before) The Whitneys fought the Oteros on the ground and in court for decades for control of the land, and finally they both lost at the Supreme Court, and the land was opened for Anglo homesteading/settlement. The railroad promptly laid tracks, and the remnants of history are all around, as are the many ruins of broken dreams. Our house was one of those ruins until we, colonists from California, "rescued" it and rehabbed it enough to live in. With the skunks underneath and the song birds nesting in the eaves.

Now and then, we still hear a coyote howl or see an eagle soar. There are no buffalo, though, no more. I don't know why not. There are vast ranches nearby where they could be raised and roam, ranches that host numerous cattle, horses, llamas, or goats, and if they can host any of those, they can host buffalo, but they don't. The pronghorn, they say, are not the Native variety -- they were hunted to extinction in historic times -- they are an imported variety from Wyoming; colonists you might say, in their own right, like the cattle, the horses, the llamas and the goats.

The Russian olives are colonists as are most of the plants that now cover the grasslands. The farms and most of their crops are colonists, though corn, beans and squash are raised in abundance and are highly sought after by city-folk who flock to the country at harvest time. Colonists. The farm nearby where the cranes roost in the daytime is a working farm, but also an "attraction," hosting thousands of school children bussed in from the city every year to see what a "real farm" is like.  Colonists.

All I'm saying is that there is no escaping colonialism in New Mexico. Even the Diné/Navajo are colonists -- coming in from the north so late in the game they were practically simultaneous arrivals with the Spanish, within a hundred years or so. They were raiders like their cousins the Apaches. The pueblo peoples feared and despised them. Some still do. Colonists all.

The question is whether colonialism will continue to be imposed by force and bloodshed. That's the issue of police violence in a nutshell. That's the issue raised by so many of the Indians we've come to know in New Mexico -- who say, almost to a one, "It didn't have to be this way."

The violence was never necessary.

The taking and the stealing and the use of force and bloodshed was never necessary. Matters could be worked out (relatively) peacefully. Accommodations could be made. They still can be.

That's what I'm hoping to see happen in the next phase of opposition to police violence -- and implicitly to the violence of Anglo-colonialism.

The Spanish and the Indians learned -- the hard way -- to accommodate one another in this harsh and unforgiving land. As I've heard said, they're all related now, they're children of one another's mothers, and though they may maintain distinctive cultures, they are still family. They often unite to oppose more Anglo colonial impositions and these days they can and do succeed in their opposition.

The question is whether the Anglos will learn there is another way. In my view, they must learn.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

People's Tribunal in Albuquerque

Last Sunday, ABQJustice conducted what they called a tribunal with regard to the long and disreputable record of the Albuquerque Police Department's racist and violent policing.

I wasn't able to attend, but I have seen the videos (Part I and Part II) of the event and I've read the report that formed the basis of this tribunal.

This wasn't really a tribunal as there was no means of adjudication and only certain testimony was allowed. There was no "other side" in other words. Thus there was no way to weigh the testimony and evidence. Further, the focus was not on racism and violence by APD, it was on historical resistance and utilized the indirect testimony from victims of APD's history of racism and police violence.

Nevertheless, I am a strong advocate for People's Tribunals and courts as a means of highlighting social problems and solutions, and of making a public case for change while holding those who commit public violence responsible to the public.

Such tribunals can be very dramatic and very effective -- at least as long as they stay focused on the issues they're organized to examine and they are able to render a judgement based on the evidence, including testimony, presented.

Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. I can only speculate on the reasons why.

Part of the problem may be that APD's rate of killing has fallen dramatically since last July, when for all intents and purposes, the killer cops were told to stand down -- and to a degree I never anticipated, they did.

With the kill rate so surprisingly reduced, the point of the protests and actions against police violence in Albuquerque may have been lost, or there may be some other agenda in operation, one that sees the killings that triggered so much outrage in the spring and summer of last year as merely a starting point. I don't know.

At any rate, while the report on police racism and prejudice in Albuquerque is welcome, it lacks the kind of statistical basis and focus on police violence that I would like to see and that I think is necessary to catalyze real and lasting reform -- if reform is even possible and the desired outcome.

For example, if you're going to accuse the police of racist and prejudiced policing, it can help immeasurably to have and to show statistics that back it up. Unfortunately, the report lacks those statistics, though there is plenty of evocative testimony that suggests as much.

The objectives of the report are not entirely clear, although there is a list of desired "Expectations" which include:

1. An independent agency with the authority to discipline officers and make policy changes. 
2. Routine extensive outreach to collect complaints against APD.
3. The acceptance of anonymous complaints against APD. 
4. The decriminalization of homelessness. 
5. Police officers who use unjustified force must be held criminally accountable. 
6. The publishing of all officer shift rosters at the end of each week, and the immediate online posting of all lapel camera video. 
7. The recruitment of officer candidates who hold degrees, or have experience, in, social work or allied fields. 
8. Limiting promotion to officers who have experience in, or show an inclination for, community-based policing.
I don't know how ABQ Justice came to these expectations, but they seem in the aggregate to lack cohesion. Even if adopted by APD and the city -- which is unlikely -- they don't lead to reform (assuming reform is the desired outcome.)

What is most surprising to me is that they aren't based in concepts of racial and social justice. Instead they are aspects of information desired and the interests of those who developed the report.

Let's go one by one:

1. An independent agency to discipline officers and make policy.

As far as I know, no police department anywhere in the country has such a truly independent agency. The issue is "independence." How do you judge that? How to you ensure that? Police departments are the creations and creatures of civic authority, authority which is nominally vested in the elected representatives of the citizens, but which is actually almost always controlled and implemented by appointed officials, usually the City Manager or the equivalent. You can create a commission or review board or oversight agency, but the vexing problem is assuring its independence and authority outside the chain of command of the city's government. This is quite apart from the problems of oversight caused by police unions and their enforceable agreements. There is no "independence" in other words. Discipline has historically been a contractual matter, pursued internally; policy is ostensibly the purview of the elected representatives of the citizens, but policy recommendations are largely and implementation is entirely at the discretion of the City Manager and his/her delegates -- such as the police chief. If you want to change that, you have to change the whole structure of authority in city governments.

2. Routine extensive outreach to collect complaints against APD. 

By whom? Police? Nonsense. The problem that is mentioned in the report is that those who might be making complaints of police abuse and misconduct are terrified of the police. Police, therefore, are not the appropriate civic authorities to do such outreach, but who is? Social service organizations? Perhaps. But the problem for most of them is that they are already overwhelmed and severely restricted in their abilities to perform services as it is. How are they to add further outreach to their responsibilities. And who would they report to? What would be done with these complaints? Would they go to a powerless quasi-independent agency to languish and eventually be dismissed -- as most complaints typically do? Or what?

3. The acceptance of anonymous complaints against APD.

That should be a no-brainer, but acceptance doesn't mean action.

4. The decriminalization of homelessness.

Homelessness per se is not a crime. Sleeping on the sidewalk or urinating in public may be crimes. The problems of homelessness are manifest, and the solutions are relatively obvious, but for whatever reason, policy makers largely refuse to employ them (ie: provide housing.) Using the criminal justice system (such as it is) to deal with homelessness is stupid. The issue isn't so much the criminalization of homelessness as it is a public policy of harassment and humiliation of the homeless, using the police and the so-called justice system to make already miserable lives worse.

5. Police officers who use unjustified force must be held criminally accountable.

Who decides what is "unjustified?" Again, the problem is lines of authority and where decision making lies. In theory, police are already held accountable for the use of unjustified force. The problem is that the police and district attorney in concert decide that (almost) all uses of force are "justified." The public may disagree, but the public has no control over the process and decision-making. There's no current mechanism to ensure that this expectation becomes operative.

6. The publishing of all officer shift rosters at the end of each week, and the immediate online posting of all lapel camera video. 

The objective? The rosters should be available in real time, and there should be a secure (tamper-proof) lapel camera footage repository. In other words, camera footage should be uploaded as it is acquired rather than stored in the camera itself and uploaded at the discretion of the police. On the other hand, making all footage immediately available to the public seems counter productive.

7. The recruitment of officer candidates who hold degrees, or have experience, in, social work or allied fields.

While I understand why this could be desirable, I don't agree that police should be assigned to social work responsibility. This has been one of the major issues of hundreds of police involved shootings every year. Police are sent on calls that need social or medical worker intervention or services, with too often deadly results. Even when the police sent on these calls have special training and experience. The answer is to send social and medical workers, not police. But that means changing policies and protocols, and it means increasing the numbers of available non-police workers to go on such calls.

8. Limiting promotion to officers who have experience in, or show an inclination for, community-based policing.

Who will define the terms? "Community based policing" needs to be defined here. Then policies can be implemented and promotions made on the basis of those policies. Until then, this proposal is too vague to be useful.

If there had been a real tribunal last Sunday, there would have been charges presented against the city of Albuquerque and certain of its employees including the Mayor and the City Administrator and named police officers who have engaged in egregious or violent conduct.

A real tribunal would have then heard testimony from individuals who have been victims of police violence or other mistreatment and abuse, and the city authorities and police would have had an opportunity to present a defense either directly or by proxy.

Then the tribunal would have made a judgement and recommendations.

Instead, the report was presented as a fait accompli. The tribunal made no recommendations itself, nor did it render a judgement.

I like the tactic of a People's Tribunal, and I'd like to see it continued so as to make clear what the policing problems are and what to do about them... and to point out who is responsible.

This report and tribunal didn't quite do that.






Thursday, March 12, 2015

Burst of Action, Rage and Outrage in Ferguson

Well.

How much will these developments matter in the long run?

Ferguson's city authorities have been overhauling their little fiefdom by shuffling around some of the city's personnel and getting rid of some of the more egregious masters of the Negro Farm. The city manager was duly separated from his overseer seat; the police chief resigned; the municipal court judge who had been so good at harvesting the Negro crop for the city left town -- but he's still right next door; two police commanders who had chuckled over their racist email "jokes" took off for parts unknown; the racist court clerk who thought the Negroes were so funny also departed.

Things were looking somewhat positive in Ferguson for a change, though who would be stepping into the vacancies was anybody's guess. Given the economic structure of many of the municipalities in St. Louis County, it's hardly practical to bring in a more, shall we say, public-service oriented team.

The problem is that these tiny fiefdoms grandly called "cities" in St. Louis County are simply not economically viable unless the population or a significant portion of it is "farmed" as a cash crop might be. They do it in St Louis through the constant petty extractions of the municipal courts, backed up by predatory policing. It's a system worked out over many generations.

These things don't change overnight.

But overnight, shots rang out at the Ferguson Police HQ and Muni Court Building, an iconic symbol of the oppression the residents -- well, the black residents -- of Ferguson feel, and the sight of numerous protests and demonstrations since the outrageous killing of Mike Brown by FPD officer Darren Wilson last August.

Two police officers were wounded, though apparently neither of them were FPD officers.

There have been endless claims of "shots fired" during the protests against police violence in Ferguson, literally from the first moments of outrage after Darren Wilson shot and killed Mike Brown on Canfield Drive that hot August noon last years. Literally from the first moments of protest and outrage in Ferguson, the claim has been made by police that shots were fired. This statement was made over and over again during protests, but there was no proof of it, certainly no proof that members of the protest crowds were firing at police.

What we witnessed instead, through Livestreams and other mean, was police firing tear gas, flash grenades, smoke bombs, and rubber bullets at protesters. Time and time again. The police would only confront "peaceful protests" -- and they did it with such over the top armaments and technology that the scenes often turned chaotic and absurd, thanks to the police response to protesters. The police never interfered with arsonists, vandals, and looters, however. Never. They only responded to non-violent protests with overwhelming force.

And often their excuse was that somebody had fired at them, or they heard gunfire somewhere, or somebody not involved with the protests was arrested somewhere and they had a gun. They would show off the guns they had taken from people they arrested -- people who had nothing to do with the protests -- and they would often imply that these guns were being used by protesters against the police. But no such thing was happening, and there was never any evidence or proof whatever that protesters were firing at police.

There was abundant evidence that the police were firing at protesters, however.

All the police had to do was make the claim that they were being fired on by the protesters to justify in their own minds and the minds of their supporters their violence against nonviolent crowds.

It was an obvious tactic to garner support for their often outrageous actions. In the end, the claims of shots fired made their way into the DoJ's report on the Darren Wilson matter, as a justification for many actions -- such as leaving Mike Brown's body in the street for hour after hour. "There were reports..." of gunfire nearby, and as we know, force protection is the prime directive of all police forces and public entities everywhere, all the time. Thus, if there is any suggestion or suspicion of danger, protecting the force (and their fort) comes first and foremost.

So last night, as a protest demonstration in front of the Police Fort in Ferguson was winding down, shots really did ring out, and two officers -- neither from FPD -- were wounded. An "active shooter" situation was declared, police guns were drawn on the remnants of the crowd, and the fort was protected. Flying squads of police were dispatched to the site where the gunfire was thought to have have originated, well away from the few remaining protesters.

There were reports -- not confirmed that I know of -- that there were four shots, all of which reached their targets. In other words, two shots hit each police officer. The distance was calculated at about 200 yards, perhaps farther, as the exact location of the shooter was not determined. Obviously, however, whoever shot the officers was a skilled marksman, no doubt using a high powered rifle, perhaps with a nightscope.

A pro.

Immediately, there was speculation that this was a provocation, a false-flag operation by someone interested in stirring things up a bit. Could be. This is America, and false flag operations are as American as apple pie and motherhood.

But who knows. Sometimes what seems to be clear... isn't.

At any rate, the hand wringers are out in force; this incident will "kill the movement," yadda yadda, which, not surprisingly, is exactly what a false flag operation would be designed to do. "We must practice non-violence! Gandhi! King! etc." Yes, well, those who are so loudly invoking King and Gandhi at a time like this simply falsify history, but that's been going on so long, hardly anybody knows the real history of King's and Gandhi's movements, and those who do know are often loathe to dispute the received narrative.

The shooting of the officers in the Bronx was supposed to "kill the movement," too. Of course the police and the defenders of their violence and murder utilize any incident like the one overnight -- incidents which are very, very rare -- to claim that the police are under constant assault and attack from the murderous public. We hear it all the time. It's false, but now and then there are incidents in which police are attacked and even wounded. Now and then.

What happened in Ferguson overnight is anybody's guess, and given the way "gunfire" has been investigated throughout the protests against police violence, I expect we will never know what happened or who was responsible.

Finding that out is not a particular priority.

The priority is to declare the people at war with the police, and thus to justify any level of suppression deemed necessary.

We'll see how it shakes out in the daylight...

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Additionally, the Ferguson PD Report and the DoJ Failure to Find Fault With Brave Officer Wilson's Bravely Killing Michael Brown

The cognitive dissonance is strong with this one-two punch.

The DoJ's scathing report [105 pg pdf] on the pattern and practices of unconstitutional policing in Ferguson, MO was released pretty much simultaneously with the failure of the DoJ to find fault [86 pg document file] with the killing of Michael Brown by Darren Wilson, the singularity which has led to months and months of protest actions all across the country, and what's called a "national conversation" about the problems of racist policing and violent cops.

Yes, indeed.

One scathing report after another; one policeman-killer after another allowed to walk free.

It's quite a pattern, and there are reasons for it.

The dissonance is deliberate.

Yes, the police in Ferguson and many other places around the country are racists and practice racist policing. There are so many places where this is true, we might say it is all but universal. Police best practices presume the guile and the guilt of an array of minority and poverty stricken sectors of the population as a matter of course.

Statistically, the crime and criminality of minority and poor sectors of the population appears to be a fact. Thus the presumption is said to be justified. But when the statistics are broken down, it becomes clear that the presumption of guile and guilt is self fulfilling in that police interest and action is concentrated in minority communities, poor communities, marginal communities, and in many cases, police create the crime they then suppress and profit from. It's all quite circular.

When the DoJ investigates and declares a police department to have a pattern and practice of "unconstitutional policing" -- including racist policing -- it is merely pointing to the obvious. In the case of Ferguson, nearly every complaint we've been hearing in the media about the FPD is validated by the DoJ report. The local police operate as a racket, extorting money from the people, primarily the black residents of Ferguson, to fund police and city operations. It's deliberate intent every step of the way. It involves violence as well as more subtle coercion. It's been going on a long time. It is racist at its core.

Anyone who's been following the story is not surprised by these findings. We've been hearing and reading about it for months. Anybody who is familiar with the way St. Louis and the County work is familiar with the patterns and practices detailed in the Ferguson report. It's the same throughout the County. It's monstrous. And according to the DoJ, it's unconstitutional.

On the other hand, the white folks are quite satisfied, it would seem, and want nothing to change.

Similar patterns and practices are found all over the country, but perhaps the most egregious examples are found in the South -- where cities and towns in many cases have always worked this way -- and in the Border regions, such as St. Louis and Baltimore and so forth.

I've been calling it "Negro Farming" for some time, the idea being that black residents of these towns and cities are regarded as a cash crop, to be farmed and harvested of whatever money can be squeezed out of them. That's their chief -- in many cases their only -- value to the Powers That Be, and they, like any other crop, have no say in the matter.

I was thinking about this the other day in the context of what I know about city managers and their thinking. I've only had experience in this field in Sacramento where working on reform of a violent (though not particularly murderous) police force required dealing with the city manager and his office. Like most other cities, the city manager of Sacramento is in charge of the police department.

What I learned very quickly is that the city manager's office categorizes the population according to their worth to the city -- ie: how much revenue they produce, or contrariwise, how much of a cost burden they are to the city.

The city manager's constant goal is to maximize the revenue value and minimize the cost burden of the population. They segment the population by district, by age, race and gender, by income, and by occupation -- among other categories. As a rule well off white people are considered "contributors" to the civic enterprise (oh, yes, the city is itself an "enterprise" with many subsidiary enterprises all of which are treated as revenue sources or cost burdens). Well off white people are considered contributors because they own property and/or businesses which are taxed, generally quite modestly, but taxed just the same. They produce a reliable revenue stream.

On the other hand, poor people, people of color, the marginal, the mentally ill, the addicted, and so forth are almost universally considered revenue drains, costs in other words, and in every civic enterprise I'm familiar with, costs must be contained -- unless there is an off-setting revenue stream. That stream can come from an outside source -- say state or federal funding for programs or prisons -- or it can be extracted through fines and so forth from the people themselves.

Because the revenues extracted in this manner are not generally reliable, however, the place of the people from whom it is extracted is never equivalent to that of well off white people whose revenue stream is much more reliable.

This is a very simple model of what goes on in most towns and cities where populations are routinely categorized according to their civic value.

But it is the basic model that underpins how Ferguson and surrounding cities treats their populations.

In this model, someone like Mike Brown has no value.

Someone like Darren Wilson does have value.

Thus the dissonance between condemnation of an unconstitutional pattern and practice of policing -- and the failure to find fault with Darren Wilson's actions that hot day in August 2014 when he shot and killed Mike Brown in the streets of Ferguson.

The pattern and practice of policing -- not just in Ferguson but generally -- is justifiably condemned as unconstitutional, but it is based on the civic value of individuals and population segments, and the lower the value, the greater the excuse for use of force, violence and death in dealing with them.

The problems come when the costs of use of force, violence and death outrun the revenues that can be derived from the force and violence. And that's happening in city after city.

Whether it will happen in Ferguson, I don't know. Immense efforts (and expenses) have been made to protect Darren Wilson throughout this episode, efforts and expenses which are continuing. I don't know why he is being protected this way, but he is. The various "exonerations" of his actions that have taken place appear to be intended to limit or eliminate any civil award Mike Brown's family might receive, but even that is not clear. Something is going on behind the scenes in which Darren Wilson is seen as a victim somehow, whereas Mike Brown is being cast as the perpetrator. This has been going on since the killing itself. What actually happened and why is not as important as the narrative competition that's been produced. It's as if Wilson and Brown are proxies for a police/civilian culture clash that can only be resolved in favor of the police.

This is something to keep in mind: DoJ is always going to favor the police, even when they issue their scathing reports. In fact, police departments routinely defy these reports and recommendations. It's cultural. And DoJ has no independent enforcement power over police conduct. Any enforcement must come through the courts, and the courts have almost no enforcement powers independent of the police they are attempting to reform.

Consequently, if the police want to -- or they are directed to by their city managers and police chiefs -- they can and do ignore and defy these scathing reports and recommendations.

DoJ will let them get away with it, may even encourage it clandestinely.

We see it right up front with the Ferguson report and the Wilson matter: clean up your act (if you want) but no one will fault you for killing black people.

Reform itself is not enough.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

So The President's Police Commission [Interim] 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.