Monday, July 6, 2015

The Greek Thing

I haven't had much to say about the Greek Thing -- or that much of anything -- lately due to the fact that so much of the reporting about it has been based on rumor, insult, innuendo, and advice, not on whatever is actually happening at all.

Much of it is absolutely captivated with the sayings of various heavy-hitter-players in the drama with no particular interest in the consequences to ordinary Greek people -- who have been suffering mightily under the lash of a bunch of wilding Euro-Creeps, the men and women of the Institutions wielding the instruments of the financial torture of the Greek People on behalf of... whom? Who is profiting from all this suffering?

You know that somebody is.

Yesterday, however, was the referendum on the question of whether to accept the terms of the Euro-Creeps for more austerity which has been wrongly (deliberately wrongly) termed a "Greek Bailout." There's been no hint of a Greek bailout since the start of the crisis all those many years ago. The bailout, such as there's been one, has been of the banks that lent Greece money it couldn't pay back, and of the Titans of Europe, the Troika, the "Institutions" which made the banks whole and which are now demanding the Greeks make them whole on a bunch of loans that shouldn't have been made in the first place, most of them "odious" by any rational standard.

The referendum was considered to be running neck and neck right up to the point where the initial results came in showing a 60/40 No (OXI) to Yes (NAI) vote. It was not neck and neck, it was not even close. The pre-vote polling was wildly wrong, but that's been typical of the reporting too. The overwhelming sentiment among the Greek people is to reject -- in no uncertain terms -- the threats, ultimatums and harsh impositions from Brussels and Berlin and do what it takes to achieve a decent resolution to the crisis.

Brussels and Berlin are apparently not in the mood for a decent resolution, and they have never cared a whit about the dignity -- let alone the survival -- of the Greek People. The impasse remains. But the Greeks have finally taken matters far enough into their own hands that they have options they did not have when they were yoked tightly to the demands of their creditors putting the lives of ordinary Greeks in jeopardy, and the well-being of many Greeks in the toilet.

We'll see whether the Titans of Europe come to their senses. I doubt they will. Instead, they are likely to seek titanic levels of vengeance -- just as they have blustered and threatened all along. Defiance is to be punished. But the time comes when defiance, sustained defiance, is the right course, and all I can say for the moment is that the Greek defiance is a thrilling sight to see.

The Titans may not be tameable, but the Greeks have already gone far to undermining their authority and turning back the fear with which they rule. The gods will have to deal with their creatures in time, and that time is drawing nigh.

The Greeks just might save civilization one more time... or at least give it a boost.

Sunday, July 5, 2015


This will be a somewhat different post on my father's birthday than I've done before.

In the past year, I've done a lot of ancestral research and I've found out a lot of things I didn't know before while I've confirmed quite a bit of what I was told as well. By the time I was born, all my grandparents were dead, and I didn't grow up around uncles and aunts and cousins. I knew that they existed -- and had no idea how close they were -- but I never saw them, never knew them, with the exception of my father's sister Alice and her husband Max and their son Bob. I have long known there were quite a few others, but I didn't know they were living as close by as they were -- in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco and other parts of the Bay Area, and in the Sacramento area. My father and his sisters Alice and Eleanor are the only ones who stayed in Iowa.

But the problem is I'm not sure now if he was my biological father. If he wasn't, as I suspect he might not have been, it would go far toward explaining some of what I thought were simply his quirks and later neglectfulness.

He was born on the banks of the Mississippi River on the 5th of July 1901. I'm sure it was hotter than holy hell that day. He was the second son of his parents, William Henry and Elizabeth Veronica. Elizabeth would go on to have ten children altogether, the last, a son, Eugene, born in 1916. Nine of her children would live to adulthood. A middle daughter, Marian, was killed when she was 12 or 13 due to a sledding accident. A boy came sledding down the hill at great speed. Marian didn't get out of the way fast enough, and the sled hit her in the head. She was dead on the scene.

William Henry was an attorney, farmer, real estate magnate, and a minor politician in Eastern Iowa, with clients in several counties along the Mississippi. He himself had been born to Irish parents, James and Alice, who had come from Ireland in the 1840s and 50s, just before and just after the Famine. I'd been told stories that the Irish side of the family had emigrated to America in the 1600s, to Maryland where they became prominent and were heavily involved in the Revolution and the establishment of the independent United States of America, which made my father's birth on the Fifth of July a kind of coda to the whole matter of American Independence.

This turned out to be melarky. Quite some time ago, I started researching that history, and found that no matter how I tried, I couldn't make a direct connection with the prominent Maryland family and my own. In other words, I couldn't find any of my supposed Maryland ancestors who'd gone West, through Virginia and Ohio and eventually settled in Iowa. The names were different as were their directions of travel. I let the issue sit for a while because I thought there might have been an ancestor whose name I didn't know, and who might not have been mentioned along with the others. I didn't know whether there was an unfound connection or not.

But then when I did the research on my father's ancestors I came across the records that showed that my father's grandfather, James, had emigrated from Ireland with his father Alexander (and perhaps a brother Edward and other relatives, I'm not sure) in either 1842 or 1850. The stories I found in county histories used one or the other date, and census records used 1850 when the question was asked. Nowhere near the 1688 date I'd been told. The confusion of dates (1842 or 1850?) may be because there were two waves of immigration by members of the family and who came when wasn't necessarily clear to later historians, scholars, students -- and family members. Be that as it may, I found there was no direct connection between my ancestors and the Maryland family of the same name, although there may have been an ancestral connection between them in Ireland prior to 1688 (that's still a matter of much murk, as the history in Ireland is a tangled mess...)

Regardless of the fact that the family origin in Maryland was wrong, the story of the journey from Maryland to Ohio and thence to Iowa was pretty much right. Soon after landing in Baltimore in 1842 -- or 1850 -- they commenced to travel west -- doubtless on the B & O Railroad if they could afford it or on the parallel National Road if they couldn't pay the train fare -- to the area around Springfield, Ohio, where they took up farming for several years before moving on to the then-Frontier of Scott County, Iowa, where they settled in 1856-7 on several farms between Princeton and LeClaire.

As far as I could tell, the whole family as well as others who weren't blood relations but who were somehow connected with the family moved en masse from Ohio to Iowa.  The story was that they moved because the "opportunities" were better in Iowa.

This is a fairly typical story of western migration at the time. I found in my studies of the Gold Rush to California that people in established communities in the east, particularly in upstate New York, Indiana, and Ohio, would pull up stakes and head west to the gold fields of California -- despite the fact that they were doing relatively well where they were. In fact, they had to be doing relatively well where they were because heading west was so expensive, rather startlingly expensive it seems to me. They had to have money to begin with, or they couldn't have made the trip, whether to California or simply to the other side of the Mississippi River.

These were not, in other words, hardy, hardscrabble Pioneers. They were for the most part well-established, successful and well-off members of noted families in well-settled communities.

So it would seem to have been with my father's ancestors who moved from Ohio to Iowa in the mid-1850s. The farms they took up in Scott County provided them with a handsome enough income that their offspring could go to college and in many cases become lawyers and/or growers (the next generation kept the farms) and become political players in their communities -- which stretched from Davenport to Clinton and beyond.

This was the family my father was born into.

His mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of German immigrants -- Reinhold and Veronica -- who arrived in this country from different parts of Germany in 1855. Actually, there wasn't a Germany at the time, only German kingdoms, states and principalities, all nominally independent. Reinhold left his home town of Waibstadt (he spelled it "Weibstadt" which made it very difficult for me to find it as I was doing research) -- between Heidelberg and Heilbronn in the province (then-Kingdom) of Baden -- now Baden-Wurttemberg -- in 1854 when he was 14. He made it to Le Havre, France, and arrived in New York in 1855. He lived in New York, in Brooklyn, until 1863 when he took out citizenship papers and moved to Iowa as a carpenter on the Chicago and North Western Railroad, where he lived and worked the rest of his life.

His wife, Veronica, came from Koblenz, (then spelled Coblenz) on the Rhine, in what was then a Prussian province. So far as I can tell, her family were Jewish conversos to Catholicism. The story was that Reinhold's family were also originally Jewish, but I've found no convincing evidence that is so. However, almost all the families in the Koblenz area of Germany that shared Veronica's maiden last name were Jewish, so I think it is likely she was descended from conversos even if he wasn't.

According to the story I was told, Veronica never learned English, and so she was never able to easily communicate with her offspring.

Reinhold died in 1901, two weeks after my father was born, so my father never knew his German grandfather, and he could barely communicate with his German grandmother. Veronica died in 1918, possibly a victim of the Spanish flu.

By 1918, my father was a 2nd Lieutenant in the recently organized Iowa Expeditionary Force training for deployment in Europe. He and his troops would never go to Europe, as the Armistice would be signed before their training was done, but the experience of drilling with his troops on the town's central square was always a thrill to him, something he looked back on fondly, even though he was barely 17 years old at the time.

He went to the University of Iowa starting in 1920 to study law. His older brother Vincent was already there in the Dentistry School, but somehow, Vincent got a law degree, too. My father graduated from the University of Iowa in 1924. This I knew. There was no secret about it. But I found something else, something startling as heck to me. Whether it was a secret, I can't be sure, but it is something I knew nothing of before last year.

My father got married on his 21st birthday in Davenport at St. Mary's Rectory to a woman named Bernice (called by her middle name Evelyn) who was from Iowa City, and they remained married for at least 10 years. I had no idea. None.

This first marriage was never mentioned to me at all, and I would have known nothing about it if I hadn't stumbled on the records -- including marriage certificate and 1925 Iowa census and 1930 federal census -- that my father was married to Bernice/Evelyn. They had no children, and by 1935 were no longer wed. My father was actually married to someone else in 1935, a woman named Thelma from Waterloo, Iowa. I knew about her because she was the mother of my half-brother Terry. She died shortly after Terry was born, probably from an infection, but the cause of her death was never entirely clear to me. Her death was devastating to my father. He kept her close in his heart and memory for the rest of his life.

Terry, it would later be discovered, suffered from what is now called autism, but then he was categorized as an "idiot savant" when it was recognized that there was something wrong with him. Shortly after his birth and the death of his mother, he was given to my father's older brother Vincent and Vincent's wife Garla.They raised him as their own son.

My father and his wife Bernice/Evelyn and Vincent and his wife Garla had been very close during the 20s and 30s. They had lived and worked together as a kind of team in Iowa and Illinois (I had known nothing about the Illinois venture, either) doing primarily real estate title work. At some point, Vincent shifted from a dentistry to law major at U of I, and he became a lawyer. I don't know when that happened. Later, after Bernice/Evelyn was out of the picture, my father and Vincent and Garla shared the same house in Iowa (c. 1940) and continued working together at the family law firm. Terry was listed in that census as Vincent and Garla's son.

Later, Vincent and Garla would move out of town, apparently to one of the farms owned by the family. William Henry, my father's father, died in 1940, and I suspect the farm that Vincent and Garla moved to was part of their inheritance, just as the house in town where my father lived was part of his inheritance.

In 1946, Garla... died.

Exactly what happened was never entirely clear. Vincent said he came home one morning from spending the night with his mistress Pauline in town, and he found Garla dead at the foot of the stairs.

According to the medical examiner, her body was covered with bruises, and it was in his opinion highly unlikely that she had died by accident. Vincent was arrested and charged with her murder.

I had been told of his arrest and trial and acquittal, but I hadn't known that there were two trials, as the first ended with a hung jury. Terry was a witness to whatever happened, but he was not allowed to testify as he was ruled incompetent. In the second trial, however, he was interviewed in chambers, and subsequently the judge directed a verdict of acquittal -- it was reported in the newspapers as a unanimous not-guilty verdict, but my father's detailed version of what happened said the verdict was directed from the bench. This indicates to me that Terry's testimony -- which wasn't described by my father, as he was not in chambers when Terry was interviewed -- essentially verified that Vincent hadn't done it. Who did, or if anyone did, is unclear. My suspicion is that Terry may have been the one who caused Garla's death, assuming it wasn't an accident.

I learned, too, that soon after his acquittal, Vincent moved to Santa Barbara where he married Pauline. He practiced law in Santa Barbara until his death in 1961. I had no idea he was there. From 1949 to 1953, I lived in Santa Maria, just up the road from Santa Barbara, but I had no idea Vincent was so nearby.

Vincent was mentioned but my understanding was that he stayed in Iowa. Not so according to the records.

My parents met in 1944 at McClellan Field in Sacramento, and they were married in 1947 in San Francisco (or possibly in Reno. They honeymooned in San Francisco at any rate.) Both my mother and father were serving in the Army Air Corps when they met, my mother as a medical technician, my father as a training officer.

In 1945, my mother sent a letter to my father saying she had just given birth to stillborn twin daughters fathered by himself. He kept the letter for the rest of his life, and I found it among his papers after his death. I had no idea, of course, that any such birth -- stillborn or not -- had taken place as it was never mentioned by my mother or father.

My suspicion is that she actually had an abortion, but I have no way of knowing for sure. Her subsequent story was that she contracted polio and had to leave the armed forces before the end of the war, but according to the letter, she was forced to leave the WAACs in 1945 because she was pregnant. The story that she told about having polio was -- I believe -- false. In fact, I never believed it was true, though I didn't know about her pregnancy until after my father died in 1969.

My mother and older sister moved to Iowa after my parents were married in 1947. I was conceived shortly after they arrived in December of 1947. I was born in August of 1948, and my parents were divorced in May of 1949. My mother then drove back to California in my father's 1942 Packard Clipper (with infant me in the backseat) which she received as part of the divorce settlement. She got the car, $1000 in cash, and $50 a month child support for me until I was 18 (or possibly 21). My sister took the train back to California.

My mother lived as a single mother from then on.

My father came to visit once, in 1951. I thought he came specifically to visit me/us... but now I think not. He had relatives all up and down California at the time, in Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere in the Bay Area. Now I think he merely stopped by to visit me and my mother, but he was actually in California to visit his many other relatives. His child support payments subsequently became erratic, and he would only pay if my mother called and pestered him. Ultimately, he stopped paying child support altogether, and no amount of cajoling could get him to pay any more.

I was sent to stay with him in Iowa during the summers of 1961 and 62. During that time, he told me many things, and one of them -- that I paid little attention to at the time -- was that no one in his family had red hair. My mother did, however, and obviously, I must have inherited my red hair from her... except it takes two red-head genes to have a red-headed offspring, and he was telling me that he didn't know of any other red-headed family members... ohhhh, it finally dawned on me, he was obliquely pointing out that he might not actually be my father at all.

He never questioned my paternity outright, but after 1951 I had very little contact with him (phone calls at Christmas and/or my birthday some years, other years, nothing), and those two summers in 1961 and 62 that I spent in Iowa were followed by very little contact. After 1966, there was none at all. He wouldn't answer his phone and he wouldn't respond to letters. I contacted his sister Alice who lived down the street, and she said even she rarely saw or spoke to him. He had become a hermit.

Now I think it is possible that he discovered or decided that he was not my biological father when he came to visit in 1951 which was the reason for his subsequent erratic contact and support.

If I was not his son -- except legally -- then he would have little reason to be particularly interested or supportive...

His quip about no one else in his family having red hair was the tip-off -- which of course I didn't understand at the time. I was not familiar with the genetic requirements of red-headedness, and it didn't occur to me until quite a bit later that he might have been suggesting that he wasn't my father, not biologically.

If he wasn't my biological father, who might have been?

There are a couple of potential candidates, friends of my father's, one of whom at least I know was a red-head -- as he represented my father's estate and I worked with him for months after my father's death to settle his affairs.

My mother had often mentioned him -- that friend and fellow attorney -- fondly as one of the only people in Iowa she got along with when -- briefly -- she lived there.

I know his name, but I won't mention it here, as he had a large family of his own, and it wouldn't really be fair to them to suggest that he might have been my biological father -- without any evidence other than a "possibility."

The reason for my parents' divorce was stated as mental cruelty, but according to my mother, the precipitating cause was that one night my father got drunk and got into bed with my 14 year old sister which terrified her. My mother filed for divorce within a week. My father didn't contest it.

Forever afterwards, my sister held a grudge against my father -- if he was my father -- and she considered him beneath contempt. My mother, on the other hand, was more or less ambivalent about him, and after he had a heart attack in 1955, they seriously considered reconciling and re-marrying. But it didn't happen.

The sticking point may have been her refusal to return to Iowa under any circumstances and his reluctance to live in California -- despite having so many relatives in the state.

Or it may have been something else, I'm not sure. All I recall is that the two of them were considering getting back together, and I thought it was pretty exciting. I was annoyed that it didn't happen.

It was considered highly unusual for a single mother to live independently in suburban Southern California at the time, in fact, it was almost unheard of. While I had no urge to live in Iowa, I was eager for my father to re-join his family in California. I don't know for sure why it didn't happen, but I do know that at the time, my father was looking after another sister, Eleanor, who was crippled with scoliosis. She was his secretary at his law office and lived upstairs in his house. His son, Terry, didn't stay with Vincent after the death of his wife Garla but was placed with another family who were friends of my father's in town. They looked after him until they could no longer do so due to their own age and infirmity. Terry was then placed in a state hospital (I'm not sure which one -- there was one near Dubuque and one near Davenport) where I assume he spent the rest of his life. I'm not certain, but I think he died in 1972 at the state hospital, but I have so far been unable to confirm it. My memory is hazy, but I believe I got a letter from the attorney who had handled my father's estate -- the attorney who might be my biological father -- saying that my half-brother had passed away.

At any rate, in 1955, my father was taking care of his sister Eleanor and was responsible for the care of his older son, so I suspect that he felt he couldn't leave Iowa to re-marry my mother and live in California.

There are still many unknowns in this story, unknowns I may never learn the truth of, but over the last year I've learned a great deal about my father and his life that I knew little or nothing of prior to plunging into ancestral research last year. I will no doubt continue to refer to him as "my father" even if, as may be, he was not my biological father. It hardly makes a difference since the man I suspect may have been my biological father never suggested he was nor did my mother ever suggest to me that the man I thought was my father might not have been.

My father died in January of 1969; my mother died in 1987; and my sister died in 1993. I'm not certain when my brother died, but I suspect it was in 1972.  I discovered in my research that I had cousins living in Sloughhouse near Sacramento until 2009 when the last one died; I had no idea. I knew about two aunts living in the San Francisco area, but I never knew exactly where, and I didn't know until recently that there was a third aunt in the Bay Area as well.

I discovered that one aunt had lived within half-a-block of my own apartment in San Francisco, though not at the same time that I lived there, and that her husband had been the manager of the Geary Theatre where I was employed when I lived in San Francisco, though I was unable to determine if he was there when I was working there (I think not, though his name was vaguely familiar when I first learned it.)

I made many other discoveries and found many other connections and linkages that I'd known nothing of previously, some of which I may detail here.

It's all been an extraordinary journey for me that I'm still attempting to fathom. So many Americans know so little about their own heritage and ancestry. Many of the stories we may have been told -- if we've been told anything -- are likely false. On the other hand, many other stories may simply be incomplete, either because the story-tellers don't know the details or because they purposely leave out details.

I relied on the Google and, along with for primary resources. Ancestry and Newspaper Archive are both paid services, neither of which are complete -- or cheap for that matter -- but from them I have gained a great deal of information, including my father's previously unknown first marriage.

About that marriage: Bernice/Evelyn went back to Iowa City at some point after 1932, and she lived there until whenever she died, sometime after 1969. I wasn't able to find a death date for her, but she was apparently a valued employee at the University Hospital until she passed away. She had been a University Hospital employee when my father met her in 1921. They married in 1922. My mother met my father at the base hospital at McClellan Field in 1944. They married in 1947. I wonder if my father's other wife, Thelma, had also been a hospital worker before they were married...

So many questions... sometimes so easy, other times so difficult, to find answers...

Saturday, June 20, 2015

They Made Him Do It


There are problems with this summer's story of Dylann Roof (apparently pronounced "Rauff") and his killing spree at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, SC, and yet there's a tremendous amount of symbolism involved in it, too.

Of course it's yet another incidence of mass murder by a white male American, one of hundreds over the years. Another day, another massacre. It's American as apple-pie, and according to opinion leaders, there is nothing that can be done about it. Too bad, so sad. Next?

"This is a violent country" -- supposedly -- and "this is a violent culture." Well, yes, true enough. But to then claim that "nothing can be done" about it is just silly. To claim that because elected leaders won't do anything about it, and courts essentially make things worse that therefore nothing can be done is crazy.

I pointed out in another venue that some of the commentary surrounding this mass murder in Charleston recognized that Dylann Storm Roof had for all intents and purposes been granted permission to kill Negroes by systems of impunity for murder of black folks, operating ever single day in this country, and generally involving police committing acts of summary execution -- such as the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston only a few weeks ago.

Officer Slager is accused of murder in the case of Mr. Scott, and he is apparently being held in the cell next to Roof. 

I must qualify a lot of my comments in this post with the term "apparently" because -- apparently -- a lot of the "information" being spread by the media is false. The spreading of false information by media would ordinarily be considered propaganda, but this is a summer news cycle, and during the summer news cycle, false narratives are routinely produced and spread regarding pretty much any topic, false fears are generated (sharks, missing white women), false tales are spun. It's the way the "news" business is organized and operated. Just as the major mass media tends to take the weekends off and produce little or no "news" on Saturdays and Sundays, so the media uses the summer for a vacation from seriousness... It's been this way for generations, and there is little sign of breaking with this tradition.

Thus we need to maintain skepticism in the face of whatever is being said or shown about this mass murder or any other story that is featured in the major mass media over the summer (or really at any other time, but that's another issue.) False information and false narratives are all but guaranteed.

What we can point to with some degree of certainty is that while Negroes continue to be gunned down by police with almost complete impunity, every now and then someone is caught and/or held to answer for doing so, and two of them are being held right now in the North Charleston, SC, jail.

We can also point to the fact that white men who kill Negroes are treated with respect, courtesy and dignity. They are protected by the System. Negroes, on the other hand, are mostly treated like disposable or surplus... animals. They are not simply shot on sight -- though that happens with some regularity -- they are warehoused in vast numbers in America's astonishingly cruel, brutal and exploitative prison-industrial system. They are the meat which feeds the system of injustice in this country. White men who kill Negroes simply don't face the kinds of consequences Negroes face for being alive in this country.

In this case, Dylann Roof was apprehended while armed in North Carolina some 14 hours after he shot and killed nine parishoners at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston. He was reported to have been apprehended "peacefully," though he was reported to be armed. He was taken into custody and provided with a bulletproof vest for his perp-walk on his way to being flown back to Charleston, some 220 miles from his apprehension point.

This sequence was staged for the cameras, and what was so striking about it to me was that Roof was being protected throughout. There was no violence in his treatment at all. A black man in similar circumstances would have been treated roughly -- if, that is, he wasn't shot on sight. That's simply the way "justice" works in the USA. And hardly anyone would consider it unusual.

The message is clear: law enforcement exists to protect the white folks and to suppress the Other.

That's its primary function. When we see such stark examples of it, many people don't even notice.

One aspect of the mass murder that has been extensively reported (though who knows whether it's true?) is that Roof apparently told his victims: "I have to do this. You rape our women, and you’re taking over our country, and you have to go.”

In other words, "You Negroes are making me do this..."

This is a historical claim that has been used for centuries to justify oppression and lynching and all sorts of depredations of Africans and African Americans, the quinessence of victim blaming. The Negro doesn't have to actually do anything to be accused of forcing the white man to act against Negroes who rape white women and would take over the country if they could -- if they weren't being killed and suppressed by heroic police and white vigilance.

They made him do it...

Isn't that always the case though? Whether the excuse is "reaching for his waistband" or being reported to be armed or any number of other supposed "threats," the Negro is always to blame for making the white man kill...Always. Of course it isn't just Negroes who are subjected to summary execution by police and white vigilantes, but they are the most likely to be subjected to it. The fear they inspire in some segment of the armed and vigilant white population is fundamental to very their existence. Without their fear of what the Negro would do if they weren't being summarily killed and routinely suppressed, some of these white folks would have no reason for living...

Police are the primary actors in this drama, but when policing fails (as it did in Charleston when Michael Slager was arrested for the on-camera killing of Walter Scott) it's incumbent on white vigilantes to step in and take care of what needs to be done, right?

One of the stories being circulated is that Roof researched the history of Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston (a founder, for example, was Denmark Vesey who planned a huge slave revolt in 1822; the pastor was Clementa Pickney, a state senator who was responsible for a number of laws restricting police action and making them accountable for their actions...) and he targeted the church on the anniversary of the intended slave revolt and just before Juneteenth, a celebration of the end of slavery. Supposedly, Roof knew quite well what he was doing, where he was acting and why, and he likely intended to induce... panic at the least. According to some reports, he wanted to trigger a civil war or a race war.

Was it because Michael Slager had failed?

I have no way of knowing, but the coincidences are there.

I sensed there was "something in the air" that would make this summer a serious and quite possibly tragic one. I didn't know exactly what it would be, but this mass murder seems to me to be an opening salvo, not the climax, far from it. The summer has only just begun.

Despair is hard to vanquish under the circumstances.

And the killing goes on and on...

[Adding: A history of Charleston's 1822 slave uprising worth pondering in light of current events: ]

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Warrior vs the Guardian Cop Mentality

The summer has just begun, but I have little doubt that there will be more incidents like the Mess in McKinney, Texas, that led to the surprisingly swift resignation of officer Eric Casebolt -- who I took to calling "Officer Pissant" -- after release of a video of his absurd and violent behavior toward African American residents and visitors to a community swimming pool at the Craig Ranch North subdivision.

His violence, though shocking to witness, wasn't unusual. Cops tend to be frightened and violent around certain categories of people, particularly if those people are black or brown and/or young. They are considered "offenders" by definition.

Then there is the problem of drug abuse, particularly anabolic steroids, cocaine, and meth, that is said to be rampant among police forces and not unknown in the military. 

In this context, Casebolt was acting like a "warrior" where none was called for. Apparently he believed that all the African American youth on the scene were definitionally "offenders" simply because they were there and someone had complained about it.

He manhandled and abused some of them on video, most shockingly a 14-15 year old girl clad only in a bikini who he violently threw to the ground and then tossed around by her hair and her arm as if she were a piece of meat or a sexual object or toy. In fact, many observers commented on the psycho-sexual nature of what he was doing to her, especially once he had her prone and subdued and he was putting his full weight on her back. It was a scene of virtual rape. Unfortunately, that too is part of a "warrior" mentality.

Radley Balko wrote a book called The Rise of the Warrior Cop in which he dramatically details how the militarization of the police in this country has taken place and graphically describes the unconscionable destruction of lives, families and communities that has ensued. I may be ideologically opposed to his prescription (in effect, privatizing police forces -- and letting them do pretty much what they do now, but under corporate rather than government authority) but he has been the one who has made a career out of opposition to the infection of warriorism that has spread throughout American policing, and he has been among the ones who has most frequently pointed out what a problem it is.

I have long pointed to one individual, (Lt Col) Dave Grossman, who has been primarily responsible for promoting and sustaining the warrior-cop mentality based on his crackpot "Killology" theories promoted in his books, seminars and consultancies. And yet, as responsible as he is for so much of the mentality of today's police forces, he's not the only one, not by a long shot. And he only got into the fray with regard to domestic policing (he was a West Point psychologist and military instructor) in response to the spate of school shootings in the late 1990s.

This infection of Warriorism in domestic policing has been raging many a long year, well before the advent of the "active shooter scenario" which has been at the core of police violence in recent years. In some ways, police warriorism goes back to the urban riots of the 1960s and the reaction of police and status quo defenders to the youth rebellion that gave rise to hippies and communitarian solutions to social problems.

Fighting these social change agents in the field, particularly the Negroes who demanded rights and respect and the youth who demanded freedom and liberty, became the primary mission of police forces throughout the land. Whenever they couldn't manage to impose their authority completely, a police riot (such as that outside the Chicago Democratic National Convention in 1968) would occur, or if that failed, the National Guard would be called in -- sometimes with tragic results.

The War on Drugs was the key element that led directly to the kind of violent and destructive warrior-policing we see reported practically every day, often with graphic and bloody video accompaniment.

That failed drug war still serves as the basis for violent policing and police warriorism throughout the land. Ending it would be the first step to true reform, but the whole system policing, courts and incarceration has been so corrupted by the various elements of the drug war that there is little likelihood that reform can be accomplished within the same system. The system itself has to be abolished.

In opposition to the warrior mentality of police in the field, more and more thinkers and consultants on the problem of violent policing in this country are adopting the theories of Guardian Policing.

These ideas have begun to take the place of Community Policing theories that were once hailed as a positive solution to the problem of police violence, but which were so quickly corrupted that some observers saw Community Policing (basically flooding designated areas with police who were supposed to "get to know" the community) as causing more problems than it solved.

I would suggest that Guardian Policing has the same -- or even a greater -- risk of corruption, for the ideological basis of it, that a community needs and wants guardians because the community and the people in it are essentially children who cannot take care of themselves, is bogus.

What is needed -- rather than police as warriors or guardians -- is a corps of public servants  (which the police were once touted as being) there to assist and aid and enable the public to take care of themselves.

Warrior cops see their proper role as that of an army of occupation set over a resistant population to enforce whatever control they are ordered to with whatever level of force they deem necessary. It leads to mayhem, murder, death and destruction on a daily basis all over this land. The control and enforcement of the warrior-occupation police forces is very often a matter of imposing chaos, not order at all. The violence of the warrior-occupation police forces induces chaos by its nature, and that social chaos becomes the primary feature of warrior-occupied communities. Victims are always blamed, but the recurrence of the basic problem of chaos brought on by the warriors themselves is manifested over and over, very much like the graphic demonstration of the chaotic behavior of (former) Officer Casebolt in McKinney, Texas. He was the chaotic element, he an no one else. His actions induced chaos in what was an otherwise relatively simple situation.

Thankfully no one died. The one young man who was arrested -- seen at the end of the principal video of the incident -- said that the officers who arrested him behaved professionally and that he bit his tongue accidentally as he was submitting to them. He was not, he said, injured by the police who arrested him. I found his praise for the officers who arrested him to be remarkable, but remarkable things have to happen if there is to be fundamental change in the way the US is policed. Charges were dropped against the young man who was arrested, by the way.

The Guardian Cop mentality in contrast to the Warrior Cop would not necessarily apply to this situation, however. What we saw in McKinney was two distinctly different approaches to policing and problem solving, one involving officers in communication with the public -- not as guardians over them but as interested community members interacting with them. The other was simply chaos, violent, and clearly out of control, with which no communication was possible. It may have been an attempt at warriorism but it went very awry.

Seth Stroughtan has written a number of pieces on the problem of Warrior Policing. While his position is that reform is possible and desirable, he is reticent about getting there. On the other hand, a number of alternatives to the seemingly unreformable police departments so prevalent today have been proposed, among them "Peacekeeper" a simple app that links community based mutual aid providers and citizens.

Decoupling from the dangerous and destructive policing that has led to so much outcry is necessary. How to do it is still being worked out, but alternatives are being tested, and more and more communities are taking steps to protect themselves from police.

The time will come when there will be no alternative...

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

So, He Resigned Did He?

The news yesterday was that the violent little pissant McKinney cop whose actions caused a national uproar thanks to video shot by Brandon Brooks has resigned. Eric Casebolt, former McKinney Cop of the Year (2008) sent word through his attorneys that he was resigning effective whenever.

This action defused the situation in McKinney for the moment, but word has it that Casebolt was a police trainer, and my sense of his departure is that his trainings will continue and perhaps flourish. Who knows, he might even join up with (Lt Col) Dave Grossman's "Killology" Road Show.

Word has it that the one young man who was arrested at the Incident in McKinney -- he's the one the pissant cop draws his gun on and is seen at the end of the Brooks video being escorted back by the other two uniformed cops while apparently spitting blood from his mouth -- has been released with no charges. He had initially been arrested for "interference".

The pissant cop's unprofessional behavior in McKinney unfortunately is not unusual. In this case, observers wondered if his chaotic and violent behavior was enhanced by, if not directly caused by, substance abuse, particularly steroids or perhaps cocaine or meth. Who can say? Cops are typically not drug tested, though steroid abuse is said to be rampant among them, while other drug abuse is by no means unusual. Drug abuse is widely encountered in any high-stress occupation. The fact that the other cops on scene behaved themselves indicates that whatever was going on with Casebolt was his own private fantasy world alone.

This is an important point in my view. It only takes one cop going wild to cause a whole scene to degenerate into mayhem -- or in too many cases, to cause the death of innocents.

The other cops on a scene may or may not participate in the mayhem, but they are for the most part powerless -- and perhaps too fearful -- to intervene to stop it.

Entire departments can be infected this way, and I would say from observation over many years that far too many departments are infected. Removing the "bad apples" may have a salutary effect, at least temporarily, but the infection goes to the heart of the department and can easily break out again, despite the removal of "bad apples." But most infected departments don't remove their "bad apples." Many departments promote them instead.

So it's a good thing in the short term that Officer Pissant Casebolt is leaving the McKinney police department. But I'll bet you anything he'll show up somewhere else, either as a consultant/trainer or a supervising officer.

It's just the way these things seem to go.

Not that I'm cynical or anything.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

What the Actual F*ck??!!

This video has been making the rounds today. White cops in suburban Dallas going ape-shit on black pool-partiers, a particular example being that of the sergeant on duty, hurling a bikini-clad partier onto the ground, hauling her around by her arm, and kneeing her on the back until another cop comes along with handcuffs to truss her up.

Apparently the big-bellied fat fucks are plainclothes officers, though it's hard to say.

The story I've read is that a white female resident of the housing development objected to black pool partiers in her community pool. She got into a fight with a black girl -- who is apparently also a resident of the development -- when the white woman said the others should go back to the "projects". The white woman, according to what I've read, initiated the physical struggle. Another white woman intervened to break it up. Others called 911 claiming that there were all kinds of black people using the community's pool uninvited. Still others called saying there was a fight. A dozen police responded, the little pissant sergeant (now referred to as piss ant Police Supervisor Cpl Eric Casebolt).

Supposedly the pool party was advertised as "open to the public" on social media, and from what I've been able to glean, those who objected to the presence of black people in the pool were adult white people. From the video, it's not apparent that white kids have a problem with the presence of black people at the pool party.

The little pissant corporal, the one who savages the girl in the bikini, is out of control and he has to be restrained by his buddies when he pulls out his gun to threaten youngsters who come to help the girl he's thrown to the ground.

"Failure to obey" quickly and completely enough is the trigger for his actions -- at least so far as I can tell.

It's been pointed out that the police are only interested in the black kids. But the other issue -- which I think is a key -- is that they are responding to repeated 911 calls.

In too many situations, callers to 911 are a menace, as are dispatchers and responding officers. Something is dreadfully wrong with the flow charts that are used and the protocols of dispatch. Too many people are killed and injured and wrongly arrested/harassed by police sent in response to ambiguous or hostile calls to 911. Something has to be done. Further, police in this instance chose to escalate where there was no need. They did it because... they knew nothing else? I don't know. But what they did was wrong.

And too typical...

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Flipping the National Conversation

Well, with the overkill (so to speak) local coverage of the death of Rio Rancho police officer Gregg Benner on May 25, it's pretty clear to my rheumy eyes that the phase of the "national conversation" about violent policing has changed once again. It went from the appalling facts of the shooting of James Boyd, a homeless mentally ill camper, in the hills above Albuquerque, to the multiplicity of police killings of black men (and women, who were initially forgotten about in the "conversation") both armed and unarmed, to a consideration of "best practices" by the panel of experts appointed by the President (though its recommendations, both interim and final, were largely ignored -- such is the way of the world -- to now coming almost full circle to consider the pure evil of the criminals out there who shoot and kill police officers with such a disregard for human life, yadda yadda.

But a couple of other things have happened, too.

After it became clear that the only near real-time tracking of police killings in the whole country was being done by a crowd-sourced website called "Killed by Police" and repeated calls on the government to track these killings were being ignored -- or rather, they weren't being followed through on, despite the fact that there has been tracking and reporting legislation in place for decades -- a couple of other intrepid media outfits, the Washington Post and the Guardian, took it upon themselves to do (some of) the tracking that "Killed by Police" has long been doing (since May 1, 2013) and to publish findings relatively quickly (ie: not wait for annual or quarterly reports, but actually publish results in a timely fashion.)

The Guardian's coverage is very similar to the tracking of media reports done by "Killed by Police," and I think they do acknowledge KbP as one of their inspirations for doing their own coverage. The data they have assembled about police killings since January 1 of this year is impressive and they analysis of that data by the Guardian is equally impressive.

Washington Post's coverage is not nearly as extensive, as one of their objectives is to only cover police shootings. While that accounts for the majority of police involved killings in this country, it is not the totality of the carnage, not by a long shot (so to speak) and the way the WaPo's coverage is caveated and slanted is clearly intended to minimize the appearance of carnage at the hands of police and to make it seem as if those who die deserve it.

That's pretty much been the police and local media position on violent policing for as long as I've been following the stories, for decades now, so the WaPo's perspective fits in with the status quo that has long been a feature of local reports of police killings. The typical reports include the police perspective first and foremost, starting with the stenography of police press releases on the incident. They might or might not include contrary witness and/or family reports of what happened (frequently they do not). They almost always take the police reports as truthful and accurate, even though they are often filled with lies and fabrications. Local reports will cover demonstrations, should there be any, but often the coverage of demonstrations "Otherizes" the demonstrators or outright criminalizes them. The victim of the police killing is always, always smeared. The fact that he or she has had "numerous run-ins with the law" is featured and played up -- even if they were only traffic stops or minor issues -- as a means of making the victim out to be the bad guy. Almost always, the officer(s) who kill are protected from any criminal liability for their actions because of a little thing called "fear." So long as the officer(s) says "Fearing for my life and the safety of others ..." at the right time and to the right people (the police officer's union will provide gratis legal advice so as to make this statement useful and meaningful) the officer is almost certain to be exonerated from criminal culpability. By and large, civilians cannot use that legal sleight of hand, however.

Until the killing of James Boyd in Albuquerque in 2014, the pattern of coverage and the "conversation" was almost always the same: local only, but sometimes extensive in the locality wherein the killing took place; nearly complete victim-blaming by the media, with little or no questioning of whatever the police department chose to say about the incident and the victim; implicit hero-ization of the killing officer; contempt for the victim, dismissal or "Otherization" of survivors, family, and protesters.

The Boyd killing changed and began to nationalize the coverage and conversation. When the APD chief released the video of the shooting, he said that the actions of the officers were "justified." He said that what they did was justified because Boyd had two knives and thus was an armed and dangerous threat to be neutralized.

Except that isn't what the video really showed. It showed Boyd surrendering to the police, the pocket knives nowhere to be seen (they were in his pockets). The video showed Boyd gathering up some of his things and beginning to walk down the hill toward police. The video showed one of the officers (whose helmet cam was recording the scene) say "Do it!" and immediately a flash-bang grenade was launched and a dog was released. The video showed Boyd dropping his things and pulling out his knives while officers (still thirty to forty feet away) shout at him to get on the ground. The video showed Boyd turning to face uphill and away from the police as six shots are fired at him, three from each of two officers. All six shots strike him, and the video showed Boyd collapsing on the ground mortally wounded. The video then showed subsequent actions by the police that I won't describe.

The video was quite clear about what really happened, and the narrative the police were spinning out to the media and the public about "justification" --- because of some mortal threat Boyd represented to the lives of the officers and the safety of others -- was simply false.

It was the last straw. There had been so many killings by APD so frequently, and often so outrageously, that even the local media had started questioning what was going on. The mayor and police chief always, always defended the actions of police, and the DA never, ever found that any of their killings were unjustified. This had been going on for years, and finally, enough of the survivors and victims had gotten together to press the Justice Department to do an investigation of the pattern and practice of the APD. That investigation was underway, though slowed, when Boyd was shot and killed.

Small-scale protests against police killing had been going on for years, and civil awards to victim families had reached tens of millions of dollars, but the killing of James Boyd unleashed a torrent of condemnation from the public. Demonstrations grew to include thousands of protesters, and in one unfortunate night of protest, the APD used horses and ordnance against the protesters. Thanks to the wind, the police actually wound up gassing themselves and the residents of the dorms at UNM. Oh well. There was some vandalism by protesters as well and as usual, thought the vandalism was quite minor (mainly spraypainting several police substations) it was blown completely out of proportion by the media and used as justification for the police crackdown on protest.

Only the protest didn't stop. It continued through the spring and into the summer. Early protests apparently got the DoJ to release it's long-stalled pattern and practice report, leading to the media referring to its "scathing indictment" of APD's pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing. In fact, the report was an indictment, quite remarkable in its way for the blunt honesty of its findings that the APD used force and lethal force too frequently, too often unconstitutionally, and that reforms were necessary.

Until then, the APD had been lauded by city officials for their excellence. Suddenly, that was no longer the case.

Numerous police departments around the country had previously been found to have a pattern and practice of unconstitutional policing. It was so common as to be expected, and there had already been extensive media coverage of the slaughter APD was engaging in long before the Boyd killing. When the son of the Deputy County Manager was killed by police, for example, it was clear to anyone paying attention that police killing was not at all confined to the Otherized poor and dispossessed. Anyone could be a victim, no matter their prominence and position, or worse, anyone's son or daughter could be killed by police.

However, findings of pattern and practice violations and recommendations and even orders for reform were frequently fought tooth and claw by police departments, and in many cases they were openly defied. Police simply would not adhere to reforms nor would they listen to the public. Defiance was too frequently the rule and the killing and violent policing went on without let up.

I laid the blame for this on people like David Grossman whose "killology" trainings and seminars made killing out to be the highest accomplishment a police officer could achieve. It was the officer's raison d'etre. To kill -- righteously -- was the whole purpose of Warrior-Police. It was sickening to read or watch his presentations and justifications for police violence, for it was clear (to me at least) that the man was quite mad and was going around the country infecting police departments with his madness and leaving police officers convinced that their killing spree was not only justified, it was required by their oaths and their natures.

Others, like Bill Bratton, had used their positions as police chiefs to institute a version of policing that formalized falsity and didn't curb the killing. It merely made justification for overpolicing and killing by police much easier. Through false narratives about broken windows and other minor offenses and defenses of intrusive policing methods, and through acknowledgement of "tragedy whenever someone loses their life" -- while fiercely defending officers who take those lives -- Bratton and others like him managed to make over-policing of poor and minority communities and routine death at the hands of police seem normal, and furthermore -- most dangerously -- Bratton and others managed to make this kind of policing and falsity into American "best practice" policing.

As the deaths piled up and the brutality of police was revealed more and more frequently by cell phone and body-cam videos, however, more and more people saw for themselves what was going on, and more and more of them were revolted  by what they saw.

It was noted that FBI statistics of police killings were grossly understated to the point of ludicrousness. The police kill-rate was two to three times greater than the FBI's "official" statistics suggested, and those who used FBI statistics were subjected to ridicule, as was the agency itself, as it made no attempt to gather and present accurate information or statistics on police killings.

When James Boyd was killed in March of 2014, people recognized that mentally ill and homeless people, whether armed or unarmed, are frequent victims of police aggression and death, and they have little or no recourse as there is so little mental health and/or homeless service available -- and accessible -- to the public. Treatment and services are very hard to come by and sustain thanks to the way mental health and homeless service have been cut back especially since the Reaganite dismantlement of the state mental hospitals and mental health service system as it once was.

When Mike Brown was shot and killed by Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in August of 2014, the conversation about violent policing changed to focus on the fact that black men, often unarmed black men like Mike Brown, are subjected to violent policing and killing by police at a rate far out of proportion to their numbers in society. There were hours of "negotiations" with James Boyd before he was executed in the Sandia foothills. Many black men were simply shot on sight on a belief that they were armed and dangerous. The mere sight of a black man was too often considered an a priori threat to be neutralized. Mike Brown was unarmed. He was shot at as he ran away from the officer. He was killed as he turned to surrender.

And as is almost always the case, the officer was considered "justified" -- because he was frightened of a Big Black Man who had "demon eyes."

Ever since, the national conversation has focused on the prevalence of police abuse and killing of black men, almost to the exclusion of any other victims of police violence. This focus has caused more than a little tension due to the fact that blacks are by no means the only victims of police violence and killing. There are many others; the problem is the violence the police bring to situations not calling for it.

Blacks too often are victims, and blacks too often are considered existential threats to police simply by their existence. This is derived in part from military beliefs and training that propose that the mere presence of an armed -- or thought to be armed -- Iraqi or Afghani or other native of some foreign land under American attack or occupation is sufficient justification for killing said native, regardless of any other fact at all.

But it also comes from America's long history of black and brown oppression and murder. It simply doesn't occur to police that an "Otherized" racial/cultural minority is actually "human." They have become objectified to such an extent in the minds of many police officers that their killing is seen essentially as nothing more than pulling out a weed.

This is demonstrated by the many killings themselves and by the fact that so often, police officers who use force or lethal force provide no first aid to their victims and all too frequently prevent EMS from attending to them.

This happened in the South Valley of Albuquerque not too long ago when a sheriff's deputy shot and wounded Billy Grimm, claiming that he saw Grimm with a gun, and then the officers refused any medical aid to Grimm for hours after he was shot, though EMS was available within minutes. They claimed that Grimm refused their orders to exit the truck he was in, and it was only after he did so and a dog was unleashed on him that officers felt the scene was "secure" enough to allow EMS to enter and tend to their victim. By then, of course, it was too late, and Grimm died in the hospital shortly thereafter.

Shaun King at dKos has documented numerous similar incidents in which a victim has been shot and mortally wounded by police -- who then refuse to provide any aid whatsoever to their victim and often prevent others from rendering aid.

This callous indifference to human life displayed over and over again by police officers, every one of whom is trained in first aid, is one of the hallmarks of American policing, obviously a matter of department policy that is nearly universal.

It's criminal negligence, though some court decisions have stated that officers have no affirmative obligation to render aid to those they have injured. Some of the consent decrees that have been entered into with police departments require police officers to render or summon aid to their victims immediately ("Provided it is safe to do so" -- always the caveat). But this is policy, not law. Court decisions can protect officers if they don't render or summon aid, but the policy of the department can easily change the dynamic, just as policies can stop the killing.

In Albuquerque and Oakland, among a few other places, the killings by police have all but stopped.

It can be done.

The national conversation is now shifting to the risks police officers encounter on the job, including the fact that they might get shot or injured. Well, yes.

It's one of the hazards they supposedly signed up for. The problem is that too often, facing any risk at all is considered to be an unacceptable hazard for a police officer. Killing a subject that might pose a risk is the far better alternative, no? Large numbers of the public have been saying "NO!" quite clearly and loudly, but with the wounding or death of several officers recently, the conversation about that risk is now under way.

What sort of risks should officers expect to face and handle? Police unions and many departments say "None at all." A risk is by definition a threat, and threats are not to be faced, they are to be neutralized with whatever force the officer deems necessary, including lethal force, in every case.

That has long been the position of police and their departments. But the questions that have been raised about violent policing have shone a light on police behavior that was often ignored or thought acceptable in the past. No longer is unquestioning acceptance of grotesque behavior by police considered necessary. The questions that have been raised -- about the constant killing, the "Otherization" of Americans subjected to violent policing, the racial elements in violent policing and police killings, the distance of police culture from that of the communities police are supposed to serve and protect, and the risks and hazards police are expected to take -- have reached a kind of crescendo.

My view has long been that police are way too violent, they kill and maim far too often and unnecessarily, and they are enabled by a corrupt system of injustice that protects them from accountability let alone criminal liability. That has to change.

There are signs it is changing.

Until recently, police departments as a rule had no idea they were doing anything wrong or that the louder and louder objections from the public were something they needed to listen to rather than simply suppress. The hundreds of millions of dollars -- indeed, billions -- paid out to victims of violent policing meant nothing to them. The money didn't come out of their budgets, and because police as a rule are not held criminally liable for any use of force they deem necessary -- regardless of other facts -- they saw no reason to change their behavior under pressure from the public. The public was often seen as enemies, and those who actively protested police violence were often seen as "enemy combatants."

This was wrong from every direction, but police were -- and to a great extent are -- incapable of seeing the truth of the matter, presuming that they can enforce their will through greater levels of violence.

That conversation may be next. Should police become even more violent than they are? Is 3 a day too few to kill? Should every police encounter include a bit of ultraviolence -- just because?

Or should policing become more or less a substitute for absent social services? Should violent policing be consigned to the ash heap with so many other theories of policing that have come and gone?

Should the police be abolished?

That's where this conversation needs to be directed sooner rather than later.

We need to find a better way of ensuring something close to dignity, peace and justice in our society, because what's been happening is going entirely the wrong direction.

[I'll try to add links later, as I am pressed for time today... ]

Monday, June 1, 2015

Neither a Warrior nor a Guardian Be -- Advice the Cops Need

Sometimes when I explore the issue of violent policing and police abuse of the public, it seems perfectly obvious where their beliefs and attitudes come from, why so many die at their hands or through their neglect of basic human decency. It's a matter of character -- individual and institutional -- and it's a matter of training and inculcated beliefs (brainwashing) about their jobs and the people and institutions they serve.

A key to understanding is that the police don't serve the public. They serve the powers that be operating through governments. In many jurisdictions, "the public" are enemy forces to be corralled and suppressed by any and all means necessary, including use of lethal force, so as to maintain "order" -- which is to say established systems of authority, control and exploitation designed and implemented to protect wealth and the property of the wealthy, not in any way to serve and protect the Rabble.

To the extent they are not violently and abusively policed, the public should consider themselves lucky. To the extent they are violently and abusively policed, the public should realize they deserve it. Thus runs the mindset in many, too many, police departments.

Recently a column appeared at, the often controversial website maintained by a cadre of retired police officers, equipment and training suppliers and consultants and by others as a means to foster and enhance police "professionalism" -- a term much used and misunderstood in the field -- in service to... well, that's typically left unstated, but it's not the public.

The column lambasted President Obama for his call on police to adopt a guardian as opposed to a warrior mentality as a means to overcome some of the objections to their behavior that have been raised during the lengthy "national conversation" about police and their appropriate role in the 21st Century.

This call grew directly out of the presidential task force, "Policing in the 21st Century" (116 page final report, pdf), empaneled last year after the so-called riots in Ferguson, MO following the summary execution of Michael Brown by Officer Darren Wilson of the Ferguson PD, apparently for the crime of having demon eyes and disrespecting the officer's authority in broad daylight.

This killing followed on the heels of many others, and there would be many more to come. Summary execution has become one of the favored tools of US police forces and is employed some 1,000 or more times a year, frequently on unarmed individuals and those in mental health or other crises, with nearly total impunity. All the officer has to say to avoid criminal responsibility and liability for these killings is that s/he "feared for my life and the safety of others." Bingo, home free to their families and who knows, maybe a medal and parade on top of it.

On the other hand, the city is often left liable in civil court for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in awards to the victims, survivors and families of those subjected to summary execution and abusive policing. Oh my yes. The awards seemingly have become more frequent, and the amounts awarded are growing. This despite the fact that it is all but impossible to charge and convict a police officer for crimes committed while on duty -- apart from sexual indiscretion or impropriety.

The columnist at PoliceOne, Lt. Dan Marcu (ret) disputes the call on police to adopt a guardian as opposed to a warrior mindset, a call that came from a task force that had a heavy police presence and represented mostly an establishmentarian point of view.

No, says Marcu, the police must maintain warrior competence and vigilance, because the Persians are at the gates, and the police are the Spartans at Thermopylae, holding off the invading horde and protecting Democracy. I kid you not.

Guardians will fail in the task according to Marcu. Only warriors can keep us safe from the Persians at the gates.

This is nonsense on stilts, but it represents the kind of thinking that infects police departments throughout the land. The idea that the police must behave as self-described Warriors to prevent the Persians -- or any other foreign entity -- from invading and having their way is insane and ridiculous. Marcu even cites the threat of ISIS in his defense of Warrior Policing.

No. No. No. No. No.

I'm not a fan of Guardian Policing, either, because it assumes that the public, the Rabble, are nothing more than incompetents and infantile, unable to look after themselves and their own communities without the sometimes heavy hand of the police to guide and protect them from... themselves, primarily.

I tend to be more of an abolitionist, truth to tell. But I realize that police cannot be abolished without thinking through the means and methods and the many consequences thereof. We're nowhere near that point yet. The thought process for abolishing police has barely begun.

But the cult of Warrior Police is out of control, and people like Dan Marcu and David Grossman -- who retails the cult of the Sheepdog-Warrior Police -- are a big part of the reason why.

Marcu's argument is that the President is wrong because he calls on police to "abandon" the Warrior mindset, whereas, according to Marcu, every police officer is already a guardian, and inside each and every one,

there must reside the beating heart of an honorable warrior ready to be summoned at a moment’s notice...

What he and so many others of his ilk seem incapable of comprehending is that that's the problem you fools!

That so-called "honorable warrior" is shooting down people they've been called on to help each and every day; that "honorable warrior" considers any questioning or challenge to his or her authority to be an existential threat to be neutralized with whatever force the officer can muster; that "honorable warrior" sees a black man with a weapon or thought to have a weapon as an existential threat to be neutralized with lethal force; that "honorable warrior" sees all residents of certain sections of their jurisdictions as insurgents or potential insurgents who must be made to obey with whatever force and intimidation tactics the officer chooses to utilize. They must be made to obey -- or they must die.

This is absolutely the wrong way to deal with the American public, but it is the way the police have come to believe they must believe and behave or... the Persians will overwhelm the Spartans at Thermopylae. The heroic Spartans who are only defending Democracy, after all.

Which is complete and utter bullshit. It's ahistorical bullshit besides.

But it's the belief. It's one of the underlying beliefs that drives the killing spree the police have been on. It's a big reason why they feel it is necessary to shoot down various categories of threats:
  •  The mentally ill -- just because.
  • Anyone addled by drugs whose actions are not under complete control and whose compliance is not 100% at all times -- and even then, execution may be carried out... just because.
  •  Negroes, Mexicans, and/or American Indians, whether armed or unarmed particularly if standing still, driving or running away.
  • Anyone challenging the authority of the officer, particularly if armed -- but not white people if open carrying
  •  Non-compliant individuals who may be demons or Hulks in disguise and therefore may pose an existential threat to one and all.
  • Anyone -- and/or any pet -- in a structure at which a warrant is being served who does not immediately comply with any and all commands issued, no matter how contradictory, incomprehensible, whether or not accompanied by grenades and bullets.
These are the people -- and animals -- who die at the hands of police at mind numbing rates.

These are warrior actions that are completely inappropriate in a civilian/domestic context, and were (or still are) inappropriate and counterproductive in the context of the military occupations they have been derived from.

Thousands upon thousands of completely innocent civilians in our overseas satrapies have executed by troops in much the same way domestic police forces have been summarily executing civilians in the United States.

As observers and critics have long been pointing out, most of this killing is completely unnecessary, and it leads inevitably to distrust of police/military and rebellion against their authority. Inevitably.

They are not protecting anybody, not even the masters they are in place to serve. They are not even protecting themselves. They are acting crazy. Causing more problems than they solve. Precipitating chaos not order.

The police and the troops they emulate are the problem, not the solution.

But it's clear that powerful forces and voices within the police and military want it this way and will not brook opposition or counter arguments.

They want more killing, not less; they demand more chaos, not order; their rules of engagement are madness. They are actively destroying what they pretend to preserve.

A stop must be put to it.

Cops must become neither guardians nor warriors but become the servants of the People they were long mythologized to be. They must cease their contempt and violence toward the public, stop the killing and abuse, and de-police communities rather than becoming ever more intrusive and violent. The commando mindset must be eliminated. Military equipment and trappings must be removed. Laws which protect police violence must be revised or overruled, and the system of injustice which the police serve must be overhauled top to bottom.

Given the kind of resistance and full-on paranoia and insanity that pervade police departments nationwide (not all of them, but far too many of them)  the kind of necessary reforms that are being mentioned more and more simply can't happen -- or at least they can't happen soon enough to preserve life and liberty of the public. The police are infected with a cult of death. They cannot comprehend that what they are doing is crazy and destructive. They can't imagine that they are doing anything wrong.

It doesn't occur to them to change their ways to suit the interests of the public. The only thing that occurs to them is that they have the power and authority to use whatever force they deem necessary at any given time to enforce obedience to their command. And they can do so with impunity. No matter the consequences.

That's what they know.

That's all they know.

And that's why I think abolition is the necessary solution once the means, methods, and consequences are sufficiently thought through.

Monday, May 25, 2015

Ancient History -- Memorial Day Edition

When I lived in California, I would frequently go to the Vietnam Memorial in Capitol Park in Sacramento on Memorial Day where the names of thousands of Californians killed in the Vietnam War were engraved on a stone monument.

Image by Ron Fulks from
I knew some of those listed on the memorial, several men and one woman who I'd gone to high school or college with, who'd been drafted or who volunteered because they were from a military family, or they felt a call of duty and didn't know what they were getting into, or maybe for other reasons.

I successfully resisted the draft. I had no intention of volunteering, not for that godforsaken and morally bankrupt war on a vibrant, blameless nation and its people. But I couldn't approach the monument in California's Capitol Park without bursting into tears, and I can't even look at a picture of it now without choking up. I knew some of those who died in Vietnam whose names are engraved on the monument, and I knew many Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees who made their way to the US and tried to fit in as best they could in this deeply strange land rather than take the risk of staying in their ruined home countries.

Constantly I ask "Why?" Why did this monumental misadventure happen?

In 1963 or 64 I wrote a paper in a high school class defending the nascent war in Vietnam as something necessary for the good of the nation and the good of the world. Well, this was what the propaganda was telling us at the time. The conflict was small scale -- at least from the distance that Americans saw it -- and the outcome was supposed to be assured: a western-style democracy on the crescent of Indochina. Who could argue with that?

Then it started becoming clear that this whole thing was a lie. From the overthrow and assassination of Diem a few weeks before the assassination of President Kennedy, to the highly dubious Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, to the Tet Offensive and the hundreds of thousands and then millions of Vietnamese and Cambodians and Laotians slaughtered in their multitudes, the forests defoliated, the cities and villages flattened or burned to cinders with napalm, the refugees created, the survivors traumatized, the troops brutalized -- until they revolted, mutinied. It was monstrous. It was wrong.

I marched and chanted and carried signs against the draft and the war and on behalf of those who suffered from the oppression and injustice that this monstrous war represented. And ever afterwards, I have been dubious of any call to war by our August Leaders, for they have learned nothing from the Vietnam disaster -- well, nothing but how to keep the sights and sounds of war out of the public consciousness unless "victory" is certain.

Democracy Now! has run a Vietnam: the Power of Protest retrospective. It's good to remind ourselves.

Peace is more than the absence of war. It is the presence of Justice.

And so I still call for



Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cleveland Injustice

The spectacle made by the judge in rendering his not guilty verdicts in the Brelo case in Cleveland yesterday was appalling. I doubt many people were surprised at the verdict itself, but as I watched the spectacle unfold live on WKYC TV, watched as the judge pointed to this, that and the other entry wound in mannikins set up in the courtroom to represent the bullet-ridden bodies of  Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, claiming as he did that there were so many bullet wounds, he just couldn't tell whether any of the 49 shots fired buy Officer Brelo were the ones that killed the pair, and therefore the officer could not be found guilty of manslaughter. Then from the bench Judge O'Donnell claimed that every use of force, including that of Officer Brelo as he climbed up on the hood of Russell's car and fired again and again and again and again into the quivering, bullet-ridden bodies of Williams and Russell was "reasonable," given that every single officer who fired into that car was in fear of his life and the safety of others, and Officer Brelo, in particular, wasn't certain that the (later found to be nonexistent) threat from Williams and Russell had been neutralized until he stopped firing.

Insane actions by police were justified because... they were afraid of phantoms and believed they must kill Negroes. And the law protects them.

Yet the ones who actually had reason to fear, Malissa Williams and Timothy Russell, were each shot dead, 23 and 24 bullet wounds, by wildly out of control police officers intent on making a kill no matter what, based on nothing more than their errors of perception and their fears and ages of impunity -- and the fact that a couple of Negroes were trying to run away, fearing quite reasonably for their lives. And the law protects them not at all.

Shades of Judge Taney and his statement in the Dred Scott decision that the negro had no rights which the white man was bound to respect.

The judge ruled that because so many officers said they were afraid for their lives and the safety of others and so many officers shot at Williams and Russell, he couldn't find Brelo guilty of manslaughter -- because he couldn't determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Brelo had fired the fatal shots. The lesson learned, of course, is that if you set out to kill Negroes, do it with a large enough number of fellows that who fires the actual kill shots can't be determined with certainty.

Further, the judge couldn't find by a preponderance of the evidence that Brelo had acted unreasonably because every other officer was deemed to have acted reasonably under the circumstances by the prosecution's own expert, therefore there was no evidence that Brelo was unreasonable under the circumstances. The lesson: do what you will but do it with others. You can get away with just about anything.

Citing law and precedence and Scalia, after an hour of yadda-yadda, Judge O'Donnell found Brelo not guilty of all charges and ordered his immediate discharge.

Once again, the law and the court vindicated a killer cop. It is what the courts do. It is what they're set up to do and it's what the law "forces" them to do.

If O'Donnell had ruled against Brelo, it would have been considered an aberration, and the ruling would have been immediately appealed. The farther up the legal chain the appeal went, the likelier would be a reversal and admonishment of the judge for overstepping his bounds.

Yet O'Donnell spent his entire preamble pointing to the constant complaints of police brutality and over-policing and police murder and essentially agreeing that police do overreact and are brutal and that complaints about violent policing are frequently justified.

But in this case, legally, no.

The law protects and vindicates police use of force in this case.

And so Brelo walks free. For now.

It's not justice, not even its simulation.

It is injustice writ large and ugly.

It is the reality of our vaunted and grossly imperfect legal system.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

'Nother Change of Pace -- Blue Highways, Cholame, and Hellmouths

We take NM SR 41 from our place in the Estancia Valley to Santa Fe -- well, to the junction of 285 near Lamy, then to I-25 in El Dorado, then to the Old Pecos Trail which connects to the Old Santa Fe Trail which leads right into Santa Fe and to the Plaza -- if you don't get lost in the warren of narrow streets lined with adobe haciendas and compounds...

NM SR 41 is a Blue Highway, a road less traveled, and really one of the most pleasant in some places one of the most breathtakingly beautiful drives in New Mexico -- rivaled perhaps by NM SR 550, but 550 more heavily traveled by far. I love to drive 41 to and from Santa Fe. Ms Ché loves to drive it too, and she's not much of a driver all in all.

The Estancia Valley is a flat plain surrounded by mountains on the west, quirky hills and mesas on the south and east and a ridgeline on the north that cuts it off from snow-capped Sangre de Cristo mountains which can be seen in the distance. It's mostly given over to ranching and farming, with some suburban outposts of Albuquerque, but the population is very light, under two thousand in our immediate vicinity, and under 15,000 in the whole area. This is said to be about the same population density that was here during the Pueblo period, from the 1100s or 1200s until the last Pueblo people abandoned the region just before the Pueblo Revolt of 1680.

The ridgeline on the north separates the Estancia Valley from the Galisteo Basin, one of the most remarkable landscapes in New Mexico. The first time one sees it from the top of the ridge, one is taken aback, for depending on the lighting, it doesn't really look real. It looks more like a diorama of some ancient landscape. The mountains -- the Oritz on the west, the Sangres and Jemez on the north -- stand out in waves, in sharp or soft relief depending on the weather. There are interior ridges called "crestons" that are the remnants of lava dikes perched high on hills. They look like ancient and impossible stone walls which must have been built by giants long ago. The crestons cut across the basin in what at first appear to be nearly straight lines, but from above, they are neatly arced, almost impossibly so -- at least for something that wasn't built by the hand of man.

The surfaces of the crestons are covered with petroglyphs, some of which can be seen from the highway that roils through the basin, others requiring an up-close view -- a view which requires a strenuous hike up the talus slope to get to the rock-wall of the remnants of the ancient lava dike...

The petroglyphs, of course, were done by the ancient residents of the Galisteo Basin, Tanos among them. There were prior residents as well, going back who knows how far into pre-history. Their pueblos dotted the Galisteo, but evidence of them is now very limited and -- unless you know what to look for and where -- the evidence is hard to find. Their ruins melted back into the earth from which they had been built.

There is now one little town in the Galisteo Basin -- called Galisteo or The Pueblo of Galisteo -- famous for decorative but non-functional mailboxes, with a few hundred residents, mostly posh people who seek a refuge from the hustle and bustle of tourist-ridden Santa Fe, surrounded by vast ranches that stretch into the distance, ranches which are home to herds of cattle, mustangs and antelope. As empty as the Estancia Valley sometimes seems to be, there are ranches and settlements and even some light industry -- including a private prison in Estancia itself -- scattered all over the Valley. The Galisteo Basin is not like that at all. Except in and near Galisteo itself, there appears to be no human habitation at all in the Basin. The only exceptions are a mansion (we call it the monastery) on a ridge overlooking the Basin toward the south and a movie set that peeks over a ridge just outside the village of Galisteo, a set used and re-used for the many motion pictures and television shows that are made in New Mexico (most recently for the Adam Sandler comedy that many of the Indian cast members walked off of in disgust.)

There are a few ranch haciendas well off the road and barely visible as you pass by. There's a double descanso made of horseshoes -- one painted white inside a fence line, one left natural on the fence itself beside the white one -- honoring a "Longmire" crew member who was killed last year on his way home after an 18 hour day working on the set. He was killed, they think, when he fell asleep at the wheel and rolled his truck into a ditch. We passed by the wreck one morning on our way to Santa Fe not knowing at the time what had happened, but it was obvious from the crumpled condition of the truck -- still upside down in the ditch -- that it was the scene of something awful. There were State Police directing traffic around the wreckage and doing their measurements and whatnot, but there was no ambulance; the crewman's body was no doubt already gone.

In that area, the highway rises and falls and twists as it passes over hills and around obstacles. It is not a road you can travel while falling asleep. But when you're awake, it's gorgeous during the day, mysterious at night.

Often enough when we're traveling back home along NM SR 41 at night, the moon will be hanging near enough to the eastern horizon to serve as a beacon and a smiling silver visage observing our transit. Other times, when the sky is particularly clear at night, the stars visible through the windshield can be overwhelming, and because it is so dark, the stars may be seen all the way to the horizon.

When we lived in California, we would fairly frequently take another SR 41, this one from Kettleman City off of I-5 ("the Five" as it's known in SoCal) to its junction with SR 46 which has a western terminus at Hwy 101 ("the 101") in Paso Robles. This is a significant junction because it was near here in 1955 that James Dean was killed when his Porche t-boned another vehicle driven by Donald Turnupseed who was in the middle of the intersection. Dean was unable to stop in time to avoid the wreck. Dean died on the spot, his co-driver was thrown from the Porche, badly injured and yet survived the wreck.

The current junction of CA Highways 41 and 46 is in a slightly different location than it was in 1955, so the location of the wreck that killed James Dean is not well-marked or known, but the current junction was named "The James Dean Memorial" in 2005, the fiftieth anniversary of his death. A mile or so west of the current junction  is a restaurant called the Jack Ranch Cafe, just off "the 46" in a place called Cholame (pronounced "Show-Lam").  Next to the cafe is a huge old Chinese tree of heaven with a scar on the side of its massive trunk. Around the tree is a stainless steel, concrete and gravel memorial to James Dean created by a Japanese artist in 1977.

Pilgrims come from all over the world to reflect on James Dean's legacy and leave small tokens and flowers on the memorial which serves as a kind of descano, though not at all like those found along the roadsides in New Mexico. This memorial is hard and cold and shiny, and inset along its base are gold medallions now (or which were the last time I saw them) barely visible under cloudy sunburned lucite. There are various tributes and quotes engraved on the stainless steel borders of the memorial, and as I recall, there are pictures of James Dean, some of them very famous, hanging on a nearby screen.

We would stop there whenever we traveled from Sacramento to Santa Maria or Paso Robles on vacation or to work or just to visit friends.

James Dean is an iconic figure to me and to Ms Ché as well. I recall seeing "Giant" and "Rebel Without a Cause" when I was a child at a movie theater -- probably the Covina Theater where I'd be dropped off for the kiddie matinees on Saturdays and where my mother and I would frequently go for the "grown up" movies in the evening. In 1955 and 56, I think it was probably the closest movie theater to our home. I don't recall seeing the one other James Dean movie, "East of Eden" until many years later on television, but I may have seen it when I was a child and no longer remember.

"Rebel" was a fascinating -- and terrifying -- movie to me. It was fascinating because of its location filming in Los Angeles, particularly the scenes at the Griffith Observatory where I had been not long before the release of the movie. Griffith Park and the Observatory had made quite an impression on me, and to see it in the movie, to see Plato the character Sal Mineo played, actually killed by police at the Observatory was startling and frightening to me. Though I saw a lot of movies when I was a kid, I didn't pay a lot of attention to most of them -- and so I don't recall them now -- because I didn't understand them, or the characters didn't resonate, or for some other reason. "Rebel" was different. I could and did relate to the characters -- "delinquents" -- and especially to the locations.

Even later viewings of "Rebel Without a Cause" will trigger all kinds of memories and emotions from my childhood, including being shot by a neighbor boy -- and of moving away from Los Angeles not long afterwards. There are many scenes and themes and characters I can relate to in the movie, and James Dean in his iconic red jacket is -- and was -- the most compelling. I doubt I had ever seen such teen-aged angst and ambivalence on the screen before. I was not a teen-ager at the time I first saw the movie (I was only 8), but because of the way I'd been brought up, I felt much older than I was. I was expected by my parents -- and to an extent by society -- to be much more mature from a very early age than I was.

James Dean died before the release of "Rebel" so I first saw the movie after his death. I don't recall hearing about his death at the time, though I'm sure I must have. It's quite possible that I didn't relate to his name. "James Dean" the actor probably didn't mean much or anything to me at the time. "Jim Stark" -- his character in "Rebel" -- probably meant more.

Later the actor would become more meaningful to me as my own teen-age angst came to the fore. Jim Stark was considered a delinquent by his parents and authority but there was nothing particularly bad about him. He was simply misunderstood, a misfit, a nonconformist at a time and place where and when conformity and fitting in was necessity and a requirement for social acceptance. Or dire consequences would ensue. As they did.

We would stop by the memorial in Cholame and contemplate, sometimes leaving a token of our own before driving on to the Coast to work or to visit or to vacation. Paso Robles, the western terminus of Highway 46, we found was quite literally a Hellmouth. When there was an earthquake there not too long ago, much of the downtown was destroyed, and the earth opened up. A sulfurous pit was revealed, and one of the last times we went to Paso Robles we stopped at this Hellmouth to gape and wonder. The wreckage from the earthquake was still apparent, and the Hellmouth stank and fumed near the City Hall. It was taped off, but we got close enough to witness. And then got away from it as fast as we could, shuddering a little at what this stinking hole might represent.

My sister had died in Templeton a few miles south of Paso Robles some ten years before... and I wondered... she wanted to live near where she'd grown up on the Central Coast, she loved that country and saw it as her home place. Templeton lies between Atascadero (where she worked at the prison) and Paso Robles. She was born and spent a good deal of her childhood and adolescence in Santa Maria some fifty miles to the south, closer to the Pacific Ocean, but not quite on the coast. Templeton was about as close as she could get and find work in her therapeutic specialty in prisons. She'd transferred from Susanville when a position opened up at Atascadero.

And too soon she died, the victim of a particularly brutal take-down of a prisoner she was working with. The last time I talked to her a few days before she died, she said the prisoner didn't hurt her at all, and she said he probably wouldn't have. But he became agitated while she was counseling him and as a precaution, she called for back-up. Four officers responded and they took him down despite her pleas that they not interfere with or assault him. She was between the prisoner and the guards and was smashed into a table during their assault on the prisoner, shattering both of her kneecaps. She had surgery to begin repairing her injuries and died from an embolism the next day.

Atascadero, they say, is one of the most brutal of California's very brutal prisons, in part because it houses prisoners considered to be criminally insane, and mental illness and/or insanity has long been treated with as much brutality as can be mustered by authority. My sister was collateral damage, I suppose. She got in the way of the guards and so she died.

Jim Stark was traumatized in "Rebel" when he saw his friend Plato killed by police at the Griffith Park Observatory. Jim had tried to protect Plato by taking the bullets from his gun. Police, seeing the gun in Plato's hand, kill him anyway -- while Jim is screaming, "I have the bullets!" It's just another day's work for the LAPD. Some throw-away kid got killed. Oh well.

This was in 1955. Not a whole lot has changed since then, as "throw aways" (kids and no) are still killed by police in Los Angeles seemingly every day, whether they are character players on Hollywood Boulevard, homeless men on Skid Row, or panhandlers in Venice.

LAPD kills, it's what they do. It's their mission, their purpose, their reason for being.

I've come to think of LA as home to a killer-culture, and I have no urge to be there, not for a visit, and certainly not to live there. It's not just LAPD's trigger-happiness, killing and destroying people is widely practiced throughout every aspect of Los Angeles society and culture. It's particularly apparent in the motion picture industry and its absolute adoration of hyper-violence and the wreckage of human beings it feeds upon.

But it's not just LA, not just Hollywood, not just movies.

Something fundamental about America has gone over a cliff, something like the "chickie-run" scene in "Rebel Without a Cause."

Most of us are at the bottom. Nearer to the Hellmouth....

NOTE: This post was inspired by a poem Ms Ché wrote in 1986, "To the Cholame Tree" which she read to a group of writers in New Mexico at a meeting last week. The response was very interesting...

The poem deals with imagery from "Rebel Without a Cause" -- including Jim Stark's iconic red jacket. The imagery is triggered by a stop at the Cholame monument to James Dean that is described above. A swirl of images from the movie, from James Dean's life and his death nearby, as well as the 1981 death of Natalie Wood, and the 1976 death of Sal Mineo pivot around the tree and the monument and memories.

I hadn't heard it read in a long time, and I was moved by it, perhaps even more than I had been when I first heard it decades ago. Of course I had been to the Cholame Tree many times, and I had plenty of memories of Jim Stark and Plato and Judy in "Rebel" from when I was very young as well as later memories from when I saw the movie again.

Interestingly, the New Mexico writers who heard Ms Ché at that meeting were... unmoved. Not only did the poem and the imagery not resonate with them, one even said that she hadn't seen "Rebel" in a very long time, and she didn't remember much of it. What they wanted to talk about though was whether Natalie Wood was murdered by Robert Wagner and if he got away with it. 

Ms. Ché took it in stride, explaining what she knew about the untimely drowning of Ms Wood after she fell off a boat while her husband and friends continued socializing. If the writers she was meeting with were unmoved by the Cholame Tree, so be it. So be it.

There are so many places we've been that carry a psychic and emotional energy that seems to be transmitted into and sometimes through us. New Mexico and many sites in New Mexico are among those places, but there are many others, including the little wide place in the road on Highway 46 in California between Bakersfield and Paso Robles where a tree beside a cafe is wrapped in a stainless steel monument to the memory of James Dean -- who was killed in a car wreck on September 30, 1955, about a mile east of this tree when a car turned in front of the Porsche Dean was driving and Dean couldn't stop in time to avoid a wreck.

This video is of a driver following the route James Dean took on Highway 46 that fateful day, passing the junction with Highway 41 near where the wreck occurred and stopping at the Jack Ranch Cafe beside the Cholame Tree -- the Tree doesn't figure in the video at all, however. But the video gives you an idea of the landscape along the route.

This video shows the view from Highway 41 and Highway 46.

Testimony from the last surviving witness to the crash. Accompanied by the Lizard King...