Sunday, October 19, 2014

Now That We Know This -- And Have No Excuse For Not Knowing -- What Do We Do?

"Police killing ruled 'justified'" -- every single time. No matter what, if the officer says he (or rarely) she felt threatened, then any use of force including lethal force is almost always ruled "justified," and the officer is in essence rewarded for a job well done. Killing, crippling and maiming, causing any amount of emotional and psychological trauma on witnesses, survivors and victims, ruining lives, destroying communities, all of it and more is ruled "justified" if the officers says he or she felt "threatened." Or if, as is so often the case, the officer's absolute authority is questioned...

Now that we know this -- and we have no excuse not to know it by now -- the question is what is to be done?

Tens of millions, hundreds of millions of dollars in payouts to victims of police brutality and murder have had no negative affect on police departments or on elected and appointed officials who write off these sometimes extraordinary payouts as simply the cost of doing business, or as a necessary public safety expense. To them, all these millions are nothing; they are not coming out of the department's budgets or the officer's pockets, or the hides of city administrators. Ha! They're a levy on taxpayers, either directly or indirectly.

The protests don't have any perceptible effect on the culture of suppression, oppression, and killing that has routinized and professionalized among police forces nation wide. The public can rise and yak and yabber all they want about the brutality and killing. Officials and their officers don't care. It's nothing to them, except perhaps some welcome overtime for the officers on the line, and damn, isn't it fun to get out all those riot costumes and toys and threaten the crowds of protesters with immediate and lethal force when they get uppity? Heh. Put them in their place.

"Scathing" reports by the DoJ and investigative journalists haven't had much of an effect on the police killing spree, except for this: when the DoJ issues a "scathing" report, the police undergo a "progressive professionalizing program," in which their rules and their training is coordinated with the "best and most progressive" national policing standards. It doesn't necessarily cut down on the killing for it isn't necessarily meant to. The killing and brutality may get the Rabble riled up, but that's rarely the problem. The problem is that the police aren't doing it right. Once they have the rules and the tools and the training that meets national standards, they're home free. Use of force, especially lethal force, is now routinized. Have at it.

As long as the Right People are served and protected, what's to worry? What's to complain about?

If that means a thousand or more of the Rabble are gunned down by police every year -- 3 or 4 a day, every single day -- so what? If that means tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of the Rabble are brutalized and traumatized by police every year, often arbitrarily -- so what? If that means millions upon millions of Americans are sent through the bloated prison industrial system -- so what? As long as it's primarily the Rabble who's subjected to this, why should anyone who matters care? They don't. They won't. It doesn't bother them because it doesn't involve them.

The way the officials in Albuquerque have behaved toward the problem of police violence and killing is instructive and it should be seen as exemplifying the point of view of most officials faced with growing outrage and protest by the Rabble toward police.

The only time they concern themselves with the opinions of the Rabble regarding the conduct of the police -- or really regarding much of anything else -- is when the Rabble interferes with comfort, convenience and routines of those in charge. The response then is always the same: suppression. If need be: oppression. Otherwise the Rabble is really rather free to carry on as they choose, but no one (who matters) is listening, and no one (who matters) gives a good god-damn. Even if they put on a show of "concern..." Sure. Right. Whatever. They have more important things to do, and a far more important clientele to serve.

The mayor and city manager of Albuquerque have been quite clear that they are not interested in hearing from victims of police violence. The mayor refuses any but the most distance-keeping contact, and the city manager's interactions are typically filled with bluster and threats toward those who seek justice. He was, after all, the chief officer of the New Mexico state prisons. (A whole long other topic, but it is informative to understand where he is coming from, and to understand that his state prison tenure was considered "progressive.")  It's useful, too, to understand that the mayor and city council of Albuquerque are not in charge of the police. As is the case in most cities around the country, the police are not accountable to nor are they supervised by elected officials. They are only accountable to the city manager or the equivalent, an appointee who often holds the mayor and council hostage to an agenda that the public is essentially unaware of. In Albuquerque, too, the appointed police chief appears to be a figurehead, nothing more. From appearances, he has no authority and very little knowledge. The police department appears to be run directly out of the City Administrator's office with little or no consideration of the "chief." That, too, is not all that unusual in city administrations around the country.

How city governments actually work is another topic that I could go on about at great length but not here, not now.

To these people and especially to those whom they serve, "justice" means suppression of the Rabble by any means necessary, including killing and brutalizing them routinely for any reason at all -- or no reason but to keep them in a state of fear, panic and terror.

For whatever reason, many of the Rabble are convinced they can get justice by appeal, but most often they can't. There is no one to appeal to who cares. There are very few who the Rabble might appeal to who see justice in the same way the Rabble does.

That's a major problem right there: "justice" to the victim/citizen is one thing, "justice" to the perpetrator/ruler is quite a different thing. "Justice" to the perpetrator/ruler protects them from the Rabble; "justice" to the Rabble is something else again: a brake on excess, exploitation, and oppression and an expression of social fairness.

So how does the Rabble deal with this situation? What will it take to change the dynamic sufficiently to reduce the rate of killing and brutalization by police on the one hand and ensure fairness on the other?

Is it even possible or have we reached the point where the Powers That Be have so divorced themselves from the interests of the People, there is no longer any way to heal the divide?

What then must we do?

Let's explore the topic next time....

Friday, October 17, 2014

Resistance is Futile?

Americans and the world have experienced an interesting Post Labor Day ride so far; there's no telling where this careening handbasket is headed, but Chaos seems to be the principal objective of our diminishing set of High and Mighty.

Chaos. Fear, uncertainty and doubt. And futility.

Don't forget futility.

For years I've tried to ponder on the subject of what Our Betters could possibly be thinking while they go about making a titanic mess of local and global affairs and fight one another for pre-eminence and wealth.

What could they be thinking? Can there actually be thought behind these endlessly appalling and chaotic developments we are witnessing day in and day out? It hardly seems possible.

They clearly want us to believe that any action we might take in opposition to their madness is futile, utterly futile. We can do nothing about what they're doing -- except submit, willingly or unwillingly, it doesn't matter.

We can complain all we like, but it doesn't matter. They will do what they will without regard to what we may or may not think about it.

As long as we don't do anything to interfere with their comfort and convenience, why should they care what we think about anything?

For the past several months the growing movement against police violence and murder has been protesting and demonstrating in many cities around the country, demanding police accountability and an end to police murder. The James Boyd killing in Albuquerque in March started a series of protests and demonstrations that have spread across the country, to New York and St. Louis in particular after the killings of Eric Garner and Mike Brown, but there have been so many others. Hundreds and hundreds killed by police since Boyd was killed, more than 200 since Mike Brown was killed in August.

Are we supposed to think that our protest is futile? Are we supposed to believe that the police have been given free rein to hunt and kill at will? Are we supposed to believe that police owe the public no accountability for their actions, they are only accountable to... to whom? Or to what?

Are we supposed to believe that poor people, homeless people, mentally ill people, people of color and young people are always fair game for police, and that old people, defiant people, and anyone carrying or "reaching for" what might-could be a gun will at any arbitrary moment subject to summary execution?

And are we supposed to accept this state of affairs, submit compliantly, uncomplainingly?

Is that right?

Is that how it is?

Cosmetics and public relations seem to be the response of those in authority to the protests of the people against police violence, and when they don't work, there has been a quick reversion to threats, intimidation, and more violence. At no point during the continuing series of protests and demonstrations against police violence and murder have those in authority made any concession to the demands of the protesters. For the most part, those protests and protesters have been ignored by those who can actually do something about the problem. To the extent they have been acknowledged, the acknowledgement has been cosmetic or brutal.

In other words, nothing substantive has taken place to correct the problems of police abuse, misconduct, mayhem and murder. The killing goes on and on and on, a steady tattoo of three or four victims a day, day in and day out, world without end, amen.

How many are brutalized and crippled, who knows? How many are living with PTSD and psychological trauma because of police brutality and misconduct is anybody's guess but it must be in the many tens of thousands.

The police refuse to accept any responsibility for their misconduct and bloodlust, and to an extent I can understand. They are doing what is expected of them by their superiors and by their elected and appointed employers. What the public thinks about it is of little or no concern to them. They reject out of hand any accountability to the public -- apart from routine cosmetic statements which seem to have been produced en masse by PR departments.

So what are we to do? The protests continue to be ignored or put down or and in many cases the "issue" is individualized and shunted off to agencies, departments, grand juries, and district attorneys to "investigate" -- which typically means endless delay -- and then do nothing except exonerate the officer(s) involved. As long as procedures are followed, how could there possibly be a problem?

The public will just have to learn its lesson.

Oh, now and then a few officers, the lowest ranking, may have to retire early or fall on their swords to mollify the public, but nothing is done to alter the policies and protocols that lead to so much carnage. Not "nothing." No, what tends to be done is to "professionalize" the policies to make them even more certainly lethal more often. In other words, what tends to be done is to make things worse. The various domestic wars on crime ensure that the policies and protocols that lead to the carnage and killing remain in place.

The public barely knows what's really going on let alone how to undo the nightmare. A simple count of the dead is one thing. To understand why is something else again.

As long as that is the case, the futility of resistance is assured, no?


We never really know in advance what kind of action will move the powers that be to reform. We must try and try again until we have found a way to do it.

Meanwhile, the imposition of Chaos continues unabated.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

This Was No Split Second Decison

I want people to understand this about police shootings.

So often we hear the police rationale that in a "life or death situation" police have to make "split second decisions" on whether and what kind of force to use in any given circumstance. Sometimes, of course, those decisions lead to "unfortunate loss of life." Oh well. Police "should be able to go home to their families at night." Case closed.

So often we hear the excuses. So often the excuses are false.

The decision to kill is not made in a "split second." Sometimes these decisions are made hours, days, months and even years in advance, not based on what is happening but based the on protocols and policies of sniper squads and special weapons and tactics teams.

Once deployed, the death of the suspect is all but certain. It has nothing whatever to do with "split second" decision making. It has everything to do with the expectations and training of those assigned to do the killing.

KRQE in Albuquerque has done detailed reporting on how it worked in the case of a mentally ill homeless man, James Boyd, shot to death in the Sandia foothills last March. That shooting triggered months of protest and the release of a scathing report from the Department of Justice on the routine violations of civil rights and the many other failings -- some of them clearly criminal -- of the Albuquerque Police Department.

Boyd was shot to death as he was surrendering after a multi-hour standoff between him and as many as 42 officers and a police dog (a dog which was sicced on Boyd and bit him severely after he was shot and paralyzed.) Two of those officers, Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy, shot Boyd to death. Sandy, at the least, has now been documented to have made the decision to shoot him hours before the deed was done. It was his assignment as a member of the elite Repeat Offender Project.

Recently, too, another APD killer, a police sniper named Sean Wallace, has been awarded a commendation by Police Chief Gorden Eden for his outstanding service. So far, he has shot and killed three -- or is it four -- unarmed men. It's his assignment on the force. Of course, the award was for helping to take armed men into custody without shooting them to death, so maybe it's a sign of progress. Maybe not.

Many police forces employ snipers and elite officers and units whose main function is to kill. Once they are assigned and deployed, the suspect will more than likely die.

There is nothing "split second" about it -- except when the bullets enter the person's body.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Wow. Inspiring

The events in St. Louis overnight have been inspiring and moving as all get out. Rebelutionary_Z has been on the front lines, and I've been catching up with some of his archived video.

The first one I looked at was a march to and rally at St. Louis University. Thousands were there. They held their arms high in solidarity for four minutes of silence in the memory of Vonderrit Myers and Mike Brown -- and how many others who have been killed by police? Today's total looks like 1613 since May 1, 2013; at least 860 killed by police since January 1 of this year.

It was inspired for the march organizers to take over the plaza at St. Louis University for the rally, despite the objections of campus security. "Out of the dorms, into the streets!"

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

Next I watched the confrontation between the police -- who were beating their sticks on the pavement -- and the marchers on the way to the University. We've seen this scene so often not only during the confrontations in Ferguson and St. Louis but around the world it seems. The police, by killing so many, and by acting such fools delegitimize their authority. They just can't help themselves, I guess...

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

And so it goes.

Today's actions are dubbed "Moral Monday," something that's been ongoing in North Carolina for some time.

It's an idea whose time has come.


Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Revolution Continues... ?

While I've been otherwise engaged, events in St. Louis have taken on quite a broad-based character leading to protests and demonstrations and violent police reactions in the city and surrounding areas.

I've watched a bit of Rebelutionar_Z's livestream recordings from the Shaw demonstrations and the sit-down at the Quik Trip, and it's inspiring. People are taunting the police, and the police are reacting with their usual intimidation and violent tactics, and as we saw in Oakland during the Occupy protests, the upshot is that authority loses legitimacy.

The QT action overnight demonstrates how the process works.

The video below is long, but it's easy to scroll through. At about 33 minutes in, the po-po's tank arrives to threaten the demonstrators, and from that point, things get intense. At about 50 minutes in, the videographer is pepper-sprayed in the face -- again, he says it's the second time in three days that he's been sprayed -- and several in the crowd are sprayed as well. Listen for calls of "Medic!" The police follow crowd clearing protocol without resorting to tear gas, but there are reports of "snatch-and-grabs" and violent arrests. These are typically intended to frighten members of crowds into leaving. They usually work reasonably well. But in this case, the crowd refuses to be intimidated after the confrontation, they walk away.

Broadcast live streaming video on Ustream

The police tactics are routine by now, but in this case there's a quality of absurdity made manifest by the police outnumbering the protesters at some points, with the appearance of the tank and the police challenge of camera people. The police claim to be threatened by people with cameras. Indeed.  They are violently arresting sit-down, nonviolent protesters. They hide behind shields, but not everyone in the police line has a shield. One of their vehicles has to be jumpstarted in the street. It's just ridiculous.

"Who do you serve? Who do you protect?"

Obviously, it's not The People.

More videos here.

Others on scene include Tim and Luke. Bella Eiko is in town.

Some mainstream coverage has been occurring as well.

Thousands of people are participating in demonstrations, a fair contingent of youthful anarchists as well as a large group of local and national activists.

The tipping point isn't here yet, but it's coming.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

The Quest Continues

Street scene in St. Louis, c. 1915

I've been spending the last few days going through what seem to be endless archives of photos of Indianapolis, St. Louis, and parts of California that were important sites in my family's and ancestors' history.

The street scene above, for example would have been familiar to my mother's biological father the year before he died. The location is about two miles from where he was killed in 1916.

Union Traction Building in Indianapolis, c. 1910
Periodically after 1900, my mother's biological father worked as streetcar conductor in Indianapolis, and he would have been very familiar with this building and the streetcars that connected the various parts of Indianapolis and the outlying communities. As far as I've been able to find out, he left Indianapolis for St. Louis in 1912 or 1913.

Knights of Pythias Building, Indianapolis, c. 1910

I doubt my mother's biological father was a Pythian, but her stepfather became a member in Indianapolis. It was through his Pythian connections, I'm pretty sure, that he was able to find work in California when he and my mother and her mother left Indianapolis forever in 1917. Her stepfather started as a mechanic for a garage in Santa Maria and worked his way up to garage manager by 1930. He would hire another Pythian in that year to be the service manager for the garage. That man's brother-in-law, hired at the same time, would become my mother's first husband and my sister's father.

U-Auto-Stop, Willits, CA c. 1931

This was the service station and auto-court my mother's stepfather purchased sometime after 1930 and ran in Willits, CA, until 1939, when he sold it and he and my mother's mother moved to Reno where claimed to be a "mining engineer." Something tells me that the "mine" was a fraud, but I don't know.

These are just some of the photos I've been sorting through. Most of the sites where these people were living and working from about 1900 to 1940 or so are long gone. But the rail yard in St. Louis at the end of St. Louis Avenue is still there.

Wabash Rail Yard at the end of St. Louis Ave, St. Louis, MO, c. 2012 via the Google
[I added a bunch of pictures and links but apparently didn't save them. Oh well! Here are some others....]

These are some additional pictures I've found that give me a better idea of the environment members of my family and some of my relations came from:

Both my mother's mother and her mother worked as telephone operators for the Fletcher American National Bank from 1910 or earlier to 1915 or 1916. This picture isn't them... so far as I know:

I wonder who's watching me....
"Number pluh-leeze" c. 1912
Fletcher American National Bank, c. 1915. They had other buildings in Indianapolis as well, but this is likely to be the place where they worked:

Note the street car. At various times in his life, my mother's father worked as a street car conductor, and as I was going through a bunch of Indianapolis street car pictures, I found this one:

Among other things, what's interesting about this picture is the location, E. Michigan Street and N. Emerson Avenue, the line's termination point. According to the story where I found the picture, the E. Michigan Street line was completed to N. Emerson Avenue in 1911. The E. Michigan line ran half a block from where my mother's relations -- including her mother and grandmother, her brother and a cousin -- were living in 1910 and where my mother would live after she was born in 1911. Lawrence, my mother's biological father, was working as a streetcar conductor in 1911. Wouldn't it be something if one of the men in the picture is her father? If the picture was taken in 1915, as stated in the story, it couldn't be him as he was then in St. Louis, but if it were taken any time between 1910 and 1913, it could be.

Progress Laundry c. 1911
This is a picture of the Progress Laundry that opened in 1910. One of my mother's aunts was working as a laundress in 1910, at a laundry not at home (so unlike Mildred Pierce's mother, she didn't take in other people's washing). I don't know that she worked at the Progress Laundry -- there were a number of laundries in Indianapolis at the time -- but it wouldn't surprise me.

A saloon:

Wm Brommer Saloon c. 1909
Looks like they cleaned it up and cleaned the customers out for the picture. I don't know that Lawrence frequented the Brommer Saloon, but he probably visited it -- and a number of others -- while carousing around the town.

The drug store Lawrence was alleged to have burgled in 1912 was owned by a fellow named Ferdinand A. Mueller, who soon thereafter went on to other pursuits:

Mr. Mueller's drug store on E. Washington Street is no longer there. Pretty much nothing is there anymore but parking lots. But Mr. Mueller told the the police and newspapers that so far as he knew, nothing was taken from his store in the infamous burglary.

Saturday Evening Post, published in Indianapolis, December 18, 1915.

Dreher's 1916 Simplex Guide and Map of Indianapolis -- detailing streetcar lines, how to get where you want to go, and showing views of the city.

Afterwhiles, by James Whitcomb Riley. My mother had several copies of this. I didn't know why. Now I do. She also had some other Riley books. Lawrence's middle name was... Riley.

A Hoosier Romance, by James Whitcomb Riley. 1910.

Sooty, gritty, grimy Indianapolis in the movies, c. 1916.

The Golden State, the Sunset, and the California all were "Limiteds" that passed through the orange groves of Southern California back in the day. Looks like the picture dates from before 1920.
And so, they arrive. My mother, her mother, and her stepfather arrived in California in 1917, perhaps in June, perhaps in October. They took the route to Santa Ana where Leo and Edna were wed, then they headed up the coast to Santa Maria where they stayed at least until sometime in the 1930s (haven't quite sorted out the year they left, but it was after 1930.) The postcard is part of the collection of a Canadian fellow named David who has been posting them on his blog since 2009. Many of his cards are simply charming.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

No Wonder She Never Spoke of Her People

Herself, c. 1930
The picture of my mother was taken when she was about 19. In her day, she was considered quite a beauty, and she liked the picture well enough that she had it enlarged and mounted into one of those photo folders that people had in those day. I don't know what happened to the original one as I no longer have it, but I can recall seeing it on the mantle or on a bookshelf from a very early age. I've seen pictures of her taken in the 1930s posing by her snazzy '34 Dodge roadster or in a garden filled with flowers, and to my eyes, she was stunning. She must have turned a lot of heads. In this photo, though, she appears to be so... sad.

She sometimes hesitated to speak of her people, who she came from, but she did speak of them now and then. She wasn't entirely silent. It's just that I don't think she really knew very much, especially about her biological father. She was told about him, but she said she never knew him and didn't remember what he looked like. She had no pictures of him. And I don't think she even knew his first name.

She knew his last name. She used it on some official documents, but most of the time, she used her step-father's last name as her maiden name.  It was much easier to do so, but I don't think he ever adopted her legally. I'm not entirely sure that her mother was legally married to her biological father, either.

What I've found in the records -- and I'm surprised at how much there is online -- is a pretty tangled up story, so this may run long as I try to unravel it.

My mother's father's first name was Lawrence or Laurence (he used both) and he was probably called "Larry" as that's what one of the references I found said he was known as. He was born in September of 1878 in Lebanon, Indiana, a little burg outside of Indianapolis. His father, David, was a Civil War veteran with the Indiana Volunteers who had a civil service position with the federal pension office, and later became a land agent with the state of Indiana. He had six sons.

Larry was the second youngest. He apparently showed a great deal of promise when he was a boy. He was on his elementary school honor roll time and again for perfect attendance and scholarship, and he was engaged in all kinds of activities including appearing in a school pageant recreating a battle in the Civil War when he was 8 or 9 years old.

His family moved to Indianapolis not too long afterwards, around 1889. Larry's oldest brother, Harold, went to St. Louis around 1890 where he worked as a printer and later as a linotype operator for the big circulation daily, the Globe-Democrat. Larry's other brothers, George, Edgar, Clyde and Frank became distinguished in their own way.

Well, except for Clyde. Clyde was working on the railroad, as an up and coming engineer for the CW&M RR out of Wabash when he went hunting with some friends in November of 1898. He'd been married for less than a year and had a six week old son. According to newspaper reports, he accidentally shot himself in the shoulder with his shotgun. The wound was apparently frightful, the only answer being to amputate his left arm at the shoulder, but it wasn't enough to save him. He died at the age of 26, barely settled in as a husband and father.

David's other sons, however, went on and did very well for themselves indeed.

George founded and operated a prominent accounting firm in Indiana which later merged with one of the largest national firms.

Edgar became a distinguished botanist who traveled all over the country and the world. Later he would join his brother's accounting firm, and later still, he would become a real estate investor in Florida where he died at the ripe old age of 101.

Frank was a lawyer who founded a respected legal firm in Indianapolis, the very belly of the beast as it were. He was apparently quite well known for his tenacity in court and in life. Frank and his wife Edna were the ones I found a record of years ago, and because my mother's mother's name was Edna, too, I thought maybe Frank was my mother's biological father.

But I was wrong.

Her father was Larry -- or Lawrence or Laurence -- the black sheep of the family. Larry was practically the definition of Black Sheep.

After doing very well in school in Lebanon, Larry embarked on the life of a rowdy in Indianapolis, the Big City. The first record of arrest I found for him was in 1893 when he was 15. He was arrested with an accomplice named Lyle Justice (oh, the irony) for a string of burglaries in Indianapolis. I don't know how that case was decided as I found no record of followup.

Larry married for the first -- and possibly the only legal -- time in 1896 or 1897 (accounts vary as they will do in this kind of research) to a young woman named Maud who would later -- after her divorce from Larry -- live with the Justice family, and still later she would move to St. Louis and marry Larry's oldest brother Harold, or at least live as his wife. As I said, it's a tangled web.

Maud was the mother of three of Larry's six children. That is, three of the six that I've found so far. There may be more. Who knows? He got around, Larry did. Maud gave birth to Larry's sons George and David, both of whom would eventually move to California, and one of whom, George, would come visit my mother in Los Angeles after she tracked him down somehow. I have no idea how she found him, as he'd changed his name "professionally" and I believe was calling himself Frank King at the time, but officially, he still went by his birth name. At any rate, I recall him coming to visit when I was seven or eight, and for hours and hours he and my mother chatted away about all the things they didn't know about their father.

Maud was also the mother of Florence who went to live with Larry's brother Frank and his wife Edna after Edna apparently had a miscarriage or stillbirth and Larry and Maud had divorced. The boys stayed with Larry for a while, and then were raised by their grandparents as far as I could find out. They didn't, so far as I know, go with Maud -- who had quite a life herownself.

My grandmother Edna (not Frank's wife, the Other Edna) enters this picture sometime around 1907, which would be around the time that Larry and Maud were divorced. Edna was about 17. She claimed to be married to Larry, but I have only found evidence of Larry's legal marriage to Maude, not to anyone else. And so far as I can tell, Edna and Larry never actually lived together, never lived as husband and wife at all. Which would explain why my mother had so few memories of him.

For example, during the time that Larry was supposedly married to my grandmother Edna, he was reported to be squiring around the countryside with his wife and son David visiting friends and relatives. Which wife he's with isn't clarified as her first name isn't mentioned in the reports, but David was Maud's son. For her part, Maud was going visiting, too. She took a trip to St. Louis around 1908 to visit Larry's older brother Harold, for example. These things were commonly noted in the papers at the time, and I keep finding more and more of them. After Larry's death, Maud would live as Harold's wife. But they would separate before Harold died, and he would marry a very young woman named Lillian who was his wife when he died in 1940. The last record of Maud I've found was also in 1940. She was living as a servant in the household of a family in Indianapolis who I otherwise have no information on but they are probably tangled up in this saga somehow as well.

My mother was born in November of 1911. According to what I have found in the research, another woman in Indianapolis gave birth to a son Virgil in March of 1911, and claimed that Larry was the boy's father. This report comes from Virgil's descendants, however, and I don't know how it was determined that Larry was Virgil's father. We'll leave that an open question for the time being, but it wouldn't surprise me in the least if Virgil were Larry's son by another woman, a woman he was seeing at the same time he was supposedly married to my grandmother.

Edna was living with her mother and two aunts and her brother and a cousin a mile or so from Larry's parents' home where Larry was living with his sons in 1910. Later, Larry would move down the street where he was living with another family next door to relatives of the man who would become my mother's stepfather. How tangled does it get?

In May of 1912, Larry was arrested after a foot chase through the mean streets of downtown Indianapolis. Shots were fired by Larry's pursuer, and a plate glass window at a restaurant was broken. Larry was apprehended and charged with burglary of a drugstore. He denied the charge but he was suspected in a long string of burglaries in his neighborhood, as well as other petty crimes. The case was turned over to the grand jury, and I don't know the disposition, but soon after, Larry was gone from Indianapolis.

In August of 1912, my grandmother Edna filed for divorce from Lawrence, but again, I don't know the disposition. After Larry was killed, Edna claimed to be a widow, and as far as I know, she never mentioned to my mother that she had divorced Larry before he died.

My mother believed that her father was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis who died in a collision when he was crushed between the cars. That's the story she told me, and she said that's the way she heard it from her mother.

Only Larry wasn't in Indianapolis and he wasn't working as a streetcar conductor when he was killed. He was in St. Louis working for the Wabash RR at the St. Louis Avenue yards as a freight train switchman. According to news reports of his death, on December 19, 1916, a refrigerator car collided with another freight car in the yards. Larry was between them and died.

His death certificate states that he died from "shock and injuries" from the collision -- with the following note in parens below:

"(Body cut in two.)"
Oh my.

No wonder his then-wife Marie filled out the death certificate with a very shaky hand, and according to her statements on the certificate, she knew very little about her husband, not even his correct age.

After Larry disappeared from the records in Indianapolis, he doesn't turn up again until a daughter by Marie named Helen is born in 1914. His brother Harold had been in St. Louis since about 1890, and there are other relatives there as well, some of them working on the railroad. Larry's brother Clyde had been a railroad engineer in Wabash, Indiana, when he died, and Larry worked as a railroad switchman in St. Louis for the Wabash line. During his working life, Larry had held all kinds of jobs in Indianapolis, including that of streetcar conductor, milk inspector, railroad brakeman, and so on. He seemed to work most often as a conductor, but he's listed in many other positions in the city directories. Every year, he seemed to be doing something different.

Of course, given his tendency to burgle and womanize, and doG knows what all else he did, it's probably little wonder he didn't hold a position for very long.

I have to believe that his arrest in 1912 was a turning point in Larry's life. He wasn't a child anymore, he was 34 (though his age is reported to be 30 in the news item of his arrest.) He had several children, perhaps five or more, a couple of wives, and he hadn't settled down. Not even close. When he was arrested, he was living with a family down the street from his parents' house and next door to a family from which my mother's step-father, Edna's second husband, would come. My mother believed that her step-father had been a friend of Larry's and a working colleague on the streetcar line -- which may be true -- but Larry was also accused of burglarizing his neighbors, so I doubt that he and my mother's step-father were particularly close.

My mother's step-father -- his name was Leo, but he went by a nickname I've forgotten -- was the nephew of Alex who headed the household next door to where Larry was living in 1912 when he was arrested. Leo's parents and siblings were living a few blocks away at the time. Leo was living with his parents in 1910, and it's likely that he was visiting his family down the street. It's just as likely that he knew Larry's relations in the neighborhood as well. My grandmother Edna and her mother and aunts were living a half-hour's walk or less from the section of town where Larry and his parents and Leo and his relations were living, and it would have been a ten minute ride on a streetcar.

I've Googled many of the addresses listed for these people and other relations in Indianapolis and other cities, and not surprisingly, many of them aren't there any more. It was a long time ago, after all. The house where Larry was living in 1912 when he was arrested is gone. The site is a vacant lot. The house where Leo's uncle and family were living is still there but it's an abandoned ruin. The house were Larry's parents were living is still there and it's currently home to a family (at least as of the latest Google street view taken in June of this year.) The house where Edna and her relations were living is gone, replaced in 1915 with fire station.  The station is not operating, but it's still there and serves the fire department's historians.

The house where Larry and his wife Marie and daughter Helen were living in St. Louis when he was killed has been replaced with a freeway off ramp. But the St. Louis Avenue railyards are still there. From the overhead view, it looks like it's a Superfund site, as I can well imagine.

Larry was killed in St. Louis in December of 1916 when my mother was five years old. She recalled that at the funeral, Larry's "other family" showed up and it was a great scandal. She said she remembered that there was a little girl named Helen with the other mother, and she felt so sorry for her. She remembered this happening in Indianapolis, but Larry's funeral was in St. Louis where he is buried. Maybe my mother and her mother went to St. Louis for the funeral, and maybe they were the "other family" and such scandal as there was was because of them. I don't know.

But within a few months of Larry's death, Edna and my mother Virginia, and Larry's friend Leo left Indianapolis for California and never looked back. I'd been told that Leo and Edna were married in Indianapolis, but I found a marriage certificate that said they were married in Santa Ana, California, in October of 1917. Edna declared herself to be a widow at that time and she used Larry's last name, which she did not do in Indianapolis. Leo had never been married.

I'm not entirely sure, but I believe they arrived in California in June of 1917, and they were already settled in Santa Maria where Leo went to work as a mechanic for the German proprietor of an automobile dealership. He would become a service station proprietor on his own account. Later he would become a mining engineer in Reno. He worked at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a machinist during WWII, and he owned a motor court in Willits when he died in 1945.
I found additional information about him, and the "motor court" story is not quite what I was told or remembered. I'll try to unravel it. Leo  worked in California as a mechanic for an auto dealer. Then, by 1930, he had his own service station. Then he bought a motor court and service station and moved to Willits, probably after my mother was married for the first time. In 1939, he sold the business in Willits and moved to Reno, where he claimed to be a mining engineer for an outfit that may have been just him. That venture seems not to have done well, and in 1941, he's in Vallejo working at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard as a machinist. He died in 1945 in Sonoma. How he got there or what he was doing there, I don't know.

Edna died in 1941 in Vallejo while Leo was working at Mare Island. She had cancer and could not be -- or was not -- treated in time to save her life.

On at least one occasion, Ida, Edna's mother, came out to California to visit. My sister was about seven or eight when Ida came calling sometime in the late '30s, and she remembered her as quite a character, sharp-tongued and funny. My sister thought she was British. Ida was in Chicago with her son Ralph (Edna's brother) in 1917, but she went back to Indianapolis at some point where she lived with her sisters again, and she died in Indianapolis, sometime before 1940. She had been a widow since 1904.

My mother died in 1987. It was only after her death that I became very curious about her biological father who died when she was so young. I don't know if she knew her father had been a petty and apparently habitual criminal. If she did, she never said anything about it. She knew he had another family, but I don't know if she knew how many children he sired, or how many "other families" there were. There are hints in the records I've found that he may have been a drug addict; if so, it might explain some of his behavior. His character was certainly quite different from that of his brothers. From what I can tell at this distance, his parents were very staid and were probably mortified by his actions and behavior. I expect it was their decision to send him to St. Louis to get right with himself and build a decent life and to get away from the bad habits and the bad crowd he was running with in Indianapolis. It seems he may have tried to do that, but fate intervened. I haven't been able to read the full motto on his gravestone, but the last line is "Duty called and took a life." Indeed.

His death was gruesome and I'm not sure my mother really knew how horrible it had been, that he'd died in pieces, not unlike some of the soldiers who were being slaughtered in Europe at the time.

I'm not sure my mother knew that his life was pretty wild -- apart from the "scandal" she knew about, the "scandal" of his other family, which she always thought was at the other end of the streetcar line.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

"You've never spoken of your people -- who you came from -- so perhaps it's natural...."

"You'll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing..." -- Veda Pierce to her mother Mildred in Mildred Pierce, 1945
Well, it wasn't quite that bad. My mother did speak of her people. She just didn't know all that much about them.

She said she knew very little about her biological father, she hardly remembered him at all. He was a streetcar conductor, killed when she was five, she said, "crushed between the cars" in a streetcar accident in Indianapolis -- this would have been late in 1916 or sometime in 1917 -- and she could no longer even picture him in her mind's eye. Her memories were so few.

But there was a scandal, she recalled, when, at his funeral, it was discovered he had another family at the other end of the line. Therefore he was a bigamist. And in those days such scandal was enough to drive one or another of the households he maintained out of the city, and so it would be.

My mother said that her mother married a friend of her father's after a suitable interval, and they all packed up and moved to California where my mother grew up and lived most of the rest of her life. She knew the man her mother married was not her father, but he was a good man just the same and my mother used his last name as hers until she married. The end.

Not quite. Over the past weekend, Ms Ché and I attended a number of events involving Jimmy Santiago Baca and his personal and family story, and Nasario Garcia and the stories he collected from the viejitos of the Rio Puerco Valley before they all died off, and for whatever reason, these stories triggered in me questions about my own family's unknown past and heritage.

I wanted to know particularly about my mother's biological father.

I thought I'd found him a number of years ago, but it was after my mother died and I couldn't ask her about him. I found a record of a man in Indianapolis named Frank, whose last name was the same as my mother's father's last name, married to an Edna, which was my mother's mother's first name, and they had a daughter whose name was Florence around the same time my mother was a little girl. My mother's first name was Virginia, though. I thought that perhaps my mother's name had been changed after her father died and that she'd been born "Florence." But I couldn't find out, not easily at any rate.

I assumed that I'd found my mother's biological father, and that was enough to carry on. I didn't think about it much after that, at least not until this past weekend when I made a commitment to find out for sure who her biological father was, to find out as much as I could about her step-father, too, and to see if I could piece together something of a life-story for them.

Now, I almost wish I hadn't. The story may be fascinating, but it's not quite what I expected, and there are elements that are not at all pleasant when you get down to it.

The Frank and Edna I found years ago, who I thought were my mother's parents, were not her parents. And apparently Florence wasn't their daughter. She was my mother's half-sister, though. And Frank and Edna were their aunt and uncle.

Florence was apparently the daughter of my mother's father's previous marriage to a woman named Maud. Florence was being raised by my mother's father's older brother Frank and his wife The Other Edna (who wasn't my mother's mother). This was a common enough arrangement in those days, especially after a family breakup.

For my mother's father (his name was Laurence or Lawrence, both spellings were used) and Maud were divorced sometime between 1900 and 1910. I'm not sure when. I found a marriage record for them dated 1897, and their first child -- a boy, George -- was born in 1898. They had Florence in 1902. And another child, David, came along in 1905.

In 1910, my mother's mother, Edna, was living in a household with her mother, a brother, a cousin, and a couple of aunts. Her mother and aunts were widows, but Edna claimed to be married, though she was using her maiden name; her husband's name was signified by the middle initial "O" which she used instead of her actual middle initial which was "A" for Alice. Her aunt Lillian, who was the head of the household, worked as a laundress while her mother, Ida, Lillian's sister, was a seamstress. Her cousin, Lillian's 17 year old son Harry, was a machinist apprentice. Edna, then 20, worked as a telephone operator. Her 22 year old brother Ralph was a railway fireman.

Edna said she'd been married for three years in 1910, which meant she'd been married since 1907 or thereabouts, but I've found no record of it, nor has a divorce judgement turned up between Laurence and Maud. Maud, however, claimed she was divorced in the 1910 census, as did Laurence. So let us assume there was a divorce. Maud at the time was said to be a servant in the household of some pals of Laurence's, pals he'd apparently run around with since he was very young. There will be more about them in due time.

Laurence was living with his parents in 1910, along with his two sons and a brother. They were living not too far away from Edna and her mother and aunts and brother and cousin. Assuming there was a streetcar available (and in Indianapolis at the time, that would have been likely) it would have taken all of ten minutes to get from Edna's place to Laurence's and vice versa. They weren't close neighbors, but they were close enough.

Florence, Laurence's and Maud's daughter, was living with her aunt and uncle in a much nicer part of town. Frank, Laurence's older brother, was a well-known and respected attorney, quite fancy indeed.

Laurence had other brothers. One was an up and coming CPA; another was a renown botanist who'd got his PhD at Harvard. His father was a pension clerk for the Federal Government. So far as I can tell, they were a pretty solid middle class family.

Well, except for Laurence. He was the Black Sheep. Oh my, was he ever.

Laurence was first arrested, so far as I could find out, in 1893, accused of a string of robberies and burglaries with a pal of his, the family of whom his ex-wife Maud would be living with in 1910. I don't know whether he was convicted. However, Laurence's accomplice in the string of robberies in 1893 was not part of the household in 1910 when Maud was living with them.

Laurence would later be accused of robbing and burglarizing many of his friends, neighbors and colleagues, and in 1912, about six months after my mother was born, he was chased down the streets of Indianapolis by a "merchant policeman" who was firing his gun and yelling up a storm until Laurence was apprehended by a couple of regular city police who knew him. I'm sure they did.

Laurence went to a hearing in police court a few days later, waived "examination" -- whatever that means -- and the judge turned the case over to the grand jury. Laurence was accused of burglarizing a drugstore, though according to the proprietor, nothing was taken and the only witness was the merchant policeman who'd chased Laurence through the streets and shot at him.

At the time, Laurence was a conductor for the street railway -- the most extensive streetcar system in the nation. He'd had a number of different positions over the years since coming into adulthood, most having to do with the railway, but he was also a milk inspector for the city of Indianapolis for a time, and did other odd jobs, including, apparently, petty crime.

Oh, and womanizing. Let's not forget that. So far as I've been able to find out, Laurence had at least six children by four different women, two of whom I'm pretty sure he was married to. I suspect he was never actually married to my grandmother Edna, though, and the real scandal in her case was that my mother was illegitimate.

I don't know that for sure, but that's what I think after all the information I've been able to find out about Laurence.

By 1914, Laurence was in St. Louis, where at least one uncle and a brother were also living and working on the Wabash rail line. He took a job as a switchman in the freight yard. He married a woman from St. Louis named Marie and fathered a daughter Helen who was born in November of that year.

On December 19, 1916, he was killed when a refrigerator car crushed him as he was switching a freight train.

He's buried in St. Louis -- actually a cemetery in Bellfontaine Neighbors. His marble headstone appears to have been toppled and the year of his birth is incorrect, but every report of his death is larded with misinformation, probably because those who were interviewed didn't know the truth and he had probably lied anyway.

As far as I could figure it out -- and of course I could be wrong -- he was "sent" to St. Louis by his family after his 1912 burglary arrest, whether or not he was convicted of the crime he was accused of, with orders to straighten up and fly right or else. In other words, get out of town and get your life together.

Well, except there was Edna and my mother still back in Indianapolis. There were Maud's children, too. What happened to them? Florence may have been living with Frank and Other Edna -- apparently she stayed with them throughout her childhood as they had no other children. Florence died at a ripe old age in Florida having never married.

George and David, Laurence's sons by Maud, may have stayed with Laurence's parents, but I'm not sure of that. Laurence's mother, Caroline (Carrie), died in 1918 -- Spanish flu victim? -- and Laurence's father, David H., died in 1921. George would have been 20 and David 13 when Caroline died.

George and David both moved to California at some point in their lives, George to Los Angeles by way of Idaho, David to San Diego.

George, my mother's half-brother, would have been the one she eventually tracked down and met with in our home in Southern California in the mid-1950s. His story is pretty interesting, too. He had changed his name "professionally" due to all the hooey and scandal he and his siblings had been through. He'd served time in Folsom and San Quentin in the late 40s and early 50s for check-kiting. Before that he'd been a deputy sheriff of Los Angeles County. He sold refrigerators and other appliances, was for a while in insurance. He had a large family of his own and lived in a nice place in LA. It's on the market if anyone's interested. I recall him as being quite pleasant, and he and my mother got along well. They had never met before, and they talked for hours and hours. I was probably seven or eight at the time and was quite occupied with whatever children do at that age, but I do recall his visit.

There was apparently another woman in Indianapolis who Laurence was seeing at the same time he was supposedly married to my grandmother Edna, for there is a record of a boy born to her in March of 1911, eight months before my mother was born. The boy's father is supposedly Laurence, at least that's what his descendants think. I have no idea whether it's true or not, but it wouldn't surprise me a bit. And there may be others. Who knows how many and where they are?

Laurence had a very active social life, at least according to the newspapers -- he was mentioned a lot, and not always for criminal activity. He was frequently visiting friends and relations around the Indianapolis area, and apparently his presence was newsworthy. There was one news item I found that was a little strange, I thought. He and his wife and daughter Florence had gone to visit relatives in Mechanicsburg in 1912. What wife? She's not named. And just a few minutes ago, I found a filing for divorce, dated 20 August 1912. Edna vs Lawrence R. in Marion County Superior Court.

I don't know whether the divorce was granted. I haven't seen a final decree. No grounds are mentioned, but the indications are that Laurence was gone from Indianapolis, possibly in jail, or already headed to St. Louis by the time Edna filed for divorce.

I know that Edna would marry Laurence's friend Leo in California in October of 1917, because I've seen their marriage license, and she would list her status as "widow." So apparently she never seemed to think her divorce from Laurence -- that until now I didn't know anything about -- was ever finalized. I'm not sure my mother ever knew anything about it, either, or I think she would have mentioned it. "She tried to divorce the cad but she couldn't find him."

Yes, well. All this was a long time ago, of course. Laurence was killed almost a century ago, and from every indication, my mother never really knew him at all. I don't think she ever mentioned his first name. She may not have known it. Or if she did, it didn't make an impression on her. She didn't use her step-father's first name either. Nor did she use the first name of her first husband. Maybe there's a reason for it. I don't know.

What I do know is that life was tough in those days, especially for women trying to make it on their own, with or without children in tow. My mother was very proud of being from independent female stock, and the stories she told of the women in her family who made independent lives, stories in which men hardly figured at all or only peripherally, were something to hear. Her step-father was a fine man, but her mother and grandmother were the strong ones she would say.

I've found much more information in the last few days than I can possibly process so quickly. There are many more stories to come from this research, some of which will be pure fiction, but that's often how people engage the past. At least now I can say I know something specific about my mother's father. Something I didn't know before. I didn't  -- for example -- know he'd died in St. Louis. Who'd a thunk?

Sunday, September 28, 2014


Indigenous peoples of Latin America -- and its former outposts now part of the United States of American (Goddamn) -- are understandably leery of the term "Santiago!" since it was what the Spanish Conquistadors shouted out as they commenced one of their periodic massacre/slaughters of the Indians. Santiago is St. James, the patron saint of Spain and the saint under whose blessing it was believed the conquest took place, took root, and succeeded.

So. Hundreds of years go by, a raza in the Americas is created of an amalgam of Indio and Spanish ancestors, and the name Santiago is distributed like honey candy throughout the Spanish speaking population. The name may or may not inspire dread any more, depending not so much on the collective past but on the individual present.

"Jimmy" Santiago Baca, born of Santa Fe, reared in Estancia, Albuquerque and the Arizona State Prison at Florence, is one of those Santiagos you can't be quite sure of. He must have been a holy terror in his mad, wild youth, but then something happened in jail forty years ago that changed him forever. He stole a book, he said, from the desk of an Anglo woman intake worker at the Albuquerque jail who was laughing at a poor drunken Indian getting beat up by guards. He said he wanted to hurt her, and the only thing he could do at that moment was take her book with the intention of burning it once he got back to his cell.

He was functionally illiterate, but he could read enough that he could puzzle out some of the words on the pages he was burning, and those words opened another world to him, as if by some magic, and they worked their way in, until he was able to work his own words out.

"Jimmy" Santiago Baca became a poet, a nationally renown poet while he was still in prison in Arizona. He was released eventually in part because he was nationally renown and a poet of great substance, a Chicano poet at a time when that was the new and coming thing. José Montoya, also from New Mexico, up in the hills above Estancia, had pioneered the Chicano literature movement a few years before, and Santiago was able to ride the wave. It's been a good run.

So. Daniel Glick, the movie's director from New York, told me last night that some years ago he visited a prisoner at Auburn State Prison in Upstate New York, and that he was quite horrified and moved by the experience, vowing one day to make a film about American prisons, and the fellow he went to visit, a guy named Tommy, told him that if he wanted to do that he should read "A Place to Stand," by Jimmy Santiago Baca, before he did anything else.

Daniel read it and said he was "blown away." Instead of a movie about prisons per se, he made a movie based on "A Place to Stand" -- and Jimmy Santiago Baca. The movie, titled "A Place to Stand", premiered in Santa Fe on Friday. We went to see it on Saturday afternoon, since the premiere was sold out by the time we found out about it, and they didn't even have room for standing in the back by the time I called up for tickets.

The film was remarkable. The picture is excellent, really one of the finest personal documentaries I've seen, and Jimmy (or Santiago) and Daniel are moving spokesmen for it. (Jimmy's son, Gabriel, the producer of the picture, was supposed to be there, but he didn't make it -- he was "working," doing what they didn't say, but he was too busy to sit and chat with the audience on Saturday).

Jimmy and Daniel spoke after the picture was shown on Saturday to a mostly elderly, mostly Anglo matinee crowd (yeah, well...), answering questions and making passionate statements about... language. For it was through language and its use that Jimmy found his way out of hell and he has committed his life to sharing with others, particularly those who are behind bars in this most incarcerated of nations, what he did and what they can do if they learn to use language -- as opposed, say, to violence -- to express their deepest being, their souls, their presence, and they learn to love themselves.

Jimmy Santiago Baca is a powerful poet, there is no mistaking that. As he and Daniel Glick went on at some length about language and its power, I was quite taken with the fact that Jimmy Santiago Baca writes almost entirely in English -- with some admixture of prison Spanglish for authenticity's sake -- though as far as I could tell, his first language was Spanish.

Well, no. His first language -- he said -- was silence.

So far as I know, he doesn't use Spanish in his work except as a kind of decoration, a finish or a fillip, though he knows the language and speaks it well enough. I could be wrong about that, but for a Chicano poet, the near-absence of the Spanish language in his work -- or at least in most of it -- is striking. But then given the nature of some of the stories he tells,  it is understandable and forgivable.

Language is indisputably key, but... what language?

During the "Shedding Skin" symposium at the Museum of Contemporary Native Art last weekend, one of the speakers brought up the problem of translation in the context of indigenous art, not the lack of work and brilliance and what have you, but the lack of translators and translations, which had the effect of limiting communications and interchange across national and cultural lines, especially for indigenous peoples who speak such a multiplicity of mutually unintelligible languages and who work in styles and with techniques not known beyond their immediate societies. True enough.

Unless you are in the right place at the right time -- with the right kind of translation -- you may well remain ignorant of something you might otherwise be moved by, something that could in fact be life-changing.

I think, too, of Virgil Ortiz and his Translator character in his themed work -- including video -- dealing with the 1680 Pueblo Revolt against the Spanish in New Mexico. Translator, says Virgil, is the commander of the Rebels in a 2180 version of the Pueblo Revolt. But why is he called "Translator?" I don't know, maybe I'm not meant to know.

Jimmy primarily uses English. Many others are dedicated to communicating in English when another language -- if translated properly -- might be more effective. But that's often the problem. Where are the translators, and how do you translate effectively? Originating the work in English is the simpler course, isn't it? Or originating it in Spanish -- or maybe Portuguese -- if you're in Latin America...

Except this is the definition of "colonialism". In order to communicate to the widest number -- or at all -- it is necessary for the colonized (not the colonizer) to abandon their native tongue or a different colonial-imposed tongue and use the language of the latest conqueror and colonizer in order to be heard and understood by the widest number or at all.

I'm struck, almost dumbfounded, by the implications. And I'm very conflicted about it.

I find Jimmy Santiago Baca's poetry remarkable and effective in ways that I'm coming now to appreciate fully. I've been aware of him, of Chicano literature, of the movement he's part of and many of the participants for many years. You don't live the kind of life I have and where I have and not be aware. But being aware can also mean "taking for granted." Like an acquaintance. You know them to say hello or share a few moments with, but not intimately, and your knowledge isn't the grounding of your own existence.

I can come to appreciate his work more fully because most of it is in English. If he were writing in Spanish, it would be more difficult for me. Much more difficult, but I know too, that were he writing in Spanish, I'd be able to muddle through it or most of it, and come to a different appreciation. This is how languages work for me. When I read or hear in Spanish or French, the two foreign languages I can get by in best (though not well enough in either), I hear or read a different deeper meaning than I would in translation. That's just the way language works -- at least for me.

So... in the end, much as I appreciate Jimmy Santiago Baca's work, and much as I am learning to appreciate it more, I might see it quite differently if he were writing in Spanish rather than English.

I will probably have more to say about this issue of language once we return from this afternoon's performance of "When the Stars Trembled in Rio Puerco" -- which is written and performed in both English and Spanish, New Mexico Spanish, though, which is not the same as most Spanish spoken in North America, but which is distinctive and sometimes difficult for me to comprehend because of its unique idioms and anachronisms, many of which I haven't learned yet.

Santiago!  Indeed.

Friday, September 26, 2014

"Active Shooter/Threat Training" and the Deaths of So Many by Police

Sean Williams preparing to kill John Crawford III
Statement by City of Beaver Creek following Special Grand Jury's decision not to hand down an indictment in the killing of John Crawford III:

The City of Beavercreek released the following statement about the jury’s decision:
“The events of August 5th were tragic and we wish the outcome of that evening had been different. However, based on the information the responding officers had and Mr. Crawford’s failure to comply with the responding officers orders, the officers did what they were trained to do to protect the public. The officers followed accepted law enforcement training protocol in their response to the report of an active threat in the Wal-Mart store. The grand jury review of the evidence and subsequent no bill decision indicates the officers’ actions were not of a criminal nature and justified under Ohio law.

The count kept over at Killed by Police has long since passed merely shocking levels. It's into a realm of sheer terror. Killed by Police tracks raw numbers of those killed by police based on mainstream media reports; the number was up to 1,560 since May 1, 2013 as of yesterday. They recognize that 1) it's probably an undercount, as mainstream media may not cover every police-involved death for a variety of reasons, and the site may not find the coverage if it is there; 2) it may somewhat overstate the tendency of police to administer street justice by including deaths in custody and accidental deaths caused by police; 3) it's not intended to be definitive. It's a starting point for further investigation and discussion.

Another site which tracks police involved shootings (as opposed to deaths per se) is Gun Violence Archive which posts periodic charts showing how many incidents of gun violence police have been involved in since January 1, 2014. It tracks overall deaths due to gun violence (8,972 at last report), but does not make a separate count of deaths by category of gun violence incident. Thus, while police officer involved shootings are reported to be 1,639 so far this year, Gun Violence Archive does not track how many of those incidents resulted in death.

And of course the public protests against police violence in Albuquerque and Ferguson and elsewhere have focused more attention on the growing problem of police violence in this country. Until relatively recently, even when there was extensive coverage of police involved shootings (as there often will be in local markets on the principle that "if it bleeds, it leads") there seemed to be only limited public reaction. In most cases of police-involved shootings and killings, even the most egregious, it was generally reported and accepted that the victim "needed killing" even if he or she had done little or nothing, often because the victim was determined after the fact to be "bad." He or she had a criminal record, sported tattoos, had been drinking or using drugs, was mentally ill, was black or brown and scary, was running, wasn't complying fast enough, "reached" for something, had a weapon -- or was said to have one by police, etc., etc. There was always something . Most people seemed to accept whatever it was as sufficient justification for police to summarily execute the individual -- even when whatever it was wasn't true. And the news cycle moved on.

But recently the police have been hammered by the public and the media for their ridiculous levels of overkill, their tendency to shoot first, ask questions later (but after the fact, "we have to wait till all the facts are in, dontchaknow"), their quaking fear of every encounter with black or brown individuals, and their utter cowardice in the face of The Great Unknown, ie: The Public -- which they once were obliged to Protect and Serve. 

People of conscience understand that policing in this country has gone way off the rails to the point where the way it is being done now represents a clear and present danger to the public at large. No one, truly, is safe from police violence, but the violence meted out to people of color and communities of color is still orders of magnitude greater than what white folk experience. Nevertheless, the often arbitrary nature of police violence and the stark fear and cowardice with which they approach so many encounters with individuals -- especially individuals in crisis -- means that anyone is potentially a victim of police violence.

Yesterday, the special grand jury in Green County, Ohio, convened to hear evidence in the shooting by cop of John Crawford III in the Beaver Creek Walmart, declined to indict the officer(s) who shot and killed him as he chatted on the phone with the mother of his children. He had an air rifle in his hand, and he'd been walking around the store with it while he talked on the phone. A man saw him and called 911 claiming that Crawford was not only armed but was pointing the weapon at customers and otherwise threatening them.

Video showed that this was not the case; the 911 caller was either misperceiving or lying. But it really didn't matter. Once police were dispatched, they were under the impression that they were to neutralize an "active shooter" -- or a potentially active shooter -- and once that determination was made, almost the only thing the police could do was to kill the suspect before he killed someone. They didn't make one of those famous "split second decisions" (though it will be claimed they did). The decision was made at dispatch, based on erroneous information in the 911 call and the protocols which the officers had trained in only the month before.

There was no active shooting. There was no shooting at all except by police immediately upon encountering John Crawford in the Beaver Creek WalMart. There were no threats to customers, Crawford did not raise the "weapon" -- ie: the unloaded BB gun -- toward anyone, and he did not seem to be aware in any way that his actions in the store with the gun might be interpreted as threatening. Why he was walking around the store with it will forever remain a mystery as John Crawford III is dead and can't tell us, but it's been pointed out many times that Ohio is an open carry state and it's perfectly legal for individuals to walk around pretty much anywhere carrying loaded real weapons. Crawford, therefore, was not doing anything illegal, though store security should have been tracking him -- because he picked up an unboxed BB gun from one department and carried it through several others, regardless of whether he was behaving in a "threatening" manner (he wasn't.) Store security interest would be primarily whether he tried to walk out of the store with the gun without paying. Sometimes they get silly about these things.

Police were told by 911 dispatch that there was a black man in the store, armed with an automatic weapon, who was waving it around, pointing it at customers and generally acting "threatening."

It was not true, but it was pretty much what Ronald Ritchie told the 911 operator. Was he merely misperceiving or was he being malicious? And why are 911 operators and dispatchers assuming the correctness of the information being reported? Why did Ritchie call 911 at all?

We've seen many, many deaths by police due to 911 calls by people asking for help with an obstreperous elder, a family dispute, a loved one in crisis. Over and over and over again, police respond to those calls and kill the trouble-maker. There are certain categories of people who the police are apparently trained to approach with deadly intent, and at any sign of non-compliance, they are expected or even required to use deadly force to control the threat.

But the "active shooter" response to John Crawford III seems somewhat different. He was not an active shooter, nor was he even a threat. Unfortunately for Crawford, it didn't matter because the 911 caller had expressed his feeling of being under threat by this black man with a gun (even if it was a BB gun from the store itself) and that, as they say, was that.

In "active shooter" situations, the police have been widely trained to "neutralize the threat" immediately. Ie: to kill first, no hesitation and no questions asked. That's what they did at the Beaver Creek Walmart, and to their way of looking at it, they did nothing wrong. They should get medals and parades. Right? It's the same mindset that soldiers had in Iraq: "neutralize the threat" -- even if there really isn't one, even if dozens of innocents are killed in the process. So long as there is the perception of a threat, the kill response is engaged until the "threat" is sufficiently neutralized, preferably dead.

It's crazy. It doesn't belong on the streets of the United States or in Walmarts. It's not really appropriate in foreign lands, either, where our troops and mercenaries have committed innumerable massacres of innocents due to a perception of a threat even when there isn't one.

In the case of John Crawford III, the "threat" was hearsay from one person. No one else was apparently aware of this supposed "threat" until after police arrived,  and then someone else died of a heart attack -- thanks to the panic in the store triggered by the police.

The police shot and killed John Crawford III immediately upon encountering him, as they are trained and expected to do when encountering an "active shooter" -- which John Crawford III wasn't, but that didn't matter. They thought he was or that he would potentially become one because of what they were told by dispatch based on erroneous information from a 911 caller.

That's all it took.

So many of the recent killings by police seem to follow a similar pattern: a call is made to 911, the caller reports something that triggers an "active shooter" (or potential) response by police, and they go out to the call and kill someone. They expect a medal and parade not the kind of outrage these incidents typically inspire.

Unfortunately in the United States, the "active shooter" situation is a real though relatively rare possibility. Guns proliferate and they are used or are accidentally fired far too often. Police tend to panic when they see a gun in proximity to a suspect, and too often respond to the perception of a gun with deadly force.

An incident in South Carolina is in the news because of that apparent perception. Levar Jones was shot (but not killed) by SCHP Lance Corporal Sean Groubert as he reached inside his vehicle to retrieve his wallet in order to produce the ID as Groubert had commanded him to do. According to Groubert's lawyer, Jones reached "aggressively" into the car, which was enough for Groubert to think (or imagine) that Jones was going for a gun, and therefor was justified in shooting him. Hell yes. "Reaching" is a prime offense according to police custom, a threat that must be neutralized with deadly force, and way too often is.

"Reaching" in police lore means that the subject is about to become an "active shooter." Reaching "aggressively" can only mean one thing: Gun!!! In the case of Levar Jones, he was reaching for his ID at the command of the officer, ID which he produced. It didn't matter. He was shot anyway. He was shot anyway when the officer became so frightened by the potential that this black man might become an "active shooter" that the only thing he could do was neutralize the threat by shooting Jones, even though there was no threat.

How many of the thousand or more who are killed every year by police in this country are killed because they trigger the "active shooter/active threat" response by police, a response that requires neutralizing the threat, whether or not there is a real threat?

The Guardian describes the kind of training that the officers involved in killing John Crawford III experienced a couple of weeks before the shooting:
A set of 11 slides from a presentation given to officers in the July session was made public by special prosecutor Mark Piepmeier, who presented the slides and other evidence to a grand jury in Greene County, which on Wednesday declined to indict Williams on criminal charges.
Piepmeier signalled that the slides may have been important to the decision. “A question I have, and I think a jury would have, is how are the officers trained to deal with a situation like that,” he told reporters.
He described the presentation as “almost like a pep talk for police officers,” which informed them: “You have to go after these things, you can’t ignore them”. They were told to rid themselves of the mindset that “it’s a bad day to be a cop” when confronting people who “have used, are using or are threatening to use a weapon to inflict deadly force on others”.
The implication is the police must kill. It is their prime directive in such situations, even when there is no real threat. Because there might be. The potential must be treated as if it were the actual, and the potential must be neutralized.

And that's one reason why there are so many police killings in this country, and why so rarely are police held to account or prosecuted for them. They are doing what they have been told and trained to do. The public largely has no awareness of this, they only see the consequences, and they rightly ask "why?"

Why did my loved one have to die?

The answer is disturbing. Your loved one had to die because of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine, Virginia Tech, and on and on and on and on. All those many massacres by lone gunmen, the ones that just keep happening no matter what. Your loved one had to die because police are being trained to see your loved one as a potential mass murderer who must be stopped from killing (more) even if he or she has never killed at all. Even potential suicides are treated this way, they're killed by police, again and again and again, even though they are a threat to no one but themselves. That's enough to trigger the kill response by police. The "threat" represented by suicide is treated exactly the same as that of a mass killer in the Mall somewhere.

"Neutralize the threat."

With deadly force.
Green County special prosecutor news conference:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

So the Upshot of the Marches and Demonstrations is Divestment?



As surely everyone on earth knows by now, there has been a vast outpouring of climate change activism in recent days, hundreds of thousands taking to the streets in New York alone, perhaps millions all over the world, showing solidarity with one another and demonstrating the breadth and depth of interest in doing something about the imminent peril represented by the specter of Climate Change.

And Behold: Our Betters have heard our cries.

There will be some changes made, starting with the divestment of dozens of investment funds and foundations (150 of them? More?) from fossil fuels.
That's a pretty big deal.

It seems to have come suddenly after decades of disinterest and denial by the high and the mighty regarding the constantly worsening climate chaos that has engulfed the world and already wiped out any number of species and plenty of the Rabble. Why now?

Perhaps they've been told forcefully enough for them to listen that there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide, and they had better get right with their minds or it's all over for them too?


Could be.

We'll see.

Meanwhile, Free the Polar Bear! Now!