Saturday, January 24, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Be not afraid...

Sunday, January 18, 2015

More on the Latest APD Killing - - and the MLK Weekend of Rage

The police have released a bit of body-cam video of the latest APD killing. It's disturbing from the outset because the officer involved is prominently displaying and using his automatic rifle during the incident.

The dead suspect, John Okeefe, was said to be armed with a replica old west Colt .45 revolver -- which he may or may not have been -- and he was said to be wearing body armor -- which he may or may not have been -- but even if so, the issue to me is that the police brought out the heavy weaponry and were marching around and firing in a populated neighborhood at rush hour. What's up with that?

Really, there was no concern for civilian casualties at all.

And this is all based on a report of "suspicious behavior" of two men behind a beauty salon? Something's wrong here.

The accounts of what happened are distinctly odd, to say the least, and there seems to have been a deliberate effort to obscure the participation/culpability of the other man involved. He was said to have been arrested, but according to other reports, he wasn't. He was transported to the hospital for assessment of dizziness and shortness of breath, and was released without charges.

According to police, the suspect Okeefe ran when confronted by police who were called to the scene of "suspicious behavior". According to police, the suspect Okeefe fired at officers as they pursued him. According to police, they didn't fire back. They say they lost track of the suspect Okeefe for a few minutes, then found him again running along the alley where he was eventually shot to death.

One of the citizen videos I posted links to in a previous post are alleged to show suspect Okeefe firing at officers, but they don't. In fact, it's impossible to tell from that video whether or not suspect Okeefe fires at all, or even if he has a gun.

It is, however, interesting to note that officer Fisher and officer Oates -- said to be the actual killers -- are not apparently the officers seen in the citizen video chasing suspect Okeefe in the alleyway. Officer Fisher is in fact on the other side of the shrubbery -- he starts out on the other side of the street -- and officer Oates (if I'm reading the stories right, and who can say about that, as I do get confused now and again...) is in the SUV that jumps the curb. So if I'm understanding it right, the officers chasing suspect Okeefe in the alley are not firing, whereas two other officers are firing, one out of camera view in the citizen video, and one arriving in the SUV.

[Note: I crossed out that particular paragraph because it was based on my initial misunderstanding of what the citizen video shows.]

Officer Fisher is apparently the officer running at the left of the scene, outside the shrubbery. It's not clear exactly when he fires at Okeefe, but it appears to happen while he is screened from view by trees. Another officer -- unidentified -- who is probably closest to Okeefe at that time suddenly backs away, no doubt due to the shots being fired. Officer Oates is not located, though he is likely in the scene. One report had it that Oates was in the SUV, but I've not found that report again, and I've seen no confirmation.


The one video released from officer Fisher also does not show the suspect Okeefe at all until after he is dead in the alley. It does not show him firing, though officer Fisher says he is firing. This may or may not be true, it's impossible to tell from the video, but given the frequency of police using the line "Stop resisting!!!" on unresisting suspects who have been tased or are being beaten, one would be wise not to take anything an officer says in a crisis/conflict situation at face value.

Officer Fisher's video doesn't show suspect Okeefe until sometime after he is shot dead and his corpse is surrounded by side-arm wielding officers. When we see Okeefe's body in the alley, he appears to be lying face down, what looks like a gun lying on the ground a foot or two away from his left leg.

The police claim Okeefe was wearing body armor, but that's not clear from the video at all. He appears to be wearing a black or gray shirt. That's all I can discern.

From the citizen video shot at a distance, it appears that Okeefe was trying to climb a resident's back wall to escape when he was shot and killed. There are several bullet holes in the wall. Probably more bullet holes in Okeefe, though.

The media has made a great show of "all the mug shots" of John Okeefe in order to make it seem as if he needed killing, and from certain theories of law enforcement and Führerprinzip, that's true enough. Get out of line, the man don't just come and take you away anymore, the man come and shoot your ass as likely as not.

There's a lot of "Darwinism" in the responses to police killings these days. Those who die, according to the "Darwin" fans have failed at survival of the fittest, too bad so sad. It's just "Nature" -- Natural Selection at work. Police are doing their part in cleaning up the riff-raff, "human garbage disposal" as one APD officer notoriously remarked about his job.

Both officers involved in the Okeefe shooting have had, shall we say, issues in the past. Officer Fisher has been repeatedly accused of use of excessive force, and the city has paid out more than $100,000 in settlements. Officer Oates was one of three officers who opened fire and killed a suspect in a carjacking in 2011.

Was this a "necessary shooting?" No, not at all. The idea that "suspicious activity" behind a beauty salon is worthy of a police chase and killing like this is just absurd. There was no threat to anyone at the time of the call to 911, not even a hint of it. When police arrived, one of the suspects ran. (I wouldn't be surprised if the other "suspect" was a cop, but that's another issue for another time.) The police say Okeefe fired at officers as he ran, but there is no concrete evidence it is so. Maybe he did, maybe he didn't, but even if he did,  does that automatically warrant a death sentence? On the street? Like that?

Many would say yes. They have been conditioned to believe that police are always justified in killing someone in self-defense. But in this case, even if Okeefe was firing -- and there is no proof that he was -- killing him in the alley like that makes no sense and clearly endangered others. It wasn't self defense, especially if Okeefe was trying to climb a wall to get away. The "race card" can't be used in this instance because Okeefe was Anglo, but because he had a long rap sheet, the killing was automatically justified in many people's minds, whether or not it was self-defense. Simply having a criminal record is enough for many to believe killing is the right remedy.

If this incident means that APD has gone back to its innate tendency to kill, it will mean a very difficult period for Burquenos ahead. When it seemed that maybe, just maybe, the killing had stopped, we may find it has been ratcheted up to a new level.

That would be a tragedy.

--------------------------------------------------
Reclaiming the real legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is a primary objective of this weekend's celebrations of his life and there are militant demonstrations all across the country asserting that Black Lives Matter and that Martin Luther King, Jr. was far from the rather bland pacifist he's been lionized by white folks as.

The Oakland Federal Building was barricaded for four hours and 28 minutes on Friday in a wonderful display of third world and white ally unity with #BlackLivesMatter. It was great.

Simultaneously with the action in Oakland, the BART stations from the Embarcadero to Powell Street in San Francisco were shut down.

In Boston, I-93 was shut down through the city, snarling traffic for hours.

Actions were taking place all day yesterday throughout the country. More are planned for today and tomorrow.

The protests over the egregious killing of Mike Brown -- and so many others -- have become a Movement to end police violence. The lists of demands are growing, and there is no sign that the protests will cease or that the protesters will back down. The issue is as straightforward as can be:

Justice where there is none, and an end to police violence where there is too much.

Whereas last year it seemed that the issue might not catalyze the public to action, this year it looks like the necessary action is almost certain.








Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Record Is Broken

The APD could not wait for six months without shooting and killing a suspect. Nope.

The day after Bernalillo County District Attorney Kari Brandenburg charged James Boyd's killers Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy with open counts of murder, other APD officers, now identified, chased down and killed one John Okeefe in an alley off a busy street.

They have said that Okeefe had at officers with a stolen revolver, and thus he needed killing, but witnesses say they didn't see Okeefe with a gun. The police have said that Okeefe was wearing body armor, but witnesses say they didn't see any body armor on his corpse moments after he was shot down.

According to reports, one of the shooting officers had a previous excessive force settlement, the other had shot and killed a carjack suspect in 2011. Whether these were the officers seen chasing Okeefe and heard firing in one citizen video has not been stated. Other officers arrived and may have been the ones who killed him, as at least one witness says that officers in an SUV were firing at Okeefe as well.

Police have said they had to cut the body armor off Okeefe to treat his wounds, but the body armor they have displayed publicly shows no verifiable cuts.
 
According to witnesses, Okeefe was not treated by either the police or by EMTs who arrived six to ten minutes after the shooting. His corpse was checked for a pulse and left in the alley.

One of the stories going around in the media claimed that two men were reported to police behaving "suspiciously" which triggered police pursuit. One "suspect" was quickly apprehended. The other ran away and fired at officers -- apparently with a stolen handgun, a working replica Colt .45 revolver -- according to police. One of the reports today says that the other man was arrested, but another story says he was transported to the hospital for assessment for feelings of dizziness, and then he was released.

I saw a video of the other man on a gurney being transported to an ambulance, and he looked to me to be a cop. I thought immediately that the whole thing might have been a sting, and that John O'Keefe was possibly targeted for a police assassination, perhaps in retribution for the recent police officers wounded in the line of duty, or even in some kind of sick retribution for charging Sandy and Perez for killing James Boyd.

The man who called police said that he saw the two men pass by his business and climb over a barrier in the rear. He had surveillance video. He went to check on what was up, and found a pile of what looked like expensive jewelry and other items -- not mentioned in any police report to date -- and thought he'd better call 911. Police arrived shortly and gave chase and John O'Keefe was killed.

It's all very strange.

Of course Okeefe was a convicted felon who needed killing. Isn't it always the way?

Meanwhile, the City Administrator barred DA representatives from the crime scene apparently in retaliation for charging Perez and Sandy for killing Boyd. Chess, eh?

Meanwhile, the blue on blue shooting the other day has raised plenty of questions -- such as why the lead detective fired and wounded another detective -- but there have been few answers.

The officer who was wounded two weeks ago has been released from the hospital to go home and get some rest.

Strange days.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Updated Blue on Blue -- and Perez and Sandy Are Charged With Murder

Well. This is really a mess. Though it is getting interesting... Kari Brandenburg, the Bernalillo County DA is charging the two officers who shot and killed James Boyd in March with an open count of murder.

According to the various highly incomplete accounts of the blue on blue shooting at the McDonald's on Central near Tramway in Albuquerque the other day, two suspects in a drug sting were riding in a Lexus driven by an undercover detective named Holly Garcia; sitting behind her was an undercover detective named Jacob Grant. The suspects were in the front and rear passenger seats. Garcia drove the car to the EconoLodge next to the McDonald's where one of the suspects obtained $60 worth of methamphetamine and sold it to one of the undercover detectives. Garcia then drove to the McDonald's parking lot and signaled the waiting undercover detectives to make the bust.

One of the waiting detectives was Lt. Greg Brachle. For reasons unknown, he apparently opened fire, severely wounding Jacob Grant and grazing Holly Garcia (as best as can be pieced together from the various reports at this point. The story is liable to change as more information is made public.) The suspects were apprehended and arrested by other detectives without incident, and while it is unknown whether the suspects were armed, they were not charged with any weapons offenses.

Well, this is all just too bizarre. Some are speculating that Grant was a target for assassination by Brachle, but why that should be so is anyone's guess, and it could involve any number of factors. On the other hand, there are reports that Brachle was the lead detective but did not attend the final operational meetings for the sting and may not have been aware that Grant was going to be in the car. He may have simply seen a gun and opened fire instinctively as officers so often do. The shooting may have therefore been yet another Tragic Accident.

Too many unknowns at this point.

But it is interesting that reports last month that Kari Brandenburg would file open murder charges against Dominique Perez and Keith Sandy for killing James Boyd last March are true.

Brandenburg has filed charges -- "informations" -- with the court today, and there will be a preliminary hearing open to the public to determine whether there probable cause to go forward with a trial.

The judge will make the determination. The judge could dismiss the charges at the preliminary hearing, or could send the matter to trial.

An open count of murder means there could be a verdict of anything between voluntary manslaughter and first degree murder. Of course there could also be an acquittal.

Few are convinced that 1) Brandenburg will vigorously pursue this case, 2) there will be a guilty verdict on any charge, 3) or even that the case will go to trial.

On the other hand, if it does go to trial, it is almost certain that Brandenburg or her deputy DA will put James Boyd on trial, as we've seen DAs do in similar cases by trying the victim rather than the killer (cf: Mike Brown) in front of grand juries.

Brandenburg, for her part, has never once ruled a killing by APD to be unjustified. So there is understandable skepticism that this gambit -- yet another highly unusual one in such cases -- will result in justice for James Boyd.

We'll see.

In a further interesting development, the Albuquerque Journal is reporting that homicides in 2014 were way down. Hm. How could that be given the fact that APD stopped killing people in July? Boggles the mind, it does.

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Blue on Blue



There have been two blue on blue police shootings in New Mexico in the last few months.

The first one, in Las Cruces, involved two Santa Fe County deputies who apparently got drunk on their way back from Arizona where they had deposited a prisoner. One shot the other in the back as he got on the elevator while talking on the phone with his girlfriend at the hotel where the the two officers were staying; the elevator went down to the lobby where the wounded officer was found by other hotel guests. The officer died of his wounds.

The shooter was taken into custody, but the reason for the shooting remains a mystery.

More recently, an undercover drug sting in Albuquerque went awry and two officers were apparently shot by another officer, one was critically wounded. The drug suspects were apprehended, apparently without a further incident.

This happened in the parking lot at a McDonald's around lunchtime, but as far as I can determine, none of the patrons witnessed the shooting itself, as it apparently took place behind the place, out of view of the folks inside having their McFood nuggets and such.

Nevertheless, it has caused quite a stir in the region because the whole thing seems so outrageous.

How two cops got shot by another in the course of apprehending two drug sting suspects over a $60 meth purchase is a mystery. "Under investigation...." Right. That it happened where and when it did is perhaps the more troubling for ordinary Burqueños. This location, on Central near Tramway, is a high traffic area, and a McDonald's at lunchtime is where a lot of people will be found, no matter where it is.

According to reports, the suspects were driven to the McDonald's parking lot by the undercover officer who shot the other two officers. Apparently the shooter, whose name has been inadvertently revealed, signaled the start of the apprehension to the officers waiting in the parking lot, they approached the car with their guns drawn, and she -- the shooting officer -- fired on them, lightly wounding one, critically wounding the other.

WTF?

Really, WTF?

Trigger happy police are so out of control, they're now firing on anything and anyone who "approaches" -- the term of art is "lunges at" -- them in a "threatening" manner, whether or not they are armed (often they are not), and now, apparently, whether or not they're on the same team...

WTF?

The oddness here -- among so many oddities and perfect lack of judgement -- is that all of the officers involved in this botched operation were long-time APD undercover detectives, and it is almost impossible to imagine that they didn't know one another and that the shooter couldn't recognize her compadres. Maybe they were masked. And further, the site of this shooting was the chosen site for the sting. Surely she knew that the other officers were there and waiting for her to arrive, and surely she would know they would approach the car with guns drawn, yelling obscenities, and all roided up.

At any rate... oops.

But it goes to the trigger-happiness police have been showing all over the place.

"Inappropriate."

In Billings, MT the other day, an officer who shot and killed an unarmed suspect while he was sitting in the backseat of a car the officer had stopped was ruled "justified" -- because the suspect (apparently tweaking) was moving around and didn't follow commands to keep his hands on the back of the seat in front. The video is quite clear that the suspect -- Richard Ramirez -- is posing no threat; the officer is the threat, indeed he is a clear and present danger to everyone's life and limb as he barks his commands with gun drawn and assuming a shooting stance.

Ramirez is apparently rattled -- gee, ya think? -- and tries to comply, but cannot; instead, he's agitated and obviously frightened to death. When he fails to comply with the officer's barked commands, the officer shoots him three times at nearly point blank range, and then inexplicably the officer continues to order his compliance or he will shoot Ramirez again. Ramirez, of course, is mortally wounded and could not physically comply if he wanted to.

This shooting of an unarmed suspect was the officer's second to be ruled "justified" because... something about hands, waistbands,  feared for his life, split-second decisions, that sort of thing.

"Inappropriate."

Inappropriate, but -- once again -- "justified."

How the APD will sort out the most recent police involved shooting -- the blue on blue misadventure at the McDonald's -- is anyone's guess at this point. The initial report by APD made it seem that somehow the suspects were shooting. It was only hours later that the emotional police chief, standing with the distraught mayor, said it was another officer who shot and critically wounded the undercover cop. It was hours after that that the public learned that yet another officer had been wounded in the incident.

So, it's clear they are prepared to dissemble and obfuscate in "piecing together what happened."

Unfortunately, because this dissembling and obfuscation is as standard as paid administrative leave in cases of police involved shootings, we may never know fully what happened or why.

But we will never forget it was "inappropriate."

Saturday, January 10, 2015

The Problem With Militarized Police

Several months ago, I broke down and bought Radley Balko's "The Rise of the Warrior Cop." Ordinarily, I wouldn't bother with Balko. I tangled with him over his lies, falsifications, and political agenda when he was at "Reason," and I have never had a high opinion of either his writing or his agenda.

Nevertheless, his focus on police abuse was timely, and his research, I thought, would be useful. Unfortunately, he started out with falsehoods within the first few pages, and his libertarian politics and agenda practically overwhelmed the book's narrative. For those who are into that kind of thing, I suppose it is fine, but I was unable to read the rest of the book.

The problem of militarized police and the warrior cop is deep-rooted in American history, and the transformation of police forces from ideals of protection and service to practices of armies of occupation is widely noted and condemned. Something happened, or so many observers speculate, with the initiation of the drug war in the 1980s and then again around 9/11/2001 to infect the police with ideas of occupation, revenge and murder.

In other words, the way police behave now is not the way they used to be, and they've changed their behavior to become much more brutal and warrior-like in order to combat "drugs" and to suppress a potential "terrorist uprising."

Well. Yes and no. Police warriorism has always been there, and certain communities have always been under implicit threat and explicit occupation by the cops. It was baked in at the outset of civil policing in America -- which for the most part derives from volunteer militias and slave patrols. Police have always behaved brutally toward certain populations, they have often resorted to murder. They lie routinely.

Statistically, there's probably somewhat less brutality and somewhat less killing by police nowadays than there was fifty years or a hundred years ago.

They've found that they can accomplish their objectives better with less overt and frequent resort to brutality and gunplay. This tends to highlight reports of brutality and murder by police because it is so relatively rare.

Drug war actions and terrorism suppression may be the psychological drivers of so much police brutality and murder these days, but there were other drivers in the past -- labor suppression, for example, enforcing Jim Crow and its many offshoots throughout the country, rounding up, confining and exterminating Indians, chasing outlaws. The romance of the country is filled with the lore and legend of military, police, militia and patrol actions from the very beginning of European settlement and seizure.

It's always been accompanied with an abundance of brutality and murder.

At one time, too, "militarization" of the police -- and society in general -- was not considered a bad thing at all. In fact, the military was widely admired for its order and organization, among other things, and many civilians believed that emulation of military principles and behavior was good thing, not a bad thing at all. I was raised at the tail end of that era.

Both my parents served in the military -- my father was in the service during both World War I and World War II, and he remained in the reserves through the Korean Conflict. My mother joined the Women's Army Air Corps during World War II.

Both admired the military greatly and they could not understand my refusal to either join or be drafted in the mid-1960s. My objections to the military and its use by politicians to enforce imperialism and neo-colonialism in Southeast Asia made no sense to them. They really believed that the military actions abroad were saving us from facing hordes of Orientals and Communists invading at home, and that it was the duty of all young men to join or be drafted into the service of their country. It did not occur to them to question that point of view, and they were outraged when I did.

To them, the military was a form of utopia, an ideal society, from which nothing but good emanated.

The idea of militarizing the police got going very early among idealists as well. The civil police have been quasi military from the beginning, and their military trappings were -- and still largely are -- welcomed. The more they resemble the military in bearing and action, the more they are admired by many segments of the population.

That was true a century and more ago and it still is.

And yet many people object to the militarization of the police and the warrior cops that seem to be running rampant these days.

The problem, in my view, is not so much the militarization of police -- that actually might still be a good thing, but I'll try to explore that idea a bit more later -- as it is the inappropriate use of police, the rampancy of their behavior and the impunity with which they are allowed to act and use force.

"Inappropriate."

I've repeatedly mentioned the insane theories of Dave Grossman and his "killology" as part of the foundation of why the police are the way they are today. In Grossman's mythology and imagination, which he asserts with absolute certainty in a nearly religious ecstasy, the police-warriors (he sees little or no separation between the military and police) are sheepdogs protecting the flock (that would be you'n'me) from the wolves who would prey upon us with impunity were it not for the righteous intervention of the police and military. To Grossman and his acolytes and devotees, the highest accomplishment a cop or a troop can achieve is to kill in righteous battle. That is, so he opines, what they live for.

But he also said this:

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours. [Emphasis mine]
Except we know something has gone terribly wrong, don't we? Every. Single. Day. Multiple times a day, the police-warriors brutalize, wound, shoot, and kill "sheep" -- every single day. They are almost never removed or punished when they do. Many times they are rewarded and praised for killing the innocent, or for brutalizing whomever they choose whenever they choose.

His theory is that the sheepdog warrior-police would never, could never, harm or hurt the sheep they are protecting from the wolves who would prey on them without mercy, but the protests are due to the fact that police ARE harming and hurting the innocent sheep every single day, and they're getting away with it almost every single time.

"Inappropriate."

This is the problem and the issue that has led to so much outrage, protest, resistance and revolt. Police are behaving not like "sheepdogs" protecting the flock but like wolves preying on them/us. THAT is the problem, and it seems to be one that police in their self-righteous bubbles cannot fathom or understand.

"Inappropriate."

At least a third of the people police kill every year are unarmed. At least a third are mentally ill or suicidal. These killings may be ruled "justified," but are they appropriate  or  necessary? Probably not. SWAT teams are sent to serve warrants. Is it appropriate? Is it necessary?  Probably not, especially when simple warrant service turns into a violent home invasion in which occupants are brutalized, wounded or killed. It's not appropriate. It's insane.

Meeting nonviolent protesters in the street with military hardware and costumes and with snipers at the ready is not appropriate, it's insane.

Sending snipers to deal with people in crisis -- to kill them, summarily execute them -- is not appropriate, it's insane.

Demanding that people obey commands that are contradictory or are impossible for the individual to hear or understand or for which they are given no time to comply is not appropriate, it's insane.

Treating mental illness, drug addiction, homelessness, or other disabling conditions as criminal is not appropriate, it's insane.

These and many more inappropriate actions on the part of the police are all matters of policy. They can be changed overnight.

These policies for the most part are not military policies, they are driven by civil demands on the police for crime reduction and for "order."

In practice, however, they resemble some of the military's behavior during the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan where inappropriate, arbitrary and bloody reactions to native unrest -- or simple day to day life -- was frequent and often went unpunished.

Yet some of the military's actions overseas were derived from domestic civilian policing.

We can't say that the inappropriate behavior of the police at home is due to the militarization of police forces. The problem is more complex. There is interplay between military and police to be sure, but the focus on militarization of police may be misplaced.

The focus needs to be more directly on the inappropriate behavior of police and the impunity with which they are allowed to behave. Those are policies which can be changed -- essentially by directive and very quickly.

Militarization, on the other hand, is woven in to the whole fabric of policing and is not likely to go away as long as domestic police forces exist.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Interestingly...

As everyone in the whole wide world knows, several police officers have been shot and some have been killed in the past few days, their deaths attributed by police unions and political interests with protests against police violence or with Muslim terrorist-extremists.

The narrative is set in concrete, and interestingly, it's been playing out with almost clockwork regularity around the country and abroad.

When police get wounded or killed it's a huge story -- in part because it is so very rare. Police unions would have you believe that they are shot at and killed, or assaulted and injured by "thugs" every day, and it's just not true. Police work is not especially dangerous at all, and the number of police killed in the line of duty is at nearly an all-time low.

Yet police would have you believe otherwise.

Interestingly, too, the latest rash of police getting shot -- and a few killed -- has had a suprising upshot (so to speak.) The man who killed the officers in Brooklyn was black and they say he shot and killed himself in a nearby subway station after killing the cops. There will be no apprehension or trial, the man is dead.

A cop was shot and wounded in Albuquerque the other day, and the shooter got away on foot after being shot at eight times by the wounded officer. The video from the officer's body cam was dramatic to say the least.

An APB went out to be on the lookout for a skinny white or light-skinned Hispanic man in his 20s or 30s, and a couple of days later a suspect was apprehended staggering around not too far from where the officer was shot. He was taken into custody without incident.

Two plainclothes officers were shot while investigating a robbery in progress in the Bronx, New York the other day; three suspects, all Hispanic were sought. One was apprehended without incident.

In Paris, two officers were shot and killed by "Muslim terrorist-extremists" and the three gunmen got away. One turned himself in the next day without incident.

Amazing. Think about it. In these incidents, four officers were killed and three were wounded. One suspect is dead, they say by his own hand. Three suspects have been apprehended without incident; three or four are still at large.

Yet all over the country unarmed and/or non-threatening individuals suspected of no crime are routinely --statistically on a daily basis -- shot and killed by police.

It's truly insane.

Somehow, non-blacks suspected of killing or wounding police officers can be apprehended, even put on trial, whereas blacks doing nothing illegal (John Crawford III, Tamir Rice, among so many, many others) are shot on sight or shot while trying to comply with officers commands.

Police are apparently so hopped up on steroids and so terrified of blacks they kill them on sight, simply because there might be a threat.

All lives matter except black lives in today's police culture.

That's the issue protests are addressing.

That's the issue public policy makers and police refuse to acknowledge.

That's why protest must continue.

When it's as obvious has it has been lately that killings by police are not necessary, even in cases where officers have been killed or wounded, and so many of the victims of police killings are black men who are essentially shot on sight, everyone needs to pay attention and insist on change.

There is no alternative.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

And Another Thing -- Imagining a World Without Police

Tens of millions of Americans have been forced into poverty since the implosion of the economy in 2008. Millions continue to be forced into poverty by economic design and government policy. As many have come to realize, this is happening because the government of the US -- and most of the rest of the world as well -- is captive to a tiny and shrinking cohort of super-wealthy, the nearly god-like 1% (it's actually a much smaller cohort than that), against whom the 99% have been struggling for years.

The impoverishment of so many in part to maintain the power and wealth of the very few has meant that the police function has been modified to ensure the Rabble never rise in rebellion enough to jeopardize the wealth or power of those very few who rule.

Ever.

The police don't just suppress crime, or what they call "crime," they actively enforce rules that maintain those in power against any serious opposition.

Since the economic collapse and the subsequent impoverishment of so many millions, the role of the police in suppressing the Rabble's many rebellions has been highlighted at home and around the world. Part of the process of suppression involves killing designated Others on a fairly regular, almost routine, schedule.

The killing is a form of psychological warfare which can be effective, at least in the short term.

It's primary purpose is to put the fear of lethal consequences in the masses by periodically demonstrating what the police are capable of. It has the appearance of arbitrary killing -- which is the point. Fear is a means of control.

The idea is for the People to become docile and obedient sheep.

But what happens when the sheep say, "Stop it! No more!"

We've seen over the past nearly a year now -- since the demonstrations against the killing of James Boyd in Albuquerque -- that those in power and the police who serve them are flummoxed. They don't know what to do -- except to do more of what they've been doing, which makes things worse, not better.

So they try the opposite accommodationist tack which backfires because nobody believes them.

Now we're in a situation where there is a national movement to curb police violence, over policing and mass incarceration (all are related) and on the margins, at least from appearances, individuals are taking matters into their own hands to impose some of the arbitrary violence on police that they have been imposing on communities for ages.

This situation has the makings of an open civil war.

Some people, of course, would get off on such an eventuality, but at any given time, most people would be deeply opposed. It is unlikely that the People would win a direct confrontation in any case.

Instead, I believe something subtler is necessary.

Start with imagining a world without police, without the brutality and burden of over-policing, and without the systemic abuses of mass-incarceration.

Admittedly, this is not a mainstream vision at all, though there have been many working on envisioning such a future for many years.

Angela Davis has written (65pg pdf) and spoken extensively on the topic of prison abolition.

Her sister, Fania Davis, is a strong advocate of Restorative/Reparative Justice as an alternative to the punitive justice system that is so grossly out of whack and destructive today.

Peter Gelderloos is an anarchist theorist and writer who sees the that time is right to end the regime of cruelty and destruction that the police have become and abolish them altogether.

"Another World Is Possible." 

Isn't it?

There are plenty of non-police community-based models for handling disputes and certain crimes which are being employed more or less widely in parallel with, often in collaboration with, the mainstream justice system -- which more and more is being seen as a system of gross injustice.

Alternatives to prison are widely employed as well. It is not as if we don't have any means to break the stranglehold of violent policing, over policing and mass incarceration, it is more that there is a deeply entrenched power-and-money interest in maintaining things just the way they are -- or increasing the destruction caused by the current system.

It's a terrible cycle to be on. The only way off it that I know of is to break free. Refuse to be part of it.

To be successful, refusal has to come from many directions at once, and that is a part of what we're seeing in the #BlackLivesMatter movement which came to national attention after the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO last August.

Many threads of rebellion and resistance are being woven together.

Alternative paths are being found.

Many of those involved are still dependent on police and the system they are part of and support, but many others are exploring alternative means and methods of defining and finding

DIGNITY, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, and PEACE

Authority is scrambling for relevance without resorting to -- too much -- violence and brutality, but their tool-kit has been deliberately restricted to sadistic repetitions of scenes of brutality and bloodshed. 

When they see use of force as the only option, they have basically lost the contest, much as American troops have done in their various wars and occupations overseas. 

They may win battle after battle, but they cannot with the contest with the violent means they have chosen and they seem unable to imagine (that word again) anything else. Doctrine forbids it.

The People, however, are under no such restriction to violence alone, and in fact, for the most part, the People won't resort to violence at all.

Instead, they will do something else -- they will refuse, reject, and rebel against the continuation of the destruction brought on by the current models of policing. They will adopt and utilize alternatives. They will demand the reform or the abolition of the police as we know them. They will march and protest and demonstrate and demand. 

And some will imagine a world in which the current system of injustice is gone.

"A Better World Is Possible."


Tuesday, January 6, 2015

In Addition to A World Without Police Killing

Some of the more radical and driven activists are talking about, writing about, and envisioning a world without police.

This is, I have little doubt, a co-concept of Angela Davis's Prison Abolition movement, her sister's Reparative Justice movement and similar threads of de-institutionalization that I would characterize as aspects of the slogan I have been promoting for several years now:

DIGNITY, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, PEACE
During the BlackOUT Collective's action at the Oakland (CA) Police Fortress-Headquarters in December, a banner was unfurled stating:  

STRONG COMMUNITIES 
MAKE POLICE OBSOLETE
Banner at Oakland Police Headquarters-Fortress, December, 2014
The action itself, an intentional blockading of the Police Headquarters in Oakland, was striking, indeed stunning. It's an action I've suggested a few times as an option in Albuquerque if nothing happened to change the bloodthirsty and murderous police culture that once predominated in the city, but it was actually considered "too radical" a step by some of those involved in activism against police violence in the Duke City.

Not only did the BlackOUT Collective and their allies blockade the Police Headquarters and unfurl banners and otherwise make a case for different/less/no policing, they held at least some of the ground at the facility for four and a half hours, while police held back a growing crowd of onlookers and supporters across the street. 

The police cleared doorways so that access and egress were possible, but apart from threatening the protesters and arresting a few of them, they did nothing untoward, quite the contrast to the way they have behaved elsewhere, even in neighboring Berkeley as noted in the previous post below. Quite a contrast to the way the police have behaved in Oakland, truth to tell.

They did not attack the demonstrators. Those arrested were released almost immediately rather than being held and brutalized at Santa Rita the way so many have been. Obviously, something had happened to change the minds of the police regarding protest actions in Oakland.

But what, and why?

I suspect that direct orders went out, either from the City Administrator or the police chief to stand down. To let the protest play out. And to treat the protesters with human decency and respect. I don't know why. Police have never to my knowledge paid the least attention to the optics of their behavior toward protesters, in Oakland and Berkeley especially. They have committed gross acts of violence against nonviolent protesters regularly and with complete impunity. It's part of their tradition and culture going back to student and labor revolts of the mid-20th Century.

But this time they didn't act the way they usually do, they didn't use their crowd suppression toys, and they didn't cause the kind of mayhem they so often do. They stood back -- for the most part -- and let the action unfold, until, at the end of the four and a half hours, they let the last of the protesters climb down from the flagpole and march off the grounds of the Police Headquarters-Fortress, and it was over. 

No one got hurt, no one got killed, no one was gassed or beaten to a bloody pulp. Statements were made, and that was that.

In other words, the police were demonstrating too. They were demonstrating that even when their Forts are the targets of protesters, they can behave rationally and in a more or less civil manner, that they don't have to respond with violence to every perceived threat. 

What a concept.

BlackOut Collective was conceptually going farther, however, to the elimination of police altogether.

Those who study the topic more than I have point out that modern policing in the US derives from Colonial era and later slave patrols, militias for the removal/extermination of Indians, and private anti-labor armed forces organized and deployed for the purpose of suppressing the 19th Century Labor movement. 

In other words, police have always been in service to power, wealth, and a racist status quo. They do not serve and protect the People. They can't. They exist to serve and protect the wealthy and their property from the People, and they always have. 

Officer Friendly is a deliberate lie. No such person ever existed except in fantasy and mythology. 

Police brutality is baked in to the way police forces have historically operated in this country, as is police killing of civilians, as is the corruption that seems to be a universal aspect of policing in America.

There appears to be no way to reform police more than marginally. 

They can and do change their behavior based on pressure from above or below, but the problems of over-policing -- and its brother mass incarceration -- remain, no matter how the police act. 

 So what can be done?

More and more are coming to the conclusion that the answer is to abolish police and abolish prisons. 

Doing that means reinvigorating communities, empowering them, and integrating various forms of social problem and conflict resolution with the every day operations of the community.

DIGNITY, JUSTICE, COMMUNITY, PEACE

Something like that was supposed to happen with the movement to de-institutionalize the mentally ill, beginning in California in the late '60s and continuing throughout the country in from the 1980s onwards. Community mental health care services have never come close to meeting the needs of communities and the mentally ill. Consequently, de-institutionalization has meant that mental illness has been criminalized and the mentally ill, left to fend for themselves, have been made homeless or the primary denizens of local jails in a kind of revolving parade in and out of the local lockups -- where there are no services. 

From time to time, a mentally ill individual is beaten or shot to death by rampaging or fear-ridden police.

For them, there is no dignity, there is no justice, there is no community, and there most definitely is no peace.

The problem with providing services for de-institutionalized prisoner and de-policed citizens would be similar to the problem of providing mental health care services.

The providers would be looking to do as little as possible for as few as possible for as much money as possible. There would never be enough money to pay for enough service to those who need it. 

There are many problems with the over-policing and mass incarceration models of today, and they are hugely expensive, in many areas, policing and prisons are the biggest budget items by far. Community based services would be far less expensive, at least in theory. 

But would those services be provided? Could they be, given the way the public sector is organized and the way service providers operate? I would say it's highly unlikely, and different form of organizing communities and services is necessary.

We can't leave it up to paid consultants, elected representatives, and appointed administrators to do what is necessary. The communities themselves have to come together to make the required provisions -- whether the issue is mental health care or anything else.

The task is much bigger than simply getting rid of police or emptying the jails and prisons.

 Community building from the bottom up has to come first.

In future posts, I hope to get more deeply into some of the ideas and models that have been put forth as potential methods of doing away with police and prisons. Something has to be done about the multiple crises of homelessness, mental health care, over-policing and mass incarceration. Ending the patterns of abuse and killing that go with these crises is a good first step, but it's not enough.

I question whether Americans are prepared to come to grips with what is necessary, however.

Time will tell...
 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Nah, They Just Worshiping at They Temple

Of Dunkin Donuts.




Time to end the nonsense, but De Blasio is not the one to do it, methinks. Bratton won't do it.


Comrades!



Until today, I hadn't watched any video of the takeover of Wheeler Hall at UC Berkeley when Peter Thiel, noted billionaire reactionary founder of PayPal, was pontificating on stage before a rapt audience of devotees.

Reminds me just a little of this:


And this is how the cowards of the Berkeley PD respond to nonviolent protest:



Fear-driven, roid-raging, violent cowards.


Friday, January 2, 2015

Imagine A World Without Police Killing, Discipline and Punishment

In the general scheme of things, the crisis of violent policing would have been consigned to the scrap-heap of "yesterday's news" -- but for the continuing litany of outrageous incidents of police abuse and murder that pepper the airwaves and internet.

The killings continue, day in and day out, at the rate of about 90-100 a month, and the rates of abuse and general violence by police stay much the same as well. There are hundreds of thousands of assaults by police every year.

It's been so routine for so long, many people take the situation and natural and normal, believing as a stern parent might that some people simply need killing, or at the very least they need discipline and punishment, or the world will descend into chaos and disorder.

We wouldn't want that, would we?

Besides, "9/11"!

And yet.... there's  a nagging suspicion that all this death and mayhem committed by police isn't really necessary. Chaos is created by a culture of impunity and a belief in omnipotence that seems to run through police departments like a viral disease, infecting the entire apparatus of policing in this country, top to bottom and coast to coast.

There is a nagging suspicion that something is dreadfully wrong, and somebody ought to do something about it before it gets worse.

Some people are willing devotees to the current police culture of impunity and omnipotence, however. They seem to sincerely believe we need the discipline and punishment the police administer -- at such risk to their own lives, don't ya know -- and that without it, civilizations would grind to a screeching halt. It's well-known that people are incapable of looking out for their own safety and well-being. "9/11!"

Thousands died. How many more might be dead today if the police didn't bag their quota of Bad Guys?

How many?

We don't know. Until recently, we didn't know just how many were being killed by police every year. We may have heard the figure of "400 or so" as reported by the FBI, but that seemed to be low. We didn't know how low until sites like "Killed by Police" started keeping records of police killings based on "corporate media reports."

"Killed by Police" admits their record isn't complete. Corporate media reports police killings in local markets, but they don't necessarily report all of them, and translating the local reports of police killings into a national database is a daunting task. Nevertheless, "Killed by Police" provides the most comprehensive and up to date database of police killings we have.

The numbers are shocking. The "400 or so" killed by police annually that media had widely cited for years is wildly inaccurate. "Killed by Police" recorded "at least 1,100" dead in 2014, and that's based on corporate media reports only. Not all reports are in the database, not all are accurate, and not all have been followed up on, so even this statistic is probably short of the mark.

The site acknowledges as much and makes up for some of the probable shortfall by including deaths of civilians by traffic accidents involving police, by including the murder-suicide and other domestic killings by police, and by including some reports that may later turn out to be erroneous or false. It's very raw data in other words which should be looked at as such and not be taken as gospel.

Nevertheless, at least 1,100 dead is far more than the "400 or so" some media are still reporting as the official number of those killed by police. Far more.

How many of those are unarmed?

I did a quick and dirty analysis the other day, and was shocked to find that about 1/3rd of the victims are unarmed by any sensible estimation. Police often claim that anything a person is holding or presumed to be holding is a weapon, therefore, anything perceived to be in a victim's hand can be used to justify the killing of that person. They also consider any vehicle driven by the viction when he or she is shot and killed to be a lethal weapon (that could be) used to run down or run over police. They will often falsely state that the victim tried to run down or run over police, when in fact the victims may have been trying to escape a deadly situation and were not trying to run anybody down or over.

Not only were about a third of the victims unarmed when they were killed by police, a third seemed to be in a mental health crisis or suicidal, a third were involved in domestic disputes, and only a very few were engaged in criminal activity that required use of lethal force. And even then, alternative, non-lethal approaches to the situation were certainly possible.

So why are there so many killings by police?

I've long maintained that 90% of the killings by police -- or more -- are unnecessary  and would not take place in a rational policing environment. Hundreds of millions of dollars are paid out by civic bodies to survivors and loved ones of people killed and brutalized by police every year, a tacit acknowledgement that something is dreadfully wrong in general policing practices that leave so many dead and injured.

Something is dreadfully wrong, and there is now a National Conversation about what it might be.

Who knows? Apparently most people haven't even thought about it before now. Most people never encounter lethal police force, and so it doesn't occur to them that there might be a use of force problem within police culture.

As long as they consider themselves to be safe, why should they be worried, right?

They should because the impunity with which police are allowed to kill and brutalize means that anyone, at any time, can become a victim.

Which of course is the point of the discipline and punishment role the police have been given in society.

The fact that anyone can become a victim at any time, by accident or design, is a means of maintaining order of a sort, a deliberate ploy to ensure that as few people as possible get out of line or fail in their duty to conform.

So long as the killing is confined to those who need the most discipline and punishment -- ie: communities of color, poor people of any color, the mentally ill, the suicidal, the drunks and drug addicts, the homeless -- why should "normal" people be concerned about what the police do?

So few good white people are killed by police every year. Those who are killed, as their many mug shots show, needed killing or they wouldn't have all those tattoos, they wouldn't have mug shots at all.

It's circular reasoning. The ones who get killed are so often described as "known criminals" -- and they almost always come from targeted populations as listed above wherein nearly everyone is criminalized by default.

What would happen if the killing stopped?

That's what we've got to think about and come to grips with.

What would happen if the police culture of impunity and omnipotence were replaced with one of service and responsibility?

What a concept, right?

A test case is underway in Albuquerque.

After the outrageous killing of James Boyd in March of 2014, enough of the people rose up to say "Stop!" that civic authorities actually had to listen. They had long maintained that there was nothing wrong, that the killings were all perfectly in order, and only cranks and criminals were complaining about them.

Only they were wrong.

Because the police were killing almost randomly, shooting off their weapons wildly, and executing people in the streets and open spaces for... sassing? Failure to comply? Being homeless,mentally ill, black, brown, or tattooed? Being a known criminal?

 What was going on?
 
No matter what the circumstances or facts, every single killing by police in Albuquerque was justified by the DA. And yet tens of millions of dollars were awarded to the survivors and loved ones of those killed in tacit acknowledgement that -- just maybe -- the killings were neither justified nor necessary.

The killing of James Boyd made it impossible to maintain the status quo. As the mayor put it, "This is a game changer."

And so it was.

Demonstrations and protests -- which had been going on sporadically for years -- intensified and at one point came close to shutting the city down. A city council meeting was taken over. The mayor's office was taken over. The freeway was shut down and several police substations were vandalized.

The DoJ released its long-delayed report on the pattern and practice of Albuquerque's police department and it was scathing. "Unconstitutional" was putting it kindly.

Something had to change, but what and how?

First of all, the killing had to stop. But after the release of the DoJ report, there was a spike in police killings of civilians. Five or six were killed between the killing of James Boyd in March and the cessation of APD killings in July.

But... APD has ceased killing. Their last recorded killing was on July 22, 2014, when Jeremy Robertson was chased through a field by members of the Repeat Offenders Project and SWAT officers and was shot and killed by snipers -- who had shot and killed four others in the past --  as he was climbing a fence to get away.

STOP!!!

And they did. There have been only two officer-involved killings in Albuquerque since then and they were committed by sheriff's deputies.

So. We have a test case regarding what happens when the police stop killing people. So far, the city has not descended into chaos and mayhem.

Imagine it. The APD stopped killing people in July, and the world had not ended. Could it possibly be that killings by police are not essential to the conduct of their jobs? How amazing.

Imagine it. NYPD throws a temper tantrum and stops writing summonses and tickets for petty offenses, says it will only make arrests when "absolutely necessary." How wonderful! The city abides. The world does not end.

Can it be? Little boys actually don't have to be killed by police on playgrounds? Black men holding unloaded air rifles or imitation samurai swords aren't existential threats? Who knew?

Is it possible that civilization can survive if police aren't delegated to discipline and punish the slightest infraction? They don't have to hogtie and jail four year olds?

Whoa.

Imagine a world without police killing, discipline or punishment.

It's a radical thought, I know, but we might just get there...


Thursday, January 1, 2015

#BlackLivesMatter Propaganda and Testimony

Speaks for itself



I would only add that I am well aware that I benefit from white privilege every single day, as I have my entire life. I have personally witnessed incidents like those described and I have heard testimony from many people who have never had the benefit of white privilege, and I have been strongly affected by what I've witnessed and heard. There are some things that are just wrong, and one of them is targeting/profiling on the sole basis of skin color -- which is what police departments and private security are trained and expected to do. Do not believe their denials. They lie.

I have also witnessed disparate sentencing for exactly the same crime. Black and brown people are sentenced to jail, white people -- who have committed the same crime get probation or community service in lieu of jail.

This is wrong. This has to stop, but most white people don't even know it goes on. They have no idea because it doesn't affect them. They assume that all the black and brown people in jail and prison are there because of all the criminality among those people -- but that's not the way it is. They are in jail or prison because that's the way plea bargaining and sentencing works in this country of injustice: black and brown people are sentenced to jail regardless of what they've done or not done; white people are not. They may not even be charged with crimes they've committed, thus they may never wind up in court to plead out and be sentenced.

It's a royally fucked up system. It is a systemic problem of disparate injustice. It is fundamentally racist, classist and sexist.

Tré Melvin is telling the truth, and it is a hard truth for many white people to grasp or understand -- unless they've seen it for themselves and have the compassion to recognize that racism and injustice  is inherent in the system itself. So many people are invested in this system that it is almost impossible to change, but that was the case with slavery and Jim Crow too.  Yet they were changed... well, incompletely and insufficiently, but they were changed.

As for the killing, I want it to stop.

Demands and Propaganda



Ferguson Action Demands — aqui
New York Justice League Demands — aqui
#BlackLivesMatter National Demands– aqui
Occupy the Police St. Louis Demands — aqui
Propaganda — 2015 Year of Resistance 

I’m sure there are more lists of demands and much more propaganda, but I’m holding on to these lists and the image of stopped traffic on (I believe it is) I-80 outside Berkeley CA for posterity.

We’ll see how much gets done.

The thing is, of course, that Power concedes nothing without a demand, and Power will concede only insofar as it must to shut the loudmouths and troublemakers up.

Power will use every trick in the book to neutralize troublemakers and loudmouths who won’t shut up.

This movement is in for the long haul — it’s been going for months already, and there’s no sign of backing down or shutting shop. It has become more and more integral to oppressed communities, and by being creatively disruptive it’s caused a lot of people to wake up and recognize that there is a problem with police violence — and maybe somebody should do something about it.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

St Louis Today

RebZ's view of protesters escorted by police, the Arch and Old Courthouse, St. Louis, 31 Dec 2014.

What I Learned This Year -- Part The Third

Activism works.

Of course I knew that from long experience, but we have been living under a system which insists that only "approved" activism works. Color revolutions only, you see?

The revolt against police violence and abuse seemed to take the Powers That Be by surprise (putting it mildly), and they still haven't figured out what to do about it. My sense of the situation has been that they will try to crack down, hard and all at once, much as they did with Occupy, but something tells me now, before the New Year, that they may try a different tactic:

Taking out or buying off the "leaders" who aren't slippery enough to escape their grasp.

I've seen many signs of it already.

The massing of military style police forces, just like an occupying army would do, after James Boyd was killed in Albuquerque, then after Mike Brown was killed in Ferguson, along with the massing of police-troops all over the country to counter the protests that ensued became something of an embarrassment to Our Rulers given the constant rhetoric about freedom of expression and assembly and so on.

No, it wouldn't work.

Military-style forces were told to stand down, and for the most part they did, though in St. Louis they were held in reserve "just in case" the Negroes got too far above themselves. Faith leaders and even the New Black Panthers were recruited to manage the protest crowds instead. The police continued their false claims of being fired on and assaulted by members of the crowds of protesters, but for the most part, protests went on relatively unimpeded, except when the feelings of the police were hurt -- as in Berkeley (CA), Oakland (CA), New York, and St. Louis, where the po-po are always butt-hurt over something or other.

Direct assaults against protests were limited; the snatch and grab tactic along with arrests and/or smears of protest "leaders" were substituted. By taking out the most outspoken or the most eagerly followed activists, it was thought that the protests would collapse. Didn't happen though.

I remember at one point, Antonio French, who was seen as a leader of the protest movement -- he isn't though -- was arrested and held for quite a while, but it only further inflamed the protests, it didn't cause them to collapse. That was because Antonio French wasn't leading the protests.

A concerted effort was launched to smear Mustafa Hussein who had been valiantly livestreaming the protests for Argus Radio News.  So far as I can tell at this point, Mustafa has stepped back and is no longer in the vanguard of livestreamers from Ferguson. He was clearly hurt by the smears and other assaults he faced. But it didn't end the livestream coverage of the protests. If anything, there are more streamers now.

Another livestreamer, Bassem Masri, is currently being smeared. He's also been arrested a number of times on bogus charges, and there have been reports that he's been offered "something" to turn against the protesters or to serve as a mole of some sort. Whether any of that is true, I don't know. But he's still out there covering the actions as best he can, and not solely in Ferguson and St. Louis. He's been traveling quite a bit around the country, and has made a number of mainstream television appearances.

An outspoken member of the Ferguson Commission was arrested for something, I forget what, the day after he was at the White House meeting with the President; another outspoken activist was arrested for arson and burglary for setting fires the night Antonio Martin was killed in Berkeley (MO).

A livestreamer in Los Angeles, Bryan Hayes, was run down by a driver from Rhode Island the other night -- no consequences to the driver, apparently. The running down/running over of protesters has become one of the "things" anti-protesters do, as the protests have been blocking streets and freeways as civil disobedience tactics.

Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of protesters have been arrested since August. Some have been charged with felonies for trivial offenses. That too is part and parcel of the government tactics against this uprising

There have been reports that all of the protest "leaders" are being monitored by the FBI -- COINTELPRO on steroids.

The primary tactic, however, appears to be to wait out the protests on the premise that they will go away on their own. A few bones will be thrown now and again to divert attention from the problem of police violence and abuse, but nothing substantive will change.

Except that substantive changes are being made in the way the country is policed, and radicals are actually proposing and here and there implementing alternatives that will eliminate police as we have grown accustomed to them.

Big changes are afoot.

Peter Gelderloos has written a pretty profound manifesto regarding "A World Without Police." Whether we'll get there, I don't know. But his insight and powerful rhetoric on the topic will have an influence, no doubt.

Albuquerque's police culture appears to have changed dramatically in the last several months. New York's police unions are focusing on change there. We're seeing the spread of change throughout the national policing culture. Activism works.

It is a profound lesson that needs to be relearned from time to time.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I Learned This Year: Part The Second

Needless to say, the main social issue this year has been that of police violence and murder.

The issue has been an important one to me since I worked on the problem of police brutality in Sacramento from 1996-1998. The project there was spearheaded by the NAACP local organization -- the National wouldn't support it, as the problem of police brutality was not one they thought was all that important in those days. We documented hundreds of cases of police brutality and disrespect, however, and we used that information to press for changes in police culture that would reduce violence against civilians by the Sacramento Police Department. It was a long struggle, and it was only partially successful. For example, we didn't get a civilian review board, but we did get an "independent monitor" whose job it was to investigate claims of police brutality and recommend action.

The issue in Sacramento was never police killings as they were and are relatively rare. Instead, we were dealing with a tradition of violent policing, a tradition that probably went back to the vigilance committees of the Gold Rush era, and a tradition that primarily -- but not exclusively -- impacted communities of color. Certainly during the Black Panther era, Sacramento's police department went on a rampage against the black community. By the late 1990's some of that violence had dissipated, but black men were still prime targets for police brutality.

Community policing was becoming the standard and we sought means to make it happen in Sacramento. And behold, the new police chief, Arturo Venegas, was on the same wavelength. Introduction of community policing reduced the incidence of police violence by some 60% or more, and the presence of a monitor has helped reduce it further. The point is that when police know the people they're dealing with and know the communities, and they know they are being watched and will be held to account for their actions, their use of violent means and methods against civilians declines. Sure enough, it works.

When I moved to New Mexico in 2012, I wasn't really aware of the culture of violence among the local police forces, particularly Albuquerque's, but soon enough I became aware, as reports of police violence and killing were constant. There were the reports of  'anal probing,' in custody assaults and killings, mayhem on the highways. It was just amazing. Wild West didn't begin to describe it.

In Albuquerque, it seemed there were police shootings and killings practically every week.

When Oriana Farrell was stopped on Highway 518 out of Taos in December of 2013, and she then fled violence by State Police, the issue became focused on specific acts of violence by police -- such as firing at a fleeing van full of children -- that were simply incredible.

At some point, you have to say, "Stop! This is wrong!" And that point came. First with the Farrell incident on Highway 518, and then will the egregious shooting/execution of James Boyd in Albuquerque in March of 2014.

That incident, the killing of James Boyd, catalyzed a nationwide movement that's still going on.

I learned a great deal about the national problem of police killings this year. I learned that changes can take place, that police cultures of violence are not immutable, and that public outrage must be sustained and disruptive in order to make headway against corrupt and resistant police cultures.

In Sacramento, police killing was relatively rare. In New Mexico, it seemed to be frequent. So frequent, and so ridiculously inappropriate, that a people's movement against it seemed to spontaneously arise after James Boyd's killing and the efforts of the APD's chief to call it justified.

But I learned it was not a spontaneous movement at all; the movement was the product of years and years of protest against dozens and dozens of police killings in Albuquerque. Many of the people involved were the loved ones of people  who'd been killed by police over the years, and they'd had enough. They'd protested for years, but the killings kept happening. They'd manged to get the DoJ brought in to investigate the pattern and practice of policing in Albuquerque, but the investigation had been going on for a year and a half with no result. The DoJ appeared to be dragging its feet, and the city administration, from the mayor and the city manager on down, seemed oblivious to the existence of a problem with police killing. They were more inclined to review the parallel issue of police corruption, the Good Ol' Boys backscratching, and the culture of going along to get along.

The people who were killed by police so regularly were mostly people that "needed killing" -- the poor, homeless, mentally ill, drunk, drug addict, gang-banger, tattooed, pierced, troublemaker, etc. Few people cared if a certain number of the riff-raff were eliminated from the gene pool every year.

The administration of the city saw no problem.

The Boyd killing changed all that, and it opened up the question of police violence and killing nationwide.

There were demonstrations and protests in Albuquerque throughout the spring and into the summer. They closed down the freeway through town briefly, and they caused the police department to bring out its military equipment and horse patrols to put down what they saw as an insurrection. This led to some real and honest questioning of police behavior toward protest and protesters, and to a debate about police militarization that would spread nationally, too.

Who, exactly, were they meeting in battle this way? Civilians who simply wanted the killing to stop and for the killers to be held to account? Who's idea was this?

And so it went, day after day, on and on. The demonstrations and protests seemed to spur the DoJ out of its slumber and force it to release a scathing report on the unconstitutional policing and inappropriate uses of force by the APD. There was a spate of killings after the report was issued in April, then the numbers started declining, until in August, they stopped.

The killing stopped. THE KILLING STOPPED.

There has only been one officer involved killing in Albuquerque since August, and that one involved a county sheriff's deputy, not APD. It may have been an unfortunate act of panic.

The city entered into a consent decree with the DoJ at the end of October -- it hasn't been formalized by the court yet -- which overhauls and monitors the department. Simultaneously, they began an extensive PR campaign that was intended to show that police were not the monsters and killers they'd been made out to be.

I don't live in Albuquerque, so I don't see what goes on day to day, but my impression is that there has been a marked behavior change on the part of APD officers. They don't agress against the community the way they once did, and they engage in crisis intervention, de-escalation, and alternative arrest and intervention tactics far more than they once did. Police are being disciplined for not utilizing body cameras. They are required to report and justify any used of lethal or non-lethal force, and they are expected to behave professionally.

All this has made a difference, and it seems to be having a positive effect on communities that were once policed so aggressively. When police behave respectfully toward communities and in fact become part of those communities as opposed to outside invaders and armies of occupation, surprising things happen. Hostility is reduced and violence diminishes.

I learned that one man in particular has been selling a version of killer-policing for years, he makes his living at it, and is in essence a cult leader, fostering a police culture of violence and killing. His name is Dave Grossman, a former Army psychologist, whose philosophy is known as "Killology" and who says that the highest accomplishment a police officer or military troop can achieve is to kill in "righteous battle." For that, he says, is what the police and military are for.

They are, in his mind, "sheepdogs," protecting the "sheep" from "wolves."

Killing is what they must do. It is their mission in life. To kill.

And he goes around giving talks and counseling police departments in the crackpot theories of killing he's come up with.

In my estimation, the man is insane, and his theories are destructive and dangerous. But they have been adopted almost universally by police departments in this country, and they go a long way toward explaining why there is so much police killing while crime rates are at historic lows despite the fact that in the last fifty years, more and more everyday activities have been criminalized, and despite the fact that the high and the mighty are not subject to criminal sanctions at all.

Grossman behaves like a cult-leader, and his devotees are police officers all over the country who act violently because they believe his teachings -- that they are doing God's work, no matter who they kill. It's all just and righteous, because...

I learned that there are approximately 100 police killings every month, a constant rat-a-tat of killing, or rather there were. The rate appears to have declined slightly since the summer of discontent and nationwide protest following the killings of Mike Brown in Missouri and Eric Garner in New York.

When I looked at the reports in detail, I was shocked at the patterns and statistics:

  • A third of those killed by police were unarmed.


  • A third were suicidal or mentally ill for which crisis intervention was never or was inappropriately employed


  • A third were involved in domestic disputes for which nonviolent or alternative resolutions are appropriate.


  • I've long maintained that 90% or more of police killings are unnecessary. I learned that statistically, it's true. Police kill out of a basis of irrational fear and from a position of "righteous authority."

    Their commands MUST BE OBEYED -- or the subject must die.

    Failure to obey leads to death over and over and over, and when the subject cannot obey for whatever reason, too bad for them; the officer commits no crime when the subject does not follow commands.

    It's crazy.

    As more and more people wake up to the fact that policing is crazy, the protests and demands for change spread.

    The police have been caught off guard. They have been so brainwashed, most can't imagine why or how the people have risen in revolt against them. It seems to their eyes to be a criminal conspiracy of some sort. They cannot imagine that the people do not see their actions and their killings as righteous.

    They're fighting back, at least rhetorically, but it seems to me that the message is getting through to the high and the mighty that the killing must and can stop.

    We await further developments in the new year, but there has been surprising progress this year.