Sunday, May 24, 2015

Cleveland Injustice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But in this case, legally, no.

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

And so Brelo walks free. For now.

It's not justice, not even its simulation.

It is injustice writ large and ugly.

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

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, May 17, 2015

NDN Stuff, Change of Pace

Went up to Santa Fe yesterday for the 2015 commencement ceremonies for students at IAIA -- the Institute of American Indian Arts.

It was the first commencement we've attended there, and just getting to the campus at all was an adventure.

The day started at our place some fifty miles south of Santa Fe with heavy rain and thunder. So odd in the middle of May, but we've been experiencing a very wet spring in Central New Mexico, much wetter and cooler than last May.

The heavy rain let up just before we had to leave our place in order to arrive at the IAIA campus in time for commencement. The sun was shining, and the winds had stopped blowing as we left home for the drive north.

As we passed through the Galisteo Basin, a slight rain began and we could see heavy weather on the west in the Oritz and Jemez Mountains. There were signs of weather to the north over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains as well. Santa Fe is nestled below those peaks, and the IAIA campus is somewhat south of the City Different itself, perched on a peak with a dazzling 360 degree view of the mountains and plains all around.

But passing through the village of Galisteo -- where bridge repair and road repaving has been going on for months and to get through the construction zone, you have to follow a pilot car which threads its way carefully around the various piles of gravel and earth and rock -- the rain was light. The sky grew darker, though, as we turned onto Camino de los Abuelos beside the village church and headed over hill and dale, through a surprisingly unflooded wash, across the railroad tracks, through the section of road that had been washed out at some point during one of the passing storms, past the Houzous Place where many of Allan Houser's bronze and stone sculptures are on display, but Mrs Houser wouldn't live there, "out in the middle of nowhere!" she said, and on to Highway 14, the Turquoise Trail, that would take us to the turn off at Rancho Viejo leading -- eventually -- to the IAIA campus.

In the distance, beyond the abandoned ruin of the New Mexico State Penitentiary where dozens of prisoners had been killed in an appalling riot in 1980 and where ghosts now wander, I could see the sky was darker still and the clouds reached to the ground. I said, "That looks like snow up ahead," and sure enough, it was.

Snow, in the middle of May in Santa Fe. What a wonder. As we took the Rancho Viejo turnoff, the snow turned into a near-blizzard, and we wondered how the IAIA commencement would be dealt with,  since it was scheduled to be outdoors in the Dance Circle. The outside temperature gauge on the dashboard had been falling and now read 34°. We weren't really dressed for Winter. It was the middle of May!

We drove through the blizzard following a half-dozen cars headed the same direction. A pick-up truck wove in and out of traffic, its driver having no patience for the courtesies others were giving drivers ahead and behind. Ms. Ché observed, "That must be a student, late for the commencement." The clock said we had fifteen minutes to get to the campus, find our way through the snow storm to the Dance Circle -- or wherever else they decided to hold the ceremonies -- and get settled before the  commencement began. We were about a mile and a half from the campus, and there was no let up from the snow. The temperature gauge now read 32°. It was going to be an interesting experience.

We made it to the campus but then had to figure out where to park as all the regular parking lots were blocked off. We went to an overflow lot on the east side of the campus and jockeyed with other drivers for a decent spot in the gravel and mud. There was a car next to us, a white Lexus driven by someone who couldn't figure out what to do in the gravel and mud, who kept backing up and moving forward, alarming people already parked and trying to park sufficiently that they refused to get out of their cars until this one settled. I don't know what the problem was, but it took several minutes for the Lexus driver to stop going back and forth and alarming people. Finally, when the car's motion stopped, people in cars round about got out and slogged in the snow through the mud and gravel toward what looked like a tent, maybe a circus tent, erected over the Dance Circle. It was quite a hike.

Some people brought umbrellas, but most didn't. It was the middle of May. Nobody expected snow in the middle of May. The news cast the night before said that snow was expected "above 10,000 feet," with flurries possible as low as 8,000 feet during the night. Santa Fe is at 7,000 feet, and it was close to 11:00am, so this snow storm seemed very odd indeed.

We slogged our way toward the tent, me having to move somewhat slowly due to my lingering lameness from sciatica. When we got there, snow-dappled, muddy-booted and somewhat chilled, the welcome from the staff was pleasant. There was no heat in the tent, but many of those who were in attendance had wisely brought blankets and sat wrapped and huddled while waiting for the ceremonies to begin.

There were several hundred chairs, and we found seats quickly enough. We were not far from the platform where the ceremonies would take place. The tent was decorated with the flags of the many dozens of tribes represented by the student-graduates and the staff of the Institute. And it was cold.

After a while, the assembly was urged to cease socializing and be seated. The ceremonies were about to begin. There had been a lot of socializing beforehand. We knew a few of the student-graduates, instructors and staff, but not a whole lot of them, and we knew practically none of their families and friends, so our socializing was somewhat limited. Some of the people we thought we would see at the commencement did not show up for whatever reasons, including the weather, so ultimately there were a few empty chairs under the tent.

Soon enough, the commencement ceremonies began with the entrance of the administration, board, faculty, staff, and student-graduates, accompanied by hand-drumming and song from the student hand-drum corps. It was wonderful. While many were dressed in traditional graduation robes and mortar-boards, many of those in the procession opted for ceremonial Native dress and head-gear. Whatever they felt was appropriate to the occasion was what they wore, and it made for a highly diverse -- rather than a strictly uniform -- graduation procession. I liked it, I liked it a lot.

Feathers. There were lots of feathers. Turquoise, velvets, blankets, shawls, traditional Native dress from a wide variety of tribes, even a Plains warbonnet. Everyone was smiling. Even some laughter as the group made their way to the front. The Dignitaries sat on the platform; everyone else sat on the chairs in front.

There was a prayer ceremony that acknowledged the inclement weather, particularly the rain and the snow and how much they were needed and wanted by the people of New Mexico, and how meaningful was the snow in particular to the Pueblo people for whom it represented perhaps the best medicine possible for a gathering such as this one.

The board president acknowledged the dignitaries and supporters among the assembly, and what a surprise it was for us to hear our own names called out as "Friends of IAIA." Indeed we are, but how did they know we would be there? One of those mysteries, I'd say, of which there are so many in New Mexico. So many mysteries and so many convergences.

Luci Tapahonso, Navajo Nation poet laureate and creative writing professor at UNM gave the keynote address. She was a last minute substitute for Sherman Alexie who had to withdraw and canceled all his summer travel due to a bad back. Luci pointed out -- to much laughter -- that she wasn't Sherman, and she offered one of her best known early poems, "Hills Brothers Coffee," to the assembly. It was very well received by those who are so familiar with it they can speak the lines along with Luci and by those who were hearing it for the first time. It is as true and loving a  depiction of Indian life on the Rez as any that's so far been offered by Native authors.

Jon Davis offered Sherman Alexie's thoughts to the soon-to-graduate MFA students -- just as those thoughts were transmitted from Sherman's very expensive stand up desk in Seattle. "Congratulations graduates. You must be asking yourselves, 'What the fuck am I going to do now?'" Indeed.

There were fifteen MFA graduates in the creative writing program, about half the entire MFA class, and many were intending to pursue an academic career. That's what you get an MFA for, after all. There is really no other reason for it.

On the other hand, there were some forty or so Certificate, AA, BA and BFA graduates, some of whom intended to pursue a post-graduate degree, but many of whom had no intention to. They were going to change the world, however, just you wait and see.

Many tribes were represented, but many surprisingly were not. There were no Cherokee among the graduates, for example. Well, there was one, from the Etocha Tribe of Alabama, a group recognized by the State of Alabama but not by the Federal government nor by the Cherokee Nation. In fact, the CN calls them "fraudulent." Interesting. The graduate wants to pursue a law degree. Even more interesting.

There were no graduates from California Indian Tribes, either, which was just as surprising as the absence of Cherokee. There were only a handful from Northwest tribes. The preponderance of graduates were from the Navajo Nation and from New Mexico's Pueblo tribes. But IAIA recruits globally, and their students can be of any indigenous or non-indigenous origin.

We were not able to stay for the luncheon afterwards as we had another event to attend later that afternoon, and so we bid adieu and headed back south. The day had turned warm and sunny in some places, still heavy cloud in others. The newly fallen snow glistened on the peaks of the Jemez in the west, while snow squalls were scattered through the Sangres and over the Oritz Mountains. As we continued south out of the glorious Galisteo Basin, the cloud cover over the Sandias thickened perceptibly. It was raining on the road where we were, snowing -- probably heavily -- along the crest of the Sandias and even lower down. Sun shafts pierced the clouds ahead, and to the east there were piles and piles of cotton-ball clouds piled up against a brilliant azure sky.

"Don't forget to thank your neighbor for the rain; don't forget to say hello to the sky."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

On Violence -- a Mother's Day Perspective (on the Baltimore Uprising and Other Matters)

By now, everyone's seen this video of a mother beating up her teenage son during the initial phases of the Baltimore Uprising (#BaltimoreUprising):

She's been hailed a heroine by many for her violent attack on her son. She's said she didn't want him to wind up like Freddie Gray  -- dead -- and he's expressed contrition for his actions that day in the midst of the Uprising.

I was watching a livestream during this phase of the confrontations between police and the crowd of teenagers by Mondawmin Mall, but I didn't see this incident. There was so much going on in any case, that I probably would have missed it even if the livestreamer had captured it. He was a little way down the road, behind the iron fence, and was concentrating on the people running from or confronting the police at the time. He was also holding his phone in portrait mode, so the view was very narrow.

What I also didn't see was this was ground level video of some of the confrontation between the high school students who were essentially trapped once the police yanked them off the buses that would take them home and confined them tho the Mondawmin area:


While flipping through news sources after the Freddie Gray funeral -- which I saw parts of on livestream as well -- I briefly saw an overhead view of police in confrontation with a crowd, but I didn't know what was going on until later, and when I saw a more complete video of the incident, it appeared that 1) police were throwing rocks at demonstrators (they were); 2) demonstrators were pelting the police line with rocks and forcing them back (they were).

Context, however, was totally lacking, and the rest of the coverage I saw of the "riots" focused on the vandalism, arson and looting that took place, not on the confrontations between police and rioters that took place in the afternoon following the end of the school day at Frederick Douglass High School adjacent to Mondawmin Mall.

Ever since, almost all the coverage -- including the BET gab-fests in the post below (sorry for the auto-start; I've tried to make it go away, and it won't, so I'll replace the embed video with a link to the page...) -- focus on "violence" as 1) property damage; 2) the acts of the police which lead to the deaths of so many, day in and day out; 3) sometimes -- but rarely -- the "violence inherent in the system" (h/t Monty Python) of capitalist exploitation.

The incident we witness from ground level in the raw video above is almost never mentioned in reports and analysis of the "riots" these days and if video of it is shown, it is the overhead shots, generally without comment, or if there is comment, it will focus on the injuries police sustained in the confrontation, not on what the incident actually showed about the Uprising.

I think it is too shocking to the sensibilities of the Powers That Be, for what happened was this:

The police either made up or freaked out over a social media post that suggested the students at Frederick Douglass were going to live out "The Purge" idea of "a day without law" following the funeral of Freddie Gray. The students got out of school at their regular time (3:00p -- sounds late to me, but that's what the most reliable reports say) and went to the Mall transportation hub to take the subway or catch a bus to go home. They were met with hundreds of riot police who forced them to get off the buses and closed the metro station. Some went to the Mall, but many dispersed through the neighborhood only to be further confronted by aggressive riot police.

And the students fought back. They were being harassed, taunted and violently confronted by ranks of riot police for no other reason but that the police could do so. The students responded with rocks and bottles thrown at the police line, and for the next hour or two, the students and police contended for territory in the Mondawmin neighborhoods. For the most part, the police retreated, and except for a few tear gas and smoke grenades, they did not fire on the students.

Looking back on some of the videos from the scene now, especially the raw video from ground level embedded above, I get the distinct impression that what happened was almost like a "live fire" training exercise for police to see how a crowd would react to an arbitrary police action in an urban area and to find out whether or not it could be controlled by the presence of riot police alone. That's what it looked like to me. It didn't go well.

The students and the residents participating in the resistance lost their fear of police that day in Baltimore, and that's critical for understanding what happened later. The looting and vandalism and arson happened later, and though the focus has been on those relatively random and relatively  isolated actions, there were targeted actions that were much more important (IMHO).

Dozens of police vehicles were trashed or burned, for example. As police vehicles sped through the Penn North area, they were pelted with rocks, bottles, paint and other objects. Some were parked along the streets and were attacked and burned by the crowds. This was targeted rage against police, not the kind of "mob violence" and looting that was being focused on by the media. The people were no longer afraid, and they vented their anger on the appropriate targets. The police. The police, for their part, largely withdrew until they obtained the protection of the National Guard the following day.

This needs to be clear: the people of Baltimore (at least in that area) rose up and said "No more." They literally forced the police out until such time as they returned with the protection of troops.

That was the most important aspect of the first day of the Baltimore Uprising, and it is barely recognized by most observers. It's been sent down the Memory Hole, but much of the evidence is still retrievable through videos like the one above.

There were other incidents, such as confrontations between drunken white baseball fans and largely but not exclusively black protesters outside Camden Yards -- which ultimately resulted in the cancellation of games and the absurd sight of a game played in an empty stadium.

These confrontations involved a lot of physical interaction and fighting between the drunken white folks and the angry black (and brown and white) protesters that led to a lot of mayhem outside Orioles Park. Some of it is seen in this video -- it's quite long, and I'm not embedding it. The Camden Yards footage is around 15 minutes in.

Again, it's clear the demonstrators had lost their fear, not only of police but of drunken white folks, too. This is important.

What I've seen while reviewing some of the video captures of the Baltimore "riots" reminds me a lot of incidents in the West Bank during which unarmed Palestinians confront heavily armed Israeli police and troops, and many of the urban disturbances in Ukraine during the prelude to and aftermath of the overthrow of Yanukovych. There are many other examples one could cite -- uprisings in Greece and other parts of the European "periphery", for example -- that follow a distinctive pattern, essentially a vocabulary, of incitement and repression, over and over and over again, sometimes leading to overthrows or revolution, but often leading nowhere at all -- except to more of the same. In other words, the struggle between arbitrary authority and resisting populations becomes routinized, almost institutionalized, but with little or no discernible effect or outcome.

Despite numerous protests against police violence around the country in the past year or so in city after city, the Baltimore Uprising is the first time I'm aware of that civilians responded to police provocation and violence with targeted violence of their own, albeit there have been some incidents of targeted vandalism of police facilities in other cities (Albuquerque among others) during the protests against violent policing and murder.

The results in Baltimore were predictable: the curfew and National Guard presence specifically designed to protect the police and civic institutions, not so much to protect  the citizens or their property. Given some of the confrontations during the curfew, it would almost be funny, except for the fact that people are still being treated violently and outrageously by police all over the country, and far, far too many are being killed day in and day out.

However, I think we are seeing a distinctive change in the way civilians respond to police provocation and violence.

The Baltimore Uprising represents something new in the ongoing struggle against violent policing.

It can lead to positive change or it can lead to disaster, or it can lead nowhere at all.

It all depends, methinks, on calculations made behind the scenes by the PTB. How much mayhem are they willing to endure and engage in in order to perpetuate systematized injustice? What is the benefit to them for doing so?

And how much more injustice are the people willing to endure?

I've suggested that we are past the "tipping point" with regard to police violence. The previous situation is not sustainable, but simply because we've gone past the tipping point, it doesn't mean the resolution will necessarily be positive.

The economy went over a cliff after all. The dire and destructive results are all around us. Simply because a crisis reaches a climax is no guarantee of positive outcomes.

In fact, what happens is that populations tend to adjust to the new reality, no matter how bad it is. The tipping point of violent policing may have been passed, and already dire situation may get worse.  We don't know, and we can't necessarily direct the outcome.

Hailing the mom who beat up her son in Baltimore that day, though, may be the harbinger of what is to come.

Just saying...

Saturday, May 9, 2015

On Violence -- An Albuquerque Perspective

While events were swirling in Baltimore the other day, a Bernalillo County deputy sheriff shot and mortally wounded a man in the South Valley neighborhood of Albuquerque. His name was Billy Grimm and he died in the hospital several hours after he was shot. He was not provided any medical attention for 2-3 hours after he was shot (sheriff's department says 1 hour and 45 minutes, witnesses say 2 hours or longer) because, they say, he didn't follow commands after he was shot to get out of a vehicle and get on the ground.

The sheriff's department has provided an audio recording of the moments leading up to the shooting and the immediate aftermath. It is truly an appalling record.

Deputies surrounded the vehicle but didn’t try to enter it because they feared Grimm was still armed. In the recordings, the deputies can be heard giving Grimm verbal commands to exit the car.
The Sheriff’s Office called for K-9s and deputies with rifles to form a perimeter around the car. Deputies can be heard saying they saw Grimm moving inside the vehicle.
“Tidwell was going for the extract,” Grundhoffer explained to another deputy who arrived on scene. “I looked through the windshield on my side and he started pulling it up. That’s when I yelled ‘gun’ and engaged him.”
During the lengthy standoff, Grimm exited the passenger side of the truck and was moving on the ground. The Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that the deputies couldn’t see his hands until a K-9 was unleashed and moved Grimm into the open. Deputies started first aid until paramedics arrived.
Deputies surrounded the vehicle but didn’t try to enter it because they feared Grimm was still armed. In the recordings, the deputies can be heard giving Grimm verbal commands to exit the car.
The Sheriff’s Office called for K-9s and deputies with rifles to form a perimeter around the car. Deputies can be heard saying they saw Grimm moving inside the vehicle.
“Tidwell was going for the extract,” Grundhoffer explained to another deputy who arrived on scene. “I looked through the windshield on my side and he started pulling it up. That’s when I yelled ‘gun’ and engaged him.”
During the lengthy standoff, Grimm exited the passenger side of the truck and was moving on the ground. The Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that the deputies couldn’t see his hands until a K-9 was unleashed and moved Grimm into the open. Deputies started first aid until paramedics arrived.
There you have it. A textbook example of terrified LEOs shooting and mortally wounding a man they fear has a gun refusing any sort of medical assistance after shooting him until they feel "safe."

It happens all the time, and it used to happen in Albuquerque routinely until the APD was told to cease fire and stand down. Stop killing.

Initially, this incident in the South Valley was reported as the first BCSO involved shooting/killing of the year, but that was not so. It was the third. By comparison, APD has shot and killed one person so far this year.

Ultimately, the killing of Billy Grimm will be added to the statistics of police killings and will largely be forgotten, as most of the deaths by police gunfire are forgotten. This one will probably not generate the kinds of protests and demonstrations that some of them do in part because there was a gun found in the truck in which Grimm was a passenger. We will probably never know whether he in fact had any contact with this gun or whether the cries of "Gun!" from Deputy Grundhoffer  as he shot at Grimm 9 times, hitting him once, were accurate. The audio recording of the incident is terrible, but it is not particularly informative about the facts regarding Billy Grimm and any threat he may have offered to officers. I detected no threat at all from him or from his girlfriend Destiny Cardenas in the audio. Disobedience, yes. But disobedience is not, a priori, a threat. Something that APD has apparently learned, but BCSO has not.

Another BCSO story appeared in the Albuquerque Journal today. A lawsuit has been filed against the BCSO over the treatment of a detainee at the Metropolitan Detention Center (the county jail). The inmate claims to have been tasered by jail personnel 30 times in one day as he was being restrained for transport. The suggestion is that this sort of brutality -- and worse -- is commonplace at the jail, and it needs to stop.

Stories have been coming out of this and many other jails, prisons and detention centers for years about the pervasive violence, torture, brutality and neglect that have long characterized the treatment of people who are held in these lock-ups. This story is particularly egregious because the officers involved in torturing the inmate -- whose name is Mark Martinez -- continued to tase and abuse him at the hospital where he was eventually taken for treatment of injuries he sustained that day, and when hospital personnel attempted to intervene, they were threatened by officers as well. It's insane.

As we see over and over and over again, obedience and instant compliance are demanded by law and corrections officers, and when they don't get it, they become violent to the point of using lethal force,

Even when they do get compliance, as in the case of Lateef Dickerson in Dover, DE a couple of years ago, violence by police is still routine.

Until recently, all the officer had to say was "I feared for my life and the safety of others" to win exoneration for almost any form of violence, including lethal violence, they choose to engage in. It doesn't matter a bit whether the officer's "fear" was justified by the facts. All that mattered was that the officer use those magical words, and s/he was home free.

Now, after seemingly endless protests and several uprisings against violent policing, that's starting, slowly, to change.

It's not enough change, and it's by no means fast enough -- numbers of people killed by police actually seem to be increasing rather than declining as I had hoped -- but the constant violence by police is no longer being treated as "normal." It will have to end, but not before many more people are dead and injured.

Albuquerque has done a great deal to reduce the level of police violence since last summer, but it's not enough. As we see, the message hasn't yet penetrated to the BCSO or the State Police, both of which continue their killing as if nothing (much) has changed.

I hope the activists who brought so much pressure to bear on the Albuquerque Police Department last year can gear up similar protest actions against BCSO and the New Mexico State Police this year.

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

So What Happened in Baltimore Yesterday?

We still don't know.

Witnesses reported they saw a black man running from police near the corner of Pennsylvania and W. North Avenue. They saw -- and one photographed -- the policeman raise is sidearm toward the running man; they heard what sounded like a gunshot and saw the running man fall.

It's hard to interpret what they say they saw as anything other than that a running Negro was shot in the back by a police officer in front of numerous witnesses at the site of ongoing community demonstrations and celebrations since the death of Freddie Gray.

Police said "No." No one was shot, the running Negro dropped a gun that discharged, he wasn't injured, but he was taken to the hospital as a precaution, and he was under arrest for having a weapon.

Initial reports on the internet and in the media focused on two things: what the eyewitnesses said they saw and heard and what the local FOX affiliate reported -- which was what the witnesses saw and heard.

After the police gained control of the scene by violently pushing back the crowd that gathered immediately, and the man was taken by ambulance to the hospital, the police issued a statement that the man (who has been tentatively identified as Robert "Meech" Tucker) was in custody in the hospital but was not injured. Witnesses continued to insist that Tucker was shot, no matter what the police said.

FOX news was widely blamed for spreading a false story, as if somehow it was the intention of the FOX reporter to incite further unrest among the residents of the Penn North area where Freddie Gray had been apprehended.

But the story literally came from those on the street who witnessed what happened. It's not entirely clear that the FOX reporter actually saw the incident, though apparently he said he did. But dozens of others saw it and reported what they saw almost exactly the way the FOX reporter did, and those on the street who saw what happened had little or no access to the FOX report, so they were not repeating what FOX had reported. They were telling the story as they witnessed it.

DeRay McKesson was passing on those witness reports as he received them. I thought he was actually on the scene, but apparently he wasn't. He did not disclose his location -- which may become an interesting tidbit in due time.

Most of the media covering Baltimore initially reported the incident as a police officer shooting a fleeing black man -- which is what witnesses said they saw. But once the police statement denying any such thing happened came out, the media reported that as fact when there was no independent verification at all that the police statement was true.

As far as I can tell, there still isn't any independent verification of police statements of what happened, but those statements are now almost universally cited as if they were "fact".

The problem here is that the Baltimore Police Department has issued numerous lies upon lies during the period since Freddie Gray's death, lies that have included the facts surrounding Freddie Gray's arrest and death, lies about "The Purge" and high schoolers planning to riot, lies about gangs engaged in truces in order to kill police, lies about fires set by "criminals" -- which in fact were caused by police grenades. On and on. There has been a tissue of lies and fabrications coming out of the Baltimore Police Department, so many and so often that the statements from the department lack any credibility.

They are reasonably assumed to be lies on their face.

Yet the media as a whole accepts and reports their statements as if they were fact, and frequently does not follow up. The media as a whole is so bound to "official statements" they are unable to treat them skeptically.

Others have blamed faulty eyewitness accounts for the erroneous initial reports of what happened yesterday, but that begs the question: how do these critics know -- for certain -- what happened? Have they independently verified the facts?

We -- the general public -- still don't know. So far as I know, there has been no independent verification that the man who was seen running and falling was uninjured. There are eyewitness accounts and there are police statements. Police statements cannot be relied on as "fact" because of so many lies they've told and the damage those lies have caused since the death of Freddie Gray (leaving aside their lies before that). The eyewitness accounts may be in error, but over time, they tend to be truthful or at least more truthful than the "official statements" of police departments.

Skepticism is a virtue, but in situations like this, it can be very difficult to achieve and apply, especially when the statements of authority are in conflict with accounts of witnesses. Many people want to unquestioningly accept the "official story," while other want just as unquestioningly to denounce and reject it.

And as in so many other situations, the police have brought this on themselves.

Monday, May 4, 2015


An hour ago.

Man shot in the back by police near the corner of Pennsylvania and W. North Ave, the scene of numerous rallies and protests since the death of Freddie Gray.

Things have not gotten that much better it seems.

UPDATE:  Baltimore police are claiming they didn't shoot anyone, that the victim had a gun and it discharged. Nobody wounded or killed. The victim, they say, was taken to a hospital as a precaution. Crowds of witnesses don't believe it.

DeRay is there and livetweeting:

UPDATE: DeRay is apparently NOT there. He is livetweeting information, pictures and video he's receiving from others who are there. For what it's worth, I don't know where he is...

Meanwhile, last night a man was shot and killed in Albuquerque's South Valley by a Bernalillo County deputy. The sheriff's office isn't saying much about it, except that the deceased, Billy Grimm, 44 and the grandfather of ten, "brandished" a firearm and refused to obey commands. The witnesses are speaking out, telling quite a different story. KOB's is the most detailed.

(Day Before) Yesterday

I've tried to watch as much as I could of the unfolding events in Baltimore on WBAL's livestream (which was sometimes superb) and wherever else I could.

Day before yesterday, I saw some really remarkable and memorable things.

There was a rally at City Hall Plaza sponsored by Black Lawyers for Justice, a sometimes marginalized outfit due to its militancy -- and its blackness. There were thousands of people gathered on the Plaza and many more scattered around the area. I saw the culmination of the rally during which members of the "gangs" of Baltimore, the Crips, the Bloods, and the Black Guerrilla Family, came together as one, and said essentially, "Look, this is our community, it's our city, and we are all one family. We aren't going to fight one another. We are going to protect our communities, protect one another, and protect our city. We love Baltimore,"

They were talking about non-violent self-policing, something many of us have advocated as an alternative to the heavy-handed violent policing that takes place today in too many communities suffering under occupation by armies of police who do things like killing Freddie Gray. And so many others.

It was a very moving moment in the program of the rally, one that moved the on air reporters nearly to rapture. They never thought they would see the day... and here it was, as they watched, the community coming together, bringing peace and dignity and -- perhaps -- justice of a kind that Baltimore had been yearning for but which had always been so elusive, just out of reach. Here it was, finally, the sign Baltimoreans had been waiting for. The time had come.

Baltimore would heal. The rally was followed by a march from City Hall to the intersection of Pennsylvania and West North where so much of the action of the previous weeks since Freddie Gray was killed had taken place (it's the site of the burned and looted CVS drugstore as well.) The march and the gathering at the intersection in West Baltimore were like a huge party according to those who were there. The spirit of the rally at City Hall and the sense of accomplishment that the officers involved in Freddie Gray's death had been so promptly held to answer was infectious.

Baltimore would heal.

I don't know that I would go quite that far, not yet. But I was struck by what I was witnessing vicariously through the live broadcast, and I believed the participants were sincere. Baltimore has a long and deep reservoir of racism and worse, so I'm not convinced -- yet -- that the Powers That Are in that city are quite ready to let go of it, not yet. Not yet. But the unexpected is always possible...

Later that night, I happened to be watching RebelutionaryZ's livestream as curfew violators at the intersection of Pennsylvania and North were rounded up one by one. A woman had been apprehended, and Reb said he'd met her, liked her, she was a good person, he said, who was being roughed up by police for no good reason. Another woman asked him what she was being arrested for, and he said all he knew was that she was out after curfew. She hadn't done anything.

The woman became irate, and she asked, "When are they going to leave us the fuck alone?" She said this sort of thing happened every day, and she was tired of it.


[Scroll to approximately 1:08:30 in the video]

Yes. "Leave us the fuck ALONE."  It is really that simple. Will it happen? I don't know. But the signs are a lot more encouraging this year than last.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Bawlmer Rising

Baltimore officers charged in the death of Freddie Gray

I've tried to follow events in Baltimore as best I can through the internet, relying on WBAL's livestreaming and news reports, the Baltimore Sun's reports, and to some extent on Twitter (Deray is there) and the deplorable coverage by the Washington Post.

I've been to Baltimore and Maryland a number of times and have had friends there (dead now, but that's how it goes). I thought for much of my life that my ancestors on my father's side were from Maryland but have recently learned that they weren't. They passed through, some of them, on their way to Ohio and Iowa, but were never residents.

Nevertheless, I feel a certain kinship with the people and the place. There's much about Baltimore and Maryland that I like; there's much about it that I don't like at all. Over the course of the recent events, I've seen some remarkable transformations growing out of the unrest over the death of Freddie Gray. Those transformations give me more hope than I've felt in quite a while.

There are terrible legacies in the history of Baltimore and Maryland, one of them of course being black chattel slavery. A lot of white folks want to make believe that Slavery Time was a long time ago, and it shouldn't matter now. Some black folks go along with that point of view, and I think that it's partly that unity of perspective between well-off whites and (largely) well-off Negroes -- who form the political and administrative class in Baltimore -- that led to the events surrounding the death of Freddie Gray.

Freddie didn't share the unified perspective of the well-off Baltimoreans (or "Baltimorons" as they can sometimes call themselves when they've had enough to drink) because he couldn't. He was born in and of the Projects, and had been subjected to a very different kind of life all his (short) life. He was only 25 when he died.

The Projects out in West Baltimore provide somewhat better than the worst living conditions to be found in Baltimore City, but they're not ideal by any stretch of the imagination. Gilmore Homes was the Project Freddie was from, and I'm sure that some people, looking at it from the outside would think it was pretty nice all things considered. Well, that may be. The problems of poverty, drugs and violence, however, were the living truth that Freddie and all his neighbors and friends knew from the cradle. Freddie and his twin sister had also been victims of lead paint poisoning (how many Americans have suffered that) which may have affected his cognition.

Due to the nature of policing in the Projects -- the "zero-tolerance," or "broken-windows" practices instituted by Martin O'Malley but derived from the so-called best practices as pioneered in New York by Bill Bratton -- Freddie had been arrested on false charges of drug use, drug sales, and various infractions of The Rules. Many, many young men in the Projects were the victims of this kind of policing which essentially presumes that all black men, particularly young black men, are criminals to be run to earth, hounded, harassed, arrested and incarcerated en masse.

This is a legacy of Slavery Time and Jim Crow, both of which were partly predicated on the notion of inherent black criminality -- for which the discipline (arbitrary though it may be) of slavery and segregation and the chain gang were considered specific cures, or if not cures at least controls.

Let's not deny it. It is a fundamental and systemic belief among the powerful and mostly white  ruling class that Those (Savage) Negroes are inherently criminal and would, if not intensely policed, run wild and rape all the white women. Or even worse, they would burn down not just their own communities but they would destroy all the wonderful things that white folks have done and built over the centuries.

Of course it's ridiculous, but that's the thinking that you find right out in the open on numerous online comment and message boards, and that's the belief system that's not quite so open but is deeply ingrained in the principles and practices of "broken-windows" policing -- which led directly to the death of Freddie Gray and which plays a part in the thousands of brutalized and dead at the hands of police all over the country that I've been railing about for years now.

But something has happened in Baltimore that may lead sooner rather than later to some systemic and unprecedented changes in the way policing is handled in communities like the one Freddie Gray came from.

As we've seen elsewhere, at least since the egregious execution of James Boyd last year in Albuquerque, violent policing has become intolerable to those who have been subjected to it for lo these many years. It must end. Ending it means holding violent police to account, and in Baltimore it has meant holding those police who contributed to or caused the death of Freddie Gray to account.

And yesterday, astonishingly, six Baltimore officers were charged with a whole raft of crimes including murder, manslaughter, dereliction of duty and false imprisonment. This follows a series of indictments of police officers for all kinds of misconduct all over the country. Convicting officers for anything besides sexual misconduct is still nearly impossible, but the fact that so many police officers are facing charges is nearly unheard of, certainly in recent history, when practically anything police did under color of authority was ruled "justified" simply because it was done by police.

A mantra became standardized: "Fearing for my life and the safety of others". By saying those words, practically any death or brutalization at the hands of police was deemed acceptable by supervisors, district attorneys, courts and juries.

Those words became a magical incantation thanks in part to a number of Supreme Court rulings over the past few decades which protected violent police from accountability and effectively encouraged them to be as violent as they wanted to be -- within rules, of course.

So long as they followed the rules of engagement of their departments -- most based on "best practices" which were adopted almost everywhere -- police could and did routinely get away with murder. They almost never face charges, but if by some happenstance, they do, they almost always get off, either acquitted or given very light sentences if convicted.

The case of Freddie Gray in Baltimore may be a game-changer, much as the killing of James Boyd was declared to be by the mayor of Albuquerque.

Freddie Gray was not shot by police, the way so many are in this country, around a thousand every year. No, he was falsely arrested for having committed no crime, he was injured in his apprehension, he was dumped, unsecured in a van and driven around the rough streets of West Baltimore for the next 45 minutes until he was so severely injured that he died a week later from a broken neck and apparently a head injury. Freddie never awoke from a coma.

The issue here is not that he was shot and killed, the way so many are. It is that he was injured badly enough to require medical attention, and none was called for or offered. This is a commonplace practice by police and correctional officers everywhere. Injuries and illnesses of suspects, detainees, and inmates are routinely ignored. Often enough they are caused or compounded by the actions of officers, despite policies which require medical attention those in their custody who ask for it or who are clearly injured. Freddie Gray was both clearly injured and repeatedly asked for medical attention. He was ignored.

Deliberate and callous indifference to the suffering of those in their custody is so routine it barely shocks the conscience any more. Such indifference leads to hundreds of deaths in custody -- perhaps far more than we're aware of -- and exacerbates injuries and illnesses which don't necessarily lead to death right away. Deliberate and callous indifference of this sort devalues the lives of those in custody just as surely as outright murder does.

And for once in Baltimore yesterday, the killers of Freddie Gray -- who acted with malice and indifference combined -- were charged with crimes.

Whether they will be convicted remains to be seen, but merely charging them is unusual.

The fact that they join dozens of other officers also facing charges ranging up to first degree murder is also unusual, and I suspect it represents the potential for an end of violent policing and the wildly disproportionate over policing of selected neighborhoods -- such as the one Freddie Gray came from.

While many observers have been quick to condemn the violence of the "rioters" in Baltimore -- who burned buildings and took merchandise but not lives -- too many have had nothing to say about the violence of police which triggered the recent uprising in Baltimore and elsewhere. "Riots" must be suppressed, but police violence apparently is all good. Or it was...

 Maybe not so much anymore.

We'll see.

We need an end to violent policing. We need an end to racially and class disparate policing policies. We need an end to police impunity. We need an end to police brutality and killing.

There are signs -- in Baltimore and elsewhere -- that the message is being heard. Action to correct the manifest problems of policing in slow, but it is happening. The bravery of those who are protesting and the surprising responsiveness of some public officials is encouraging.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

It's Very Simple: Stop Violent Policing, Stop the Killing, and the Disturbances Will Stop

I'm trying to get caught up with all the disturbances yesterday and last night, mirroring and supporting the uprising in Baltimore that has taken place as a consequence of the killing of Freddie Gray by police.

These uprisings and disturbances were widespread before the killing of Freddie Gray, but they have become a near permanent feature of American urban landscapes because, simply, the power structure that directs the police will not yield to the demands of the people.

"Stop killing us!" It's very simple. Stop violent policing. And still the killing goes on and on and on, violent policing and brutality continues unabated, and all the fancy military gear that has been supplied to police departments all over the country is trotted out again and again to suppress nonviolent crowds of protesters demanding that the police stop killing us.

And when vandalism and looting occur in conjunction with these protests, the authorities and their media handmaidens become all incensed because the Negroes are running wild instead of being docile little lambs like MLK would want them to be. Except he wouldn't.

Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote an important piece for The Atlantic the other day titled "Non-violence As Compliance." As those who have followed some of my writing since the days of Occupy and before probably know, I don't take kindly to those who try to assert "non-violence" as a means of shutting down effective resistance -- which is what is done over and over and over again by most of those citing "Ghandi [sic] and King" as models of the way Those Negroes (or whomever is resisting) ought to be.

I have my issues with Ta-Nehisi, but in this piece, he brought the truth right out in the open: those who insist Those Negroes must follow the non-violent paths blazed by Gandhi and King are basically telling Those Negroes they must comply with authority. It's a way to shut down effective resistance. Which is as thorogoing a mischaracterization of Gandhi's and King's activism and resistance as there could be.

Of course it is deliberate.

The structure of power has so far refused to yield to the demands of the people that violent policing and killing stop. So there is resistance and there are disturbances. It will continue until the killing and violent policing stops.

It's that simple.

Sometimes, however, it appears that Our Betters are simply too stupid to grasp simple concepts like that.

Stop the killing. Stop violent policing.

Just stop.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Have We Finally Passed the Tipping Point on Police Violence?

Ms Ché and I have been involved in a number of literary and other adventures during April, "National Poetry Month," as it's called. We've attended quite a few poetry readings and we've enjoyed expeditions to museums of art and science, with more to come. Soon enough, planting will start and outdoor activities and adventures will take the place of mostly indoor ones. The world-cycle will continue.

I've written here mostly about the national issue-problem of police violence and murder which takes on average three lives a day, week and month in and week and month out, with uncounted numbers brutalized and injured, physically and psychologically damaged each and every day, all through this land, in a cataclysm of violence that leaves ruined lives, ruined families and ruined communities in its bloody wake.

I've compared the casualty numbers to those of a low-key but continual civil war, with more than a thousand dead and tens of thousands injured each and every year. Overall homicide rates are much higher than the rate of killings by police, however. Police involved homicides are generally about 10% of the total; in some jurisdictions they are 20% or more, but those tend to be exceptions. What makes these statistics striking is that there are no more than one million sworn officers and fewer than that are patrolling the streets -- and killing people in the process. In other words, the seeming epidemic of police violence is being committed by a relative handful of Americans, a tiny percentage of police are responsible for a relatively large percentage of homicides.

Media coverage of the issue has grown substantially over the past years -- especially since the killing of James Boyd in Albuquerque in March of 2014, and the subsequent demonstrations against police violence. The media's narrative on events surrounding police violence and the protests against it has a presumptive start date in August of 2014, with the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson, MO. The earlier Albuquerque incident(s) and protests have been -- for the most part -- vanished from the narrative, in part, I suspect, because James Boyd was white and mentally ill, and the narrative of the "national conversation" that's been going on asserts that it is about police violence against "unarmed young black men" and essentially nothing else.

That's an important aspect of police violence, but it is not the only one. Police are violent against any perceived "Other," including young black men in general, other racial minorities, the poor and the homeless in general, anyone who doesn't fit a very narrow model of appearance and behavior, or who is mentally ill, or is engaged in a domestic dispute, or who fails to obey sufficiently or fast enough to satisfy the violent officer.

Summary executions are being committed day in and day out, typically without any lasting consequence to the police officer. 

As the outrage has grown, there is a perception that the rate of killing has risen. In some jurisdictions, that's happened, but I'm not sure it's true overall. In fact, given the police killings documented so far this year, I'm seeing a slight but perceptible decrease in the overall rate of police killings, and in some jurisdictions, such as Albuquerque, the rate of police killing is dramatically lower this year than last or years prior to the advent of persistent and large-scale protest against it.

In other words, the killing can be stopped. In some places it has been stopped, or nearly so.

Stopping police violence is possible, and the world won't end.

Making sure that happens is the necessary objective of the movements against police violence that have arisen all over the country.

As we've gone about our literary and other adventures this month, I've been struck with how this issue simply doesn't enter into the minds and works of most of those whose slim volumes of poetry are being hawked at every reading we've attended. Nope. There are some exceptions, true. The slam poets make more of it than more traditional literary artists do. But even the slam poets seem less inclined to deal with the issue of police violence than is warranted.

Yet yesterday we were at a poetry reading in rural New Mexico, featuring what I would characterize as semi-Cowboy Poetry more than any other style. None of it touched on the issue of police violence, not directly, but some of it was of the "rebel" variety. Most of the readers (all of them?) were older, near or past 70, some from the rural South, one from DC, one from Upstate New York, a couple from California, one born and raised in New Mexican. All but one was white, and the one that wasn't -- Ms Ché herself, in fact -- was Native American.

Topics ranged from horses and pigs and cats and dogs to loves gained and lost,  stars sparkling in the sky, memoirs of temps perdu, and the ways of the Divine among others.

After the reading there was an open discussion which turned almost immediately to the drug war and the lives taken and ruined by its continuance. There was a nearly universal understanding that this drug war had to stop, and with its end the ruin would stop. Here we were in rural New Mexico, amid a bunch of old coots who didn't necessarily write about the killing spree that has been the topic of so many of my posts of late, but who understood fully that the killing is a consequence of a "War" declared decades ago that has literally destroyed lives and families and communities in pursuit of a "victory" that can never be won. It's insane and it must stop. Even these old folks understand that.

I was moved.

Have we finally passed the tipping point?

I'm still not sure, but the signs yesterday were suggestive that the answer is "yes."

Rallies and protests will and must continue, but more and more, the people have had enough, and the message is getting through to the barricaded high and mighty and their servants that police violence is unacceptable and must be brought under control and ended. The consequences of not doing so include "shutting shit down," which has been a widely utilized and effective strategy. More and more "People's Courts" have been holding public mock trials of killer police and their protectors, and more and more police precincts have been put under scrutiny and siege. Police are seen more and more as the problem not the solution.

And it is being shown that police violence and militarization, much of which is a direct result of the continuing (so called) drug-and-terror war must come to an end.

It's encouraging...

Thursday, April 16, 2015

"Every Eight Hours"

The killing and violence by police continues.

Every eight hours, three a day, day in and day out, someone is killed by police. From my own analysis of figures compiled last year by "Killed by Police," a third of those killed by police are unarmed, a third are black or brown, a third are mentally ill or suicidal, a third are involved in domestic disputes.

Very, very few are engaged in active criminality when they are killed. Sometimes the excuse for killing is that the victim had a rap sheet. The pattern is repeated over and over: someone calls police for assistance, the police arrive with guns drawn, the soon-to-be victim fails to comply immediately with often unheard or uncomprehended police orders. Or the victim runs. The victim is killed.

Until recently, almost every one of these killings was officially deemed to be "justified." Someone did a statistical study recently and found that only 1 out of 1000 police killings resulted in the prosecution of the officer. One out of a thousand. That sounds about right.

And yet I've long contended that 90% or more of police killings are not necessary. Too often, police kill their victims because they believe that's what they are expected and are supposed to do with people who don't follow their orders or who don't fit certain rigid guidelines of appearance and behavior.

They believe that because that's what they've been told by those in charge of police forces. "You have a gun; you have training; use it at your discretion." So they do.

And they are protected by law when they do.

Laws and court decisions over many years say that police have qualified immunity from prosecution, and that they can kill blamelessly -- even when they kill the innocent.

But it's not the law that enables police killings. The law protects police who kill. It is instead the policies of police departments that enable the constant rat-tat-tat of police killings, the year in and year out "every eight hours, three a day" killing spree the police have been on for decades. Those policies can change.

Many people argue that the drug war is the main cause of so much police violence and murder these days, and they have a point. Others argue that the level of police violence and murder was greater in generations past than it is now, and they have a point, too.

The idea that the police can kill or torture/beat down suspects with impunity is woven deep in the DNA of most police forces in the country. Violence and murder is part of what they were organized to do -- whether it was as slave patrols in the South, Wild West marshals, county sheriffs patrols or civil police forces in the big cities of the 19th century.

Their violence was intended to "protect" white women from negro rape, to suppress slave uprisings, to control immigrant populations, to keep the wild Indians at bay, to maintain a rough and ready order among contending white men -- by killing those who got out of bounds or out of line.

This is who our police forces are and have always been.

When the police killing spree was well under way in Albuquerque, last year for example, it was often pointed out that police shootings and killings had a strongly 'Wild West' quality to them. I don't doubt it's true. And you still see elements of Wild West shoot-em-ups in police behavior in many cities in the West, particularly in Texas, in Phoenix, Los Angeles, and even supposed Progressive bastions as Portland and Seattle.

It happens in the country, too.

Not long ago, for example, a dude was shot and killed by a state police sniper in a little town not far from us in New Mexico. The incident was eerily similar to a state police killing last year even closer to us. In both cases, a relatively young armed (white) man had an "episode" during which he became enraged and seemed to pose a threat to others. Negotiators were sent to obtain his surrender, but he would not surrender as ordered. He insisted he be left alone. In the recent case, apparently the man wanted only to go home. In the earlier case, the man was in his own home.

In addition to negotiators, a sniper was deployed by the state police -- I wouldn't be surprised if it was the same one in both cases. When the opportunity presented itself -- in the earlier case, when the victim appeared in a window, in the recent case, when the victim got out of his truck -- the sniper shot and killed the victim.

Episode concluded.

This is not unlike what happened to James Boyd in the Sandia foothills last March. After hours of negotiation, snipers were sent, and Boyd was killed. Apparently the decision was made to kill him rather than continue negotiating or allow him to surrender. There's apparently an unstated time limit on negotiations between someone having an "episode" and police before snipers are deployed and the victim is shot and killed, regardless of whether the victim chooses to surrender.

Albert Redwine, for example, was killed by a police sniper in Albuquerque as he was surrendering shortly after James Boyd was killed as he was surrendering as well. Both were aware of the jeopardy they were in -- whether or not they surrendered. They knew the police were out to kill them no matter what they did.

Redwine was Native American, Boyd was white and mentally ill. Both of the (white) men killed by state police snipers out in the country where we live were having episodes of rage, whether fueled by drugs or alcohol, I don't know. But both of them had had previous encounters with police, and I think they both had fairly long rap sheets.

Many people think that most of those killed by police are black, typically young black men. It's not true. In fact, the majority of those killed by police are white men. It seems that mostly black men are killed because those killings are the ones most widely publicized. The reason for it is clear enough: police killings of black men are a form of terrorism long used against the black community to keep them in fear of what could/would happen if they got out of line, above themselves, or made trouble. This has been going on since Slavery Time, and it hasn't substantively changed. There is a fear among white folk that if the blacks aren't kept in a state of perpetual terror, they would run wild and rape all the white women after they killed all the white men.

Publicizing the police killings of blacks while barely acknowledging the more frequent police killings of whites is one way to maintain the terror so often deemed necessary to control the black population.

The resistance through "Black Lives Matter" and other movements is growing, though, and the terror that police killings of black men is meant to inspire is fading. "We are not afraid" is part of the protest movement philosophy. Until police killings stop, people will continue to die, of course. But the movements are losing their fear. The terror no longer is as effective as it once was. Soon enough, it may not be effective at all.

When police terror is no longer effective, sometimes the terror tactics are increased, but sometimes the terrorist police or occupation forces withdraw. That's eventually what happened in Iraq. After causing as much mayhem and misery as possible and triggering a civil war, and after their own terror tactics ceased causing more than momentary fear among the Iraqi people, American ("Coalition") forces withdrew, first to bases, then out of  the country altogether, leaving only a remnant force to protect the Fortress America Embassy. Something similar was happening in Afghanistan but has recently stalled.

The use of police as domestic terror-squads to control the population is nearly at the point of diminishing returns. Payouts and settlements for police murder and misconduct are probably reaching into the billions annually, at least into the hundreds of millions, and crime, such as it is, even with many, many more activities criminalized, is at the lowest rate in generations. The purpose of police killing, brutality and terror may have been to control those deemed to be criminals, but compared to the past, there are so few such people on the streets, police aren't even considered necessary in some communities. They cause more trouble than then solve.

For the first time in anyone's memory, police are being indicted and may even go to trial for the killings and brutalizations of civilians. Police misconduct is being acknowledged by segments of the powerful -- the very powerful whom the police serve.

This startling development wouldn't have happened were it not for the sustained pressure of the nationwide movements and protests against police violence and murder that were triggered by the brave people of Albuquerque who stood in surprising solidarity against continued police violence and impunity last year following the outrageous killing of James Boyd.

Protests continue, but so does the killing.

The locus shifts. I did a quick analysis of where civilians were being killed by police most often as of February, according to data compiled by "Killed by Police," and I was startled to find that the majority of the killings were in Texas, followed closely by California, and then, with far, far fewer killings, but still at a high rate considering the smaller population, by Arizona. Florida -- with a much larger population than Arizona -- had the next highest number of police killings.

Most states had very few or none, notably New York, with only 2 at the time.

While we may think that police killing are random-universal throughout the country, they're really not. They're concentrated in certain states and certain cities of those states. One of them was once Albuquerque, and another was Oakland, CA. Both cities have reduced their police kill-rate to practically none over the last few months or a year. Many other states and cities never had a significant police kill-rate.

The strong message is that police don't have to kill, and further, that police killings can be significantly reduced without leading to collapse and chaos.

This lesson has yet to be learned in places like Texas and California where it seems that the killing has intensified since February. But there are other places where it hasn't, and some places where police killings are almost completely absent.

A key factor in police training that seems to be a cause of so much police killing is the "active shooter" scenario. Active shooter situations are very, very rare but some police forces train as if all encounters with the public were potentially active shooter scenarios -- with predictably tragic results. Hundreds of innocent and/or unarmed individuals are killed every year by police who seem to think they are defending against an active shooter -- that doesn't exist. Black and brown men are stigmatized and shot way out of proportion to their numbers in the population in part because for some unfathomable reason they are considered existential threats by police who are playing out "active shooter" scenarios or something similar in their minds eye. That's how John Crawford III and Tamir Rice -- among many others -- were summarily executed by police officers who thought that both were armed and prepared to engage in an active shooter situation. No, the only ones who were actually armed and who shot and killed were the police.

Another factor is the constant -- and inappropriate -- deployment of SWAT teams to serve warrants. Doing such is a recipe for tragedy. SWAT was never intended for routine warrant service, but since it is deployed for these actions, many individuals who have done nothing wrong have been killed -- along with their pets and children -- and lives and homes have been destroyed all to violently serve a routine warrant that could be handled much more peacefully.

These deployments must end, the active shooter scenario brainwashing must be curtailed.

Doing those two things alone would probably reduce police killings by 50% right off the bat.

The killing must stop.

Violent policing must stop as well.

Wendy Davis over at her own site clued me to one means of curbing police violence, the substitution of police forces with a model based on threat management rather than threat neutralization. It's explained in this video by Dave Brown in Detroit:

Brown makes clear in this video something I've been saying for a long time: Violent policing, let alone police killing, is almost never necessary. There is another way that works as well or better to control crime/criminals, and that is what he calls "threat management." All it takes is the will to do it and the skill to do it -- which many police forces today lack.

But that can -- and must -- change.

Friday, April 10, 2015

We've Got to Get Beyond the "National Conversation" About Police Violence to Action

The United States has been engaged in a "National Conversation" about police violence and murder since last August when Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson gunned down an unarmed black youth named Michael Brown.

This "conversation" has been driven and moderated by the media, a media which is fully in the hands of the Powers That Be and which determines the course of "discussion." The People are permitted to participate in the "discussion" so long as they adhere to the rules set by the media moderators. When they operate outside those rules, they are ignored, and so they are not part of the "discussion."

I've wondered why, during the course of this ongoing, rolling "National Conversation" the initial police killing and protests in Albuquerque in March of last year, in which an illegally camping mentally ill man named James Boyd was ruthlessly gunned down by two APD snipers, has been all but disappeared from the "discussion."

The issue of police violence and murder became nationalized due to the killing of James Boyd last year, but you hardly ever hear about it these days, and it isn't part of the overall "discussion." The activists who were determined to cause fundamental changes in the way the police in Albuquerque behave -- and so enable Albuquerque to become a model for police reform in the rest of the country -- have largely either shut up about it or have moved on to other projects.

Meanwhile, the "National Conversation" about police violence continues, as more and more Americans are killed by police -- still at the consistent rate of about three a day -- and hundreds and hundreds are assaulted and abused as part of routine policing. When these incidents of violence and death are particularly egregious and caught on video, there is a momentary shift in the "conversation" to focus on this or that incident. But on the whole, little seems to change. Police violence and killing continues as the "conversation" rolls on.

The "conversation" is in essence a stalling tactic used by elites and their allies to ensure that the status quo is maintained -- or that the appearance of the status quo is maintained while adjustments in the way Power is maintained are made behind the scenes. The "conversation" exists primarily to divert attention from the necessity for Action.

Two recent incidents of police violence have caused slight shifts in the "conversation." In one, the video of the killing of Walter Scott in North Charleston, SC, caused a remarkable action by the local PTB: they arrested the officer who killed Scott and charged him with murder one, an almost unheard of action against a police officer in the performance of his duties.

In the other, the apprehension and savage beating by sheriff's deputies of a man who fell off a stolen horse in the hills above Apple Valley, CA, has caused the typical action of police departments when confronted with video evidence of apparent misconduct: an acknowledgement that the "video is disturbing" (ie: the video is disturbing, not the actions of the deputies caught on video), and the incident will be "thoroughly investigated," which typically means exoneration of the officers involved in the incident -- due to internal, unknown and unknowable policies and procedures that authorize such violence against non-resisting suspects. Happens all the time.

Sadly, in the Apple Valley incident, the local ACLU issued a mealy-mouthed and useless statement acknowledging the authorization of the use of force by law enforcement -- an authorization that may or may not have been exceeded in this case. There was no real attempt by the local ACLU to hold police accountable for the violence documented in the video. Just as a side note, San Bernardino County was the site of sheriffs deputies burning alive Christopher Dorner who dared to point out the inherent racism and violence of the LAPD and took matters into his own hands to settle some scores after he was dismissed from the force.

The tendency in the "National Conversation" about police violence is to cast the problem/issue in racial terms, even though the issue is (IMHO) more a matter of class than race. Race enters into the picture through class, not independently, at least for the most part. Yes there are racists in police departments all over the country, and some of those departments operate from a racist basis. But the focus on race to the exclusion of class or other aspects of modern policing suggests that the issues of police violence and murder can only be solved by solving the inherent racism of American society (as teacherken suggests in this essay at dKos.)

Well, no. That's a further distraction -- perhaps one of the worst going -- because "solving" the inherent racism of American society is not something that can or will happen anytime soon, if ever. In fact, racism is so deeply ingrained in American consciousness and subconscious that it probably can't be solved short of divine intervention.

What can be solved and what must be solved through persistent action is the problem of police violence and murder which seem to be universal in American policing -- but aren't quite.

I mentioned the uproar in Albuquerque that followed the egregious police killing of James Boyd in March of last year, and how that uproar seems to have dissipated or disappeared. Something else has changed, though. The killing stopped. Well, mostly stopped. There has been one killing by APD since last July. I believe there have been three killings by Bernalillo County deputies in the unincorporated areas, and two by State Police in the outlying areas since last July. Though it is still too high, that's a remarkable reduction in the rate of police killings compared to previous periods, and it happened because of concerted public action and the determination of certain segments of the Powers That Be to conduct a thoroughgoing reform of the Albuquerque Police Department's policies regarding violence and use of lethal force.

The first thing to do was to stop the killing.

It really is that simple. The order must go out to STOP THE KILLING.


Both of these actions can be taken almost instantaneously if there is the will -- and the order -- to do so. It does not mean that the inherent racism of American society is cured or even addressed. But it does mean that the violence and killing perpetrated by police (which is one aspect of inherent racism) is curbed, and at least for a while, the other social and cultural problems can be dealt with.

The actions that caused such a steep reduction in police killings in Albuquerque are mirrored in some other cities such as Oakland, CA. The lesson is that the police can unilaterally stop killing and stop being violent assholes, and the world won't come to an end, the Apocalypse isn't any more nigh than it ever was.

The further lesson is that police violence and killing simply isn't necessary -- let alone desirable -- for a civil society to function. When police are responsible for a double digit percentage of homicides in this country (as they are), then a big part of the problem is the police themselves, not the criminal element they are supposedly protecting the rest of us from.

The public needs to mobilize against police violence and murder, but in some ways the "conversation" prevents mobilization. It's by design, of course. Those who benefit from the status quo of violent policing  and all of its many subsidiary aspects, including mass incarceration and the criminalization of whole categories of the population, will do practically anything to prevent the disruption of that status quo. But at times and in certain places, the People combined with the operators of the structures of Power can not only disrupt the status quo but institute a new status quo in which official violence on the part of police is curbed and the constant litany of killing by police is suppressed.

Those who benefit from the status quo include the media -- which is driving and moderating the "National Conversation" about violent policing. It's time to get beyond the "conversation" to action, and if that means that protests intensify and actions become inconveniences, so be it.

The killing by police must stop.

The violence by police must be curbed.

It's really that simple.