Wednesday, December 31, 2014

St Louis Today

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

What I Learned This Year -- Part The Third

Activism works.

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

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

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

I've seen many signs of it already.

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

No, it wouldn't work.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big changes are afoot.

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I Learned This Year: Part The Second

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The administration of the city saw no problem.

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

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

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

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

The killing stopped. THE KILLING STOPPED.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • A third of those killed by police were unarmed.

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

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

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

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

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

    It's crazy.

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

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

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

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

    Monday, December 29, 2014

    What I Learned This Year: Part The First

    I have to start with how much I learned about my ancestry that I never knew before.

    For example, I now know my mother's father's full name, where and when he was born, how, where and when he died, some of the highlights (well, low lights) of his career as a (petty?) criminal, how many children he fathered with how many women, and quite a bit about his family.

    My mother told me she had few memories of her father because he died when she was five years old, and she had very few memories before she and her mother and stepfather moved to California from Indianapolis when she was six. I suspect she had no memories of her biological father at all. He was arrested for burglarizing a drug store in Indianapolis when she was six months old in May of 1912. He appeared in court a week later, and his case was given to the grand jury. In August, my mother's mother sued him for divorce. From that point, he disappears from Indianapolis.

    Next time he turns up in the records, he's in St. Louis, working on the railroad. In 1914, his 'wife' in St. Louis (whether they are legally married or not, I don't know) gives birth to a daughter. And in December of 1916, he's killed in a horrible railyard accident. His death certificate lists the manner of his death as "Body cut in two."

    In 1917, my mother's mother married again in Santa Ana, California, to a man who was a neighbor and possibly a friend and colleague of my mother's biological father.

    My mother had been told that her father died in a streetcar accident in Indianapolis, but that wasn't so. She'd been told he was a streetcar conductor in Indianapolis, which he was at the time he met her mother, apparently. But he was living in St. Louis when he died; he was working as a railway switchman. His older brother was a Linotype operator for the St. Louis Globe newspaper at the time and had been living in St. Louis since about 1890.

    At some point, Harold -- my mother's father's older brother in St. Louis -- seems to have married my mother's father's first wife Maud who had divorced my mother's father sometime before 1910. Or maybe he didn't marry her. They were living together as husband and wife, but who knows whether they were married? I don't.

    I haven't been able to figure out whether my mother's biological father was legally married to anyone but Maud, as there seems to be no record of any other legal wife but her. But in those days, I've found, common law marriages were routine, and it's quite possible that his other wives were common law.

    The problem is that my mother was sure there was a scandal when he died and it was discovered he had another family "at the other end of the line," as both wives and daughters appeared at his funeral. My understanding was that all this happened in Indianapolis, but it couldn't have. He died and is buried  in St. Louis. The only way it could have happened is if my mother (then a five year old girl) and her mother traveled to St. Louis for the funeral. I suspect that's what actually took place.

    My mother was convinced her father was a bigamist because of the wife and daughter "at the other end of the line." But that may not be true. He may not have been a bigamist in the legal sense. I found no record that he was legally married or divorced from my mother's mother, for example, nor were there any indications in the records that my mother's mother and father ever lived together as husband and wife. Instead my mother's mother is listed as living with her mother and aunts in Indianapolis, even after my mother was born, until they moved to California in 1917 -- almost a year after my mother's father's death in St. Louis.

    That story still holds some mysteries, but the story I was told, that my mother's father was a streetcar conductor who had died in a streetcar accident in Indianapolis when she was five wasn't quite accurate, and I'm pretty sure it's what my mother was told and passed on to me without any particular knowledge of her own about it. She said she remembered the little girl -- the two year old daughter of her father's other wife -- and she felt sorry for her. If that's true, then more than likely that meeting took place in St. Louis. But she never mentioned St. Louis in her tellings of the stories. I doubt she remembered where she was at the time.

    My mother's father is buried in Friedens Cemetery in North St. Louis (actually in Bellfonatine Neighbors). This is about a mile from Calvary Cemetery where Dred Scott is buried, and about two miles from St. John's Cemetery where Mike Brown is buried.

    In the early '80's I lived and worked for a time in St. Louis -- well, it was actually in Webster Groves -- but I had no idea that my mother's father ever lived or was buried there. Instead, I used some of my free time to go to Iowa where I was born and where my father had lived and died. I didn't check out his grave -- which I've never seen in person, though I have seen pictures -- but I did check out his house, and recapture some of my earlier memories of the town.

    If I had known my mother's father had connections to St. Louis, I would have made a kind of pilgrimage to various sites I know about now, but had no knowledge of then. For example, the railyard where he died is still there by the Mississippi River. It looks like a Superfund site, but the tracks and much of the other infrastructure that existed in 1916 is still in place. The homes where he was listed as living are no longer there because they were torn down to build the freeways, but his older brother's place in Baden (north of St. Louis) still stands.

    Baden, I found out this year, has an interesting connection with my father's family, too. In that case, though, the Baden is in Germany where my father's mother's parents were from. I'd been told they were Germans, but exactly where they were from was somewhat murky. Frankfurt, Prussia, Bavaria, Munich were all mentioned, but not Baden, interestingly. Apparently, from what I was able to find out, my father's mother's parents were from a little village called Weibstadt that has been absorbed by Heidelberg and therefore no longer exists. There may have been travels and sojourns elsewhere in Germany ("Germany" didn't exist at the time, either), but if so, it would have been when they were children. Both my father's mother's parents emigrated to America when they were 15 years old in 1855.

    I was told that the family was "probably originally Jewish," but I have yet to see any proof of it. It's possible as there are Jewish families in Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands with the same last name, but I haven't found any direct connection between them. At any rate, the family had long been Catholic by the time they came to America.

    In researching the Irish side of my father's roots, I found there was a good deal of confusion and not a little Blarney. My father was convinced that we were descended from a prominent American Revolutionary family with deep roots in Maryland. Well... no. Not the way I found the line, at any rate. I will say it is possible that my father's Irish ancestors and the Maryland family he claimed descent from were related distantly, in Ireland, but there is no connection between them and my father's ancestors after 1700 or so. They may not even be branches of the same family as several independent and unrelated families use the same last name.

    There was confusion, however, because apparently two brothers emigrated to America with their families at two different times and settled in the same places, first in Ohio and then in Iowa. Edward emigrated with his family in 1842 and settled near Springfield, Ohio; his brother Alexander emigrated with his family in 1850 and settled nearby. Both brothers and most of their families then moved to Iowa in 1857, where they appear to have taken up a number of farmsteads in the general vicinity of Davenport.  Edward and Alexander's families and descendants are so intertwined and they use many of the same given names so it's difficult to sort out just who was who. There are similar problems sorting out who the mothers were, as there were at least four different women married to Edward and Alexander, and indications are that two of them were sisters, and one may have been traded between the brothers, first married to one and then to the other.

    I have not been able to unravel who is actually related to whom and how beyond my father's father's generation where it's pretty straightforward and clear. Earlier, however, it's very confused and confusing.

    Again, this kind of informality of marriage and relationships was not uncommon in the 19th century. It seemed in fact to be a feature not a bug of the Westward Expansion. Today we might think it's very odd -- I certainly do -- but apparently it wasn't in those days, and people took it quite naturally.

    We have a notion of Victorian patriarchy, prudishness and propriety that doesn't quite match the reality. 

    My mother and her mother were part of matriarchies, for example, in which men were at best useful accessories and often enough were little more than despised interlopers. "Sperm donors."

    From the research I did this year, I found that my mother's mother's mother, Ida, had been widowed in 1904. She set up a household for her mother, herself, her sisters (all widows themselves) and their children (two boys and a girl) in Indianapolis. Ida apparently inherited a lot of property from her husband -- who I found she hadn't lived with for years before he died as he had moved back to his parent's house to take care of his own mother who was apparently an invalid. Ida was left well off for the rest of her life, however, though her sisters were apparently not so well fixed after their husbands died.

    My mother's mother, Edna -- Ida's daughter -- worked as a telephone operator at an Indianapolis bank managed by my mother's father's younger brother, George. I suspect that any memories my mother said she had of her biological father were actually of George, who would have been her uncle, but I don't know that for certain. All I'm sure of is that her father left Indianapolis sometime between mid-1912 and mid-1913 (when my mother was not even two years old)  whereas Edna and my mother stayed in Indianapolis until 1917 -- when they moved to California with Leo who became my mother's step-father.

    I learned much more about other characters among my ancestors this year, people I'd only heard about previously. Many were long dead, but others were still alive when I was young though I didn't meet or know them.

    One was my father's older brother Vincent. He was accused of and tried for the murder of his wife, Garla a couple of years before I was born. He and his wife cared for -- essentially they adopted -- my half-brother Terry after my father's first wife Ted (nickname for Thelma) died in childbirth.  Vincent's alibi was that he was with his mistress in town when Garla died, and he said he discovered her body at the foot of the stairs when he returned home the next morning. The prosecutor claimed that Vincent had beaten her to death as she had numerous bruises on her body. The cause of death was a brain hemorrhage.

    My half-brother was apparently the only witness, but he could not testify due to his condition -- now called autism. He was 11 or 12 years old at the time.

    Vincent was tried for murder twice. The first jury hung; the second acquitted him. I didn't know about the first trial until this year. My father had been one of his defense attorneys -- the only time he tried a criminal case in court -- and he kept voluminous records and wrote a newsletter for the rest of the family describing what was going on, but the records I've seen and the story he told didn't mention the first trial and the hung jury, just the second trial and the acquittal. That story included the fact of my half-brother's testimony to the judge in chambers, but not what his testimony was. My father's story was that the judge then directed a verdict of "not-guilty."

    I didn't know what happened to Vincent until this year. He moved to Santa Barbara in 1947 with his mistress from Iowa and they were married. He died in 1962, in Santa Barbara. I had no idea he was there. From 1949 to 1953, I lived 50 miles north of Santa Barbara, and from 1953 to 1959, I lived in Los Angeles, a few hours south on Highway 101 from Santa Barbara. The only thing I knew about Vincent at that time was that he'd left town after he was acquitted and his whereabouts were "unknown."

    Whether anybody (for example, my parents) knew where he was and just didn't want to say, I don't know, but I was surprised as heck to learn he was in Santa Barbara until his death, as I had no idea until I saw records this year.

    There were many more things I learned this year about my ancestors and their relatives. I'm still attempting to process all of it. I've started to novelize some of the story as that seems to be the best way for me to understand what I've learned.

    In some ways, I wish I'd known these things before now,  but in other ways, I'm not convinced it would make any difference. All my grandparents were dead by the time I was born, and the stories I heard about "my people" when I was young were not that far from true. I'm far from convinced the records I've seen this year are necessarily true themselves -- especially Census records, which are notoriously untrue.

    People make up stories about their own past as well as that of their ancestors.

    Maybe next year, I'll be able to fictionalize what I've learned this year...

    Saturday, December 27, 2014

    346 -- or More

    I've spent what time I have had available today going through the Killed by Police listings of the Dead in order to log those who were unarmed... The website AnonSweden posted a video that mentioned "32 unarmed victims" and it just seemed wrong to me.

    Well, turned out "32" is a vast undercount.

    My methodology wasn't as strict as when I did statistical analysis for some of my working life, but it was close enough for a quick sketch of the problem.

    Out of the 1,083 killings by police listed by Killed by Police -- based on corporate media reports -- at least 346 were unarmed victims.

    Almost one third of the total.

    And there may well be more.

    I am in a state of shock.

    Friday, December 26, 2014

    DeRay McKesson Makes Entries in the #BlackDictionary