Thursday, December 31, 2015

All Kinds of Wrong

In my not abundant free time I've been trying to wade through the very poorly written and edited 74pg report by the Cuyuhoga County Prosecutor's Office  (scroll down for the report itself) that they say justifies the Grand Jury's no bill in the murder-by-cop of young Tamir Rice.

I didn't see McGinty's show-and-tell at which he apparently went through the report, but it's just as well. I would have been furious, and that's no good for my blood pressure.

The report is filled with so many typos and so much nonsense and outright falsehood that it takes your breath away. And it took more than a year for the "investigation" and the "process" to unfold, no? Why? As many observers have pointed out, there was more than enough evidence to hold both officers for trial, and it was obvious from the start.

In the case of a cop who kills, it's almost impossible to get a conviction, especially when the DA is acting as defense counsel as McGinty was in this case, but there is often no lack of evidence to charge and try the said cop in court. Of course, that almost never happens.

Yes, McGinty is acting as defense counsel for the police whose actions that awful day when Tamir Rice was shot by Timothy Loehmann at the Cudel Recreation Center were supposed to be evaluated by the Grand Jury with regard to whether or not there was sufficient evidence to charge and try them. That's all.

There was more than enough evidence to charge and try them. It doesn't mean there would necessarily be a conviction -- as I say, almost impossible to get -- but a trial in open court was certainly warranted. Instead, a kind of mock trial in which only the defense was present and only the defense was presented to the GJ by the DA was held behind closed doors. This is not justice, not even its shadow. This was farce.

The defense, yes. There was no prosecution, there was no attempt at presenting evidence for a possible prosecution of officers Loehmann and Garmback. The only evidence presented was a defense of their actions.

And then a defense of the DA's office for not presenting a case for prosecution.

How very circular. How very wrong.

There are many obvious falsehoods in this report, falsehoods upon which the DA rests his defense of the officers in the killing of Tamir Rice. The most glaring is the statement by Officer Loehmann himself, a statement which was apparently presented in whole to the Grand Jury, read by Loehmann to the jurors, a statement which he allowed to present without question or cross examination. By itself, this was a highly unusual and bordered on malfeasance. The statement itself was not new. It had been in the press before, and it had been picked apart because it is riddled with falsehood. But the DA chose to accept Loehmann's statement -- and the statements of other officers -- as true facts. They aren't. And if the goal is justice (it wasn't) the statements of police officers, especially of the killers themselves, have to be open to question. They weren't.

Instead, the DA sought evidence to corroborate, not to dispute, the officers' statements. When he believed he had sufficient evidence to do that, he advised the GJ not to indict.

Because the officers only did what they had to do -- based on the erroneous and incomplete information they had from a 911 caller and dispatch and the fear they felt due to the actions of their deceased victim. The officers had a duty and obligation to neutralize the active shooter threat that they believed Tamir Rice represented. And so they did, with lethal force, which is what they are authorized and empowered to do. The officers committed no crime, according to the DA, because in essence, they couldn't. There were many errors all along the way, he claimed, but the outcome -- a dead boy -- was not one of them. Based on the information they had and the actions of the boy, they had no choice but to kill him to save their own lives and protect the safety of others.

This is all kinds of wrong, but the DA in this case doesn't seem to recognize that.

The first thing to recognize -- which the DA doesn't -- is that there was no credible threat at any time to anyone from Tamir Rice that day. The only threat came from the police to Tamir Rice. Tamir Rice was not armed with a weapon, he had a toy gun. It's been called a BB gun or a "replica gun" (the term of choice used by the DA) but it was an Airsoft gun that could at worst cause slight injury if he had ever fired at anyone. So far as the evidence shows, Tamir never shot a plastic pellet from the gun at any time before or during the 911 call nor did he (nor could he) when the police arrived. He may never have shot a pellet at all. But even if he had, it wouldn't have been known to the officers -- because there was no report of his firing.

Nevertheless, the officers approached Tamir as if he were an active shooter and the situation was that of an active shooter causing multiple injuries and death. Nothing could have been farther from the truth. There was simply no call for treating him as an active shooter to be neutralized on sight. None.

Well, except for this: The report that was transmitted to the officers was that a black male was in the park aiming a gun at people. Bingo. That's all it takes in Ohio to justify police who kill them. It's happened repeatedly in Ohio (elsewhere too, but Ohio stands out because it is an open carry state. Well, for whites.)

All it takes to get a black male shot by police on sight is a 911 caller saying that an armed black male is waving his gun around and pointing it at people.

Bam! Or in Tamir's case, "bam-bam." Loehmann proudly says in his statement that he attempted a "tap-tap" by firing twice, but sadly only hit the boy with one bullet. No doubt he'll try to do better next time.

McGinty defends the "active shooter" approach to Tamir by saying that it was actually required of the officers by protocol, training and the law. They had no choice. Even though there were no reports AT ALL of anyone firing any weapon, because there was the potential that Tamir might become an active shooter, he had to be neutralized according to the protocols of the PD and the law in Ohio. They were not to assess; they were to act. And their act of killing Tamir was required of them due to the gravity of the situation.

This is so far from any sane policy, my head is spinning. It is practically the definition of "murder at will" -- because of fear that something might happen. This is almost the same excuse that was used to justify the killing of John Crawford III at that Walmart near Dayton. But there have been many others. All it takes is somebody calling 911 about a black man with a gun and reports of "pointing it at people." True or false, it doesn't matter. The black man will be a dead man (or boy) shortly.

True or false, it doesn't matter.

McGinty essentially says just that. The police are not to assess anything. They are to act on their split-second decision to neutralize (ie: kill) the reported threat. That is all.

Any delay or assessment of the true situation or any failure to shoot first before the victim can shoot at them is potentially deadly to them or others. Ergo, they are justified at law and by training  when they kill reported  "threats."

It doesn't matter whether the report is true or not. In the case of John Crawford III, the 911 caller made indubitably false claims about the actions of Mr. Crawford, and police acted on those false claims (of loading and aiming an automatic weapon at customers), and they were not held criminally liable.

In the case of Tamir Rice, the 911 caller repeatedly tried to clarify that the gun he saw the boy waving around was "probably fake" and the boy himself was "probably a kid." Didn't matter. That information was never passed on to the responding officers, but even if it had been, it wouldn't have made much difference, because they were psyched for an "active shooter" encounter, and because, according to McGinty's video enhancement expert, Tamir reached for the gun in his waistband.

 Talk about all kinds of wrong. The video is grainy and taken from a distance. It does not "indubitably" show Tamir reaching for the gun. McGinty says it is "indubitable" because his expert says so, but the expert is interpreting his own enhancement, not seeing with any sort of clarity what the boy is actually doing.

In my view, it's just as likely that he is taking his hands out of his pockets and attempting to "show his hands" as the police car skids to a stop. There is no sign -- whatever -- that he actually takes the gun from his waistband (as stated in Loehmann's account). McGinty makes the announcement that Loehmann's account is confirmed by this video enhancement, but that's false. That's not what it shows. But even if it did, it wouldn't constitute an actual threat to the officers or anyone else.

McGinty claims that the Airsoft gun "looks real" -- which it does -- but that's irrelevant if, as I suspect, neither officer ever saw the gun until after Tamir was shot.

And so it goes. The report is one falsehood after another, one irrelevancy after another, one wrong after another.

And cops who kill walk once again, because the DA does not prosecute cops who kill, the DA defends them.

America. 2015.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Year-End Wrap-Up: The Greek Thing and the Ukranian Thing Are Still Things, The Middle East Chaos Spreads, and Police Killings Have Increased, Not Decreased In 2015. What A World.

Greece and Ukraine have fallen off the media radar so that nowadays all you hear about Greece is that it is the arrival/transit point for the Muslim hordes invading Europe, if you hear even that, never mind that many Greeks live like refugees in their own country.

You don't hear about Ukraine at all except in the by now ritualized denigration and denunciations of Russia and especially that New New Hitler, Putin. Then it's only to yammer on about "Putin's Invasion" of Ukraine that never happened and his support of "separatists" and "rebels" that did.

Both Greece and Ukraine are economic disasters of immense proportions, made deliberately worse by the policies and programs of the very Europe that is supposed to be their salvation. Neither was in good economic shape prior to the impositions of the EU and its financiers, and in the case of Ukraine, prior to the Nazi coup -- which was partially enabled and funded by such luminaries as Pierre Omidyar. But what's been done to them over the past several years, as neo-liberal economic theories and policies have been given free rein, is grotesque in the extreme.

While I'm no fan of The Intercept, Glenn Greenwald's and Pierre Omidyar's special-purpose media outlet, I was quite taken with Paul Mason's four part film examination of the Greek tragedy which is still playing out. The trouble with it is that, like almost all media coverage of Greece in the US, it stops with the September elections which confirmed Syriza's parliamentary majority. It wasn't so much that there was nothing more to say about the Greek Thing at that point as it was that the elections were seen as a full capitulation to the Berlin/Brussels axis, and there could only be more misery in store for the Greeks from then on.

So far as I can tell, more misery is what's happened -- compounded by the flood of refugees from the Middle Eastern Chaos that was triggered by and is maintained at a boil by the United States of America, Inc, LLC. The refugee situation is sometimes blamed on the Greeks -- for not doing enough to stem the tide or something. For cripes sake. As if they could do something about it given the lack of support that Europe has given Greece. It's nonsense, but there you are.

The EU and its financiers make their own reality, it would seem, aided and abetted by the Department of Madmen in the United States of America, Inc. LLC. We live in remarkably Interesting Times, no?

My access to information about what's going on in Ukraine is strictly limited, and so far as I can tell, essentially nothing has changed since the struggle between Kiev and the Donbass was sometimes in the news. The struggle goes on. Kiev's aggression against the people of the Donbass continues, and terms like "genocide" are waved around. The nonexistent invasion by Russia is still bruited as if it were real. The Nazis still control the government in Kiev, and the suffering of the Ukrainian people under their control is profound and increasing. This is all the implementation of policies thought up in Berlin and Brussels and the Department of Madmen in Washington, DC. It's insane on its face, but it is the New Reality being created before our Very Eyes.

The Middle East spirals further and further into utter Mad Max Chaos, as city after city is destroyed and their populations liquidated in pursuit of named and nameless phantoms. The policy is obviously to keep the Chaos in the Middle East boiling and spreading indefinitely, and if there are fleeing refugees, so much the better. Destruction and depopulation seem to be happening for their own sake, and horrors are committed by all sides -- as if there were sides -- with glee and abandon. A charnel house would be less appalling. Meanwhile, our Good Friends the Saudis, ruled by a Madman King, chops off more heads than ISIS (whatever it's called these days) dreams of.

The police in United States have killed more people this year than last year when protests began in earnest and spread nationally against violent and deadly policing. Well. Isn't that something? More killed since the protests began...

As of yesterday, the number of dead at the hands of American police was 1192, a nearly 10% increase over last year. If the protests are intended to reduce the use of lethal force by police, they're not working. In the meantime, the number of police killed by perpetrators in the line of duty has apparently fallen by 14%. These statistics ought to be a clarion call to Americans that something just ain't right, but as I've seen on the internets over and over again, a whole lot of Americans are just fine with more dead at the hands of police. Especially if they're "thugs," black or brown men who have been so demonized for so long it seems that there is now almost no way for rehabilitation in the minds of both the police and the general white population. I knew the situation was dire, but it seems to be worse than I imagined.

There are so many killings by police it's almost impossible to keep up, and the System defends them in an almost comical fashion (though it's not the least bit funny) such as was the case with Cleveland's Own DA McGinty claiming there was no crime, only a sad series of errors, in the shocking summary execution of young Tamir Rice that snowy day last year.

No, there was no crime. There can't be. If police kill be someone in the line of duty, it is by definition "justified," because, as we know, police don't kill without justification. They wouldn't dream of such a thing. Even when they do skirt the rules of engagement or the line between "justified" and "not," they almost always get off because they din't mean to, and besides, they are always, always, always "in fear for their lives and the safety of others", and according to the law, so long as they invoke that phrase, which they are trained to do, there is no criminal intent or act in anything they do. Kill, maim, torture at will. It is not a crime if the police do it.

No one I know of is surprised at McGinty's failure to get a GJ indictment of the officers responsible for Tamir Rice's death. He didn't act at any time as a prosecutor in the case, he acted as their defense attorney. The person indicted would have been Tamir Rice if he had survived his execution. This has happened in so many other instances, in so many other jurisdictions, where prosecutors use the GJ process to essentially defend police and impugn and denigrate their victims that it is obviously a general policy and procedure within the prosecutorial profession to do exactly that. Professional courtesy, I guess. The prosecutor is there not to prosecute cases against police officers but to defend them, no matter what they do.

The law is structured in such a way as to protect the actions of police even in those very rare instances that go to trial. It is so rare that a police officer is convicted of a crime in connection with his/her duties, no matter what s/he does, that it's national news when it happens. This blanket protection is due to court decisions and local and state laws that essentially give police free rein to do anything they think needs doing ("to keep us safe") in the heat of the moment, the legendary "split-second" police and their defenders are always invoking to explain this, that and the next killing or maiming.

The Supreme Court constantly reinforces this near blanket immunity from criminal liability, usually unanimously or on a very lopsided majority. As long as they do, police will be protected whereas civilians are not.

There is no law that protects civilians from police killing them at will -- and getting away with it. None.

Some wag might say it's a wonder then that the police don't kill more than they do. Right.

So what do we do? I've been studying this issue for many a long year, starting with my work against police brutality on behalf of the NAACP in Sacramento in 1996. That effort was a partial success, and the reason why it was even partially successful was that the police chief and the city manager of Sacramento were in agreement with the goals of the project to reduce police brutality. They wanted nearly the same outcome we did.

Police departments are strict hierarchies, and when the top people say "these are the rules," the rank and file either follow them or they are out. In most cities, the police department is under the command of the chief who in turn is accountable to the city manager, not to elected officials. This is something that still mystifies many activists. They think that if they sway elected officials, then the police will follow, and it generally doesn't work that way. Police departments were deliberately insulated from the influence of elected officials in most cities long ago, as part of the Progressive Movement, in order, it was thought, to reduce the level of corruption that police were (and many still are) notorious for.

In theory, the city manager -- a professional, a technocrat -- is accountable to the elected representatives of the people, but city managers are notorious for their defiance and contempt of their supposed bosses. Often, it is almost impossible to fire a city manager, and firing is frequently the only discipline that can be imposed. Because the police chief most often works for the city manager, not the mayor and city council, discipline of the police is just as difficult to accomplish. They too will defy electeds when it suits them, and there is very little the electeds can do about it.

So, what do you do? You convince the people who are actually in charge of the police, the city manager and the police chief, that the rules by which the police operate must change, and this is how the rules must change. This is basically what all those DoJ consent decrees do. They tell the city manager and the police chief that this is how things should be done, and there is a court appointed monitor to ensure compliance.

Had the city manager and police chief not agreed to most of our anti-police brutality reforms in Sacramento, going to the DoJ was the next step. But they did agree and they implemented rule changes which reduced police brutality substantially (police killings had been rare and still are in Sacramento).

In other cities, such as Oakland and Seattle, consent decrees or their equivalent have been defied by police departments, sometimes for many years, and this defiance makes it clear that there is no real enforcement mechanism for these reforms. There's no way the courts can make a defiant department (ie: the police chief and city manager) comply short of taking over the department through receivership. As far as I know, that's never happened.

Thus police reform is a chancy business. It may or may not work. I'm convinced that abolition is the better alternative. Abolish current police forces altogether and start over. They have reached the point where they are beyond reform or salvation.

The whole damn system is guilty as hell, which means the entire criminal justice system needs to be dismantled and reconstructed on a better, more humane, and ultimately more just basis.

I can hardly imagine what it will take to accomplish that, but that's what's necessary.

Maybe next year.

Pray for the victims. And act for a better future.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Insanity Continues -- Three Shot by Police in Chicago This Weekend, Two Dead

American police "fear for their lives and the safety of others" all the goddamned time. ALL the time. And because they are always in such existential fear almost all of their many-many killings are "justified" by definition. If they weren't in fear for their lives and the safety of others, don't you see, they wouldn't have killed. They just wouldn't. Don't you see?

But when they're always in fear for their lives and the safety of others, they kill almost at random. There is a certain arbitrariness in police killings, as if they see themselves in a video game combating phantoms and arbitrarily appearing opponents. It's that mystical "split-second decision" thing.

So this weekend came news that Chicago police shot and killed two people at the same house Christmas overnight. The police had been called to help restrain a young man who was having a mental health crisis (never ever ever ever call police in such a situation, EVER. However, if you do call 911, the police will be dispatched, even if you don't ask for them, so don't call 911 if a loved one is having a mental health crisis unless you want your loved-one dead.) He was shot dead on sight. The other victim, according to some reports, was standing behind him and was shot in the cross fire. Except there was no crossfire. As is so often the case, the only ones armed and firing in this situation were the police.

Since it is a holiday weekend, the story is incomplete, but it seems the young man who was shot and killed was raging about something at some point prior to the arrival of the police and had taken up an aluminum baseball bat which he was pounding here and there in an apartment that belonged to his father. The other person shot and killed by Chicago's Finest was the downstairs neighbor lady who was trying to keep an eye out for the police.

From the somewhat sketchy accounts, the police rolled up, saw the man who "fit the description," and an officer commenced firing -- because they feared for their lives and the safety of others, specifically because they saw the young man standing in the doorway holding a baseball bat. They referred to that as as "confronting a combative subject." That was all they needed to commit yet another summary execution of a black man, armed and dangerous, one of hundreds this year. Trouble is, the neighbor lady also got executed. Oops. That, they say, was a "tragic accident." Accidental killings are big with police this year. Cf: Paradise, CA.

Oh well, if you don't want to die in a hail of police gunfire, just obey, right? Nah. Doesn't work that way. Never did. Whether you get shot or die in a police encounter seems to depend ever less on your behavior than on the mindset of the officer involved. Too often, that mindset is on fearing for his or her life and killing...

It's got to stop, but apparently nobody with the power to stop it wants to, or perhaps they don't know what to do... I don't know.

I know that not all jurisdictions are filled with killer cops. In fact, most seem to be free of the fear-killer mindset that afflicts so many others. In New York City, the rate of police killings plummeted by 90% in a very brief period -- I believe it was two years -- simply by changing the rules under which use of lethal force was authorized and holding police to account every time they drew or used their side-arm.

 In Oakland, the police kill-rate was reduced to zero for a while on the basis of similar rule changes and requirements that police account for their actions.

In Albuquerque, similar rule changes and requirements to report and account for actions also cut the police kill-rate significantly.

It's not rocket science. It can be done. But there has to be a will to do so, and that will has to originate at the top. Police departments are strict hierarchies. Police officers do what they do based on what their commanders expect and require of them. And what they're allowed to get away with.

Throughout the United States, the problem police departments -- the ones where killing seems to be a routine -- are commanded by chiefs (who themselves are often the creatures of city managers) who are authorizing or allowing their officers to kill essentially at will without being held to account.

In too many cases, this results in a death-squad mentality that permeates entire departments. They operate as killers not as protectors.

Many other departments may not be subsumed into a death squad mentality, but they conduct their business with levels of prejudice and violence that is almost as destructive to individuals, families, and communities.

This has to change. The social cost of violent and death-dealing policing is too great. But changing it is hard as activists have come to find out. You think you've made progress in one area only to find something worse is happening in another. Police departments that have adopted a death squad mentality are fiercely resistant to change -- partly because they legitimately fear for their safety and security. If they are held to account for their actions, some are liable to go to jail. Can't have that, oh no.

So they want assurances first that all prior acts will be forgiven.

That can be a problem.

Ultimately, it seems to me, abolition and starting over is the only real solution, and that would have to encompass the entire criminal (in)justice system, top to bottom, an enormous, and indeed revolutionary undertaking.

Americans aren't up to that yet but may be one day.

The whole damn system is rotten and guilty as hell. It has to change or be changed one way or another.

Maintaining the current course is insanity.

Friday, December 25, 2015

On Finding A Cousin After All These Years

I'm old.

I didn't grow up with cousins, aunts, uncles or grandparents. My near relations consisted of my mother, father, sister (half sister, she had a different father) and later included my sister's husband(s) and children. That was it; there were no others.

Except for a couple of years in the 1970s, I never looked for other relations -- though I knew they existed in some quantity, especially on my father's side, he being one of eleven children, nine of whom lived to adulthood.

About a month ago a cousin I didn't know existed contacted me and we've been in furious email communication ever since. She had no idea of my existence nor did I have any knowledge of her existence.

Oh yes, I figured there must be aunts, uncles and cousins in abundance, but I didn't know who they were or where. I'd been told vague stories of "spinster aunties living in San Francisco," so those were the ones I tried to track down when I lived in the City in the 1970s, but I had no success. Turns out the reason why is because they were both dead by the time I tried to look them up. One was not, it turns out, a spinster at all. No, she was married and had three sons. She died the same week as my father did in 1969. But I didn't know that. The other aunt was unmarried, true enough, but she kept company, it would seem, with a gentleman caller for much of her life. They didn't marry, I'm told, because they couldn't. He was married but estranged from his wife. They did not divorce because of the strictures of the Catholic Church. Wouldn't you know. This sort-of spinster aunt died the same year I lived in San Francisco, but I'm pretty sure it was before I got there.

There was another aunt in San Mateo I didn't know about.

There was an uncle in Santa Barbara when I lived in Santa Maria (about 50 miles north of SB), there was another uncle in Los Angeles (somewhere) when I lived in the San Gabriel Valley between 1953 and 1959. Yet another uncle lived in Northern California (not sure exactly where but Susanville has been mentioned.)

There were cousins in fair abundance in the San Francisco Bay (South Bay) area throughout my childhood. Later there were cousins in Rancho Murieta and Roseville, suburbs of Sacramento where I lived and worked for decades.

Descendants of these cousins are mostly still in California, in the Central Valley, South Bay, Los Angeles, and the Sierra foothills.


I was born in Iowa where the family seat once was. Prior to that it had been in Ohio. And prior to that, it was in Ireland on one branch and Germany on the other.

So far as I know, there is no one of the Latin persuasion among my ancestors... but what do I know? Not much, it would seem as I get caught up with this new-found cousin.

My father and two of his sisters stayed in Iowa after 1946 whereas all of his other siblings high-tailed it to California just as soon as they could. I didn't know that, and I didn't know so many of them were so close at various times of my life. I knew one of my father's sisters in Iowa, but his other sister who stayed had died in 1960, and I never knew her.

My father and two of his sisters --and his other son-- stayed in Iowa after 1946.

I keep forgetting his other son, my half-brother, in these accounts. Yes, he was in Iowa, too, living with a couple in town, a couple who took care of him after some unpleasantness in the family which led to the death of his one of his previous caregivers. He was disabled with what is now called autism, but at that time that term was not used. He was called an "idiot savant."

I'm told that he came to see me when I was an infant, but I have no recollection of ever meeting him, though I have vague memories of meeting his caregivers in the early 1960s when I spent two summers with my father in Iowa.

After his caregivers could not longer look after him, he was placed in a Catholic residential care facility in town. I've recently learned the name of it. It's still in operation, so after the new year, I just might see if I can learn anything about what became of my half- brother. I don't know that they would still have records from 50 years ago, but they might...

The newly-found cousin I've been in contact with has an extensive family archive that she received from her mother (my father's sister). Some of what's in it is familiar to me from similar items and stories I received from my father, but much of it is totally new.

Wow. I never knew so many things about this family, so many things.

On the other hand, I know a lot of things she never knew, never had any inkling of. She only knew of the first of my father's three marriages, for example. Well, guess what? I didn't know squat about that marriage -- as no one ever mentioned it to me -- until very recently when I found documentation online. It came as a complete surprise to me. My father was married twice after that first one. News to her. He fathered two sons. She never knew. Etc.

 Apart from her mother's name, I didn't know anything about her. Turns out she was actually the other "spinster auntie in San Francisco" that was vaguely referred to now and again. Seems that she and her actual spinster sister were a team, working for the government in Washington DC and later as public stenographers in their own business in Berkeley, Oakland and San Francisco during and after WWII. She married in 1947, though, and another aunt came out to California soon thereafter.

My newly-found cousin was born the same year I was. She was born in San Mateo where she grew up. She now lives in the Sierra foothills east of Lodi.

Oh. I didn't know and wouldn't have guessed.

The stories and scans we've been sending back and forth to one another have been illuminating history neither of us knew. We didn't know in part because there were so many things our parents never spoke of. There were so many aspects of their lives, it seems, that were not to be mentioned in front of the children. Or in some cases were not to be mentioned at all.

And yet, the records exist and many of them are now discoverable online, and because of that, stories that never were told before are now being explored and some of them are being told.

My new-found cousin has suggested that since I seem to know quite a bit more about The Family than she ever did, I ought to write a book that tells the story as completely as I can. Well, that would be a challenge to say the least.

There are still so many dark corners and unknown -- possibly unknowable -- aspects of the tale. I've already filled in some of the blanks with fiction and speculative interpretations. But there's still so much I have no knowledge of at all.

The story we've been exploring with one another is a family saga in the classic sense. It's a drama, too, some aspects of which are tragic, others not so much. My father's story is probably one of the most tragic aspects, but it's by no means the only one.

On the other hand, I've done a good deal of exploration of my mother's background and ancestry, something she knew very little about, especially on her father's side. What I've found -- some of which I've posted about here in the past -- is really stunning to me. I had no idea, or only the vaguest idea, before I got into the research in a big way.

I've tagged this series, "Who Are These People?" because I so often really wonder about the people I come from. Who are these people, indeed. It's still so much of a mystery. The more I learn, the more of a mystery it seems to become...

Merry Christmas to all...

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

This is Insane. This MUST Stop NOW...

I've been very frustrated with the lack of progress in reducing or ending police violence and killing in this country. Indeed, the rate of police homicide has gone up, not down, since the advent of nationwide protest actions against it after the execution of James Boyd by police snipers in Albuquerque in March of 2015.

Police killed more civilians in 2015 than they did in 2014 and there seems to be no focused effort on curbing the killing.

Protest has not accomplished that goal -- if it even is a goal anymore.

Recently the San Diego DA released video of a police killing that happened there in April. It's yet another shocking indication of police mis-interpreting far too many individuals and actions as threats that MUST be met with lethal force, which in almost every case is defended by their departments and DAs as somehow necessary to the protection and well being of cities and society.

NO! These killings create chaos and destruction, they ruin lives, families and communities. They are doing just the opposite of what so many defenses of police killing and violence claim. They are insane. They MUST STOP.

This defense of the police killing of Fridoon Nehad in San Diego makes no sense at all.

The officer who killed him had no knowledge of the "threat" except that provided by the dispatcher based on erroneous information relayed to 911 by a clerk at a bookstore who thought he saw the victim brandishing a knife. The victim was not armed. He DID NOT HAVE A KNIFE. Even if he had been armed with a knife, HE WAS NOT THREATENING ANYONE,  and even if he had been, doing so IS NOT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE.

Repeat: Brandishing and even threatening with a knife IS NOT A DEATH PENALTY OFFENSE.

Furthermore, police are not intended to be judge, jury and executioner whenever they feel afraid.

The officer in this case was so frightened by the mere presence of this man who he believed was the suspect in an ERRONEOUS 911 call and dispatch that he shot him essentially on sight.

This has happened HUNDREDS of times so far this year. And it must STOP.


Happy Holidays...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Who Are These People, Once Again

For the last few days, actually more than a few, I've been in almost continuous online communication with a cousin in California I had not known about until she contacted me because I'd labeled a couple of pictures wrong on She'd seen them, she said, and wanted to make sure I corrected the record.

Her mother was my father's sister.

But I was ignorant of her existence. This was true of a slew of aunts and uncles and cousins in California  I had no or very little knowledge of.

Of course the cousin who contacted me through had no prior knowledge of my existence, either. Though she knew of my father through her mother, she didn't know he'd had any children, and even if she had known, she wouldn't have known their whereabouts -- because nobody ever talked about it.

I wonder how common such things are in American families.

We've spent a lot of time online catching up and comparing notes. That's where I disappeared to. She has much information from her mother that expands what I knew about the family by way more than I expected. I have a good deal of information she knew nothing of, too, so we've been sharing what we both know as quickly and extensively as we can -- before we die, after all! -- and it's been taking up almost all my free time lately.

To me the family saga on our mutual Irish line is filled with drama and pathos, indeed tragedy with regard to some of the characters and circumstances, and she and I both want to ensure it's known and understood by future generations. I was not entirely sure there would be future generations however, because so many of the descendants I found (including my own self) don't have children. I was afraid the line would peter out and go extinct. But thanks to this new-found cousin, I have learned that's not the case. Not even close. There are actually quite a few descendants in her grandchildren's generation, and she wants to make sure the stories are passed on to them.

Well good.

In addition to the Irish in us, we also share German ancestry -- she through her father as well as through the grandmother she and I share -- and the German side has proved much harder to sort out than the Irish side, though I'm convinced much of the story of the Irish side is melarky.

The German side starts with a couple who emigrated from different parts of what would become Germany who met and married in Iowa. They both emigrated in the 1850s, she from Koblenz, Prussia, he from a little village outside of Heidelberg, Baden. They were both very young, just young teenagers, when they made their way across Europe through France, and then to America. I would love to know more, but I've found very little, and my new-found cousin knew practically nothing about them. Again it is because so little was ever talked about within the family.

We're still discovering, and I suspect this phase will continue for a while longer.

Meanwhile, happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Police Reform? Not If It Is Allowed To Be Solely About Race

Stephanie Lopez was arrested by Bernalillo County sheriffs deputies on charges of child abuse and witness intimidation. This is a real thing.

Stephanie Lopez is the president of the Albuquerque Police Officers Association, ie: the APD officers' union. I've seen her in action for some time thanks to my own activism against police violence in Albuquerque and around the country, and compared to many other police union presidents she seems quite sane and even compassionate. She looks out for her officers' interests, but she's also very conscious of the need for police accountability and for the need to reduce police brutality and the number of police involved killings.

She's on administrative leave from the police department and the union while these matters are sorted out in court. Her replacement as union head is Shaun Willoughby who has not typically been as sane. But then, there's been an element of good-cop/bad-cop in their public presentations throughout Albuquerque's police-reform saga (a saga that's still going on.)

Police reform in Albuquerque has meant that APD no longer routinely kills suspects. At least one of the sniper squads has been disbanded, and there has been a real and sustained emphasis on deescalation of force and crisis intervention. Obviously, the word went out from the top to "stop the killing" and it has almost stopped -- at least by APD. There are other police forces at work in the area, including sheriffs, other city's police departments, and state troopers, none of whom seem to have gotten the message, and all of whom have kept on killing.

Since the reforms kicked in last year, an APD officer was killed and a number have been wounded (one by friendly fire that is suspected not to have been friendly at all...). The two APD officers who executed James Boyd as he was surrendering have been charged with murder, but they are out on bond until their trial sometime next year, and the officer who shot and killed Mary Hawks successfully sued to get his job back despite his repeated failure to follow procedures regarding his body cameras and other matters.

Let's say that reform of APD has meant two steps forward and one back, which is progress, yes, but not enough.

In Albuquerque, though there was a racial component in the abuses that were protested and which ultimately led to reform, the focus was not on race. The focus was on failures by the department and the city which led to so much abuse and killing. Failed mental health care and homeless services. Failed crisis intervention. Failed apprehension and custody tactics and so on. All of which led to a constant litany of death and destruction, most of which was avoidable.

Race and class were part of the overall picture of abusive, violent and deadly policing, but they weren't the whole thing, and the reforms did not focus solely on class and race issues.

The reforms seem to be working, but whether they'll become permanent, who knows? The arrest of Stephanie Lopez, however, makes me wonder. There is so far no sign that her arrest was arranged -- shall we say -- to eliminate her relatively conciliatory approach, but that's the upshot. Willoughby is not a conciliator and may prove to be problematic as the reform effort continues. We shall see.

Meanwhile, there is apparently a media push to acknowledge that the "national conversation" about policing has reached a climax of sorts and that "reform" is now the leading topic of discussion. The reforms being discussed by the "nation", however, appear to be almost exclusively focused on race and the disparate level of police violence and killing employed almost universally in this country against communities and people of color.

Wait. No. The problem of violent policing is not and has never been entirely a matter of race, and if the "national conversation" (which is really a matter of the elites talking to one another and has almost nothing to do with what the public wants/needs) devolves the problem into one exclusively of race, then quite simply the problem will not be solved, in fact, it may be made worse.

I've said many times here and elsewhere that police in general see armed people of color, particularly males, whether or not they are actually armed and whether or not they are threatening others, as existential threats to be neutralized with as much firepower as can be brought to bear. We see the videos of such summary executions -- which is what they are -- all the time, practically every day. They are horrible and in almost all cases, they are egregious, unnecessary. In some cases, regardless of "justifications" they are outright murder.

More white folks die at the hands of police, it's true, but the rate of killing by police falls most heavily on black and brown men. Abusive policing in general falls most heavily on black and brown men. Mass incarceration falls most heavily on black and brown men. Mentally ill black and brown men are exterminated at a profoundly disturbing rate. But they are not the only ones.

What seems to have happened during the media-memed "national conversation" about violent policing is that it has been characterized in almost exclusively racial terms. The Black Lives Matter movement has tried to avoid that exclusivity while at the same time focusing attention on the disproportionate levels of violent policing experienced by the black community. That seems to be recognized relatively widely today, and it is acknowledged as a problem even by many police chiefs. Something should be done about it. 

The problem of disproportionate policing is one thing, the problem of police violence and murder is another, and yet they have been conflated by a media which seems to want to keep the focus on policing the Negros, while barely recognizing that police violence is systemic. One has to deal with both the disproportionate policing that has virtually destroyed millions of lives and families and communities, and the violence the police routinely employ against civilians of any color or gender, violence which can and way too often does include summary execution.

If the issue is allowed to be solely about race, there will be little or no reform of police conduct; the killing will not stop. Mass incarceration may pause for a while, but the destruction wrought by violent policing will not be remedied.

If there is to be real and lasting reform of police conduct, it has to be system-wide, top to bottom, and I detect real resistance at the top to engaging in that kind of reform, starting at the very top with the DOJ and the FBI, neither of which even bother to collect let alone analyze statistics of police violence. At the top, the Attorney General and the FBI Director defend police conduct, almost without exception and almost regardless of how egregious. The FBI Director has falsely and repeatedly claimed that something called the Ferguson Effect (ie: scrutiny of police conduct) is responsible for a spike in violent crime, a spike for which there is no statistical evidence. Neither of the recent Attorneys General will hold police accountable for their actions, pretty much no matter what they do. The numerous consent decrees mandating reform of police departments throughout the country are primarily designed to regularize and professionalize police conduct,  not to reduce the killing and the violence police employ but to rationalize it.

Make it consistent. Make it defensible. This can mean an even greater level of violence by police, because there is no real intent to reduce the violence, at least none that I've seen, in the consent decrees.

Some police departments take it upon themselves to ratchet down the levels of violence they have been using against the public, but many do not. Some actually increase the use of violence in the face of protests, and their chiefs show utter contempt for the public in the process.

That internalized contempt is part of the problem of reform, and part of why I'm not convinced the kinds of reforms that are necessary are possible. Abolition may be the only viable way to do it, but there's very little sign that abolition is even conceivable in light of current "conversations."

Of course abolitionists of yore faced the same -- indeed worse -- odds.

James Boyd was executed by two police snipers as he was surrendering in the Sandia foothills in Albuquerque in March of 2014. Those snipers were later charged with murder, and their trials are scheduled for some time next year. I don't expect them to be convicted, but the fact that they were charged and will be tried is "something." Protests against that killing got under way in Albuquerque soon after Boyd was killed, and they triggered protests against police violence and killing much more generally. Those protests have continued relentlessly all over the country ever since, and it's been almost two years now. People are not letting this issue go.

Many police chiefs have recognized there is a problem with violent policing and mass incarceration, and some have taken steps to address the problem, but so far the rate of killing by police has not been reduced, in fact, it has increased since the protests against it went viral.

Control of police violence has to be exercised from the top. The police departments are hierarchies. When the chiefs and their bosses, the mayors and city managers, tell the police to stop killing, they will. So far, that order has only gone out in a very few cities.

Many more police chiefs need to hear the call and issue the stop killing order before the bloodshed will be significantly reduced. But it can be done.

Maybe next year....

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Why Do Police Feel It Is Their Job To Kill -- The San Francisco Thing and The San Bernardino Thing and the Paris Thing In Perspective

When I first saw news about the San Bernardino mass killing, the word was that it was at a hospital. Then the word was it was at a clinic. Then it was at a developmental center -- which didn't make any sense, as I didn't know what that was. Much later, the word was that the shootings happened at a conference facility at the Inland Regional Center where the San Bernardino Department of Health was holding a banquet and awards presentation (or a holiday party, it's not entirely clear).

From the first, though, the reports reminded me a lot of what happened in Paris. In other words, a mass shooting where people were gathered for no political purpose at all, intended -- apparently -- to inspire as much fear and dread in as many people as possible.

The authorities have been having a hard time calling it "terrorism" -- and I don't really think that argument matters in the least. The issue is that the actions of the (apparent) shooters did cause panic, fear and dread in a whole city, leading to furious reaction by police, media falling all over itself to get the story (mostly wrong) and commands from on high to OBEY.

Obedience. That's the key element.

Oh yeah, and the alleged shooters were killed by police after a high-speed chase from their home in Redlands and through the streets of San Bernardino, until they were cornered and a shoot-out ensued. Or something. Or so they say. We really don't know what happened, although whatever it was was apparently witnessed by the scrum of helicopter cameras overhead -- though not shown, and possibly not recorded by those self-same cameras. The NBC helicopter, for example, was focused on a vehicle (apparently shot up, not sure) some distance away from the "black SUV" that the (apparent) shooters were driving and in which one died, the other shot down in the street. Much of the coverage I saw that day was deliberate misdirection, "so as not to reveal" something, whether bloody corpses or police storming around town frightening the bejebus out of everyone. But eventually there would be the denouement so everyone could get back to normal.

Ah yes, the killers were killed by police.

Most Americans would say it was justified. No other choice.

In San Francisco, a video was posted on social media of a man being shot and killed by a swarm of police who formed a firing squad on a city street and shot the man in the presence of many witnesses.

The man appears agitated but not in any way threatening to the officers, all of whom appear to have their sidearms drawn and aimed at the man. As the man attempts to sidle away from them, one officer puts himself in the man's path. The man continues to attempt to inch away from the other officers. As he does, the officer in his path appears to open fire. Other officers join in. The man falls mortally wounded on the sidewalk while witnesses shout their outrage.

Police claim the man was armed with a kitchen knife 6"-8" long (not visible in any video of the incident so far released) and had "committed a felony" by stabbing someone previously. He was confronted by police but refused commands to drop the knife, and he appeared to be able to withstand several bean-bag rounds without being subdued sufficiently for apprehension.

Police claim that the witness videos show what happened after he was struck by bean-bag rounds and managed to get up again. Police claim he still had the knife and refused commands to drop it. Police claim he was moving toward an officer when they opened fire -- "fearing for their lives and the safety of others...." Bang, bang.

The "21-foot Rule" and all of that. In other words, whether or not the man was actually threatening officers, he was a threat to them simply because he was armed and so close to them. Never mind that all of the officers on scene were aiming their guns at him, and objectively represented a mortal threat to him. Beside the point, right? The fact that he was trying to inch away, slowly, without in any way threatening the officers, but he was moving toward an officer who had put himself in the man's path, was sufficient to justify opening fire on him -- according to the police.

Oh, and he was black.


Yes, well. This is the US of America, 2015, and in the US of America in 2015, a black man with a weapon, even if only an imaginary weapon, or armed only with his blackness, is considered an existential threat to be neutralized. Terminated if need be.

This is the almost automatic response of police throughout the land when they are informed of an armed black male on the loose. "Training" kicks in, and... they kill.

In this case, the young black man, Mario Woods, was alleged to have stabbed another man who sought treatment a nearby hospital and reported the attack to the police. Police scoured the area and determined that the young man they eventually shot and killed, Mario Woods, had stabbed the man being treated at the hospital (for a non-lethal wound to his shoulder -- apparently).

Mario Woods, apparently, refused to obey police commands to "drop the weapon" and submit to arrest. So far, there are three videos showing portions of the confrontation between Mario Woods and what look to be close to a dozen SFPD officers, guns drawn. There is no "weapon" visible in Mario Woods' hand in any of the videos. In one, it appears that Mario Woods is attempting to show the officers his hands -- to demonstrate he does not have a knife. But as is the way with these videos, the images are too grainy to say for sure.

At any rate, he is not threatening the officers in any way. He appears to be confused and frustrated, agitated but not threatening.

And when he takes a step or two away, toward an officer moving into his path (an officer he might not even have seen) he is subjected to a fusillade of gunfire, more than a dozen shots fired by five officers at close range. Mario Woods did not survive. Intentionally so.

While there were protests at the time he was shot -- distinctly heard on the videos -- and there has been a growing sense of outrage in the Bayview community and San Francisco where this police action took place, media has been intent on demonstrating that Mario Woods "needed killing" because of his criminal past and because of his alleged assault on the man who was treated at the hospital, and most of all for his


Obedience being (almost) the sole criterion of whether one lives or dies in any confrontation with police. "Just comply" say the defenders of these actions, "and you won't be shot and killed." Of course that's not true, especially not true for black and brown males -- who may comply and be shot or brutalized anyway. It's simply a roll of the dice whether the police will kill a black or brown male in a confrontation, no matter what the subject is doing or not doing. Police will almost always get away with it, too, because all that matters at law is the officer's perception at the time of the killing. So long as the office can say the Magic Words, "fearing for my life and the safety of others" he or she will almost always be free of criminal liability for any execution they might commit. This is due to some very strange Supreme Court rulings protecting police action in the course of their duties (mostly having to do with the Drug War) and to cultures and policies of police departments that encourage fatal encounters.

In the case of the San Bernardino Thing (Paris, too) the suspects were... brown. In San Bernardino, it was a matter of a brown married couple of the Muslim persuasion, he an American citizen, she, apparently, a Pakistani. He was an employee of the county health department that was holding the event at the conference facility. The story is that the man had an argument with someone else there and left the facility only to return shortly thereafter with his wife, both of whom were armed with assault rifles and both of whom opened fire into the assembly, killing fourteen and wounding another 20 or so before escaping in that "black SUV."

Motive unknown, but "workplace dispute" seems to be part of it. Stories of the couple's radicalization and devotion to ISIS (whatever it may be at any given time) are circulating, There is both a Pakistani and a Saudi connection of some sort. And of course the internet as a means of communication and radicalization are part of the story too (as is the case with the Paris Thing as well).

The response of the politicians is to forbid Syrian refugee resettlement in this country or in Europe, as the Syrian refugees, who had nothing to do with San Bernardino or Paris, are potential threats to guard against.

The San Bernardino couple (Sayeed Farouk and Tashfeen Malik) had acquired quite an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, all legally, only a tiny portion of which was (apparently) used in their killing rampage and later shoot out with police. The rest was discovered at their townhouse.

The Paris attacks were committed by heavily armed individuals, all or almost all of whom died in shootouts with police.

Few would question the need for killing individuals who are actively engaged in shootouts with police. Though it is reported to have been the case in both San Bernardino and Paris, these shootouts did not necessarily take place at all. Police have been known to declare themselves involved in "shootouts" when only they are firing. This was apparently the case in Watertown during the apprehension of one of the Tsarnayev brothers. Only the police were firing at their quarry who was hiding in a boat under a tarp, but the police claimed falsely that they were engaged in a shootout. This has happened many times.

Whether the couple in San Bernardino were shooting it out with police will probably never be known for certain. Same with the many suspects in the Paris Thing (I've read that there have been thousands of police raids in France and Belgium since the incidents in Paris. Some have involved killing, but how many? Who knows, and can we believe what we're told?)

Meanwhile, France and other parts of Europe are enduring a state of emergency which prohibits public demonstrations among many other normal activities and which requires obedience to authority.

There is a consistent theme through all these instances: one obeys or one suffers the potentially lethal consequences.

Command and obey.

The lesson? Terrorize a city, and the residents of the city shall be made to obey.

Be a black or brown man suspected of having committed a crime or of being armed in any way, and be shot down by police.

And then of course there are the white male mass murderers captured alive and treated with courtesy and respect, granted all the rights and privileges guaranteed to them by the Constitution.

America. 2015.