Posts tagged Occupied Cascadia

Institutionalized sadism

(Via Atomic Nerds 2009-02-08, flip flopping joy 2009-03-03, and NPR.)

See if you can figure out what all of these cases have in common.

Trigger warning. The stories below involve verbal descriptions, and a news video below includes repeated displays of silent but very graphic footage, of extreme physical violence by adult teachers and male police officers against young men, young women, and girls under their authority.

In Idaho, an eight-year-old girl who has been labeled with Asperger’s Syndrome was taken out of a class Christmas party at her government-run school, because she was wearing a hoodie with cow ears and a tail, which she refused to take off on the arbitrary orders of her teacher. For this minor dress code violation, she was stuck in a separate room and intervened with by a pair of teachers. While she was under their power, she peacefully tried to walk out of the room through an open door, so the adult teachers physically grabbed her and forced her down into four point restraint; when she screamed and tried to get out of the painful hold they had put her in, the teachers then called in the county government’s police, who came in, grabbed this 54-pound girl, handcuffed her, marched her out to a police car, and took her to a juvie prison, for battering the teachers who were physically restraining her when all she wanted was to be left the hell alone. This sustained assault by several different adults, some of them heavily armed, on an upset child, which has left her with bruises, is dignified as a scuffle by the newspapers:

The mother of an 8-year-old autistic girl who was arrested after a scuffle with her teachers said it was horrifying to watch her daughter be led away in handcuffs from her northern Idaho elementary school.

Police in Bonner County, Idaho, charged the girl, Evelyn Towry, with battery after the arrest Friday at Kootenai Elementary School.

Even though prosecutors dismissed the case Tuesday, the family is considering legal action against the school. They say their daughter was physically restrained to the point of causing bruises and is now tormented by memories of the incident.

… Towry said Evelyn, who loves Spongebob Squarepants, told her she was put in a separate classroom away from the party, but when she tried to leave, the teachers told her to stay put. Evelyn did not listen, Towry said, and the adults physically restrained her.

She reacted in a violent way to the physical restraint, Towry said.

Towry said her daughter demonstrated for her how she was held down by her arms and legs. And Towry videotaped the thumb-sized bruises she says were left on Evelyn’s legs from the incident.

She said I was very scared, Towry said. She told me she was being hurt.

Dick Cvitanich, superintendent of the Lake Pend Oreille School District, which includes the school where Evelyn was a student, said the school called police because there was escalating behavior that resulted in what we perceived to be an assault on staff.

No doubt; but who, in this situation, was doing the escalating?

Teachers and the principal wished to pursue charges because they felt there were ongoing problems and this was the only way to resolve it, Lakewold said.

But Towry said her daughter thinks she got into so much trouble simply because she didn’t want to take off her cow costume.

When asked what she likes best about school, Evelyn responded quickly and emphatically.

Nothing, she said. I don’t like school.

— Sarah Netter, ABC News (2009-01-04): Parents Consider Legal Action After Autistic Girl, 8, Arrested at School

Meanwhile, in Occupied Seattle, a 15 year old black girl was taken to a government jail by the county government’s cops after she and a friend went on a joyride in her friend’s mother’s car. While under their power, according to the cops, she got quote-unquote real lippy over how they were treating her, and went so far as to call them some unkind names. Then, when she was being locked in a cell, the cops ordered her to take off her shoes; she kicked off one of the shoes towards the heaily armed cop who was about to lock her securely in a room she couldn’t escape from. Instead, he decided to take this escalating behavior as assaulting a police officer, which is of course a perfect opportunity for intervention — in this case, rushing the 15 year old girl, kicking her in the gut, slamming her against the wall of her cell, pulling her back by her hair, slamming her to the ground, pinning her down, and smashing her repeatedly with his fist while she was physically restrained by himself and his gang brother.

Meanwhile, in Texas, at the Corpus Christi State School [sic] — it is actually a government-run institution where about 360 people, ranging in age from 18 to 77 years old, are legally committed, temporarily or permanently, with or without their consent, for being labeled as mentally retarded, especially if they severe behavioral and/or emotional problems — about a dozen workers are under investigation after cell phone videos surfaced in which they rousted up some of the young men under their power, late at night, surrounded them, shoved them, kicked them, and goaded them into fighting each other for the entertainment of the trained, professional staff.

At a state institution for people with mental retardation in Texas, six staff members have been charged with taking part in staging what have been called human cockfights, using residents with mental retardation. . . .

The fights became known only because one of the workers lost his cell phone. It was found and turned over to an off-duty police officer. The phone had videos of more than a year of staged late-night fights, some as recent as this past January.

— Joseph Shapiro, NPR Morning Edition (2009-03-18): Abuse At Texas Institutions Is Beyond ‘Fight Club’

The criminal charges stem from allegations this week that Corpus Christi state school employees forced disabled residents into orchestrated, late-night fights over the course of more than a year. They were caught after they captured at least 20 of the episodes on a cellphone camera, one turned over to police.

Five of the suspects – Timothy Dixon, 30; Jesse Salazar, 25; Guadalupe Delarosa, 21; Vince Johnson, 21; and Dangelo Riley, 22 – are charged with injury to a disabled person, a third-degree felony. Their bail has been set at $30,000. A sixth suspect, 21-year-old Stephanie Garza, is charged with a state jail felony for allegedly failing to intervene in the fight clubs. Her bail is set at $15,000.

Arrest warrants obtained by The Dallas Morning News allege five of the employees encouraged, filmed or narrated the fights – which were documented in dozens of still images and 20 videos taken over six months in 2008. Riley is allegedly seen kicking a resident during a fight, while Dixon, who appears from the warrants to be the phone’s owner, is accused of doing much of the filming and narration. Four of the videos show residents sustaining injuries.

— Emily Ramshaw, The Dallas Morning News (2009-03-13): State school worker linked to fight club scandal arrested; 5 others sought

Texas authorities are outraged. But they would like us to know that this is an Isolated Incident:

He said he hasn’t heard of fight club scenarios at any other state schools.

I haven’t heard any other allegations yet, he said. So far, these circumstances, these staffers, appear to have been the exception.

— Emily Ramshaw, The Dallas Morning News (2009-03-12): Texas officials make surprise visits to state schools after Corpus Christi fight videos surface

Right — an exception. Just like the literally hundreds of other exceptions that we were discussing here less than a year ago, which The Dallas Morning News, among others, have documented at Texas state mental institutions in the last 4 years — the use of physical threats, headlocks, chokeholds, tackling, dragging, beating, raping, to please the whims of Mental Health staffers or to dominate and control the patients unwillingly forced to endure their care. Meanwhile, at Corpus Christi alone in 2008 alone, there were nearly 1,000 allegations of abuse, neglect or mistreatment in 2008; 60 reports were confirmed by the administrators. 60 confirmed reports is bad enough, but what’s worse is how many of those unconfirmed reports must surely be the result of the usual institutional cover-ups and white-washes. How much do you think you could get away with if all your coworkers could be counted on to get your back, and if reports of abuse by your victims could be waved off as literally the product of insanity or feeble-mindedness?

Several of the stories about this horrible case have gone straight for the agonized hand-wringing:

The accusations have raised questions about how workers trained and hired to care for some of the most vulnerable people in society could instead treat them with cruelty.

— Joseph Shapiro, NPR Morning Edition (2009-03-18): Abuse At Texas Institutions Is Beyond ‘Fight Club’

AUSTIN – Cellphone videos of Corpus Christi State School employees forcing mentally disabled residents into late-night prize fights have left Texas families and advocates for people with disabilities in search of answers – not just about security but about human nature.

How can one human being treat another in such a wicked way? Experts disagree on the roots of such abuse. It might be a byproduct of the stressful situations people are in. It could also be innate sadism.

— Emily Ramshaw, The Dallas Morning News (2009-03-14): Forced fights at Corpus Christi State School raise disturbing questions

We are also told that maybe it’s a lack of education; maybe there’s something about the impersonal nature of large institutions; maybe it’s all peer pressure. But really, once the hand-wringing about human nature and peer pressure and all the rest is gotten out of the way, one explanation is always put forward, by those who have access to the media, as a matter of unquestionable consensus: obviously, Experts tell us, it’s the lack of training, the poor pay, and the lax supervision of the personnel who are put in the position of de facto prison guards for hundreds of institutionalized people. This is used as an entre into asserting the alleged need for more tax money, more prison guards, more Expert training — and insisting that these state institutions don’t have enough privileges and money from the state government; that they need even more money to hire and pay the very people who have turned their institutions into dangerous hellholes. E.g.:

But they [Experts] concur that the formula at Texas’ 13 institutions for the disabled – young, inexperienced and underpaid workers in charge of the state’s most vulnerable residents – lays the groundwork for disaster.

Left alone, human beings will engage in the most surprising kinds of misconduct and adjust their mentality to fit, said David Crump, a University of Houston Law Center professor who specializes in the psychology of evil behavior. We should expect this unless we take concrete and meaningful steps to prevent it.

Of course, if you’ve read this far, you’ll have no trouble believing that people are capable of all kinds of cruelty. But if you’ve read this far, you’ll also know that this kind of non-explanation is the worst sort of hogwash. People don’t, as a rule, pin and handcuff random little girls on the street; they don’t beat the living hell out of customers at their workplace who cop an attitude; they don’t run into college dorms late at night to intimidate and goad groggy students into fights for the purpose of bloodsport. Nobody but a lunatic does this sort of thing to people who can choose to interact with them or not to interact with them, or in social contexts where they are dealing with equals who have a right to make their own decisions about what’s for their own good and who can expect to be taken seriously if they complain about ill-treatment.

These horrors do happen, and people do them, over and over again, and they are perfectly predictable — but they are perfectly predictable only in a very specific social and political context. The NPR story acts surprised that in government institutions like jails and schools and mental wards — institutions that people are forced into, against their will, when they have been marginalized by their age or their psychiatric labels or by the socio-legal processes of criminalization — the people who, as the legally-designated enforcers of the government institution’s prerogatives, enjoy unaccountable power to restrain and order around the most vulnerable people in society, might abuse that power with this kind of cruelty. But in fact this is only surprising if you forget the fact that the people under their care have been made vulnerable, legally vulnerable, precisely in order to make the institution go on running with or without their consent, and if you forget everything you ever knew about how people act when they enjoy unaccountable power over victims who cannot leave, even if they pose absolutely no physical threat to anybody, and who will not be taken seriously if they should protest. This only looks like a surprise if, in short, you go on imagining that this sort of violence is an abuse of the systems of government institutionalization, rather than part and parcel of what these institutions represent. These things happen over and over again, not at random but specifically in nonconsensual government institutions, in the dedicated facilities of social marginalization and segregation under the auspices of State power. They happen not because of peer pressure or intrinsic sadism but because of power pressure and institutionalized sadism — and we hear about them, in every state of the Union and on every day of the week, one more Outrage after another, but without the dots connected, indeed with the dots carefully left un-connected, because of the enduring, and grotesque, faith that with just enough nonconsensual funding, with just enough careful training and professional dedication, you can somehow make a nonconsensual government institution run the right way, and you can somehow maintain the conditions of a prison camp without the violence that prison guards always exercise. In fact, these institutions are already running the right way, in a manner of speaking — this is Situation Normal. And there is only one thing that will ever change it — abolishing the conditions that nurture and sustain it.

The reality is that what is needed is not more money, or more guards, or better training, or even a culture change. A culture change would be a step forward, but the real solution that is needed is something that goes far deeper: a solution that strikes at the root from which that culture and these conditions grow. What is really needed is a power change, so that psychiatric wards are no longer artificially packed by court order, so that patients can leave and seek help through other means if conditions become unbearable, and so that supposed patients are no longer treated against their will and held down at the mercy of their helper-captors. If you make a hospital into a prison camp, then it should be no surprise when the hospital caregivers start acting like prison camp guards. The only thing to do — the only thing you can do that will not just recreate the same problem in a superficially different form — is to respect the will of patients, to treat violence against them as a real crime worthy of punishment, to repeal the laws that privilege and protect their captors, and to break open the doors and tear off the straitjackets that hold them back from living their lives as human beings, rather than as objects of pity and coercion.

— GT 2008-05-05: Texas psychoprisons

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Shawn Wilbur on counter-development strategery

In some neighborhoods in North Portland, where the gangs are gone and the worst of the development is not yet arrived, there are a number of attempts to organize local defense against the displacement of businesses and residents. Small, independent business and poor residents are, naturally, particularly at risk. People of color will bear a disproportionate burden as previously “bad” or transitional neighborhoods start to look good to developers. Some of the efforts are pretty obviously too little, too late. We’re talking about trying to secure property with rising values, at a time when pocketbooks are pretty bare for the at-risk segments of the population. And securing property has not necessarily been a priority among activists, many of whom have some basic issues with property in the first place. In Portland, motiveSpace, a radical architectural collective, promoting citizen-driven development, seems to be one of the more interesting voices in the conversation, with at least a general sense that this sort of civilian defense is going to require a variety of skills not necessarily found in the average radical toolbox, along with an ability and willingness to bring in some cold, hard cash to get things done. And they have been eager to reach out to other radical community groups. Only time will tell, I suppose, what can actually be accomplished, and to what extent the creation of new urban refugees can be stemmed.

Citizen-driven development—counter-development—is a skillset that counter-economic activists, of whatever particular school, are going to have to acquire, if we not simply to cede vast portions of the country to the other side. If we can’t find a way to make securing property a part of our strategy, then all our debates about the elasticity of land supply and the like will be essentially academic. Mutualist occupancy and use is precisely pie in the sky until we can secure territorial control somewhere, and any sort of homesteading is as unlikely as it is likely to be a mere stop-gap, given the dimensions of the broader housing crisis. There are probably still places where stands can be made, but we should be trying to identify them, while they remain.

— Shawn Wilbur, In the Libertarian Labyrinth (2008-11-08): Counter-development or Bust!

Read the whole thing, if you haven’t already.

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You got served and protected #4: how Portland Police Bureau Officers Joseph Cook and Judy McFarlane used a “welfare check” to throw Contia Orsby out on the streets

(Via private correspondence from an ALLy in Occupied Cascadia.)

Here’s something I wrote about last year in my article for The Freeman:

Had the city government not made use of its supposed title to the abandoned land [to fence off the lot that the Umoja Village shanty-town had been built on], it no doubt could have made use of state and federal building codes to ensure that residents would be forced back into homelessness—for their own safety, of course. That is in fact what a county health commission in Indiana did to a 93-year-old man named Thelmon Green, who lived in his ’86 Chevrolet van, which the local towing company allowed him to keep on its lot. Many people thrown into poverty by a sudden financial catastrophe live out of a car for weeks or months until they get back on their feet. Living in a car is cramped, but it beats living on the streets: a car means a place you can have to yourself, which holds your possessions, with doors you can lock, and sometimes even air conditioning and heating. But staying in a car over the long term is much harder to manage without running afoul of the law. Thelmon Green got by well enough in his van for ten years, but when the Indianapolis Star printed a human-interest story on him last December, the county health commission took notice and promptly ordered Green evicted from his own van, in the name of the local housing code.

Or, hell, they might not even bother with the regulatory formalities. Sometimes the cops just roll up on you for a welfare check and then take the opportunity to steal your home.

For example, Contia Orsby is a 58 year old black woman, who has spent most of her life helping sick people and, as far as I know, never did any real harm to anybody. She’s originally from Louisiana, and now living in Occupied Portland. She used to work as a geriatric nurse, but three years ago, she hurt her back so bad on the job that she couldn’t work anymore. The hospital gave her $14,000 to live off of for the rest of her life and then pawned her off on the state welfare bureaucracy, because they could, and the state welfare bureaucracy gave her the usual waiting time of forever, because they could. (They stay paid no matter how they act, and where else is she going to go?) When the money ran out, she got some help from her church, and when that ran out, she started living in her car. Which is cramped, and unpleasant, but sometimes safer and easier than trying to find people to put you up, and certainly safer than living on the streets.

Until July 4, 2008, when a pair of Gangsters in Blue decided to roll up on her and search her as part of a welfare check. Here’s how they looked out for her welfare—by stealing her car and throwing her out on the street.

On July 4, Portland Police Bureau Officers Joseph Cook and Judy McFarlane rolled up on Orsby at 2 pm as she was slumped in her car outside an apartment complex on SE 122nd. They searched Orsby and found a pair of brass knuckles in her pocket, which she claimed she was using as a key ring. The officers charged Orsby with having a concealed weapon, driving with a suspended license, and driving without insurance. Instead of taking her to jail, they towed her car, handed her the citations and drove off, leaving her homeless on the street.

All three charges against Orsby were thrown out last Thursday, September 11, after the district attorney’s office declined prosecution.

Matt Davis, Portland Mercury (2008-09-18): Towing the Line: Cops Take Car, Leaving Older Disabled Woman Homeless

In real life, outside of statist power-trip La La Land, if you fuck something up that doesn’t belong to you, for no good reason, you pay for it. Normally, if a pair of gang-bangers rolled up you and rousted you out of your car, against your will, when you weren’t doing anything at all to harm a single living soul, sanctimoniously claiming it was for your own good, then searched you, and rifled through your papers, then demanded to know why you were carrying a pair of brass knuckles (as if it mattered—if she were carrying them for her own protection, what’s wrong with that?), then called you a liar and declared your papers insufficient justification for your existence, and then, finally, used all this as an excuse to jack your car and threaten you with a fine you can’t pay or forced confinement in a jail—if they did all this, I say, and they got caught out, those gangsters would be in jail and they would be expected to return the car they’d stolen and pay for what they did out of their own pockets. But because these gang-bangers were Gangsters in Blue, and because they acted with the biggest gangster of all, the State Law-and-Order Protection Racket, at their back, when these charges were dropped, and the whole thing declared a big mistake, Portland Police Bureau Officers Joseph Cook and Judy McFarlane are virtually guaranteed never to suffer a single adverse consequence for their obvious, pointless, and cruel violation of poor people’s property rights. And neither they nor their bosses, the collaborationist puppet government of Occupied Portland, will do anything to make it right, beyond an Oops, our bad; in fact, they feel perfectly happy to force Contia Orsby to pay hundreds of dollars that she doesn’t have, just to recover her own property from the fence they sold it to.

CONTIA ORSBY, 58, stood with the deacon of her church on the lot of Andy’s Towing on SE 82nd last Friday afternoon, September 12. She was there to retrieve her all-white 1988 four-door Cadillac Brougham, bought five years ago for $4,700 from a used car lot up the street, during more fortunate times. It had briefly been her home, until police confiscated the vehicle on Independence Day.

Orsby had already handed over $400 to the towing firm, and $225 to get a release for her vehicle from the courthouse. Still owing $600 more, the manager of the towing company had generously cut her a deal.

He told me if I promised him $200 from my next disability check, I could come and get the car today, she said.

Too bad, because the towing firm had lost the keys: They called a locksmith, and tried to charge Orsby for the cost of cutting some new ones.

We’re doing you a favor, the manager told her. We’re only supposed to keep the car, technically, for 30 days.

Orsby refused to pay for the locksmith, and ultimately, the towing company handed over her car. Her deacon, Albert Woods, from the Emmanuel Church of God in Christ United on NE 30th, had taken the afternoon off to drive Orsby to the towing lot. He shook his head.

They wouldn’t treat her like this if she were the president, that’s for sure, he said.

Matt Davis, Portland Mercury (2008-09-18): Towing the Line: Cops Take Car, Leaving Older Disabled Woman Homeless

It’s true, and the management were certainly acting like dicks to her. But why can they get away with that kind of behavior? Simply because, as the fence for the cars stolen by the State, they have no reason to care about making things easy on you, or Contia Orsby, or anybody else. Why should they? They get most or all of their business from people like the President, not from people like you—people who are part of the State, a monopoly outfit which pays for itself through extortion rackets and robbery just like the screwjob they pulled on Contia Orsby, and who use their positions of political power to evade taking any responsibility for their own violations of the liberty and security that their cops and their so-called Law and Order are supposed to protect. Like any other fence, this one doesn’t much care about your life or your livelihood, and he doesn’t much care about helping you recover your stolen property. He serves the racket, not you. Do away with the racket, and you’ll do away with the other petty criminals and hangers-on that take their cuts from the loot.

You can contact the Portland Police Bureau to let them know what you think of their welfare checks and of Joseph Cook and Judy McFarlane’s efforts to force poor people out onto the street, at:

Portland Police Bureau
1111 S.W. 2nd Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97204

You can send comments to Chief Rosie Sizer at chiefsizer@portlandpolice.org, or call her office at (503) 823-0000, or send a FAX to (503) 823-0342.

I’ve said before that urban poverty as we know it is exclusively the creation of the State, and now I’ll add that this is especially true of homelessness as we know it. I don’t mean to claim that in a genuinely free society, with freed people, freed labor, and freed markets, with freedom for the poor and with no political patronage for the rich, that nobody would ever have to scratch by on short money. And I don’t mean that nobody would ever have to live without a house or apartment for a while due to short money. That would be a lot less common if people were free to scratch money together through creative hustling, to lower their fixed costs of living, and to join together for voluntary, neighborhood-based mutual aid, without having to bear the burdens of State-imposed taxes, usury laws, vagrancy laws, prohibition laws, border laws, business license laws, zoning laws, business laws, professional licensing laws, building codes, health and hygiene codes, fines and forfeitures, eminent domain land grabs and politicized development rackets, welfare bureaucrats, social workers and cops, and the rest of the whole taxation-and-regimentation government apparatus that constantly robs, cages, and busybodies poor people, all while sanctimoniously declaring that it’s all For Their Own Good, like one big welfare check on the Contia Orsbys of the world. If people were free of all that, hard times would be a lot less hard, but nobody can realistically promise an end to all tough times or shitty situations, whether by Anarchy or by any other means. Some people might lose their jobs, some people might go hungry, and some people might lose the roof over their heads. But homelessness as we know it — as a long-term, self-reinforcing downward spiral of destitution, in which hard times force people out onto the street, exposed to the elements and to danger from other people, or into overcrowded and dangerous institutional shelters — only exists because the State — the city and state governments, in particular — has a fixed policy of repeatedly sending gangs of thuggish police and busybody case-workers and bureaucratic inspectors around to hassle so-called vagrants; to subject them to constant citations, fines, arrests, and pointless humiliations; to roust them up out of any place that they settle in to stay; to violate their rights to homestead unused land, and to obstruct, invade, trash, or tow away any transitional, intermediate, or otherwise informal sort of shelter that poor people might try to arrange for themselves. It’s one thing not to be able to afford the sorts of houses and apartments and long-term rooming arrangements that journalists and economists and sociologists count as homes for the purposes of statistics and public debate. It’s quite another to be thrown out on the street without any kind of reliable shelter, and we all ought to recognize that as the child of the State. In that sense, all homelessness is forced homelessness, and all homeless people are the internally displaced refugees of the State’s ongoing War on Poverty and campaigns of economic cleansing.

But a rich man he says that Pig Hollow must go:
It’s a place where the crooks rendezvous.
But don’t you suppose if they burned down the bank,
They might flush a scoundrel or two?

And don’t you suppose if a bum with a torch
Set fire to some big fancy hall,
The cops’d come down like a blood-thirsty hound
And flat nail his hide to the wall?

It seems like the laws are all made for the rich;
They’ve got you, boys, win, lose, or draw.
Try as you may to keep out of the way,
You just get burned out by the law.

— Utah Phillips, Pig Hollow, on The Telling Takes Me Home (1975)

That’s how Contia Orsby got served and protected by Portland cops: by being thrown out of the car that is her home, on the excuse of a bunch of petty so-called crimes with no identifiable victims, having it towed away, and then, months later, when the State magnanimously allowed her to be left the hell alone, by being forced to pay to get it back even though she was never convicted of any crime, victimless or otherwise. If you’re baffled that cops could get away with these kind of outrages, it may help to remember that in a lot of American cities, there just is no such thing as a civil police force. What we have would be better described as thuggish paramilitary units occupying what they regard as hostile territory: like any occupying force, the people they go after the first and the hardest are generally the people who are most vulnerable, and like any other occupying force there is no real recourse for anything they may choose to do on their patrols. Here as elsewhere, they are going to serve and protect us, whether we want them to or not, and if we don’t like it then they’ve got plenty of guns and clubs and cuffs to make sure they can protect the hell out of us all anyway.

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