Posts tagged Pepper spray

In fifteen words or fewer: On Blaming the Victim

From the New York Times (2008-09-01): As Throngs of Protesters Hit Streets, Dozens Are Arrested After Clashes:

Elsewhere in St. Paul, a prominent Democratic Party strategist, Donna Brazile, was hit by pepper spray while trying to walk around protesters outside the convention hall, Ms. Brazile said in an interview.

I got a strong whiff — just toxic — and my head and throat are still hurting, said Ms. Brazile, who appears on CNN as a political analyst. I’ll avoid the protesters tomorrow.

Wouldn’t it have been more to the point for her to avoid the cops?

See also:

You got served and protected #3: preemptive “reasonable force” in Blackburn, Lancashire

(Via Manuel Lora @ LewRockwell.com Blog 2008-06-12: Laughing Too Hard Can Cause You Police Problems, via Roderick Long @ Austro-Athenian Empire 2008-06-12: Reasonable Force.)

Cops in England are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. They routinely shove their way into situations where they aren’t wanted, weren’t invited, and have no business being. They deliberately escalate confrontations in order to stay in control through superior belligerence. They use violence first and ask questions later; they commonly use force to end an argument and then blame it on their victim. They rewrite events using pliable terms like aggressive, combative, and belligerent to conflate unkind words, purely verbal confrontations, or weak attempts to escape a grip or ward off blow with actual threats or violence against the cops, to excuse the use of extreme violence as retaliation for mouthing off or not just laying down and taking it like an upstanding citizen. They invariably pass off even the most egregious forms of violence against harmless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish a completely unnecessary goal.

Consider, for example, what happened in Blackburn, Lancashire, when Christopher Cocker fell off the couch (from laughing at a comedy program), and a neighbor, not knowing what caused the thud, called the cops to check in on him. The cops showed up; he came to the door, thus demonstrating that the cops, happily, didn’t have an emergency to deal with after all; rather than leaving, they demanded his name and started asking personal questions. He said some unkind words and tried to shut the door; so they sprayed him with parva spray, forced their way in, beat him up, restrained him, stripped him naked, threw him in a cage, and then, to crown all, called his behavior aggressive and charged him with resisting a bullying cop who had no reason to arrest him to begin with.

Officers arrived and said Cocker was initially co-operative but became aggressive when they asked his name and tried to shut his front door.

He was eventually disabled with parva spray through the gap and arrested.

Jonathan Taylor, defending, said: The officer accepts in his statement that he struck my client and then sprayed him again.

He was handcuffed and unceremoniously thrown into the back of a police van. When he ended up in a police cell he was asking himself how all this had happened.

Mr Taylor told Blackburn Magistrates’ Court, Lancs., said that having informed the police he was the only one in the flat and he was fine, his client could not understand why they wanted his details.

. . . Cocker, of Blackburn, Lancs., pleaded guilty to resisting a police officer and was given a conditional discharge for six months following the incident on May 20.

A charge of assaulting PC Michael Davies was withdrawn.

Speaking after the hearing, Cocker said he had been in his flat minding his own business.

He said: I can’t believe it - I was thrown in the back of a police van before being stripped naked and put in a cell.

I was handcuffed behind my back and my ankles bound with plastic ties before six of them carried me to the van.

. . . Prosecutor Alex Mann said the police went to ensure everything was all right and spoke to Cocker who was co-operative and relaxed and he assured the officers everything was fine.

He only became worked up when the police asked for his details, said Mrs Mann.

The police tried to explain they just needed the name for the report but he became aggressive and started swearing at the officer.

After the hearing Joan Codling, 57, who lives in the flat below and made the call to police, said she contacted officers after being concerned that he may have fallen ill.

She said: I was worried in case he was having an epileptic fit. There was a lot of noise and I didn’t know what to do so I called the police.

A police spokesman said Cocker became aggressive towards the officers who feared for their own safety.

The spokesman said: Parva spray was used to stop any confrontation and was necessary to protect the officers and any members of the public who were around at the time.

Within the circumstances, we feel we used reasonable force.

— Daily Mail (2008-06-11): The man who fell off a sofa while laughing at Have I Got News For You - and ended up in court

Your idea of reasonable force may be different from theirs. But what do they care? They have the spray and the cuffs. You don’t. So please note the following, if you happen to be in England:

  1. If government cops show up to see whether you are O.K., and it turns out that you really are O.K. and they don’t need to be there, they will still feel free to use violence in order to force you to give them all the details they need for their stupid government paperwork.

  2. Swearing at a government cop is considered an act of aggression that merits massive force, including torture with toxic chemicals, beating, and physical restraint as a defense.

  3. Trying to back out of the confrontation and shut the door on a government cop, who is putatively there to check on whether you’re O.K. and help you out, is also considered an act of aggression that merits torture, beating, restraint, &c. as a defense.

  4. If you become verbally aggressive towards government cops, they will consider it a reasonable use of force to torture, beat, restrain, &c. you as a preemptive strike against the possibility of any confrontation, even if you have given no evidence at all of wanting anything other than to be left in peace.

  5. No matter how obviously harmless you may be, no matter how obviously needless the government cops’ presence may be, and no matter how outrageously over-the-top the violence used against you may be, when a gang of cops serves and protects the hell out of you, they can count on newspaper stories to repeated absolutely any excuse their government cronies offer, with a straight face and as the last word of the article, and to report their thuggery as little more than a isn’t-that-funny sort of human interest story — rather than as what it is, i.e. a gang of thugs flipping out, in a fit of pique, and torturing and terrorizing an innocent and completely harmless man, who they were supposedly there to check in on and help out.

If you’re baffled that cops could get away with these kind of outrages, it may help to remember that in cities throughout Europe and America, there is no such thing as a civil police force anymore. What we have would be better described as thuggish paramilitary units occupying what they regard as hostile territory. 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 a small arsenal of guns and truncheons and cuffs and chemical weapons in order to make sure we get good and protected anyway.

See also:

Mississippi Corrections

(Via Jessica @ feministing 2008-02-20.)

There is some welcome news from Mississippi, where one of the worst child prisons in the United States is going to be shuttered by order of the governor and the state Department of Human Services. (The prison, named Columbia Training School in honor of George Orwell, would be better described as a paramilitary torture camp for children ages 10-18.) The decision comes in the wake of a federal investigation that uncovered prison guards, drill instructors, recreation officers, and counselors using hog-tying, pole-shackling, pepper-spraying, cruel and bizarre punitive exercises, punching, slapping, choking, and isolation cells in which children were stripped naked and left alone in the dark for hours or even days on end. At least four separate federal lawsuits have been filed against Mississippi child prisons in the past four years over the treatment of the children imprisoned there, including the severe beating of a 14 year old boy and the repeated rape of a 14 year old girl by prison guards. Here is some of what went on at Columbia:

The majority of youth committed to Oakley and Columbia are nonviolent offenders. For example, 75 percent of the girls at Columbia are committed for status offenses, probation violations, or contempt of court. The majority of boys at Oakley are committed for property offenses, lower level drug possession charges, or auto theft charges.

… Approximately 10 to 15 boys and girls consistently described [hog-tying of children at Columbia], where youth are placed face down on the floor with their hands and feet shackled and drawn together. That is, youths’ hands are handcuffed behind their backs. Their feet are shackled together and then belts or metal chains are wrapped around the two sets of restraints, pulling them together. A 13-year-old boy, in the SIU [Special Intervention Unit] on suicide watch, told us that he had been hog-tied twice while in the SIU. Another boy told us that he was hog-tied for refusing to follow orders. Several girls in Hammond Cottage told us that either they had been hog-tied or they had witnessed other girls being hog-tied. They reported that girls are typically tied for three hour periods in the corners of the cottage and stated that girls were also hog-tied in the SIU. Girls also reported being hogtied in a SIU cell called the dark room.

Contrary to Columbia’s policy that requires the documenting of all uses of restraints, the practice is not documented in incident reports or unit logbooks. When our expert consultant discussed the apparent discrepancy between youth reports and lack of incident report documentation, Columbia SIU staff either denied that these incidents took place or reluctantly admitted they may have occurred — but not during their shifts. A senior manager claimed it had been a long time since hog-tying had occurred because the practice was inhumane. However, one relatively new SIU staff person stated that hog-tying had occurred in the boys’ SIU a few months prior to our visit.

… Youth reported that they had either observed or experienced having their arms and legs shackled to poles in public places. For instance, one young girl reported that her arms and legs were handcuffed and shackled around a utility pole because she was non-compliant during military exercises. The rest of the unit was forced to perform military drills around her. The youth was shackled for at least three hours, released for lunch, and briefly shackled again. … Another girl reported that two weeks prior to our visit, she was shackled to a pole for talking in the cafeteria. Still another girl reported that she was shackled to a pole for approximately four hours because she did not say, Yes, sir, on command. Again, this practice is not documented in incident reports or unit logbooks in violation of Columbia’s restraint policy. …

Girls in the SIU at Columbia are punished for acting out or for being suicidal by being placed in a cell called the dark room. The dark room is a locked, windowless isolation cell with lighting controlled by staff. When the lights are turned out, as the girls reported they are when the room is in use, the room is completely dark. The room is stripped of everything but a drain in the floor which serves as a toilet. Most girls are stripped naked when placed in the dark room. According to Columbia staff, the reason girls must remove their clothing before being placed in the darkroom, is that there is metal grating on the ceiling and the cell door which could be used for hanging attempts by suicidal girls. Such suicidal hazards should be remedied rather than requiring suicidal children to strip naked.

One girl told us that the weekend prior to our visit, she was placed naked in the dark room from Friday until Monday morning. She stated that she was allowed out of the cell once a day to take a shower, but received all her meals inside of the cell. Another girl told us that in July 2002, she was placed in the dark room with the lights off for three days with little access to water as her requests for water were largely ignored.

… During our visit to the girls’ SIU at Columbia, there were 14 girls present. Nine of the girls had been locked in bare cells for more than a week; one girl had been locked in a bare cell for 114 days. The conditions we observed in the SIU are particularly inhumane. The cells are extremely hot with inadequate ventilation. Some girls are naked in a dark room where they must urinate and defecate in a hole that they cannot flush. Restraint chairs are use for punishment in violation of Columbia’s own policy and procedures manual. OC [pepper] spray is sometimes used in response to a youth’s minor misbehavior. As discussed earlier, sometimes, girls are hog-tied. Girls are often not given access to basic necessities, such as water, personal hygiene items, and bathroom facilities, and girls are not given sufficient mental health services. …

[Y]outh report sitting in a chair, in which youth are required to assume a sitting position while holding their backs up against the wall with knees bent for as long as 20 to 30 minutes. Youth also are forced to perform guard duty. Youth are awakened in the middle of the night, required to get dressed, and walk inside the cottage for hours with their hands to their heads (similar to a military salute) from bed to bed. … Boys housed in the cottages are sent by drill instructors to the SIU during the day for punishment for failing to perform exercises. SIU staff confirmed that boys’ punishment may last for hours and consists of running around tables in the SIU day room with mattresses on their backs. Girls are punished in the military field by being forced to run with automobile tires around their bodies or carrying logs. Girls reported being forced to eat their own vomit if they throw-up while exercising in the hot sun.

In the girls’ SIU at Columbia, staff reportedly have hit, choked, and slapped girls. For instance, girls reported that a ten-year-old girl was slapped by a male security guard. A young boy in the boys’ SIU reported that before being taken to the SIU, security slapped him twice in the face and placed his neck in a sleeper hold.

… According to the facilities’ policy, OC [pepper] spray may be used in only three situations: to quell a riot; or to prevent further injury when students are fighting and all other efforts to resolve the fight have failed; or if a youth possesses a device clearly intended to be used as a weapon and refuses to disarm. … At Columbia, boys in the SIU reported that staff sprayed under their locked cell doors and that staff sprayed boys in the face while they were hog-tied. Boys also told us that staff sprayed into the air while boys were doing exercises for punishment in the SIU. Incident reports make clear that suicidal youth are sprayed for their suicidal gestures and behaviors and that youth locked in isolation rooms who bang on the door of their cell are sprayed. A log entry for the SIU in May 2002 indicates that a suicidal girl was sprayed because she refused to remove her clothes before being placed in the dark room.

Youth at Columbia reported that staff routinely sprayed youth for failing to perform military exercises. … For example, a 13-year-old boy was sprayed because he did not perform exercises. Reportedly, he was punished further by being forced to do 100 squat thrusts, 100 push ups, and 100 jumping jacks. One girl, prior to being sent to the SIU, had difficulty keeping up with the group during exercise in the parade field. She yelled to a staff person that it was hot and to shut up talking to me. Security was called and she was sprayed in the face. Youth also talked extensively about running the ridge, a form of intensive running on the campus grounds. Youth who refuse to run the ridge are reportedly sprayed by staff.

… Moreover, during our tour of Columbia, children made various abuse allegations concerning specific staff. Several girls alleged that a recreation staff person forced girls to run and perform military exercises wearing tires. Many youth reported that the acting head nurse routinely denied medical care and access to appropriate health services. The girls in the advanced cottage alleged that a security guard engaged in inappropriate sexual behavior by standing in front of the uncovered windows of the girls’ cottage and observing them while they were undressing before going to bed.

… Activity, positive relationships between staff and youth, individual attention, school, exercise, reading, and counseling are necessary aspects of an adequate adolescent suicide prevention program. Instead, at Columbia, suicidal youth are isolated in SIUs in stripped cells, sometimes naked, are not allowed outdoor exercise, and receive very little schooling or counseling. As previously discussed, some suicidal girls at Columbia are placed in the dark room. Furthermore, in the isolation units or SIUs at both facilities, children’s mattresses are taken away during the day, leaving them with the option of lying or sitting on concrete or standing. … In the evenings, youth are required to sit in silence for large blocks of time while they sort their clothes, clean their boots, or for girls, braid each other’s hair. … [Y]outh are forced to perform physical exercise and threatened with SIU if they are caught talking to each other. In fact, youth expressed frustration at the wasted time and lack of rehabilitation services being offered in the evenings. Lack of activity, social interaction, and counseling assistance put youth at risk for depression.

… The disciplinary practices [in paramilitary programs] are particularly harmful to the younger boys at Columbia who are physically, emotionally, or psychologically unable to participate fully in the training program. Young boys at Columbia are not developmentally suited to benefit from the military approach. Many staff perceived that this particular population was noncompliant and anti-authority, when in reality, many of the boys are merely active third, fourth and fifth graders with short attention spans. The result is that the younger boys stay at Columbia longer because they are considered behavior problems. …

Columbia’s paramilitary program also is unsuitable for some of the troubled girls it serves. … Harsh disciplinary practices are characterized as training. A June 2002 log book entry shows that a facility manager punished a girl by requiring her to sleep one hour and walk one hour for two successive nights. This same girl also had to eat every meal standing for one week thereafter. These punishments are largely unregulated and in some cases endorsed by supervisory personnel because they are considered military training. …

A paramilitary program also is inappropriate for youth with learning or developmental disabilities. … For example, staff made fun of a girl who had both physical and cognitive impairments. This girl was just learning to read and was unable to earn a grade higher than 70 on the military test the youth must pass in order to move from the basic to the advanced phase of the program. Her peers were concerned that she would never be able to pass the test. …

… Even asthmatic youth do not receive follow-up care to ensure that their cases are being managed. For example, a girl was admitted to Columbia with a history of asthma. She was not asked about her medical history during her initial exam. She subsequently told the nurse about her inhaler and that it prevented asthma attacks if used prior to exercise. The youth never received an inhaler. While performing exercises, she began to have an asthma attack. She was not allowed to see the nurse and was told to continue to exercise or be punished for disobedience.

… At Columbia, youth are required to attend religious services at the church every Sunday. Some girls reported they would be subject to discipline if they did not sing during services. The facility administrator stated that youth had the option of not attending the Sunday worship services if they chose not to, but both boys and girls indicated that attending Sunday worship services was a requirement or they would be disciplined. Youth also must participate in a religious service in their cottages every Tuesday evening or face discipline. The only reading material the children in the SIUs and some of the housing units are allowed to possess is the Bible. We witnessed a mandatory group counseling session in the boys’ SIU in which youth were required to read Bible verses and sing religious songs.

In each of these cases, youth were required to engage in specific religious activities and were subject to disciplinary action if they did not participate.

It is tempting to call this kind of treatment barbaric. But that would be a slander against the good name of barbarians. The most brutal Hun or Vandal would never imagine inflicting this kind of relentless, sustained, coordinated, institutionalized sadism on anyone. They might kill you, but they wouldn’t pay professionals to break you. What would be the point? No, it takes a civilized society for people to imagine a use for a torture camp like Columbia—whether that’s institutionalizing their own revenge fantasies, or, what’s worse, claiming that it’s all for their victims’ own good.

Shuttering Columbia is a welcome move in the right direction. I hope that it will be followed by more, because more are certainly needed. Unfortunately, the governor is spinning this partly as a matter of inadequate staffing and efficiency in government spending. (As if what Columbia needed were even more hired thugs to run it efficiently. They were the ones who created that hellhole in the first place.) The children imprisoned at Columbia, most of whom are nonviolent offenders who should never have been locked in government cages to begin with, are largely being shipped over to Oakley Training School, which previously had been the state’s child prison for older boys. Meanwhile, the All of Columbia’s 109 staff members will keep their jobs for now, within the Mississippi state prison system—although apparently they will generally not be transferred over to the Oakley child prison, and this may be a way to defer firings until a later round of downsizing, in order to mollify the prison guards’ union. But the take-away here is that as usual, when the government’s goon squad goes around humiliating, beating, raping, and torturing, even when their victims are ten year old or fourteen year old children, they can do so with almost complete impunity; politicians and their colleagues can be counted on to deny or minimize the problem, change the subject, and, if their hand is ever finally forced by external pressure, simultaneously personalize the problem as Yet Another Isolated Incident caused by A Few More Bad Apples — thus marginalizing any critique that takes the problem seriously enough to call the institutional culture and incentives of prison guards into question — while also stonewalling any efforts holding individual perpetrators personally accountable, either civilly or criminally, and instead pass off public-relations moves and minimal administrative reprimands as close enough for government work. This double strategy of personalizing blame while depersonalizing accountability ends up guaranteeing that the vast majority of people who create and run a torture camp like Columbia are allowed to operate in an environment of almost absolute impunity, and one or two of the most obviously atrocious prisons are very publicly closed, while the very people who made it that way are allowed to metastasize throughout the rest of the prison system.

So let’s celebrate the end of Columbia; but let’s also remember that what is really needed is the end of something much larger. As Bear Atwood of the Mississippi Youth Justice Project says, Most of the girls at Columbia do not belong in prison at all. Most are there for very minor, nonviolent offenses. Ripping them from their families and locking them up only encourages further delinquency. It’s a view that I would second, and expand. Columbia is only one of the most extreme examples (both because of the obvious ghastliness of the violence, and also because its victims were teenaged girls and young boys) of a festering sore with the prison system as we know it. Or, to be less politic and more accurate, the prison system as we know it is the festering sore. Whenever these kind of atrocities happen, mainstream media sources routinely decry and marginalize them in the same breath, by describing the sadism and the violence as abuses within the prison system, rot within the corrections culture, etc. This admits the problem while not really taking it seriously. In fact, intimidation and violence are the currency of control in prisons as we know them, and these practices bear no meaningful relationship whatsoever to any defense against imminent threats: convicts are imprisoned and coerced whether or not their crimes were violent, whether or not their crimes were even particularly serious, and whether or not there is any realistic chance that they will pose an ongoing threat to anybody in the future, because the hangman State—the uniformed and institutionally regulated body of white power and sadistic patriarchy—exercises unchecked power in the name of after-the-fact deterrence of unrelated parties, in the name of rehabilitation, and sometimes in the name of punishment and vengeance. This is not a fundamentally humane institution being perverted, under the influence of corrupt individuals or a corrupt internal culture, into an abuse of power. The thing itself is the abuse. And the solution should be obvious.

Break the walls and bury the chains.

Further reading:

Cops are here to protect you.

Cops are here to protect you by looking in on an upset young man who locked himself in a room with a small kitchen knife, then drilling a hole in the wall and spraying pepper spray to force him out from the room when he wouldn’t come out voluntarily, then shooting him to death when the pepper spraying forced him out of the room, because he brought out the small kitchen knife that he had taken in with him.

All for his own good, of course. It became necessary to destroy Scott Rockwell in order to save him.

Cops are here to protect you by using handcuffing and arrest to put an end any argument. Even if you’re a firefighter who’s busy trying to rescue an auto accident victim.

Cops are here to protect you by dumping you out of your wheelchair onto the jailhouse floor, and breaking two of your ribs. Just to make sure you weren’t lying, when you told them you can’t stand up because you’re paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Cops are here to protect you using pain compliance, for example hitting you with 50,000-volt electric shocks at least three different times to make you do what they tell you to do, even when you pose no threat of violence to anyone, when you already have your hands cuffed behind your back, and when you are already surrounded or even pinned down to the ground by three armed professionals.

Cops are here to protect you by pinning a 13 year old boy to the ground and choking him for the crime of skateboarding. Then grabbing a teenaged girl in a chokehold for trying to walk away from the scene. Then wrestling down another teenaged boy who tried to protect her from getting manhandled. Then arresting the lot of them on the grounds that failing to immediately obey a cop’s arbitrary orders is a violation of city ordinances against disorderly conduct.

Cops are here to protect you by threatening a 14 year old boy with juvi for backtalk, threatening to smack your mouth for attitude, wrestling him to the ground to steal his skateboards, screaming in the boy’s face for being addressed as dude, and then turning around to threaten another teenager who happens to be filming their professional conduct.

Cops are here to protect you by trashing your college art project and threatening to beat the hell out of you for using public space in ways that confuse and enrage them.

Please note that if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, the people around us would more or less universally conclude that we’re belligerent and dangerous lunatics. In fact, if you or I or anyone else without a badge and a gun acted like this, and it was caught on camera, we would soon be in jail for on a charge of assault and battery. When someone with a badge and a gun acts like this, and it’s caught on camera, with a very few exceptions, the worst that ever happens is that they might get fired. The most common response from the powers that be is either to do nothing at all, or else to give the pig a paid vacation and a verbal reprimand. Meanwhile, state legislators propose laws to withhold records of the abuse as classified information for reasons of state security. Fellow cops and freelance sado-fascist blowhards can all be counted on to make up any excuse at all, even in defiance of the clear evidence of their senses, in order to get the pig off the hook, no matter how obviously out-of-control the cop may be and no matter how obviously harmless or helpless his victim.

The mainstream newsmedia writes stories with clauses like this:

The skateboarders, who were violating a city ordinance, are claiming police brutality and some say the pictures back up their claim.

The video shows a 13-year-old being held to the ground by his throat. It also shows a girl being held in what appears to be a chokehold.

— KTHV Little Rock: Video Brings Controversy To Police Department

Other cops say things like this:

Hot Springs Police Department spokesman McCrary Means says, If a subject becomes confrontational, the officer has a right to defend himself. There are certain steps: first of all a verbal command. Like I said, if that subject becomes combative, that officer needs to do all he can do to get that subject under control.

— KTHV Little Rock: Video Brings Controversy To Police Department

Please note that Hot Springs Police Department spokesman McCrary Means believes that police officers have a right to grab you and beat the hell out of you in order to defend themselves against a verbal confrontation.

And freelance police-enabling blowhards write in with letters like this:

In regard to the YouTube video in which the Baltimore police officer seems to go overboard in his actions regarding a teenage skateboarder, I’d point out that teenage boys typically resent authority, often continue to do the wrong thing even after repeated instructions to stop and are, in general, a minor menace to society until they grow out of their teenage years.

When they’re doing something wrong, you can ask them to stop over and over again, and they’ll often simply ignore you until you get loud or otherwise assert your authority.

As the uncle of two teenage boys, I have no doubt that the officer reacted in a normal manner and that he should not be subject to disciplinary action.

Jerry Fletcher
Waldorf

And:

When YouTube recently showed a video of a teenage skateboarder being manhandled by a Baltimore police officer, public reaction was swift and severe.

Mayor Sheila Dixon called him a bad apple and the officer was immediately suspended.

I find this rush to judgment without a complete investigation disturbing, especially as the alleged victim had little more than his feelings hurt.

Police officers put their lives on the line every day, and the lack of public support for these men and women, especially from the mayor’s office, is an embarrassment.

Might it be possible that these kids were just punks harassing a veteran officer? And if these upstanding skater dudes were so in the right, why didn’t they file a complaint against the officer?

Let’s hear the whole story before destroying the career of a dedicated public servant.

E. Mitchell Arion
Goldsboro

If E. Mitchell Arion hasn’t watched the video that he speaks so confidently about, then why keep talking about it when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about? If, on the other hand, he has actually watched the video, he must believe that this hollering uniformed thug is in fact a dedicated public servant whose precious career needs to be handled with kid gloves, even though he watched Officer Salvatore Rivieri going up to one of the people he is supposedly serving, screaming in his face, ordering him around, insulting him, telling him to shut up, threatening him, grabbing him, wrestling him down, shoving him back down to the ground, robbing him of his private property, lecturing him, and getting up in his face about the proper titles to use when the kid addresses his putative servant.

It takes an awfully special kind of dedicated servant to treat you like that.

(Hat tips to Lew, Balko, Anthony Gregory #1, Anthony Gregory #2, Bill Anderson, Anthony Gregory #3, Anthony Gregory #4.)

Further reading:

Student strike at Gallaudet University

(I heard about the recent events through the Movement for a Democratic Society announcement list.)

Here is what Oliver Sacks wrote about the legacy of the 1988 Deaf President Now student strike at Gallaudet University, the world’s only liberal-arts university designed for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, and a backbone of Deaf culture in the United States. This is from his beautiful book, Seeing Voices:

All sorts of changes, administrative, educational, social, psychological, are already beginning at Gallaudet. But what is clearest at this point is the much-altered bearing of its students, a bearing that conveys a new, wholly unself-conscious sense of pleasure and vindication, of confidence and dignity. This new sense of themselves represents a decisive break from the past, which could not have been imagined just a few months ago.

But has all been changed? Will there be a lasting transformation of consciousness? Will deaf people at Gallaudet, and the deaf community at large, indeed find the opportunities they seek? Will we, the hearing, allow them these opportunities? Allow them to be themselves, a unique culture in our midst, yet admit them as co-equals, to every sphere of activity? One hopes the events at Gallaudet will be but the beginning.

— Oliver Sacks, Seeing Voices: A Journey Into the World of the Deaf (ISBN 0-06-097347-1), pp. 162–163.

Unfortunately, the answer from the Gallaudet University administration and Board of Trustees—even those who were direct beneficiaries of the Deaf President Now movement—appears to be No, not yet. Here’s the story from The Washington Post (2006-10-07):

Hundreds of protesters took over the main classroom building at Gallaudet University on Thursday night and refused to leave yesterday, demanding that the board of trustees reopen the search for a president.

With trustees meeting on campus and celebrating outgoing President I. King Jordan, students pitched tents outside the entrances to Hall Memorial and blocked the doors. Inside, trash cans and desks held elevator doors ajar, and the floor was covered with sleeping bags, cans of energy drink and fliers that spread messages to the school for the deaf: THE BOARD OF TRUSTEES WON’T LISTEN TO US! and DO NOT LET ANYONE IN.

When security officers arrived early yesterday, students said, they couldn’t understand what officers were saying — that officers gave orders without sign language and did not seem to understand that the protest was peaceful. Some people were injured when officers shoved their way through and used pepper spray, students said.

A lot of people are scared, Leah Katz-Hernandez wrote on a neon yellow notepad, and some faculty members were in tears as they signed with students.

Communication with security staff is an emotional issue at the university. In 1990, a student died while being restrained by security officers; his hands were cuffed, so he couldn’t use sign language.

The administration has denied that pepper spray was used and said that officers used sign language and that no students were hurt.

… The choice of the school’s next leader has divided campus since the spring, prompting faculty no-confidence votes and protests last semester and continuing opposition by a coalition of faculty, students, staff and alumni. In a scene reminiscent of student takeovers of District universities in past decades, protesters barricaded doors and refused to compromise.

At some schools for the deaf elsewhere in the country, groups pitched tents and made signs supporting the Gallaudet protesters.

The leaders of the National Association of the Deaf issued an open letter saying the campus is in crisis and asking the board to exercise leadership and for the university to immediately cease any confrontational tactics toward campus faculty, students, and staff.

In May, when the board of trustees announced that then-Provost Jane K. Fernandes would be the next president of Gallaudet University, students stood up and walked out of the auditorium, climbed onto the front gates and began to protest.

They said that the search process was unfair, that Fernandes was not strong enough to lead a school often seen as the cultural backbone of the deaf world and that the board had ignored their concerns.

Because longtime President I. King Jordan swept into office after students demanded a deaf president now and started a civil rights movement, the selection of Fernandes had particular weight for the deaf community.

— Susan Kinzie and Nelson Hernandez, Washington Post (2006-10-07): Protesters Occupy Gallaudet Classroom Building

From The Washington Post (2006-10-10):

Since May, protesters say, the university has only become more deeply divided.

What is her plan? And, what is she waiting for? She had all summer to bring the community together, but as you can see, [that] didn’t happen, wrote Andrew J. Lange, president of the Gallaudet University Alumni Association, which is setting up an independent Web site because it cannot send e-mail to alumni without university approval.

The second wave of demonstrations began last week when the board of trustees met on campus. Protesters say that the way Fernandes was chosen was unfair and that the board has ignored people on campus for too long.

Last night, hundreds of students agreed to spend one more night in the classroom building. They awaited a response from administrators to a proposal that they would leave the building if the university satisfied 24 demands, including guaranteeing their right to protest in specific areas.

The students also are seeking a public apology from university President I. King Jordan, whom they accuse of making misleading statements about the protesters. The students are not backing down from their original demands to reopen the presidential search process and to guarantee that protesters would not be retaliated against.

In May, faculty members passed a series of no-confidence votes after it was announced that Fernandes, then the provost, would become president.

Trustees have said that their decision is nonnegotiable and that they have chosen the strongest candidate. This summer, Fernandes stepped down as provost to work on her transition to the presidency.

… Jordan, who is stepping down at the end of this year, said yesterday that Fernandes’s leadership since May has been outstanding.

— Susan Kinzie, Washington Post (2006-10-10): Intensity of Gallaudet Unrest Surprised Incoming Leader

From The Washington Post (2006-10-14): Dozens of Protesters Arrested On Gallaudet President’s Order:

Campus police arrested dozens of student demonstrators at Gallaudet University last night to reopen the famed college for the deaf after a three-day shutdown staged in a long-simmering protest over the appointment of a new president.

The arrests began shortly before 9 p.m., when police began carrying away students from a jeering throng that had been blocking the school’s Sixth Street NE entrance. Students hollered and signed, This is our school! By early this morning, police said, about 80 had been arrested. Witnesses said many students were still awaiting arrest.

Teams of officers, acting on orders from President I. King Jordan and aided by interpreters in orange vests, picked up individual students, who went limp, and carried them to a D.C. police van.

The students were to be taken from the school, at 800 Florida Ave. NE, to a police training facility in Southwest Washington for processing, officials said.

The arrests brought to a head a bitter dispute that began in May between the administration and students angry about the appointment of then-provost Jane K. Fernandes as the university’s next president. She is scheduled to replace Jordan, who is to step down in December.

Protesters expressed dislike for Fernandes, saying she was remote and divisive. They argued that other candidates, especially minorities, had been overlooked. And they called for her to step aside.

She has refused, saying she is the target of student extremists. And earlier yesterday, speaking to the protesters for the first time this week, she said: This has gone on long enough.

About 7 p.m., Jordan announced to demonstrators at the school’s main gate on Florida Avenue that they faced arrest if they did not disperse. I deeply regret being forced to take this action, he said. But the protesters have left me no choice.

Two hours later, after three warnings from campus Police Chief Melodye Batten-Mickens, arrests began at the Sixth Street entrance.

— Susan Kinzie and Michael E. Ruane, Washington Post (2006-10-14): Dozens of Protesters Arrested On Gallaudet President’s Order

There’s a lot of discussion from a lot of different points of view at the DeafDC group weblog. See especially the statements from Julie Hochgesang (2006-10-13): Why I’m Still Protesting at Gallaudet, Allison Kaftan (2006-10-11): Worlds Apart: Divergences in Perspectives on the Protest, and David Stuckless (2006-10-14): Today, Irving Shot the Buffalo, the criticism from Juanita Garcia (2006-10-13): This Week The World Snubbed Gallaudet and Kristi Merriweather (2006-10-14): A Fictitious Protest for Fictitious Reasons, and the proposals from Bobby White (2006-10-16): Concerned Students Take a Step Forward and Tom Willard (2006-10-16): A Few Ideas to End the Stalemate. The Gallaudet University Faculty, Staff, Students & Alumni coalition, which is coordinating the protests, offers news updates through their website. There’s also more at WikiPedia: Gallaudet United Now Movement.

I have no particularly strong opinion on the groups, the individuals, or the actions involved in the student strike and lock-in at Gallaudet. How would I know? I’m not deaf (or Deaf), I have no personal connections with Gallaudet or anyone there, and I haven’t done research beyond reading through news stories, Op-Eds, and weblogs for an hour or two today. But I do have some experience with abusive power-mongering and cronyism from University Trustees and administrators. I also do know enough to know that these issues are particularly sensitive for Deaf students, many of whom are sick and tired of being ignored, patronized, and manhandled by know-it-all suits connected with the established power structure. From what I can see, it looks to me like Fernandes had damn well better step aside in light of the vocal opposition to her from students, faculty, and staff.

Further reading: