Posts tagged Seattle

We need government cops because private protection forces would be accountable to the powerful and well-connected instead of being accountable to the people.

A St. Louis County grand jury on Monday decided not to indict Ferguson, Missouri, police Officer Darren Wilson in the August killing of teenager Michael Brown. The decision wasn’t a surprise — leaks from the grand jury had led most observers to conclude an indictment was unlikely — but it was unusual. Grand juries nearly always decide to indict.

Or at least, they nearly always do so in cases that don’t involve police officers.

Former New York state Chief Judge Sol Wachtler famously remarked that a prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. The data suggests he was barely exaggerating: According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, U.S. attorneys prosecuted 162,000 federal cases in 2010, the most recent year for which we have data. Grand juries declined to return an indictment in 11 of them.

Wilson’s case was heard in state court, not federal, so the numbers aren’t directly comparable. Unlike in federal court, most states, including Missouri, allow prosecutors to bring charges via a preliminary hearing in front of a judge instead of through a grand jury indictment. That means many routine cases never go before a grand jury. Still, legal experts agree that, at any level, it is extremely rare for prosecutors to fail to win an indictment.

If the prosecutor wants an indictment and doesn’t get one, something has gone horribly wrong, said Andrew D. Leipold, a University of Illinois law professor who has written critically about grand juries. It just doesn’t happen.

Cases involving police shootings, however, appear to be an exception. As my colleague Reuben Fischer-Baum has written, we don’t have good data on officer-involved killings. But newspaper accounts suggest, grand juries frequently decline to indict law-enforcement officials. A recent Houston Chronicle investigation found that police have been nearly immune from criminal charges in shootings in Houston and other large cities in recent years. In Harris County, Texas, for example, grand juries haven’t indicted a Houston police officer since 2004; in Dallas, grand juries reviewed 81 shootings between 2008 and 2012 and returned just one indictment… .

— Ben Casselman, It’s Incredibly Rare For A Grand Jury To Do What Ferguson’s Just Did
FiveThirtyEight (November 24, 2014).

Protesters in Seattle, Washington react to the announcement of the grand jury’s decision not to indict Darren Wilson (November 24, 2014)

I’m not invested in indicting Darren Wilson though I understand its (symbolic) import to many people, most especially Mike Brown’s family and friends. Vincent Warren of the Center on Constitutional Rights speaks for many, I think, when he writes:

Without accountability, there can be no rule of law. If Wilson is not indicted, or is under-indicted, the clear message is that it is open season on people of color, that St. Louis has declared that Darren Wilson is not a criminal but that the people who live under the thumbs of the Darren Wilsons of this country are. It would say to the cry that “Black lives matter” that, no, in fact, they do not.

I understand the sentiment that Warren expresses. Yet I don’t believe that an indictment of Wilson would be evidence that black lives do in fact matter to anyone other than black people. Nor do I think his indictment would mean that it was no longer open season on people of color in this country. If we are to take seriously that oppressive policing is not a problem of individual “bad apple” cops then it must follow that a singular indictment will have little to no impact on ending police violence. As I type, I can already feel the impatience and frustration of some who will read these words.

? It feels blasphemous to suggest that one is disinvested from the outcome of the grand jury deliberations. “Don’t you care about accountability for harm caused?” some will ask. “What about justice?” others will accuse. My response is always the same: I am not against indicting killer cops. I just know that indictments won’t and can’t end oppressive policing which is rooted in anti-blackness, social control and containment. Policing is derivative of a broader social justice. It’s impossible for non-oppressive policing to exist in a fundamentally oppressive and unjust society. . . .

The pattern after police killings is all too familiar. Person X is shot & killed. Person X is usually black (or less frequently brown). Community members (sometimes) take to the streets in protest. They are (sometimes) brutally suppressed. The press calls for investigations. Advocates call for reforms suggesting that the current practices and systems are ‘broken’ and/or unjust. There is a (racist) backlash by people who “support” the police. A very few people whisper that the essential nature of policing is oppressive and is not susceptible to any reforms, thus only abolition is realistic. These people are considered heretic by most. I’ve spent years participating in one way or another in this cycle. . . .

— Mariame Kaba, Whether Darren Wilson Is Indicted or Not, the Entire System Is Guilty
In These Times (November 17, 2014).

So, to those in Ferguson, there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. . . . Those of you who are watching tonight understand that there’s never an excuse for violence . . . .

— President Barack Obama Remarks by the President After Announcement of the Decision by the Grand Jury in Ferguson, Missouri
November 24, 2014

Barack Obama, President of the United States and Commander-in-Chief of the largest and most heavily armed military force in the world, got onto the television to tell us that there’s never an excuse for violence just as heavily-armed police throughout Ferguson began launching teargas against everyone in sight on the streets. Of course, when he said violence he meant violence by protesters. It is eerily reminiscent of Lyndon Banes Johnson in July 1967, going on national television to announce that We will not endure violence. It matters not by whom it is done or under what slogan or banner, — saying this at the height of the Vietnam War, and on the specific occasion of his decision to send U.S. soldiers and tanks down Woodward Avenue.

The police are irresponsible and unaccountable. That is what makes them the police. Unless we hold them accountable. The law, for its part, will never curtail the racist violence of the law. Only social accountability for police officers, not legal processes, can do that.

The NAACP circulated this image on social media, reading “No more Michael Browns: I support an end to police brutality and militarization.”
You had me at I support an end to police.

Abolish the police.

Also.

The Police Beat

  • Officer Justin Barrett. Boston, Massachusetts. The Boston Police Commissioner recently suspended and moved to fire Boston patrol cop Officer Justin Barrett, after being forwarded a racist-ass e-mail that Barret wrote in response to Yvonne Abraham’s Boston Globe column criticizing Sergeant James Crowley for his stupid arrest of Henry Louis Gates. All the news stories have mentioned how Barrett stated I am not a racist, but I am [prejudiced] towards people who are stupid and repeatedly described Gates as a banana-eating jungle monkey. Some also mentioned active patrol cop Barret’s statement that, had he been in Crowley’s place, he not only would have arrested Gates but would have pepper-sprayed him in the face. None of the mainstream media articles I’ve read so far have mentioned that active patrol cop Officer Justin Barrett also complains that Your defense [4th paragraph] of Gates while he is on the phone while being confronted [INDEED] with a police officer is assuming he has rights when considered a suspect. He is a suspect and will always be a suspect. (Brackets in original; emphasis mine.) Or that, alongside the violent racism and explicit totalitarianism, he adds some crude misogyny, writing to the immediate target of his letter, Yvonne Abraham, that You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field. … You have no business writing for a US newspaper nevermind detailing and analyzing half truths. You should serve me coffee and donuts on Sunday morning. He later repeats the joke about coffee and says that you just need to get slapped. Officer Justin Barrett, when not a racist, sexist, police-statist patrol cop, is also a veteran of the United States government’s Army; he felt comfortable forwarding his racist, sexist, police-statist e-mail to a few of his buddies in the Boston police force and several of his buddies in the Army National Guard. Since the story hit, Barrett has complained to the media that in the uproar over his repeated use of the phrase banana-eating jungle monkey, People are making it about race. It is not about race, and that, although he made a poor choice of words, I didn’t mean it in a racist way. I treat everyone with dignity and respect. His lawyer says that he plans to fight to hold onto his cop job at the upcoming hearing.

  • Disorderly conduct. Patrolman Robert Lang, Patrolman Jared Bock, and Patrolman Shawn Panchick. Brackenridge, Pennsylvania. Three white patrol cops in Pennsylvania are being investigated by another local government’s cops in response to allegations that they beat and robbed a three black teenagers who they arbitrarily commanded (why?) to clear off of a friend’s front porch where they were hanging out late at night. I don’t know whether or not the allegations of robbery are true — one of the victims, Kyle Dudley, claims that he was beat down and robbed of his watch and money by a group of cops possibly different from the three who originally responded to the call, which makes it hard to compare stories — but I do know that, whether or not those allegations are true, the story that the cops all agreed on for their report is more than enough reason to call their conduct belligerent, violent and stupid. Cops have exactly no business singling out black teenagers to be hassled, or for forcing them down and arresting them on a disorderly conduct beef simply for refusing to obey arbitrary bellowed commands that they leave a private residence where they have been invited to hang out with their friends, or a neighborhood where they are hanging out on public property. And once again, it is clear that disorderly conduct charges are the sheepdogs’ favorite threat for making that the sheep stay just where they’ve been herded, regardless of whether or not anyone is actually doing anything that would threaten anyone’s rights even in the slightest.

  • Cops are here to keep us safe. (Cont’d.) By sideswiping our cars while they tear down the road at 20 mph over the posted speed limit with no lights and no sirens on. Then by concealing information or flat-out lying in the accident report and to the media about how fast they were going, until they finally reveal, a couple days later, that the accident was, after all, clearly the fault of the cop’s speeding. Where have I seen that before…? I guess his victim is lucky that he wasn’t doing 100; if he had gotten himself hurt or killed in the crash he caused, she probably would have been arrested for reckless driving and smeared as a cop-killer all over the local papers.

  • Fun for ages 7 to 70. Unnamed patrol officer, Knoxville, Tennessee, and Deputy Chris Beize. Austin, Texas. In Knoxville, a government cop, who had important business to do Investigating reports of some neighbor kids getting into a fight, has been accused of trying to coerce a 7 year old boy into talking more candidly by handcuffing the child and cussing him out, while the boy was crying and asking for his mother. The 7-year-old was not involved in the fighting and was never suspected of, or charged with, any crime. Officials refuse to so much as disclose this dedicated public servant’s name, but they promise that the matter is being Internally Investigated.

    Meanwhile, in Texas, Deputy Chris Beize tasered Kathryn Winkfein, a 72-year-old great-grandmother, twice during a routine traffic stop, after she refused to sign a ticket and he decided to escalate the situation by ordering her out of her car, instead of just mailing the damn thing to her home address. Beize claims that she swore at him (which is not a crime) and that she pushed him into oncoming traffic (no she didn’t; the dashcam video clearly shows that he lunged over and grabbed her and shoved her back several feet, when she tried to de-escalate the situation by sidestepping him to get back to her truck). Then he blasted her with a 50,000-volt electric shock from the taser, and then tasered her again while she was lying on the ground. Then he arrested her for resisting arrest. His superior officers in the paramilitary chain of command have defended Beize’s hollering belligerence, physical assault, and torture by repeated electrical shocks, against an unarmed, 4′11″, 72-year-old great-grandmother who never threatened any physical harm and was guilty of nothing more than a moving violation and contempt of cop, as an appropriate reaction to a dangerous situation. By the by, when Beize is not busy shocking the hell out of elderly women, he is a taser instructor for the local police.

  • Officer Morris Taylor. Springfield, Missouri. Officer Morris Taylor, a cop formerly on the Springfield, Missouri city government’s police force, is facing misdemeanor assault charges for beating John Sedersten, a prisoner under his authority, after Sedersten had been restrained and booked in the Greene County Jail. The story’s in the news because Sedersten, the victim of the beating, recently decided not to testify against Taylor in the criminal case, on advice from his attorneys, because of the danger that his testimony will open him up to lines of questioning that the government can use against him in his pending criminal cases. Sedersten is pursuing a separate civil lawsuit against Officer Morris Taylor for the beating; apparently he’s just not particularly interested in working closely with the same government office that is trying to lock him up in other cases, particularly not for so minor a vindication as a misdemeanor assault conviction. Even without his testimony, apparently portions of the assault are recorded on video.

    Besides having spent 11 years in local government police forces, Officer Morris Taylor also has experience in dealing with prisoners from working as a government soldier in the U.S. government’s war and occupation in Iraq.

  • Deputy Marcus Smith. San Joaquin County, California. San Joaquin County Sheriff’s deputies stopped a car on a routine traffic stop near Manteca; Charles Inderbitzen was riding in the car. Inderbitzen was ex-con out on parole, and believed that he had a warrant out on him, so he got nervous around the cops. He tried to leave the scene without the cops’ permission; even though the police had no reason whatever, at this point, to suspect that he had committed any crime, or even (since he was not the one driving the car) of even the most minor civil infraction. But government cops in America aren’t actually interested in dealing with crimes; they are interested in targeting suspects, and are more than willing to summarily declare you a suspect sort of guy based solely on your failure to follow their arbitrary bellowed commands, or your decision to try to leave the scene when they are present. So a gang of police chased Inderbitzen down, cornered him in a back yard, drew their guns on him, and ordered him to get on his knees and put his hands on his head. After Inderbitzen complied with their orders, with several cops pointing guns at him and while physically at their mercy, Deputy Marcus Smith hopped the fence, kicked Charles Inderbitzen in the gut, punched him in the back of the head, kicked him two more times in the stomach, and then punched him about 5 or 10 more times until Inderbitzen was beaten unconscious. I guess he’s lucky they didn’t taser him to death instead.

  • Oops. Our bad. Deputy Matthew Paul. Seattle, Washington. Christopher Harris was trying to get away from a group of King’s County police (or rather, a gang of beefy, heavily armed strangers, dressed all in black, who didn’t bother to identify themselves before they started hollering and chasing after him late at night). Turns out he didn’t actually do anything wrong (they were chasing him because a witness fingered him as having been involved in a bar fight; the witness was wrong). But rather than risking the possibility that someone possibly might get away from the cops (even when he had no way of knowing they were cops, who had every right to leave the scene, who posed no physical threat to anybody, and who, at the very worst, was suspected of some minor-league drunken fighting), Deputy Matthew Paul, who outweighed his victim by about 100 pounds, decided to put an end to things by waiting until Christopher Harris slowed down to a walk, and then body-tackling him so hard that he knocked him eight feet into a wall, slamming Harris’s head into the concrete so hard it put him into a coma. The story’s in the news because Deputy Matthew Paul’s coworkers in the King County government’s prosecutor’s office have announced that, as far as they’re concerned, Deputy Matthew Paul did not violate Christopher Harris’s rights and the only personal consequence that Deputy Matthew Paul will face, for putting his falsely accused, completely unarmed and physically harmless victim on life-support, is having been given a paid vacation from his job for a while during the investigation. According to the county government, It’s a tragic incident. Well, oops. I guess he’s lucky they didn’t just shoot him in the back instead.

  • Non-Lethal Force (Cont’d.) Unnamed officer, Officer Debra Lynn Indovina-Akerly and Officer Charles Watson. Swissvale, Pennsylvania. Last summer, a 37 year old unarmed black man named Andre DeMon Thomas was extrajudicially electrocuted by a gang of three Swissvale cops, who tortured him with three 50,000-volt electric shocks, handcuffed him, and, after he was handcuffed, kicked him, punched him, and crushed him until he vomited, passed out, and died. They were electrocuting him, incidentally, For His Own Good, after he begged neighbors to call the cops to help him out. He was unarmed; he wasn’t acting aggressively; none of the neighbors felt threatened by him; he was never at any point charged with any crime at all by anyone; he seemed disoriented and terrified, and he wanted the cops there to keep him safe. But in cop-think, being terrified and disoriented means acting erratic, and acting erratic in the judgment of a cop, even if you pose no threat to anyone and even if you have not been so much as accused of committing a crime and even if you are yourself seeking help, is reason enough for you to get Served and Protected good and hard until you are physically subdued. Or dead, whichever comes first. [And]((http://radgeek.com/gt/2009/06/22/the-police-beat-3/) yet again, it became necessary to kill Dre Thomas in order to save him. The case is in the news again because the family has filed a lawsuit and the coroner’s autopsy report, which revealed deep and widespread bruising all over Thomas’s body, contradicts the Medical Examiner’s initial report absolving the cops and claiming that Thomas died from a mythical made-up condition called agitated delirium.

  • Gang cops (Cont’d.). Gang Strike Force, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota. Seven victims of racist shakedowns by a multi-agency paramilitary Gang Strike Force in the Twin Cities have filed suit against the members of the Strike Force, the city governments that put it together, and the boss cops who commanded it. The Strike Force was permanently shut down earlier this month after repeated complaints about the cops on it making improper seizures, which is to say armed robberies under color of law, of money and property from innocent people with no connection to gang activity, but who happened to be immigrants (hence easy targets). If only we had some warning, had some way of knowing, that an elite gang police unit with an unlimited mandate, overwhelming force, and extremely broad legal powers to roust people and take their property with minimal legal accountability, might end up just acting like the baddest gangsters on the block. But who could possibly have foreseen that? It’s not like anything like this has ever happened before.

  • Detective Keith Alfaro. San Antonio, Texas. A couple years ago Detective Keith Alfaro of the San Antonio police department got himself involved in what the media at the time dignified as a poolside scuffle with a teenager. By which they meant that he punched an 18 year old girl in the face, then, after he knocked her down, got on top of her, put her in a chokehold, and, according to an unrelated witness, pummeled her black and blue while she was on the ground. After Alfaro ran away from the Sheriff’s Deputies who responded to a call, Vaughn had to be taken to the hospital; she still couldn’t open her jaw for weeks after the attack. The reason he did this was that she told him to put out a cigar he was smoking; the community pool had a no-smoking rule. Tamara Vaughn claims she asked him politely; Alfaro claims she copped an attitude, got up in his face, dared to say some vulgar words in his hearing, and tried to swipe the cigar out of his mouth. Apparently, even if we grant his story to be true, Detective Keith Alfaro believes that that’s good enough reason for a grown-ass man to throw the first punch, then beat the living hell out of an 18 year old girl while she’s lying on the ground, and that doing so was totally defensive … It was her own actions that forced me to take those measures. Perhaps that’s also what forced him to answer her request that he not smoke a cigar at a non-smoking pool by telling her to take that East Side attitude back over there; maybe that’s also what forced him to call her a nigger and a half-breed while he was beating the hell out of her, or to tell Vaughn, who is a lesbian, that You wanna look like a man, I’m gonna treat you like a man.. Detective Keith Alfaro testified that his problem was not with her race but with her attitude (you know, the East Side kind), and that She though she was talking to a child, … She thought she was talking to someone she could bully — not an adult family man. Apparently Detective Keith Alfaro believes that an adult family man deals with tense social situations by punching 18 year old girls in the face and dislocating their jaws. In any case, this adult family man bragged in an online profile for an Ultimate Fighting website about his countless street KO’s.

    The story is in the news again because Keith Alfaro finally ended up going to trial this year on a misdemeanor assault rap, along with some resisting and evading arrest for having run away from the Bexar County Sheriff’s deputies. And just today, after the judge refused to allow Bexar County prosecutors to tell the jury about the online bragging about street fights, or about the numerous existing complaints against Alfaro in his internal affairs file (complaints which, of course, never endangered his position with the San Antonio Police Department, until he got into a fight on another police agency’s turf), the jury voted to acquit Alfaro on the assault beef. They convicted him on the misdemeanor evading and resisting arrest charges, because apparently busting up an 18 year old girl’s jaw is OK, but they’ll be damned if they’ll let anyone get away from the po-po.

  • Rapists on patrol. Officer Feliciano Sanchez, Los Angeles, California. (Possible trigger warning.)

    Officer Feliciano Sanchez, formerly hired muscle for Los Angeles County’s Bell Police Department, recently plead guilty to using his police powers to abduct a woman he had detained on a traffic stop, drive her to an isolated location, and then flashed his gun and coerced sex from her before he would let her free. Bell Police Department Captain Anthony Miranda says he is shocked to hear that a male cop might use his government-granted legal powers and his arsenal of deadly weapons to intimidate and violently coerce sex from women who come under his power. He says that he’s in disbelief because he’s never heard of such a thing before. Well, I’m not. I have.

  • 18 shots for running a stop-sign. Officer James Arnold. Fort Wayne, Indiana. The city government in Fort Wayne, Indiana just spent $335,000 of other people’s money in order to cover Office James Arnold’s ass after he shot an unarmed immigrant named José Baudilio Lemus-Rodriguez 18 times, after Lemus-Rodriguez refused to pull over for a routine traffic stop for running a stop sign.

    Fort Wayne Police Officer James Arnold, by the way, was just four months on the force when he lit up Lemus-Rodriguez’s car; before that, he had years of combat experience as a United States government Marine fighting for the U.S. government’s occupation and counter-insurgency operations in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Allen County Prosecutor Karen Richards refused to file any criminal charges; the city hired on a PR flack to declare Arnold’s actions objectively reasonable. The city’s main concern in settling the family’s lawsuit, besides using taxpayer money to cover Officer James Arnold from any personal legal liability for his lethal actions, is apparently as a bribe to ensure that the objective video record of the objectively reasonable shooting remains permanently concealed from the public.

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

See also:

Bolts from the Blue

(Links thanks to Marian Douglas [2005-06-07], Lew Rockwell [2005-06-06], and Edmund Burke [1757].)

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who are not posing any serious threat to anyone, in order to make sure that they stay in control of the situation. You already knew that they electrified children and suspected salad-bar thieves; you can also add to the list women who have committed the horrible crimes of driving on a suspended license and going 12 miles an hour over the speed limit, provided that they are (1) Black and (2) talk back to the cops, especially on points of legality. Note that being completely unarmed and doing nothing more dangerous than not getting out of the vehicle promptly on command will not stop them from using a 50,000 volt electric blast to immobilize you with pain two or three times in quick succession. Neither, incidentally, will being eight months pregnant.

This is getting repetitive, so let’s just review:

We already knew that Florida cops were willing to electrify a 6 year old boy and a 12 year old girl with a 50,000 volt blast from a taser. The 6 year old was distraught and threatening to hurt himself (after all, why hurt yourself when you can have a cop immobilize you with pain?); the 12 year old’s crime was playing hooky and maybe being a little tipsy, and the incredibly dangerous imminent threat she posed was that she ran away from the cop and so might have been able to skip school. Back when it happened, I mentioned that the main reaction from the police brass was to review the decision to equip cops with tasers—as if the equipment were the primary problem here. I also mentioned that we might be better served by scrutinizing the paramilitary police culture that we have, in which peace officers are trained to take control of every situation at all times, by any means necessary, and where any notion of proportionality between the possible harm and the violence used to maintain control is routinely chucked out the window in the name of law and order and winning the war on crime.

The cops, of course, continue to treat these cases as a P.R. management problem, not a public safety problem created by out-of-control cops. That’s because the cops aren’t out of control; they are doing what cops normally do in our society; we only know about it here because the victims were vulnerable enough that their caretakers were able to get the attention of the newsmedia and the civil courts. We are not talking about a few bad apples here; we are talking about a systematic feature of policing in our society.

— Geekery Today 2005-04-26: Peace Officers

Meanwhile. in Seattle:

Law enforcement officers have said they see Tasers as a tool that can benefit the public by reducing injuries to police and the citizens they arrest.

Seattle police officials declined to comment on this case, citing concerns that Brooks might file a civil lawsuit.

But King County sheriff’s Sgt. Donald Davis, who works on the county’s Taser policy, said the use of force is a balancing act for law enforcement.

It just doesn’t look good to the public, he said.

— Marian Douglas 2005-06-07: Police Taser pregnant woman 3 Times, Just happens to be Black

I’ve been at this for a while with more or less the same analysis applid in each of several different cases (1, 2, 3), so by now I probably ought to at least add a bit by way of a reply to Martin Striz’s complaints. In that direction, let me just say that my main concern here is the paramilitary stance that police forces take toward you and I, and the routine use of extreme violence that that fosters; and that my main difference from Martin has a lot to do with a difference over whether the institutional framework that cops work in is essentially or just accidentally connected with the abuses of power that rampaging cops display every day.

But there’s no need for me to dwell on this point about the hangman State when Edmund Burke already explained it better than I could, back in 1757:

These Evils are not accidental. Whoever will take the pains to consider the Nature of Society, will find they result directly from its Constitution. For as Subordination, or in other Words, the Reciprocation of Tyranny, and Slavery, is requisite to support these Societies, the Interest, the Ambition, the Malice, or the Revenge, nay even the Whim and Caprice of one ruling Man among them, is enough to arm all the rest, without any private Views of their own, to the worst and blackest Purposes; and what is at once lamentable and ridiculous, these Wretches engage under those Banners with a Fury greater than if they were animated by Revenge for their own proper Wrongs. …

To prove, that these Sort of policed Societies are a Violation offered to Nature, and a Constraint upon the human Mind, it needs only to look upon the sanguinary Measures, and Instruments of Violence which are every where used to support them. Let us take a Review of the Dungeons, Whips, Chains, Racks, Gibbets, with which every Society is abundantly stored, by which hundreds of Victims are annually offered up to support a dozen or two in Pride and Madness, and Millions in an abject Servitude, and Dependence. There was a Time, when I looked with a reverential Awe on these Mysteries of Policy; but Age, Experience, and Philosophy have rent the Veil; and I view this Sanctum Sanctorum, at least, without any enthusiastick Admiration. I acknowledge indeed, the Necessity of such a Proceeding in such Institutions; but I must have a very mean Opinion of Institutions where such Proceedings are necessary. …

I now plead for Natural Society against Politicians, and for Natural Reason against all three. When the World is in a fitter Temper than it is at present to hear Truth, or when I shall be more indifferent about its Temper; my Thoughts may become more publick. In the mean time, let them repose in my own Bosom, and in the Bosoms of such Men as are fit to be initiated in the sober Mysteries of Truth and Reason. My Antagonists have already done as much as I could desire. Parties in Religion and Politics make sufficient Discoveries concerning each other, to give a sober Man a proper Caution against them all. The Monarchic, Aristocratical, and Popular Partizans have been jointly laying their Axes to the Root of all Government, and have in their Turns proved each other absurd and inconvenient. In vain you tell me that Artificial Government is good, but that I fall out only with the Abuse. The Thing! the Thing itself is the Abuse!

— Edmund Burke (1757): A Vindication of Natural Society

Corporate Elites Meet & Greet, New York Times Makes Shit Up

For the most part, the New York Times’ story on the World Economic Forum beginning its proceedings in New York is just a gooey report on the men who had the air of money and power hobnobbing inside the Waldorf-Astoria, … like the start of summer camp. Now I really wonder if this sort of fluff reporting on a serious conference of the global economic and political elite is necessary. But, more to the point, the Times has decided to creatively reinvent history:

That has not prevented critics from painting the Forum in the darkest colors. The World Economic Forum will celebrate war in Afghanistan and the Middle East, attacks on civil liberties, and corporate tax cuts, proclaimed a group called A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) in its call for demonstrations which will get under way in earnest with marches on Saturday.

At the New York W.E.F. summit, the world’s richest C.E.O.s will collaborate with the world’s most powerful politicians to set the global economic agenda, declared another group, Students for Global Justice.

Whether the protests reach the violence of last year’s meeting in Davos remains to be seen. Some of the opposition groups acknowledge that a clash with New York’s finest in the aftermath of Sept. 11 would not sit well with the public.

Now, it’s a bit irresponsible to spending only two dismissive paragraphs on the fact that there are, in fact, people who have serious problems with what goes at the WEF, while spending the rest of the front-page story gushing about how elite and idealistic it all is (for more responsible coverage, I suggest the Times’ recent in-depth article on anarchism, buried in the New York Region section). What concerns me a bit more, however, is that they are simply making shit up when they say that the protests at Davos last year had any violence to be reached.

In reality, last year’s protests in Davos featured 250 activists staging a peaceful march. In 2000, the worst violence was a few windows being broken at a McDonald’s. In 2001, the worst violence was snowballs being tossed at police barricades.

Well, I should take that back. There was violence at the 2001 protest. See, the Davos local authorities decided to ban any exercise of the right to peaceful public assembly, so protestors were met by over 1,000 Swiss security agents armed with batons and tear gas guns. The demonstrators’ peaceful march was turned back with police barricades and water cannons. But this isn’t exactly the sort of violence that the Times story was claiming had happened.

This is, unfortunately, part of a general press smear campaign against the globalization movement, which has invented protestor violence out of thin air in protests in Seattle, DC, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia… at all of these there was plenty of police violence against demonstrators but the virtually none initiated by protestors. In Seattle and DC, heavy tear gas bombardments were used; in Los Angeles I watched mounted cops stage dragoon attacks with batons on protestors who had done nothing other than run away from rampaging peace officers. And yet the New York Daily News compared protestors to the terrorists who attacked the World Trade Center and threatened them, You have a right to free speech, but try to disrupt this town, and you’ll get your anti-globalization butts kicked. Capish?

Sidebar: I’ve noticed that they’ve been awfully cagey about just how many women are at the invite-only WEF meeting; one article lumped in women amidst everyone else in the overwhelming minority at the WEF (third world leaders, human rights activists, union leaders, etc.). The Times’ editorial column said it was some 3,000 Davos Men, and a sprinkling of Davos Women. For all their apologia, it’s really hard to shade just how reactionary in constitution their Good Ol’ Boys meeting is.

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