Posts tagged Wichita

Hello Wichita

Ani DiFranco wrote this song in 1999 for Dr. Barnett Slepian of Buffalo, New York, and for Robert Sanderson and the women of the New Woman All Women Health Care Center in Birmingham, Alabama. I can’t get through the song without crying. Even on a normal day.

hold me down
i am floating away
into the overcast skies
over my hometown
on election day

what is it about birmingham?
what is it about buffalo?
that the hate-filled wanna build bunkers
in your beautiful red earth
they wanna build them
in our shiny white snow

now i’ve drawn closed the curtain
in this little booth where the truth has no place
to stand and i am feeling oh so powerless
in this stupid booth with this useless
little lever in my hand
and outside, my city is bracing
for the next killing thing
standing by the bridge and praying
for the next doctor
martin
luther
king

it was just one shot
through the kitchen window
it was just one or two miles from here
if you fly like a crow
a bullet came to visit a doctor
in his one safe place
a bullet insuring the right to life
whizzed past his kid and his wife
and knocked his glasses
right off of his face

and the blood poured off the pulpit
the blood poured down the picket line
yeah, the hatred was immediate
and the vengeance was divine
so they went and stuffed god
down the barrel of a gun
and after him
they stuffed his only son

hello birmingham
it’s buffalo
i heard you had some trouble
down there again
and i’m just calling to let to know
that somebody understands

i was once escorted
through the doors of a clinic
by a man in a bullet proof vest
and no bombs went off that day
so i am still here to say
birmingham
i’m wishing you all of my best
oh birmingham
i’m wishing you all of my best
birmingham
i’m wishing you all of my best
on this election day

— Ani DiFranco, Hello Birmingham (1999), To The Teeth

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Bleeding Kansas

I just received news that Dr. George Tiller was shot to death today in the lobby of his longtime church in Wichita, Kansas. Tiller had been singled out for special attention from both the political and the direct-action wings of the anti-abortion movement for years because he continued to perform second- and third-trimester abortions for women whose life or health would be endangered by continuing the pregnancy. Tiller was the only doctor in Kansas, and one of only a handful in the entire U.S., who would perform third-trimester abortions under any conditions. The police have detained a suspect but nothing has yet been announced officially about who committed the murder or why.

Unlike most of the bellowing blowhard sheepdogs of the world, who can’t get enough of trumpeting how they put their lives on the line, Dr. Tiller actually did so in the interest of serving the well-being and the free choices of willing patients who asked for his help in a time of crisis. He put his life on the line to provide women with life-saving safe abortions, in despite of the outrage of the entitled majority, and in the face of physical threats, day after day, showing not just boldness, but real courage, and honor.

We are, and have for a long time, been in a much more precarious position than we sometimes realize; we have spent too many years defending an ever-shrinking number of clinics and doctors against the repeated harassment, blockades, vandalism and guerrilla violence of the antis. We owe it to Dr. Tiller to remember him — to remember him and to remember Dr. Gunn, Dr. Patterson, Dr. Britton, James Barrett, Shannon Lowney, Lee Ann Nichols, Robert Sanderson, and Dr. Slepian — to remember our dead. But more than that, we need to work in honor of their memories, and to make sure that there are no more of whom we have nothing left but names.

R.I.P., Dr. George Tiller (August 8, 1941 – May 31, 2009).

I’ll post more when I find out more.

Law and Orders #4: Wichita cops take control by shocking a deaf man for not following orders he couldn’t hear

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies. In order to get control of situations that they forced their way into, they routinely hurt people, use force first and ask questions later, and pass off even the most egregious violence against harmless or helpless people as self-defense or as the necessary means to accomplish an unnecessary goal. In order to coerce compliance with their arbitrary orders, they have no trouble electrifying small children, alleged salad-bar thieves, pregnant women, or an already prone and helpless student who may have been guilty of using the computer lab without proper papers on hand. They are willing to pepper spray lawyers for asking inconvenient questions and to beat up teenaged girls for not cleaning up enough birthday cake or being out too late at night. They are willing to shock you and leave you lying on the side of the highway in order to make sure they can serve you with a dubious traffic ticket. It hardly matters if you are an 82 year old woman supposedly benefiting from a care check, or if you are sound asleep in your own home, or if you are unable to move due to a medical condition. It hardly even matters if you die. What a cop can always count on is that, no matter how senselessly he escalates the use of violence and no matter how obviously innocent or helpless his victims are, he can count on his bosses to repeat any lie and make any excuse in order to find that Official Procedures were followed. As long as Official Procedures were followed, of course, any form of brutality or violence is therefore passed off as OK.

One increasingly popular means for out-of-control cops to force you to follow their bellowed orders is by using high-voltage electric shocks in order to inflict pain.Tasers were originally introduced for police use as an alternative to using lethal force; the hope was that, in many situations where cops might otherwise feel forced to go for their guns, they might be able to use the taser instead, to immobilize a person who posed a threat to them or to others, without killing anybody in the process. But in practice, police culture being what it is, any notion of limiting tasers to those situations very quickly went out the window. Cops armed with tasers now freely use them to end arguments by intimidation or actual violence, to coerce people who pose no real threat to anyone into complying with their instructions, and to hurt uppity civilians who dare to give them lip. Among civilized people, deliberately inflicting severe pain in order to extort compliance from your victim is called torture; among cops it is called pain compliance and is considered business as usual. So shock-happy Peace Officers can now go around using their tasers as high-voltage human prods in just about any situation, with more or less complete impunity. In comments at The Agitator, Robert, referring back to John Gardner’s taser assault on Jared Massey, gets the situation exactly right:

Seriously though, I’m much more worried about being tased by some overzealous cop that has had a bad morning than I am about being assaulted by a real criminal. Maybe I just read this blog too much.

MikeT makes a good point. Take the video of the guy stopped in the construction zone. Granted, arguing with a cop is stupid (you’ve got a pretty good shot at getting tased), but how would people have reacted if the guy had turned around and the cop took out his nightstick and gave the guy a couple of kidney shots with it?

Cops’ contemptuous indifference to anything other than their own domineering control of the situation, and their hair-trigger readiness to start shocking in order to coerce compliance, has led to predictable results over and over again. In California, a gang of three cops pepper-sprayed, and tasered, and beat the hell out of a 17-year-old non-verbal autistic teenager for failing to obey commands that he didn’t have the linguistic capacity to understand. In Alabama, a gang of cops tasered a man who was unable to respond to their commands because he was half-conscious from a diabetic episode. And this week, in Wichita, Kansas, a gang of cops forced their way into a deaf man’s house, found him coming out of the bath wearing nothing but a towel around his waist, and promptly immobilized him with painful electric shocks for failing to follow bellowed commands that he could not hear. At the time he was shocked, Donnell Williams was holding his hands to his ear and yelling I can’t hear!

As always, The Incident Is Being Investigated. But the people doing the investigating are more cops, i.e., people who have a personal and professional interest in making sure that they and their buddies aren’t subject to any particular kind of standards whatsoever in the use of force. Here’s how that’s going:

Officers were worried about their own safety because at the time it appeared Williams was refusing to obey their commands to show his hands. That’s when they shot him with a Taser.

Deputy Chief Robert Lee of the Wichita Police Department says, This one occurred on the worst of calls, that being a shooting. The first few minutes getting control of the scene are very, very important.

Once the facts were all sorted out, officers repeatedly apologized to Williams. Police wish it never happened, but with the information they had at the time, their choices were limited.

Do I wish there would have been some way they were notified in advance this gentleman was hearing impaired? I certainly do. No one is happy with the way it worked out, says Lee.

— Michael Schwanke, KWCH (2007-12-03): Hearing Impaired Man Tased by Police

In other words, nothing is going to happen as long as the cops can manufacture the flimsiest possible excuse that a half-naked man with no pockets or anywhere else to conceal a gun might be posing a threat to the safety of several cops with their weapons already drawn, or that they just had no way of knowing that a man is deaf when he’s pointing to his ears and yelling I can’t hear! Gosh but the boys in blue feel mighty sorry, but of course they’re not going to do anything about the fact that they tortured an innocent man over a complete mistake.

In real life, outside of government power trip la-la land, if you or I did something like that we would be expected to take some minimal responsibility and pay to make it right for the victim of our fuck-up, even if our options seemed mighty limited at the time. But since these guys are on the State’s official goon squad, some crocodile tears and an Oops, my bad will have to do.

(Story via Radley Balko 2007-12-04.)

Further reading: