Tag Archives: police brutality

A Stampede Against Time

It’s inspiring to see so many young people in the United States rise to action against gun violence, especially in response to the mass shooting phenomenon which has dominated news cycles and the American psyche itself. But unless the link is made to militarism, police brutality, ecological destruction, economic disenfranchisement and state violence it will be reduced to mere spectacle and cynically used by the Democratic Party, that infamous graveyard of social movements, for political advancement.
The so-called “March for Our Lives” was emblematic of this. Held on a weekend, permits were easily granted. The corporate media portrayed it favorably. There were celebrities, pundits and political hacks galore. There were no major police incidents. And nothing was disrupted politically, economically or socially. Essentially, it was a state sanctioned “day of rage” which did not upend anything nor have any consequential effect on the underlying societal inequities or maladies that create a violent society in the first place.
Compare this weekend’s events to the reaction of the state to Black Lives Matter rallies, the Occupy Movement or Standing Rock Sioux and you get a clear picture of which movements are allowable or even smiled upon and which ones they will brutally crush. The Democrats showed little interest in those latter movements because they represented a real threat to the repressive capitalist, ecologically devastating and thoroughly racist status quo of which they are a part.
And then there is the privilege. The very name “March For Our Lives” reflects a kind of cooptation in relation to Black Lives Matter, and this is especially troubling since most of the participants have been largely from the white petit bourgeois (middle class). Similar comparisons can be made to the #metoo movement because although it was founded by a Black woman (Tarana Burke), it was co-opted by a white celebrity (Alyssa Milano) and gained steam via an exposé on the powerful producer Harvey Weinstein. And thus far it has shown few, demonstrable, real life benefits for working class women of colour because the systems of class exploitation persist undisturbed and unabated.
But highly organized and moneyed events like the one this past weekend are not really meant to effect change. They take place only within the confines of acceptable dissent, rattling few cages and causing no one (especially the wealthy and powerful elite) too much inconvenience. And they often mask more nefarious and insidious motives of the state for increased control and the suppression of actual dissent.  For instance, the main focus of animus at this weekend’s march was the National Rifle Association, arguably a lobby group that actively defends white nationalist terror. But nothing was uttered about Grumman Northrup, or Lockheed Martin, or Halliburton, or the Pentagon, or the Department of Defense, or the police for that matter, all of which cause substantially more deaths globally. And this is by design. These “movements” generally act as a valve to let off steam; and the action they call for all too often come in the form of draconian legalism, surveillance and authoritarian overreach.

Indeed, the US has always been supremely authoritarian but it is rapidly slipping into outright fascism with each passing day. Military analysts and generals are running the show behind the scenes of the narcissist in the Oval Office and are salivating at the next geopolitical assault (see quagmire) be it against Iran, North Korea, Venezuela or even Russia or China, all while a complex police state has been meticulously constructed domestically.

It is an empire where the ruling class create a narrative to serve the purpose of maintaining their power while they continue to hack through what is left of the rag we call a social safety net and fill their already bloated private coffers with stolen public coin. And it enforces it all through coercion, intimidation, marginalization and violence, both at home and abroad. This is why social movements cannot have real success if they are largely generated and sustained by members of the elite or the establishment.  They serve only as an illusion of agency, not true power; and often end with more terrifying results.

It is my sincere hope that many of the young people rising up today make this crucial connection and the #NeverAgain movement will grow to encompass US militarism, the prison/surveillance/police industrial complex and systemic economic inequality, because the failure to do so will only speed them toward an even more terrifying totalitarianism within a deeply unequal and warrior society neutered of its political agency and chomping at the bit for more war and a militarized world. But they will need to do this quickly. This isn’t simply a march for their lives; it is a stampede against time for us all.

Kenn Orphan, 26 March 2018

The Murder of Sandra Bland

Sandra Bland, like countless others, was murdered by the State. She was dehumanized, brutalized and tortured. And regardless of whether she or someone else physically hanged her in that jail cell, her life was taken, nonetheless, by an entrenched system of White supremacy.  Pulled over by a police officer for failing to signal, Sandra was subjected to the casual humiliation meted out by a system drenched in arrogant impunity. She may have been spared much of what came next had she groveled to his abusive conceit; but she had probably had enough. Sandra asserted her rights by asking questions about her detainment. When she was asked by the officer what was wrong, she calmly explained her exasperation. When she asserted her right to smoke inside her own vehicle, and defy an unwarranted demand, she was violated, threatened with a taser that can be, and often is, lethal, thrown to the ground, and handcuffed. Her pleas for mercy and compassion were summarily ignored or ridiculed as she lay helpless on the warm, Texas grass. She was found dead three days later in her jail cell.

Sandra Bland  Photo  K HoustonSystemic racism exacts a high price. To the victimizer, that price involves the gutting of the soul. It requires the wholesale rejection of empathy, and a willful ignorance of the long lasting ramifications of centuries of injustice and crimes against humanity. The victims of racism are, as in so many other instances of persecution, often driven to numb the excruciating pain inflicted on them by such a system through drugs or alcohol, or extinguish it completely though the ending of their lives. This is a phenomenon rarely, if ever, understood by the oppressor. The constant humiliation, threats and violence that are meted out by a racist society each day dehumanize and alienate; and there is only so much a human being can take before they break. This same scenario is played out time and time again in any group that is oppressed, from the spate of suicides among LGBTQ teens, to the self-medication that many women are driven too, or the spike in alcoholism in Native American and First Nations communities.

Alcoholism among the Oglala Sioux  Photo  GettyIn America, the machine of institutionalized racism grinds on unabated since slavery. It has morphed into a new kind of barbarity in the form of the prison and criminal justice system. It is a police/surveillance/prison industry that has effected poor Whites as well, especially since 9/11.  But much of White society has decided that racism is a thing of the past. This lie is agonizingly etched into the bodies of Black and Brown people, who are disproportionately cut down daily by State violence, both seen and unseen. The mountains of corpses are not captured through the lens of a war photographer on a battlefield in one of America’s many wars of imperialistic domination. They are not easily spotted as in one of the countless, archived pictures of lynchings throughout this country just decades ago. But they are there if one takes a moment to see beyond the lens of their own privilege.

Suicide is, in the end, the final respite of the tortured. It is the tragic punctuation to a litany of cruelty and humiliation. And for the oppressed it often feels like the only escape from the daily misery inflicted by a callous and merciless society. Sandra Bland was arrested for “driving while Black.”  She was brutalized for daring to assert her rights.  She may have taken her life in that jail cell.  We still do not know.  But regardless, she is the latest, most visible, victim of execution (murder by the State); and, sadly, she will not be the last. The only way to truly honor her life is to remember that there are countless Sandra Blands, Tamir Rices, Natasha McKennas, Freddie Grays and Eric Garners, that we will never hear about because they have not yet fallen; and to continue to defy the monstrous system that perpetuates this savagery and carnage.

Kenn Orphan 2015

12 year old Tamir Rice murdered by Cleveland Police.  via AP

Natasha McKenna  via AP

Freddie Gray  Source ABCNews

Eric Garner  Photo Source  Black Star News

We are all Kelly Thomas

Kelly_Thomas_04Kelly Thomas was a 37 year old homeless man who suffered from schizophrenia.  On July 5, 2011, Thomas was brutally beaten to death by three police officers in Fullerton, California. Despite his repeated cries begging for mercy, calling out to God to save him and for his father, and apologizing to the officers over and over, they continued to beat him until he was completely unrecognizable and unconscious.  This can clearly be seen in video and audio surveillance as well as through numerous testimonies of eye witnesses. Thomas never regained consciousness and succumbed to his injuries five days later in the hospital.  Despite all of this, Thomas’s killers were acquitted.(1)

Kelly Thomas in the hospital Photo KTLA
(A photo showing the head injuries Kelly Thomas sustained from the police assault.  He was hospitalized, and died five days later having never regained consciousness.  Source:KTLA)

Were this an isolated case, outrage at such behavior would most likely be projected primarily at the officers and their blatant violation of the role they play in society. But this is not an isolated case. Incidents of gross overreach of police power, malfeasance and excessive force, and extreme violence emerge daily. This, coupled with the burgeoning prison and surveillance industrial complex, which is increasingly becoming privatized, and an immoral and untenable “War on Drugs” which really amounts to a war on the poor and people of color, creates a situation that in most nations would raise the specter of a police state.(2) In reality, the officers in this case did not violate the conduct expected of them or the rule of law in their role as police officers. On the contrary, they fulfilled them.

In a spate of State and Federal Supreme Court cases the courts have come down almost unequivocally on the side of the police. In most states the police do not have any obligation to protect a citizen from harm.(3) At the federal level, the SCOTUS has enshrined the right of police departments to conduct strip searches for any arrest.(4) Statistically, there has been a sharp increase in the use of SWAT teams to address what most would consider to be non-violent drug offenses. When we consider the concurrent trend of police departments acquiring military equipment, including armored tanks, this increased use of SWAT as the preferred method of dealing with the public, as vile as it is, makes logical sense.(5)

Perhaps what is most troubling about the rise of police and state brutality is the seeming complacency of the public. The invasive practices of the TSA at airports, the codification of the NDAA indefinite detention of American citizens without the requirement of due process, or the Constitutional infringements by the NSA aside, it was the effective lockdown of a major US city following the Boston Marathon bombing that was most indicative of this. Tanks rolled freely down leafy, suburban streets while residents were marched at gunpoint down sidewalks with hands placed firmly on their heads. Yet despite the fact that the police had little to do with the capture of an injured, bleeding 19 year old, the media, politicians and many ordinary citizens normalized and even applauded the draconian measures taken.(6)

Armored tanks in Boston Source Associated Press
(Armored vehicles roll down a street in Boston.  Source: Associated Press)

Cajoled by a lapdog, corporate media into accepting our situation as necessary, or even desirable, and marrying it to the government’s spurious, grossly inflated and unending, global “War on Terror,” the general public is chided as at best unpatriotic and, at worst, reckless anarchists or terrorist sympathizers should they object to the increasing incursions into civil rights and liberties. The attacks on 9/11 created an atmosphere which favors totalitarianism wherever the opaque concept of “security” is threatened. (7ab)

Cases like Kelly Thomas, or Keith Vidal, a teenager who also suffered from schizophrenia whom police fatally shot to death in front of his parents for carrying a screw driver(8), or the state troopers that fired several rounds into a minivan filled with children (9) beg us to look at this grave situation with unwavering urgency. The numerous men and women who have endured invasive body searches, including vaginal and anal probing, at routine traffic stops(10), or the countless dehumanizing “stop and frisk” incidents in cities across the country (11), or the scores of young people spirited away to prison from high school (12), or the violent, organized crackdowns on the Occupy movement (13) illustrate the rising tide of state animus against the public, and particularly any kind of behavior they view as anti-social, a threat to property or dissent.  Unchecked power, unprecedented since the Civil Rights Era and the Anti-war protests in the 1970s, has created a state that is growing more belligerent by the day.

Police Brutality at Occupy Wall Street Reuters
(NYPD officers assault protester at Occupy Wall Street demonstration.  Source: Reuters)

The tragic case of Kelly Thomas illustrates how poverty, homelessness, under-employment and mental illness have become criminal offenses.  Indeed, the gutting of social programs, including those services for the mentally ill, has seen a concurrent rise in state brutality toward the poor and the most vulnerable.  And as the economy is perpetually poised for the next bubble to burst, the gap between the super rich and devastatingly poor grows, and climate change ravages an environment already fragile from excessive exploitation, the prison industry will undoubtedly gain more ground and the militarization of the police will most certainly expand.

If there is no public outcry and substantive change, the United States will end up looking more like one of the foreign dictatorships that it has for so long upheld and supported through overt and nefarious means, indistinguishable from it in its ruthlessness.  Callous disregard and utter contempt for the very elements that make a society civil will be codified and enshrined. Because to a state with no restraint or respect for human life and no due process to speak of, we are all Kelly Thomas, and in the end we are bound to share his tragic fate.

Kelly Thomas
(Photo credit: Reuters)

Kenn Orphan  2014

(photo on top is of Kelly Thomas.  Source: CBSNEWS)

1. http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/officers-acquitted-in-death-of-kelly-thomas/2014/01/14/3e660b24-7d24-11e3-95c6-0a7aa80874bc_story.html
2. http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2013/12/american-society-police-state-criminalization-militarization
3. http://disinfo.com/2010/03/the-police-arent-legally-obligated-to-protect-you/
4. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/03/us/justices-approve-strip-searches-for-any-offense.html?pagewanted=all
5. http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/08/swat-team-nation.html
6. http://www.governing.com/gov-institute/funkhouser/col-boston-marathon-bombing-police-appreciating-public-servants.html
7a. http://www.counterpunch.org/2013/08/01/americas-police-state-marches-on-media-in-tow/
b. http://fair.org/extra-online-articles/spotlight-on-police-violence-fails-to-illuminate/
8. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/janine-francolini/candles-are-lit_b_4563593.html.
9. http://www.krqe.com/news/crime/state-cop-shoots-at-minivan-full-of-kids
10. http://www.alternet.org/border-agents-touched-vagina-and-anally-probed-fruitless-search-narcotics
11. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/bill-bratton-sworn-in_n_4533202.html
12. http://www.rollingstone.com/music/news/the-school-to-prison-pipeline-a-nationwide-problem-for-equal-rights-20131107
13. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/dec/29/fbi-coordinated-crackdown-occupy