Tag Archives: police

Still No Justice For Smiley Culture

The Metropolitan Police Authority met Friday morning at City Hall, and the Justice for Smiley Culture campaign was there in force to hear just what they had say.

The meeting started, however, with an official letter of apology to the family of Daniel Morgan, admitting to 5 failed police investigations and 24 years of lies and inaction due to police corruption. All of it ended in the acquittal of his murderers. In the family’s words, they have been “lied to, fobbed off, bullied, degraded…” in a process that was “nothing short of torture”. They requested a judicial inquiry, and the MPA voted to recommend that they get one.

24 years. For an apology, and a promise of a recommendation for a full inquiry.

So we sat there, and you know anger was rising high as we were told that we could be given no information on an ongoing investigation. The Acting Met Police Commissioner Tim Goodwin acknowledged that he still had to look into whether or not those investigating Smiley Culture’s death were linking up properly with the community or the family. He denied knowledge of the earlier briefings about Smiley Culture stabbing himself through the heart while making a cup of tea.

And that couple of minutes, including some questions from other members of the authority, was all we got. Not even the respect of an official letter of condolence. The insensitivity was unbelievable.

You better believe we were all angry, and it showed. My heart broke to see the pain of his family and friends, trying to cope both with the earth-shattering immensity of grief in losing a loved one, and the impossibility of getting any answers, much less justice, out of the police. Tim Goodwin had already tried to move the agenda on to the next investigation when we broke it up, calling out no justice no peace and leaving the hall.

There have been far too many deaths following police contact, I’ve copied the official table with the numbers from the MPA below:

Year Black & Asian Other Total
1998-99 6 11 17
1999-00 4 12 16
2000-01 2 5 7
2001-02 4 5 9
2002-03 10 7 17
2003-04 6 9 15
2004-05 3 11 14
2005-06 7 10 17
2006-07 8 7 15
2007-08 7 9 16
2008-09 13 15 28
2009-10 13 11 24
to end of February 2011 10 15 25

What is most disgusting is the inordinately high percentage of Black and Asian deaths. This is clearly an issue that hits the Black community the hardest, which makes it even more important that others stand with them now. All of us bear the burden of making it right. Racism continues to be everywhere, it is institutional, and it is deadly; everyone who cannot know what it is to suffer it directly needs to remember that. It will take all of us to stop it, and it needs to stop.

For more information about what is happening, join the facebook group or follow the campaign on twitter:

Most importantly, there is a march on April 16th, assembling at Southbank Club (124 – 130 Wandsworth Road SW8 2DL) at 12:00, and support is needed leafletting to get the word out. Lambeth SOS (where this blog is also posted) will be working on this, but get in touch directly with the campaign by emailing justice4smiley@hotmail.co.uk or calling 07984 935 769.

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Zero Tolerance Policing (in the Dominican Republic?)

It sends chills down my spine really, to know Bratton’s out there making mad money as a consultant and spreading this everywhere. I know it’s considered a controversial issue but I stand pretty squarely on the side saying fuck the (U.S.) police. You add the proven corruption and racism to a larger political program and developer and business dollars? You get Giuliani and Bratton’s policies to clean up neighborhoods not by stopping crime but by criminalizing all of its inhabitants (of color) and getting them the hell out of there so the new wealthy (white) people moving in can feel safe, that’s what zero tolerance policing means to me. Just to be clear.

Funny though, Bratton’s plan is not exactly what’s going on in the Dominican Republic according to professor David Howard, nor has he been involved. They’ve just taken the prestigious name as proof of their ‘modern’ and ‘Western’ method, and have applied a particularly nationalistic twist. Of course, throwing 16,000 armed policemen into a small area (approximately 1 for every 13 people), instituting a curfew and 24 hour surveillance, and randomly arresting anyone looking at a cop wrong…well, that sounds about right. Though the scale is a bit mind boggling.

And of course,  approximately 3,000 of those police have been trained in New York and Miami. (I was going to throw in the possible effects of America’s military occupation of the Dominican Republic from 1917-21 and 1965-66 as well, but realized it’s maybe a tiny stretch to connect these facts. Or not.)

The placas have the jargon down as well, they are sanitizing these neighborhoods, cleansing them. But generally speaking they’re not criminalizing the entire population, nor is it parallel to the gentrification and displacement sweeping New York or L.A. Essentially they’re reinventing the image of the police, making a show of dealing with crime in a media friendly way, and hunting down Haitians. I’m not quite sure if this has slowed down since the earthquake, but I’m doubtful.

So. If you haven’t read Junot Diaz, either Drown or the Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao, do not even finish this, proceed directly to buy these books and read them. He writes like a razor blade about the dark absurdity that seems to lie at the heart of Dominican politics (not that they’re alone in that). But here are some choice new facts.

First the Haitian thing. (Read Edwidge Danticat too, she’s amazing.) Dominicans, very generally speaking, hate Haitians. Particularly the ones who want to move to the Dominican Republic. The law says anyone born on Dominican soil who is not in transit (ie in the airport etc) is Dominican if they have a birth certificate to prove it. Trouble is, you often can’t get a certificate if either of your parents doesn’t have one, so you have some cases of 4th generation kids (dunno if you could even call them Haitian at that point), who don’t have birth certificates. And without a birth certificate you cannot get an ID. And without an ID you can be immediately arrested, and shortly thereafter deported.

But it gets better, because they’ve legally broadened the definition of ‘in transit’ to include all migrants. It’s called fun with words. And it means a lot of people in these neighborhoods have suddenly found themselves heading back to their ‘home’ country.

So the second thing. As part of re-branding themselves the police have seen technology as a major factor. So as part of this zero tolerance thing they have bought all these new jeeps equipped with the latest and greatest in tech. First, they all have laptops. Of course, they have no computerized data on crime or criminals to bring up on those laptops, but I suppose it’s the theoretical ability that counts.

Their other new gadgets? GPS units. Of course they are policing informal settlements with no paved roads and regular flooding. You can give coordinates but that will never help anyone actually get to you. And as for using it to get anywhere, forget about it.

And still I sat through the lecture with my stomach disappearing into itself and its fear of power combined with a legacy of immense violence and corruption embodied in 16,000 officers and neighborhoods essentially on lock down.

Flight

Is an extraordinary thing. And to think about what it took for a single celled amoeba to transform over an unimaginable span of years into a being perfectly adapted to beat it’s wings and soar into the air … even more extraordinary. It is so much more impressive than walking or crawling or even pronking. I am in awe of it. This ability to fly turns even the most unlikable of all birds into something of grace and power

Wings mirror imaged and beautiful. Even a gull.

The way all of the feathers and muscles and bones work together to creat lift, break, turn. I took this next picture a couple of months ago in Arizona, a small hawk in the front yard

It’s amazing the way that each have adapted differently, the one for the ocean, for landing on water, for scavenging. The other for riding hot desert thermals, for soaring on winds without beating its wings, for lightening plummets to the ground and the power to break, scoop up its prey.

And then there are ducks. They also fly of course, but are much more amusing on the ground. Or in the water.

Practically running through the water in fact. And what extraordinary feet the American Coot has! They aren’t webbed, they look like blue green algea almost, and I tried to get a good picture but I failed.

I went paddle-boating on Echo Park today and the sun was shining and the sky was blue. Though it did turn a bit grey at the end.  After boating we walked to get some food, the park was full of families, and vendors of tacos and pupusas and carne asada and ice cream and chicharrones and elotes.

We started with elotes.

Roasted corn, y con todo? Lemon, salt, mayo, parmesan, butter and chile. A lot of chile if you ask for extra

Happiness on a stick really. And I hadn’t eaten anything all day, so we got pupusas after. As we were sitting eating we witnessed another sense of flight.

The human kind that happens when the pinche cops come along.

They inched down the road, giving that short siren burst of warning. Street vendors are unwelcome here. Surviving is important to them however, and so they chance it every weekend. They are always five minutes from a clean get away. And so the scene of community transformed. In five minutes all carts were packed up, and there were no more pupusas, elotes, carne asada, tacos, or ice cream. The tianguis spread along the side walks? Toys and pirated dvds and used clothes and a xylophone you paid to play and…all things nice. All gone.

They only left the evangelicals, screaming into their microphone, singing to synthesizer beats about the way Jesus colored in the lines of the world, and how we all needed to be saved.

A funny police helicopter story

I spent all of yesterday and most of last night doing the final reviews of a 400 page and very tangled manuscript I’ve been editing for months, and I finally poured myself into bed after 1 am, feeling rather shattered though I had that nice sense of achievement because it is done, and was secure in the happy knowledge of just how GOOD it would feel to rest my weary bones.

And then the helicopter started up. Again. Every day this week. And the voice on the megaphone shouting –  come out with your hands raised – and it went on for hours and I lay in bed hating everything and everyone.

And so I woke up this morning late, unrested, and mildly cranky. But it did remind me of a funny story.

It belongs to my friend Carlos, truck driver, and definitely used to think he was tough…when not driving a semi he drove this souped up car with hydraulics. I’m not terribly impressed by hydraulics myself, but was pretty excited to experience them while cruising, rock en español and rap blasting on the radio…

At any rate, there was a helicopter circling his apartment in the middle of the night, as they tend to do in South Central, and that didn’t wake him up, but the blinding light that shortly filled his entire room did. It was the helicopter. And he heard the megaphone screaming out come out with your hands up. And it didn’t stop. And so after some sleepy and very confused thought he decided that inexplicably they must have come for him. So he went out onto his balcony in just his boxers with his hands behind his head, unable to see anything at all because of the spotlight and his heart pounding and his mind racing to try and figure out what exactly he could have done or who he could have been confused with to have been in such a position at all.

And then he heard the megaphone – “We weren’t talking to YOU! Get back inside!”

They were after the guy in the next apartment, and they got him too, and for the life of me I can’t remember why, which is a sad ending to a good story, but so it goes.

Back in LA

My train hit someone today, the blue line at Vernon Station. The train hit someone. No one felt it, what is the measure of a human being against a hulking monster of iron and steel? We stopped and the conductor came on telling everyone to remain calm. Telling himself to remain calm. Two lives changed forever, and most people restless and angry only at the delay. Death today, or something close to it.

Welcome home to LA. I sat this morning, wondering how in fuck we have been reduced to this. Every time I come home I feel this, I see it clearly. How we have been reduced to this. Public spaces, angry faces, hard and drawn and bitterness carved. People take them off only when they get home. The world rolls past me, contained, when you’re in it no other world can exist. Homeless encampments along the train line, clothes and belongings scattered by police raids. They terrorize the most vulnerable. They stride along metro platforms, sunglassed, booted, guns pushed forward, large dogs beside them. Fundraisers for the city, reminders of who rules this place, and even in my anger I fear them. And here they are everywhere. I see hints of rebellion spray-painted in brilliance across gray walls, but around me there are simply people who survive. Survival is grim, it terrifies, it reduces life to a splinter working its way inwards. It kills senses, kills thought, kills compassion, kills joy. Life reduced to this. We live within the bones of capitalism, the structures of society, forces of history and economics that demand poverty, and place it here. And we yield with hardly a murmur, people getting on, making do. I understand riots, I do not understand why they are rare. I do not know what it will take to bring the structures down, and if they came down now I fear so much that we are too used to preying on each other. We do not look up but down when we inflict violence. We kill each other, we kill ourselves, we allow ourselves to be killed. I mourn my dead, in other worlds no one understands the number of dead, and I rage at this world with its invisible walls.  I wonder just what it is we have that we are so afraid to lose. I wonder how we can beat ourselves against walls without ever seeing them, without ever tearing them down. If we do not do it, no one will. Everyone on the other side is too afraid of us. Us I say…I grew up without choices but claimed them and I choose to stand here, it is a luxury of mine. I belong nowhere now, so I can chose which side I fight on. And I will always fight.

Tomorrow I will believe again in the possibility of building something better. I dream that it could grow large enough to bring the walls down with its tremendous swelling, I do not know another way to completely destroy them, and a breach has never proven to be enough. Tomorrow I will see again the strength and beauty that is here. But not today.

And you know, for all I write, the soundtrack of today said it so much better, The Roots, Bread and Butter, all of our cities are flooding and it never makes the news. All the levees are broken.

A child is born, his mother is gone
He in the middle of it literally, tusslin strong
For his life, the tide high
In the eye of the storm a mannish boy arrive
And the riot is on
Wit no spare time to try to respond
Or prepare times it’s hard not becomin a headline
Or prayin in the night when it’s bedtime
Or layin ya head down
Cuz you already know what it is now
You know a lot of leaders ain’t honest
And they can’t keep a promise
And I hate to speak about it but it’s all freakanomics
Cramped and proud of it, you amped and you rowdy
Treadin water tryina lift up ya head without drownin
This type of shit can make ya heart stop from poundin
Butchu pushin for the top too scared to stop
Now it gets deep, bodies are floatin around in the streets
Lotta people who won’t even be around in a week
Man get the operation gone
Whatch’all waitin on?
We been patient, y’all mo’fuckas takin long
The television gettin all the information wrong
Doin how they do it gettin they miseducation on
They already late
Somebody been was ‘posed to regulate
Instead of wait before they let the levee break
You try runnin from the truth but it’s givin chase
I got to ask myself yo, is any nigga safe?

[Chorus:]
A loaf of bread, milk and eggs, stick of butter man
Somebody mother lies dead in the gutter
Sheriff down by them that’s talkin that gutter
Tell the kids don’t look under those covers, mayne

Is perjury the same when it is the police who are guilty of it?

Luckily for Saul Eady, the police’s own recordings of a stakeout contradicted the testimony of detective David Friedrich. Accused of attempted murder, the other man arrested with him had already been convicted and received a life sentence…the only real evidence was the detective’s sworn testimony that he had seen Eady at the scene, driving the van involved in the incident. The tapes proved that at the time Friedrich never identified Eady, and that key things that Friedrich testified to under oath hadn’t in fact happened quite the way he said they did. In fact, nothing at all like the way he said they did.

So Eady is a free man, and what will happen to Friedrich? The District Attorney thinks he was just mistaken…such things happen after all. So what is the dfference between simply making a few mistakes, and outright lying? This sounds like lying to me. Which is perjury, and should be prosecuted. Even were it a simple mistake, it would have ended with an innocent man spending his life in prison as far too many other cases do. Eady had a good lawyer willing to put the extra time into getting additional evidence, and then to sift through 3 hours of confused police recordings and present them back to a judge. Very few defendants in our system have such a thing as a motivated lawyer, most in Eady’s position would have gone to jail for life. So what are the consequences for Friedrich and a broken justice system?

Baja adventures part 2

A foggy morning in the ex-ejido of Chepultepec. We wandered down to the little restaurant for an excellent breakfast, un omelete de rajas con crema, chilaquiles, frijoles, happiness even though I could only finish half. We wandered out of the restaurant again, we heard the sound of tires peeling out, and through the arched entrance we watched police cars drive past going west, they must have turned where the road forks and then back they came going east…two cars, a truck, another car, another truck, they raced back up the road, lights flashing, sirens blaring. I walked through the arch to look down the road but they were already disappearing. And a minute later behind them came put-putting a tiny little car like a golf cart with a family happily oblivious inside. It was like the keystone cops.

We are back in el ex-ejido Chapultepec, but just for one more night, not two…And there are gunshots even as I write, first one, thirty seconds later another. I hope it is nothing. We got a reservation in Ensenada proper tomorrow but tonight there was nowhere available. Third gunshot, I hate guns. Fourth gunshot. A lot of cars pulling away. Fifth gunshot, they’re just fucking around, did I say I hate guns? I hate them.

Anyway, today was a great day…we walked down to the main road and waited for a bus…sixth gunshot. That one sounded closer. This morning we were waiting for the bus and there were three guys hanging out down by the fence alongside a little stand selling second hand goods. All of a sudden sirens blare, lights flash, and a police car and a police truck together pull over a van right beside us…I watch them for a minute, we’re a bit nervous you understand, then turn my head and the three guys have disappeared into thin air, vanished into the earth. The police get out with their huge automatic weapons, they confer. Seventh gunshot. We wonder if the bus will stop for us with them there, but it does, we get onto first one and then a micro to la Bufadora…eighth gunshot, I’m glad they’re just fucking around but it would be nice if they stopped now. So, la Bufadora, a natural phenomenon that is apparently very rare, there were a steady stream of tour buses headed there at any rate…small ones. We found out later that they were ferrying people from the cruise ships. Ninth gunshot, this is absurd.

And they’re interrupting my story, cabrones. So, we got on the micro with a man carrying a load of perhaps one hundred caramel apples fixed onto both ends of a pole, another with a khaki vest I rather fancied that had ‘professional photographer’ embroidered on the back in red…we wound along the coast and it was beautiful; if I come back here for a weekend I think it would be nice to try La Jolla beach, we passed it on the way, it was long and white, it was not fenced off, and apparently you can find beautiful shells there, I like shells. La Bufadora was…now there’s a loud fight taking place outside, you have to love Saturday night, I’m glad we’re tired and sunburned and in our rooms…so, La Bufadora was very cool, not astounding. Or perhaps it would have been amazing had there not been crowds of people lining the wall overlooking it…luckily they were all lazy and none of them felt like climbing to the top with us so we could look down for a while in peace. Bev says that the legend tells of a mother and baby whale traveling from the South to the North, and the baby whale gets trapped and so la bufadora is the poor trapped whale trying to escape and expelling the water from it’s blowhole. And that’s what it looks like, a huge spume of water that leaps up to oohs and ahhs from the crowd at regular intervals. I think if you were to stumble upon it alone, it would be spectacular. Crawling with people it is not quite so spectacular, though I rather enjoyed the gauntlet of tourist stalls on the way there: T-shirts of Zapata getting high, Bart Simpson as Che and an Aztec warrior, pharmacies selling antibiotics, valium and Viagra, knockoff bags by Chanel, the pleasant smell of churros in the air, chanclas of every description…

We took the micro back to the main road and then the bus to Ensenada to plan our escape. We passed fields of asparagus. We passed lines of farm workers tired and dusty carrying pails and waiting to get onto large yellow school buses. We passed piles of coconuts and stands full of preserved olives and chiles. We passed a Japanese restaurant with a large red sun above it, caricatured with slanty eyes and glasses and buck teeth. We passed a poverty that even coming from South Central is shocking. I had forgotten, funny how easy it is to forget when you don’t have to look at it every day. Or survive it every day. And we wandered Ensenada which is a great deal richer, but full of indigenous women and children hustling the streets selling bracelets and chiclets, they way they do in Nogales, in Tijuana, in Juarez, in Guadalajara. Everywhere in Mexico, such inequalities hurt my heart. And I wonder why they didn’t rise up and join the Zapatistas, why they came here. I wonder how such a precarious life of dismal suffering could be better then making a stand and fighting. I wonder if the decision was a conscious one or not. I wonder what I would have decided had I been in their place. I gave thanks for where I am; who I was born confusing as my worlds are sometimes. I am glad I am fighting, and I am glad to be alive, and I am glad to be here. And I am also glad I have no internet connection, almost two full days without being able to work and that has been a rather beautiful thing, though it is back to civilization tomorrow.

And er…those aren’t gunshots, they’re fireworks. They have to be.