ed_rex: (Default)

After dropping off passengers at the Trudeau International Airport in Dorval, I headed back to Ottawa driving an empty van, torn between the comforting inanities of the sports station on the radio (go Habs go!) and the distorted eco-rock of the eternally-rejuvenating Neil Young, playing with the much-younger men of Promise of the Real.

Anyway, though I'd make a quick stop at a nearby hotel to pee, about half-way back to Ottawa I began to feel that pressure again, the one that says, Really, Young Geoffrey! You do like your fluids, don't you! And it's true, I do.

After balancing the twin desires — the relief of a good pee vs the desire to get home as soon as possible — the urge to pee won out over a frankly pretty brief stop.

I flicked my turn signal on and pulled off the highway, stopping entirely off the paved shoulder, turned on my hazard lights (yes, as a cyclist, a driver and a pedestrian, I've become a bit of a signal-nazi; and no apologies), and got out from behind the wheel, walked around back to the passenger side and opened the front passenger door, in order to more discretely go about my business.

Job done, I zipped up, closed the door and started back around the vehicle again. Only to see, as I reached the driver's side, a car pulling up onto the shoulder behind me. One with flashing lights on the roof.

Oh my Christ! was my first thought, am I going to be busted for indecent exposure!?!

But surely not! There was no proof I'd exposed anything, was there? It was dark and I'd completed my ablutions before they were anywhere near me!

Still, I could only wait to find out. I turned to face them as an officer emerged from either side of the car. The driver carried a flashlight, but she didn't point it aggressively towards me, but rather just illuminated the ground between us. "Good evening!" I said, waving at them with my gloved right hand.

"Hi," said the cop, "are you all right?"

"Oh," I said, a little non-plussed. "Yes, yes, I'm fine thank you."

"Well good," she said, "we just stopped to make sure everything is okay."

"Yes, it is," I said, then added with completely unnecessary candour, "I just had to, y'know, empty my bladder." (Idiot! came a voice from the back of mind, never volunteer anything!) But no harm done. She smiled and said, "Well good night, then," and she and her partner turned back to their car.

"Okay, thanks," I said, waving. And I thought, making sure "everything is okay" is what cops should do!

But when I got back in the car, I had to wonder, would that have been the whole of the interaction if I'd been a brown or a black man?

And that — after she finished laughing — was just what Raven said when I told her the story after I got home" "Yeah, because you're white!"

I'd like to think that she (and I) are wrong about that, that those particular cops really were among those "good cops" we hear about every time a Sammy Yatim is gunned down like a made dog that's not even on the loose, but it's hard not to wonder if I was only benefiting from my white skin.

Anyway, here's Neil Young and Promise of the Real, to give you something else to be angry about. ("Monsanto").

ed_rex: (Default)
To serve and protect?
The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and
The real elephant in the corner

I moved to Toronto from Sudbury, Ontario, when I was 14 and, despite the fact Toronto was a city nearly 20 times the size of Sudbury, it took more than two years before anything happened to make me feel unsafe in the metropolis.

And it wasn't an angry drunk or a gang of teen-age boys that frightened me, but a pair of policemen on the muscle.

I was 16 years old when my friend Vern and I decided to form a band — well, a duet, with Vern on guitar while I banged away at a tambourine and croaked out lyrics as best as my pubescent throat would allow. With a week of practising under our belts we made our début in front of the Eaton Centre and were successful enough that we spent many nights that summer playing Neil Young and Dylan and Beatles songs for spare change.

We were white kids, but we were kids and we both had hair flowing past our shoulders. Being stopped by the police while walking home was a regular, and tiresome, occurrence. Still, we were smart enough to be polite and to answer any and all questions, no matter that we muttered "Pigs!" as soon as they were out of ear-shot. To their faces, they were always "officer".

One night we were stopped three times. The third was in the alley just behind Vern's house and that pair were cops with attitude. I am still convinced they would have happily taken us down to Cherry Beach for a private working-over had we uttered even a single disrespectful syllable. Even without it, Vern and I both sensed that these two wanted us to say something — anything — to give them an excuse.

As I said, we were bright boys and we were very polite, but even so, it felt like a touch-and-go situation until another cruiser pulled up and two officers who had stopped us maybe a half-hour before told our hostile pair, "It's okay, we checked them out earlier." After a tense, six-way moment of indecision, officers Cruisin' and Bruisin' brusquely told us to be on our way.

In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the recent arrest at his own home of the man the New York Times called America's "... pre-eminent black scholar", Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates (along with his driver),

"...had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

"Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing 'two black males with backpacks on the porch,' with one 'wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.'"

(According to The Associated Press, the woman did not actually say the two men were black; as we shall see, this sort of "inaccuracy" is unhappily typical of police reports and is, I believe, the real "elephant in the room" in this story.)

Arrested for "being rude while being black"?

According to the Times,

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates—the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research—initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Unless someone has taped that event, only the arresting officers and Gates himself can know what exactly was said. But we do know that Professor Gates was arrested, in his own home, basically for being rude. Being black might have been a contributing factor to the arresting officer, but it was the (I believe mistaken) accusation of racism that got the cop really angry — that, and the simple fact that a "civilian" wasn't being sufficiently respectful of the officers' badges and uniforms.

I do believe that Professor Gates really did — for completely understandable reasons — jump to the conclusion that he was being visited by the law only because he was a black man in a well-to-do white neighbourhood. At the same time, this is a man who has a driver, who is a friend of the President of the United States, and who probably has the fragile pride typical of a "self-made man".

In other words, in this case I believe the police report that says Gates became belligerent. He was being treated like a criminal in his own home and he didn't like it, as none of us would. To the police, that is "belligerent" behaviour.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

When a "civilian" becomes belligerent, police officers typically become defensive — aggressively defensive. Where a white man might have decided to take things down a notch, Gates, emotionally insecure in his position of privilege and politically determined to defend that position, could not bring himself to do so. Being right was more important to him that getting a good night's sleep.

Since that 20th of July, the charges against Gates have been dropped and U.S. President Barack Obama has famously hosted the "Rose Garden beer chat", an event he hoped would be "teachable moment" about racism.

According to the Globe and Mail article,

There was no acrimony —nor apology— from any of the three: black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., white Cambridge, Mass., police Sergeant James Crowley, who had arrested him for disorderly conduct, and Mr. Obama, who declared on national TV that the police had "acted stupidly." But neither Mr. Gates nor Sgt. Crowley backtracked either, agreeing they still had differences.

[...]

"We agreed to move forward," Sgt. Crowley said Thursday night when asked if anything was solved in the meeting. "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."

I think the two men agreed to disagree because they weren't talking about the same thing.

Gates probably insisted his arrest was related to his race while Sgt. Crowley who, ironically, teaches a course on racial profiling, almost certainly denied it. What explanation he offered for the incident I of course don't know.

But I bet he didn't say, "You yelled at a police officer! You disrespected us!"

Which I think was the real cause for this particular circus. As members of an "occupying army", police officers tend to see rudeness as equivalent to assault, to view any questioning of their right to (say) demand ID from someone at his own home as something not far off insurrection. In other words, the elephant in the corner is police culture in general.

But of course, even in the doubtful case that Sgt. Crowley recognized that police culture was the real author of the incident, he certainly wouldn't have said so. Easier by far to simply deny that he is a racist and (probably) to suggest that Gates over-reacted than to confront the dark underbelly of police culture itself, its view of itself a separate from the "civilian" population rather than as members of that population devoted to its (own) protection.

Just as the murder of Robert Dzienkanski was followed by police lies and attempted cover-ups (starting with the RCMP's attempt to suppress the video taken of the incident, most of the subsequent debate has focussed on the taser and whether or not it is "safe" and not why it is that when police statements are compared to independent evidence, the police usually turn out to be liars.

In polite society, to mention the possibility that police culture is out of control is to be naive at best, an anarchist at worst; in political culture, taking on police wrong-doings is to risk political suicide — no matter what, the broad swath of the comfortable middle class still naively "supports the police" no matter what the actual behaviour of its members.

And so from Barack Obama's "teachable moment" we learned nothing at all, except that "race" allows all three parties involved to avoid talking about an institutional problem that is separate from (though still related to) race and racism.

Training police officers not to use racial profiling is all well and good; but so long as police officers think of the rest of us as "civilians" rather than fellow-citizens, we are all in danger from them (yes, and those with dark skin are in more danger than those of us who are pale, I'm not trying to deny it).

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

ed_rex: (Default)
Apparently I'm not the only person who thinks race may not have been the cause of Gates' arrest.

Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] supergee for this article, and to the internet in general for this one.

And, not related to race (at least not directly) but definitely related to a creeping police state: "The Children’s Secretary set out £400million plans to put 20,000 problem families under 24-hour CCTV super-vision in their own homes."
ed_rex: (Default)
To serve and protect?
The arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and
The real elephant in the corner

I moved to Toronto from Sudbury, Ontario, when I was 14 and, despite the fact Toronto was a city nearly 20 times the size of Sudbury, it took more than two years before anything happened to make me feel unsafe in the metropolis.

And it wasn't an angry drunk or a gang of teen-age boys that frightened me, but a pair of policemen on the muscle.

I was 16 years old when my friend Vern and I decided to form a band — well, a duet, with Vern on guitar while I banged away at a tambourine and croaked out lyrics as best as my pubescent throat would allow. With a week of practising under our belts we made our début in front of the Eaton Centre and were successful enough that we spent many nights that summer playing Neil Young and Dylan and Beatles songs for spare change.

We were white kids, but we were kids and we both had hair flowing past our shoulders. Being stopped by the police while walking home was a regular, and tiresome, occurrence. Still, we were smart enough to be polite and to answer any and all questions, no matter that we muttered "Pigs!" as soon as they were out of ear-shot. To their faces, they were always "officer".

One night we were stopped three times. The third was in the alley just behind Vern's house and that pair were cops with attitude. I am still convinced they would have happily taken us down to Cherry Beach for a private working-over had we uttered even a single disrespectful syllable. Even without it, Vern and I both sensed that these two wanted us to say something — anything — to give them an excuse.

As I said, we were bright boys and we were very polite, but even so, it felt like a touch-and-go situation until another cruiser pulled up and two officers who had stopped us maybe a half-hour before told our hostile pair, "It's okay, we checked them out earlier." After a tense, six-way moment of indecision, officers Cruisin' and Bruisin' brusquely told us to be on our way.

In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.
In this photo taken by a neighbour on July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr., centre, the director of Harvard University's W.E.B. DuBois Institute for African and African American Research, is arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass.

Which, in an admittedly roundabout way, brings me to the recent arrest at his own home of the man the New York Times called America's "... pre-eminent black scholar", Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates (along with his driver),

"...had forced his way through the front door because it was jammed, his lawyer said. Colleagues call the arrest last Thursday afternoon a clear case of racial profiling.

"Cambridge police say they responded to the well-maintained two-story home after a woman reported seeing 'two black males with backpacks on the porch,' with one 'wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.'"

(According to The Associated Press, the woman did not actually say the two men were black; as we shall see, this sort of "inaccuracy" is unhappily typical of police reports and is, I believe, the real "elephant in the room" in this story.)

Arrested for "being rude while being black"?

According to the Times,

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

"Why, because I'm a black man in America?" Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates—the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research—initially refused to show the officer his identification, but then gave him a Harvard University ID card, according to police.

"Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him," the officer wrote.

Unless someone has taped that event, only the arresting officers and Gates himself can know what exactly was said. But we do know that Professor Gates was arrested, in his own home, basically for being rude. Being black might have been a contributing factor to the arresting officer, but it was the (I believe mistaken) accusation of racism that got the cop really angry — that, and the simple fact that a "civilian" wasn't being sufficiently respectful of the officers' badges and uniforms.

I do believe that Professor Gates really did — for completely understandable reasons — jump to the conclusion that he was being visited by the law only because he was a black man in a well-to-do white neighbourhood. At the same time, this is a man who has a driver, who is a friend of the President of the United States, and who probably has the fragile pride typical of a "self-made man".

In other words, in this case I believe the police report that says Gates became belligerent. He was being treated like a criminal in his own home and he didn't like it, as none of us would. To the police, that is "belligerent" behaviour.

U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.
U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates, Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and U.S. President Barack Obama drink beer and talk in the Rose Garden at the White House on July 30, 2009. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images.

When a "civilian" becomes belligerent, police officers typically become defensive — aggressively defensive. Where a white man might have decided to take things down a notch, Gates, emotionally insecure in his position of privilege and politically determined to defend that position, could not bring himself to do so. Being right was more important to him that getting a good night's sleep.

Since that 20th of July, the charges against Gates have been dropped and U.S. President Barack Obama has famously hosted the "Rose Garden beer chat", an event he hoped would be "teachable moment" about racism.

According to the Globe and Mail article,

There was no acrimony —nor apology— from any of the three: black Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., white Cambridge, Mass., police Sergeant James Crowley, who had arrested him for disorderly conduct, and Mr. Obama, who declared on national TV that the police had "acted stupidly." But neither Mr. Gates nor Sgt. Crowley backtracked either, agreeing they still had differences.

[...]

"We agreed to move forward," Sgt. Crowley said Thursday night when asked if anything was solved in the meeting. "I think what you had today was two gentlemen agreeing to disagree on a particular issue. I don’t think that we spent too much time dwelling on the past. We spent a lot of time discussing the future."

I think the two men agreed to disagree because they weren't talking about the same thing.

Gates probably insisted his arrest was related to his race while Sgt. Crowley who, ironically, teaches a course on racial profiling, almost certainly denied it. What explanation he offered for the incident I of course don't know.

But I bet he didn't say, "You yelled at a police officer! You disrespected us!"

Which I think was the real cause for this particular circus. As members of an "occupying army", police officers tend to see rudeness as equivalent to assault, to view any questioning of their right to (say) demand ID from someone at his own home as something not far off insurrection. In other words, the elephant in the corner is police culture in general.

But of course, even in the doubtful case that Sgt. Crowley recognized that police culture was the real author of the incident, he certainly wouldn't have said so. Easier by far to simply deny that he is a racist and (probably) to suggest that Gates over-reacted than to confront the dark underbelly of police culture itself, its view of itself a separate from the "civilian" population rather than as members of that population devoted to its (own) protection.

Just as the murder of Robert Dzienkanski was followed by police lies and attempted cover-ups (starting with the RCMP's attempt to suppress the video taken of the incident, most of the subsequent debate has focussed on the taser and whether or not it is "safe" and not why it is that when police statements are compared to independent evidence, the police usually turn out to be liars.

In polite society, to mention the possibility that police culture is out of control is to be naive at best, an anarchist at worst; in political culture, taking on police wrong-doings is to risk political suicide — no matter what, the broad swath of the comfortable middle class still naively "supports the police" no matter what the actual behaviour of its members.

And so from Barack Obama's "teachable moment" we learned nothing at all, except that "race" allows all three parties involved to avoid talking about an institutional problem that is separate from (though still related to) race and racism.

Training police officers not to use racial profiling is all well and good; but so long as police officers think of the rest of us as "civilians" rather than fellow-citizens, we are all in danger from them (yes, and those with dark skin are in more danger than those of us who are pale, I'm not trying to deny it).

Cross-posted from Edifice Rex Online.

ed_rex: (Default)
[livejournal.com profile] colinmarshall's often cryptic somewhat objections aside, I'm not used to my political posts getting too much of a reaction, beyond maybe a few huzzaas from the Usual Suspects. (Actually, I'm not used to getting too many responses to my Words of Wisdom(TM) at all, but that is no doubt more of comment on your Humble Author than it is upon the attention paid by my Gentle Readers. And also, I digress.) And so it is refreshing, disconcerting and frustrating (yes, all at once) to suddenly find among my LJ-Friends someone as consistently contradictory and argumentative as [livejournal.com profile] paul_carlson.

But I actually do like a good debate, if only because it often forces me to think through more thoroughly my positions — and even, sometimes, to change them.

For the past week or more I've been struggling with a piece on the intellectual deficits of certain feminists, minority activists and others with whom I am in general philosophical agreement, but with whom in large part I disagree about such things as group vs. individual rights, the importance of language and other matters I'm not going to get to in this entry — but which I do intend to get to soon. I expect my enemies to use falsehoods, half-truths, irrelevant innuendo and old good old-fashioned shouting down to support an agenda they know would be rejected if the mass of the people actually understood that the interests of the likes of Blackwater and General Motors are not their own, but those on my side are supposed to be the Good Guys and so willing to face facts, to admit to truths, even when they are uncomfortable ones, and not to behave like the enemy.

But that's going to have to wait, because [livejournal.com profile] paul_carlson has asked me some questions that warrant more than just a reply to his reply to my last substantial post, concerning the demonization of protest in the United States (and elsewhere).

(But first, click the link below and Let the Music Play. What Neil Young's song lacks in subtlety it more than makes up for in appalling accuracy. Also, it makes a good soudtrack for what is to follow.)

I had said that protest was being routinely treated as synonymous with treason in the US and Paul quite rightly called me me on it.

Routinely?

Okay, rhetorical over-kill and not technically true (or at least not proven) — but I stand by the statement as indicative of an authoritarian — if not quite a gloves-off fascist — trend, both here in Canada and (especially) south of the border.

When the "free world's" treatment of protesters starts to resemble that of China, I simply find it unbelievable that any freedom-loving man or woman can just shrug their shoulders indifferently. When the police are used not just to protect the peace, but to instigate violence and to pre-emptively arrest not only protesters but observers, something is very wrong with a nation's democracy.

Certainly my impression from the press is that the police here in Canada are far more likely to use agents provocateurs and other nefarious means than they were when I was more often out on the street in the (my) "good old days" of the 1980s. As an example, please see this article from last year or the related video below.

Or this one, in which the Sureté admit the agents were cops but ludicrously maintain they were there to "maintain the peace".

Speaking of the good old days, back in the '80s I was involved in numerous protests, some of them numbering in the 10s of thousands of people, yet the cops were dressed in standard uniforms, not the anonymous storm-trooper masks and shields they routinely don today. Who started wearing masks? In this country at least, it was the police, if memory serves, around the time the Berlin Wall came down.

Prior to that, protest was seen (or at least tolerated) by the powers-that-be as more or less a right (fancy that!) that went along with citizenship. I was never tear-gassed, nor was I bludgeoned or arrested. In fact, the police tended to be little more brusque and were sometimes known to smile at a camera instead of smashing it.

But in the wake of the Soviet collapse and the subsequent neo-conservative triumphalism that saw Pinochet's murderous dictatorship as a as a good thing (a "miracle", even!) not a war crime by a government against its own people, western "leaders" became more open about their "if you're not with us, you're with the terrorists" vision of democracy.

Police confronting protesters and demonstrators like masked and shielded storm-troopers is a recent trend and one — to the best of my recollection — which was not started by so-called "anarchists" but by the police themselves, somewhere around the time the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the neo-con triumphalists were brooking no opposition to their march to a brave new world of free markets for capital and, er, well, that was pretty much it.

So yes, Paul, to say that protesters are routinely treated like "traitors" was a little strong, but not by much.

Meanwhile, I think that, rather than directly addressing my specific points, you muddied the waters by bringing up alleged help-wanted ads in the San Fran Cisco bay area papers, which, "routinely run want ads for paid full-time protester positions," and then made presumptions about the positions of my "friends" on everyone's hot-button issue, abortion.

But what the hell, I'll nibble, if not bite. Can you document one of these ads for "paid full-time protesters"? I've never heard of such a thing.

As the abortion protests, which specific limitations are you talking about? Are anti-choice protesters in the Bay area routinely harassed, assaulted and arrested before they get out onto the street? When they do make it there, are they herded into "protest zones"?

Please provide some specifics, if you're going to argue the issues are parallel.

Meanwhile, if I recall correctly, here in Canada there have been some restrictions placed on anti-choice protesters, limits such as a requirement that they stay within 50 feet of the entrances, so that women going in for the procedure were not — as they routinely were for quite some time — jostled and screamed at and doctors and nurses were no assaulted and threatened.

And more to the point, the restrictions that were set in place came about about as a result of legal action and court orders obtained by the abortion clinics themselves, not through direct and clearly illegal state activity.

In other words, you're arguing apples against oranges and so evading the issues I was discussing.

(And you think it's bad now -- it was a "private army" of Pinkertons who busted heads, back then.)

Agreed, it isn't as bad now as it was then, but it's worse than it was 20 years ago and I don't like the trends I'm seeing. It's getting bad up here and — from what I read — getting worse south of the border, where mercenaries like those employed (on the tax-payers' dime) by the likes of Blackwater are not only patrolling the streets of Bagdhad but even some of the cities in your own country. Do you really think the employees of a private "security company" — no, let's call a mercenary a mercenary, shall we? — are more accountable to the people of the United States than police officers and soldiers? (Two can play the distraction game!)

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