Generally, I’ve been a police fan. I like having them around. But thanks to the Occupy movement and other incidents, my feelings about the Seattle Police have changed.
Today, Richard Pauli sent me this YouTube video of an officer in California needlessly pepper spraying a group of silent, inert demonstrators – and the video goes on to righteously ridicule the officer. Here is the link.
Since the US populace has been complacent since the early 70s, and there have been few public outcries about anything, I haven’t given much thought of the ability and proclivity of some officers to wantonly abuse power. We (me included) have satisfied ourselves with writing piercingly clever editorials and letters, displaying our artful use of words on websites, and having intellectual discussions when social issues have raised our yuppie ire. Speaking for myself, a person who made noise and marched in the 60s, we have relaxed. Too much. Now, at last, a young, energetic mass of people have risen, as if from nowhere, furious with the outrageous status quo and not holding back their opinions, which have taken an active, visible form. Good for them and it’s about time.
The pepper spray video shows just how far behind the police are in dealing with spirited crowds. I imagine police training in recent decades has not included much emphasis on how to work with non-violent demonstrators. I hope that gets remedied very soon.
The mistreatment of the Occupy demonstrators all over the country has underlined a general misuse of police power that should have shocked us (me) into action before this. In the last few years, in fact, Seattle Police have fatally shot so many civilians, that they are under federal investigation. The most apalling case was the fatal shooting of well-known Native American woodcarver John T. Williams, as he was walking downtown carving a piece of wood. Officer Ian Burke approached him from the rear, and from a distance of about twelve feet, shouted at Williams to drop the knife. Williams didn’t and Burke fired multiple shots, killing the elderly man.
The Seattle Times, 12/17/2010, reproduces the narrative from the Officer’s microphone/recorder.
Officer Birk: “Hey, Hey, Hey. Put the knife down, put the knife down, put the knife down.”
(Shots fired) Bang, bang, bang, bang, bang.
Officer Birk radios in: “Unit 33. Shots fired Boren and Howell. Subject wouldn’t drop the knife.”
Dispatcher: “Shots fired. Boren and Howell….”
Further radio transmissions can then be heard.
Then, a faint woman’s voice can be heard saying, “He didn’t do anything.”
Officer Birk can be heard saying “Ma’am, he had a knife and he wouldn’t drop it.”
The radio dispatcher asks for a status report.
Officer Birk answers, “Under control. Subject is down.”
Dispatcher: “Copy. Subject is down.”
When other officers arrive, Birk can be heard saying:
“He had the knife open. I approached him. I asked him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t drop it and he turned towards me.”
Other officers can then be heard talking among as they deal with the scene.
Then, in response to an officer asking if he’s ok, Birk says:
“Yeah, I’m fine.”
The officer asks “he just had a knife?”
Birk: “Yeah, he had it out. He was carving it up, carving up that board, with it open. I approached him, and the tool (?), I instructed him to drop it multiple times. He wouldn’t do it.”
Other officer: “Good job.”
The knife appears to be only three inches long, and I believe the illegal length for an open knife blade in public is six inches.
Furthermore, John T. Williams was as deaf as a post and did not hear the officer calling him.
Last week, the SPD pepper sprayed an 84 year-old woman who had come downtown on an errand and decided to join the demonstrations. I can’t imagine that Dorly Rainie was enough of a threat to warrant this treatment.
By the way, one of Dorly’s two rescuers was an Army sergeant named Caleb, who I had featured in an article about Occupy Seattle recently.
Here is an excerpt from an article called America Has Become a Facist Police State by a writer named Carl Gibson on Reader Supported News.
In the early years of public school, or in public addresses by politicians, America is touted as the Land of the Free, or the Land of Opportunity, or the Greatest Country on Earth. We’re taught from near-infancy that this country was founded on the right to say what you want, whenever, wherever, to whomever. We’re told we have the freedom to assemble peacefully, to petition our leaders for a redress of grievances. We’re taught that if you’re apprehended by the law, you have the right to a fair trial and legal representation.
Yet, today we live in a country where government aids the corporate takeover of elections. Here, banks who fraudulently took Americans’ homes for profit can get bailed out by the taxpayers, and use the money to pay themselves 12-figure bonuses. This is a country where even US citizens can be detained without due process, tortured, and even assassinated overseas.
Today, in the Land of the Free, nonviolent political protesters using their First Amendment rights to speak out against all of the above can be beaten, tasered, and maced by heavily-militarized police forces, using military-grade equipment, without any provocation.
Here is the link to the entire article.
I’ve tended to think that writing like Gibson’s is extreme and that if you behave well and put one foot in front of the other, the system will protect and help you. I’m afraid one thing I’ve learned from the Occupy movement is that I am wrong about this and I find it terrifying.