Posts Tagged ‘Occupy’

When Police Act Like an Occupying Army

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

A white cop shoots and kills an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and police respond to the ensuing peaceful demonstration with a massive display of manpower in riot gear. They are supported by armored vehicles mounted with heavy weaponry, lots of rifles and automatic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and verbal threats to shoot anyone who dares resist. They arrest anyone with a camera, including journalists.

Suddenly, Americans notice that many of their police departments resemble occupying armies more than agencies charged with protecting and preserving the peace in their communities.

Where have you been, America? This has been going on — gaining momentum, in fact — for several years. Indeed, the militarization of domestic police forces and the use of modern military equipment and tactics played a major role in quelling the Occupy movement demonstrations a couple of years ago.

The Occupiers were unarmed private citizens, who gathered across the country, protesting the power and privilege large corporations and banks were given by Congress to use and abuse the economy to their benefit at the expense of individuals. The citizen protesters were treated by police as if they were terrorists. They were tear-gassed, Maced, had rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades fired at them. They were roughed up and arrested, all by local police armed with military grade weapons and supported by armored vehicles.

The military hardware came free, courtesy of a Congress looking to do something with surplus military equipment. (The idea of maybe spending less money on military equipment in the first place apparently has not occurred to the members.) Today, dozens of police departments across the country have such military gear at their disposal. What they apparently don’t have is the proper training to use such equipment appropriately and judiciously.

That is, like a police force dealing with private citizens exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, to speak, to report on the goings on, rather than like an army moving in with intimidating force, intent on quashing resistance in any and all ways. Those weapons, remember, are not intended just to scare. They are designed to kill.

But deadly force, or the threat of it, should not be the first option for a police force dealing with unarmed citizens and peaceful demonstrations. Yes, troublemakers need to be dealt with, but again, police should be trained to do that without automatically resorting to threats and aggressive actions against everyone. When protests are handled properly by police at the outset, there is less likelihood or opportunity for troublemakers to join in. The longer confrontations last and the more aggressive police action becomes, the more likely it is that things will get worse because of outside agitation.

But it’s almost as if, in putting on the new military gear and marching alongside armored vehicles, the mindset of the police changes from preserving the peace and protecting their fellow citizens to overpowering anyone who stands in their way.

In Ferguson, the obvious racism of the local police only increased the us-versus-them mentality. But even during the Occupy sit-ins, police seemed to forget that they were — are — us, and that the protesters were speaking on their behalf, too. The mission has been clouded.

There’s talk in Congress now of, not only stopping the giveaway of military hardware to police, but taking some of it back. Good luck with that. Some agencies might be able to admit they don’t really need it, but a lot of others are not going to want to give it up. And cops vote.

The Ferguson shooting and the abysmal handling of it by local authorities has led to a movement called “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” The Occupy community has been part of the coordination. This movement has been fueled by incidents elsewhere similar to that in Ferguson. It speaks to the breakdown of trust between blacks and police, something that was already badly strained.

And not all the incidents involved weapons. An unarmed black man died on Staten Island recently, apparently the result of a chokehold applied by a police officer. The hold has been banned for years by New York police. The man was selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown, the youth shot in Ferguson, had shoplifted a box of cigars.

There’s obviously something more going on here. Taking the military hardware away from police may be a good start on reminding them of their mission, but massive retraining and serious recruiting of minorities would seem to be even more critical.

A caveat: Not all police departments behave the same way. It would behoove community groups, politicians, concerned citizens to identify those agencies that understand their role as police, not an occupying army, and that demonstrate the proper way to fulfill it. Use them as models to teach those that don’t. They can start in Ferguson.

We’ve Become a Nation of Us vs. Them

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

By Bob Gaydos

Michael Jordan, as Oscar Grant, in the film, "Fruitvale Station.

Michael B. Jordan, as Oscar Grant, in the film, “Fruitvale Station.”

I saw the movie “Fruitvale Station” the other day. I wept at the end. Real tears, not just some glistening in the eyes. This, even though I knew what was going to happen because we’re told at the beginning of the movie.

This tells me a couple of things:

— The director did a terrific job of story-telling.

— I felt strongly about something going on in the movie.

As for the movie itself, I am apparently not alone in my opinion. The independent film by first-time director Ryan Coogler is receiving rave reviews and awards even though it has only been recently released. Still, I was surprised at my strong, personal reaction to the film.

I probably shouldn’t have been. The reason I saw the movie in the first place is that my oldest son, Max, recommended I go. He doesn’t do that a lot. I “should” see it, he texted me. Not the usual Hollywood movie, he said. Yes and yes.

But there was also a personal connection for Max and me with the movie. It is based on a true event — the arrest and fatal shooting of an unarmed young man by a transit police officer in Oakland on New Year’s Day, 2009. Max had been arrested by police in Oakland during the Occupy demonstrations in 2011. Police response to the Occupy demonstrators — unarmed save for cell phones and cameras — was also violent. Their civil disobedience was met with tear gas grenades, flash bang grenades, rubber bullets — fired at the demonstrators, not in the air. Civilians were hurt, thrown in jail, treated like criminals because someone decided they represented a threat. A threat just like the young black males apparently represented to the white police officers who hauled them off a BART train for fighting, ignoring the white males who started the fight.

In Oakland, the shooting victim, Oscar Grant, and his friends fit a profile — young, black males, argumentative and not meekly complying with police orders to lie down with their hands behind their backs. Trouble. The same with Occupy demonstrators. Trouble. Even though they were demonstrating against injustices in society that affect police as much as the rest of us.

There has been a disturbing trend in cities across the country in recent years to respond to peaceful civil disobedience, such as the Occupy movement, with military style tactics, as if the demonstrators were an invading army rather than neighbors, friends and family members of the police themselves. I don’t know where this profiling of Occupy demonstrators came from, but it seems unlikely to have happened simultaneously in so many places at the same time. Some federal agency had to have decreed the demonstrators fit a profile of trouble makers — potential domestic terrorists even — who had to be quashed, rather than Americans citizens exercising their constitutional rights to assemble and voice their opinions. What’s really disturbing to me is how everyone down the line from that profiling decision seemed to accept it rather than to judge the demonstrators on their own.

I am not anti-police. Far from it. I believe a well-trained, appropriately armed police force is essential to maintain order. I do not believe most local police forces need big, armored vehicles to handle peaceful demonstrations. I do believe much more training on dealing with people in emotionally charged situations, rather than with weapons, would be a major benefit to all police departments.

Mostly, I believe that when there is no threat of force from the subjects involved, police should be trained to resist the tendency to make it a situation of us versus them. We are you. You are us. Oscar Grant was someone’s son, someone’s father, someone’s partner. He was a human being. He had done jail time for selling marijuana. He had been fired from his job. And he was apparently struggling to overcome the profiles that said this was his lot in life.

Yes, the profile said he had to project a certain arrogance in order to survive, but he was only out to celebrate New Year’s Eve with friends and wound up shot dead by a white transit cop who said he mistook his gun for his Taser. The cop was convicted of unintentional manslaughter, served 11 months of a two-year sentence. In Oakland, with its long history of out-of-control police response. Grant’s death sparked demonstrations, including one every New Year’s Day at Fruitvale Station.

There are stories similar to Oscar Grant’s in cities across the country. The film was released during the Trayvon Martin trial in Florida. The day I saw the film, a federal judge in New York City ruled the police force’s program of stop-and-frisk was unconstitutional because of obvious racial profiling — a welcome wakeup call only if city officials hear it.

This being a movie, there are things that were added, or left out, that might affect someone’s opinion of it. I get that. For many there will be a strong message of injustice still to be rectified. Yet others may see it as a shameless effort to manipulate anti-police sentiment. I’ll keep it simple. In Oakland, in 2009, a cop shot an unarmed, handcuffed, 22-year-old black male to death. Shouldn’t have happened. In Oakland in 2011, cops fired tear gas, flash bang grenades and rubber bullets at, among others, my son Max, then 19. He was armed with only a camera. They handcuffed and arrested him. Max is not black. He’s alive and well. But if one cop can mistake his gun for his Taser, why can’t another one mistake real bullets for rubber?

I wept for Oscar and Max and because we have become a nation of us versus them. Go see the movie.


A Wishful Wish List for 2013

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

The war in Afghanistan has taken its toll in American lives.

By Bob Gaydos

Having offered a gratitude list for 2012, I thought it only right that I compile a wish list for 2013. One major difference: whereas the gratitude list was a personal statement for developments in my own life, my wish list is less personal and more political, I guess, for want of a better word.

Here it is, in no particular order save for number one:

1. End the Afghanistan War. Now. Do not wait for next year’s announced timetable for troop withdrawal, President Obama. American troops’ presence in Afghanistan no longer makes sense and, indeed, they are more routinely becoming targets for people we thought were on our side. Al Qaeda has been decimated. Osama bin Laden is dead, as are many of his chief lieutenants. The continuing cost in lives and bodies cannot be justified, especially with a nation still struggling to restore its economy’s health. Let Afghans figure out how to govern themselves. Give them assistance with this. But end the war.

2. Revive the Occupy movement nationwide. Perhaps the only encouraging sign that Americans still cherished their First Amendment rights and were willing to challenge dubious authority was the movement that started on Wall Street and spread to Oakland. Mostly young, but not exclusively, the Occupy protestors brought attention to the overwhelming power of money in political campaigns and the alarming inequities in wealth and opportunity in America. They were rewarded with tasers, billy clubs, tear gas, and Mace by police forces whose members were among the primary beneficiaries of Occupy proposals. Yet the members persisted, despite FBI targeting as a terrorist group. In my humble opinion, it is the young people of this movement who have the will, intelligence and willingness to bring about some of the changes on this list. Their adult predecessors have failed miserably and show little inclination to change. They’d rather complain or argue. In its old form, or something new, Occupy is this nation’s hope for the future.

3. Pass a comprehensive immigration law, including a pathway to citizenship and severe penalties for businesses that exploit undocumented aliens. If the Republican Party learned anything from the last election it is that Hispanics are willing to vote against their conservative tendencies when the conservative party is not only ignorant of the lives of undocumented immigrants but exceedingly hostile to helping them. Let them finally become full partners in the American Experience, with rights and responsibilities. Congress must do this.

4. Firmly establish global warming as a serious threat to the planet. The White House should launch of a full scale educational, media and political campaign to end the science-is-hokum arguments of the far right. Enough is enough. Establish and honor worldwide practices to reduce the emission of fluorocarbons into the atmosphere. Punish corporations that break the rules. Save the polar bears. Save us all. Remember those super storms the past two years? There are more on the horizon; all we need do is nothing.

5. End secret genetic modification of our foods. It’s everywhere, folks. Require corporations to label foods that have been genetically modified and instruct the Food and Drug Administration to conduct vigilant inspection and testing on any foods that have been genetically modified (such as wheat and corn) for economic reasons and in ways that are supposedly not harmful to consumers (you and me). If there is no harm in the GMOs, why do the big corporations, such as Monsanto, resist labeling their products as such? (Attention Occupy Movement: This one seems to be right up your alley.)

6. Pass meaningful, comprehensive federal gun control laws. Let the NRA debate over the dead bodies of the children in Newtown, Conn., the rest of the country is appalled and sees no need for average citizens to have automatic weapons with large magazines of bullets. Tighten laws on sales of guns. The president should not weaken on this issue. The NRA expected him to come after them this term. He should not disappoint.

7. Resurrect the spirit of bipartisan governing in Congress. This one is a pipe dream, I suspect, but it is crucial to the survival of this nation as a world power. It may take the virtual (or actual) implosion of the Republican Party out of sheer stupidity and stubbornness to accomplish, but so be it. Form a new party of reasonable, reasonably intelligent people and dunk the tea party. To make this happen, citizens will have to let current and would-be office holders know that they are truly fed up with the partisan bickering and lack of production. The past Congress has been called the worst ever. That sounds like a bottom to me.

Well, that’s it. I’ll keep track of these issues as the year progresses. Here’s hoping I’ll have some positive news to report.