Police brutality and that thing I haven’t been writing about

I like to pretend that I don’t really write about politics here. After all, when I talk about marriage equality or anti-gay violence, I can link that to Glee or Torchwood or at least to my own life. It’s politics, but the sort of politics I give myself a pretty free pass on, because it’s not really politics, I like to say. When it’s my life up for debate, that’s not fucking politics.

You know, except that it is.

Anyway, I’m a political person and an opinionated one.

I guess you know that.

And I do write about media, and these days everything is media. But I guess you know that too.


One of the things I haven’t been writing about here, or, well, anywhere, is Occupy Wall Street. There are a lot of reasons for that, including that the movement really ramped up when I was out of the country, and I just sort of missed the initial sweep of impetus.

But there are other reasons too.

One is my frustration with the American left’s seeming inability to organize in an effective, message-focused way, even if identifying OWS as a movement of the American left isn’t exactly accurate.

Another is my sense that many parts of the 99% aren’t welcome in the OWS movement; that includes both the homeless and the people who are doing pretty well for themselves but certainly aren’t that 1% or benefiting from the taxation and regulatory absurdities than the 1% benefit from.

Various accusations around particular OWS groups regarding racism and sexism also haven’t helped earn my comfort.

But none of that is really here nor there. I agree with many of the complaints that have spawned OWS even if I don’t always agree with my perception of its methods, (un)focus, suspected goals, or apparent consensus model (for the record, I sort of loathe consensus models). And I think it has initiated a desperately important conversation in American life and politics, and I hope the protestors are able to hold on, even if I’m not necessarily sure of what I mean by that. Which gets us to why I am writing about this, finally, now.

I did my university senior investigative reporting project on police brutality in Washington DC, centered around, but not limited exclusively to, the events of the Adams Morgan riots. One of the most most notable incidents I remember from that project was the story of man beaten by police when he would not answer their questions. The man was deaf, and the police were accused of additionally ignoring his family providing this information during the confrontation in question.

So police brutality is one of those things I know a lot about. I know that when we hear about police brutality, as lay people, it’s hard to understand how scary a cop’s job is, or what their training is like, or how a situation that doesn’t seem threatening to us can seem threatening to them. But I also know how much utterly grotesque brutality happens, how little it gets reported both within the system and within the media, and how little it gets resolved by institutions like DC’s Citizen’s Complaint Review Board.

Today, things are a lot different than in 1991, when the Adams Morgan riots happened, or in 1994, when I wrote my report (the brutality cases from the riots were still languishing in the CCRB process at the time). When increased hard evidence of brutality was starting to emerge through cheaper, smaller video technology then, the sense was that incidences of clear-cut police brutality would drop. Twenty years later the tech is ubiquitous, but egregious incidents of brutality, because they happen at the extremes, still happen. These days, they just get documented.

And there are things happening in response to Occupy Wall Street that are not okay.

The UC Davis incident is just one example of the severity of the problem It is one particular detail of this story, not caught on camera that anyone is currently aware of, that caused me to write this. It pushes a personal horror button for me so hard, I have found myself wanting to turn away from the news, and in my experience, that’s usually when it’s the most important to talk about the news.

There have also been cases of critical injuries at OWS protests (including a war vet who suffered skull damage), protestors being denied medical attention (such as the dude with the lacerated spleen), and significant video footage in NYC of a police officer dragging a woman out of an authorized protest zone and assaulting her. There have also been significant reports of reporters being arrested while doing their jobs.

So something’s happening here. Seriously, even Forbes is blogging about it.

With the UC Davis incident, there is the sense that a moment has arrived that changes everything, even if we’re not sure what’s changing or how. But it is a moment where I think it is important for us to look, and to speak. Because for the first time in a long time there’s a movement in America where patience has been lost, and where people are willing to make explicit, personal, physical sacrifice for change. That’s notable; it’s not something I’ve seen in my adult life-time in this form and was only hazily aware of as a young child in the 1970s.

But more than all that, this is a moment where at least some police action has stepped outside of the bounds of appropriate behavior. It’s become violent, punitive, and medicalized.

And even while sitting in a comfortable hotel room on a business trip, it’s hands down the most frightening trend in response to American protest I’ve seen in my own life and experience, and let me tell you, I didn’t just do that one piece for my degree — I covered, and participated in, a lot of protests as a student journalist when I lived in DC. I saw people two feet away from me get bloodied by police batons, and I don’t even want to talk about the humiliation and nastiness that went on in response to Act-Up protests in those days in DC. I know how things can get ugly, and I know how these things can be more complex than they seem, but this, this is something else.

If there’s something you’re unhappy about in America, if there’s a cause you’ve ever protested for, or would ever consider protesting about — whether it’s gay rights or pro-choice issues or the death penalty; the wars or the union stripping bills or internet censorship; homelessness or the environment or nuclear power — whatever it is, on some level, what’s happening out there in response to OWS, is about you and your rights.

And no matter how uncomfortable it is — and this one is uncomfortable for me — I think we have to stop and look and ask ourselves what happens next.

So what happens next?

10 thoughts on “Police brutality and that thing I haven’t been writing about”

  1. “Another is my sense that many parts of the 99% aren’t welcome in the OWS movement; that includes both the homeless…”

    I can only speak about Occupy Portland, but that’s vividly untrue. Before the cops chased them out, there were both a number of homeless people living in the camp, and the medical tent (my partner Alice volunteered there for a whole) and the people providing food also served almost as many homeless as people who were living in the Occupy camp but had their own homes. That’s one of the reasons that Portland had one of the largest Occupy camps in the nation.

  2. “It’s become violent, punitive, and medicalized.” The first two are obviously (and horrifyingly) true, but I don’t understand what you mean by medicalized.

    1. My take on the term would be the issue of spraying right down a protester’s throat. Pepper spray can be lethal for an asthmatic in any case. Applied like that, all bets are off, and if the person were to survive, I’d be shocked if they didn’t have permanent respiratory damage.

  3. Speaking as a WOC, I’m comfortable enough with the Occupy movement to bring my children to Occupy events… although that’s going to change after this week, out of fear of the police. At least in Atlanta, they worked to support the support the homeless pretty damn hard, sending out calls to the activist community for mental health counseling for homeless who’d joined, food to feed them, protesting shelter closure. I follow inclusion issues at sites like Racialicious and there’s always room for improvement but the will is there.

    And the refusal to put out specific agendas is the power of the movement. It means that everyone from centrist Democrats to anarchists can support them. It’s like a lab to research and nourish solutions.

    What’s next? Get involved. Sign on. Fight back, with words and peaceful actions. This feels like the best thing that’s happened in my long political life and I’m 100% on board with it.

    1. On phone, pardon abbrev. Number of issues able to fall under umbrella of 99%, including basic equality issues still pending in terms of race, sex, and beyond. Will try for another post on subject at my lj whn back from vacatn.

  4. Another is my sense that many parts of the 99% aren’t welcome in the OWS movement; that includes both the homeless and the people who are doing pretty well for themselves

    *waves* My sister has been as involved as she can be in OWS since the second week of the occupation. She’s a stay-at-home mother of two, her husband makes 6-figures a year, and nearly every day she packs a backpack full of pounds and pounds of food she has cooked in their kitchen in Astoria and treks down to OWS to give it to the kitchens. She’s made signs, she’s marched, she’s been a human microphone and yelled until she was hoarse so everyone behind her could hear, she’s gone to Cost-Co with lists made specifically for the OWS. That includes food and medical supplies. She’s bought and donated 50 sleeping bags because she does have the time and the resources. From what I understand and have seen through her blog posts, everyone is welcome.

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