Saturday, August 19, 2017

Don't Kill the Mentally Ill

Saturday, we gathered in East Flatbush, in front of the home of Dwayne Juene, a mentally ill man who was killed  to protest the killing of the mentally ill by the NYPD on July 30th.

Arriving, a woman gave me a flyer declaring: "The killing of Dwayne Jeune, a 32 year old black man, is the latest in an ongoing saga of police murder of people in mental crisis who either called for help or whose families did.  Whether the request is made for the police or an ambulance, if the cops show up first the results are often deadly. Three of four police who responded in this case  had been "trained"  but did not spend time talking with the family to figure out how to redirect and calm Mr Jeune.  Mental health workers - not police uniforms  with weapons - should have been the first on the scene."

July 31, the NY Times reported.

A man whose mother called the police to report that he was acting erratically was fatally shot on Monday by one of the police officers who responded to the family’s apartment in Brooklyn, the police said.
The man, Dwayne Jeune, 32, was shot after he advanced on the officers with “a large carving knife” in the apartment, after two shocks from a stun gun failed to subdue him, Terence A. Monahan, chief of patrol, said at a news conference at the apartment complex.
“This incident unraveled in seconds,” Chief Monahan said. He cautioned that the information was preliminary and that the department’s initial account was “subject to change” as the investigation continued.
The mother called 911 around 12:20 p.m., saying that Mr. Jeune was acting erratically though not violently, the police said. Four officers went to the family’s fifth-floor apartment at 1370 New York Avenue in East Flatbush, knocked and were admitted by the woman, Chief Monahan said.
The police had been to the apartment before to help Msr. Jeune, but this time, the officers encountered him holding a knife, the chief said. One of the officers fired two darts from a Taser stun gun, striking Mr. Jeune in the chest and arm as he approached the officers with the knife. When that did not stop him, another officer opened fire, Chief Monahan said.

Unfortunately, the incident is not without precedent.  The NYPD has made a practice of escalating these situations, instead of cooling tempers.  Recent incidents include the cases of Eleanor Bumpers, Mohamed Bah, and Deborah Danner.

Arriving at his home at 1370 New York Avenue, Black Lives Matters activists were speaking.  They were joined by members of Rise and Resist members and others, including ACT UP veterans Maxine Wolfe and Alexis Danzig

Kate Barnhart, of New Alternatives, carried a sign of David Felix, another mentally ill man, who was shot by the NYPD last year.

We marched to the police precinct where activists called for unity and for the NYPD to step back and de escalate instead of escalate these moments.

There is just way too much violence out there, too many guns, just too much.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Day Elvis Died

They say he had a hamburger in his hand when he died forty years ago in Graceland.  They found him cold, laying face down in his bathroom.  I was seven years old.  We were just moving back to Atlanta. He was leaving and we were returning in the South.  I remember talking with several of the movers in our backyard.  We talked about his life and what was left. Who was he I wondered. He looked like a bloated star, a part of the malaise that Jimmy Carter talked about. All I knew of him was the TV adds during daytime TV, lots and lots of TV adds for gold records, greatest hits, photos, Elvis in Hawaii, in Los Vegas. "Elvis the Pelvis," mom declared, still shocked about his TV appearances from two decades prior, when TV producers decided you could not show him below the hips on TV.  He was still dangerous. A few years later, I worked at the Sound Warehouse, doing inventory.  Thousands of his records filled the stores, thousands, zillions of memories and mysteries about his life and celebrity. 

My favorite songs of his were always "Suspicious Minds" and "In the Ghetto." I still love the song. He clearly knew something was wrong in the world and sang about it, taking no small amount of flak singing Mac Davis' sad and beautiful words.

As the snow flies
On a cold and gray Chicago mornin'
A poor little baby child is born
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)
And his mama cries
'Cause if there's one thing that she don't need
It's another hungry mouth to feed
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)
People, don't you understand
The child needs a helping hand
Or he'll grow to be an angry young man some day?
Take a look at you and me
Are we too blind to see
Do we simply turn our heads, and look the other way?
Well, the world turns
And a hungry little boy with a runny nose
Plays in the street as the cold wind blows
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)
And his hunger burns
So he starts to roam the streets at night
And he learns how to steal, and he learns how to fight
In the ghetto (in the ghetto)

Last show, article about his death, and Elvis in Car by AlfredWertheimer.
I always wanted his haircut. Yesterday, I walked into a barber shop in Brooklyn and asked the barber for a haircut just like Elvis.  I always tried, but could never quite pull it off.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Good Morning America: You Have a Shithead for President: Notes on #Charlotteville - Protest NYC.

Photo Credit: Joan E Roney
my favorite sign of the day.
#Charlotteville -

For much of my life, condemning Nazis was like picking low hanging fruit.  It wasn’t that hard.  For a while there, activists could remind right wing audiences, we fought fascism in WWII for very specific reasons.  

But over time, this collective memory seems to have been lost, at least for some of us.  And its takes days to get a US president to possibly acknowledge that people marching with Nazi swag, confederate flags, and supremacist messages should be condemned.

But this was the scene on Saturday in Charlotteville -

As I wrote after seeing all those marching with Southern Swastika. 

I see all the confederate flags out there. Gross. Its the US swastika. Time to put it away for good. You lost the civil war. Its over. But you refuse to concede. You don't see Swastikas in Germany. But we keep carrying em here. Was the North too tough after the civil war or not tough enough? As a Southerner whose relatives died and starved after the war, I wonder. But somehow after it all, the losers remained defiant. History is troubling. In Germany, they outlawed the Swastika, as we should have done a long time ago.  Its about time activists take down all the civil war statues. It took Eastern Europe only a few years to pull down its Communist statues, Germany no time to pull down its Nazi statues, and we allow our confederate imagery to remain a century and a half after the war ended.  
Thanks to all of those activists who countered the hate out there. You are heroes, plain and simple.
Our first full day back in NYC, the presidential embarrassment was back in town. 
As an invitation for a protest on Facebook declared:
Donald Trump will be staying in Trump Tower in New York from Sunday 8/13 to Wednesday 8/16 for the first time since he was inaugurated. Let's show him what we really think of him!

Thank you all for caring enough about our future to come out and make a difference. Democracy only works when people get involved! We are the people who bring about change. Having said that, I have a few quick notes on logistics for tonight:

1) We will be meeting at 54th and 5th Avenue at 5:30 PM. The street right in front of Trump tower will be closed off so we will get as close as we can. Since we're going to be a little farther than we thought, we're going to have to be that much louder!

2) This is a nonviolent protest…

At the rally, there were the usual sectarian groups telling us what kind of analysis we should have about the president. But I still loved everyone’s signs. An elder woman carried a sign saying she’d survived Nazis once and planned to do so again, referring to her days in a camp in the 1940’s.  Another two woman carried signs with pictures and the words: “Heather Heyer, murdered by a Nazi 2017”; “Ann Frank, murdered by a Nazi 1945.”  Its heartbreaking and striking to see this analogy.  It makes me want to cry.  Just a few hours ago, a Klu Klux Clan leader said he was glad Heather Heyer was killed and anticipated more of this would happen at future rallies.

Another man was carrying a sign that stated the electoral college failed. I completely agree. The thing was designed to prevent just the sort of despot as Trump to get elected.  The guy does not care about supporting the constitution, he cares about extending his own reality TV show.  That is it.  
The system has been corrupted, hopefully not beyond repair. But its an unsettling time, a scary time to be alive.

So we took to the streets. The police cordoned us off.
“No Clan, No Nazis, No fascist USA” people screamed.
The police set off alarms and announced we would be arrested if we blocked the streets.
“Whose streets, our streets!” everyone screamed.
Soon enough we could not move, as the police had the sidewalks cordoned off as well.
So we walked back around the protests.
“You picked a good time to get back when things really hit the fan,” noted a friend.
Its true. 

And the usual debate about the first amendment swirled. 

Do fascists have first amendment rights, certainly. But this is not to say violence can be condoned.
And certainly, those, such as the KKK, who continue to threaten violence at their rallies deserve restrictions.  

"I'm sorta glad that them people got hit and I'm glad that girl died," Mr Moore said in a voicemail message to WBTV. "They were a bunch of Communists out there protesting against somebody's freedom of speech, so it doesn't bother me that they got hurt at all."
He also warned the deadly violence which erupted was going to become more common.
He said: "I think we're going to see more stuff like this happening at white nationalist events."

In New York, one cannot bring a stick for a placard, much less a gun to a rally. But it is allowed in Charlotteville. So it comes down gun control.  And Hillary found that was not a winning formula in the last election cycle.  These are scary days.

“Useful perspective from the ground in #Charlotteville -
H/t Kyle Svancarek via Dan Berger:
A few immediate thoughts about Charlottesville:

1) Their rally today was a disaster. They were outnumbered, kettled, and sandwiched on all sides between cops, congregations, and antifa. Their scheduled rally was canceled before they even could fill up the park. The fights they initiated were badly lost, and several them seem heavily injured. On their personal social media accounts they seem flustered, demoralized, and paranoid, particularly over the fact that the police did not fully protect them for once. They got wrecked, and we unequivocally won.

2) While it hasn't been covered much, this rally represents a convergence between the tactics of the alt-light (e.g. college Republicans, Milo, Patriot Prayer, etc) of rallies ostensibly about free speech with the overt political program of the hard right, who are, even in the USA, politically toxic to mainstream audiences. Chalk it up to the peculiar ways racism has been codified post 1968, but I genuinely think most liberals and conservatives do recoil at the idea of marching with out and out KKKers and Nazis, even if their actual beliefs may not be as different as they care to admit. The convergence has now linked several alt-lighters, free speech apologists and other assorted miscreants to a public relations disaster - some have chosen to accept this and have gone full 1488, such as WSU college republican president James Allsup, while others are now confused and grasping for straws to explain themselves. This rift should be exploited. Perhaps the rally last night had a silver lining in that it showed what these free speech rallies actually entail when there is no opposition, and encouraging others to come out and physically oppose another one as happened this morning.

3) They are scared. The alt right is a lot of things, but above all they are remarkably incompetent as a political formation. Their organizations are small, they constantly lose fights, they are proud of their subcultural status and shun mass organizing (a remarkable side effect of Trump and them is that the pillars of the alt right platform now poll significantly worse than they did during the 2016 campaign), and they have the kind of petty infighting that makes us leftists blush. The problem with this floundering, of course, is that it breeds frustration that manifests itself in random bursts of ultra violence. Dylann Roof, the MAX killer, the Quebec mosque shooting, killing of Timothy Caughman, etc. The hit and run an hour ago seems to be the latest in this series of attacks. As they continue to get routed and their program becomes ever more unpopular and noxious, this is what they will be drawn to more and more.

I wrote Dan to ask what he meant by “free speech apologists” and “1488” but never heard back.
But as Sarah Schulman put in facebook yesterday.
“The most important question about free speech is...who decides?
Unless we want those in power to determine what is permissible about our speech, we need a standard that is entirely open, no matter who is in control. This means tolerating being uncomfortable and hearing things we do not want to hear, so that we too can freely express.
There is no example in history where repressing speech has produced a fair and equitable society. Repressing speech masks and hides what already exists, and perpetuates secret cultures of resentment.
We must be mature enough to understand the significant difference between speech and actual violence.”

Still the left and right call for restrictions on free speech, condemning the ACLU.
As Glen Greenwald puts it, “The flaws and dangers in this anti-free speech mindset are manifest, but nonetheless always worth highlighting, especially when horrific violence causes people to want to abridge civil liberties in the name of stopping it. In sum, purporting to oppose fascism by allowing the state to ban views it opposes is like purporting to oppose human rights abuses by mandating the torture of all prisoners.