Thursday, May 17, 2012 9:48 AM
Individually the poor are not too tempting to thieves, for obvious reasons. Mug a banker and you might score a wallet containing a month’s rent. Mug a janitor and you will be lucky to get away with bus fare to flee the crime scene. But as Business Week helpfully pointed out in 2007, the poor in aggregate provide a juicy target for anyone depraved enough to make a business of stealing from them.
The trick is to rob them in ways that are systematic, impersonal, and almost impossible to trace to individual perpetrators. Employers, for example, can simply program their computers to shave a few dollars off each paycheck, or they can require workers to show up 30 minutes or more before the time clock starts ticking.
Lenders, including major credit companies as well as payday lenders, have taken over the traditional role of the street-corner loan shark, charging the poor insanely high rates of interest. When supplemented with late fees (themselves subject to interest), the resulting effective interest rate can be as high as 600% a year, which is perfectly legal in many states.
It’s not just the private sector that’s preying on the poor. Local governments are discovering that they can partially make up for declining tax revenues through fines, fees, and other costs imposed on indigent defendants, often for crimes no more dastardly than driving with a suspended license. And if that seems like an inefficient way to make money, given the high cost of locking people up, a growing number of jurisdictions have taken to charging defendants for their court costs and even the price of occupying a jail cell.
The poster case for government persecution of the down-and-out would have to be Edwina Nowlin, a homeless Michigan woman who was jailed in 2009 for failing to pay $104 a month to cover the room-and-board charges for her 16-year-old son’s incarceration. When she received a back paycheck, she thought it would allow her to pay for her son’s jail stay. Instead, it was confiscated and applied to the cost of her own incarceration.
Government Joins the Looters of the Poor
You might think that policymakers would take a keen interest in the amounts that are stolen, coerced, or extorted from the poor, but there are no official efforts to track such figures. Instead, we have to turn to independent investigators, like Kim Bobo, author of Wage Theft in America, who estimates that wage theft nets employers at least $100 billion a year and possibly twice that. As for the profits extracted by the lending industry, Gary Rivlin, who wrote Broke USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. -- How the Working Poor Became Big Business, says the poor pay an effective surcharge of about $30 billion a year for the financial products they consume and more than twice that if you include subprime credit cards, subprime auto loans, and subprime mortgages.
These are not, of course, trivial amounts. They are on the same order of magnitude as major public programs for the poor. The government distributes about $55 billion a year, for example, through the largest single cash-transfer program for the poor, the Earned Income Tax Credit; at the same time, employers are siphoning off twice that amount, if not more, through wage theft.
And while government generally turns a blind eye to the tens of billions of dollars in exorbitant interest that businesses charge the poor, it is notably chary with public benefits for the poor. Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, for example, our sole remaining nationwide welfare program, gets only $26 billion a year in state and federal funds. The impression is left of a public sector that’s gone totally schizoid: on the one hand, offering safety-net programs for the poor; on the other, enabling large-scale private sector theft from the very people it is supposedly trying to help.
At the local level though, government is increasingly opting to join in the looting. In 2009, a year into the Great Recession, I first started hearing complaints from community organizers about ever more aggressive levels of law enforcement in low-income areas. Flick a cigarette butt and get arrested for littering; empty your pockets for an officer conducting a stop-and-frisk operation and get cuffed for a few flakes of marijuana. Each of these offenses can result, at a minimum, in a three-figure fine.
And the number of possible criminal offenses leading to jail and/or fines has been multiplying recklessly. All across the country -- from California and Texas to Pennsylvania -- counties and municipalities have been toughening laws against truancy and ratcheting up enforcement, sometimes going so far as to handcuff children found on the streets during school hours. In New York City, it’s now a crime to put your feet up on a subway seat, even if the rest of the car is empty, and a South Carolina woman spent six days in jail when she was unable to pay a $480 fine for the crime of having a “messy yard.” Some cities -- most recently, Houston and Philadelphia -- have made it a crime to share food with indigent people in public places.
Being poor itself is not yet a crime, but in at least a third of the states, being in debt can now land you in jail. If a creditor like a landlord or credit card company has a court summons issued for you and you fail to show up on your appointed court date, a warrant will be issued for your arrest. And it is easy enough to miss a court summons, which may have been delivered to the wrong address or, in the case of some bottom-feeding bill collectors, simply tossed in the garbage -- a practice so common that the industry even has a term for it: “sewer service.” In a sequence that National Public Radio reports is “increasingly common,” a person is stopped for some minor traffic offense -- having a noisy muffler, say, or broken brake light -- at which point the officer discovers the warrant and the unwitting offender is whisked off to jail.
Local Governments as Predators
Each of these crimes, neo-crimes, and pseudo-crimes carries financial penalties as well as the threat of jail time, but the amount of money thus extracted from the poor is fiendishly hard to pin down. No central agency tracks law enforcement at the local level, and local records can be almost willfully sketchy.
According to one of the few recent nationwide estimates, from the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, 10.5 million misdemeanors were committed in 2006. No one would risk estimating the average financial penalty for a misdemeanor, although the experts I interviewed all affirmed that the amount is typically in the “hundreds of dollars.” If we take an extremely lowball $200 per misdemeanor, and bear in mind that 80%-90% of criminal offenses are committed by people who are officially indigent, then local governments are using law enforcement to extract, or attempt to extract, at least $2 billion a year from the poor.
And that is only a small fraction of what governments would like to collect from the poor. Katherine Beckett, a sociologist at the University of Washington, estimates that “deadbeat dads” (and moms) owe $105 billion in back child-support payments, about half of which is owed to state governments as reimbursement for prior welfare payments made to the children. Yes, parents have a moral obligation to their children, but the great majority of child-support debtors are indigent.
Attempts to collect from the already-poor can be vicious and often, one would think, self-defeating. Most states confiscate the drivers’ licenses of people owing child support, virtually guaranteeing that they will not be able to work. Michigan just started suspending the drivers’ licenses of people who owe money for parking tickets. Las Cruces, New Mexico, just passed a law that punishes people who owe overdue traffic fines by cutting off their water, gas, and sewage.
Once a person falls into the clutches of the criminal justice system, we encounter the kind of slapstick sadism familiar to viewers of Wipeout. Many courts impose fees without any determination of whether the offender is able to pay, and the privilege of having a payment plan will itself cost money.
In a study of 15 states, the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University found 14 of them contained jurisdictions that charge a lump-sum “poverty penalty” of up to $300 for those who cannot pay their fees and fines, plus late fees and “collection fees” for those who need to pay over time. If any jail time is imposed, that too may cost money, as the hapless Edwina Nowlin discovered, and the costs of parole and probation are increasingly being passed along to the offender.
The predatory activities of local governments give new meaning to that tired phrase “the cycle of poverty.” Poor people are more far more likely than the affluent to get into trouble with the law, either by failing to pay parking fines or by incurring the wrath of a private-sector creditor like a landlord or a hospital.
Once you have been deemed a criminal, you can pretty much kiss your remaining assets goodbye. Not only will you face the aforementioned court costs, but you’ll have a hard time ever finding a job again once you’ve acquired a criminal record. And then of course, the poorer you become, the more likely you are to get in fresh trouble with the law, making this less like a “cycle” and more like the waterslide to hell. The further you descend, the faster you fall -- until you eventually end up on the streets and get busted for an offense like urinating in public or sleeping on a sidewalk.
I could propose all kinds of policies to curb the ongoing predation on the poor. Limits on usury should be reinstated. Theft should be taken seriously even when it’s committed by millionaire employers. No one should be incarcerated for debt or squeezed for money they have no chance of getting their hands on. These are no-brainers, and should take precedence over any long term talk about generating jobs or strengthening the safety net. Before we can “do something” for the poor, there are some things we need to stop doing to them.
Barbara Ehrenreich, a
, is the author of
Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America
(now in a 10th anniversary edition with a
). She is most recently the founder of the just-launched
Economic Hardship Reporting Project
, which supports innovative journalism on poverty and economic hardship. To listen to Timothy MacBain's latest Tomcast audio interview in which Ehrenreich discusses how the poor get soaked and her latest project to fund investigative journalism on poverty, click here or download it to your iPod here.
Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook.
Copyright 2012 Barbara Ehrenreich
Monday, October 17, 2011 10:35 AM
This post originally appeared at TomDispatch.
These last weeks, there have been two “occupations” in lower Manhattan, one of which has been getting almost all the coverage -- that of the demonstrators camping out in Zuccotti Park. The other, in the shadows, has been hardly less massive, sustained, or in its own way impressive -- the police occupation of the Wall Street area.
On a recent visit to the park, I found the streets around the Stock Exchange barricaded and blocked off to traffic, and police everywhere in every form (in and out of uniform) -- on foot, on scooters, on motorcycles, in squad cars with lights flashing, on horses, in paddy wagons or minivans, you name it. At the park’s edge, there is a police observation tower capable of being raised and lowered hydraulically and literally hundreds of police are stationed in the vicinity. I counted more than 50 of them on just one of its sides at a moment when next to nothing was going on -- and many more can be seen almost anywhere in the Wall Street area, lolling in doorways, idling in the subway, ambling on the plazas of banks, and chatting in the middle of traffic-less streets.
This might be seen as massive overkill. After all, the New York police have already shelled out an extra $1.9 million, largely in overtime pay at a budget-cutting moment in the city. When, as on Thursday, 100 to 150 marchers suddenly headed out from Zuccotti Park to circle Chase Bank several blocks away, close to the same number of police -- some with ominous clumps of flexi-cuffs dangling from their belts -- calved off with them. It’s as if the Occupy Wall Street movement has an eternal dark shadow that follows it everywhere.
At one level, this is all mystifying. The daily crowds in the park remain remarkably, even startlingly, peaceable. (Any violence has generally been the product of police action.) On an everyday basis, a squad of 10 or 15 friendly police officers could easily handle the situation. There is, of course, another possibility suggested to me by one of the policemen loitering at the Park’s edge doing nothing in particular: “Maybe they’re peaceable because we’re here.” And here's a second possibility: as my friend Steve Fraser, author of Wall Street: America’s Dream Palace, said to me, “This is the most important piece of real estate on the planet and they’re scared. Look how amazed we are. Imagine how they feel, especially after so many decades of seeing nothing like it.”
And then there’s a third possibility: that two quite separate universes are simply located in the vicinity of each other and of what, since September 12, 2001, we’ve been calling Ground Zero. Think of it as Ground Zero Doubled, or think of it as the militarized recent American past and the unknown, potentially inspiring American future occupying something like the same space. (You can, of course, come up with your own pairings, some far less optimistic.) In their present state, New York’s finest represent a local version of the way this country has been militarized to its bones in these last years and, since 9/11, transformed into a full-scale surveillance-intelligence-homeland-security state.
Their stakeout in Zuccotti Park is geared to extreme acts, suicide bombers, and terrorism, as well as to a conception of protest and opposition as alien and enemy-like. They are trying to herd, lock in, and possibly strangle a phenomenon that bears no relation to any of this. They are, that is, policing the wrong thing, which is why every act of pepper spraying or swing of the truncheon, every aggressive act (as in the recent eviction threat to “clean” the park) blows back on them and only increases the size and coverage of the movement.
Though much of the time they are just a few feet apart, the armed state backing that famed 1%, or Wall Street, and the unarmed protesters claiming the other 99% might as well be in two different times in two different universes connected by a Star-Trekkian wormhole and meeting only where pepper spray hits eyes.
Which means anyone visiting the Occupy Wall Street site is also watching a strange dance of phantoms. Still, we do know one thing. This massive semi-militarized force we continue to call “the police” will, in the coming years, only grow more so. After all, they know but one way to operate.
Right now, for instance, over crowds of protesters the police hover in helicopters with high-tech cameras and sensors, but in the future there can be little question that in the skies of cities like New York, the police will be operating advanced drone aircraft. Already, as Nick Turse indicates in his groundbreaking report [at TomDispatch], the U.S. military and the CIA are filling the global skies with missile-armed drones and the clamor for domestic drones is growing. The first attack on an American neighborhood, not one in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Yemen, or Libya, surely lurks somewhere in our future. Empires, after all, have a way of coming home to roost.
Read Nick Turse's essay, “America's Secret Empire of Drone Bases” at TomDispatch.com >>
Image by WarmSleepy, licensed under Creative Commons.
Monday, September 27, 2010 3:57 PM
When the FBI raided the homes of antiwar activists in Minneapolis and Chicago last week, the ensuing public reaction was notable for its stereophonic quality: The loudest cries of skepticism and outrage came from both left and right. Apparently, coffeehouse radicals and Tea Party supporters can agree that government agents breaking down doors at 7 a.m. to seize notes, computers and other potential tools of “terrorism” from a bunch of peace and justice activists seems like a serious case of state overreach.
“Government goons,” the Conservative Heritage Times called the door-kickers, while a lawyer for one of the accused told Antiwar.com, “This case is really scary.”
Of course, it’s impossible to shout “travesty of justice” with absolute righteousness until we find out exactly what the government’s case is, which will come after a grand jury assesses the evidence and decides whether to indict anyone. FBI officials have only said they’re seeking information related to support of “foreign terrorist organizations,” including the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.
But it’s worth noting that the FBI conducted similar raids on the eve on the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, only to downgrade the initial charges of “conspiracy to riot in furtherance of terrorism” against the “RNC 8,” as they’ve become known, and to dismiss three cases entirely. (The remaining five go on trial October 25.) And earlier this week, the FBI’s Inspector General criticized the FBI for some of its conduct in raids and surveillance of peace groups after the September 11 attacks, points out Twin Cities Indymedia.
In this clip by the video muckrakers at Minnesota’s Uptake, watch alleged terrorist—and unapologetic antiwar activist—Mick Kelly explain why he thinks the FBI came after him:
Sources: Conservative Heritage Times, Antiwar.com, The Atlantic, Twin Cities Indymedia, The Uptake
Tuesday, December 22, 2009 2:59 PM
This month, a British sculptor smashed the front window of a gallery with a metal pole and called it art. The artist, Kevin Harman, had warned the gallery of his imminent attack—though he refused to specify the time—and he immediately paid £350 to have the window replaced. But that wasn’t good enough for the gallery’s owners, who pressed charges against Harman. The artist was fined another £200 for breaching the peace. One of Harman’s colleagues, Michael Sandle, disagreed with the gallery’s decision, telling the Guardian, “They should have shaken his hand and bought him a drink.”
Source (with video!):
Friday, May 15, 2009 1:32 PM
Most dollhouses scenes don’t feature miniature corpses hanging from ropes or life-like blood spatters evoking a crime-scene feel in each room. Most probably aren’t used by police officers, either.
The latest issue of Baltimore’s Urbanite features a handful of hidden secrets lurking in the Charm City, which includes a 60-some-year-old collection known as the Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death. Michael Yockel writes, “In naming her creations [Frances Glessner] Lee invokes a police dictum: ‘Convict the guilty, clear the innocent, and find the truth in a nutshell.’”
All told there are 18 tiny, gruesome dioramas, which are used in seminars to school police in forensics and solving murder cases. Too bad Jimmy McNulty and crew didn’t have these.
The Urbanite is nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award for its social/cultural coverage.
Wednesday, September 24, 2008 1:44 PM
Three weeks after the Republican National Convention came to St. Paul, Mayor Chris Coleman announced that the city will drop charges of unlawful assembly against journalists stemming from protests outside of the Xcel Energy Center. The Associated Press quoted Coleman’s prepared statement: “This decision reflects the values we have in St. Paul to protect and promote our First Amendment rights to freedom of the press.”
In the weeks leading to this decision, journalists across the country have shared outrage, disappointment, and anger at the sheer number of their own arrested throughout the four-day event. And yet, in decrying the treatment of their credentialed peers, journalists fail to recognize that every citizen has a First Amendment right to record events taking place on a public street, including police actions.
This right has been identified in federal court, specifically in Robinson v. Fetterman and Smith v. City of Cumming. The United States Supreme Court has also articulated, in Branzburg v. Hayes, that the First Amendment right to freedom of the press applies not only to the mainstream and well-funded press, but also to the “lonely pamphleteer.” With the rise of handheld technology and the internet, today’s “lonely pamphleteer,” the blogger or citizen journalist, has gone from an abstract idea to a reality relatively quickly. For example, citizen journalism non-profit the UpTake had a notable presence at both the Democratic and Republican conventions, streaming tons of live footage of protester and police clashes with the use of cell phones.
So, who IS a journalist? What criteria will determine who qualifies for dropped charges and who does not? And why aren’t we hearing more outrage from journalists concerning First Amendment rights violations in general, rather than solely addressing the rights of traditional journalists?
A forum sponsored by the Minnesota chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists held at the University of Minnesota Monday evening sought to identify what went right and what went wrong with media and law enforcement during the RNC. Moderated by the Poynter Institute’s Al Tompkins, the panel included St. Paul Dep. Mayor Ann Mulholland, KARE-11 photojournalist Jonathan Malat, Assistant Police Chief Matt Bostrom and Pioneer Press reporter Mara Gottfried.
Notably absent from the panel was a representative of alternative media, although as the conversation ensued, concerned citizens and journalists from alternative media outlets took their turn at the microphone. Charlie Underwood, who was a street medic during the protests, disputed the focus on journalists. “Are you trying to reserve a special category of citizen that does not get pepper sprayed, that does not get arrested, that does not have the same punitive things happen to them under these situations of police brutality that the rest of us do?” he asked.
Tompkins responded, “The question that we’re here for tonight, Charlie, is this: How do people like Jonathan and Mara do their jobs as journalists and not get arrested?”
“How do all of us do our jobs and not get arrested?” interjected someone from the crowd. The man, who identified himself as Ed Felien, editor of the Minneapolis neighborhood newspaper Southside Pride, went to the microphone.
“All of us have a right to be on the streets. Journalism has gone through a tremendous revolution in the last 10 years. It’s no longer the two or three corporations that control the television networks or the newspapers. There’s no longer this concentration of power that has a monopoly on all the news. There’s a lot of stuff happening on the Internet, there’s a lot of stuff happening on YouTube and so on, that has much more validity for people than whatever Rupert Murdoch thinks is news. I think Charlie’s point is absolutely to the point. I’m not a member of that media, I’m a member of a different, alternative media, and I have absolute rights to witness what’s happening and a responsibility to communicate that.”
When Tompkins confronted panelists with the question of how to define a journalist, they displayed clear reluctance to give a definition. Gottfried seemed the least willing to answer the question, simply responding with, “I don’t know.” Deputy Mayor Mulholland said that she believed the mayor was referring to anyone who was there to tell a story and called themselves a journalist, but went on to say, “I have no idea how to define a journalist, and I don’t know that all of us in the room really know how to define journalist. I therefore ask the question, how are law enforcement officials supposed to answer that question while in the midst of a public safety scene?”
Well, the question was not answered that evening. Nor, perhaps, should it be. As First Amendment lawyer Mark Anfinson, who attended the forum, pointed out, defining who is and who is not a journalist leads us down a slippery slope of government regulation of the press, which is a very clear violation of how the courts have interpreted freedom of press.
Another local media lawyer, Steven P. Aggergaard, who writes the blog Media Law Minnesota, provides perhaps the most clearheaded analysis of what should be considered in this potentially precedent-setting endeavor:
The First Amendment was not adopted to protect journalists. It was enacted to protect free expression for everyone. True, the First Amendment specifically ensures a free press, but I simply do not believe that "the press" had the same meaning in 1791 as it does today. Early Americans wanted to make sure that the people who operated printing presses and therefore enabled large-scale free expression would not be subject to the burdensome licensing schemes prevalent in Europe. The First Amendment’s drafters did not intend to extend special privileges to massive for-profit media conglomerates or even to bloggers for that matter. Rather, they sought to protect the rights of anyone who had something to say, protesters included.
As for those protesters, I completely agree that some at the RNC crossed the line. As I said previously, those who participated in the near-riots committed criminal acts. But the large number of onlookers who merely sought to express themselves, to watch people express themselves, or to document people expressing themselves committed no crimes. Cases closed.
UPDATE (9/26/08): Watch video of the SPJ panel at the UpTake.
Image by uberculture, licensed under Creative Commons.
Friday, September 05, 2008 12:14 PM
“I wasn’t sure for a minute if this show was going to happen tonight,” singer Zach de la Rocha told the frenzied crowd of Rage Against the Machine fans Wednesday night at Target Center. The people roared. Only a day before, the police had shut down the Ripple Effect Festival at the Minnesota State Capitol just as de la Rocha and his bandmates were arriving to make an all-but-surprise performance.
The resulting fracas put a heady spotlight on Wednesday night’s show—as if Rage weren’t already sufficiently politically charged. Following 9/11, Clear Channel banned every one of the rap-metal band’s numbers on the notorious list of “songs with questionable lyrics.” In 2000, the evening of a Rage performance across from the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles ended in violent protesters/law enforcement conflict, soon after which the band split up—remaining disbanded for six-and-a-half years.
Last night, no rust was apparent. Alert sirens wailing, Rage took the stage in darkness. Fans screamed. Floodlights snapped on. Four figures stood in orange jumpsuits, black hoods over their heads. Even as the bass pounded, the sight of those iconic garments was chilling. Rage played a fever-pitched “Bomb Track” clad in that attire, recognizable only via de la Rocha’s inimitable voice and Tom Morello’s unmistakable finesse with the guitar.
Bassist Tim Commerford and guitarist Tom Morello jam during “Bomb Track.”
After the first number, Rage executed a quick-change off stage, re-emerging in street gear and belting out “Testify” to an ecstatic audience—many of whom, doubtlessly, were seeing Rage for the first time, having either missed the boat or been too young in the ‘90s. At least, there has to be some explanation for the googly-eyed delight splashed across everyone’s faces. This wasn’t standard-issue rock star gawkerdom: It was as if Che Guevara himself had just burst out of Brad Wilk’s kick drum.
Rage cranked through an impressive set with seemingly boundless energy. (At one point I found myself wondering how any of the spry guys have knees left, after years of jumping, bouncing, stomping, and leaping. De la Rocha’s unrelenting vocal chords present an equally vivid mystery, although one perhaps enlightened by this detail: He sipped a mug of what looked to be hot tea between several songs.) Quite frankly, too, I’d be remiss if I didn’t harp on Morello’s fantastic guitar playing; his fingers looked like a piece of cloth fluttering in wind as he poured them over the frets.
At the end of the evening, after Rage closed with “Killing in the Name,” de la Rocha took the pitch down a notch, evenly entreating fans to demonstrate discipline when they momentarily flooded out into the riot-cop-lined streets of Minneapolis. It was a noble effort (and showed remarkable restraint) from the fiery frontman, although the message was somewhat diluted by his politically-stirring between-song commentary and a light display that read: RNC F*CK YOU. But his words clearly came from a place of genuine concern, and, really, there’s only so much you can do when you’re trying to convey nuanced approaches—such as “peaceful, but not passive”—to a stadium arena’s worth of people.
Which is why, almost inevitably, there were some people not content to leave it at that, and a portion of the crowd dispersing into First Avenue began a slow, somewhat disjointed protest that ended with 102 people being detained several blocks away for “blocking traffic.” Minneapolis law enforcement was clearly prepared for the worst: Riot-gear-clad officers were present on foot, bikes, and horseback, as well as in squad cars, motorcycles, and mini vans (plus a small vehicle that looked like offspring of a golf cart and a Hummer). Here are some photos from the post-Rage ruckus:
The aforementioned small vehicle, from which Minneapolis police chief Tim Dolan instructed the crowd—which was blocking the street—to disperse. The area was thick with curious onlookers, most of whom didn’t clear out, presumably because they didn’t consider themselves part of the protest action.
The Minnesota Peace Team, a squad of volunteers trained in de-escalation techniques put together especially for the RNC, was present, as were the Guardian Angels. The two Peace Team members pictured above successfully talked down a shirtless concert attendee, who stepped forward (alone) and danced ridiculously as the mounted police attempted to advance their line.
Eventually, a more organized group of people emerged, hoisting a banner made of four defaced American flags. A group of people collected behind the flag, which the bearers carried forward in a challenge to the police line.
Things seemed as though they would come to a head as the flag-bearers marched into a blockade on Seventh Street; all officers present, including bicycle and mounted police, pulled on their gas masks. If it was a scare tactic, it wasn’t apparently scary enough: The crowd of onlookers remained placidly stationed along the sidewalk. One gleeful fellow (was he protesting? gawking? did he even attend the show?) skipped past me and naively chipped: “We’re gonna get gassed! Something big is gonna happen now!”
When the police barricade dispersed, the protesters made an impromptu march down Seventh—where, eventually, police surrounded and detained them, a “tame” round-up, according to the Minneapolis Star Tribune. All but two individuals were given citations and released. “In a way, for most fans, it was the perfect end to a Rage concert: defiance of arbitrary authority without painful consequences, just enough real danger to get the juices going. (‘Fuck you, I will do what you tell me, but only after shouting at you for a while!’),” writes Peter Scholtes for the Minnesota Independent.
Images by Julie Hanus.
For more of Utne.com’s coverage of the Republican National Convention, click here.
Wednesday, September 03, 2008 3:57 PM
Monday, September 01, 2008 5:30 PM
The anarchists trying to stop the RNC are organized. Many, though, still don’t know what to do. They’ve got maps, code words, and a system of text messages that tries to coordinate blockades and gives updates on arrest numbers. Many of the activists seem to know sign language, and have a coded system of communication set up. Some wear the black masks and makeup, but others are wearing preppy, non-descript clothing chosen to throw off the police and blend in. One young woman I talked to said that today was “the first time I’ve brushed my hair in years.”
The blockades, however, seem to happen at random, sometimes at inopportune times. I saw one group block an empty delegate bus, stopping a group of anti-McCain, Ron Paul delegates in the process. The most successful action that I witnessed was a young man in a black mask who slashed the tires on a Fox News truck and then escaped safely into a crowd.
Tear gas has been used and arrests have been made. A video of a protester roadblock can be seen below:
For more of Utne.com's ongoing coverage of the Republican National Convention, click
Wednesday, August 27, 2008 11:56 AM
It isn’t surprising that activists and protesters are speaking out against “the police state” in the streets of Denver. No matter what was going to happen this week at the DNC, there would have been someone out there condemning the actions of the police.
There is real cause for concern, though. Beyond the questionable constitutional legality of the protest zones in the first place, which keep protesters out of view of their intended targets, police working the DNC have so far been involved in several dubious incidents well documented by independent media outlets such as Democracy Now!, the American News Project, and Colorado Indymedia. The Rocky Mountain News also has a provocative video that documented police reaction to a conservative Christian-led protest and counterprotesters.
Despite some self-declared right-wing bloggers who disagree with the protesters’ message and express outright glee at police actions, it should not matter whether you agree with what they have to say. Those who characterize anyone remotely progressive as “moonbats” often have complaints about how their own movement’s freedom of speech is suppressed. If they are as concerned as they appear to be about their own First Amendment rights, shouldn’t they also be concerned about the First Amendment rights of all citizens, including their far-left counterparts?
It’s one thing to disagree with a message, and it’s another to champion the suppression of that message. I mean, come on, there are reports of no badge identification displayed by some of the arresting officers? Police forcing even those who stood on the sidewalks, and not the city streets—many of whom were not protesting—to remain surrounded by police in riot gear for two hours? And throwing down and hitting a Code Pink protester with a baton when she asked an officer why he made an arrest?
These aren't things anyone should champion, no matter their political allegiance.
zenobia_joy, licensed under
For more of Utne.com’s ongoing coverage of the Democratic National Convention, click here.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008 10:53 AM
If skanky porta-potties, mud wallows, and $5 bottled water weren’t enough of a deterrent to attending many music festivals, there’s always the possibility that the local sheriff is setting up a “drug checkpoint” on the road to the fest, shifting your focus from My Morning Jacket to My Arrest for Marijuana Possession. Phillip S. Smith writes in Drug War Chronicle about the many techniques that cops use to snare unsuspecting music fans, and what festivalgoers should know about their rights.
The tips range from common sense to counterintuitive. Some highlights:
--Don’t smoke pot in your car, and don’t have any paraphernalia in view.
--Don’t ever consent to a police search of your car. It’s your right to refuse. “It might be couched in terms of a command, but it is a request,” Steven Silverman of the civil liberties group Flex Your Rights tells Smith. Be polite but assertive, the experts advise.
--Drug checkpoints per se are unconstitutional, but some law enforcers skirt or defy the law. They’ll call it a “safety check,” or put up a “Drug Checkpoint Ahead” sign, “then watch who turns off the highway at the next ramp or who throws something out his car window,” says Silverman. “Then they pull them over for littering or failure to signal a lane change or something.” Don’t fall for this trap to “lure the freaked out,” Smith writes.
Monday, February 11, 2008 3:16 PM
You may not have heard of the most popular, and perhaps most violent, Brazilian film of all time. Tropa de Elite, which came out last year in Brazil and is now in limited release in the United States, follows Captain Nascimento of BOPE, an elite military police battalion, as he prepares Rio de Janeiro for an upcoming visit from the pope. This involves the gruesome torture and murder of countless Rio residents, suspected drug dealers, and crooked cops. The film has been widely criticized for its depiction of brutality against civilians and its seeming advocacy of vigilante violence.
In an article for In These Times, Homes Wilson examines the film and the political undertones of its stunning popularity. The problem with Tropa, Wilson believes, is that the consequences of its gratuitous violence are ambiguous. Whether it is interpreted as destructively immoral, as director José Padilha intended, or as a necessary evil in Brazil’s war on drugs completely depends on the viewer’s point of reference. “If the filmmakers had purposely set out to weave Rio violence into a fascist propaganda piece,” Wilson writes, “it’s impossible to imagine them doing a better job.”
Recalling a police barbecue he attended after watching Tropa, Wilson describes the cops’ excitement about the film by comparing it to geeks’ love of Star Wars, leaving us to wonder what a Tropa de Elite convention might look like. If Brazilian police view the film’s vigilante violence against civilians, some of them children, as glorious rather than cautionary, then Brazil may be moving in a frightening direction indeed.
Tuesday, January 08, 2008 2:39 PM
New York City police officers are the latest group to be caught up in America’s scandalous national pastime: steroid investigations. The probe, spearheaded by the Brooklyn D.A.’s office, stems from the sketchy diagnosis of dozens of young officers and civilian NYPD employees with hypogonadism—a condition that causes low testosterone, typically in men over 60—according to a recent article in the Village Voice. The common treatment for hypogonadism is steroids, which have been prescribed to at least 39 NYPD officers and employees, according to the Village Voice’s in-depth look at the sordid story, which broke in October. The investigation doesn’t just target cops. Alleged involvement includes a Brooklyn mom and pop pharmacy-turned-drug-lab, exclusive Beverly Hills anti-aging clinics, and even the Gambino crime family. Although the ultimate target of the investigation will most likely be distributors of the steroids, buff cops suffering from ’roid rage should earn a top spot on the NYPD’s list of concerns.
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