Monday, June 27, 2016

Summing up Obama: Ta-Nehisi Coates on the Prez and much more

I have to admit I was gobsmacked when I encountered this in a Playboy interview with the Atlantic author. (Side note: who knew there were still Playboy interviews? Didn't the internet kill that mag? Shows what I know.)

In my circles, expressing qualified approval for the President is rare; it feels as if progressive credibility requires disavowing the promise of hope that Obama's election embodied in 2008. Thinking well of Obama is for suckers. Coates is not towing that line, in either the black or white version.

Bomani Jones tossed questions at Coates:

How would you describe the eight years of Obama’s presidency?
I think he did a tremendous job, and I say that with all my criticism of how he talks about black folks and how he talks to black folks. I say that with all my criticism of the morality or the lack of morality in terms of drone warfare. You’re not voting for a civil rights leader; you’re voting for a president of the United States within the boundaries of what presidents do. And within the boundaries of what presidents do, he’s easily the greatest president in my lifetime.

I don’t think people understand what he had to navigate. It’s a hard job already. You’ve got people on TV—and this is just the small end of it—on the internet, everywhere, sending out pictures of you and your wife looking like apes. You’ve got officials in the opposing party e-mailing pictures of watermelon patches in front of the White House. You have an opposition party where somewhere on the order of 50 or 60 percent don’t think you are legally president. You’re giving the State of the Union address and some white dude from South Carolina stands up and yells, “You lie.” Just open, blatant disrespect. You say the most sensible things in the world and people lose their mind, almost scuttling your top agenda in terms of legislation.

You’ve got to be a certain motherfucker to be able to manage all that in your head. Their leading presidential candidate right now is the person who claimed our president was born somewhere else and asked to see his grades. You’re dealing with a party where racism is a significant undercurrent. I mean, whew.

Were you surprised by the level of obstruction?
I was surprised by how much his very presence drew out the racism in the country. I didn’t know these folks were basically going to double down. There’s stuff we don’t even remember. In the 2012 Republican primary, Newt Gingrich just comes out and calls this dude a food-stamp president. I mean, just says it. This is a respectable figure in American politics right now. Five years from now, people will be looking back on this presidency and talking about how great the times were. Ten years from now, Republicans will be talking about how whoever is the Democratic nominee at that point is not like Obama and how magisterial Obama was.

Twenty-five, 30 years from now, they’re going to put his face on the money, if we still have money. And 50 years from now—it might not even take that long—he will be considered one of the greatest presidents in American history.

I agree; we're going to miss Obama and we are beginning to feel it. While we've got him, let's criticize, but also appreciate.
Coates just won the National Book Award for Between the World and Me. Though I'd been reading his blog and articles in the Atlantic for years, I didn't rush to acquire the book. I listened to some author interviews and this seemed like a book not written for an old white woman. It's a letter to his black son about their black bodies in the world. While any author wants to be read, I felt this was mostly written for men and secondarily for black people of all genders. Reading it would be eavesdropping on somebody else's conversation.

But a cheap used copy came to hand and I picked it up. I'm not going to try to describe the book. It's a short, approachable, meditative soliloquy on Coates' unfolding black male life. Toni Morrison calls the writing "visceral, eloquent, and beautifully redemptive." The book consists of Coates striving, in public, for the benefit of a son he adores, to speak truthfully. The result can seem harsh, but Coates believes that truth requires such rigor.

Here's a snippet about what he learned about survival growing up in a broken Baltimore neighborhood in the crack era.

There was also wisdom in those streets. I think now of the old rule that should a boy be set upon in someone else's chancy hood, his friends must stand with him, and they all must take their beating together. I now know that within this edict lay the key to all living.

None of us were promised to end the fight on our feet, fists raised to the sky. We could not control our enemies' number, strength, nor weaponry. Sometimes you just caught a bad one. But whether you fought or ran, you did it together, because that was in our control. ...

In the Playboy interview, Coates responds to the notion that he is "pessimistic." In the book, he simply tries to tell the truth as he understands it about the condition of black Americans:

It is truly horrible to understand yourself as the essential below of your country. It breaks too much what we would like to think about ourselves, our lives, the world we move through and the people who surround us. The struggle to understand is our only advantage over this madness. ... The struggle is really all I have for you [his son Samori] because it is the only portion of this world under your control.

I am sorry I cannot make it okay. I am sorry that I cannot save you -- but not that sorry. Part of me thinks that your very vulnerability brings you closer to the meaning of life, just as for others, the quest to believe themselves white divides them from it. ... When their own vulnerability becomes real ... they are shocked in a way that those of us where were born and bred to understand cause and effect can never be. And I would not have you live like them.

You have been cast into a race in which the wind is always in your face and hounds are always at your heels. And in varying degrees this is true of all life. The difference is that you do not have the privilege of living in ignorance of this essential fact. ...

Coates is at pains to distance himself from any of the available spiritual traditions to which many around him have recourse. But he bravely confronts the Sisyphus-like reality that he believes is his. And no, it's not just pretentious. The guy is too down home for that.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Cross currents

San Francisco pols led by Mayor Ed Lee make a quick exit when booed off the stage at the Trans March. Photo from Mission Local which has the full story.
Some disturbed character (self-hater, terrorist, nutcase, frustrated male, who knows?) massacres 49 queers in an Orlando dance bar -- I guess it might be a good year to show up for the community at the San Francisco Gay Pride parade.

But the parade is just a corporate extravaganza, an opportunity for Google, Facebook, Apple et al. to showcase "liberalism" while they continue to overwhelm the city in all its quirky diversity.

But the parade theme this year is "For Racial And Economic Justice" -- the committee did something right for once.

But in the name of security, police and FBI are surrounding the events with metal detectors and snipers on roofs.

And Black Lives Matter Bay Area, St. James Infirmary, and TGI Justice Project have pulled out of the festivities -- those cops kill poor people of color, after all.

But the Soul of Pride contingent organized by folks from Justice for Mario Woods is calling for all the anti-police violence campaigners from Justice for Alex Nieto, Justice for Amilcar Perez Lopez, Justice for Luis Gongora Pat, and Justice for Jessica Williams to come along to inject the stories of these murdered San Franciscans into the parade ...

What's an old dyke to do?

I have probably worked 15 Gay Pride parades in my time: selling books, collecting signatures on political petitions, distributing propaganda, shouting out for Chelsea Manning ...

I think I'll give the big annual festival a rest this year. The cross currents are too many.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Saturday scenes and scenery: on the trails

Since I'm running voluminous miles in preparation for the Long Run for the Long Haul, I'm often out when the sun is just rising and the fog has not yet lifted.

I'm not sure what these flowers are, but they line paths everywhere this month. These are on Old Pedro Road on the side of Montara Mountain.

These are on Hawk Hill in Marin Headlands. It is a rugged spot.

Eucalyptus trees are ghostly at first light.

Please support the young people of Californians for Justice as they work with student leaders to win better schools. There's a box in the top right hand corner with a direct link.

Friday, June 24, 2016

For the record: "Sudden in-custody death syndrome" and the SFPD

On this Thursday a Baltimore judge ruled that police officer Caesar R. Goodson Jr. was not guilty of killing Freddie Gray by giving the prisoner a "rough ride" in a police van. I can't say I'm surprised; police historically have been pretty much immune from repercussions from what the San Francisco Chronicle once labeled "sudden in-custody death syndrome." This doesn't mean we can settle for the fact that when (some) people are held by law enforcement, they just end up dead and no one is found responsible.

In the mid-1990s, the San Francisco Police Department delivered at least two prominent instances of this horror story, both involving big Black men and officers who loved their pepper spray.
  • Aaron Williams was a burglary suspect who got the full treatment from SFPD officers who picked him up in June 1995: he was hogtied, kicked, and sprayed at least twice in the face when placed in a police van. He died before reaching the station.
  • Mark Garcia was a recovering crack addict who went on a bender in April 1996, wandering half clothed and disturbed on Cesar Chavez Street. Cops tackled, hogtied and pepper sprayed him; he died of a massive heart attack in the back of a paddy wagon on the way to General Hospital.
What happened next is oh-so representative of what tends to happen after SFPD outrages.

According to a long story in the San Francisco Weekly the Police Commission set up an investigating commission; the cops stonewalled.

After almost a year of work on the issue, the task force recommended no changes in the procedure officers follow when confronting suspects like Mark Garcia and Aaron Williams, suspects who often die in police custody. ...

"There is no way an officer can determine who is susceptible to in-custody death and who isn't," says Deputy Chief Richard Holder, who headed the task force. "Pepper spray will continue to be used."

The use of force debate has since moved on to whether choke holds and shooting at cars is compatible with "minimal force".

In the Garcia case, seven officers were charged with "procedure violations." (One was recently fired Chief Greg Suhr who had command responsibility for the others.) The Police Commission refused to hold a public hearing and threw the hot potato to then-Chief Fred Lau who ruled that none of his officers had done anything wrong. The Garcia family sued for "wrongful death" but a judge tossed the case. After several more rounds of administrative haggling, the Office of Citizen Complaints and the Police Commission agreed in 1999 that officers involved in Garcia's death would suffer no more than 10-day suspensions.

Human Rights Watch summarized revelations in the aftermath of Aaron Williams' death:

Police acknowledged that department policy was violated by using spray twice (others say many more times) on Williams, and that officers did not monitor Williams's breathing as required. ...

Three of the officers involved in the Williams case had been named in previous civil suits for using excessive force, and two of the cases had been settled out of court. One of the accused officers, Marc Andaya, reportedly had been the subject of more than thirty complaints while previously with the Oakland police force, with his supervisor urging desk duty for Andaya because of his "cowboy" behavior. It is not clear why the San Francisco police department hired Andaya in light of the complaints against him while he worked in Oakland.

In October 1996, witnesses testified at Andaya's hearing before the Police Commission, with some stating that Andaya kicked Williams in the neck and head as others held him down. Officers claimed that Williams grabbed pepper spray from one of the officers. Andaya was accused of neglect of duty and using excessive force, but the Police Commission deadlocked on the charges (two for, two against, with one police commissioner absent), which was in effect an exoneration. The two commissioners who voted in favor of Andaya were criticized by the city's mayor and subsequently resigned. Andaya was subsequently fired by a newly constituted Police Commission for lying on his 1994 application to the department. Williams's family has filed two separate lawsuits against the city.

The story of the community campaign that led to Andaya's firing is preserved here. Short synopsis: when all other avenues closed, they realized they had to pin accountability on the mayor who could then be expected to cover himself by taking action against the worst police offenders. Contemporary campaigners might benefit from reading this analysis.

San Franciscans are struggling these days to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 40 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over. Calls for reform seem to achieve little. I plan to write an occasional post "for the record" recalling some of these incidents.

Friday cat blogging

Morty considered exploring the great outdoors, but quickly thought better of it. I encouraged his retreat.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Teacher lessons

What I decided while reading Dana Goldstein's The Teacher Wars: A History of America's Most Embattled Profession is that perhaps it should be a qualification for high political office to have attended some of our public schools.

That would let me out -- also Trump and perhaps the Prez, though he did go to public kindergarten. HRC, on the other hand, enjoyed a good specimen of the middle class white public education available to the post-World War II generation. (I'm not making an endorsement, just noting a fact.) Perhaps people with power would be a little less mesmerized by the sort of cyclical educational fads that have long washed over public schools if they'd experienced this non-system themselves.

Goldstein chronicles it all: how missionary zeal in the 19th century led to recruitment of unmarried women into teaching -- and locked them into low status and low pay when states realized they were much cheaper than men. How teachers unions have swung back and forth between adopting ruthlessly practical political alliances of convenience with conservative forces or becoming advocates for racial and economic equity, to the point of being called, and sometimes being, "communists".

Having arrived in New York City amid the racial backlash that flared when Black nationalist parents, activists and teachers confronted a largely white labor organization concerned to protect teachers' hard won job protections, I appreciated her narrative of the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict of 1968. Right wingers will read this and note the prominence of a meddling Ford Foundation in that community insurrection; many of us will note that racial segregation and unequal schooling are perhaps even more prevalent today as they were then. See Nicole Hannah-Jones on "Choosing a school for my daughter in a segregated city" published just last week.

Another poorly grounded recurrent enthusiasm has gripped public education repeatedly: the idea that somewhere, somehow, there must be people who, if drawn into the teaching profession, would solve all problems. First there were middle class young women shipped to the 19th century west to "civilize" the pioneers. In the middle of the 20th century there was the Teacher Corps, a sort of domestic analogue of the Peace Corps. Lately there has been the controversial Teach for America program out of which came Michelle Rhee who thought she could fire her way to teacher excellence when heading the Washington DC schools -- and ran into a community that supported its teachers. There are no miracles when it comes to bringing and keeping talented teachers into the profession, Goldstein writes:

Underperforming teachers were not hiding some sort of amazing skill set they failed to use either because they were too lazy or were disgruntled about low pay.

Teaching is hard, most people who take up the job realize they can't do it after a year or so, schools are repeatedly "reformed" from various directions -- and some teachers and schools even succeed in enabling students to learn something. They have an easier time doing that in direct proportion to the economic and cultural security of the parents and communities the children come from.

There are no miracles to be achieved by generating massive data sets through over-frequent testing of students either, though that hope also springs up periodically.

Goldstein's book did a terrific job of providing a historical frame within which I can think about education controversies as they fly by. I'm pretty sure that, whatever the schools need, it is not going to come from bystanders like me who never experienced them. It seems clear the schools need more money and an authentic societal commitment to educating all children, not any quick-fix gimmick. But let the people who work in them and the parents whose kids attend them work this out; they don't need foundations, billionaires, entrepreneurs, politicians and con artists. Better public education is hard work. And essential.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

So many displaced people ...

From The Soufan Group, a summary of a United Nations report:

• A United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) report released on June 20 showed the highest ever documented number of refugees: 65.3 million people

• The number includes refugees who have fled their home countries, internally displaced persons forced from their homes, and those claiming asylum

• One out of every 113 people on Earth have been forced their homes; such statistics fail to quantify the scope of tragedy and instability stemming from the crisis

• Only 201,400 refugees returned to their home countries in 2015—a highly discouraging sign.

... While the scale of the crisis is global, only a handful of countries are driving the exodus. More than half of the refugees in 2015 came from Syria, Somalia, and Afghanistan. Likewise, the burden of caring for these unprecedented numbers of refugees is concentrated; Turkey, Pakistan, and Lebanon bear most of the burden. Pakistan and Lebanon have dealt with massive numbers of refugees for decades, while Turkey’s experience is more recent and stems from the Syrian civil war. Per capita, Lebanon houses the most refugees by far: 183 refugees per 1,000 residents. The scale of the refugee crisis in Europe is enormous and destabilizing, but it pales in comparison to the endless crisis in the Middle East and parts of Africa.

The British journalist Henry Porter recounted an anecdote to emphasize that it's not only war that has forced people to move.

Walking down a food line on the Greek island of Lesbos during the winter, I was astounded to find young men from Sub-Saharan Africa and as far in the east as Bangladesh. Among them were two agricultural workers from Iran, which struck me as odd because I hadn’t associated their country with the sort of crises that explained the presence of the others in the line.

But once you know about Iran’s climate, it isn’t so surprising. There have been only three years in the last 25 when the country did not record a decline in rainfall. The shortfall has usually been met by using groundwater, but this is drying up. Iran has used 70 percent of its supplies of groundwater in the last 50 years, which means it will have very little to fall back on over the next 20 years.

In the south east of the country, for example, a landscape that was once green with pistachio groves is rapidly becoming barren because the aquifers are running dry. About 15 percent of the pistachio groves in the area have died in the last ten years, and there is absolutely no hope of reversal in that trend.

Quite simply, the water has gone and rains will never replace it.

For once it is not about oil and empire -- this displacement is also about water and climate change.
Meanwhile, here in San Francisco, 58 people in the Mission lost their homes in a fire last weekend. There's almost no such thing as finding another place to live in the city. Mission Local has a page explaining how to help.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Might the Trump show reveal a truth about campaigning?

Maybe, just maybe, this is going to be the year when the mythology about campaign TV ads in major contests collapses. Political TV ads are mostly a scam to make consultants rich. Marketplace ran a good explanation of this last year:

... if you’re running for office, you tend to do what your consultants tell you to do. And consultants like TV. It’s safe. In many cases, it’s what they’ve always done. And then there’s the money.

“Consultants – they have an incentive to sell TV to their candidates,” said Adam Sheingate, who teaches political science at Johns Hopkins University.

Sheingate decided to look into why we’re still seeing so many campaign ads on TV. His conclusion: “It’s the most lucrative part of the business from the consultants’ perspective. It provides the greatest opportunity to make money.”

Here’s how it works, according to Sheingate. A political candidate hires a consultant. The consultant says, let’s blanket the airwaves. The candidate says, OK. The consultant places the ads with TV stations, and takes a commission – 10 to 15 percent of the cost of the ad. That adds up.

However these ads have remarkably little impact, especially when candidates like Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton already are known quantities to most people. Political scientist Lynn Vavreck lays out what researchers have learned:

A study estimated that most of the impact of an ad in a presidential election is gone within a day or two of its airing (I am one of the authors of this paper). In governor, congressional and Senate elections, the effects last a bit longer: three or four days. Fleeting effects on campaigns have been shown by various authors in the lab; in Canada; in the 2000 and 2004 general elections; in the 2006 midterm elections; in the 2012 general election; and in field experiments in a Texas governor’s primary in 2006 and a general election in 2014.

But she then goes on to argue that candidates can't skip the air wars because ... well because the minuscule effects that have been documented might add up by November. Well maybe ...

But is TV genuinely essential in big races? Vavreck points out that Trump actually was the subject of a lot of positive TV ads during the primary. But right now, he seems to be broke. Maybe he'll create the experiment that proves the TV is just waste in a presidential cycle with well known candidates.

Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is blanketing the battleground states in the conventional manner.

Every single 2016 presidential TV ad currently airing in a battleground state is either from Hillary Clinton's campaign or the Democratic outside groups supporting her.

The opposition, by contrast, hasn't spent a dime in these same battlegrounds - whether it's Donald Trump's campaign or Republican-leaning Super PACs

That's a real world test of the conventional wisdom if I ever saw one. Trump must be defeated. But if his campaign revealed that a candidate can bring out his base without the airwaves, citizens spared endless repetitions of nonsense would be grateful. Not that I can imagine that consultants would ever admit this.

Ads about candidates and on subjects about which voters know little may be both informative and effective; but much candidate spending is consultant-theft from gullible clients.

Monday, June 20, 2016


For this (or any) Yank, to comment on the Brexit referendum on continuing membership in the European Union that will happen in Britain on June 23 is foolish. It's too easy to slot the conflicting sides into our own political conflicts, even as there are kinships in the panic over immigration and persistent regional differences, missing the texture and complexity of British realities.

Yet the chance that Britain will try to sever itself from Europe is unsettling. In the 20th century, Europe was the font and exporter of global barbarism. (Yes, our own country is working on winning that title for the 21st century.) With exhaustion and the death of empires, Europe became a region of civilization. Its disaggregation can't be a good sign, can it?

Anthony Barnett is writing a book online at Open Democracy titled Blimey, it could be Brexit! which I have found enlightening. Here's how he describes his project:

And here are some nuggets, not in the order Barnett serves them up, that might be thought provoking for people in the States.

He names the signal failure of Britain's recent rulers; both Labor and Conservative governments have squandered the presumption that they rule in the best interests of the majority.

... Iraq irreparably holed the legitimacy of Britain’s current political caste below the waterline, not because they were mistaken, but because the people warned them they were mistaken. On a matter of war and peace – the highest calling of the state – the people were right and the Westminster political elite were wrong. The fundamental assumption on which rests the unwritten basic code of the UK’s operating system is that those who rule us will get it right. Or, if they get it wrong, as they did with appeasement most notably in 1938, they will provide the man and the judgment to correct their course. ...

With that loss of legitimacy, space has opened up for the strains implicit in an "unwritten constitution" within which whatever party rules in Parliament in Westminster can take the country wherever it chooses without much legal check.

... the referendum is a symptom of the unresolved constitutional agony caused by the failure to overcome Britain’s past.

... Here in Anglo-Britain we do not have a state that is answerable to us, the people. We have governments that can be ejected in elections and to that important if blunt extent are answerable. But the state that they run when elected is the most highly centralised of the western world and its powers are not defined or limited by a constitution that places sovereignty in the hands of the people.

Brits have relied on accreted, uncodified, snippets of law and liberty; the European project, meanwhile, is an attempt to define by diplomacy a written legal framework for many national states, accommodating differences but gradually eroding them.

... A multi-national entity like the United Kingdom [consisting of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland] whose constitution is uncodified is bound to be fundamentally threatened by membership of a larger, multi-national entity that is dedicated to codifying itself. If its membership continues, its constitution will eventually be dissolved by it. The British state’s conventions, informal procedures and lack of defined sovereignty cannot withstand being inside the consolidation of the EU’s processes.

... The European Union, soon to be ten times the size of the UK, by contrast, has a short history of changing its arrangements in as fast and purposive a way as it can, despite its now great size. These are two different constitutional projects. The term sounds odd applied to UK. But it's a mistake to see the British regime, however ancient and pre-democratic it may be, as somehow feudal. On the contrary it emerged from the first modern revolution of 1688, after a regicidal civil war, as a cross-class, capitalist formation committed to development, improvement and money-making, without which it could never have hosted the industrial revolution. Britain remains a purposive country, with an old constitution that seeks to encompass new energies.

This historic Britain, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, cannot preserve its inherited constitutional settlement and culture within the European Union. The two are incompatible. This will be so even if the European Union discards the experiment of the Euro and seeks to become, as the phrase goes, a United Europe of States rather than a United States of Europe, which it will be well advised to do.

Barnett faults "the left" for failing to break out of the apologetic frame within which Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has cast the referendum. Membership in Europe could be positively good not only for Britain's economic health, but even more for equality, diversity, and democracy.

By the left I mean an arc of those who oppose corporate power and its corruptions. It includes some who support Leave ... It stretches from Greens, Lib Dems and liberals (at least those who prefer democracy and liberty to the pure market place) the Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru [of Wales], through varieties of socialism, labourism and social democrats... Looked at from the conventional, received point of view this is a heteroclite hodgepodge. This is because the received point of view is in the pocket of the system’s vested interests.

... no third option [beyond to Remain reluctantly or to Leave out of reactionary impulses] has caught the public imagination or been given significant media coverage. The main reason for this is that in their hearts too the Labour party and Labour movement also distrust the EU and do not feel European. They too support Remain for instrumental reasons, as a source of rights and other workers gains they feel too feeble to secure through their own strengths. Jeremy Corbyn says he is "about seven to seven and a half" out of 10 for the EU. It is an honest answer and that distinguishes him from the Prime Minister. But as well as being the opposite of inspiring, in the last fortnight of a momentous campaign it exhibtis precisely a relationship of calculated balance of advantage that is anti-EU in spirit....

... in England voters are being asked to choose between two forms of anti-Europeanism. In effect the question on the ballot paper is asking, ‘How antagonistic are you to the EU, a little or a lot?’ It is not surprising that the referendum has revived anti-Europeanism and a desire to Brexit.

In the last week a young Labour member of Parliament was murdered by someone who is apparently a nativist crazy. Jo Cox did inspire through her work with refugees and for the poor. Brits are still shocked by political murder (are we?). Whether this horror jars the result in the referendum where polls show Leave ahead will be seen on Thursday. Barnett intends to finish his book after the vote is taken; whatever the result, the issues he raises won't go away.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

For the record: when the SFPD put Dolores Huerta in the hospital

Dolores Huerta had always been feisty. Alongside Cesar Chavez, she co-founded the movement that became the United Farm Workers union which fought for migrant agricultural workers in California through the 60s and 70s. The UFW was an incubator for Latino organizing in the Golden State, inspiring action far beyond the fields.

Huerta was no stranger to violence. Not only had workers been shot in the course of the UFW's strikes, but she was part of Robert F. Kennedy's party when he was murdered in 1968 in a Los Angeles hotel just hours after winning the California Democratic presidential primary.

In 1988 Huerta was a respected and significant figure in labor, Democratic, and activist politics when she joined a peaceful demonstration in Union Square outside a George H.W. Bush fundraiser. The crowd was noisy, but contained. But San Francisco police chose to charge, using their thrusting batons to fracture Huerta's ribs and rupturing her spleen.

Janice Leber was reporting for radio station KPFA that night and recounted her experiences.

The event was President George Bush's campaign swing through the Golden $tate, and many Bay Area groups were meeting and greeting him San Francisco-style, with nasty signs and slogans. A bunch of union loyalists were carrying "Dukakis for President" signs and chanting, "We Like Mike!" (One fellow started shouting, "We Like Jesse!" which earned him some dirty looks.) ACT-UP was there with their whistles and shouts of "Shame!" A corps of drummers kept up an incessant racket. Food Not Bombs served up wholesome food to all.

In short, it was a typical response to a visit by an incumbent Republican fat cat. [She interviewed Huerta.]

... Then, for some reason I still don't understand, the cops decided it was time to clear the sidewalk. Okay. No problem. 

Oh, except -- problem. There are people in front of me, officer. I'm trying to clear the sidewalk, really I am, but there are people in front of me. And still, more people were pushing against me. The crowd became so compacted I felt I could lift my feet off the ground and I would have remained upright. ...

Eventually I was scraping up against a concrete tree planter. I had nowhere to go, and was still being pushed. As I contemplated my skinned shins I felt a THUD, somebody's elbow HARD in my back. I thought, "Hey man, I know it's crowded but there's no reason to get physical!" I turned to tell the guy behind me just that when I saw that I had been poked hard not by an errant elbow, but by the business end of a billy club.

... The adrenaline rush was still going when I was back home watching the KRON Eleven O'Clock News. Those sneaky bastards. As the cops began their maneuver I had watched them systematically removing TV cameras from the sidewalk area before they began poking the crowd. But Channel 4's cameraman (bless you, dude) snuck back onto the sidewalk while the police were distracted with the crowd. And this one nasty cop got caught on video, doing a number on Dolores Huerta.

And as I watched the news that night, I watched myself. I saw me in my black jacket, with my goofy '88 perm, exactly right next to Dolores Huerta right before she was first struck. I watched myself leaping away in slow-motion as the club descended on her. A lump grew in my throat. That poke on my back …  that cop warmed up on me.

But I was too big, physically. Petite Dolores would be such a better target for one's rage.

Or could it be this guy knew who she was, knew what an effective political fighter she was…?

Regardless of that cop's motives, his actions were inhuman.

As it happens, I was about 10 feet behind Huerta that night and can confirm that the police charge was both unwarranted and seemed intended to injure. Most got away, but some became targets.

The San Francisco Chronicle reported that Mayor Art Agnos watched the police tapes of the event with Police Chief Frank Jordan:

Dolores Huerta, 58-year-old grandmother and union vice-president, was under sedation and in fair condition at San Francisco General Hospital after doctors removed her spleen and treated two fractured ribs. Family and union officials charged that police attacked Huerta during the demonstration....

"I will not tolerate anything that is not part of authorized crowd control tactics," said Agnos, who paid a bedside visit to Huerta, a longtime political ally and friend. After reviewing police tapes with Chief Jordan, Agnos said he identified Huerta in the crowd that was being moved from the front of the hotel to Geary Street. Agnos said he doubted that the 5-foot-2-inch Huerta who weighs 110 pounds, resisted police. "We could see she was being very cooperative, Agnos said, "We could even read her lips, saying 'I'm moving.'"

So what came of this? Huerta lost her spleen and recovered. The city paid her a judgment of $825,000. Agnos was a one term mayor; he was succeeded in office by the Police Chief, Frank Jordan. I have not been able to find a record of what happened to the officers who gave Huerta a beating. In reporting the settlement, the LA Times reported:

Since then, the police force has changed its rules regarding police discipline and crowd control methods.

The Huerta case prompted three internal police investigations, three criminal grand jury inquiries, three supervisors' hearings and three probes by the Office of Citizen Complaints, the city's civilian police watchdog group.

I have to wonder if the officers who beat Huerta retired with their pensions as so many rogue cops have, before and since.

Posts titled "For the record" will appear here occasionally as long as San Franciscans continue to have to struggle to rein in a police department which has killed five civilians in the last two years in circumstances in which officers' justifications for their use of force strain credulity. Alex Nieto, Amilcar Perez Lopez, Mario Woods, Luis Gongora Pat, and Jessica Williams are dead. No officer has been charged or (as far as we know) disciplined. In fact, since 2000, the SFPD has killed 42 civilians; no officers have been charged. A culture of impunity in the SFPD is not new; in the over 40 years I've lived in this city, new cases involving officers mistreating residents have recurred over and over.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Saturday scenes: San Francisco sidewalks speak

Walking San Francisco has taught me what a strong drive we feel to make our mark on our surroundings. The public sidewalks are prime targets of our itch to get our two cents on record, usually with paint or chalk. But occasionally the opportunity comes along to leave our messages in the concrete itself.

Some messages are upbeat.

Others are merely enduring irritants.

There's a question.

Once upon a time, union concrete finishers left their stamp.

Some leavings are personal ...

... others make a broader appeal.

Underneath our feet, some critters know when the only answer is a nap.
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