The Battle for the Heart of Istanbul Rages On
Early on Saturday night, the protest village of tents and flags that had been set up in Istanbul’s Gezi Park was razed, and its inhabitants emphatically tear-gassed and cleared, at the behest of Turkey’s combative Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In response, anti-government protesters (mostly, but not exclusively, made up from Turkey’s young urban middle class) took to the country’s streets all weekend, building barricades and clashing with riot police, with crowds of several thousands blocking major highways and bridges in an effort to join them.
On Sunday—after a morning of tear-gassing in Istanbul, Ankara and other major cities—Erdogan delivered a set-piece speech to a huge pro-government rally on the outskirts of Istanbul. Designed to be a show of national unity under his Justice and Development Party (AKP), his speech was defiant and paranoid. He derided protesters as “marginal” and blamed the international press—CNN and BBC, in particular—for being “provocateurs.”
I wanted to be someone other than the humorless mother who had drug-tested him since he got caught with marijuana in eighth grade. After missing the signs of his pot smoking, and those of my former husband’s cocaine addiction years ago, my vow never to be duped again… The Facebook invitations stated in capital letters, “No drugs, no alcohol.” I hired security guards to search bags and patrol the grounds. I posted “no smoking” signs and photos comparing pink, healthy lungs with blackened, petrified lungs. I placed a few car-crash pictures on tables to highlight the fallacy of invincibility… Then, two uniformed police officers rang my doorbell. Within seconds, teenagers started streaming out the side gate. One officer led me by the arm into the empty backyard while the other opened the pool-house door. A cloud of marijuana smoke billowed out and kids, like cockroaches… Why? Because I got this party started… c) I will never, ever, host another party for teenagers again.
(Source: The New York Times)
3500 Cops Who Want to Legalize All Drugs
“Just so we’re clear,” began Peter Christ during our first phone conversation, “if you look in Webster’s Dictionary at the word hypocrite, you will see a picture of me. I believed that this drug war was a stupid fucking idea even before I became a cop.”
For 20 years Officer Christ patrolled the town of Tonawanda, New York, a community of 80,000 just outside of Buffalo. Retiring from the force in 1989 as a Captain, he founded Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, an organization of 3,500 former officers working towards the legalization of all drugs. I flew into Buffalo to join Peter for a drive around his old precinct and a discussion of drug policy. It was immediately clear which of the many idling cars in front of the arrivals hall was his. The license plate simply read: CHRIST.
We greeted one another and shook hands. “How did you beat all the Christians in the state of New York for that one?” I asked, pointing back towards the vanity plate.
The youthful 66 year old, with his ponytail and gold earring turned up his hands and grinned. “I was a cop,” he offered puckishly.
“OK, fair enough. Let’s talk about drugs.”
“My favorite topic.”
Peter drove as we talked.
“As an officer, what was your experience with the drug war?” I asked.
“I’ll tell you,” Peter began with a voice like a disc jockey - every word played for maximum effect. “By the time I was on the job four years, it became very evident to me that no matter how vigorously I or my brother and sister officers worked, it didn’t make any difference. We would have a series of burglaries or rapes in our community, somebody would arrest the burglar or the rapist, and for a while we wouldn’t have any more of those crimes. But no matter how many drug arrests we made, it didn’t make any difference. Because those people weren’t victims, they were willing participants in an economic transfer. It’s called business.”
“So, what’s your rationale for legalization?”
“Let me ask you, Roc,” he began, pausing dramatically “do you believe we can win the war on drugs?”
I took a breath.
He raised his hand. “Now, before you answer, let’s define what victory means. Nixon never told us what victory would look like when he declared this war, but it’s a war after all and we know how wars end - they end when you defeat the enemy. We won the Second World War. That means that we don’t fight the Germans or the Japanese or the Italians every six months, right? So, I’m gonna say, if we win the war on drugs, we’ve taken the words marijuana and heroin out of the dictionary. The drugs are gone. Let’s move on. Do you believe that is possible?”
The War on Weed: Racist, Expensive, and Failed
For years, anti-drug-war advocates have been saying, over and over again, that arresting people for possessing controlled substances overcrowds prisons, wastes resources, and destroys communities. Yet little has changed at the federal level. In fact, during Obama’s first three years as president, the arrest rate for marijuana possession was about 5 percent higher than the average rate under George W. Bush. At a certain point, you have to stop being subtle, which might be why the American Civil Liberties Union’s new study on the “war on marijuana” doesn’t fuck around: “Billions of Dollars Wasted on Racially Biased Arrests,” it announces in big, unambiguous letters right at the top.
The report—touted as the first comprehensive look at statistics on marijuana-related arrests in all 50 states—finds that enforcement of pot prohibition has been an even costlier and more racially charged nightmare than originally suspected. The data shows that over 8 million marijuana-related arrests were made between 2001 and 2010, costing taxpayers billions of dollars every year and branding many black youths as criminals, though they smoke pot at rates equal to their white peers. Indeed, the study finds that blacks are nearly four times as likely as whites to face arrest for pot-related offenses (and eight times as likely in some states, like Iowa).
Turkey Is Waging an Invisible War on Its Dissidents
Above: A wall of Greek riot police. (Photo by Henry Langston)
For the past week, we’ve been watching scenes of mayhem unfold in the streets of Istanbul, Ankara and other major Turkish cities. What started as a local initiative to stop a central Istanbul park being turned into a shopping center became a civilian street war against the rising authoritarianism of Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan’s government.
As if to cement everything the protesters were already angry about, Erdoğan sent police in to quite literallycrack skulls and fire tear gas and pepper spray at the mostly peaceful crowd. But alongside the highly visible violence, an invisible war is taking place on those from Turkey who dare to stand up and speak out against the government.
The story starts not in Turkey, but in downtown Athens, from where Turkish asylum seeker Bulut Yayladisappeared last Thursday. According to eyewitnesses, at around 9:30 PM Yayla was immobilized, beaten, and pushed into a car on Solomou Street in the neighborhood of Exarcheia. When support groups and lawyers looked up the car’s registration plate, the owner turned out to be none other than a member of the Greek police.
Shockingly, the Greek police force itself denies any knowledge of the incident. Yayla, a political activist who has been arrested and tortured in Turkey in the past, has been trying to apply for political refugee asylum in Greece for some time now. But given Greece’s famous bureaucracy, it probably won’t surprise you that Yayla hasn’t had much luck.
When he resurfaced after his kidnapping, Yayla was no longer in Athens, he was in Istanbul, being held by the Turkish counter-terrorism police. Since then, he has informed Greek support groups of what happened after his abduction. With a hood over his head, he was passed between three different groups of people, crossed the border to Turkey (under what he said felt like a wire fence in the middle of the night) and eventually found himself in Istanbul.
Occupiers Faced Down Cops in Istanbul’s Taksim Square
On the night of May 27, bulldozers and backhoes rolled into Gezi Park, a tiny island of trees and grass at the center of Taksim Square in Istanbul, Turkey, and started ripping it apart. This was part of a government project to “pedestrianize” the historic square—what that meant in this case, according to many blogs, was turning one of the last open green spaces in the city into a shopping mall. No community organizations or local people were asked what they thought about the plans for the park devised by the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which included rebuilding a historical barracks that was demolished in the 1940s and adding sidewalks to make the square more friendly to pedestrians.
Four days later, after nonviolent protesters occupied the park and survived attacks by the police that included tear gas and water cannons, they’ve won at least a temporary victory thanks to a court decision. In fact, Instanbul’s mayor, Kadir Topbaş, just announced that there was never any plan to build a mall. It’s an amazing eleventh-hour turnaround, but it didn’t happen without a battle.
Protesters began gathering in the park as early as Monday, May 27, and word spread through social media as more pro-park, anti-government Turks showed up to sit in front of the bulldozers. By Wednesday, the police were involved, and they responded to the nonviolent protests with aggressive tactics—what really got everyone’s attention was a photo from Reuters showing a young, apparently peaceful environmentalist in a red dress getting pepper-sprayed by a gas-masked cop. That image became a symbol of the “occupation” of Gezi Park, as well as the cops’ terrorization of the protesters.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of the AKP wasn’t interested in starting a dialogue with the occupation and gave a speech on Wednesday that made it clear that a decision on the park’s fate had already been made. By then, many protesters had set up camp at the park and were sleeping in their tents. At dawn on Thursday, May 30, the police entered the park, firing tear gas and burning tents. The bulldozers were stopped, however, when opposition politicians Sırrı Sureyya Önder and Gülseren Onanç stood in front of them and demanded to see proper permits.
Even with the police using pepper spray as if it were bug repellent, the occupation continued, and even grew. On Thursday, photos of protesters reading to the police spread around the internet, and those who are involved in the occupation say they are committed to nonviolence.
Who Protects New Yorkers from the NYPD?
Nicholas Heyward is a haunted man. He is one of many New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to the police. Nineteen years ago, Heyward’s son was playing with a toy gun in the stairwell of a Boerum Hill housing project in Brooklyn, New York, when he was fatally shot by an NYPD officer. Nicholas Jr. was 13 years old when he was killed.
“I heard Nick say, ‘We’re playing,’ and then I heard a boom,” Katrell Fowler, a friend of Nick Jr.’s told the New York Times shortly after the incident. Yet blame was placed on the boy’s toy rifle, instead of officer Brian George, who fired his very real revolver into the child’s abdomen.
The tragedy Heyward suffered has turned him into an activist. These days he spends much of his time calling for the Justice Department to review cases of alleged abuse committed by the NYPD, including that of his son’s. Heyward claims he had a deposition taken by his attorney in which officer George contradicts reasons cited by Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes—currently up for reelection and the subject of a new reality show on CBS—for closing the case.
“Hynes said the stairwell was dimly lit, it was not. Hynes said George was responding to a 911 call, he was not.” Heyward has written several letters to Hynes over the years, he said, without receiving a response. In 2001, he was granted a meeting with the Brooklyn DA, after confronting him at a press conference. Heyward pleaded his case in Hynes’s office but nothing came of it. The DA’s office declined to comment on Heyward’s allegations when I called them yesterday, saying that since the case is more than ten years old, the office did not have the case’s file on hand. But for Heyward, the the pain of the slaying of his 13-year-old boy are still very fresh.
“I want the officer who murdered my son to go to jail,” he said to me, dressed all in black and holding a school-portrait photograph of his son over his heart at a protest last Friday in front of the Federal Court building in Manhattan’s Foley Square to demand the Justice Department appoint an independent prosecutor to scrutinize the death of his son and those of other’s killed by the NYPD.
Heyward is not alone in his suspicion of foul play in Hynes executions of justice. The DA has recently come under great scrutiny for spending years refusing to review convictions that he and his predecessor obtained through working with a homicide detective of such dubious repute. Last week, the Hynes office was forced to reopen 50 cases in which NYPD Detective Louis Scarcella was involved, after the Times uncovered that he obtained false confessions, lied, and relied on testimony from a single, crack-addicted prostitute to obtain a number of convictions. While families of those convicted through Scarlla’s police plan to start bird-dogging Hynes, others, like Heyward, have vowed to win justice for those they will never see again.
Cops’ Military Tools Aren’t Just for Catching Terrorists
above: A SWAT tank parked in the Boston Commons on April 16, 2013. Photo via Flickr user Vjeran Pavic
On April 19, a million Bostonians stayed locked down in their homes while 9,000 cops combed the metro area for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving suspect in the marathon bombing. In Watertown, cops went door-to-door and removed homeowners at gunpoint before searching their houses. Tsarnaev was found in that town around 8 PM by the owner of the boat sitting in his backyard that the 19-year-old suspected terrorist had chosen as his hiding place.
The lockdown was something new. Not serial killers, not cop-killing cop Christopher Dorner’s LA rampage, not even 9/11 shut down a city like this. Still, Bostonians seemed fine with staying inside for the most part. Cops found their guy relatively quickly, and the city partied in the streets afterwards. During the manhunt, a tough-looking officer even brought two gallons of milk to a family with young children, serving as a perfect meme to refute any accusations of jackbooted thuggery. Even some normally anti-police libertarians urged restraint in reacting to the manhunt.
What shouldn’t go unmentioned, however, is that while the circumstances were unique, the military muscle displayed by law enforcement is hardly reserved for responding to rare acts of terrorism. Videos from the lockdown—particularly this piece of paranoia-porn, in which a SWAT team orders a family out of their home at gunpoint and one of the officers screams “get away from the window!” at the videographer—either look frightening or grimly necessary, according to your views. But haven’t we seen displays like this before?
‘No Condom as Evidence’ Legislation Up for Debate in Albany
It’s the first Thursday of the month, and as per tradition, a cadre of affable, semirowdy hos have filled every seat in the Lower East Side’s Happy Ending Lounge.
Shivering from the residual cold, the crowd—pretty, riot grrrl types in Daria bangs and Doc Martens—lets out a collective giggle as Fiona Apple’s “Criminal” floats through the loudspeakers. “Tonight, we’re playing ho anthems,” the host explains, drowning out Fiona’s molasses admission that she’s been a bad, baaad girl.
The evening’s theme is “Pretty Woman Redux,” part of a monthly storytelling series from the sex-workers’ rights group, the Red Umbrella Project. For two hours, a handful of New York’s most articulate “hos” (as they endearingly call themselves), share intimate, industry tales.
As in past sessions, donations from the event will benefit a cause vital to every sex worker in the city: banning the New York Police Department’s well-documented practice of using condom possession as evidence of prostitution.
It’s a battle health rights advocates have fought for years. In every legislative session since 1999, proponents of a “No Condoms as Evidence” bill have asked state lawmakers to squelch the practice, citing evidence that it’s forced sex workers to stop carrying and using condoms all together. In every session, the bill has died on the committee floor.
In recent months, however, efforts to engage lawmakers have accelerated, thanks to studies released in 2012 by the Pros Network and Human Rights Watch—two Manhattan-based organizations that say the policy has led to a serious public-health crisis.
In the Human Rights study, among a slew of other anecdotes, a sex worker named Anastasia L., claims she had unprotected sex “many times” to avoid the risk of arrest.
Sex Offenders in Florida Now Have Warning Signs Outside Their Homes
Last week, 18 sex offenders in Bradford County, Florida, found large red signs outside their homes that read, “a convicted sexual predator… lives at this location.” The Bradford County Police Department installed the signs.
I spoke with Brad Smith, the department’s Chief of Operations (pictured above left, looking least smug), to see what this new method of community notification was all about.
VICE: What’s with the signs, Brad?
Captain Brad Smith: Florida statutes say that we must notify the public of any sex offenders in our jurisdiction. We already do that with Facebook and by going out into the area to notify people when the person first moves in, but we realized there was a possible issue with continued notification. For instance, if somebody moves in after we’ve gone around notifying people, then they’re not aware that there’s a predator there. We’re just trying to do everything we can to make the public aware. And, in a certain sense, it protects the predator from having people, especially children, approaching their residence without being duly notified.
OK… So it’s just sexual predators with child victims? Or is it all sexual predators?
It could be somebody who raped an adult or a child. In the state of Florida being a “sex offender” and a “sexual predator” are different things. A “sexual predator” is somebody who’s been convicted of a first-degree felony that’s sexual in nature or multiple second-degree felonies that are sexual in nature.
Right. Any plans to extend this to other crimes? Like murderers or serial scam-artists or whatever?
Only if the Florida statutes said that we had to. At this point in time, the only statute that’s directing the sheriff to do anything is with sexual predators.