Everything Wrong with Police Has Been on Display in Ferguson
After Ferguson, Missouri police officer Darren Wilson fatally shot 18-year-old Michael Brown on August 9, the cops’ reaction provided a neat snapshot of just about every dangerous aspect of policing in modern America.
For starters, there’s the reliable archetype of the racist cop. Brown, though he allegedly stole cigarellos from a convenience store not long before he died, was not stopped over a theft report. The weak jaywalking excuse for a police stop adds a flavor of profiling which angers people further, and makes the racial element of the shooting more pronounced. In Ferguson, the numbers suggest that black individuals are targeted for police stops more than whites. A few of their cops also once beat a 52-year-old man, then charged him for damaging their uniforms with his blood. Brown himself may have been a dumbass teenager who committed a petty crime, but now he can never grow up to be better than that.
The police showed up like an army, thereby antagonizing the mostly peaceful crowds, both before and after looting began on August 10. This reaction, where store owners often got screwed by the mob but the peaceful, pissed off folks got their First Amendment rights violated, underlined another major problem with the police: Aren’t they violating Posse Comitatus by now? Men in SWAT gear that resembles paramilitary garb may bust down the doors of various suspected drug criminals at night, but that mostly goes without video evidence (when there are exceptions to that,people tend to be shocked, even when it’s a normal drug raid). Seeing a roadblock that belonged in the Middle East during a weekday afternoon in Missouri was jarring to people just starting to grasp its new normalcy.
Yet another strike against the Ferguson Police was their incredible opacity after one of their own killed. They initiated a curfew, and then took six days to release the name of Wilson. They did everything they could to block media attention. On Sunday night, a SWAT officer screamed “Turn off that light! Get down!” and then “Get the fuck out of here!” at a student who was broadcasting live radio. The officer, allegedly pointing a gun, also yelled what sounds like: “Get that light out of here, or you’re getting shot with this.” Some outlets—including Mediaite—thought the cop yelled “or you’re getting shot in the face.” Others say the cop might have been yelling “getting shelled with this” instead of “shot.” Regardless, it was bad.
This Week in Teens: Michael Brown Is Dead and Now We Know Who Killed Him
Have you read Nietzsche? Teens love the guy. I’m not super well versed in the German philosopher’s books, but I have read a few graphic tees with his picture on them, and from what I’ve picked up, the gist is that everything is inherently meaningless. So it goes with This Week in Teens, in which our only respite from the constant suffering around us is the comforting knowledge that life doesn’t have a purpose.
–America invented teenagers and apparently reserves the right to kill them, too. The biggest news this week—teen or otherwise—has been the killing of Michael Brown, an unarmed, black 18-year-old in Ferguson, Missouri. Police were quick to defend the act, while witnesses say that Brown didn’t do anything to provoke police, and was shot multiple times “until he just dropped down to the ground and his face just smacks the concrete.” Protests over the killing were countered by a militarized police force, complete with SWAT gear and armored vehicles. The incident has been covered from every angle: how Ferguson is America’s latest racial hotspot; how this represents a sort of Chekhov’s (military-grade machine) gun and the inevitable conclusion of post-9/11 defense spending; how eight unarmed teens are still at large; and how white people in suburban St. Louis don’t give a shit.
It took a bunch of protests for Ferguson police to name Darren Wilson as the officer who killed Michael Brown, which they finally did Friday morning. Police also released a report saying that Brown was a suspect in a “strong-arm robbery” of a box of Swisher Sweets cigars, and that Wilson was responding to the crime when Brown was killed. Whether Brown actually shoplifted is unknown at this point, not that it would in any way justify his death. All that’s clear is that we’re in a pretty terrible place right now, and there is no obvious path for things to get much better.
Reporting from Ferguson, the St. Louis Suburb That Has Become America’s Latest Racial Hotspot
Last night, I walked out of the Target in Ferguson, Missouri, to find my car behind police tape. Cops in riot gear were extending their security perimeter around West Florissant Avenue, where protests over the death of unarmed teenager Michael Brown turned into looting and riots Sunday night and clashes with police on Monday.
“You better hurry up and go get it,” a man in a group parked near me said. The cops let me retrieve my vehicle after a stern warning (complete with a rifle being waved around) to go left and not right when I reached the edge of the lot. Five minutes later I heard four tear gas canister volleys. Ten seconds after that a 20-something black man in a caravan of Ferguson residents came over.
“We going,” he said. “You coming?”
What followed was a raucous four-hour stretch marked by smoked out streets and rage. By midnight, West Florissant was littered with rocks, broken glass, spent tear gas canisters and pepper balls. As we approached the police line from the north, cops were flying everywhere and people were honking and and screaming. After hearing the canisters fly, people were angry enough to run stoplights, ignore cop cars and speed across town to make it to ground zero and figure out what was happening.
Brown, as you may have heard, was killed Saturday by a St. Louis County police officer. One protestor told me his death was the “spark that lit the fire,” one that’s been long smoldering in this St. Louis suburb, where relations between residents and police aren’t so hot. The details surrounding the 18-year-old’s death have been the subject of much contention, but whether Brown was shot between seven and ten times, as his cousin Sabrina Webb and many others claimed Monday, or whether it was less than that doesn’t really matter here. Nor does the fact that police maintain Brown struggled with the as-of-yet unnamed officer. What is gnawing at emotions and bubbling up at protests where many chanted “black power” Monday is the fact that Brown was unarmed and was apparently approached by the officer for jaywalking.
"They thought he was somebody else," Webb told me after pleading through a bullhorn that protestors not resort to the looting that resulted in damage to several businesses Sunday night. "It was racial profiling."
Cry-Baby of the Week
It’s time, once again, to marvel at some idiots who don’t know how to handle the world:
Cry-Baby #1: Julius Lopowitz
The incident: A man was given a speeding ticket.
The appropriate response: Paying it. Or contesting it if you don’t think you deserve it.
The actual response: He dialed 911 and reported a fake murder in progress in the hopes of distracting the issuing officer.
Earlier this week, a West Melbourne, Florida man named Julius Lopowitz was pulled over for speeding.
As the officer who pulled him over was writing his ticket, 911 dispatchers received a call to report a possible murder in progress.
"There is a murder that’s going to happen, I swear," the caller said. "On Wingate and Hollywood. Definitely someone going to get shot. Please, please, Wingate and Hollywood. Please."
He then hung up the phone.
As every available officer was being dispatched to the intersection of Wingate and Hollywood, the man called back.
This time he said, “I swear, there’s going to be a murder any second. There’s a man and a gun. Please.”
When he hung up this time, 911 dispatchers looked in their records for the caller’s name. As he’d called 911 before, they had his name on record. The name was Julius Lopowitz.
The dispatcher said Julius’ name over the police radio, and the officer who’d pulled Jules over recognized it as the name he was writing on a speeding ticket.
“It almost worked,” Police Lt. Rich Cordeau told local news station WBTV. “The officer was trying to wrap up quickly to respond.”
Police believe that Julius made the fake calls when the officer’s back was turned to write the ticket.
Julius is now facing a felony charge that carries a five-year maximum prison term. Which is quite a bit worse than a $200 speeding ticket, so fuck knows what he’ll pull to try and get out of that one.
Meet Cry-Baby #2 and vote!
In a recent article, VICE News speculated that the Department of Justice’s initiative Operation Choke Point may be putting pressure on banks like Chase to terminate the accounts of several high-profile porn performers, including Teagan Presley, Stoya, and Chanel Preston. On Twitter many other porn performers claimed that their accounts were being closed, and that they had been offered little explanation beyond being labeled “high risk.” An insider at Wells Fargo responded, “We encourage these industry workers to come to us,” according to TMZ. By the time Mother Jones was pushing back with a “Chase representative” claiming that Choke Point was notsingling out people in the porn industry, I was exasperated.
By and large, these articles failed to mention the fact that sex workers like myself are shut out of institutions every single day. Whorephobia, the fear and hatred of sex workers, is one of the very first things every single sex worker learns how to navigate.
Whether the work we do is criminalized or legal, all sex workers are subject to judgment. This judgment usually stems from sexist double standards, transmisogyny, and a general moral panic about sexuality. Ironically, we are often punished as we attempt to assimilate into “legitimate” society.
After clients pay us in cash, many of us declare the payment, filing taxes as freelance entertainers. Some strip clubs give us W-9 forms, and some porn companies send us 1099s. If we are shut out of banks, we must go to check cashing middlemen who charge exorbitant fees. We can’t book plane tickets or sign leases, putting that money back into the economy.
Meet the British Grandfather Who Taught Brazil’s Riot Police How to Fight
The Brazilian police don’t have the best reputation when it comes to dealing with their public. Mostly because their way of doing so seems to involve a lot of firing tear gas and rubber bullets at peaceful protesters. Understandably, that’s not an image Brazil’s government is keen to maintain; hyper-violent police are pretty embarrassing, especially when the world’s media is watching. So ahead of the World Cup—which Brazilian protesters weren’t best pleased about—they decided to do something about it.
Steve Costello, a 72-year-old grandfather of 11 from Bolton, has been teaching karate in Brazil for 20 years. In the mid-1990s he was recruited to teach police non-violent suppression techniques, presumably so they could deal with threats without adding to theiralready massive civilian death toll. Ahead of the World Cup he was asked to give Sao Paulo’s riot police a few lessons in his brand of karate. I gave him a call to see how that went.
VICE: Hi Steve. So how did you get into training Brazilian riot police karate?
Steve Costello: It first started in 1996. I was the first English instructor to do a karate course in Curitiba, a city on the coast. I was teaching kids, but the chief of the riot police was present. He asked me to do a training session with the police forces, and after that I got invited over to Brazil on several occasions to train with the Command Operations Elite, the mounted police, firemen and the state cavalry troops. There were also a lot of training sessions organized with the military police in Curitiba and other cities. They even invited the riot police over from São Paolo to Curitiba to join the sessions.
What was it they wanted to learn?
I taught them the technique of Ryūkyū karate, which basically employs the use of pressure points, grabs and restraints when fighting against an armed opponent. It’s more about controlling and defusing a situation efficiently with minimum injuries on both sides, rather than turning to the use of lethal weapons.
Is that so different to what they usually do?
Ryūkyū karate is a combat style, but it’s based on street survival. The police commanders who saw my training liked the fact that it’s less violent than other techniques. You give your opponent bruises, but you don’t seriously hurt them. During the year leading up to the World Cup I even taught the cavalry techniques of how to survive in close combat, in case they have to fight on the ground. When I was growing up in Manchester as a young boy I naturally got into fights with the Teddy Boys and the skinheads, which taught me to be street wise.
Did you use any weapons during the training?
Yes. The police used a certain type of baton to defend themselves against knives—small pieces of wood that can be extended with a telescopic button.
Meet the Pier Kids: The Homeless LGBT Youth of New York City
If you’re gay in New York City, you’ve probably been to Christopher Street in the West Village to get drunk or visit the historic-landmark-turned-gay-tourist-trap known as the Stonewall Inn. Chances are that you’ve also seen what director Elegance Bratton calls the “pier kids”—the homeless LGBT youth who congregate at the Christopher Street Pier, looking for everything from food to drugs to potential johns. According to statistics from the National Coalition for the Homeless, 20 percent of homeless youth are gay or transgender (roughly 320,000 to 400,000 young people according to one conservative estimate).
Filmmaker Elegance Bratton was one of these kids for ten years. To teach his family about his experience, he has spent three years filming the lives of three homeless kids—Krystal, DeSean, and Casper—for a documentary called Pier Kids: The Life. Recently, I went to the pier to sit down and talk to Krystal, one the film’s stars, about the movie, the Christopher Street Pier, and being homeless in New York City.
VICE: How did you end up homeless in New York?
Krystal: It was a choice between going back to Las Vegas or staying in Philadelphia. I went to my brother’s house in Philadelphia after being kicked out of the house at 16 by my mother. After I had spent six months there—he had a family, and I didn’t want to impose my lifestyle on his kids—I just went out on my own after that. After two or three years, I came to New York City and found the pier.
Once you arrived in New York, how did you discover the pier and Christopher Street?
I had heard about some of the history about the riots, but I never really knew what the street was. But when I got here, I went to the food stamp office, and they gave me a pamphlet that told me that there was an LGBT community center that had programs. Some of the kids there said they were going to the pier after some of the support groups, so I went with them. It gave me a sense of being back on the west coast, with the water and people just hanging out, playing Spades and talking to friends, just finding some sense of normalcy in a situation that wasn’t normal.
Cry-Baby of the Week: This Family Started a Mini Riot Because They Weren’t Allowed to Bring Knives Into an Amusement Park
This week: A woman kidnapped her daughter to stop her from being vaccinated, and a family started a mini riot because they weren’t allowed to take knives into an amusement park.
Incident #1: A family was told they were not allowed to bring knives into an amusement park.
The appropriate response: Nothing. Why on earth would you be allowed to bring a knife into an amusement park?
The actual response: They attacked two cops and started a mini riot.
On Monday, five members of the Perry family attempted to visit Canobie Lake Amusement Park in Salem, New Hampshire.
At least two members of the family had hunting knives attached to their belts as they tried to enter the park. Predictably, a member of staff told them they were not allowed to take the knives into the park, and would have to leave them in their car.
This didn’t sit too well with the family, who reportedly became “belligerent” and launched a “swear-filled tirade” against the staff member.
Two police officers who were already at the park tried to intervene. After giving several verbal warnings to the family, an officer told a male member of the family that he was under arrest and attempted to handcuff him.
As he placed the cuffs on the man, the rest of the family attacked, jumping on the officers’ backs, punching them, kicking them, and attempting to grab their weapons. Both officers were injured. One had to be treated for a dislocated shoulder.
The Dangers of Calling the Police on the Mentally Ill
After any mass killing comes the wave of stories that ask why no one saw the tragedy coming. Those who knew Elliot Rodger—who killed six people on May 23 in Santa Barbara, California—were likely aware he was disturbed. The 22-year-old had been under psychiatric care since the age of eight, according to the New York Times; Rodger suffered from anxiety, depression, and likely high-functioning autism, and he became progressively more and more isolated as he went through adolescence.
From what I’ve read, his parents tried to help him as best they could: His mother even called the cops when she found his distressing YouTube videos. On April 30, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies questioned Rodger—who managed to talk them out of searching his apartment—but they apparently never actually watched the videos before deciding he wasn’t a threat to anyone else, nor did they check the relevant databases to see if he was a gun owner. It’s easy to criticize the authorities for not divining that this reclusive loner was more violent than other reclusive loners, or to tut-tut at Rodger’s parents for not persuading the police to respond more aggressively, but doing so ignores the serious consequences of calling the cops on a mentally ill relative, and how limited law enforcement’s responses are.
On May 28, the Washington Post published an article on Bill and Tricia Lammers, who in 2012 turned in their 20-year-old mentally ill son Blaec for planning to shoot up a Walmart. Was it a good decision? Sure—except Blaec is now serving a 15-year prison sentence, and it’s not as if his psychiatric problems will have been healed when he gets out. That just underscores the inflexibility of the criminal justice system: All the cops can do, in cases like that of the Lammers, is charge someone for a crime, which in many cases means they’ll spend a long time behind bars.
Around a quarter of people in the US suffer from some type of mental illness, and about 6 percent are dealing with a serious disorder. If a disturbed person’s family thinks he is planning to do something horrific, it can be very difficult to convince medical professionals to help him against his will. That means that the cops are summoned to deal with situations where a psychiatric expert is needed “The mental-health system is totally broken,” Bill Lammers told the Post. “Calling the police is the only option.”
Deploying the cops against anyone in your family is not a decision to be taken lightly. Any time the authorities intervene there’s a chance of someone getting seriously injured or killed, but cops and the mentally ill are a particularly deadly combination. Police in Fullerton, California, famously beat and killed Kelly Thomas, a homeless man with schizophrenia, in 2011; this March officers in Albuquerque, New Mexico, shot a mentally ill homeless man in the back. And it’s not just wandering indigents who are killed this way. In too many incidents to list here, mentally illindividuals have ended SWAT standoffs by provoking cops into shooting them. By some estimates, half of of the 500-some victims of police shootings in America each year suffer from mental illness. Shootings like the one that Elliot Rodger perpetrated in California are relatively rare compared to incidents that end with a police bullet in the body of a mentally ill person—shouldn’t we be talking about policies that solve the latter problem as well as the former?