A School in Ontario Staged a Fake Massacre for a Police Training Exercise
Journalism students at Sheridan College, near Toronto, were ordered to take down video and photos (which you can see in the gallery above) of a mock school shooting that have ruffled some feathers with the school’s faculty and administration.
On November 25, the college hosted a training exercise for the Halton Regional Police Department. Students from the school’s musical theatre program acted as if they had been shot dead, complete with fake wounds and blood.
The scenario took place with two shooters played by plainclothes cops. About 100 students and staff participated in the event, with 15 playing dead and a further 10 playing wounded.
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Colombian Trade Unionists Keep Getting Assassinated
On the afternoon of Sunday, August 25, Huber Ballesteros was snatched by police and arrested as he ate his lunch in the Colombian capital of Bogota. Two days later he was charged with “rebellion” and “financing terrorism” at the Attorney General’s office, and denied bail. At the moment, he’s languishing in Colombia’s notoriously squalid prison, La Picota, without a trial date.
Ballesteros is one of Colombia’s most prominent social justice activists and a key personality in the country’s newest grassroots peacebuilding movement, the Patriotic March. Two weeks prior to his arrest he had helped organize nationwide strikes against the appropriation of rural peasants’ land by multinational corporations, but the Attorney General has strenuously denied the two had anything to do with each other.
Ballesteros is currently housed in a maximum-security wing, which means he’s cut off from daylight. He’s supposed to share his cell with just three other men, but if new prisoners turn up they just get packed in, with many ending up sleeping on the floor. Food rations are also dwindling—not that it makes a great deal of difference to Huber; he’s diabetic and the prison won’t cater to his diet. And the constant, pervasive smell of rotting meat does little to stimulate appetites, anyway.
East Germany’s Secret Police Used to Spy on Skateboarders
For whatever reason the public perception of skateboarding seems to have changed over the last decade. Skaters on TV aren’t obnoxious, glue-huffing wasters any more; they’re admirable young men building community skateparks on Google ads. But the sport, or the culture that goes hand-in-hand with the sport, at least, did used to be seen as more of a threat to all things wholesome.
One country where this held especially true was communist East Germany in the 1980s—also known as the German Democratic Republic, or GDR—before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Skateboarding was American, therefore subversive and dangerous, so the Stasi began monitoring the skating community to keep tabs on any potential troublemakers or ringleaders. The perceived danger quickly made its way into the state media. A news clip from the time instructs viewers that it is “our duty to protect our children and youths from [skateboarding],” meaning skaters were demonized and left to smuggle Californian-made boards over the border if they wanted to skate anything more advanced than a plank of wood attached to some rollerskate wheels.
German filmmaker Marten Persiel made a “hybrid documentary” about the history of skating in the GDR called This Ain’t California, which was released last year in Germany and gets its international cinematic release next month. The film was criticized on its release for its liberal use of reconstructions and the fact its lead character never actually existed, but Marten told me, “all the things that happen in the film are true stories.” He simply amalgamated them to create a lead character who he could hang the narrative from. And in a “hybrid documentary,” that doesn’t seem like too big of a deal.
I spoke to Marten about his film, skateboard smuggling, and hugely successful punk bands made up entirely of secret service agents.
What Happens After Police Shoot Innocent Bystanders?
On Wednesday, a judge ordered the city of Torrance, California, to release the name of the police officer who shot at surfer David Perdue during the February manhunt for former LAPD cop Christopher Dorner, who at the time was out to murder as many of his ex-colleagues as he could. At the time the officer came after Perdue, Dorner had already shot two sheriff’s deputies, killing one, and gunned down the daughter of a LAPD officer and her boyfriend.
Fearful that Dorner might go after a local LA police official next, Torrance cops pulled over Perdue on February 7, asked him a few questions, then let him drive away. A few seconds later a second cop car rammed his truck, and an unnamed officer fired three shots, all of which (thankfully) missed. Perdue’s attorney also alleges that he was dragged from his vehicle afterwards. Dorner, by the way, was black and Perdue is white.
Perdue wasn’t the only victim of the police and their sudden inability to see color during this manhunt. A pair of newspaper carriers—47-year-old Margie Carranza and her 71-year-old mother, Emma Hernandez—were fired on by LAPD officers that same day because their pickup truck apparently looked like vaguely like Dorner’s. That incident provoked a backlash against the LAPD after Hernandez was hit in the back twice and her daughter suffered a hand injury. In fact, Torrance police said they were responding to the report of these mistaken shots when they fired on Perdue. The mother and daughter received a combined $4.2 million from the LAPD for their troubles, while Perdue has refused to settle with the city for the $500,000 they offered him.
We Interviewed the Russian Activist Who Nailed His Balls to Moscow’s Red Square
Every year, Russia honours its police force with a day-long commemoration called Police Day. This year, celebrations for the imaginatively named event fell on Sunday, November 10, and the public paid tribute to law enforcement by watching Vladimir Putin cry in public and Petr Pavlenskynail his testicles to the ground in Red Square.
Petr is a political artist who’s known for painful performance art—previously, he wrapped himself in barbed wire to protest his country’s “repressive legal system” and sewed his mouth shut as a show of support for Pussy Riot. This time, his self-mutilation was in service of decrying “Russia’s descent into a police state.” I called him up to chat about that.
VICE: You nailed your balls to the ground in Red Square the other day. Can you tell me a little more about that?
Petr Pavlensky: It’s not the power that keeps people by the balls, it’s the people who keep themselves restricted. Pretty soon everyone’s going to be in jail, but it won’t matter to anybody anymore because by then, the country will have transformed into a state prison regime.
You’re an artist, right? How much does that cross over into your activism?
I am an artist who does political art. Activism is important to me as a life principle—it’s the effect of primary and secondary reasoning and theorizing; no argument is without action. However, political art and activism are not the same thing. Activism is the struggle and shakeup of society; political art is aimed at the destruction and exposure of the apparatus of power. Under certain circumstances, it is a catalyst to the political process.
Which of those do you focus on?
I’m focused on political art.
Wait a Second Before Cheering a Police Shooting
When police officers in Washington, DC, shot 34-year-old Miriam Carey after she took them on a short, frantic car chase from the White House to the Capitol, the initial consensus was that cops performed heroically, that they saved lives from a gunman who might even have been a terrorist. But the first reports, as is often the case, were wrong. Though the spontaneous hustle for news of Twitter first used the hashtag #capitolshooting, the only shots fired were by the police, and Carey was unarmed—in fact, she never left her car. But even after all of that was public knowledge, the widespread assumption was that the cops and secret service officers were justified in shooting at a woman who was recklessly and aggressively driving toward potential targets for terrorism and who refused to surrender to them.
On Thursday afternoon Carey, a resident of Stamford, Connecticut, drove up to a security barrier around the White House. When the Secret Service approached she turned around quickly, hitting the barrier and then speeding towards the Capitol building. In the course of this chase, two police officers were injured and a cop car crashed into a barrier. When the dust settled, Carey was dead and her now-motherless one-year-old child, in the back seat of the car, was put into protective custody by DC family services.
Now Carey’s two sisters—one of whom is a former New York City cop—are criticizing the cops, claiming they didn’t have to use lethal force on a woman who was probably terrified. There are certainly indications that, in hindsight, Carey was more of a danger to herself than anyone else. She may have suffered from postpartum depression with psychosis—there are reports that medications for bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, which she may have stopped taking, were found in her apartment. Carey apparently expressed various paranoid theories to police in December, including her belief that Barack Obama was spying on her. (Carey’s sisters dispute her ex-boyfriend’s claim that she suffered from delusions about communicating with Obama.)
The Cops Should Always Be on Camera
For the past 12 months, police officers in Rialto, California, have been wearing cameras while on duty as part of a pilot program. It’s expensive to mount a camera on every uniformed cop, but the idea is that by recording all the interactions between officers and civilians and suspects, cops will behave better and complaints against the department will be quickly resolved—if someone makes a claim about being mistreated, it can be easily proved or disproved by a look at the tape. The experiment seems to be going well, and starting September 1, all 66 uniformed officers in Rialto will wear them. Complaints against the department have gone down 88 percent over the course of the year-long study while the use of force by officers declined by more than half, implying that cameras really do benefit both police and civilians. Indeed, a New York Daily News article highlighted the case of Rialto cop Randy Peterson, who was cleared of an excessive-force allegation lodged against him by a mentally disturbed man thanks to his body camera.
Stop Tasering Us, Police Bros
Early in the morning of August 6, Miami Beach police fired a Taser burst into the chest of Israel Hernandez, an 18-year-old artist and skater who was running from a half-dozen cops after they saw him spray-painting a boarded-up, abandoned McDonald’s. Shortly after Hernandez was taken into custody, he went into cardiac arrest and subsequently died in the hospital, a casualty of the cops’ decision to shock him with a stun gun. It turned out that the officer responsible for the Tasering, Jorge Mercaco, has a history of being accused of using excessive force—the Miami New Times reported on Thursday that he once arrested of a woman who did nothing more than ask him for directions, and in 2008 Mercado and another officer beat and Tasered an Iraq war veteran and his friend. (None of these accusations led to the officer being disciplined.)
Mercado remains on administrative leave, which is typical when a suspect dies after a police action. An autopsy of Hernandez is pending, along with three different investigations by the local DA, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, and the Miami Beach police department’s internal affairs division. The cops, naturally, are defending Mercado’s choice to use the weapon on Hernandez. It remains to be seen whether the police officially misused their Tasers, since Hernandez supposedly refused to obey their commands and was arguably a potential threat—the cops claim the teenager ran at them when they cornered him, and police chief Ray Martinez told the Miami Herald, “The officers were forced to use the Taser to avoid a physical incident.” But is it policy to aggressively chase a kid for graffiting an abandoned building? And should it be?
Tasers aren’t a bad invention, and even help save lives in situations where cops would otherwise be firing real guns—but they’re also too often a crutch for law enforcement. Instead of being wielded by brave officers who use them to avoid killing dangerous lawbreakers, Tasers are often used by mean or lazy cops to neutralize such non-threats as streakers, pregnant women who are pissed about parking tickets, disorderly ten-year-olds, the mentally disabled, and lost autistic children.
End the War on Baby Deer
Two weeks ago, a 13-person armed raid consisting of nine Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource (DNR) agents and four sheriff’s deputies served a search warrant on an animal shelter in order to seize and exterminate a contraband baby deer named Giggles. The abandoned fawn had been brought by a concerned family to the St. Francis Society shelter in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and stayed for about two weeks (the plan was to take Giggles to a wildlife reserve, a move that would have happened the day after the raid). But housing wildlife is illegal in Wisconsin due to concerns over diseases, and soon enough two anonymous busybodies called in a tip about the deer. The authorities reacted to the threat by immediately mobilizing (they even used aerial photos to track and confirm the existence of Giggles) and came to the shelter looking “like a SWAT team,” according to a shelter employee.
The law itself may seem cruel to Bambi fans, or coldly sensible to those worried about people keeping potentially disease-carrying wild animals as pets, but the issue isn’t the law so much as the bizarre method of enforcement—instead of taking Giggles to a reserve, the DNR sedated her, put her in a “body bag” and took her elsewhere to be killed.
Local news station WISN interviewed Jennifer Niemeyer, a supervisor for the DNR, who dismissed the idea that the cops should have talked to the shelter before they used force, comparing it to warning drug dealers before a raid. “They don’t call [drug offenders] and ask them to voluntarily surrender their marijuana or whatever drug that they have before they show up,” she said. No, they don’t. But they might start considering it.
Though SWAT-like tactics are most often used in narcotics cases, aggressive police raids (which don’t always involve SWAT teams) are now used more and more frequently for nonviolent lawbreaking. Examples range from FDA feeling the need to go guns-out while fighting the scourge of raw milk, to SWAT teamsostensibly checking liquor licenses at bars and strip clubs before searching employees and patrons for drugs, to a raid targeting Gibson Guitars after the company bought wood that wasn’t finished properly before being exported from India, to IRS agents training with assault rifles. Law enforcement agencies of all stripes can’t seem to get their heads around the notion that while their jobs might sometimes involve using guns and battering rams just like TV cops, they don’t always need to use force. For instance, they could try knocking politely on a door or making a phone call before they raid an animal shelter and kill a baby deer.
Now on to the rest of this week’s bad cops…
Mississippi Police Want to Arrest the Satanists Who Turned the Founder of the Westboro Baptist Church’s Dead Mom Gay
Just over a week ago the Satanic Temple, unwavering disciples of the Prince of Darkness and aspiring adopt-a-highway participants, performed a Pink Mass over the grave of Catherine Idalette Johnston, the mother of Westboro Baptist Church founder Fred Phelps Jr. Westboro has yet to officially comment on the eternal gaying of its leader’s dead mom, but the owner of the cemetery where the ceremony was performed has filed charges with the local police department. The captain of the Meridian PD, Dean Harper, told local news station WTOK-TV on Monday that they were “in the process of constructing affidavits” and “will have [the satanists] arrested as soon as [they] can.” He added, “It is an unusual crime that we haven’t come across—to my knowledge—in a while.” Lol.
Harper told the Huffington Post today that the original charges of tresspasing, malicious mischief, and indecent exposure (thanks to Lucien teabagging Catherine Johnston’s grave, which can be seen here) have been dropped because “the judge refused to sign a warrant on them.” In the end, Lucien has been charged with desecration of a grave.