One Dead Man Carries Another: The Death Toll of the Venezuelan Protests
He was standing on a street corner when they shot him in the head. Four people, maybe five, carried him around looking for an ambulance, a car, a motorcycle. The body was slippery; they had to take turns. They lifted him by his arms and legs, with that puzzled solidarity that comes when you’re helping the wounded in riots. One was applying pressure on the wound with a piece of cloth, trying to stop the bleeding. They walked like that for a couple of blocks without finding anyone who could help them. Finally they ran into a policeman who, after hearing one of the young men cry for help, agreed to make a trip to a nearby hospital in the center of Caracas, Venezuela.
Bassil Da Costa, the wounded man, and Roberto Redman, who helped carry him, met each other that evening, February 12, during a Youth´s Day march organized by students and the Venezuelan opposition. Both De Costa and Redman are now dead, some of the first casualties of the violence that began after a crackdown on the march. A week later, chaos still reigns on the streets.
Roberto Redman (in the black hat) helps carry Bassil Da Costa’s body.
Da Costa, a 23-year-old carpenter, had never participated in a protest before; he lived in Guatire, a suburb of Caracas, and only marched because his cousins were going. Redman, a 31-year-old pilot, attended all the demonstrations he could, and lived in Chacao, the middle-class neighborhood in Caracas where most of the recent protests against the government have taken place. Redman wrote in his Twitter biography that he was a guarimbero, a term officials use to describe protesters. At 6:25 PM, Redman tweeted, “Today I was hit in the back with a rock, hit in the nose with a helmet, breathed tear gas, and carried the kid who died, and what did you do?” A few hours later he was dead—like Da Costa, of a shot in the head.
Hotels in Kiev Are Being Used as Makeshift Morgues As the Death Toll Rises
Last night, protesters and police made an uneasy truce in Kiev, but this morning the ceasefire was well and truly broken as blood was shed once more in the streets of the Ukrainian capital. The death toll keeps rising. The Kyiv Post is reporting that at least 37 people have been killed—mainly from police gunshots. Yesterday, the country’s Lviv region declared independence from the central government after protesters seized the prosecutor’s office and the police surrendered.
President Yanukovych is today meeting with EU foreign ministers, and the EU will discuss the possibility of imposing sanctions. Yet it looks like Russia will prop up the Ukrainian economy by buying £1.2 billion in government bonds. Obama didn’t think much of this, attacking Putin for Russia’s role in the crisis and claiming to be “on the side of the people.”
VICE UK’s news editor, Henry Langston, is on the streets of Kiev. He called us this morning to give us an update on the situation.
VICE: Hi, Henry. Things sound pretty horrible out there. What can you tell me?
Henry: I’ve already seen several bodies, which have definitely been hit by gunshots. One guy was wearing a Kevlar vest but without the armour plate; there was a huge hole in it with blood surrounding it. They draped the bodies in a Ukrainian flag. They were young men, possibly in their mid 20s. Earlier, some protesters were shot when they were charging towards some police vans.
Can you tell me how the truce broke down? I thought Yanukovych and the opposition leaders were trying to bring some stability to the situation.
At about 8 AM, the protesters re-took the parts of Independence Square that police had withdrawn from as part of the truce. In retaliation to that, the police opened fire. I have been shown rounds from handguns. There are lots of worried people; these people cannot fight against AK-47s. They have shields and clubs. We haven’t seen any guns on the protesting side. That said, there are reports that outside of Kiev a large number of weapons were seized by protesters who stormed government buildings.
We Need to Stop Trusting the Police
Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guiltyon one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.
That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests
One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.
Property seized in drug raids can help fund police operations, but now that marijuana is legal in Washington and Colorado there are going to be fewer drug raids, which means fewer seizures, which means less money for the cops. Good.
The Chicago Man Accusing Police of Raping Him with a Gun
Angel Perez’s story about how he was treated at the hands of Chicago police officers sounds like a horror story from the days when crooked cop Jon Burge tortured the city’s citizens with impunity. But the incidents in question happened just 15 months ago—and, Angel claims, the officers who abused him are still out there.
In October 2012, the 32-year-old aspiring documentary film producer says, he was beaten and sodomized with a gun by Chicago police officers until he agreed to be a drug informant. His story received some media attention when a Courthouse News write-up appeared last year after Angel filed a federal lawsuit against his abusers, but VICE is the first outlet he’s spoken to publicly about the incident.
“I can’t have this happen to someone else if I can stop it,” Angel told me, opening up about his experience against the advice of his lawyers, who’d prefer him to only do his talking in court. He has a decent chance of procuring a settlement, but told me, “Money is not justice… I want these guys to be off the job, charged for what they did, and given jail time.”
2013: The Year in Bad Cops
Most Racist Police Department: New York City
The country’s biggest police force would be hard-pressed not to wind up with some very awkward incidents—when you have 34,000 officers, some of them are going to mess up. But a few bad apples can’t be blamed for the NYPD’s stop and frisk program or its CIA-style monitoring of Muslims. For all the cops’ spying on mosques, they produced no useful tips, and stop and frisk didn’t lead to many arrests either. Between January 2002 and June 2012, nearly 4.5 million New Yorkers were stopped on the street and searched for drugs or weapons, and nearly 90 percent weren’t doing anything illegal. The majority of these searches were performed on black or hispanic individuals, giving the whole thing a strong stink of prejudice. Though the policy’s supporters—including lame-duck Mayor Mike Bloomberg—claim this makes the city safer and that minorities aren’t singled out because of their skin color, civil liberties activists begged to differ and sued in 2010. In August, a federal judge ordered reforms and oversight to the officially racist policy, but two months later she was dismissed from the case for being biased against the city. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has pledged to reform the practice once he takes office in January, even if some cops oppose his efforts.
Most Kafkaesque Definition of “Assault”: New York City, Again
A Manhattan grand jury, faced with the case of officers who shot two bystanders during an effort to apprehend an unarmed mentally unstable man in October, have decided assault charges are warranted, which makes sense given that, well, two people were shot. Except they have declined to charge the officers who shot the women, instead blaming the unstable man who had been darting in between cars and causing a bit of a scene on the day in question. He forced the cops to pull out their weapons and fire, apparently, and also made them miss. (By the way, he was eventually brought down by a Taser.)