Tag Archives: police brutality

Why I want to protect First Fridays!

10 Aug

I have never been a regular attendee of Richmond’s First Fridays Art Walk. In fact, over the years I have been a major critic of the event and the concept of the event.

Richmond is by no means unique in having such an art walk. The tactic of using an art walk to push for the redevelopment or gentrification of an area (depending on your perspective) is not at a new concept. Richmond has had First Fridays for over a decade now. And while over that decade there have been major changes to the Jackson Ward/ Broad Street area, they have no occurred quite as  quickly as they might have were we not in an economic depression. I’m no expert, but the aspects of City Planning that I have studied and read about have lead me to take a position against Art Walks, Canal Walks, Convention Centers and other cookie cutter redevelopment schemes that fail to address the actual needs or wants of people living in a city.

Jackson Ward is a historically black working class neighborhood. The demographics of that neighborhood have been changing, particularly via VCU students moving in. First Fridays basically occurring in Jackson Ward was something I viewed as problematic- another major gentrifying move that had the potential to hurt that community and displace lower income people.

When I have gone to First Fridays in the past it was mostly to support friends who had art on display or who were performing. I even helped to organize some First Fridays events- like the Richmond Zine Fest at Gallery 5 in 2009. And what I saw was mostly white people.  And I saw a lot of white people who were more affluent. Which is definitely the type of crowd this sort of event is desinged to draw in.

I would acknowledge at this point that there have been organizers of First Fridays, Gallery owners and artists, who have all along worked to make this event inclusive and welcoming to pre-existing residents of Jackson Ward and the surrounding areas. I have just always been highly skeptical of their chances of success despite their good intentions.

So I mostly stopped going to First Fridays. I was not interested in participating in  a redevelopment strategy that seemingly reached out only to suburbanites and fearful west enders, adventuring into the heart of a city they really don’t understand. But then this year, we started to hear the rumblings of something else. I am a member of the non-hierarchical organization Richmond Copwatch. We listen to a digital scanner to hear what the Richmond Police are up to. This enables us to go out and observe and record the police, thereby helping to keep them accountable for their behavior. So through this and conversations with people we know who do attend First Fridays we began to hear that this year, the police were there in force, disrupting the crowd.

We heard that the police had maced the crowd a couple times, ridden their horses into the middle of crowds, and were trying to organize with Curated Culture (the non-profit that officially organizes First Fridays) to change the times of the event and potentially get rid of it altogether. We heard from many non-anarchists, respected community members about town, that the police were being very aggressive and that a lot of this aggressiveness seemed directed towards people of color. The media and others mostly spoke of the “youth”, but in this case the youth they meant was mostly youth of color.

Richmond Copwatch decided as a collective to go to the August First Fridays to observe and record the Richmond Police Department. I was still conflicted about how I felt about organizing to try and save something I have been avidly against in the past. For me, my motivations for going were mostly hearing from “youth” from my neighborhood (Southern Barton Heights on Northsiiiide) about the police presence. Regardless of the art, regardless of the suburbanites, I was interested in using Copwatch as a method to try and keep my friends and neighbors, as well as folks from neighboring communities like Gilpin Court a little bit safer from RPD.

We met at the Rite Aid parking lot for August First Fridays. Which was a bad idea, because of the whole private corporate property thing. But we met there, and then hung out in the parking lot waiting for one Copwatch member to go purchase some energy drinks from inside.  They came out and distributed the drinks to the caffeine fiends among us. We were just about to head out in smaller groups to patrol First Fridays for police, when lo and behold one came to us.  This RPO – Toney Waldorf- came speeding into the Rite Aid parking lot, parking at an angle, and got out of his car, basically yelling at me and my friend. He said something along the lines of “Hey you”. I asked if we were being detained (because if you are not being detained you do not have to talk to the police and can go on your merry way). He didn’t respond except to say he was not talking to me. He then crossed in front of me and unholstered his Tazer and held it about 2 feet from my friend’s face. Waldorf is a tall cop, and he positioned himself on a median above my friend, which made it so he would have been shooting my friend in the face had he fired his Tazer. That is the closest up I have ever seen a Tazer, and the fastest I have seen a Richmond  Cop freak out and pull a weapon. Tazers are less lethal weapons, just like if I shoot you in the foot with a .22 it is less lethal. They are still deadly and being shot with a Tazer can very easily end in death. Especially if someone has a heart problem, which my friend does.

Quickly other RPD arrived and kicked the rest of us (who were filming at this point) out of the parking lot. One of them, Stone, committed battery against me by shoving my arm while I was clearly backing out of the lot and not at all resisting. They eventually let my friend go, after we showed a commanding officer the picture of Waldorf with a Tazer in my friend’s face. He had no charges, had done nothing wrong, was simply wearing the same color shorts as a suspect in a call they had received.

So my first experience back with First Fridays is Toney Waldorf, Richmond Cop, freaking out, unholstering a weapon at an inappropriate time and in violation of protocol, and threatening to kill my friend.

As the night carried on, it became quite clear that First Fridays had changed. I liked it better. There were kids from my neighborhood, and overall a lot of people of color seemed to be enjoying a public space. I am a huge proponent of public spaces and our ability to use them. It is the lack of public spaces in lower income neighborhoods that can make community development and organization more difficult. Downtown was packed, loud, and seemed to be full of people enjoying themselves.  These were not the people who might be likely to eat at some of the few new fancy restaurants on Broad Street, but they were people socializing in an area that could certainly benefit from development of community. Continue reading

In Memory of People Murdered By The State

28 Jun

New Mural on the Wingnut Anarchist Collective.

May 20th: Junior Alexander Manon

20 May

On May 5th in Toronto, Canada, an 18 year old ran from the cops. The punishment he received for running? Death.

Junior Alexander Manon was a Dominican living in Toronto.

Junior was in a car that was randomly pulled over by the police. He ran out of the car, away from the police. Police chased him down, tackled him, and beat him to death.

The police are claiming that Junior died from a random heart attack. However, aside from how rare heart attacks are for 18 year olds, the pool of blood left behind at the scene. Family members say Junior’s neck was in a brace and face showed signs of beating.

The case is being investigated by the Special Investigations Unit, which unfortunately has many ex-cops as members. The media is also presenting reports that Junior had no visible injuries.

May 18th: Waco

18 May

In 1993 there was a community located outside of Waco, Texas of Branch Davidian believers. Their compound was known as Mt. Carmel. The leader of the group was David Koresh.

David Koresh was accused of misconduct and sexual abuse. The group was suspected of stockpiling illegal weapons. ATF authorities got a search warrant to find the weapons. It turns out that the Branch Davidians were legally purchasing many weapons, but the ATF used the excuse that some of the parts they were purchasing could potentially be used to modify weapons illegally.

A professional advised them against arrested Koresh at the compound, saying that because of the brainwashing his followers were likely to respond violently.

When the ATF began investigating the gun issue, Koresh invited them to come inspect the compound and guns and paperwork- but they declined.

So based on what is most likely a combination of prejudice, lies, speculation and repression the ATF raided the WACO compound on February 28th, 1993. The Davidians were tipped off about the raid, and despite knowing this the ATF continued with it. Koresh came out to meet the ATF when they arrived, unarmed. At that point, shots were fired. It is still disputed as to which party fired the first shots.

Over the next 2 hours a gun battle ensued. 4 ATF agents were killed, and 16 more were injured. 5 Davidians were killed- 2 by friendly fire. Continue reading

May 17th: Mario Madrigal Jr.

17 May

On August 25, 2003 in Mesa Arizona, Mario Madrigal Jr., 15, was threatening to kill himself with a knife. His parents called the police in a panic, looking for help. They ended up watching the police shoot and kill Mario. He was not a threat to anyone but himself. However, a police squad lacking training and understanding to deal with both mental illness and the hispanic population of Mesa is turning to murder to deal with situations they fail to understand.

An internal investigation cleared the police in the shooting of any wrong doing. The family is conducting a private investigation and plan to take the officers to court.

Mental health is a huge area of concern where the police almost across the board fail to do the best thing for the patient. The ignorance of the police compounds the problems that the individual person with a mental illness already has, and can often lead to that person being in a worse situation than before the police arrived. Our communities need competent people to help folks with mental illnesses when they are in crisis. We do not need to handcuff, arrest, jail, or shoot these people. Traumatic situations should be avoided.

May 16th: Aiyana Jones

17 May

I’m really sad to add this name to the list of people killed by cops. This happened on May 16th, 2010 in Detroit. Police  were searching for a suspect, and entered a home by use of flash grenade. Aiyana Jones, a 7 year old, was asleep on the couch. When the cops entered the home one of them bumped into a Aiyana’s grandmother, and fired his gun, killing Aiyana. She was hit in the neck and pronounced dead on arrival. While the police conducted their search of the home, Aiyana’s father, Charles Jones, was forced onto the ground with his head in his daughter’s blood.

The news reports about this incident are dancing around the fact that the officer fired his gun and killed a child. They are using phrases such as “gun went off” as if guns just went off on their own. This clearly reveals media bias. Police are supposed to be trained on how to use their weapons, and their guns should not go off uncontrollably. This whole tragedy could have been avoided if the police had just entered the house in a civilized manner. Flash grenades disorient, frighten, and terrify people, which makes it understandable as to why Aiyana’s grandmother would have bumped into an officer.

There are protests in Detroit over this incident. Al Sharpton said he is going up there to join in.

Additionally- apparently the suspect the police were searching for was not even suspected of being in the apartment where Aiyana Jones lived. There were 2 apartments in the house, and so it was unnecessary for the police to raid both. Other reports have said that the raid was being filmed for a TV show, which is why the police were acting so irrationally, and intentionally trying to make a good show. I have also heard that the flash grenade they threw through the front window landed on Aiyana.

May 14th: MOVE 11

14 May

The MOVE Organization was a black liberation group whose members adopted the last name AFrica, and promoted a back-to nature lifestyle. They were based in Philadelphia. They were something of a primitivist group, who promoted the hunter-gatherer lifestyle.

There were 2 instances where the Philadelphia Police confronted them- once in 1978 and once in 1985. In 1978 police came to evict the MOVE members from their communal house. During the incident, there was a shootout. One pig was killed. 7 other pigs, 5 firefighters, 3 MOVE members, and 3 bystanders were injured.

9 MOVE members were found guilty of 3rd degree murder. THEY ARE STILL IN PRISON. 7 of the 9 became eligible for parole in 2008, but have been denied. They come up for parole every year.

On May 13, 1985 the Philadelphia Police Department again tried to evict the MOVE organization from their new house, based on neighbor complaints over things like Bullhorn announcements and compost piles. When the MOVE members refused to leave the police attacked the house with tear gas, and the fire department sprayed it with water cannons. After that a burst of gunfire came from the house, which resulted in 90 minutes of return fire from the police- thousands of rounds were shot at the house. Then, the  Philadelphia Police dropped a BOMB on MOVE headquarters. The bomb set the house, and eventually an entire city block on fire.

John Africa, 5 other adults, and 5 CHILDREN died in the fire. There were only 2 surviving children.

The city was found to have overreacted, and money was paid out to a survivor and relative of someone who died. However, there does not appear to have been any culpability given to individual police involved- none of them have served jail time for the 11 murders.