Archive for September, 2007

The Source of Power

Friday, September 28th, 2007

This is from Voltairine de Cleyre’s 1894 address, In Defense of Emma Goldman and the Right of Expropriation. She is responding to Goldman’s maxim: “Ask for work; if they do not give you work, ask for bread; if they do not give you bread, then take bread.” What I love about her favorable yet cautious response to that phrase is the way she penetrates the illusory fervor of the mob mentality, extracting instead the need for reflection and understanding.

You are told you have the power because you have the numbers. Never make so silly a blunder as to suppose that power resides in numbers. One good, level-headed policeman with a club, is worth ten excited, unarmed men; one detachment of well-drilled militia has a power equal to that of the greatest mob that could be raised in New York City. Do you know I admire compact, concentrated power. Let me give you an illustration. Out in a little town in Illinois there is a certain capitalist, and if ever a human creature sweat and ground the grist of gold from the muscle of man, it is he. Well, once upon a time, his workmen, (not his slaves, his workmen,) were on strike; and fifteen hundred muscular Polacks armed with stones, brickbats, red hot pokers, anti other such crude weapons as a mob generally collects, went up to his house for the purpose of smashing the windows, and so forth; possibly to do as those people in Italy did the other day with the sheriff who attempted to collect the milk tax. He alone, one man, met them on the steps of his porch, and for two mortal hoers, by threats, promised, cajoleries, held those fifteen hundred Poles at bay. And finally they went away, without smashing a pane of glass or harming a hair of his head. Now that was power! And you can’t help but admire it, no matter if it was your enemy who displayed it; and you must admit that so long as numbers can be overcome by such relative quantity, power does not reside in numbers. Therefore, if I were giving advice, I would not say, “take bread”, but take counsel with yourselves flow to get the power to take bread.

There is no doubt but that power is latently in you; there is little doubt it can be developed; there is no doubt the authorities know this, and fear it, and are ready to exert as much force as is necessary to repress any signs of its development. And this is the explanation of EMMA GOLMANN’S imprisonment. The authorities do not fear you as you are, they only fear what you may become. The dangerous thing was “the voice crying in the wilderness” foretelling the power which was to come after it. You should have seen how they feared it in Phila. They got out a whole platoon of police and detectives, and executed a military maneuver to catch the little woman who had been running around under their noses for three days. And when she walked up to them, why then, they surrounded and captured her, and guarded the city hall where they kept her over night, and put a detective in the next cell to make notes. Why so much fear? Did they shrink from the stab of the dressmakers needle? Or did they dread some stronger weapon?

Ah! — the accusation before the New York Pontius Pilate was: “she stirreth up the people”. And Pilate sentenced her to the full limit of the law, because, he said, “you are more than ordinarily intelligent”. Why is intelligence dealt thus hardly with? Because it is the beginning of power. Strive, then, for power.

In this era of ever expanding access to information, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep the people down by force. This problem has been solved largely by inventing myriad means of distraction. Not only does this quell substantially the corrective dynamics that moderate outward inequality and subjugation, it also prevents the understanding of the self that is so crucial to unlocking the seat of true power.

I don’t really care whether you believe in God or not. What I care about is the human spirit, for that is the only gateway to our best nature. And that, my friends, is the only divinity we’ll ever be able to count on in any measure, regardless of the exact character of its source (which we insult one another by arguing over, as if we have the words to express the subtlety of these immensely personal experiences).

The more I study the task of liberation, the more clearly and urgently I perceive it as a struggle of self against the authoritarian within far more than against the authoritarian without. The latter’s position is far less precarious if they have set the terms by which you judge your own potential - if they have trained you, in other words, to oppress yourself. And similarly, I believe that the overthrow of the former will ultimately be more rewarding to the individual and, by extension, society.

As an end note, let me remind the reader that I wrote extensively about the crossover of spirituality and individualism in my essay, History as the Evolution of Identity.

Picture of the Day

Thursday, September 27th, 2007


New York cops attack and pepper-spray trans activists

Thursday, September 27th, 2007

(Link thanks to feministing 2007-09-27.)

Cops in America are heavily armed and trained to be bullies, and they routinely hurt people who pose no serious threat to anyone, in order to establish, maintain, or take control of the situation. People who complain about this kind of rough handling are treated like trash, as if any level of intimidation and violence whatsoever were obviously legitimate, and the victims are to blame for provoking whatever they get. This is especially likely if the victims have features that mark them as targets for the special concern of the police — if they are black, or poor, or young, or Muslims, or immigrants, or women who speak loudly and forcefully, or queer, or political activists, or for whatever other reason. And they are especially vehement and arrogant about this kind of behavior when civilians dare to watch, record, and/or object to how the cops are treating somebody else.

In New York City, a group of cops who were hassling a young black man were questioned by members of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project outside an East Village bar. The cops turned their violent attention on these peaceably assembled people, grabbing a couple of people for arrest and then spraying pepper spray, apparently without warning and without provocation, into the rest of the crowd. Here is what SRLP has to say about it:

The Sylvia Rivera Law Project is an organization that works on behalf of low-income people of color who are transgender, gender non-conforming, or intersex, providing free legal services and advocacy among many other initiatives. On Wednesday night, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project was celebrating its fifth anniversary with a celebration and fundraising event at a bar in the East Village.

A group of our community members, consisting largely of queer and transgender people of color, witnessed two officers attempting to detain a young Black man outside of the bar. Several of our community members asked the officers why they were making the arrest and using excessive force. Despite the fact that our community was on the sidewalk, gathered peacefully and not obstructing foot traffic, the NYPD chose to forcefully grab two people and arrested them. Without warning, an officer then sprayed pepper spray across the group in a wide arc, temporarily blinding many and causing vomiting and intense pain.

This is the sort of all-too-common police violence and overreaction towards people of color that happens all the time, said Dean Spade,founder of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project. It’s ironic that we were celebrating the work of an organization that specifically opposes state violence against marginalized communities, and we experienced a police attack at our celebration.

We are outraged, and demand that our community members be released and the police be held accountable for unnecessary use of excessive force and falsely arresting people, Spade continued.

Damaris Reyes is executive director of GOLES, an organization working to preserve the Lower East Side. She commented, I’m extremely concerned and disappointed by the 9th Precinct’s response to the situation and how it escalated into violence. This kind of aggressive behavior doesn’t do them any good in community-police relations.

In the comments at Feministing, a law student who was there when it happens, elaborates:

From what I could tell last night: a group of queer and trans people, many of color, were gathered outside the bar where the fundraiser after-party was going on, talking and having a cigarette. Some of the attendees noticed a young black man being stopped by the police, who began arresting him. I am not sure if this man was part of the party or not. The police became agitated when the attendees (many of whom are lawyers, law students and legal workers since this WAS, after all, a fundraiser for a legal nonprofit) began questioning them on the nature of the arrest. The police demanded that everyone disburse and pepper sprayed an arc around them, leaving a number of individuals, including those who weren’t involved in conversation with police, crying, vomiting, and collapsed on the sidewalk. After this, some people ran to get water, and others attempted (and eventually received) the badge numbers and names of the arresting officers, and asked bystanders to write them down. After this, Dean Spade asked the crowd to go back inside, and I walked away since it was getting close to bedtime for me. This is as much as I could tell.

I still do not know what the two attendees were arrested for, nor what the young black man was detained (and arrested?) for.

In an update to the original notice, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project adds:

We are getting word that the arraignments are likely to happen during night court tonight [Thursday 9/27] some time between 5pm and 1am. If you can, go to the court to show support!

The arraignment court rooms are at 100 Centre St (Directions: No. 4 or 5train to Brooklyn Bridge Station; No. 6 train, N, R or C train to Canal Street; No. 1 train to Franklin Street; M1, M6 and M15 bus lines are nearby. 100 Centre Street is one block north of Worth Street,three blocks south of Canal Street.) Ask for directions to the arraignment rooms at the info desk when you enter.


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Another Isolated Incident

Wednesday, September 26th, 2007

Here’s more on that raid in Petaluma, California:

The suit filed by Carl Keane and his girlfriend, Chieko Strange, of Mill Valley, names as defendants Petaluma Police Officer Paul Acconero and DEA agents Seth McMullen and John Silva.The lawsuit, which seeks unspecified damages, is meant to “redress one of the worst nightmares of any law-abiding citizen,” the couple said in their filing.

The three defendants were among a group of DEA agents who burst into the couple’s home Dec. 19 using a search warrant signed by a Sonoma County judge for an investigation of a cross-country shipment of six pounds of marijuana.

No drugs, drug residue, money or weapons were found during the search of Keane’s house.

Strange, 63, said in the suit that a DEA agent held her down with a boot on her head as agents stormed through the house yelling, “Where are your weapons?” and “You know why we’re here.”

An Orwell quote seems appropriate here.

If you want a picture of the future, imagine a boot stamping on a human face—for ever.

He wasn’t far off–we’re up to about 40,000 times per year in this country. All so places like Petaluma can be spared from scourges like six pounds of marijuana.

Guillermo Urquiza

Sunday, September 23rd, 2007

I’ve been getting email about this case for months, and I regret that I haven’t had the time to look into it in much detail. But here’s the gist:

  • Police in McKinney, Texas claim Guillermo Urquiza, an illegal immigrant, solicited a hit man to kill a police officer.
  • Police then raided Urquiza’s home in the middle of the night looking for evidence of the murder solicitation. Urquiza says he thought he was being invaded, so he grabbed a gun to defend himself.
  • Urquiza didn’t get off a shot, but the raiding police team shot him him multiple times, including in the stomach and groin. He needed seven surgeries, including one that resulted in his castration.
  • Urquiza was never indicted for hiring a hit man. But he was charged with shooting at the police officers who raided his home in the middle of the night. He is convicted of assault, and sentenced to five years in prison. This is the only charge for which Urquiza is charged and convicted.I’ve been corresponding over email with another man who says the same McKinney, Texas SWAT team shot him after a botched raid. He’s asked me to keep the details confidential for now due to pending litigation.

    More, from an admitedly pro-Urquiza perspective, here.

  • Another Isolated Incident

    Saturday, September 22nd, 2007

    Botched raid lawsuit in Northern California.

    Another Isolated Incident

    Thursday, September 13th, 2007

    Wrong house:

    A West Philadelphia family says they were terrorized in their own home Sunday night and blame the Philadelphia Police Department. The Narcotics Division was conducting an undercover operation, responding to complaints of drug deals happening on a home on the 5400 block of Summer Street.

    “The officers responded to the wrong home,” said Inspector Aaron Horne, commanding officer of the Narcotics Division. “They made a forced entry. Once inside they were alerted to the fact it was the wrong residence.”

    The police department spouted the usual line about how this almost never happens. Except that it’s the second incident in Philly this month. Also, this isn’t particularly comforting:

    In this case, he says surveillance officers didn’t give an address of the home they were targetting.

    “They gave a physical description, house with a black storm door, in front of the residence was a pick up truck. Unfortunately there was a house 5 doors away that had a black storm door with pick up in front. The officers didn’t have time to determine which house was which,” said Inspector Horne.

    So instead, they just took their chances, knowing there was a 50-50 shot they would end up terrorizing innocent people?

    Some real professionalism, there.

    Inspector Horne said “On behalf of the Philadelphia Police Department and the Narcotics Strike Force, I’m totally willing to apologize for the efforts, the mistake. The overall intent was to eradicate drugs from the neighborhood.”

    Oh, well if that’s the intent, I guess it’s all okay, then. What’s a terrorized family or two if it prevents Philadelphians from getting high; if—as I’m sure is the case now that the raids are complete—that neighborhood is now 100 percent drug-free.

    Thanks to Scott Morgan for the tip.

    More SWAT Stuff

    Monday, September 3rd, 2007

    I guess I’ll never understand the thinking behind sending a SWAT team out to confront someone who has confided to someone that they’re considering suicide.

    Two More Isolated Incidents

    Sunday, September 2nd, 2007

    First, in Temecula, California:

    While Williams said he could not discuss specifics, he did confirm that a raid conducted by the Street Enforcement Team last week —- which ended up at the wrong Temecula house —- is part of the administrative investigation.


    Williams said he believes the team was supposed to be raiding a parolee’s home Aug. 24 when they inadvertently hit the wrong door.

    Officers ended up at the home of David and Lillian Scott, just off Rancho California Road.

    Lillian Scott said she and her husband were in the living room discussing family plans, their 15-year-old daughter was in the garage with two friends and their 16-year-old son was in another room feeding the Scotts’ 5-month-old baby.

    That all changed at 9:35 p.m. she said, when Temecula police officers —- four or five, she’s not sure —– carrying rifles charged though the unlocked front screen door and ordered the couple to the floor.

    “Two of them came over and put handcuffs on the two of us,” Lillian Scott said. “We asked what we had done wrong and didn’t get an answer.”

    Elsewhere in the house other officers handcuffed their daughter and her two friends.

    “(The officers) told them to get down on the f—ing floor,” she said.

    Her 16-year-old son, who was feeding the baby, was also ordered to the floor and handcuffed, Scott said.

    From the other room, Scott heard her infant crying.

    “I asked if my baby was OK and the officer told me if I moved he was going to put a bullet in my head,” Scott said.

    The officers apparently figured out they’d hit the wrong home when they’d cleared the second floor, then realized they were only supposed to be in a one-story home, something you’d think they might have verified before tearing down the front door. Here, at least, the city has been apologetic, and is talking about making a settlement offer to the family.

    The second comes from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania:

    The door had to be repaired this morning after police reportedly rammed it during a raid on Norma Saunders South Philadelphia home Friday night. Her bedrooms were ransacked, drawers overturned and kitchen cupboards emptied onto the floor. According to a search warrant, police were looking for drugs and weapons.

    Away for a family reunion at the time, Saunders returned when her alarm company called. When she returned she found the security system was ripped from the wall.

    Norma tells Action News, “When I came home my neighbors ran up to me and said, ‘Norma they had the wrong house. We tried to tell them they had the wrong house.’”

    “This has never been a drug house. We’ve never had a problem with this home at all. So this I knew this had to be a major mistake,” said Reverend Tobin Young.

    Neighbors say police simultaneously raided another house on the block and placed several people in handcuffs.

    68-year-old Saunders, a great-grandparent and retired veterans hospital nurse with heart problems, contends she has no dealings with drugs, nor does her 50-year-old son who works security at Abington Hospital while pursuing a college degree in computer science.

    At least they weren’t home to experience the violence in person.