7/20/2004 Newsletter


  • Death in Hennepin County Jail: Michael Harold Wessels
  • Force the Truth Rally Exposes Deaths in Custody
  • Deaths Caused by "Less Lethal" Weapons
  • "If I Get Shot by the Police"
  • Survivor/Family Picnic
  • Philander Jenkins Court Watch
  • Daniel Thompson/Elizabeth Merrick Court Watch
  • Edwin Perkins Court Watch

Last Friday, Michael Harold Wessels died in the Hennepin County Jail. Wessels, age 61, was recovering from open heart surgery just weeks before his arrest. Despite this, he was not placed in a medical unit. The sheriff's department claims they offered him health care. However, we've been told by people in jail that they have been offered care in such a way as to discourage them from actually getting it. If they actually ask for care, they are subjected to long waits, if they get care at all. Why was a man in such frail condition not placed immediately in the medical unit, where he could get 24-hour care?

The Strib reported that Wessels was arrested as a possible fugitive from justice in Washington state. It is not clear what crime he was arrested for in Washington. It would seem unlikely, however, that the crime for which he was arrested involved the death penalty, especially before trial.

Here's the Strib story:

Man, 61, dies at Hennepin County jail
July 10, 2004
Howie Padilla

A man being held for Washington state authorities died Friday in the Hennepin County jail.

The 61-year-old man, whose name was not released, was booked into the jail June 28 on suspicion of being a fugitive from justice. It was not known Friday night what crime he is accused of in Washington.

The body was found about 10 a.m. Friday, said Sgt. Haans Vitek, spokesman for the Hennepin County Sheriff's Office.

Preliminary information is that the man died of natural causes, although officials are waiting on the final ruling from the medical examiner's office, Vitek said.

Many people joined CUAPB at a Force the Truth Rally at the Federal Courthouse on June 25th. Present were Nancy Doby, mother of Lorenzo Doby who was killed on May 26th after being sprayed with Freeze Plus P, and Patricia and Barron Maxey, sister and brother-in-law of Walter Burks, who died in August 2003 after being sprayed with Freeze Plus P, tasered, and left in a prone position for 27 minutes. A number of Lorenzo Doby's friends arrived to remember him and talk about the kind, fun-loving person he was.

The main focus of the rally was to inform the public about the dangers of so-called "less lethal" weapons and how these agents have contributed to (at that time) five deaths in custody in recent months. Poignant and powerful statements were presented by representatives of Amnesty International, Welfare Rights Committee and other groups. Statements from Adam Sitze, researcher in police policy and practice, and by political commentator Adam Bahner were read. These statements are reproduced below.

Follow up to this rally will include pushing public officials to respond to our letter regarding our concerns with the use of Freeze Plus P (see the 6/11/04 edition of this newsletter) and a petition drive and door to door organizing to inform the public about this issue.

Statement by Adam Sitze

Death by "non-lethal device" on the city streets is like death by "friendly fire" during warfare: the facts of the experience put the lie to the euphemism.

For years we have known that non-lethal devices are lethal. For years we have known that if you have asthma and are pepper-sprayed you will boil to death from within. Even the most conservative police estimates concede that pepper spray has been a contributing factor in dozens of deaths since its introduction in the late 1990s. Organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the Canadian Civil Liberties Union regularly put the number at well over one hundred, and growing. The plain fact of the matter is that when police pepper spray you, they themselves have no idea whether they will be (a) merely causing you a form of pain so cruel and unusual that Amnesty International has classified it as a form of torture; or (b) killing you dead on the spot. Pepper spray is not non-lethal. It is inherently unpredictable.

It's also irrational. For years we have also known that pepper spray training in the police forces comes tainted with all kinds of bizarre theories. Again and again we find evidence that police seem to think that people who eat a lot of chili peppers, particularly dark-skinned people, are immune to pepper spray. This is truly weird, since pepper spray is 60 times hotter than the hottest hot peppers. But, weird as it is, it has terrifying implications. Because if a police officer thinks that pepper-spray doesn't work on "darker-skinned" citizens, and if that officer is in a situation where, for whatever reasons, he or she has decided to "control" that citizen, do you think that officer going to begin to speak gently to that person instead of using pepper spray? Or is he or she going to escalate the level of force they use? I think we got our answer on the corner of Franklin and Chicago in 2002, when police filled Abu Kassim Jeilani with 16 bullets--without trying to pepper spray him first.

But we are not asking, in some twisted version of civil rights, for our "equal right to be pepper sprayed." In fact, we are not asking for anything. We are demanding what, by right, we all already have: the right to live in freedom in general, and to live in freedom from fear in particular. Pepper spray is definitely part of the problem: when we can no longer trust the police not to accidentally kill us, we are not living in freedom. But in the end, pepper spray is only a symptom of the disease; it is not the disease itself. The core of the problem is that police have ceased to serve and to protect the very citizens who pay their salaries. The core of the problem is that police try to solve an essentially social and political problem -- their increasingly poisoned relations with the very people they are supposed to serve -- with a technical means, this so-called non-lethal device.

So what do we do? Besides demanding once again, as we did in 2000, that the city re-think its use pepper spray policy from top to bottom, Twin Cities communities need to unite to regain control of the police department itself. Freedom means self-governance, and self-governance requires that we govern the police. Anything less is a police state.

If I Get Shot by the Police
By Adam Bahner

Maybe the tempest of blue-on-black homicide hasn't rained down on you. But the police slayings of unarmed black men that continue to grip America are a sinister eulogy; burying hope with one hand and exhuming a twisted justice with the other. As a black man, whatever that means, I'd better give you my take on things. If I get shot by the police, you'll never hear it like it happened.

If I get shot by the police, you should know that I wasn't a drug dealer, an ex-felon, or an addict. Better still, you should know that it doesn't matter. In my life, I met countless men and women who'd been in each of those places. All had many things to teach me.

No matter what they say if I get shot by the police, I wasn't brandishing a firearm. I wasn't being aggressive. I may have been listening to music with a beat, but I wasn't a thug. I repeat: I wasn't a thug. Of course, nobody can be reduced to a slur.

Who is a thug anyway? A boy-made-man by violent urban divestment? A boy whose image-world became a temple of saccharine Eurocentric consumerism? A boy who saw no intelligent visions of himself? An exile whose neighborhood was run-down, torn-down, rebuilt, and gentrified without him inside? Know that I tried to make a difference in these issues. I tried to add my nuts and bolts to Lowell's scaffold of truth.

If I get shot by the police, it won't be called a "Musician Shooting," a "Composer Shooting," or a "Vocalist Shooting." The headlines won't say "Orator Shooting," "Scholar Shooting," "Pianist Shooting" "Superb Cook Shooting," or "Loving Uncle Shooting." The headlines won't mention me at all. They'll say "Police Shooting," as though it makes no difference whether I was a man or a fire hydrant; as long as I got shot by a badge.

Your television set won't say "an author was shot by the police this evening." Only a "man," a "suspect," or a "resident." I won't have an occupation, because that evokes dignity and worth. Only the police will be named by their occupation; to shoot defective humans like me. The newsreels will make real this fantasy. Don't buy the spin if I get shot by the police.

I won't be "gunned down," because "gunning down" affirms the victim. "Shooting" affirms the perpetrator. Police officers get "gunned down," but others just get shot by them. Equal tragedy will get unequal rhetoric. Beware of this if I get shot by the police.

There will be no context if I get shot by the police. I'll be an anomaly. A trivia. A statistic. Time will pass. I'll be uttered at someone's kitchen table during a TV commercial: "Remember the guy they shot that year? No...the other one." Your local paper won't situate me in the history of police brutality. It won't be delivered with shrink-wrapped Cliff's Notes to the legacy of American ethnic cleansing.

Every February, if I get shot by the police, I won't be acknowledged on the intercom at your local grocery chain. I won't appear next to sanitized, neutralized, and unrealized caricatures of Carver, Parks, and King. I won't be in the fifteen-second-spots on your local network affiliates that celebrate Black History. I won't be a topic as politicians remind us just how far we've come. The media will close-up the present as they trumpet closure of the past. You can bet on that if I get shot by the police.

There will be no justice if I get shot by the police. My shooter will get paid administrative leave. They'll rush before a conduct committee; union-approved with citizens removed. If they are exonerated, no charges will be filed. If they are reprimanded, no charges will be filed. If they are white, race won't be a factor. If they aren't white, the question will be profane. Colleagues will give interviews, and be glad to have the officer back in action. Their family will be made a highlight of the difficult ordeal.

I will be silent; beyond the chamber of fiction. A never-was-didn't-happen casserole in the atrophied kitchen of critical vision. A raindrop in the flooding genetic memory of some chocolate infant, unreal and unacknowledged in the tribulations of his tomorrow.

CUAPB will be hosting a social event for survivors of police brutality and family members of victims this Saturday, July 24th at 4:00 p.m. at Powderhorn Park, 3400 15th Ave S in Minneapolis. Delicious food (prepared by a top-notch chef), games for kids and adults, music and other fun activities are on tap for folks who attend this event. This event is free for survivors and family members and transportation is available by calling 612-874-7867. This event will happen rain or shine--we have an indoor venue lined up if it rains.

Invitations have been sent out to survivors and family members on our mailing list. However, we don't have mailing addresses for everyone we've worked with over the years. If you are a survivor or family member who is not on our mailing list, please feel free to just come to this event.

Folks who are not survivors or family members are welcome to contribute food to this event or donate funds to help cover the costs. You can also contribute balloons, decorations, games, or even provide entertainment. Simply reply to this email or call our hotline at 612-874-7867 with your contribution.


Starting 7/20/04 at 9:30 a.m. and ongoing
Hennepin County Government Center
Philander Jenkins: As readers of past editions of this newsletter know, after Philander Jenkins was severely beaten and his jaw was broken by police, there has been an ongoing campaign by police and prosecutors to criminalize him. Philander has been arrested and has had a series of bogus charges put on him and he was beaten and sexually assaulted while in jail awaiting trial for these charges. Still, Philander continues to proclaim his innocence and stand up to these powerful forces trying to take him down. He goes on trial starting today for a cafe robbery in which witnesses have repeatedly identified another man as the perpetrator. The case itself has been a litany of bad faith by the prosecution--police records changed after the fact, evidence withheld, etc. Now all the pretrial activity comes to a head as this case goes to trial, with jury selection starting today. Since there will likely be schedule changes along the way, please call our hotline at 612-874-7867 if you plan to attend.

7/21/04 9:00 a.m.
Hennepin County Government Center
Daniel Thompson/Elizabeth Merrick: Arraignment for this couple who was in downtown Minneapolis celebrating a friend's birthday when they saw what appeared to be a man knocking down a woman. Daniel walked closer to investigate when he saw police beating the man after he had been subdued. Daniel said something like, "hey, that's not necessary" when cops told him "come here, pussy." Daniel walked away but cops attacked him from behind, threw him to the ground and repeatedly slammed his head into the pavement. His friend, Elizabeth, came over to see what was happening and pleaded with cops to stop. They sprayed her and Daniel with pepper spray, put them in the squad car (Daniel was bleeding from his head wounds) and took them to jail. On they way, cops referred to them as "cunt," "bitch," and "punks" and told them they were "lucky there were witnesses or we'd have broken all your bones and sent you to the hospital." Elizabeth is charged with Obstructing Legal Process. Daniel is charged with Obstructing Legal Process and Assault on an Officer. One of the cops in the incident is Douglas Dubay, who has a dozen allegations against him with the civilian review authority and three with internal affairs.

7/27/04 and 7/28/04
Carver County Courthouse
Edwin Perkins: This case involves extensive racial profiling of the Perkins family, one of only a few Black families in the Chaska area. Perkins, a retired firefighter, was attacked by police and then charged to justify the attack. It is possible that these court dates may change. We will send a confirmation out closer to these dates.

Headwaters Foundation for Justice is a wonderful organization that helps fund progressive organizations who do grassroots organizing and who cannot get funding from more mainstream sources. CUAPB has been blessed to be a recipient of grants and other organizing and capacity-building assistance from Headwaters. They truly have been our partners in working to end police brutality.

Headwaters holds an annual Walk for Justice event to provide a way for progressive organizations to raise money for their causes. This event is an old-fashioned walkathon with some new twists. Groups recruit walkers, who solicit pledges. But Headwaters takes it further--they host a website in which each organization and each walker gets their own web page with the ability to send emails to friends and contacts and lets walkers and the groups track progress toward their goals.

CUAPB will be participating in the Walk for Justice. Right now, we're looking for two things: More folks to walk for us and folks to pledge on our walkers. To sign up as a walker or to enter a secure pledge, go to http://walkforjustice.org and scroll down the left side of the page under the Visitor section to either Walker Registration or Sponsor a Walker.

Our team goal this year is $7500--very ambitious but absolutely necessary for us to further our work on the class action lawsuit and other goals. Please support our work and help us reach our goal by joining our team or pledging on our walkers. Thanks!

Communities United Against Police Brutality
2104 Stevens Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55404
Hotline 612-874-STOP (7867)

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