9/12/2007 Newsletter


  • Speaker to Highlight Role of Mental Illness in Police Brutality
  • CUAPB to Speak on Human Rights Panel
  • Upcoming Events
  • Editorial: Some Thoughts on the Larry Craig Case
  • "Justice" System Racism: No Outsiders in Jena
  • Kovering for Kriminal Kops
  • The Boys in Bland: McDonalds Worker Arrested for Serving Cop Salty Burger

Saturday, September 15
1:30 p.m.
Walker Church
3100 16th Ave S, Minneapolis

Paul Johnson, a highly respected psychologist who has worked with many survivors of police brutality, will present information on the effects of police brutality on the psychological well being of people in the community as well as how mental illness impacts people's ability to interact safely with police.  As one of very few African American male psychologists in the area, Paul has an extensive background addressing post traumatic stress disorder and other effects of police misconduct.  His presentation is not to be missed, and there will plenty of opportunity for questions and answers.  Paul's presentation will be part of our weekly CUAPB meeting.

Human Rights and Racial Justice: Tools for Equality
Friday, September 21
1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m.
University of MN Law School, Mondale Hall, Room 25
229 19th Avenue, Minneapolis

As a member organization of the US Human Rights network, CUAPB is cosponsoring an event to educate the community about our work with the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD).   The United States government has turned in a report to CERD claiming that racism is no longer a big issue in the US.  The report even cited the movie Crash as an example of this claim!  To counter this ridiculous report, we're part of a national effort by grassroots groups to use statistics and other information in our own report to CERD.  We have a unique contribution to make since we're one of the only grassroots groups in the country to maintain a database on police complaints.  We'll be discussing the innovate use of our database in human rights work. Come learn about how international treaties and tools can be used for our work right here in the community. 


September 29: CUAPB will not be holding our regular meeting as we will have an off-site retreat for board members and volunteers that day.

October 6, 2:00 p.m.
Resisting the RNC: A Town Hall Meeting
Macalester College, Weyerhauser Chapel
1600 Grand Ave, St. Paul
Cosponsored by Protest RNC 2008 and the RNC "Welcoming" Committee, this event will feature a presentation by the National Lawyers Guide on protest rights in the Twin Cities.  There will be a discussion of efforts by city officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul to clamp down on free speech and what the community can do.  Groups currently working on protest plans for the RNC will give presentations on how you can get involved.


By now, most folks know that conservative Idaho senator Larry Craig pled guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge in order to escape a more serious--and more embarrassing--charge that he solicited sex in the men's restroom of our own Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.  After years of observing the criminal justice system at work, it's hard not to compare and contrast Craig's predicament with that of many of the people we have assisted.

First, there's the "crime" itself.  Craig was arrested in a sting operation by a Minneapolis police officer for allegedly looking through the crack of the bathroom stall at the cop, sliding his foot under the stall and putting his hand under the stall.  Being female, this editor is not knowledgeable about men's bathroom etiquette but so far this doesn't sound like it constitutes much of a crime.  Even if the aforementioned conduct is secret code for "let's get freaky," wouldn't that pretty much be a victimless "crime" as long as the parties involved are consenting adults?  Setting aside the hypocrisy of Craig's homophobia as a policy maker, why are Minneapolis cops wasting their time hanging out in restrooms at the airport waiting to bust such conduct?

Compare this to the "crime" that has stuffed our jails and prisons to the brim over the past four decades: marijuana possession and use.  Again, another non-violent, victimless crime that seems an awful waste of resources to enforce.  Both of these "crimes" are based more on police and societal prejudices than on any actual harm.

Second, Craig has said he pled guilty to a lesser charge because he was afraid and felt pressured.  As a US Senator, this guy is one of the most powerful people in the country and, by extension, the world.  That he could be stressed to the point of mental breakdown and feel compelled to plead guilty over a relatively minor charge that never carried the threat of a prison sentence says something about the power of this criminal justice system and the raw fear it can instill, even in someone who has resources and can himself wield a great deal of power.  Think of how much fear this system strikes in the heart of a young, poor person of color who is wrongly accused of a crime, knowing the resources of the state are arrayed against him and that he is powerless to stop the juggernaut.

Craig chose to forego an attorney when he took his plea and paid his fine.  Most of the young and poor who are caught up in this system do not have the luxury to choose a private attorney.  They are assigned a public defender.  A good many of these public defenders do a solid, even noble job for their clients but others are lackluster at best or even in cahoots with prosecutors.  The kind of PD you get is largely luck of the draw.

Craig has now asked to withdraw his guilty plea.  A hearing has been set for the end of this month and Craig may well get his legal "do over."  This brings to mind a court case observed some months ago.  The case involved four defendants.  Two were represented by public defenders and two by private attorneys.  However, the two PDs and one of the private attorneys appeared to be in cahoots with the prosecution and possibly the judge.  These three attorneys had each convinced their clients that the other defendants were going to "roll" on them so they should plead guilty to a lesser (but still serious) offense. 

The fourth attorney vigorously defended the client, who was found not guilty.  The other three defendants cried foul and one wanted to withdraw his guilty plea.  However, this system hates to have its work undone by defendants who suddenly realize they got snookered.  The judge denied the request to withdraw the guilty plea and that man went to prison for a crime he did not commit.  It seems all but certain that Larry Craig will not meet this same fate, given that he has hired an army of "dream team" lawyers and can afford to pay them enough not to sell him down the river.

However it ends, the Craig case is rich with lessons on the power of the criminal justice system and its effects on the powerful and not so powerful who find themselves in its grip.

No Outsiders in Jena

By Etan Thomas and Dave Zirin

"Outsiders need to stay away." That's what Billy Fowler of the school board in Jena, Louisiana, said about those who have raised concerns about the sentencing imposed on six African American boys -- ages 15-17 -- facing 100 years in prison.

Outsiders are always what people in the South have called those who challenge racism. But the story of Jena is not an outsider/insider story. It's a story about the worst tradition of what is known as Southern Justice. And like in the days of Jim Crow, it's a story where any shades of grey matter far less than black and white.

The issue by now has become well known: discussed on CNN and in the pages of USA Today. At Jena High School, a black student received permission from school authorities to sit underneath what was known as "the white tree" (remarkable that he felt he had to ask!) The next day, in retribution, three nooses hung from the branches, threats that they would soon be harvesting "strange fruit." In protest black students collectively decided to sit under the tree. This a bold and beautiful act in the spirit of the best traditions of the '60s. They refused to comply with racist terror, even when those threats are as drastic as being lynched for simply not staying in your place.

And just like in the old South, the state made clear which side it was on. The town DA, Reid Walters, actually had the audacity to threaten only the black students, telling them that he had the power to ruin their lives with the stroke of his pen if they continued to make trouble.

Tensions escalated over the course of the semester. Two black students were beaten by a white student while another group of black students were threatened with a shotgun by a former classmate. Surprisingly, none of the white students or former students were punished in any way for these incidents.

But the following Monday when a white student was beaten up by six black classmates, they were immediately arrested and charged with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder, charges that would put them in jail for 100 years without parole. The Jena 6 ranges in age from 15-17. The white student spent three hours in a hospital emergency room and required no further medical care.Mychall Bell was the first student tried. He was represented by a public defender that called no witness, and was quickly convicted by an all-white jury, white judge, and now faces up to 22 years in prison.

Recently, in response to a public outcry about the case, prosecutors have announced that charges against Shaw and Jones had been reduced to lesser felonies. But the need to be heard on this continues. Two other students, Robert Bailey Jr. and Bryant Purvis, still await trial for attempted murder. Bell's conviction has been allowed to stand even though the judge ruled he had been improperly convicted in an adult court when he should have been tried as a juvenile. Shaw and Jones still face years in prison.

As Billy Hunter, the head of the National Basketball Player's association, said:_ "The situation in Jena, Louisiana is abominable and rotten to the core. The actions of the District Attorney demonstrate that "racism and bigotry are live and well in Jena ." As a former U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California and Assistant Chief in the S.F. District Attorney's Office, it is my opinion that the District Attorney's has severely overcharged the case revealing his bias against the six black Jena youth.His actions should serve as a wake-up call for all Americans who believe in an impartial and fair criminal justice system."

This is a case that should outrage any individual regardless of the color of their skin. When the justice system can be a direct symbol of racism, injustice and terror, the very moral fiber of our society is threatened. This is not a time for neutrality. Insiders and so-called outsiders will be marching in Jena on September 20th. We will also be circulating a statement in the world of sports for those who choose to support the efforts to have the charges against the Jena 6 dismissed. The simple truth is that when it comes to issues of basic justice, there are no such thing as "outsiders."

Etan Thomas is the center for the National Basketball Association's Washington Wizards. He is the author of the book of poems, More than an Athlete and a member of the NBAPA executive board. Dave Zirin is a columnist for SLAM magazine and the author of Welcome to the Terrordome (Haymarket Books)

Sign a petition calling for US Justice Department intervention in the Jena 6 case: http://www.petitiononline.com/aZ51CqmR/petition.html

By Jordan Flaherty
September 13, 2007

Editors Note: It seems that every time a police department really screws up, a TV show is made to try to undo the bad PR.  The Rodney King beating led to LAPD Blues.  There has been no end to the cop shows featuring the brutal NYPD.  The ever-present COPS gives every podunk cop shop a chance to clean up its image.  And now, with all of the vicious and shameful behavior of the New Orleans police coming out in the open, we have K-Ville ready to pump out positive PR on one of the most vile police forces in this country.  As someone who experienced serious police brutality at the hands of the NOPD and who lost a relative to the flood waters of Hurricane Katrina, the entire concept of this show is deeply offensive.  I urge people not to tune in. Let poor ratings send this disgusting show to the dustbin of history.

Next Monday the Fox network unveils a new television show called K-Ville. Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, K-Ville promises to highlight the heroism of New Orleans cops. Unfortunately, the true story of policing in New Orleans is unlikely to be told by Fox, or by anyone in the corporate media.

Since at least the 1950s, and shows like Dragnet, Hollywood's representation of cops has been as a thin blue line of honest and straightforward heroes protecting the good people from the bad. The Seventies were a time of radical movements, and this brought radical criticisms of police into the mainstream, with films like Serpico and Chinatown exposing police corruption and brutality. However, the Seventies ultimately led to a new kind of hero. In 1980s films such as Dirty Harry, the cop--or, in the case of the Death Wish movies, vigilante--was brutal and violent, but ultimately sympathetic.

Audiences could no longer believe the old clean-cut images of cops--there were too many front-page stories of police violence and corruption--but it was still necessary to maintain the public perception that cops are necessary. The new generation of cops on film and TV--later refined and popularized by stars from Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon to Dennis Frantz in NYPD Blue--was that of a troubled, violent, flawed, but ultimately sympathetic hero. Yes, they broke the rules, but ultimately the rules are the problem. These cops would torture people based on a hunch--but, they were always right. The person they tortured would always end up being guilty, and they would always get information from torturing them that they would not have gotten otherwise.

This justification was developed in Hollywood, and then perfected years later by the Bush Administration, who made explicit the arguments that films like Die Hard had implied: we need cops (and soldiers and federal agents) to break the rules. In fact the rules are the problem. There are "good people" and "criminals," and we don't need to worry about how the "bad guys" are treated. Further, the job of keeping us safe is necessarily dirty, and the police will need to break some rules to do their job right. "Tough on Crime" politicians like former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani also contributed to this environment by discarding decades of reforms and practices meant to give opportunity for rehabilitation, instead pushing for more police, more prisons, and more arrests.

Courage To Burn

Into this archetype comes the Fox cop drama K-Ville. The publicity material for the new show explains, "Two years after Katrina, the city is still in chaos--many cops have quit, and the jails, police stations and crime labs still haven't been properly rebuilt. But the cops who remain have courage to burn and a passion to reclaim and rebuild their city."

Like all Hollywood products, this show is about making money first and foremost--it attempts to ride on the coattails of popular cop shows like Law and Order and CSI. In doing so, it also falls perfectly into an agenda of explaining and forgiving brutal police behavior. In fact, it takes one of the nation's most notoriously racist, violent and corrupt police forces, and explains away their harmful acts as the natural result of the trauma of Katrina and its aftermath. When the cops on this show torture--for example, the first episode contains a kind of amateur "waterboarding"--it is because they are good people who have been pushed too hard. It makes us empathize with them and not, for example, with their victims, who are seen as deserving of whatever punishment they receive. As the show publicity states, the show's hero is "unapologetic about bending the rules when it comes to collaring bad guys. The stakes are too high, and the city too lawless, for him to do things by the book."

A Good Cop

Anthony Anderson stars as Marlin Boulet, a Black New Orleans cop who has seen his city devastated, who is fighting, as a homeowner, for his ninth ward neighborhood to return, while fighting as a cop against a sea of crime.

Like Law and Order, the show (at least in the first episode) dodges much of the racial politics of policing by having the criminals be mostly wealthy and white, while the police and victims are racially diverse. Like many of these TV shows, there is an attempt to please as wide an audience as possible--the shows bring in conservatives with the tough on crime rhetoric, but brings in liberals by having the villains be corporate criminals. K-Ville even has one white villain say, "That storm wasn't a disaster...that storm was a cleansing," a moment that indicts white racism in the cleansing of the city, and not something that you would expect from Fox. In fact, despite being skeptical about New Orleans' notoriously brutal police force being portrayed as heroes, it's hard not to root for them when the first episode's villains are Blackwater mercenaries (here called "Black River").

Although the show gets much wrong about how race, class and power work in New Orleans--and the US--it also gets a surprising amount of details right. For anyone from Louisiana, the short scene with a barbeque and the song Cupid Shuffle playing makes up for a lot that has come before (the song is by Cupid, an artist from Lafayette, Louisiana, and plays at virtually every party in New Orleans). The show also has throwaway references to other New Orleans-specific phrases and foods--from the term "neutral ground" to eating gumbo--that makes the viewer feel that someone involved in writing the show at least spent some time in New Orleans.

In the end, however, these accuracies only help to convey the deeper, and more problematic, purpose of the show--a portrayal of New Orleans police as an essential thin blue line of protection in an outlaw city. The show brings up the horror of prisoners abandoned in Orleans Parish Prison, but only to reinforce a law and order message. The show brings up white racism, but only as an exception, not as a system of power that has displaced almost half of the Black population of the city. In short, the show gets some of the problems right, but it gets the answer deeply wrong.

The Disaster Before the Disaster

The reality is that the police, glamorized on K-Ville, are a part of the disaster the people of New Orleans have faced, not part of the solution. As has been widely reported, the town of Gretna, across the Mississippi from New Orleans and part of Jefferson Parish, stationed officers on the bridge leading out of New Orleans blocking the main escape route for the tens of thousands suffering in the Superdome, Convention Center, and throughout the city. In the months after Katrina, while New Orleanians wanted to return and rebuild their city, they got "security" instead. Hundreds of National Guard troops, as well as police forces from across the U.S. and private security forces including Blackwater, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International began patrolling the nearly empty city.

From the initial images broadcast around the world, demonizing the people of New Orleans as "looters" and "criminals," the public perception of New Orleans' people has been shaped by vigilante rhetoric, exemplified by Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco bringing in National Guard troops shortly after Katrina with the words, "They have M-16s and they are locked and loaded...These troops know how to shoot and kill, and they are more than willing to do so if necessary, and I expect they will." This assessment, now validated by K-Ville, was no doubt a big cause of so-called "Katrina Fatigue"--the widely reported feeling that the nation has run out of sympathy for the people of New Orleans. Why feel sympathy for a city of criminals?

While shows like K-Ville draws a solid line between good and bad, real life is murkier. Nationwide, nearly 90 percent of people imprisoned in federal prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. Louisiana is at the vanguard of mass-imprisonment, with the highest rate of imprisonment in the country--816 sentenced prisoners per 100,000 state residents. If Louisiana were a county, it would have the highest imprisonment rate in the world. As cases like the Jena Six so vividly demonstrate, the racial disparity in both arrests and sentencing in the state is striking. Although African-Americans make up 32 percent of Louisiana's population, they constitute 72 percent of the state's prison population.

The stories that shows like K-Ville leave untold are those of community coming together to solve problems. In New Orleans, our real "first responders" are folks in the communities most affected, who were out in the days after the storm rescuing people and distributing food. The true hope for our city lies in projects such as Safe Streets Strong Communities, Families and Friends of Louisiana's Incarcerated Children, and Critical Resistance, grassroots organizations that are on the frontlines of struggles for justice in New Orleans, organizing in their communities and building a movement. There are also the lawyers and advocates of organizations such as Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana, Innocence Project New Orleans, A Fighting Chance and the Louisiana Capital Assistance Center. These organizations have represented those who the system has abandoned, from kids caught up in notoriously brutal youth prisons to indigent people on death row. These are the truly compelling stories of criminal justice in New Orleans post-Katrina, yet you can be sure that these local voices will be among those that K-Ville will not air.

Jordan Flaherty is an editor of Left Turn Magazine , a journal of grassroots resistance. His previous articles from New Orleans are online at http://www.leftturn.org.

McDonalds Worker Arrested for Serving Cop Salty Hamburger
September 08, 2007

Editor's Note: We're never been big fans of McDonalds food but we're guessing this arrest had more to do with the fact that the worker in question is young and black.

A McDonald's worker in Union City, Ga., was arrested and jailed Thursday night for putting too much salt and pepper on a police officer's hamburger, MyFoxAtlanta reported Friday.

Kendra Bull was mixing hamburger meat when, she said, too much salt and pepper accidentally spilled into the bowl. Bull said her manager was working with her, and continued to make patties out of the meat. Bull grilled and ate one of the over-seasoned burgers for her dinner break and grilled the remaining burgers from the batch.

A police officer purchased one of the salty burgers and became sick. According to MyFoxAtlanta, the police accused Bull of purposely pouring the salt and pepper on the burger and charged her with reckless conduct. The police photographed the burger, took the sick cop to the hospital, and carted Bull off to jail.

Bull, who spent Thursday night in jail until she was released on a $1,000 signature bond Friday morning, admitted the burgers were too salty, but said she ate one from the batch and did not get sick. She also said that security cameras trained on the work area and grill will prove that the salt was spilled accidentally.

Bull's attorney, a public defender, asked the judge to dismiss the charges, but the judge refused.

  • Michelle Gross
    published this page in 2007 Newsletters 2016-09-30 21:13:31 -0500

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