Tuesday, August 20, 2013


It's difficult to watch the video of the Phoenix police assaulting -- killing -- Michael Angel Ruiz.  It's also hard to tell what exactly killed him.  Was it the chokehold that was applied for no apparent reason?  Was it the tasering?  Or was it the multiple blows to the head that he received as his head repeatedly struck one concrete stair after another as the police half-dragged, half-carried his limp body from the second floor.

In what is an all too common occurrence, the cops dog-piled someone who didn't appear to be resisting, accused him of resisting and then went hog-wild on him.  Following the assault, Ruiz lost consciousness, had to be resuscitated at the scene, transported to the hospital and was eventually taken off life support on August 2nd.  Doctors had declared him brain dead.

Channel 15 covered the story:
Many of Michael's neighbors witnessed everything and recorded it all on their phones.

Gary Carthen was good friends with Michael, and witnessed it all.
"This was bad, very bad. Because he didn't deserve that to happen, not like that," he said.

Carthen and his neighbors want answers. Verna Young says you could hear his head banging on the stairs as police dragged him down.

"I started crying 'cause that's not right, to hurt nobody like that," she said. "He didn't deserve that. He was a nice person, very nice."
Ruiz's father, a former LAPD detective was shocked by what he saw.  And if an LAPD cop is shocked by police behavior, then you know it's beyond the pale.  It's hard to imagine any thing that could explain what is clear to see on the video other than violent cops out of control.  Again.

It's perhaps ironic, given how the police treated him, that Ruiz's Facebook page, now gathering some condolence messages from friends, also features prominent posts from him supporting the LAPD in their hunt for once-rampaging cop killer Christopher Dorner, including one in which he poses in front of a Confederate flag.  The degree to which Phoenix police may have perceived Ruiz, a self-confessed Republican, as not white when they encountered him isn't clear, but one thing's for sure, that gang of cops aggressively piling on him was very white.

But let's take a step back for a minute and see if we can draw any lessons by comparison.  To do that, let's check out some coverage of a different encounter with the police that happened this week, this time over at Az Central.

Notice anything?  Well, first off there's the glaringly obvious: one got killed by the cops and the other got escorted off the property instead of arrested.  There's no indication that the cops threatened John Coulter with violence, at least beyond that which underlies all interactions with the police.  In fact, if the cops' stats can be believed, in every other incident such as this, arrest was the result.  Coulter may have gotten off pretty well, considering, receiving a only a citation.

And, at first glance, it seems like that there is probably a class difference as well, at least in the eyes of the police.   Season tickets aren't cheap, and even though many people share season tickets, I think we can conclude pretty safely that the target of the beer cops' ire was seen by them as respectable and reasonably well off.  Meanwhile, the shirtless Ruiz standing on his roof was almost certainly not viewed in the same way, or given the same benefit of the doubt.  And, of course, Coulter is clearly white.  And Coulter is alive.

In many significant ways, these two incidents are like night and day.  But what's really interesting is what Coulter says about what an epiphany it was for him to be treated in what he felt was a disrespectful way by the police.  He says, "I would normally support the police if I heard a story like this, however, in this case I was standing right there and I witnessed abuse and over-zealous pursuing of the situation... it was totally uncalled for."

No doubt, it is rare for white people -- especially white middle class people -- to encounter the police in any situation even remotely threatening to them.  Police, as far as white middle class people are concerned are helpful and kind; they direct traffic, come to take your report after an accident for insurance purposes, and keep crowds flowing at sports games.  They make you feel safe.  You generally like having them around.  This is the experience of most white middle class people.  And they generalize from this that this must also therefore be the experience of other people, people unlike them.  People that the police in fact treat quite different far away from white middle class suburban sensibilities.  And that therefore, when bad things are done to these other people by the police, it's probably because they deserve it.

So, the question is, can Coulter take the eye-opening, if relatively mild by comparison, run in that he had with the cops and use that to help him understand what other people experience.  Certainly the cops had no inkling that Ruiz's father was a former cop.  When they saw him, they saw something quite different than what they saw when they looked at Coulter.  And they acted accordingly.


Local media is reporting the arrest today of Phoenix police lieutenant Dalin Webb in Mesa for assaulting his 17-year-old son.  Webb was released after being charged with aggravated assault and disorderly conduct.   Webb has four children and works as a school resource officer. Down and Drought has also learned that Webb is listed as a volunteer at the nonprofit organization Not My Kid.  According to reports, Webb got in a violent confrontation which led to Webb choking his son and shoving his wife.

Jennifer Thomas at AzFamily.com reports,
...Webb and his son were in an argument and the boy's mother went to the bedroom to check on the commotion. Webb reportedly shoved her out of the room and her leg buckled when he shut the door.

The son told police that he cursed at his father for shoving his mother and Webb pinned him down on the bed by his neck, restricting his airway with a stranglehold.

The victim's mother told police that she walked back in after the fight had begun and saw the boy on the bed with Webb's hand around his neck. She said her son's voice sounded restricted.
The Phoenix Police Department issued a statement confirming the arrest and  stating that it's Professional Standards Bureau is opening an investigation into the matter.

Not My Kid describes itself as "dedicated to serving the interests of youth and families".  Webb is listed on its website as serving as a parent and faculty educator.   Not My Kid offers a variety of programs for kids, including topics like bullying and "unhealthy relationships".  They list their values as:

Social Thinking: A sincere desire to consider how others perceive situations.

Resilience: Acknowledging the inevitability of change, accepting the “new” and adapting.

Hope/Faith: A capacity to believe in a purpose or meaning greater than oneself.

Self-Control: A capacity to behave in a positive self-directed manner.

Integrity: Recognizing and demonstrating the value of ethical behavior.
In this age in which parents fear violence in school (whether those fears are justified or not is another question), and police, increased policing and the militarization of school security are increasingly held up as solutions, it's worth taking a minute to consider the implications of arrests like this one.

After all, it is well-established that police engage in domestic violence and violence against loved ones at more than twice the average rate.   Indeed, the National Center for Women & Policing found that as many as 40 percent of law enforcement families experience domestic violence, in contrast to 10 percent for the general population.

The CWP highlights the particular reasons why domestic violence committed by cops should be particularly concerning to everyone, but especially to parents whose children will be exposed to these abusers in schools.

Domestic violence is always a terrible crime, but victims of a police officer are particularly vulnerable because the officer who is abusing them:
  • has a gun,
  • knows the location of battered women's shelters, and
  • knows how to manipulate the system to avoid penalty and/or shift blame to the victim

Cops who do commit violence in their families often escape punishment altogether.  And Webb is hardly the first Valley or even Phoenix cop arrested for assaulting a spouse (see also here and here, for just two more recent examples).  Nor is he the first arrested for abusing a child.

Which raises what would be an obvious question if we were dealing with any violent group other than police: should cops be allowed near children and in schools?  Should they be held up as role models to kids on how to control violent impulses?

The violence and general abusiveness of police is well-documented, yet they almost always get a pass when they engage in violent behavior.  People seem to think that officers are able to turn these violent impulses off, reserving violence for circumstances that require it.  Yet the domestic abuse rates put the lie to that assumption.

If the objective is safer schools, it seems illogical to increase the presence of documented violent, abusive groups like the police.  The case of Detective Chris Wilson, who is alleged to have met his teenage targets through the course of his daily job duties in the "community relations" squad, ought to stand out here as a further warning.  And this goes for youth programs like Not My Kid, as well.  Getting the cops out of schools and out of youth programs would be a positive first step.

Not My Kid was contacted for comment but has not responded to our request..

Thursday, August 8, 2013


The plans crafted for a new Loop 202 extension, which would blast through South Mountain, have met steadfast opposition from Akimel O'odham and Pee-Posh residents in the Gila River Indian Community, as well as residents from the neighboring Phoenix village of Ahwatukee. The Loop 202 extension has been criticized as a commercial truck bypass scheme, while freeway supporters insist the freeway will bring housing and retail growth to the southwest valley and Gila River Indian Community.

An eruption of organizing against the freeway has taken place over the last year involving groups from across the valley who are not only opposing a freeway plan, but also a blueprint for more unsustainable urban growth into the Sonoran desert. A sampling of some of this activity: Gila River Against Loop 202 participated in ADOT freeway meetings and gave information on the tribe's "no build" option, the Akimel O'odham Youth Collective mobilized youth for demonstrations and gatherings, GRACE(Gila River Alliance for A Clean Environment) has filed a civil rights complaint against ADOT over the cultural impact of the destruction of South Mountain, the Ahwatukee based PARC (Protect Arizona's Resources and Children) is spreading anti-freeway information and planning legal opposition ,and the No South Mountain Freeway group holds informational meetings in Laveen and speak outs at freeway meetings organized by pro-freeway politicians.

A month back we reprinted an article from the Stop CANAMEX blog on the efforts of business interests and Arizona government, through Private-Public Partnerships (P3), to create a trade corridor through Arizona, and the plans for large scale urban growth and infrastructure projects.  The Stop CANAMEX blog has published the first part of a two part exposé on the public-private partnerships driving the latest alliance between developers and state transportation to secure the proposed Loop 202 extension.

We have reprinted the article with the author's permission.

Companies seek partnership with ADOT to profit on freeway, Part 1: The Networks 

A late July announcement from the South Mountain Development Group raised eyebrows amongst environmentalist and anti-freeway organizations across Arizona.  A group of three of the largest construction companies in the United Stated has proposed to fund and build the long contested Loop 202 extension through South Mountain.  Among those troubled by the announcement was the Sierra Club, who publicly opposed the freeway as an environmentally destructive project.

“Why did they wait to announce this until the day after the deadline for the comments on the freeway Draft Environmental Impact Statement?” asked Sandy Bahr of the Sierra Club.1 Now that the announcement has been made, the controversial public-private partnership model is likely to gain the attention it deserves. The attention may come a bit too late, however, due to the timing of this July 25th announcement in relation to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) comment period, despite the proposal being submitted a few months ago. Had news of the possibility of privately funded construction come out sooner, this new type of arrangement may have brought more critical comments.

A public-private partnership or P3 (or PPP) is essentially privatization, with perhaps a friendlier face. Projects that would normally be delivered by the state, such as transportation infrastructure like highways, are taken on by private companies. In cases such as this, private companies finance the project, build it, and they often operate and maintain it. Then they get their money back in addition to profits, of course. In a P3, the public sector has more control than in a privatization situation, but it also takes on most of the risk, meaning ultimately the money still comes from the tax payers via the state, even if it's a few decades down the road--especially since tolling is not part of this proposal for the proposed South Mountain extension to the 202.

Arizona has what is considered broad-enabling P3 legislation, which passed in 2009.2 Much effort has been in the works since then to move things in the direction of increased privatization. In fact there is a vast network of P3 promoters who have been pulling strings in Arizona. Unsurprisingly, some of these same P3 promoters are involved in the 202 proposal.

Going by the name South Mountain Development Group, the companies, Kiewit Development Co., Kiewit Infrastructure West Co., Sundt Construction, Inc. and Parsons Corporation submitted an unsolicited proposal to the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) in February to build the Loop 202 extension. "Unsolicited," while technically correct, is a misleading term due to the longstanding relationships between public (such as ADOT) and private interests, and their pro-P3 organizations. You can see the push for P3s coming out of networks such as these:
  •  Sundt sponsored P3 conferences in Phoenix on several occasions, and attending at least one in 2010 was a representative from Kiewit, a representative from HDR (the engineering firm contracted to do the Environmental Impact Statement for Loop 202), and Gail Lewis of the P3 Office for ADOT as speakers.3
  • Kiewit is on the board of a pro-P3 organization called the Association for the Improvement of American Infrastructure (AIAI). According to their website, AIAI "is a non-profit organization formed in the District of Columbia to help shape the direction of the national Public Private Partnership marketplace."4

  • ADOT's John Halikowski is co-chair with Arizona-Mexico Commission's (AMC) Jim Kolbe in the newly founded Arizona organization called the Transportation and Trade Corridor Alliance (TTCA). The TTCA, which includes members of the Arizona Commerce Authority (ACA), was described as "heavily private-sector" by Gail Lewis, Director, ADOT Office of P3 Initiatives and International Affairs. AMC and ACA are also pro-P3 organizations with private and public membership.5 

  • Also a member of the TTCA, as well as the ACA, is Mary Peters, former Federal Highway Administrator for the U.S. Department of Transportation. She is also on the board of HDR. Participating with her in ACA is Doug Pruitt, former CEO of Sundt. 

  • A consulting firm, Tom Warne & Associates, lists Kiewit, Parsons, ADOT, HDR, and others as clients.6  Tom Warne writes a newsletter that regularly discusses P3s.  He was awarded as a the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA) P3 Division Entrepreneur of the Year.  Mary Peters also won this award.7

  • HDR is a 2013 sponsor of the ARTBA Conference, at which Gail Lewis of ADOT recently spoke.  According to their website, "ARTBA approached the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) to develop a toolkit to help educate lawmakers navigate the challenges of enacting and improving P3 enabling statutes."7

And there are yet more webs to untangle. The timing of the announcement of this new P3 may be related to HDR's involvement. HDR is the corporation that the Arizona Department of Transportation (ADOT) contracted to do the DEIS. HDR is an engineering and consulting firm which also happens to be a major proponent of P3s, claiming 35 years of experience delivering P3s and offering their expertise to others through their consulting services.8  HDR is part of The Transportation Transformation Group which "is an unprecedented alliance of state government, finance, academic and private industry leaders who aspire to transform American transportation policy into a goal-based arrangement that maximizes flexibility to enhance the roles of the state and local public sectors and their private partners to solve the growing problems of congestion and mobility." This group includes a variety of notorious financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Citi, JP Morgan, etc.9

While ADOT has many consultants, HDR is likely to be a highly influential one. It is unclear whether it is the consultant referred to in the minutes of ADOT's Citizen's Transportation Oversight Committee meeting in 2011, but it certainly could be (Tom Warne and Associates is another possibility). "Gail Lewis, Director, ADOT Office of P3 Initiatives and International Affairs, provided an update concerning P3 projects and processes... ADOT’s Steering Committee has been helpful getting P3 integrated into the process. An outside consultant is helping to formulate, guide, evaluate and negotiate programs as they come forward."10

While there could be a conflict of interest, it is possible that HDR could put in a bid for a P3 to build Loop 202 extension as well. There is at least one other P3 in Colorado for which they put in a bid that Kiewit also put a competing bid in for.11 Alternatively, HDR may not have seen any value in the Loop 202 project, thus why they did such an incompetent job on the EIS.

Opponents of the Loop 202 extension have pointed out that the freeway is intended more as a truck bypass. Few Arizonans have even heard of the CANAMEX Corridor, the NAFTA trade route that runs from Mexico through Arizona and four other states to Alberta, Canada. It utilizes existing roads but in order to fulfill its purpose to move more merchandise between nations, it needs to grow much larger, involving more road construction including the proposed Interstate 11 between Phoenix and Las Vegas. While the Loop 202 isn't part of the current official CANAMEX route, it would certainly serve the freight and commercial truck traffic that comes through Phoenix. Tax payers are less likely to want to pay for something that isn't meant for the local community, particularly if it's done without their knowledge.

Steve Brittle of the local environmental non-profit Don't Waste Arizona, pointed out, among several issues of concern, that, "trucks originating in Mexico will be fueled with diesel that doesn't meet the CARB diesel standards adopted by Arizona over a decade ago. In Mexico, there is no regulation about the sulfur in diesel fuel. In Arizona, the law was changed to allow only diesel fuel to be sold that has had 98% of the sulfur removed." He writes that the state had this information, as well as the stats on how many trucks come in from Mexico. Yet these models of Mexican truck traffic were not considered in air quality models in the DEIS. ADOT and HDR also know that the purpose of the 202 extension is to facilitate trade traffic coming in from Mexico. Why did this not make its way into the DEIS, especially considering HDR's involvement in P3s and trade?

While the population growth projections in the DEIS may have been influenced by the anticipated megapolitan called the Sun Corridor resulting from increased CANAMEX trade, it wouldn't be useful to HDR and ADOT to discuss the negative impacts to health and the environment. Why is it so certain that they know about it? Again, HDR put together this DEIS, with Mary Peters on their board. Mary Peters is well aware of CANAMEX since she was part of the CANAMEX Corridor Coalition as ADOT Director. Tom Warne of the consulting firm for HDR, ADOT, Kiewit, etc. was also in the CANAMEX Corridor Coalition as UDOT Director at the same time.12 Worthy of mention is that Arizona Representative Russell Jones, who introduced P3 legislation, is on the Governor's CANAMEX Task Force and part of the Arizona-Mexico Commission (AMC). AMC is said to be the godfather of CANAMEX by Jim Kolbe, their CANAMEX expert.13

These officials have recently been building their careers on pro-P3 efforts as part of a plan to build trade infrastructure designed to benefit international corporations, not to accomplish goals for the quality of life for the local community. The various companies take an interest in this trade corridor for differing reasons.

The significance of the existing massive network of pro-p3 companies and organizations is that they see tremendous potential for profit so they have built relationships with people in the public sector (politicians and transportation and commerce officials) by providing those officials with the resources they need to accomplish the goals of the P3s. Financial institutions see profit opportunities; the various companies that do the actual design, construction, etc. see dollar signs; and public sector folks see possibilities for career advancement.

Why the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway and why now? It's likely it has something to do with new federal legislation. "President Obama signed into law the “Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act”, or MAP-21, July 6, 2012. It authorizes federal highway and transit investment through September 30, 2014 and provides a historic expansion of the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) program as well as a number of other important policy reforms."14 Darwin Bondgraham writes, "The U.S. Department of Transportation... routinely grants Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loans to P3 developers. TIFIA loans provide companies with much cheaper interest rates and more flexible terms than anything available in the private capital markets—again because the public subsidizes them."15  A hypothetical "South Mountain Toll Road" is listed among other examples of possible projects that could be funded with TIFIA, as seen on the USDOT Federal Highway Administration website.16

Private companies are salivating for grants and low interest rates on loans for public projects, but they also intend to get their money back and then some. An arrangement involving something called availability payments is an increasingly common way for P3s to make money for companies. They get paid back by the state after they've completed the project. "The ultimate source of project financing, then, is always the public, either through tolls or taxes. Why then allow private banks, drawing from private capital markets, to serve as intermediaries? Private financing simply permits the insertion of the financial interests of investment banks and private-equity funds into the long-term wealth-producing potential of public infrastructure. By allowing private investors to fund the construction of a project, the state allows these parties to impose their monopolistic claims on future flows of tax or toll revenues" [my emphasis].17 (This will be examined further in Part 2).

In reference to the TTCA, which clearly exists to facilitate CANAMEX infrastructural development, ADOT Director and chair of TTCA, John Halikowski stated, “Our job is not to lead the horse to water. Our job is not to make the horse drink. Our job is to make the horse thirsty.”18 This is a very telling quote that says a lot about the philosophy of at least one high-ranking Arizona transportation official. The citizens of Arizona, the horse in Halikowski's view, are not thirsty for massive transportation infrastructure, yet the goal of the TTCA is to sell us a story that convinces us that this is for our own good. But we see urban sprawl all around us. Empty subdivisions on the fringes of Maricopa County as one example. Arizona is a natural desert that does not need the increased development that private businesses hunger for. There are federal contracts and TIFIA loans that need to be awarded before September 30, 2014 and they are on a deadline, after all.

There are many reasons to oppose this freeway extension.  “The off-reservation alignment would gouge a 40-story high, 200-yard wide cut into South Mountain, which is sacred to all O’odham and Pee-Posh.”19 According to the Gila River Against Loop 202 website, the main concerns are public health, air quality, ground water, loss of land, and desecration of Muhadag Do’ag (aka South Mountain) and other sacred places.20

Opposition to the freeway is strong and justified whether or not it would involve private partners. The issue is whether the pro-P3 entities have the power to push this project, and what the consequences would be. Are the P3 arrangements and CANAMEX something the public knows about or even wants? Would this set a precedent for increasing privatization?

For more information: http://stopcanamex.blogspot.com
Check back for "Companies seek partnership with AZDOT to profit on freeway, Part 2: The Methods" on how the P3 companies will make their money if this is not a toll road.

Thanks to Gila River Against Loop 202 and Darwin Bondgraham for assistance and insight for this series.

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The comments on this Yarnell Hill Fire widow story may shake your faith in humanity

Ever have one of those days when you say to yourself, "Hey!  I wonder what depths humanity can sink to?"  Maybe you wonder to yourself if there are limits to the human conscience and empathy for others.  Or if there are things that maybe people just think to themselves but would never say in public, even in this age of internet anonymity, if only because human society depends on a certain degree of discretion so that we all don't start killing each other.

Well, if you really want answers to these questions, look no further than the NY Daily News's comments section.  Specifically the backtalk on Joe Kemp's recent article about the city of Prescott denying benefits to the widow of Andrew Ashcraft, one of nineteen firefighters killed June 30 fighting the Yarnell Hill fire.  The city ruled that Ashcraft was a temporary employee and therefore his widow, Juliann, was not entitled to widow's compensation.  Her husband was deemed a "seasonal" employee, itself a highly ironic determination given that Arizona's wildfire season is, well, seasonal!

The Yarnell Hill Fire was remarkable not just for the loss of life, but also because of the outpouring of support for the families of the fallen firefighters.  Fundraisers across the state raised thousands of dollars for them.  Which I suppose is what makes the city of Prescott's decision to deny benefits to Ashcraft so outrageous to so many people.  But not everyone, apparently.

A series of very negative comments target Ashcraft's widow, Juliann, as a deadbeat and a leach off the public, excoriating her for seeking the same benefits that some of her husband's coworkers have received over what seems like a technicality aimed at saving the city money.  Indeed, one person in particular, an alleged widow posting under the name Patricia Blevins goes at Juliann Ashcraft repeatedly, touting her own sob story as a cover for her attacks.

Indeed, Ashcraft's family asserts that he worked more than full time hours for over a year.  Which is not only believable, but completely unsurprising.  More and more workers in this jobless recovery find themselves pushed into exactly the same precarious, at-will employment, where precious work hours and the accompanying paycheck are held hostage to their boss's whim. 

Employers, both public and private, have used the crisis and the mass unemployment and dislocations that have accompanied it as an opportunity to impose extreme "flexibility" on their employees, which basically means working when the boss finds it useful or, more honestly, profitable, and that, essentially, you're on your own the rest of the time.  This is the right wing dream economy, where no employee can expect anything from her employer, not even that there will be work next week, much less benefits, time off or vacation pay.  It's a world where the bosses have complete dominance over their workforce.  And this is the model for the post-crisis economy.

The Arizona Republic yesterday reported:
City records show Ashcraft was first hired in 2011, when he worked during the fire season. He rejoined the crew in 2012 and worked as a firefighter, then, over the winter, on a city snow-removal crew. He was not paid for a week in February 2013, then, records show, rejoined the crew.
The city has not yet provided records requested by The Republic to document the number of hours Ashcraft worked per week during that time.
Personnel records show Ashcraft signed a form acknowledging his temporary status when he was hired in 2011. The form read, in part, “as a temporary employee I will be paid on an hourly basis and I will not receive the same benefits nor be afforded the same employment protection as those individuals filling positions in the regular service.”
Lori Higuera, a lawyer with Fennemore Craig in Phoenix who specializes in employment issues, said that, in general, the issue of permanent status has little to do with the number of hours an employee works.
She said a temporary employee might work the same hours or more than a full-time, permanent employee and still not qualify for benefits.
“The number of hours per week, or even per day, is not going to change the classification of a temporary or seasonal employee,” Higuera said. “You could be a temporary worker, or seasonal worker, and still be full time.”
But don't expect any empathy for the conditions of workers in the comments section of the NY Daily News.  In tried and true reactionary fashion, the digital loudmouths would much rather aim their keyboard bullets horizontally, or even down the economic ladder, than ever look up for more deserving targets of their rage.

No sense of solidarity, just the perverted class politics typical of America, where someone who's had it hard feels entitled -- obligated even -- to spread the misery and, in essence, to defend the bosses and bureaucrats who make the decisions that determine the kinds of work we get and under what conditions.

So, if you have the stomach for it, and you really must know the answers to those questions about human nature that have bedeviled mankind for eternity, prepare yourself and read on.  I make no guarantees that you will not be changed when you come out the other side.

Photo and screen captures via NY Daily News

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Emails reveal: New Times Reporter Took a Mulligan on Occupy Phoenix

A special for Down and Drought by Erik Blare

In golf, a mulligan is when a player gets to cheat for making a bad stroke. In serious competition, the practice leads to the player being disqualified.

Former New Times reporter James King appears to have taken a mulligan by calling on the cops to do his work for him. According to e-mails uncovered as a result of a FOIA request and released Monday by D.B.A. Press, King was playing golf with New Times editor Paul Rubin instead of covering Occupy Phoenix. He calls on top cop Trent Crump to give him the rumpus on what went down because he “can’t stand hippies” and “protesting with no cause is stupid.”  His poorly written e-mails may be a symptom of golf elbow.  Here is the e-mail in full:

From: James King <james.king@newtimes.com>
To: "Martos, Steve" <Steve.Martos@phoenix.gov>, "Thompson, Tommy" <Tommy.Thompson@phoenix.gov>,
"Crump, Trent" <Trent.Crump@phoenix.gov>
Sent: Sat, Oct 15, 2011 04:01:35 GMT+00:00

Subject: occupy phoenix

hello, sirs. was hoping for any info you have on the occupy phoenix march today. any arrests? any mayhem? anyone other than dirty hippies pretending it's 1968? here's my dilemma: i was supposed to go down there and cover it. instead, i went and played golf with paul rubin because i think protesting with no cause is stupid and I can't stand hippies. that said, i'm still expected to write something about it tonight. any help you could offer would be greatly appreciated.

Someone whose profession is protected by the First Amendment should have some respect for the right of citizens to protest. The fact that King thinks there is no cause worth protesting is because he is short-sighted and single-minded. The Occupy Movement protested the fallout of one of the worst financial crises in the country’s history and the government’s unprecedented bailout. There were multiple causes to protest, which confused many journalists like King and irked others by the fact that they would have to do some work to cover the story.

It may be that King’s snarky and sarcastic tone is a ruse to cover up his rag’s “liberal” reputation amongst pols and cops, but his attitude is in full effect in his coverage of Occupy Phoenix. His October 15th, 2011 story 'Occupy Phoenix: Banks Are Evil, the Government's Evil, and Jan Brewer's a "Lying Whore" With Alzheimer's' show that he reported the story with extreme bias. King goes for the low-hanging fruit of finding the wackiest protestors to give him a complete action plan of how to overhaul capitalism. When he doesn’t get it, he dismisses the protestors whole-handedly.  He writes, “Apparently, blowing bubbles is the key to redistributing wealth. Who knew?”

Apparently, King was hoping for a riot because in King’s mind a protest looks the documentaries about the ‘60s that he saw in his high school civics class. When he doesn’t get one, he leaves disappointed and abrogates his duty to the police. “Tomorrow, Phoenix police will update us about any mayhem that went down after we left the demonstration.” After quickly surveying the scene and finding the wackiest protestors to photograph and mock, King presumably went to the links to get some face time with his golf buddy boss and to figure out how many Bud Lights it takes to get a decent enough buzz to kill 18 holes of boredom.  King was not connected to the community. He had no contacts in Occupy Phoenix, so he relied on the police for his reporting. His lackadaisical reporting led to his shoddy story.

As a reporter for a publication started by a counter-culture college drop out who protested the Vietnam War, King calling protestors "dirty hippies" would be ironic if New Times was still true to its original muckraking spirit.  New Times has a history of dismissing community activists with sarcasm. One of the most egregious cases was the fake pro-yuppie protest they sponsored in response to San Francisco’s late ‘90s anti-gentrification movement called the Mission Yuppie Eradication Project.

SF Weekly, a New Times publication, contacted a Project member named Nestor Makhno. The paper covered the story and Makhno wrote a well-researched report on the issues facing the Mission district because of internet-bubble-fueled rapid gentrification of a neighborhood of immigrants, artists and activists. Makhno even refused payment because he wouldn't have his real name printed on the check.

SF Weekly relied on a community activist to cover a burning issue that it couldn’t or wouldn’t. It was a wise move on their part because the then upstart alt-weekly faced stiff competition from long-standing and respected San Francisco Bay Guardian.  True to its snarky, pseudo-libertarian colors, the Weekly turned on Makhno and staged the fake pro-yuppie protest and mocked the counter-demonstrators.

What does a long ago beef between activists and a New Times publication in San Francisco have to do with Phoenix New Times’ reporting on Occupy Phoenix? It demonstrates that New Times has long strayed from its image as an alternative to the mainstream press.  As it became an alt behemoth, it bought out local publications and homogenized content, all of which is covered in a bitter sauce of sarcasm dripped from on high by reporters without connections to the community.

King, a New Yorker, is emblematic of this. He failed to see that a national protest had real roots in Phoenix, which had one of the highest home foreclosure rates in the nation. He didn’t take the time to find real people affected by a growing national disaster. For King, a protest is nothing more than spectacle. He brought his dismissive attitude and biases to Occupy Phoenix and left without the tear gas and batons he wanted for his pre-scripted story. It’s clear from his e-mails to Phoenix police what he wanted:   “tucson police have made 351 arrests so far during their ‘occupation.’ if phoenix police have arrested any fewer than 1,000 hippies, i'll be thoroughly disappointed.”

Occupy Phoenix was nothing but a joke to Phoenix New Times. Despite the real pain and sacrifice of Phoenix residents, King took it as nothing but a laugh at the expense of others, which is not comedy but a mark of arrogant contempt. King’s reporting never let on that he thought Occupy Phoenix was a joke form the onset. That joke was shared only between him and the police. Phoenix police chief responded to King’s written request for information by getting in on the joke. Crump wrote, 

James, I don't know if I believe anything you are saying, first of all rubin [couldn't] swing a golf club if [his]  life depended on it and I don't know what golf course would allow you two liberals to be out on it at the same time. But, in the spirit of helping you keep your job, the demonstration today was very peaceful.  They marched to the variety of locations in the downtown area and were dispersed by 6 pm. We had no arrest or problem to report. I know that does not make for a good story but, I can make something up if you really need it.

While King didn’t make anything up, he clearly had a story in mind before he actually did any reporting. His e-mails and reporting reflect the biases he had prior to covering the story. He prefers playing golf and joking with the police to doing his job. The joke is on New Times because it is a thoroughly discredited source amongst activists. (See Stephen Lemons' press conviction of the Arpaio 5, for example). King has had his last laugh. He disappeared from Phoenix to work for another community newspaper destroyed by New Times’ greed and guile, the historic and venerated Village Voice. Shortly thereafter, King was fired or left that paper and is now in journalism purgatory as a freelancer.

The lesson from this is that the community needs to do the reporting itself, which is why Down and Drought is the perfect forum for activists to tell the story as they see it and feel it. Despite some infrequent good reporting, Phoenix New Times can not be trusted to do the job they claim to do: “Afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.” If any more evidence of this is needed, just remember that those “dirty hippies” who started the alternative newspaper have sold out to become pimps at Backpage.com. After all, advertising erotic services is far more profitable than serious business of reporting the truth.

James King was contacted for this story but did not reply as of press time. His e-mails can be read in full here.

This is part 7 in our ongoing series analyzing recently released police and Federal documents detailing their surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Phoenix and anarchists in the Valley. 

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Cop selfies: Arizona SWAT cop poses for trigger-happy self-pic

Poor trigger discipline.  That might be the first thing that comes to mind to gun owners when they see this vanity pic, posted to the Cop Selfies Tumblr, of an Arizona cop almost blowing her own head off twice in a row.

If you haven't seen it yet, Cop Selfies is full of amusing and sometimes disturbing pictures taken by cops themselves, showing them doing various cop things, in that awkward style that characterizes every selfie.  There's a lot of tough guy posturing.  No shortage of blue steel style looks.  
 Via copselfies.tumblr.com
It might be kind of surprising in the era of the internet and increasing police paranoia over threats to officers both physical and virtual (like the 2011 Antisec dump of DPS information), and the never-ending PR war that police must wage over their often scandal-tarred reputations, that cops are this careless with their information and images.  But as we've seen before, cops aren't the best at censoring themselves or keeping embarrassing details off the public web.  Nor do they have the best sense of humor.

But what makes the photo above even more disturbing, aside from her careless handling of her pistol -- which given the trigger-happy nature of Copper State coppers is bad enough -- is the attitude it presents: a tough cop, shoot first and ask questions later determination topped off with a nonchalant blowing smoke off the barrel, indicating a casualness with lethal force that ought to ring alarm bells considering the regularity with which Arizona cops have been killing people these days.

What's more, if we judge by the police van in the corner picture, this officer is part of the SWAT team.  SWAT units have proliferated massively over the last 30 years, expanding at an even faster rate post-9/11 than before.  As the old saying goes, to a hammer every problem looks like a nail, so these once elite units once reserved for rare, extreme occasions, have increasingly become just another weapon in the cops' daily arsenal, the regular deployment of which ironically helps justify expenditures on the paramilitary and increasingly militarized units.  

This, combined with the general take-no-prisoners attitude of the era of anti-terrorism and the flood of often damaged Iraq and Afghanistan war vets filling the ranks, has caused police to deploy these aggressive cops in increasingly mundane situations, escalating what would otherwise have been normal, routine police work into heavily armed raids and very violent encounters, complete with armored personnel carriers and battering rams.

More and more, "average Americans" (read: white, middle class) are finding out that the militarization of the police that got their stamp of approval when they thought it was aimed, via the drug war or the war on terror or immigration raids, at the nonwhite other, is now becoming an every day part of their experience.  Which means more and more, they are coming into contact with officers with cops projecting the same attitude reflected in that selfie.  

Of course, the great irony is that someone displaying that level of disconnect from the human implications of her job is probably the last person we want carrying that gun around and telling people what to do.  Especially if that poor trigger discipline is any indication of a trigger-happy nature.  The picture says it all.