Friday, May 31, 2013

Trigger-happy, buzz-killing Tempe cop almost zeroes-out man enjoying some unauthorized wine; cop uninjured

Early Monday morning, by William Barret's own admission, he tossed a baseball through a window at House of Trick's, an upscale restaurant in downtown Tempe.  He did it for love: "I threw a baseball through the window so I could get some wine for my girlfriend.”  And if you've seen HoT's wine list, then you know he has good taste, or maybe just got lucky.

Anyhow, apparently Barret was just kind of enjoying himself, drinking wine, smashing some mere material objects that can easily be replaced, relieving some stress, when along comes the Tempe PD to harsh his buzz, something they're really good at.  Well, one thing leads to another and cops say that Barret started throwing bottles at police.

And that's when the officer did the only reasonable thing and opened fire on the vinophile vandal.  Because, after all, clearly it makes sense to respond to a drunk guy lobbing glassware with deadly force!  The cop fired more than once, according to reports, hitting Barret once in the hand.

“They shot me in the hand,” said Barrett. “If I stuck my head out they could have shot my head off.”

Barret was taken into custody and now faces a slew of very serious charges.  According to the police, the officer allegedly hit by the bottle did not require any medical attention, raising even more questions about the seriousness of the encounter.  But yet again, the media's very, very low standard for accepting police violence has essentially glossed over what very well may have been a completely unjustified use of potentially lethal force.

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Watch as Troy Hayden magically turns a story about DPS drowning a man into a pro-MCSO fluff piece

How do you take a story that ought to be about the cops killing a man who can't swim by chasing him into a canal, where he drowns, and magically turn it into a fluffy PR piece celebrating the tough guy heroism of the MCSO?  With the power of television journalism, of course!  Get ready to take notes, all you cub reporters, because Troy Hayden is going to take you to school!

First, of course, gloss over the obvious fact that the man being chased had not been convicted of any crime.  Mention it quickly and move on.  If you can, use military-style language like "go on a mission" to describe your story and make sure to let your viewers know that you've got a real scoop -- a first and only look into how the MCSO dive team works.  How exciting, right?  No, this will not be an investigation into why DPS chased him into the canal and let him drown.

So, at no point entertain the notion that DPS may have some responsibility for the fact that the man is dead, his body submerged in the canal.  That's why you're able to even do this story, but remember, this is a thing that just happened.  There is no one to blame, certainly not the cops, right?  The MCSO dive team is here now, that's the story.

Move on into the "body" of the piece now (whoops, was that in poor taste?).  Show some tough guy speeches by the sheriffs.  Make sure to get them talking about their dedication to each other and getting each other out in one piece.  Now you'll want to demonstrate the technology being used.  Isn't it cool?


Now, dive with the team.  Become one with the team.  Merge your goals and outlook with that of the team.  You know, the way reporters that embed themselves with soldiers do.  There's a reason they let you come along, don't let them down now.  They're counting on you.

It's time now for the emotional release.  He was just a kid.  What a tragedy, right?  A tragedy in which absolutely no one is to blame.  No one.  Except maybe the victim.  Certainly not DPS and, by the way, isn't the MCSO dive team so, like, totally brave and stuff?  Talk to the appropriate authority to give him a chance to affirm again how tough and awesome the cops are.  Let him get some silly cookie-cutter tough guy quote in at the end while you cut away to the murky depths you filmed earlier.  Is this an analogy for something?  Maybe.  Or maybe it's just muddy water.

Finally, make sure to thank the police for letting you be their vehicle for covering up in plain sight the murder by DPS of a man who was not charged with any crime.  Was he a victim of the cops?  Of economic forces beyond his control?  Who cares, right?  You got some badass underwater footage.  Anyhow, say your piece now.

"I want to thank the members of the MCSO dive team for taking me along and helping me show you a little about how they do their jobs."

That'll do.  Nice job.

The end.  Cut to a dog water-skiing or something.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Emails raise more questions about PPD, the red squad, homeland security and the repression of Occupy Phoenix

As we continue to go through the emails released by the Center for Media and Democracy detailing Phoenix Police, Tempe Police and FBI collusion in spying and disrupting Occupy Phoenix, many troubling questions arise.

For instance, who was in the driver's seat during the police response to the ALEC protests of 2011?  It seems clear from the emails that at least some PPD officers were serving as off-duty private security for ALEC while others were working on-duty.  They were coordinating, perhaps as one might expect, but this cooperation raises real questions about the role of a police force that likes to claim that its presence at protests is to facilitate the exercise of constitutional rights.  Clearly PPD doesn't look like an unbiased actor given these facts, a conclusion that no seasoned activist would dispute.

These records also show clearly that PPD was working with banks and, through the FBI fusion center, private security firms like Infragard.  Many questions about these relationships will surely be answered as we dig deeper into these thousands of emails.  But as of now, the answers don't look good for PPD and other police agencies.

Still other emails raise questions about not just the independence of the PPD, but also of whether there was appropriate oversight of such police protest staples as the community relations unit (affectionately known by local activists as the "red squad"), just what it's actual role is in the era of anti-terrorism and even whether it ought to exist at all.

This team plays a central role in the released messages which show it several times to be very important on the ground links for funneling information to police anti-terrorism officials and the FBI fusion center, and for carrying out their plans.  Such a relationship validates the "red squad" monicker that activists have given the unit.  Time and again the community relations unit proves itself to be an integrated part of the overall spying apparatus.

One recurring source of serious concern centers around the role played by Detective Chris Wilson, at the time assigned to the Phoenix PD community relations unit.  As we have previously reported, Detective Wilson, now revealed to have been using his contacts and authority as liaison to the Phoenix LGBTQ community to target and sexually abuse underage boys, is frequently cited in these documents as a source of information and as someone who can use his community contacts to get details on protesters and their plans.  

In the documents features above and below, Brenda Dowhan of the PPD and an alphabet soup of various other anti-terrorism related units responds to a February 2nd request by Tracey Woods of the Glendale PD for "a list of Occupy Phx members with pics".   Woods email in turn was in response to an initial message from Dowhan warning that underage occupiers, known to "openly consume drugs and alcohol" and "create a riotous atmosphere", might attend a fundraiser for a gay pride scholarship at the Mighty Cup & Spoon in Glendale. Incidentally, among Dowhan's other duties was to monitor Facebook and other social media.

Dowhan refers Woods to Wilson, who she says "has contacts with the LGBT and can obtain more information on their plans for the night".  Here we not only see the direct relationship between the community relations unit and the homeland security behemoth, but also how Det. Wilson's directives from above to spy on and interface with elements within the LGBTQ community put him directly in contact with the community he was later to admit victimizing.  This is of course particularly disturbing given the November memo from Det. Wilson's direct supervisor on the community relations unit, Sgt. Mark Schweikert, alleging that Wilson had protection from powerful individuals in the police and city government, and that Wilson was as a result difficult to manage.

But we must resist the tendency to chalk this up to a single bad apple.  In fact, what these emails reveal is that the "red squad" was key in the repression, surveillance, and disruption Occupy Phoenix, not to mention the role it played in creating the opportunity and authority necessary for Wilson to abuse his young victims.  Further, it suggests strongly that it has become a key element of the larger anti-terror infrastructure, a vital part of the information funnel and repressive machinery of homeland security that increasingly targets domestic activists as part of its ever-expanding mandate.

As the saying goes, if all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail.  And this is precisely the model on which anti-terrorism operates, a form of policing to which community relations has become wedded.  Assets unused for fighting terrorism instead must be justified by hyping threats.  Likewise, resistance must be framed as terrorism.  And the red squad was situated at a crucial juncture in that system.  Such a relationship creates a chilling effect with regard to the exercise of the very rights it claims to protect and makes a very good case for the total dismantlement of the unit.

This is part 4 in our ongoing series analyzing recently released police and Federal documents detailing their surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Phoenix and anarchists in the Valley.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Tempe anti-terror cops sent undercovers to infiltrate a local bar to spy on anarchists planning a community garden

According to documents released by the Center for Media and Democracy this week, while investigating Occupy Phoenix organizers and anarchists in Phoenix, Sgt. Ken Renwick (of Tempe's Homeland Defense Unit) directed plain clothes officers to "visit Casey Moore's and see if we can get any intel".  Casey Moore's is a bar in downtown Tempe where police suspected anarchists gathered and hatched their plans.  It's affectionately called "Casey's" by regulars.

The problem?  May Day was approaching and while it seemed Occupy Phoenix had wound down in many respects, it was known that Tempe anarchists were planning something, probably in Tempe, maybe in Scottsdale.  But finding out what hadn't proved an easy task.

At the beginning of Occupy Phoenix Sgt. Tom Van Dorn, head of the Major Offenders Bureau and Career Criminals Squad was forced to admit that "finding out how the anarchists are organizing and what they are up to is still difficult".  Sending police infiltrators like Saul DeLara (quickly unmasked by veteran activists) hadn't helped.  By May the cops were still complaining about the lack of information, and Brenda Dowhan worried about the "complete silence from May Day organizers".

Incidentally, Dowhan is a perfect example of the explosion of anti-terrorism positions since September 11th, signing off her emails as "Terrorism Liaison All Hazards Expert, Phoenix Police Department Homeland Defense Bureau, Arizona Counter-Terrorism Information Center".  An online search reveals her as an alumni.of Kaplan University, an online college.  In one email, Dowhan shared at least one link to an article posted to entitled "Spain: New wave of incendiary attacks and sabotages by Nihilist Anarchists".  There were no attributed anarchist incendiary attacks in Phoenix during the period covered by these documents.

The cops are heading to Casey's
This wasn't the first time anarchists in Tempe had been singled out by anti-terrorism authorities to fit their demands for a local terrorist bogeyman.  In 2004, Dan Elting, a Phoenix cop and counter-terrorism trainer, organized a community forum at the Tempe library in which anarchists were described as terrorist threats equivalent to Al-Qaeda and the Klan.  Printouts of the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition's webpage were distributed as reference materials to a very conservative, elderly and scared audience.  It was the only local organization so featured.

Around the time Tempe plain clothes officers appear to have been directed in the name of homeland defense to brave the cool Spring patio weather and cold beers at Casey's to spy on anarchists, Casey's had been informally the site of a regular Thursday night anarchist drinking night known as "Anarchy Thursdays".  This is almost certainly the reason why cops were sent there.

Anarchists had been living and organizing in Tempe for well over a decade, and downtown Tempe had seen two previous May Day marches in 2002 and 2003.  The former had gotten a bit out of hand from the perspective of the cops.  In addition, police reacted clumsily and pepper sprayed journalists.  But by 2003 the bike unit had received training by the Eugene Police Department in crowd control (Eugene being another national hotbed of anarchist organizing at the time) and the march was more easily contained.

Over the years anarchists have become well-established in downtown Tempe neighborhoods and the community there, and had proved it most recently (pre-Occupy) during the 2010 resistance to SB1070.  Anarchists had initiated and been central organizers in building Tempe neighborhood resistance to the application of the law in Tempe, doing door to door organizing, printing yard signs denouncing the law that proliferated through the neighborhood, putting on well-attended neighborhood general assemblies and one very large march through the neighborhood that attracted a wide range of Tempe residents.  Police were not able to contain that march to the sidewalks and residents marched cheerfully in the streets as their neighbors frequently came out to wave in support or join in.

What the cops did know was that the Tempe May Day action involved taking over a public space ("reclaim the commons", as it was called in anarchist parlance) in order to plant a community garden.  An occupation.  This much was clear from the posters that went up around town.

The chosen spot was a long vacant lot downtown.  For two decades it had been the location of Tempe's largely beloved "Gentle Strength Co-op" (although not so much with the developers and city council).  Anarchists had held weekly meetings for years there as the Phoenix Anarchist Coalition, and had run an infoshop on the premises for about six months at one point (until some yuppie members complained about "bad vibes").  Still, anarchists worked there and were prominent members.  But the co-op had closed now and, after a failed attempt to develop the land into a Whole Foods/condoplex, it had lain fallow and unused for years.  What's more, the empty lot was now owned by the very same Canadian corporation that owned Zuccotti Park, the site of the original Occupy Wall Street encampment.

Officer Derek Pittam, by May Day 2012 serving as a Tempe Police Department Homeland Defense Unit Detective, had come up on the bike squad and had experience dealing with Tempe anarchists.  He'd had many run ins with them during protests and their routine cop watch patrols in the downtown.  Like many cops post-9/11, he had moved into one of the myriad anti-terrorism-related jobs that had proliferated across police departments nationwide thanks to increased Federal funding, a kind of grade inflation that led to the ridiculous number of titles accumulated à la Dowhan by many of the officers appearing in the documents released by PR Watch.  Those documents reveal Pittam was determined to deny anarchists a victory in their May Day plans.

Anti-terror cops defend empty lot from gardeners
In order to execute those plans, and to make sure that the vacant lot stayed empty and unused by the neighborhood, Pittam engaged in a series of pre-emptive actions (of questionable legality), such as sending police to visit local businesses warning of anarchist activity (including, according to one business owner, a claim that anarchists planned to run "really long hoses" across the street to water the lot).  Oh, the horror! 

He also wrote a letter to local businesses and prominent non-anarchist neighborhood residents.  In it, he linked the May Day action to anarchist violence. Pittam clearly saw this as a battle for the hearts and minds of Tempe.  He wrote: "I am very concerned that the organizers of this event have not disclosed important information in their quest to gain support from local residents and businesses." Unfortunately for Pittam, the letter was leaked by residents sympathetic to Tempe anarchists, who then published it the day before the garden planting, causing some embarrassment.

A riot cop is confused as a child is detained for vandalism
On the day in question about seventy people showed up with the intent of building a community garden, a great many of them local residents.  They gathered at the Farmer's Market across the street, with the permission of the owner.  What they found was a line of riot cops positioned in the lot.  Police threatened any trespassers with arrest.  Still loaded up with supplies (and with the cops baking in the hot sun), the group decided to take over a strip of city land right next to the lot.  Police did not act and a garden was built.  Several news outlets sent out reporters and cameras to
report on it, capturing the excitement and enthusiasm of participants.  A concrete planter was poured and filled with a variety of plants and vegetables.  At one point police, watching from the park, thought they saw some small children vandalizing a sign, so they stormed in and detained the kids and their parents.  It turned out the paint was water-soluble, so only warnings were given.  The impromptu community garden was maintained for three days until city workers came early in the morning and destroyed it.

In an email tooting his own horn about police activities that day (designed, as Sgt. Renwick had said, to make neighborhood residents and anarchists "go home saddened", denied victory), Pittam wrote, 'Our local actions, for better or worse, did appear to have an impact.  We did not have "Black Bloc" emerge...'  Why anyone would imagine a black bloc to be a useful tactic for building a garden wasn't clear, but it must certainly have been related to the general hyping of the potential for violence that these cops regularly engaged in.  Indeed, most likely a black bloc wasn't deterred at all, but none was ever planned.  After all, aside from its uselessness in that situation, it was also 100 degrees that day.  Only cops hang around in all black in those conditions.  They were the only black bloc that day.

Justifying their jobs in the face of what was in fact was a bit uncooperative but nevertheless standard fare protest must have been both frustrating and difficult to understand from an anti-terror framework.  It's telling that no where in these documents does it appear that police called each other out on their fantastic imaginings.  Instead, like Pittam post-garden defense, it's pats on the back, self-congratulation and attaboys. 

Interestingly, people who participated in the action didn't view it as a defeat.  A plot was taken over, the contradiction of cops defending an empty lot with significant local meaning was on full display, and a garden was planted.  And it was destroyed because the city couldn't tolerate it.  It would seem the organizers actually came out on top that day, not the TPD.

Nevertheless, when we read these police documents what we get is the odd juxtaposition of anti-terror rhetoric and gravity on one hand, and then the broad interpretation of results in the face of the actual run of the mill nature of the "threat".  As in the case of a local homeland defense officer, organizing with Phoenix anti-terror cops to send undercovers to spy on drunk anarchists and to deploy riot police in downtown Tempe to stop the planting of a community garden.  Oh yeah, and to detain children for painting.

This is part 3 in our ongoing series analyzing recently released police and Federal documents detailing their surveillance and infiltration of Occupy Phoenix and anarchists in the Valley.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013


Would it be hypocritical for someone who makes their living off the First Amendment (like, say, a book seller, for instance) to report other people who are exercising their First Amendment rights (like, say, activists, for instance) to the police for their political activities?

If you haven't had a chance yet to read the Center for Media and Democracy's recent massive dump of emails and documents detailing the police surveillance and crackdown on Occupy Phoenix, you're really missing out.  The files reveal a year of police targeting of activists, infiltration of political groups, a witch-hunt for anarchists and outright collaboration with the right wing, pro-corporate American Legislative Council (ALEC), which came to Arizona in November 2011 for its annual meeting.

For activists and anarchists active during that year of protest that shook the country and yet seems already to have faded from public memory, these documents come as both vindication and confirmation of what everyone knew was going on at the time.  Unfortunately, the media wasn't interested in telling the story at the time.  Their cozy relationship with the authorities, inability to empathize with protesters expressing their anger at the ongoing crisis, and maybe a little bit of denial that the security state that had expanded so massively since 9/11 might be used to police dissent in a democracy, all conspired to keep this story off the airwaves and out of the newspapers.

Since the release of the documents Monday, people have pored through them.  One of the first revelations to start making waves involves Cindy Dach, co-owner and GM at the favorite local book store Changing Hands, and proprietor at MADE Art Boutique in downtown Phoenix.  The downtown arts neighborhoods has been an ongoing point of conflict for some time between the more rebellious, free (and less profit-oriented) elements and those who sought to build a commercial arts hub as part of the larger development project in the area.  As a result of this conflict, ongoing communication was established between the more business-minded folks and the cops.  The objective was to bring the often ruckus First Friday art night to heel, to domesticate it with the aim of making it more amenable to families and business.

According to documents, on October 7, 2011 Dach got wind of a gathering of Occupy Phoenix activists at the now-defunct Conspire coffehouse (a regular hang out for anarchists, activists and anticapitalist-oriented artists).  The purpose of the gathering was to flyer and raise awareness of the coming October 15th occupation.  Dach typed up an email and sent the warning to Sgt. Chas Clements, reporting the meeting.  As we know from other documents, the PPD was already focused on Occupy Phoenix and making plans to stop it.  

As PR Watch reports:

“Not sure how this differs from their regular - come to Conspire on First Friday activity, but I thought I should share,” wrote Dach to Clements (Appendix, p.148-149).  The email contained links to two Facebook event notices detailing the event...

According to records obtained by DBA/CMD, Clements forwarded this advisory on to PPD South Mountain Precinct Resource Lt. Sean Connolly. In his response to the Clements email, Connolly wrote, “Yes this is connected to the Occupy Phx / Day of Rage protest next week on the 14th and 15th. For intel purposes, I would like to obtain a few copies of any flyers handed out tonight at FF [First Friday] reference the protests next week [sic].”

This struck many in the arts community as well as long-time Changing Hands customers as a rather glaring bit of hypocrisy, considering the nature of her business. dependent as it is on the First Amendment, but also given that the store is generally well-stocked with lefty books.  Readers tend to be quite fervent defenders of freedom of speech and assembly.  What else is a book club, after all?  Or a book store for that matter?   Especially one that so frequently hosts speaking engagements for popular authors.

Disgruntled customers and artists took to Changing Hands' Facebook page to express their outrage, demanding answers.  Changing Hands posted a reply from Dach.  In it, she describes the family-friendly nature of the event and her spin on their decision to work with the police generally, adding that "it saddens me that a small but vocal minority has somehow conflated event management and crowd safety with the squelching of free speech."  That language eerily parallels the Orwellian administrative and de-politicized doublespeak of the cops as they cracked down on Occupy all over the country, citing camping ordinances, trash collection and other banal civil regulations as justification.

However, whatever their opinion on the taming of First Friday, many people are stunned that Dach couldn't see the distinction between political activity and other behavior she might consider anti-social, disruptive or bad for business.  Whether First Friday and art deserves to be sanitized for family consumption, like so many parts of this child-centered culture, is one question.  But opinion seems to solidifying at this time around a genuine sense of outrage and consternation that a trusted bookseller so easily turned on core book-lovers' values and took up the role of police adjunct in a fight in which free speech played so central a part.  After all, her report didn't just go into the ether.  Records strongly suggest that police used that intelligence to take repressive action, sending undercover officers to infiltrate the movement and gather intelligence.  One of those officers was overheard advocating violence on more than one occasion before being outed by activists.

Dach may see this as a neutral act, but many people do not.  And, as further records revealed, the Phoenix PD was in active collaboration not only with the banks but also with far right wing, pro-corporate groups like ALEC.  That adds an extra bite for customers who pride themselves on shopping locally and independently.  The old labor slogan comes to mind: "Which side are you on?"  Maybe quickly followed by some advice from the late Howard Zinn, who would remind us that "you can't be neutral on a moving train."

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Suspicious package watch: discarded clothing, food donations and a Hitachi grill sow terror

Suspicious package watch continued this week in Arizona with no sign of letting up. 

Although perhaps a better description would be the continuing and constant freakout by the media, the police and the public that gives the cops unending opportunities to justify their bloated post-9/11 hardware budgets in terrifyingly boring high definition, real time broadcasts.  Bomb squad cops responded this past week to yet more perplexing packages, mostly duffel bags filled with clothes, but also a Hitachi grill which was eventually cleared of suspicion.  And in Lake Havasu, a curious  package next to a post office food donation collection site was reported to cops and revealed with expensive x-ray machinery to be filled with donated food.  Even charity can be deemed a terrorist threat these days, it seems.  Watch out, Good Samaritans!  Big Brother is watching you!

A common theme among many of the suspicious packages is their proximity to courthouses, raising the suspicion that we might be witnessing at least a partial case of projection and maybe the prodding of a collective courthouse guilty conscience.  After all, the relationship between the courts and justice are certainly dubious at best and who can count the number of potential disgruntled suspects unsatisfied with their experience in these dreary punishment factories?  It churns out more and more every day, after all.  That's what factories do.

Last week an unattended duffel bag left downtown shut down the area around Sheriff Joe's offices in the Wells Fargo office.  The Maricopa Kounty Klan Korps was probably a bit on edge after the recent May Day bomb threat at the construction site of Joe's new gulag hq.

Phoenix PD spokesman, Sgt. Steve Martos explained the disrupting of downtown business, saying, "We want people to call us and tell us [if they see something suspicious]," he said. "We would prefer to ensure that it was nothing rather than it be something and nobody called about it."


But just think: could normal life even happen in poor and working class neighborhoods if we called in every piece of curious cardboard along the street or in abandoned lots?  


So downtown, out of precaution, they're willing to shut down government to check out trash and bags discarded (or left temporarily unattended) by the homeless.  Daily life can be disrupted for common objects scattered about in public and they encourage you to report every possible curious thing to the police.  By the way, I hope you didn't take the day off or pay for a babysitter for your court date, because you're just going to have to do it again now.

Which begs the question: does this go for people in poor and working class parts of town as well?  Of course, for good reason we tend to be way more suspicious of the police than the items that crowd our daily surroundings.  In our neighborhoods we encounter all manner of discarded items on the way to the convenience store, to school and work every day.  It's not like the city's too keen on keeping our part of town clean.  But just think: could normal life even happen in poor and working class neighborhoods if we called in every piece of curious cardboard along the street or in abandoned lots?  

And how sympathetic are our bosses, the police and judges, various bureaucrats and other petty authorities in our lives to the excuse "there was a suspicious package at the bus stop"?  Not at all, most likely. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Phoenix makes its poorest residents pay for the cushy pensions of the very cops who jail and kill them

As the City of Phoenix has been hemming and hawing about whether it will eliminate its absurdly regressive 2% sales tax on food (the cost of which disproportionately falls on the poor), the Arizona Republic reports that those charged with policing the city's poor have been making a killing (while actually doing the killing) by taking advantage of a city policy that let's retiring cops and firefighters cash out unused sick and vacation pay.  It's against the law, but no one is talking about jail. After all, these are cops, not ordinary criminals.

Phoenix allows officers to take saved up sick and vacation time as additional pay or one time payout, which has allowed some cops to massively pad their paychecks.  Some of these payments, which the state views as illegal, have totaled in the many hundreds of thousands of dollars – per person. The Republic reports that according to their research more than a dozen retiring officers received over a hundred thousand dollars each in added salary in their final years on the job.  More than a hundred retired cops receive pensions that amount to more than twice the average wage for Arizona workers.   Some have taken home over a million dollars in added pay while more than 650 have gotten over a quarter million dollars in lump sum payments, with ten boosting their lump sum payouts to over $700,000.

And it's not like Phoenix cops can plead poverty.  City cops, who at just shy of $60,000 a year already rake in $10,000 more than the statewide average for law enforcement, also make double the typical wage of other City of Phoenix employees, people who get hit much harder by that 2% sales tax than do their fellow workers in blue.  

Many of these city workers were forced to take pay cuts, freezes and furloughs in the past, as with so many other workers at the bottom of the economic ladder.  And, as is typical with austerity, while the rhetoric may be about shared sacrifice, the real pain is only distributed at the bottom.  For instance, city manager David Cavazos got a $78,000 raise last year.  Ironically, even the head of the cop union PLEA thought it was outrageous.  Other city managers got raises as well.  Meanwhile the budget has been balanced on the backs of the poor and low-paid city workers.

Which certainly puts the whole controversy in a different light. Given that the prime target of policing is the poor, essentially what the City of Phoenix is doing is making its poorest residents – and lower paid city workers – pay for the cushy double-dipping retirement plans of the very cops who will arrest, beat and imprison them and their families. Now that hardly seems fair. Not to mention that the example of the city's law enforcement breaking state law for financial gain with impunity doesn't really look good (no arrest or jail for them, apparently!).

At the very least, those who expect to benefit from this police protection ought to be the ones who pay for it. At the end of the day, it's the city's wealthy population who benefit most from keeping the poor, unemployed and over-taxed population in line. So, if the city insists on paying its hired killers such high wages, maybe they should retire the levy on food and replace it with a tax on high end restaurants and personal chefs.  You know, a little shared sacrifice.  At least we'd have some consistency. Something says that proposal would be a non-starter.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Gunning for that Number One Spot

In the four months since the Sandy Hook school massacre the debate around gun control has polarized a section of American opinion on the types of firearms available to the public for purchase, who should have access to them, and how difficult should it be to acquire one.  A paranoia persists amongst the American right wing that the Obama administration will be using the mass shootings as pretext to initiate a federal "gun grab."  Scenarios amongst the right have ranged from the President of the NRA alleging that the government will be going door to door to confiscate weapons, to a pair of US congressmen from Oklahoma who have charged the Obama administration are behind the months long ammunition shortage. The impact of the shortages on ammunition and firearm sales, when combined with an apocalyptic fear of the federal government carrying out a gun seizure (of majority white gun owners nonetheless), has resulted in handsome profits for the firearms industry.

While there has been no attempt at gun control in Arizona, proponents of firearms have responded to calls from right wing political organizations to mobilize at the state capitol for a series of rallies to denounce any potential "gun grab" by the federal government. Hundreds gathered at various rallies at  the Arizona state capitol to demonstrate against any proposed legislation to further regulate the sale of firearms, ammunition, and magazines by the federal government.  The rallies are a mixed crowd of gun enthusiasts, anti-immigrant biker gangs, border militia members, and political opportunists looking to capitalize from the far-right's latest bout of persecution complex.

The rallies at the state capitol were not in response to any specific gun control laws being passed in the Arizona state legislature since there is no chance any bills advance in the Republican majority, gun friendly legislature. Quite the opposite, in recent years the state legislature have passed a number of laws over the years which reinforce gun owners' rights, and facilitate the accessibility with which guns are available to purchase from dealers and private citizens.  It's not surprising that Arizona is considered the number one state to be a gun owner in the United States.

 The February 16th Second Amendment rally at the Arizona state capitol.

Arizona was recently ranked as the friendliest state for gun owners by Guns and Ammo Magazine based upon a criteria of a person's ability to open carry or carry a concealed weapon in public, the ability to purchase MSRs (Modern Sports Rifles) such as AR-15s and AK-47s without restriction, the lack of restrictions to obtain Class 3/NFA firearms beyond the federal law, the passing of Stand Your Ground laws regarding "self defense", and any other laws on the book which restrict gun or ammunition purchases.  In addition, Arizona is one of the top states for individuals who have applied for manufacturing licenses to begin producing or customizing firearms.

Arizona scored a near perfect score of 49 in the magazine's ranking, and this is in no small part due to Republican state legislators have sponsored a slew of pro-gun legislation in recent years.  While few of the more recent bills have made it to the governor's office for final approval in to law, there have been a handful of eye brow raising bills which made national news headlines. The most controversial bill is HB 2291 which would prohibit any federal law enforcement agent from enforcing federal gun laws in Arizona, making any such enforcement a Class 6 felony, and require local law enforcement to arrest the federal officer enforcing the law.  Given the supremacy clause of the US constitution it seems unlikely that legislators will approve the bill that is as likely a political stunt as it is a genuine attempt at secession.

Another which was passed last week prohibits city gun buy backs from destroying the weapons turned in, the new law will require cities to resell these firearms.  In Arizona it is the poor and working class who are compelled to disarm with offers of  "guns for groceries", however there is the Armed Citizens Project which seems keen to buck the perception of the white male gun owner by offering free shotguns in limited numbers to single women and homeowners in "high crime" neighborhoods in Tucson.

Most amusing are some of the hypotheticals of the state's slide into weaponization as a prescription for society's problems, for example could it be possible for working class and poor folks in the near future to turn in a firearm for a grocery credit, and, due to the "buy back" law, that same firearm could be back in their home courtesy of the Armed Citizens Project. It's a doubtful scenario, but the politic of the gun is a driving force in right wing ideology across the state and there may be unforeseen consequences to come from the push to the weaponization of Arizona.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Bomb threat closes down work on Joe's new HQ, reveals local news buffoonery

AzCentral and 12 News reports today that workers showing up early this morning to their gig building Joe's new gulag hq were stunned to find a bomb threat spray painted on one of the buildings.  The message seemed obvious enough, which photos taken overhead from an entirely necessary news chopper that wasn't intended at all to give a sense of false urgency to a slow-moving story, revealed to be scrawled in large (mostly) capital letters, reading, "Bomb inside…No Work Today...Happy May Day…Stop building prisons for other workers.”  And that's apparently exactly what happened: workers were sent home or to other job sites and construction stopped for the day.

And, indeed, given that Sheriff Joe intends to use it fill his jails up with migrant workers and that other workers were the ones building it, the point seems both apt and easy enough to understand.  That is, if you're not a local news reporter.  But, never keen to waste an opportunity to be confused by a story, the local media dove right in, displaying their complete inability to grasp just what it was the vandal might be getting at.  Just what could it all mean?

Let's start with the facts, shall we?  The Channel 12 anchor started off by reporting only a fragment of the message, making the "May Day" part seem like a distress signal (which, when combined with the ellipses in the AzCentral article, made it seem like it was written while falling off a cliff).  She also warned us about a suspicious lunch box (more about that later!).

Meanwhile, Channel 10's Diane Ryan demonstrated her journalistic prowess by managing to quote the message correctly, but got stuck instead on the significance of the first of May, reporting that "May Day is anarchist day".  It's true that May Day historically honors the Haymarket martyrs, anarchist labor organizers who were hanged in Chicago during the struggle for the 8 hour day, but one hardly suspects Diane Ryan has this level of understanding.  Nope.  Anarchist Day.  That'll do!

Anyhow, closing out the story with a dose of patriarchal male authority, long time and beloved local news anchor Ron Hoon reminded us that law enforcement takes this sort of thing seriously, and then took to openly advocating for the capture of the scofflaw defacer. "Hopefully we can announce an arrest soon," he opined.  No need to interview the police, their man behind the desk, secret super cop Ron Hoon, will advocate their position for them, apparently.  Will he make the arrest himself?  Think of the savings!  The time, the money.  But seriously, what journalism school did the Hooner go to where they taught him that his job was to take the side of law and order when it comes to political protest?

Of course, in this day and age, the Hooner is right -- the cops do take this kind of thing ridiculously seriously.  Recently bomb threats have shut down schools during AIMS week, and today the PPD proved to any doubters than any suspicious lunch box that falls of a work truck from now on will be dutifully and spectacularly blown up by a fucking bomb-blowing-up robot.  Yes, you'll be late to work.  Yes, it's just some guy's tools.  Too bad.  Because despite the budget cuts plaguing our schools and transit system, there's always money for the bomb squad.  Because it keeps you scared.

Arizona GOP and gun lobby back racist 'poverty firearm confiscation', welcome state intervention into gun market

Oh, sweet irony.  Perhaps rivaled only by our magnificent sunsets, it's the one consistent joy of living in Arizona.  Endorsing what is in effect a confiscatory transfer of guns from poor people of color to the white middle class, Jan Brewer signed into law Monday a bill that blocks cities that organize gun buyback programs from destroying them after they are handed in.  According to the new law, cities will be required to sell them instead.

Thanks to the panic around gun regulation these days, it's a seller's market.  So, who's selling, and why?  We can start by looking at some cold, hard facts.  With Arizona's unemployment rate still higher than the national average after years of a grinding, ongoing economic crisis that has disproportionately affected minorities, many people are surely selling these weapons for short term cash or to take care of basic needs.  Indeed, a recent Tucson buyback ("no questions asked") offered only grocery store gift cards as payment (a restriction that probably itself reflects racist and anti-poor biases).  

An upcoming buyback in Phoenix offers grocery and electronics store gift cards -- bread and circuses, essentially, for the poor.  Gun dealers in Tucson themselves set up shop outside the buyback event, offering $50 -- a pittance -- to anyone willing to sell.  And, as you would expect, Arizona ranks high in terms of population in poverty, and that rate itself is highly racialized.  Thus, many of the "voluntary" gun sales probably ought more realistically to be viewed as poverty confiscations from a politically disenfranchised class of people.

In addition, Arizona has one of the worst levels of felony disenfranchisement by race in the country.  According to a report by the Sentencing Project, an organization that advocates for sentencing reform, Arizona ranked in the top ten of states for felony disenfranchisement.  And, when you drill down into those numbers, what you find is that they break down quite disproportionately along racial lines.  Arizona ranks near the top, with 12.1% of the black population being disenfranchised.  This in a state where African-Americans make up only 4.5% of the overall population.
If white Arizona gun owners are a persecuted group, constantly under threat, then never before has such a targeted group found such a sympathetic ear in government.

Indeed, Arizona incarcerates whites at rates far lower than non-whites.  Blacks in the Copper State are locked up almost six times as often as whites, and Latinos are incarcerated at 1.8 times the rate as whites -- almost twice as often.  And this is not a result of whites committing less crime.  As an Arizona AZLU investigation of DPS stops revealed, cops are more likely to stop people who aren't white -- despite the fact that whites are more likely to be found with contraband after being searched.  And this despite cops searching whites less frequently.  So cops are paying more attention to people who aren't white.  Or, looked at another way, whites are getting a pass from cops.  What this means, of course, is that all things being equal, you are more likely to wind up a felon in Arizona if you aren't white.

What's more, felons actually have more reason to need to own a gun than non-felons, given that they are much more likely to live in high-crime parts of the city where policing is adversarial or non-responsive, or where it makes more sense to deal with problems first hand rather than involve the police, whether to avoid making trouble or out of a fear that the cops will just make the situation worse.

Meanwhile, anyone who has attended any of the seemingly constant stream of 2nd Amendment rallies at the capitol can attest that the political wing of the pro-gun movement is overwhelmingly white.  And they are the opposite of disenfranchised.  Gun rallies feature a virtual who's who of party officials.  The Republican power structure caters to their paranoid ravings, passing one gun liberalization law after another.

This is remarkable because it goes so clearly against the popular narrative of gun rights under siege that predominates the movement.  It's a peculiar feature of the white middle class right in Arizona that it perceives itself to be constantly under attack, despite its political agents being firmly ensconced within the political establishment.  If white Arizona gun owners are a persecuted group, constantly under threat, then never before has such a targeted group found such a sympathetic ear in government.

So what we have here is a state-mandated intervention in the gun market for a privileged set of consumers -- at the expense of a disenfranchised class with little recourse -- quite ironic given the free market, anti-government sensibilities of most gun owners!  Further, this new statute is designed to prevent cities from circumventing a 2010 law aimed at forcing them to sell seized weapons to federally licensed dealers, thus making it set to neatly resolve the supply problems that white middle class gun owners have been complaining about since the latest wave of white gun-grabber paranoia set in, clearing gun store shelves state-wide.  Of course, the irony is that this supply problem is essentially being solved by state-legislated gun confiscation, via poverty and felony.  However, white middle class gun owners seem fine with it because they are the beneficiaries.

Of course, this lines up perfectly with the history of white gun ownership in the United States, which despite the rhetoric of the armed white right, has always really been about defending reactionary and racist tyranny policies, not opposing them.  White gun owners like to trot out and appropriate the imagery and history of armed struggles of people of color, whether slaves or Native Americans, but the truth is the very armed whites who today use those arguments would back then have almost certainly been the defenders of slavery and the wars against Indigenous peoples.

How do we know?  Because that's what armed whites did then.  Despite their current fantasies, with very rare exception (John Brown, the militant left in the 70's), armed white people have served again and again as a bulwark of tyranny, not as its opposition.  They have formed slave patrols, Klan night riders, Anti-Mexican militias, border vigilante paramilitaries, strike breakers and gangs of Indian-killers.


Even disregarding the history, if a well-armed white population were de facto a counter-force against contemporary government authority, then one is hard-pressed to see the evidence of it in a society that imprisons more people than any other country on Earth and apparently feels no restriction on its imperial ambitions from its gun-toting domestic population.

But this should come as no surprise: after all, this is a settler society, and in settler societies the armed population serves as an auxiliary to state power, not a hedge against it.  Even disregarding the history, if a well-armed white population were a de facto counter-force against contemporary government authority, then one is hard-pressed to see the evidence of it in a society that imprisons more people than any other country on Earth and apparently feels no restriction on its imperial ambitions from its gun-toting domestic population.  The vast majority of armed whites, it turns out, have always had a very selective definition of tyranny and likewise have been all too eager to defend reactionary, racist politics.  This echoes today in the white gun movement's support for border controls and armed immigration militants.  And as we see with support for this law, that's a hypocrisy they are quite happy to embrace.

But what would a really consistent pro-gun position look like?  Here are a few ideas.  First, it would reject this state-backed confiscation from the poor and marginalized and propose instead remedies to poverty and criminalization.  Second, it would reverse the pro-gun movement's parasitic relationship to a disenfranchised population; rather than seeking to expropriate the guns owned by poor and non-white Arizonans, it would instead insist that their rights be defended and extended.  Importantly, it would demand an end to the ban on felons owning firearms.  And it would call for an end to police seizures of weapons from the poor, regardless of legality.  Finally, it would demand a demilitarization of the police and immediate measures to end racist disparities in policing, imprisonment and sentencing.  It would break publicly with law enforcement, especially racist reactionaries like Sheriff Paul Babeu and Joe Arpaio.  And it would end any affiliations with racist border militias and make its rallies no-go zones for fascists.

The white pro-gun movement needs to break from its reactionary tradition and embrace in a genuine way the history it currently exploits and engages with only superficially.  If it wants to cite the legacy of slave and Indigenous resistance as its lineage, then it needs to stop fetishizing the imagery and start standing by the content.