Wednesday, September 28, 2005


There are times when the news flowing in from all over stubbornly refuses to cohere, but simply creates an over-all atmosphere of unease. I found today’s reading particularly odd and unpleasant. Here are some highlights, comments welcome:

Ottawa: The hearing of two of "Ottawa’s finest" who have been accused of abuse of authority resumes today. Protester Paul Smith had been wrongfully arrested at a demonstration, and then, going limp, was Tasered by the cops while on the ground and handcuffed. The local "complaints procedure" folks found the cops not guilty of anything, and indeed stated that the use of Tasers was justified as a "pain compliance" technique. Smith managed to get the provincial oversight body, the Ontario Civilian Commission on Police Services, to undertake a rare review, based upon a videotape of the event.

It appears that the police were also videotaping the same incident, but the camerawoman, RCMP constable Sylvie Nault, somehow turned off the camera for the exact period in which the Tasering took place. She claimed that she had been repositioning herself, and besides, she hadn’t seen any Tasering. The other video showed the Tasering, all right, into Smith as he lay on the ground, limp and handcuffed.

Police Chief Vincent Bevan, meanwhile, wants to purchase between 40 and 60 new Tasers for his blue team, at a cost of $1,500 each. In his words, "I would like to see more Tasers...We've trained our members at a high level, the deployment we have used with Tasers up until now has been very good and very reliable and I think there are situations in our experience where it has avoided the need to go to the use of deadly force." He says his department will "revisit" its policies depending upon the outcome of the OCCOPS hearing.

Courts drive reluctant governments; likewise complaints hearings, it seems, drive police policy-making.

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: The never-ending US monkey trials continue. Parents have reacted to a local school board that wants so-called "intelligent design" taught alongside the theory of evolution in the science curriculum. The former is a non-verifiable, non-falsifiable assertion that in no way can be regarded as science, but it's the approved code these days for the "man walked with dinosaurs" crowd.

It's at times like this that I get a particular laugh out of sweeping judgements about "Islamic fundamentalism." The US, almost unnoticed, it seems, by anyone, is a militant Christian fundamentalist nation, nearly half of whose population believes that our forebears were hunted by T-Rex after being pitched out of the Garden. No less than the President of the United States has stated that "both sides" of the "debate" should be taught alongside each other.

Whatever happens in this trial, the monkeys have already won.

Rejecting a lawsuit, Ontario's Court of Appeal has held, by a 3-2 margin, that Hamilton police acted appropriately when they created a photo lineup comprised of one Aboriginal (a suspect in ten bank robberies) and eleven non-Aboriginals. New evidence showed that most of these crimes had been committed by someone else. He was subsequently convicted of one of the robberies, spent 20 months in jail, and then was acquitted of that one on appeal.

Let's see, now...Rodney King is our man; let's put him in a line-up with a bunch of white folks and add Al Jolson to show our lack of bias. Think we'll get a positive ID?

New Orleans: Reports of "savagery" in New Orleans during the flooding, gleefully reported by many a right-wing blogger complete with its racist sub-text, turn out to be, well, "overblown."

As reported in today's Globe & Mail:

[P]olice are re-examining the reports and finding that many have little or no basis in fact. They have no official reports of rape and no eyewitnesses to sexual assault….[There were] 10 dead at the Superdome and four at the convention centre. Two of those are believed to have been killed.

Police captain Marlon Defillo put it best: "Now that we've had a chance to reflect back on that situation, we’re able to say right now that things were not the way they appeared." This has a certain postmodernist flavour that appeals to me. But in any case, judging again from news reports and commentaries at the time, it proved ridiculously easy to feed the wild Black stereotype that is never far from the surface in too many minds.

Montreal: And speaking of Blacks, a popular radio host and psychiatrist [!] named Pierre Mailloux is in trouble for stating on-air that they (and Native people for good measure) have low IQs. He claims he based his remarks on "US studies," but he can't remember any of them. Reacting to criticism, Dr. Mailloux said: "People should not be so thin-skinned." Or is that "dark-skinned?"

Natuasish, Labrador: And speaking of Native people, the RCMP is investigating itself again, this time in the case of a young Innu man brutalized in the Natuasish police station. Witnesses say Antuan Jacobish, 19, was beaten repeatedly by Mounties, handcuffed and then dropped on his face, refused medical treatment, and left to lie in his own blood on a mat all night. The next morning it was found that his arm had been broken in three places.

A former band council chief, Prote Poker, obviously a master of understatement, said, "It certainly doesn't help the community." He went on to say, "I see young people running away from the RCMP when the police are looking for them. I can understand why now, because they're being tortured."

The RCMP confirms that an investigation is now underway. Its track record in this respect is so dismal, however, that I'll put my money on a complete exoneration of the cops involved. Maintiens le droit, boys. The dumb wagon-burner probably tripped.

Ft. Hood, Texas: Pvt. Lynddie England, a small fish in a very big pond, received three years for her part in abusing Iraqi prisoners in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison. "The buck stops with Lynddie," said the Boston Globe, with a nice touch of irony. She's one of 230 small fry convicted of abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan so far. 400 inquiries have been called.

Further up top, where the buck used to be, President George W. Bush has said no to a full, independent investigation of prisoner abuse. His Attorney-General, Alberto Gonzales, was the one who approved a memorandum from the Justice Department arguing that the "US wasn't bound by laws prohibiting torture and that government agents who might torture prisoners at his direction couldn't be prosecuted by the Justice Department." Veep Dick Cheney is trying to kill an amendment to legislation before Congress that would standardize prisoner treatment under Army Field Manual rules, and register all prisoners with the Red Cross. The outgoing chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard Myers, is fighting against the release of more Abu Ghraib photos. Apparently a convert to "root cause" theory, he says that their release would lead to "riots, violence, and attacks by insurgents."

With that kind of leadership, what's a poor girl to do?

[NOTE: no blogging for the next three or four days, as I will be out of town on business.]

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