Category Archives: Brutality

Why police reforms rarely succeed: Lessons from Latin America

During a speech to law enforcement on July 28, 2017, Trump encourages police brutality against suspects and many of the officers in attendance clapped and cheered. 

President Donald Trump’s appointment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions has led people to speculate about the fate of recent police reform efforts. Early into his tenure, Sessions said he intended to “pull back on” the Justice Department’s investigations of police department abuses, saying they diminish effectiveness.

Americans have mobilized extensively in the past three years against police brutality, militarization and corruption through the Black Lives Matter and related movements. Government officials at the federal level have responded to these demands by creating specialized task forces to recommend best practices, and investigating troubled police departments and enforcing reforms. Courts have also worked to roll back unconstitutional stop-and-frisk policies, while city governments have created independent oversight agencies and enacted robust community policing programs.

But will it stick?

My research on police reform in Latin America shows that such reforms are highly vulnerable to political reversals. These cases reveal how they can be quickly rolled back before they can take hold and demonstrate results.

Understanding the politics of police reform in Latin America may be informative for those who hope for changes in policing in the U.S.

Police reform and politics

Leaders in Colombia and Buenos Aires Province, Argentina, overhauled their police institutions in 1993 and 1998, respectively. These reforms were a response to rising crime rates, as well as pervasive police violence, corruption and ineffectiveness in fighting crime.

Comprehensive police reform laws were crafted through broad political consensus. Lawmakers in the Colombian congress and the Buenos Aires provincial legislature enacted sweeping legislation to demilitarize, decentralize and professionalize Colombia’s National Police and the Police of Buenos Aires Province. The reforms also improved recruitment standards and training, strengthened oversight agencies and created formal spaces for community participation.

Former Colombian President Ernesto Samper during a nationally televised speech in 1995. Reuters/Jose Gomez

Only one year after reforms were passed, however, Ernesto Samper was elected president of Colombia. He vowed to undermine his predecessor’s dramatic overhaul of the National Police, saying his government would “let the police regulate itself.”

Similarly in Buenos Aires Province, Carlos Ruckauf was elected governor in 1999. He left his predecessor’s police reform legislation intact. However, he made his preferred approach to crime-fighting clear: “we have to hit the criminals with bullets.”

Both politicians used citizens’ concerns over rising crime to lead calls for greater police autonomy, in order to be “tougher” on crime. Under their administrations, hard-fought police reform gave way to periods of “counter-reform.” These were characterized by increased police autonomy, weakened accountability, militarization, unchecked corruption and extrajudicial killings.

Other research on policing in Latin America has provided compelling evidence of the impact of such political rhetoric. When politicians promoting “tougher” police strategies are elected, police killings and repression of citizens increase.

These examples reveal how the long-term aims of police reforms can be difficult to reconcile with the short-term goals of politicians.

Police support for reform

My research also demonstrates that police forces that are resistant to reforms have considerable power to undermine them. In Buenos Aires Province, police officials succeeded in dismantling a system of neighborhood security forums that allowed citizens to conduct oversight of police. Police officials felt the forums gave citizens too much control over police affairs. As a result, they lobbied the governor and security minister to reduce the funding and staff needed to implement them.

By contrast, a similar participatory system in São Paulo, Brazil, has endured for three decades. There, police are incorporated into the governance structure of the community councils, allowing for a more collaborative relationship. As a result, many police officers have come to see forum members as their advocates. Although citizens in São Paulo do not have oversight authority, the police’s cooperation has contributed to the persistence of these participatory spaces.

Thus, reformers must identify and bolster police officials with a stake in sustaining reforms. Without support from insiders, reform is unlikely to last.

Sustaining momentum

Police reform is also made vulnerable by the fact that, after reform passes, its proponents demobilize. In Buenos Aires and Colombia, human rights and activist organizations remained active when politicians began to reverse reforms. But the broadly shared societal outrage that led to reform in the first place dissipated. With it went the momentum needed to sustain reform in the long term.

Research from both the U.S. and Latin America has shown that campaigning for “tough on crime” policies, or “penal populism,” is a highly successful strategy for winning elections. As scholars have shown, such policies can generate broad support among a diverse set of voters. So-called “pro-order” coalitions, the collection of civil society organizations, media outlets and politicians that advocate for “law and order” policies, have similarly demonstrated great capacity to mobilize resources and public support.

Failing to sustain reform coalitions means there is little counterweight to these pressures.

‘Counter-reform’ in the US?

Is the U.S. entering a period of “counter-reform” similar to that observed in Colombia and Argentina?

Opponents of reform, including Sessions, warn of “a longer-term trend of violent crime going up.” They have also floated theories such as the “Ferguson effect,” the idea that growing scrutiny of police activity has made police more timid. Such arguments may scare voters into believing that police reform may make police less effective in fighting crime.

Meanwhile, President Trump has engaged in rhetoric similar to his Colombian and Argentine counterparts. As a candidate, he called on police to be “very much tougher” in fighting crime. As president, he has said his will be “a law-and-order administration” that will “empower” police.

It is too early to tell whether these police reform efforts will backslide. While the U.S. context differs in some ways from Latin America, these examples demonstrate that police reform is a continuous and contentious process that is difficult to achieve and highly prone to reversal.


Republished with permission under license from The Conversation

Orangeburg Massacre of African American College Students by Police

The Orangeburg massacre refers to the shooting and killing of peaceful unarmed black student protesters by white Highway Patrol officers in Orangeburg, SC, on the South Carolina State University campus on the evening of February 8, 1968.

Approximately 200 protesters peacefully demonstrated against racial segregation at a local bowling alley, All Star Bowling lane, without incident on February 6, 1968. The following night many of the students returned to resume the protest but  fifteen of them were arrested.

The third night, February 8th, the students gathered on the South Carolina State University campus instead of at the bowling alley. The students built a bonfire which a law enforcement officer attempted to put out. The officer was injured by a piece of a banister thrown from the crowd. The officers then opened fire into the crowd of students. 

Orangeburg three

Three of those peacefully assembled, Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith, both SC State students and Delano Middleton, a 17-year-old high school student, were killed and twenty-seven other protesters were injured. 

Middleton was not involved in the protests. His mother worked as a maid on campus, and he often stopped there on his way home from basketball practice. In all, he was shot seven times, once in the heart. Henry "Smitty" Smith, an ROTC student and native of Marion, was shot three times, including in his neck. "Sam" or "Sammy" Hammond was a freshman from Barnwell who was studying to be a teacher. He was shot in the back and died on the floor of Orangeburg's segregated hospital. Also killed was the unborn child of Louise Kelly Cawley, age 27, one of the young women beaten during the protest at All Star Bowling. Cawley suffered a miscarriage the following week.

“They committed murder. Murder…that’s a harsh thing to say, but they did it,” …“The police lost their self control. They just started shooting. It was a slaughter. Double ought buckshot is what you use for deer. It’s meant to kill. One guy emptied his service revolver. That takes a lot of shooting. The (students) are running away. Pow, pow, pow, pow, pow, pow!  My God, there’s a murderous intent there. We are lucky more weren’t killed.” –  Ramsey Clark, U.S. Attorney General in 1968.

This tradedy was the first of its king on any American college campus. The massacre pre-dated the 1970 Kent State shootings and Jackson State killings, in which the National Guard at Kent State, and police and state highway patrol at Jackson State, killed student protesters demonstrating against the United States invasion of Cambodia during the Vietnam War.

Background

There were several incidents centering on the segregation of the local bowling alley, All Star Bowling Lane, that led up to the Orangeburg Massacre on February 8, 1968. In the fall of 1967, some of the black leaders within the community tried to convince Harry K. Floyd, the owner of the bowling alley, to allow African Americans.

Harry K. Floyd claimed that the Civil Rights Act of 1964 did not apply to his establishment because it was private. However, because the alley operated a lunch counter, it fell under the jurisdiction of laws regulating interstate commerce and thus federal desegregation. Floyd was unwilling to desegregate; as a result protests began in early February 1968.

On February 5, 1968, a group of around forty students from South Carolina State University entered the bowling alley and left peacefully after they were asked to leave by Floyd. The next night more students led by John Stroman returned and entered the bowling alley. This time there were police waiting for them and several students were arrested, including Stroman. After the arrests, more students began showing up, angry that protesters were being arrested. Next the crowd broke a window of the bowling alley and chaos ensued. Police began beating student protesters (both men and women) with billy clubs. That night, eight students were sent to the hospital. 

Over the next couple of days, the tension in Orangeburg escalated. Student protesters submitted a list of demands that consisted of integration and the elimination of discrimination within the community.

The Governor of South Carolina at the time, Robert E. McNair, responded by calling in the National Guard after commenting that black power advocates were running amok in the community.

Over the next two days, about 200 mostly student protesters gathered on the campus of South Carolina State University, a historically black college in Orangeburg, to demonstrate against the continued segregation at the bowling alley.

SC National Guard Troops arrive in Orangeburg on the night of February 8, 1968

By the late evening of February 8th, army tanks and over 100 heavily armed law enforcement officers had cordoned off the campus; 450 more had been stationed downtown.

Conflict

On the night of February 8, 1968, students started a bonfire on the front of SC State's campus. As police and firefighters attempted to put out the fire, officer David Shealy was injured by a thrown object. Shortly thereafter (around 10:30 p.m.) South Carolina Highway Patrol Officers began firing into the crowd of around 200 protesters. Eight Patrol Officers fired carbines, shotguns, and revolvers at the protesters, which lasted around 10 to 15 seconds.

Twenty-seven people were injured in the shooting; most of whom were shot in the back as they were running away, and three African American men were killed. The three men killed were Samuel Hammond, Henry Smith (both SCSU students), and Delano Middleton, a student at the local Wilkinson High School. Middleton was shot while simply sitting on the steps of the freshman dormitory awaiting the end of his mother's work shift.

The police later said that they believed they were under attack by small arms fire.

A newspaper reported, "About 200 Negros  gathered and began sniping with what sounded like 'at least one automatic, a shotgun and other small caliber weapons' and throwing bricks and bottles at the patrolmen." Similarly, a North Carolina newspaper reported that week that students threw firebombs at buildings and that the sound of apparent sniper fire was heard.

Protesters insisted that they did not fire at police officers, but threw objects and insulted the men. An AP photographer on the scene, subsequently revealed that he heard no gunfire from the campus.

Aftermath

At a press conference the following day, Governor Robert E. McNair said the event was "…one of the saddest days in the history of South Carolina". McNair blamed the deaths on outside Black Power agitators and said the incident took place off campus, contrary to the evidence.

Demonstrators protest the shootings.

The federal government brought charges against the state patrolmen in the first federal trial of police officers for using excessive force at a campus protest. The state patrol officers' defense was that they felt they were in danger and protesters had shot at the officers first. All nine defendants were acquitted although thirty-six witnesses stated that they did not hear gunfire coming from the protesters on the campus before the shooting and no students were found to be carrying guns.

In a state trial in 1970, the activist Cleveland Sellers, who had been shot during the attack, was convicted of a charge of riot related to the events on February 6 at the bowling alley. He served seven months in state prison, getting time off for good behavior. He was the national program director of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). In 1973 he wrote The River of No Return: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC.

Sellers earned his master's degree from Harvard and his doctorate from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. For eight years, he served as the president of Voorhees College, located in his hometown of Denmark, before stepping down in 2016 due to failing health.

Cleveland Sellers stands beside the historic marker on the S.C. State University campus at the 2000 Orangeburg memorial.

In 1993, twenty-five years after the massacre, Sellers was officially pardoned by the governor of South Carolina after evidence proved he was innocent.


Part of the Court.rchp.com 2017 Black History Month Series

Police Depicted as Animals in Art

Art does not exist only to entertain, but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for truth. –  Barbara Streisand

David Pulphus, a North St. Louis resident and recent graduate of Cardinal Ritter College Prep, is the 2016 winner of the U.S. Congressional Art Competition from Missouri's 1st Congressional District.

Pulphus' winning painting "Untitled #1" has stirred a national debate about art, censorship, and first amendment rights after police groups urged its removal for depicting cops as pigs.

David Pulphus painting
David Pulphus painting "Untitled #1"

Each year Members of the U.S. House of Representatives select one high school student from their districts as a winner. The artists' pictures usually hang in the halls of Congress for a almost full year – an incredible honor.

However, the Architect of the U.S. Capitol (aoc.gov) announced he plans to remove the painting because he determined its content violated the guidelines of the art competition, even though it had hung on a Capitol wall for six months. See a slideshow of all 2016 Congressional Art winners.

Art is subjective

Just as "one man's junk is another man's treasure" and "beauty is in the eye of the beholder", so is art.

The two officers and the African-American man all appear to have animal-like facial features. The two officers have faces resembling a boar and a horse, the African-American man resembles a wolf or if you stretch your imagination a "black panther". The "wolf-man" depiction could be interpreted negatively as well. Is the predatory wolf attacking the prey who is defending himself? Depends on your point of view, because art is subjective.

An article in the St. Louis American provides the following description, “The painting portrays a colorful landscape of symbolic characters representing social injustice, the tragic events in Ferguson and the lingering elements of inequality in modern American society”. 

When is art offensive?

Walt Disney's Zootopia depicts police officers as animals and even has one depicted as a pig, but I don't recall any public outcry. I'm certain countless number of police officers took their children to see this film without a second thought about Disney's "pig" cop. I guess the difference was this pig wasn't pointing a gun at a black man. Maybe it's not so much about "pigs" as it is about don't show cops behaving badly.

Officer Swinton from Walt Disney's Zootopia

The Zootopia Police Department, or ZPD, in the film is mostly run by heavy-weight mammals, such as buffalos, rhinos, elephants, hippos, and predators such as wolves, cheetahs, tigers, bears and lions, until it changed when Judy Hopps became the first rabbit on the police force. 

Political Correctness

When a powerful group within the majority population complains of negative depictions, the narrative changes. The depictions are labeled insensitive, disrespectful, malicious, anti-American, or unpatriotic, but never politically correct.

Police officers are a part of this country's most powerful institution. Police officers hold more power than any elected official including the president, they have been given the right to kill. Historically, police have policed themselves, so their actions have seldom resulted in the sort of scrutiny or penalties ordinary citizens face. 

When police organizations began propaganda efforts to play victims in response to groups such as Black Lives Matter, it would have been comical if not for the serious damage their propaganda produced. Countless unarmed, innocent Black people, who were truely powerless, have been harrassed, injured and killed by police. Because there was no justice, people spoke out in frustration.

When was the last time you heard about a police officer shot or murder where they didn't find a suspect? The police by contrast almost always get justice when they are wronged.

Instead of facing the reality that far too many unarmed people were being shot dead and mistreated by police, police unions created a false narrative that "Black Lives Matter" somehow meant no other lives mattered.

Black people have been complaining for generations about how we are depicted in art and media including the nightly news. Mascots such as the Atlanta Braves, Cleveland Indians, and the Washington Redskins perpetuate negative stereotypes of Native American people and demean their native traditions and rituals.

However, when these slights are pointed out, individuals or groups are called whinners, accused of political correctness or playing the race card.

Many white people including cops act as if racism doesn't exist, but as anti-racism activist, Jane Elliot points out, white people know the truth they just don't want to admit it.


2016 Congressional Art Competition Winners' Slideshow

David Pulphus' painting, "Untitled #1" is shown at 13:53 in the video's timeline.


The Artist as Citizen

FEBRUARY 03, 1995, 1:00am

The following speech, the source of the quote at the top of this page, in support federal support for the arts was given by Barbra Streisand at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts on February 3, 1995:

I’ve stood up and performed in front of thousands of people — but let me tell you, this is much more frightening. Maybe it’s because this is The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, and I’m neither a politician nor a professor. I like to think of myself as a perpetual student. Perhaps some of my anxiety has to do with the fact that I’ve been told that a future President of the United States might very well be in this audience. And if that’s true, I’m sure she will be the one to ask me the toughest questions. I’m saying that because I had a wonderful lunch with some of the students yesterday. Their knowledge, their enthusiasm, their optimism was truly inspiring.

I’m very honored to be invited here. This invitation has a special meaning for me because it involves my convictions and not just my career.

The subject of my talk is the artist as citizen. I guess I can call myself an artist, although after thirty years, the word still feels a bit pretentious. But I am, first and foremost, a citizen: a tax-paying, voting, concerned American citizen who happens to have opinions — a lot of them — which seems to bother some people. So I’m going to try to say something about those two roles.

This is an important moment to deal with this subject because so much of what the artist needs to flourish and survive is at risk now.

When I was asked to speak here a year ago, I was much more optimistic. We had seven women in the Senate, bringing the hope of full representation for more than half the population. And, we had a President who judged our ethnic, cultural and artistic diversity as a source of strength rather than weakness.

Then came the election of 1994, and suddenly the progress of the recent past seemed threatened by those who hunger for the “good old days” when women and minorities knew their place. In this resurgent reactionary mood, artists derided as the “cultural elite” are convenient objects of scorn; and those institutions which have given Americans access to artistic works — such as the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting — are in danger of being abolished.

From my point of view, this is part of the profound conflict between those who would widen freedom and those who would narrow it; between those who defend tolerance and those who view it as a threat.

All great civilizations have supported the arts. However, the new Speaker of the House, citing the need to balance the budget, insists that the arts programs should be the first to go. But the government’s contribution to the NEA and PBS is actually quite meager. To put it in perspective, the entire budget of the NEA is equal to one F-22 fighter jet — a plane that some experts say may not even be necessary. And the Pentagon is planning to buy 442 of them. One less plane and we’ve got the whole arts budget. 72 billion dollars for those planes. Now that’s real money. On the other hand, PBS costs each taxpayer less than one dollar a year and National Public Radio costs them 29 cents.

So maybe it’s not about balancing the budget. Maybe it’s about shutting the minds and mouths of artists who might have something thought-provoking to say.

William Bennett, in calling recently for the elimination of the Arts agencies, charged that they were corrupt for supporting artists whose work undermines “mainstream American values.” Well, art does not exist only to entertain — but also to challenge one to think, to provoke, even to disturb, in a constant search for the truth. To deny artists, or any of us, for that matter, free expression and free thought — or worse, to force us to conform to some rigid notion of “mainstream American values” — is to weaken the very foundation of our democracy.

The far right is waging a war for the soul of America by making art a partisan issue. And by trying to cut these arts programs, which bring culture, education and joy into the lives of ordinary Americans, they are hurting the very people they claim to represent. (By the way, I also find it ironic that Newt Gingrich said that “the NEA and PBS are protected by a bunch of rich upper-class people.” Isn’t it a little hypocritical to lobby for tax cuts for these same rich upper class people, but resent them when they try to protect the arts?)

The persistent drumbeat of cynicism on the talk shows and in the new Congress reeks of disrespect for the arts and artists. But what else is new? Even Plato said that artists were nothing but troublemakers and he wanted to ban poets from his perfect Republic. In Victorian times there were signs requiring actors and dogs to eat in the kitchen. As recently as last year, artists who have spoken out politically have been derided as airheads, bubbleheads, and nitwits. And this is not just by someone like Rush Limbaugh, who has called people in my industry the “spaced-out Hollywood left.” This is also the rhetoric of respectable publications.

For example, the editor of The New Republic wrote of actors: “In general, they are an excruciating bunch of egomaniacs. They have little to say for themselves… and their politics are uniformly idiotic.” To me — this is all about jealousy. He specifically singled out Paul Newman, Whoopi Goldberg, and Tom Hanks as subjects for his wrath after last year’s Academy Awards.

What is the sin? Is it caring about your country? Why should the actor give up his role as citizen just because he’s in show business? For his role in the movie “Philadelphia,” Tom Hanks had to learn quite a bit about being a gay man with AIDS. Should he have remained silent on this issue? For 30 years, Paul Newman has been an outspoken defender of civil liberties and a major philanthropist. Would it be better if he just made money and played golf? Should Whoopi Goldberg retreat into her home and not do anything for the homeless? Or, is Robert Redford a bubblehead because he knows more about the environment than most members of Congress?

Imagine talking about the leaders of any other group in our society this way — say, leaders of the steelworkers union, agribusiness, or chief executives of the automobile industry. Imagine having this kind of contempt for an industry that is second only to aerospace in export earnings abroad. According to Business Week, Americans spent 340 billion dollars on entertainment in 1993. Maybe policy makers could learn something from an industry that makes billions while the government owes trillions.

The presumption is that people in my profession are too insulated, too free-thinking, too subversive. One can almost hear the question — are you now or have you ever been a member of the Screen Actors Guild? Never mind that the former president of our guild did become President of the United States. The Hollywood smear only seems to apply to liberals. With no special interest and serving no personal or financial agenda, artists make moral commitments to many issues that plague our society. Indeed, this participation often makes artists vulnerable professionally. They take the risk of offending part of their audience or their government. As the record of the Hollywood blacklist demonstrates, they can even pay the price of serving time in jail. having their works banned, or being prevented from practicing their craft.

Ironically, contempt for the artist as citizen is often expressed by those most eager to exploit the celebrity of the entertainer. Both journalists and politicians feed off the celebrity status of the successful artist. We can attract a crowd and raise astounding amounts of money for the politicians — and make good copy for the journalists. Which is precisely why we are courted — and resented — by both. I recall various leading newspapers and magazines trying to entice Hollywood celebrities to join their tables at the White House Correspondents dinner, only to trash them afterwards. You can just hear them thinking — you make money, you’re famous — you have to have political opinions too?

But we, as people, are more than what we do — as performers, professors or plumbers — we also are, we also should be — participants in the larger life of society.

In the old days of the dominant movie studios, an artist wasn’t allowed to express political opinions. But with the breakup of the studio system, creative people gained independence. And with the rise of the women’s, environmental and gay rights movements, there has been an increase in artists who support liberal causes. Why is that?

Well, most artists turn up on the humanist, compassionate side of public debate, because this is consistent with the work we do. The basic task of the artist is to explore the human condition. In order to do what we do well, the writer, the director, the actor has to inhabit other people’s psyches, understand other people’s problems. We have to walk in other people’s shoes and live in other people’s skins. This does tend to make us more sympathetic to politics that are more tolerant. In our work, in our preparation, and in our research, we are continuously trying to educate ourselves. And with learning comes compassion. Education is the enemy of bigotry and hate. It’s hard to hate someone you truly understand.

Our participation in politics is a natural outgrowth of what we do, and it can and should be a responsible use of celebrity. Since we do have the ability to raise issues, reach people, and influence opinion, as with Charlton Heston lobbying against gun control and, thank God, for the NEA, we do have a greater responsibility to be informed.

I’m not here to defend everything that comes out of the entertainment industry. A lot of junk is produced; gratuitously violent, sexist, exploitative and debasing of the human spirit. I don’t like it and I won’t defend it. This is a profit-driven industry that produces the best and the worst in its attempt to find a market. If you notice the far right rarely attacks the violent movies — in fact, their candidates campaign alongside some of the major practitioners of this so-called art form.

What disturbs them is often the best work of the mass media. They have attacked programming, beginning with “All in the Family,” because it dealt with the controversial issues of racism and sexism. They attacked “Murphy Brown,” which represents a thoughtful attempt to deal with the reality that Americans now lead lives which, for better or for worse, are very different than the lives of Ozzie and Harriet.

Art is the signature of a generation; artists have a way of defining the times. Marion Anderson, singing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial because, as a black woman, she was forbidden to sing at Constitution Hall, forced Americans to confront the outrageousness of segregation. Art can illuminate, enlighten, inspire. Art finds a way to be constructive. It becomes heat in cold places; it becomes light in dark places.

When there was chaos in the Sixties, Bob Dylan said it was like “Blowin’ in the Wind.” During the riots of the Sixties, when people tried to explain the inexplicable, Aretha Franklin sang, simply what was being asked for, “R-E-S-P-E-C-T.”

Then there are the movies that spoke for their times. The movie version of John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath” brought the sad reality of the Depression home to those who wanted to ignore it. In the 1940s, a movie called “Gentleman’s Agreement” raised the issue of anti-semitism in America. “In the Heat of the Night” was named Best Picture of 1967, and is remembered for its unsparing look at the issue of race. “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington” focused on buying votes and favors — a problem we still haven’t solved. A generation ago, “Inherit the Wind” took on the Scopes trial and the subordination of science to one narrow religious view — and the movie is powerfully relevant today in light of the Christian Coalition’s efforts to reintroduce creationism into the public school curriculum.

Just last year, we saw a motion picture called “Schindler’s List” bring the subject of the Holocaust to millions of people around the world. Steven Spielberg rescued it from fading newsreels and recast it in black and white film, which makes it vivid and real — and yes, undeniable.

Moviemakers can be late to a subject, or afraid, but often they are brave and ahead of their time. Artists were criticized for their involvement in the civil rights struggle and their early opposition to the Vietnam War. In those cases at least, I would suggest that the painters and performers were wiser than most pundits and politicians.

I’m not suggesting that actors run the country; we’ve already tried that. But I am suggesting, for example, that on the issue of AIDS, I would rather have America listen to Elizabeth Taylor, who had the courage to sponsor the first major fund-raiser against this dreaded disease, than to Jesse Helms, who has consistently fought legislation that would fund AIDS research.

Our role as artist is more controversial now because there are those, claiming the absolute authority of religion, who detest much of our work as much as they detest most of our politics. Instead of rationally debating subjects like abortion or gay rights, they condemn as immoral those who favor choice and tolerance. They disown their own dark side and magnify everyone else’s until, at the extreme, doctors are murdered in the name of protecting life. I wonder, who is this God they invoke, who is so petty and mean? Is God really against gun control and food stamps for poor children?

All people need spiritual values in their lives. But we can’t reduce the quest for eternal meaning to a right wing political agenda. What is dangerous about the far right is not that it takes religion seriously — most of us do — but rather that it condemns all other spiritual choices — the Buddhist, the Jew, the Muslim, and many others who consider themselves to be good Christians. The wall of separation between church and state is needed precisely because religion, like art, is too important a part of the human experience to be choked by the hands of censors.

Artists have long felt the stranglehold of censorship by officially established religions. A sixteenth century Pope ordered loincloths painted on the figures in Michelangelo’s “Last Judgment”; nineteenth century clerics damned Walt Whitman. Tolstoy was viewed as a heretic; and today, Islamic extremists, sanctioned by governments, are still hunting down Salman Rushdie.

It’s interesting that Americans applaud artists in other parts of the world for speaking out, in China for example. It’s very often the artist who gives a voice to the voiceless by speaking up when no one else will. The playwright Vaclev Havel went to jail because of that. Now he’s the president of his country.

I know that I can speak more eloquently through my work than through any speech I might give. So, as an artist, I’ve chosen to make films about subjects and social issues I care about, whether it’s dealing with the inequality of women in “Yentl,” or producing a film about Colonel Grethe Cammermeyer, who was discharged from the army for telling the truth about her sexuality. Her story reminded me of a line from George Bernard Shaw’s “St. Joan” that said “He who tells too much truth shall surely be hanged.” Hopefully we won’t be hanged for trying to dispel some of the myths about gays and lesbians when the film airs next week on network TV.

I promised myself I wouldn’t get too partisan here. Some of my best customers are Republicans. When I sang in Washington DC, I asked the audience for a show of party allegiance, and a majority turned out to be Republican. I should have known; who else could afford those ticket prices?

Fortunately, there are reasonable Republicans. But I am worried about the direction in which the new Congress now seeks to take the country. I’m worried about the name calling, the stereotypical labeling. I want to believe that these people have good intentions, but I think it was dangerous when Newt Gingrich developed a strategy in the last campaign of pitting President Clinton against so-called “normal Americans.” Just last week, the Speaker attacked again when he said, and I quote: “I fully expect Hollywood to have almost no concept of either normal American behavior, in terms of healthy families, healthy structures, religious institutions, conservative politics, the free enterprise system.”

This from a politician who holds up a Hollywood movie, “Boy’s Town,” as his answer to welfare reform? And how can he say that Hollywood doesn’t know anything about free enterprise? And why just this past Wednesday — was he trying to round up Hollywood celebrities to promote his agenda? But most of all, I deeply resent the notion that one politician or political party owns the franchise on family values, personal responsibility, traditional values and religion.

We are all normal Americans, even with our problems and complexities, including people in my community. We were not born in movie studios. We come from every part of this country and most of us are self-made. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and we don’t forget where we came from, whether it’s Iowa, Cincinnati or Brooklyn.

This notion of “normal Americans” has a horrible historical echo. It presupposes that there are “abnormal” Americans who are responsible for all that is wrong. The new scapegoats are members of what Gingrich calls the “Counterculture McGoverniks.”

I did a concert for George McGovern in 1972, and I still think that he would have made a better President than Richard Nixon. I’m disappointed that I’ve read so little in defense of McGovern. Was McGovern countercultural? This son of a Republican Methodist minister has been married to the same woman for 51 years and flew 35 combat missions in World War II. Isn’t it odd that his patriotism be disputed by a person who never served in the military and whose own family history can hardly be called exemplary. But then again — no one should have to conform to some mythical concept of the ideal family — not even Mr. Gingrich.

I must admit that I’m confused by this man’s thinking. He proposes taking children away from poor mothers and placing them in orphanages. If that’s an example of mainstream culture, let me say I’m happy to be a member of the counterculture.

I’m also very proud to be a liberal. Why is that so terrible these days? The liberals were liberators — they fought slavery, fought for women to have the right to vote, fought against Hitler, Stalin, fought to end segregation, fought to end apartheid. Thanks to liberals we have Social Security, public education, consumer and environmental protection, Medicare and Medicaid, the minimum wage law, unemployment compensation. Liberals put an end to child labor and they even gave us the 5 day work week! What’s to be ashamed of? Such a record should be worn as a badge of honor!

Liberals have also always believed in public support for the arts. At the height of the Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration, which helped struggling artists. Willem deKooning, Jackson Pollack, and John Cage were among those who benefited from the support of the WPA.

Art was a way out for me. I represent a generation of kids who happened to benefit from government support of the arts in public schools. I was a member of the choral club at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. Sadly, this current generation of young people does not have the same opportunities.

How can we accept a situation in which there are no longer orchestras, choruses, libraries or art classes to nourish our children? We need more support for the arts, not less — particularly to make this rich world available to young people whose vision is choked by a stark reality. How many children, who have no other outlet in their lives for their grief, have found solace in an instrument to play or a canvas to paint on? When you take into consideration the development of the human heart, soul and imagination, don’t the arts take on just as much importance as math or science?

What can I say: I have opinions. No one has to agree. I just like being involved. After many years of self-scrutiny, I’ve realized that the most satisfying feelings come from things outside myself. And I believe that people from any walk of life, when they stand up for their convictions, can do almost anything — stop wars, end injustices, and even defeat entrenched powers.

As the difference between the elections of 1992 and 1994 shows, the outcome is not pre-ordained; progress, whatever your definition of it, is not inevitable. I thought this current administration was doing a helluva good job: reducing the deficit by 700 billion dollars, creating 6 million jobs, downsizing government and passing a significant amount of important legislation. I’m not a policy wonk, but that’s the way I see it.

Most artists are not experts, but all of us are something more. As President Carter said in 1980, “In a few days, I will lay down my official responsibilities in this office, to take up once more the only title in our democracy superior to that of President, the title of citizen.”

We also need to keep in mind some words spoken by the man for whom this school of government is named. President Kennedy said he valued so much what artists could give because they “knew the midnight as well as the high noon [and] understood the ordeal as well as the triumph of the human spirit.” He also said, “In serving his vision of the truth, the artist best serves his nation.”

By the way, President Kennedy was the first to suggest the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Well aware that art can be controversial, he concluded, “[the artist] must often sail against the currents of his time. This is not a popular role.”

But in 1995, I continue to believe it is an indispensable one — that artists, especially those who have had success, and have won popularity in their work, not only have the right, but the responsibility, to risk the unpopularity of being committed and active.

We receive so much from our country; we can and should give something back.

So, until women are treated equally with men, until gays and minorities are not discriminated against and until children have their full rights, artists must continue to speak out. I will be one of them. Sorry, Rush, Newt and Jesse, but the artist as citizen is here to stay.


Barbra Streisand's speech republished under fair use exemption for educational purposes. 

Police criticize appearance of Mike Brown’s mother at DNC

Tuesday night, members of Mothers of the Movement, a group that includes Geneva Reed-Veal, the mother of Sandra Bland; Gwen Carr, mother of Eric Garner; Sybrina Fulton, mother of Trayvon Martin; Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis; Maria Hamilton, the mother of Dontre Hamilton; Cleopatra Cowley-Pendleton, the mother of Hadiya Pendleton; Wanda Johnson, mother of Oscar Grant; and Lezley McSpadden, mother of Michael Brown, appeared on stage together at the Democratic National Convention. Watch the Mothers of the Movement video below.

John McNesby, president of the Philadelphia police union, said Hillary Clinton should be ashamed for allowing relatives of people killed by police to speak, but not give equal time to families of fallen officers. Others have expressed similar sentiments and some have criticized Lezley McSpadden presence because they believe Darren Wilson was justified in shooting Michael Brown.

Obviously, some police officers still don't get it. Officers committing crimes and then policing each other resulting in no accountability is unacceptable. With the exception of Travon Martin's mother, each of those moms had their child killed by police or while in police custody. No police officer was held accountable for any of those deaths. 

If the people who kill police officers were routinely not being charged or not held accountable, I could understand why they might want equal time to complain about the injustice of having a loved one killed and the known killer being allowed to go free. However, in just about every case I can think of, the killers of police officers usually get killed themselves or go to prison. 

Freddie Gray

Marilyn Mosby the state's attorney who brought charges against six police officers but failed to secure any convictions in the death of Freddie Gray while in the custody of Baltimore police gave a fiery defense of her investigation and alleged police corruption. 

Ms. Mosby still believes those officers are responsible for Freddie Gray's death. She revealed what many already knew and what has become a theme during this year's election, "the system is rigged" in favor of the police. This is why it is important to video incidents of police encounters. Videos help remove reasonable doubt when police officers unreasonably invoke "I feared for my life". See, "Why White Cops Kill Black Men".

Updates From our News Page:

8-1-2016: Law professor goes after Maryland prosecutor for Freddie Gray case

An unarmed man was killed while in police custody, but instead of getting upset that no one was held accountable, a white law professor wants to bring ethic charges against the black prosecutor for seeking justice. This is clearly an intimidation tactic to remind uppity black prosecutors to stay in their place in regards to white police officers. This is why we need more black prosecutors.

7-28-2016: Freddie Gray officers suing prosecutor Marilyn Mosby

Prosecutors have prosecutorial discretion proving prosecuting attorneys with nearly absolute powers to determine whether or not to bring criminal charges, deciding the nature of charges, plea bargaining and sentence recommendation. Prosecutorial immunity is the absolute immunity that prosecutors in the United States have in initiating a prosecution and presenting the state's case. The U.S. Supreme Court in 1976 ruled that prosecutors cannot face civil lawsuits for prosecutorial abuses, no matter how severe." See, Imbler v. Pachtman 424 U.S. 409 (1976). However, I believe that is one of the major flaws in our judicial system. This was a very agressive move by the police officers, especially when they may still face Federal charges for the death of Freddie Gray.

Ferguson, MO

Since the killing of Michael Brown, there have been many instances where police officers, in situations just like Darren Wilson, have used self-defense as an excuse and then a video surfaced proving their statements to be lies. Unfortunately, no video of the actual shooting of Michael Brown has been made public. 

On September 5, 2014, the U.S. Department of Justice began an investigation of the Ferguson, Missouri police department to examine whether officers routinely engaged in racial profiling or showed a pattern of excessive force. The investigation was separate from the Department's other investigation of the shooting of Brown.

The 102 page Department of Justice "Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department Report" was released on March 4, 2015. The report concluded that police officers in Ferguson routinely violated the constitutional rights of the city's residents, by discriminating against African Americans and applying racial stereotypes, in a "pattern or practice of unlawful conduct".

That same day, March 4, 2015, the DOJ released a memorandum concerning the Investigation of the Michael Brown Shooting Death by Darren Wilson.

Darren Wilson didn't receive a not guilty verdict

Media reports and headlines such as the Washington Post article, "Officer Darren Wilson cleared by the Justice Department", gave the false impression that the allegations against Wilson were meritless and that he was totally exonerated.

On page 13 of the memorandum, the first paragraph states, "As Wilson drove past Brown, he saw cigarillos in Brown’s hand, which alerted him to a radio dispatch of a “stealing in progress” that he heard a few minutes prior while finishing his last call. Wilson then checked his rearview mirror, and realized that Witness 101 matched the description of the other subject on the radio dispatch."

Below is the video of a press conference where Ferguson Police Chief, Thomas Jackson, among other things, discusses the convenience store incident where Brown allegedly stole cigarillos. At around 6:05 in the video's timeline, Jackson states that Wilson had no knowledge of the robbery. 

Below is a compilation of witness interviews explaining what they saw when Michael Brown was shot. The witnesses are listed in order of their first appearance on the compilation along with their witness number and page number as listed on the DOJ memorandum. Watch the video and read the memorandum and decide for yourself the credibility of the witnesses.

  1. Michael Brady, Witness #115 – page 39
  2. Piaget Crenshaw, Witness #118  – page 56
  3. Tiffany Mitchell, Witness #127 – page 55
  4. Dorian Johnson, Witness #101 – page 44

Piaget Crenshaw (witness #118) who witnessed the entire incident actually shot video immediately after Michael Brown shooting while Darren Wilson was still looking over the body. Ms. Crenshaw was interviewed by CNN which is shown below.

Personally, I believe the witnesses. Their stories are very similar. Multiple people from various vantage points all claim the same basic facts. Michael Brown was unarmed, hand his hands up or at least exposed to show he was unarmed, Brown was shot at while running away and then turned around, he posed no threat when he was killed.

A witness who thought Mr. Brown may have been shot in the back before turning around is logical even if the bullet missed. Blood splatter from an arm on the front of a t-shirt could easily make someone believe that person was shot in the stomach or chest area.

Those statements are not inconsistent, they are simply observations during an intense moment. Some of the statements made especially those captured on video immediately after the shooting of Michael Brown were excited utterances.

Excited Utterance

An excited utterance, in the law of evidence, is a statement made by a person in response to a startling or shocking event or condition. It is an unplanned reaction to a "startling event". It is an exception to the hearsay rule. The statement must be spontaneously made by the person (the declarant) while still under the stress of excitement from the event or condition. The subject matter and content of the statement must "relate to" event or condition. The statement could be a description or explanation (as required for present sense impression), or an opinion or inference. Examples include: "Look out! We're going to crash!" or "I think he's crazy. He's shooting at us!" The basis for this hearsay exception is the belief that a statement made under the stress is likely to be trustworthy and unlikely to be premeditated falsehoods.

You must also keep in mind that the so-called justice system plays out more like a complicated chess game involving multiple strategies. History teaches us that propaganda and deception are great strategies.

Suppose for example multiple witnesses were instructed to provide false testimony so that their false testimony could be used to discredit truthful witnesses. Those types of strategies were used by the government's CointelPro campaign to discredit civil rights leaders.

Watch the November 25, 2014, clip of Lawrence O'Donnell from The Last Word where Lawrence provides a common sense analysis of Darren Wilson's testimony, witness number 10 and prosecutor Robert McCulloch.

Many people mistakenly believe the Department of Justice report relating to Darren Wilson shooting Micheal Brown was a declaration of Wilson's innocence, it wasn't. Basically, there was no video of the event, so there was not enough evidence to secure a conviction in court beyond a reasonable doubt. That doesn't mean that Darren Wilson was justified in his actions, only that no evidence exist that is strong enough to convict him. If a video surfaces sometime in the future, similar to what happened in the Jason Stockley fatal shooting Anthony Lamar Smith, Darren Wilson could still be charged with murder. There is no statute of limitations on murder.

Even the Baltimore prosecutor, Marilyn Mosby, was shocked and surprised at the level of interference she encountered from police officers during her investigation into the murder of Freddie Gray.

If the prosecutor, one of the most powerful positions within the justice system is blocked by police interference, imagine the level of interference that may have happened during the Ferguson investigation. Considering the white prosecutor in charge, Robert McCulloch, has himself been accused of bias in favor police and racist behavior, it's easy to understand how a conspiracy to conceal the truth possibly occurred.

When Robert McCulloch was 12 years old, his father, Paul McCulloch, a St. Louis police officer, was shot and killed allegedly by Eddie Steve Glenn, a black man. McCulloch's father, brother, nephew and cousin all served with St. Louis police; his mother was a clerk there. Maybe that's why he allowed witness #40 to testify before the grand jury.

Witness #40

A grand jury witness, convicted felon Sandra McElroy, who claimed Michael Brown charged at Darren Wilson “like a football player” is a racist, mentally ill woman who likely wasn’t there when the unarmed black teen was killed, according to reports. McElroy previously lied to police and didn’t give authorities a statement about the August 9, 2014, killing until Sept. 11, well after several descriptions of the shooting had been detailed in the media.

Timeline in the Michael Brown Case

Long History of Police Brutality

Since the inception of policing, police brutality has existed. Policing in the United States has been primarily concerned with the protection of property and began in the early 1600's with slave patrols. During labor movements in the late 1800's and early 1900's, police brutalized workers fighting for decent wages, working conditions and the right to unionize.

Minneapolis – November 2015

Police shootings of unarmed people and incidents of police abusing their authority have provided glaring examples of rampant police brutality. Most recently, a Minneapolis police officer shot an unarmed black man whom several witnesses claim was handcuffed.

Beginning with the civil rights movement in the 1950's and 1960's, police brutality reached new heights and recently incidents of police brutality have been frequently captured on video; a few examples are below.

Malcolm X

More than 50 years ago, Malcolm X stated: “the police commissioner feeds the type of statistics to the white public to make them think that Harlem is a complete criminal area where everyone is prone towards violence. This gives the police the impression that they can then go and brutalize the Negroes, or suppress the Negroes, or even frighten the Negroes.”

“This force that is so visible in the Harlem community it creates a spirit of resentment in every Negro. They think they are living in a police state, and they become hostile toward the policemen. They think that the policeman is there to be against them rather than to protect them. And these thoughts, these frustrations, these apparitions, automatically are sufficient to make these Negroes begin to form means and ways to protect themselves in case the police themselves get too far out of line.”

Malcolm X could make the same argument today about Ferguson, New York, Baltimore or any number of cities or recent incidents.

Watts Riots

On August 11, 1965, a black driver, Marquette Frye, was arrested for drunk-driving, the driver's mother, Rena Price, got involved and Mr. Frye, a passenger, and Ms. Price were arrested. The treatment by the police caused anger to onlookers. Rumors spread that the police had roughed Frye up and kicked a pregnant woman; angry mobs formed and the situation escalated and suddenly turned into a riot.

The second night of the riots, my uncle, comedian and civil rights activist, Dick Gregory tried to calm down the crowds, he was shot in the leg. Mr. Gregory, who was born and raised in St. Louis, discusses the incident below and makes a very interesting observation about police brutality.

Thirty-four people were killed, and more than 1,000 injured, during the riots that lasted six days.

Black Panthers

In October of 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense was created in response to challenge police brutality in Oakland, California and their movement spread across the country.  The original purpose was to arm black men to patrol their neighborhoods and monitor the behavior of police officers.  In 1969, community social programs, including free breakfast for children, and community health clinics became core activities of Black Panther Party members.

Black Panther membership peaked in 1970, with offices in 68 cities and thousands of members.

Huey P. Newton Gun Club

The Huey P. Newton Gun Club has formed in South Dallas, Texas utilizing the state's open carry law to patrol their neighborhood in the spirit of the Black Panthers. The group was started by two former Army Rangers and they have begun drills and training others in self-defense. See article for addition information.

The movie Panther (1995) portrays the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense, tracing the organization from its founding through its decline. Creative license is taken but the general trajectory of the Party and its experiences is factual.

Rodney King – Los Angeles Riot

In 1991, the first videotaped incident of police brutality went viral. The beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police was broadcast worldwide and clearly showed Los Angeles police engaged in excessive force and a Los Angeles grand jury indicted four of the police officers.

The California Court of Appeals granted a change of venue to the city of Simi Valley, citing potential contamination due to saturated media coverage. Simi Valley was predominantly white and the jury consisted of 10 white members and no black jurors.

All four white officers involved were acquitted on April 29, 1992, and people began rioting after the verdict was given, resulting in over 2,000 injuries, 53 deaths and nearly $1 billion in financial losses. The riots ended when the California national guard was called in.  The riots resulted in federal civil rights prosecution and two of the four officers were convicted and imprisoned.

Sister Souljah, a raptivist, appeared on an episode of Bill Cosby's "A Different World", and expressed sentiments held by many; which still ring true today.

The Issue Is Race

Months after the verdict in the Rodney King case and riots in Los Angele, Phil Donahue hosted a PBS special, "The Issue Is Race: A Crisis in Black and White". It's disheartening to watch this show from more than 20 years ago because many of the exact same issues are still major problems today.

Slavery Back in Effect

Slavery was so profitable that it fueled the wealth and independence that made the United States a world power. This country that describes itself as the land of the free has never fully made good on that promise. During the last decade of slavery, slaves seeking freedom were given the diagnosis of Drapetomania,  a supposed mental illness,which caused black slaves to flee captivity.

After the Civil War, and the North's abandonment of reconstruction, a new form of oppression, Jim Crow, created conditions not far removed from slavery.  According to legal scholar Michelle Alexander’s best-selling book "The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness", there are more Black men under some form of correctional supervision (incarceration or probation) now than were enslaved prior to the Civil War.

In 1995, Sister Souljah released the video, "Final Solution: Slavery Back in Effect", which imagines a police state where blacks fight against the re-institution of slavery; the video was banned by MTV.

Sister Souljah during an interview about the Rodney King/ LA Uprisings that occurred earlier that year was quoted as saying ‘If Black people kill Black people every day, why not have a week and kill white people?’.. her remarks were connected to a much longer response and in full context makes sense, but isolated subjected her to criticism. Sister Souljah provided a jarring response to Governor Bill Clinton's negative comments about her in 1992 made while he was running for president.

School Psychology Weaponized

Mental diagnosis is once again being used against black students. African American students are disproportionately represented in special education. 85% of all special education students receive drugs. African American males are only 3% of the public school population, yet they make up 30% of students separated from the “normal” students in school by placement into special education. See Dr. Umar Johnson, a nationally known school psychologist, comments about black children in special education.

The labeling of these students is sabotaging and endangering their education, destroying futures and leading to increased mass incarceration; the last form of legalized slavery.

Policing without deadly force

Somehow police in other countries can successfully capture suspects wielding weapons without resorting to deadly force.

UK man with a knife is taken down by a couple of police officers with pepper spray and police clubs.

A black man with knife captured in London by police using a taser. This man would have certainly been killed in the United States.

Below a man with a machete, who appears to be under the influence of drugs is taken down by police alive using plastic riot shields.

The fact that so many police officers were devoted to capturing the man with the machete may seem like a waste of manpower, however, in the U.S., when a person is killed by police; a similar number of officers often arrive at the scene and remain much longer processing the scene, logging evidence, and crowd control.

UK Traffic Cops Arrest Suspect Trying to Run Away

The video camera is our greatest weapon against police brutality. Police unions across the country are fighting body cameras, so the question must be posed; what is it they don't want people seeing? Continue pressing your alderman, mayor and other politicians for mandatory police body cameras. Record encounters you witness of police, use ACLU mobile app. You never know when the next innocent victim will be you, your child, friend or neighbor!