Saturday, November 19, 2011

It's Us Versus Them

Originally was published in #13 of Married Punks in 1998.  This was about a nationally televised incident of police brutality in Humboldt County.

It's Us Versus Them

"Conflict may be open or latent; but it always exists since the government does not pay attention to discontent and popular resistance except when it is faced with the danger of insurrection." -- Enrico Malatesta

To understand the conflict or outrage, one must first understand the problem.  The problem, one that has been aired nationally on CBS and NBC, not to mention covered by the Associated Press, is simple: Humboldt County has two warring factions, environmentalists (in this case it's Earth First!) and capitalists.  The two often clash, mainly due to environmentalists' efforts to stop the destruction of the Headwaters, an ancient forest geared for destruction by the Maxxam corporation.  The police, as one would guess, serve the capitalists, which is Maxxam and, in this case, Representative Frank Riggs, an ex-cop and decidedly wishy-washy politician.

For those who missed the news at the end of October 1997, the Eureka Police Department and the Humboldt County Sheriff's Department tortured a few environmentalists (part of Headwaters Forest Defense), at least one of which was a minor.  This was done after the group, which did include a man in a ski mask, stormed Riggs' Eureka office, scattered sawdust on the floor and placed a stump in the middle of the floor to which four females chained themselves around via metal sleeve devices that make it hard for police to unchain the women from each other.  After several demands for the women to remove themselves, the police took it upon themselves to use pepper spray.  One officer shot the spray directly into a female's eyes from about an inch away, while the other officers decided to just rub it on the other women's eyelids with cotton swabs.

"We're not torturing you anymore."  -- An officer to a female protester in Riggs' office.

Webster's defines the verb form of torture as "to punish or coerce by inflicting excruciating pain."  In the noun form it is "the infliction of intense pain especially to punish or obtain a confession."  Torture is the right word to use in describing what these officers did.  These "men" shot and rubbed pepper spray, which doctors have found to be dangerous in the fact that it can stop the heart, into the eyes of subdued, peaceful protesters.

Sheriff Dennis Lewis admits that the methods used were "something new."  What he fails to admit is that they were a violation of the National Law Enforcement Policy Center, which states that, while the directives to use the pepper spray are left up to individual departments, it shouldn't be used at a range closer than two feet from the eyes.  He also failed to admit that the makers of the pepper spray spoke out against its usage that way.  Running protesters over with a car would be "something new" also, but it wouldn't make it right.

The defense that Riggs and his workers have given is that the females who worked in Riggs' office were scared for their lives.  Riggs also called the protesters "terrorists" due to the fact that there was a flier that portrayed Earth First! showing sympathy toward the Unabomber.  Earth First! calls the flier a fake, and says that it is another attempt to discredit the group.  Riggs, of course, refuses to believe that.  It should be noted that Earth First! has had a non-violence policy in place for years.

If the office workers were in fear for their lives, they didn't act like it.  At the time of the protest there were no charges filed for assault though the workers later claimed they were pushed and threatened.  The workers are also shown trying to keep the protesters from leaving the office by barring the door.  It is said that one office worker even took photographs of the protesters for a "scrapbook."  Hardly the actions of people fearful for their lives.  There wasn't even any mention made of the "assaults" on the news the night the protest took place.  Perhaps the workers were dumbstruck with fear.  Perhaps they are liars.  Either way, a lawsuit has been filed by the demonstrators, so perhaps the truth will come out.

"I'm not going to lose a whole lot of sleep about who is suing me." -- Eureka Police Chief Arnie Millsap

Eureka Police Chief Arnie Millsap's attitude toward the entire lawsuit, his bitterness toward the press he claims he can't trust, and his belief that he is being vilified shows just what is wrong with the Eureka Police Department and Humboldt County Sheriff's Department.  Both feel that they do not have to answer to anyone, let alone the people they serve.  They brush off any lawsuit as a mere annoyance, and threat the press like they do the people -- as enemies.  The "us versus them" mentality of the police has led to this entire pepper spray incident and the subsequent lawsuit and FBI investigation.  The police fail to grasp just how important this truly is, just like they fail to grasp law enforcement.  This is not a Banana Republic.  Oddly enough, though, some people in Humboldt County feel that it should be.

"Someone said that they should've cleared all the workers out of the building and just burned it down with the protesters inside.  A guy in training for the CHP (California Highway Patrol) agreed." -- Humboldt State University student talking about a class debate on the subject.

For the most part, the citizens of Humboldt County seem to have mixed feelings on the subject.  Strangely enough, some of the most vocal critics of the police's actions are current and ex-members of law enforcement.  Dennis Smith, a law enforcement officer, said, "They could've waited them out.  They could've done something else -- there's so many different things."  Many people agree with Smith, but it is the ones who don't that have been saying some very scary things.

One logger said, "They should be able to use force of law a lot harsher than they do.  The hippies get away with a lot more than they should."  Adelle Hawks says that the police have to do "whatever they have to do to make them follow the law."  Miriam Alley, a medical dispatcher, of all things, said that the police were justified because she thinks that "the county's had it with these tree-huggers."  As sickening as their thoughts are, there were some that were humorous, which exemplifies the lack of understanding many of these police sympathizers have with our legal and political system.

Pat Foster, a person who has very little understanding of the Constitution and the right to protest, wrote a very amusing letter to the Times-Standard, in which Foster wonders why protesters don't have to "post a bond for all demonstrations."  Essentially, Foster only wants those with money to protest because he/she is sick of the county's taxpayers picking up the tab.  What Foster fails to realize is that the lawsuits brought against the county and its police because of their own stupidity and reckless disregard for the policy and law, could end up costing the county more money than any protest would.  Perhaps Foster would agree that the police officers should have to put money out of their own pockets up front before they hurt or torture any protesters.  That way, in lieu of a lawsuit, the police, and not the county's taxpayers, would pay for their own mistakes.

"Filthy pigs!  Filthy, woman hating pigs!  Mexican beating pigs!  Fat ass pigs who subscribe to a law book they don't even obey." -- Henry Rollins

No matter what the outcome of the lawsuit is; no matter what the FBI finds -- there is still a problem.  Things won't change.  As long as there are police, there will be police brutality.  As long as there are police, there will be torture of undesirables (blacks, women, gays, Mexicans, homeless, hippies, punks, communists, anarchists).  As long as there are police, there will be abuses of power.  As long as there are police, anyone who isn't white, visibly well-to-do, heterosexual and male had better be aware.  If a police officer pulls you over and you are the least bit different, you have to understand that you may be beaten, shot or killed.  You may be tortured.  You may be falsely arrested.  You may be raped.  You may never be seen again.  It's happened more than once.

It happens because the police have the mentality that it's them versus us, so we must take the same stance.  The police have the law and weapons on their side.  We can have weapons, too.  We also have a voice, a voice that is especially vital now in an era where respect for the police has dropped dramatically due to their own brutality and dishonesty.  Nobody likes a goon watching over them, and it's time to act accordingly.

Police brutality and torture didn't start with Watts.  It didn't start with Rodney King.  It won't end in Humboldt County, either.  The police that tortured these protesters need to be taught a severe lesson, though.  They need to be jailed or released into the community that they violated.  As for the others, people aren't ready to give up the "security" of law enforcement just yet, so there needs to be something else.

Jello Biafra suggested elections for the police, voted on by the people they serve.  It's a good idea, and its a sure bet that the cops that tortured those girls, along with Millsap and Lewis, would be out of jobs.  And while we're at it, why not toss Riggs out on his torture-loving, crying wolf ass, too?  After all, if justice truly is served in this case, there will be a few openings in the law enforcement field here in Humboldt County and Riggs can have his old job back.

Epilogue:  A judge in San Francisco ruled that the police had every right to do what they did.  The civil trial is coming up.  No more needs to be said.

The Today show, the Times-Standard newspaper, KIEM news and personal interviews are the sources for most of the quotes pertaining to the pepper spray incident in this article.

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