Archive for the ‘politics’ Category

Brutality Becomes Banal

Sunday, November 20th, 2011

Have you seen this video of police pepper spraying peaceful, seated student protesters at UC-Davis yesterday?

I can’t stop thinking about it. I’ve looked at countless other stories, photos and videos of police assaulting Occupy protesters over the past weeks, but this one somehow outraged me even more than those that came before.

After letting it boil for a while, I now see why — it’s the extraordinarily casual attitude of the officer pepper spraying his victims. It’s as though this was just business as usual, as though applying force — even if it’s “non-lethal” force — could ever be routine. There’s no room for ambiguity in this video about the context of his actions. No students are attacking the police, they’re not even crowding close. The protesters are sitting, arms linked, in the highest traditions of non-violent civil disobedience.

Police at UC-Davis pepper spraying non-violent Occupy protestors.The policeman’s body language says it all. For him, there’s no reluctance, no hesitation. There’s not even any attempt to dislodge the protestors with non-violent means. For this man, clad in the black, armored and militarized garb of repressive security forces throughout the world, the use of force is a logical first resort, and most disturbingly, he seems to see it as utterly ordinary.

I witnessed a demonstration last week where the Houston Police were faced with similar numbers of peaceful, seated protesters as those at UC-Davis. In marked contrast to the events in California, HPD removed and arrested those involved without resorting to pepper spray, violence or riot gear. Protesters and HPD alike were non-violent, and I commend HPD for their professionalism and restraint.

In contrast, the police actions at UC-Davis were clearly unnecessary and were meant purely to punish and intimidate anyone who would dare to disobey. This kind of casual brutality must be utterly unacceptable in a civil society, and such actions can never be an acceptable response to peaceful demonstrations in this country.

Houston Police and Occupy Houston protesters met peacefully during a demonstration on 11-17-2011.

9500 Liberty, the DVD

Sunday, November 6th, 2011

When I was working with filmmakers Annabel Park and Eric Byler on the documentary 9500 Liberty in 2009, America was at an inflection point in its immigration policy. Action at the national level was paralyzed by rigid opposition on the right and distracted timidity on the left. At the same time, mushrooming unemployment and economic uncertainty created a feverish hothouse environment where proponents of harsh laws against undocumented workers were finding traction among state and local legislatures. The film dropped at just the right moment to inform the debate with its depiction of the unintended negative social and economic consequences of such legislation in Virginia, and audiences in 42 cities across the country were responding to its compelling story.

Alas, in a series of consequences-be-damned, politics-above-all decisions, such laws came to pass in a number of states. These draconian policies — even more severe than the one documented in the film — have already been signed into law in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia and elsewhere, stressing communities and bringing the first taste of billions in economic disruption as people vote with their feet to find friendlier places to call home.

It’s in this climate that the DVD of 9500 Liberty is being released on November 29. Unfortunately as relevant and prescient as ever, it continues to tell an important story of lessons previously learned, even as the continuing debate, court challenges and social-economic consequences unfold.