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The murder of Kenneth Chamberlain

Dear friends and readers,

On my my main Wordpress blog I wrote about the murder of Trayvon Martin and linked it to the sudden outgrowth and acceptance of lawless murdering of people through stand your grounds ("shoot first") laws; I likened these new laws to the acceptance of lynch mobs so prevalent in the US throughout the 19th century and into the 1930s where mobs of (white) people instead of going to court to try someone accused of a crime simply hung him (or her). It was transparent ploy to act violently by one group of people who had the power and privilege to on other groups of people or individuals helpless against them. The transparent pretense is the person with the gun killing the other person is afraid for himself and is acting in self-defense, and has the right to decide on the spot he (it's always a he) is in the right.

I am not alone in expressing outrage and horror and desolation and fear at what this meant. The murderer, Zimmerman, was finally taken into custody, arrested after weeks and weeks of delay, and will now be tried but since he has been let out on bail, the way the case is talked about in the media, it seems that the man will go free and not pay for this crime since the powerful in this society want to have such "laws" (permission for ordinary citizens to kill). The laws have spread because the National Rifle Association and ALEC (a reactionary powerful group) have sent lobbyists with big bribes and pressure to pass them across the US in states where groups of people are wedded to the gun culture. They want not only to own guns, and hunt animals, but the right to use them against other people.

But it seems that even this kind of transparent pretense was not necessary for Kenneth Chamberlain. A black man in his sixties with a bad heart, he was unlucky enough to have a battery-operated device around his neck which was to alert medics if his heart began to fail. Alas, he rolled over in his sleep and a group of police were sent to his apartment. He became (rightly) very frightened and would not let them in. They -- none of them black apparently -- became indignant and broke down his door. When he would not kowtow to them but persisted in trying to get them to leave his apartment, they tasered this man with a heart attack going on. They stun-gunned him. When this apparently made him hysterical, they killed him. Shot him dead. It was alleged he had an axe at first, but it appears the police had the axe or crow bar to break down the door. It was alleged he had a huge knife; now it seems he terrified (?) the police with a butter knife.

I watched the video and listened to the tape of Chamberlain trying to protect himself from the police. I heard one police officer yell "nigger" on the other side of the door as he let Chamberlain know they were determined to get in. I heard the phone calls to the officers who told the phoning medic to mind her own business (they were taking care of it). I heard the man's sister put off as she tried to offer to come to help the man. The 60 year old man was in his underwear and looked like he was shaking. There was no weapon. I heard his cries and pleas. He never did cry "mercy" because probably they would have laughed.

Chamberlain's son and his lawyers have tried unsuccessfully to get these police officers indicated and arrested for murder. They have now failed.  We cannot know the evidence that was presented to the grand jury which declined to indite but it is common apparently for juries to refuse to indite police,  I remember the Rodney King incident where there was a video of the police beating this man mercilessly and the jury inured to the video after a while, did not convict. It was an all white jury, King was black,and the officers black.

The supreme court has now said police arresting someone have the right to strip search that person (humiliate, terrify, tie down even if there is no evidence of any crime. They are acting in self-defense and against terrorists is the excuse.

At the time I did not understand the significance of the incident where a black professor, Henry Gates, was arrested in his own house by a police officer who said he had the right to because he suspected Gates did not have the right to be there, because Gates resisted arrest. Gates would not kowtow right away. He at first did not produce papers showing he owned the house. Apparently a woman had seen Gates having trouble with his key getting into this fancy house. The wikipedia article I linked in says both Gates and the officer were equally responsible for the incident almost leading to the maiming and worse of Gates. This is like when Yvette was in school and was bullied I was told she was equally responsible for somehow inciting the bullies.

Now I do understand. As a black man you are in grave danger in this US country from the police (and the huge imprisoning system and its Draconian laws increasingly set up to fill prisons with long-term prisoners, mostly black because private companies want to have people in their prisons to justify their fees and they handle these people by the torture of solitary confinement).  And an ordinary citizen you are in danger because the supreme court, the ordinary courts, and the norms at large allow police can do anything they want to you too (man, woman, child), if they claim self-defense. I include children because increasingly punitive school norms are emerging which give very young child no second chance if they somehow disobey or displease an authority figure or break a rule deemed important by the authorities. They can be suspended automatically and thus hurt (lose out on school work, be made to feel bad about themselves, ostracized).

I have had the personal experience to know of a disabled person who was bullied by a cop because the person was so upset that she almost was run over by a car (she jaywalked); when the car swerved and did not kill her, the people in it got out to express distress not anger. When they saw the police officer growing irritated with the person because she did not produce the "right replies" right away, they fled. Luckily she is a small white female and was just "warned" aggressively, left to be frightened .She does not drive because of two others such incidents with police officers who pulled her over and bullied her for going too slow. Occasionally news stories tell of how police were exonerated by their conduct to a disabled person and the person rightly put in prison or on probation because they were "difficult," threatening. Actually put in prison too.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 5th, 2012 01:22 pm (UTC)
Violence, police and civil
This is a good group of cases. To it I would add that of Kofi Adu-Brempong, a grad student from Ghana living in campus housing here at UF. In 2010 his neighbors called the police, concerned that he might kill himself. To put it very briefly, the police almost saved him the trouble. He tried to defend himself when the police broke in, with his cane (he had polio as a child, so he was disabled), and was shot in the face. It was quite a big thing here, in the papers.

What terrifies me about the Trayvon Martin case is that if the boy had in fact been armed and had killed Zimmerman, both deaths would have been legally justified. Apparently Martin was carefully walking away from Zimmerman, avoiding provoking him, and Zimmerman had turned back, but then Martin stopped and challenged him. I assume this is because Martin was approaching the house where his little brother was waiting, for whom he felt responsible. He did not want to lead this Hispanic stalker to his father's house. According to Zimmerman's account, he attacked Zimmerman, which was entirely appropriate under the law. He was standing his ground. Martin's response on seeing Zimmerman's gun, attested by Zimmerman, "I'm going to kill you," was perfectly appropriate to someone "defending his castle" against an armed person: deadly force is to be met with deadly force. If the law had worked as it is supposed to work, they would have killed each other. Two fewer people to educate, find jobs for, provide health care for. You wouldn't even need the apparatus of police forensics, law, and justice, the way you do now with one survivor of this law.

Sorry, I just had to say that. Please don't repost it.
May. 5th, 2012 01:32 pm (UTC)
Re: Violence, police and civil
No. Promise not to anywhere. Once I put things on the Blog they just stay there. This blog is set up so I've kept out comments by people not belonging to Livejournal and also over the years all people who are rabid. The Livejournal people make it easy as the Livejournal community (so to speak) is continually at risk from attacks by Russian agencies. Over 50% of Livejournal users write in Russian.

I put political blogs here because they do get so much less attention. The Ellen and Jim blog by this time has a big readership -- I'll get 600 to 1000 hits a day. Here the norm is 50 :) i am careful with political stuff.

The Livejournal community is not in the radar of the prestigious types (like Crooked Timber) and is not picked up there. I have given permission to a man who keeps a blog on wordpress called the Fortnightly Review which looks Trollopeian (very 19th century) to transfer blogs on 19th century topics and 19th century film adaptations from Ellen and Jim. Trollope was an editor for a periodical with that name (the joke is it came out monthly). As far as I know no one else.

But these things must be said somewhere. It's scary for _us_ too. That's why I included the incident of the disabled person. She was in danger from that cop.

May. 5th, 2012 02:28 pm (UTC)
Re: Violence, police and civil
Yes--all these examples involve not just race but a person who is can be perceived as weak in some way--Gates is not I think a big man, and not young, and had just come back from China so he must have been jet-lagged and exhausted. Kofi Adu-Brempong was literally crippled plus he was known to be in the middle of an attack of paranoid delusions--that is why the police were there; in the case of Chamberlain, also, the police had been called to assist medically and were faced with a disabled person. All these men were in their own homes, and thus entitled to respect, as well as to accommodation because of their weakness. The small, white, distressed woman was similarly in a position of extreme weakness. Yet all these weak people were perceived as threats. By, ironically, armed policemen!
In the Martin-Zimmerman case you have two fully able young men--though one outweighed the other and was in his prime, the other was young and untested, hence weaker--attacking each other (according to Zimmerman's account). Both were defending their own territory against a perceived outsider with evil intentions. So it is somewhat different. But the fact is, if Zimmerman had not had a gun he would have had to explain who he was and nobody would have been killed.

May. 6th, 2012 04:07 am (UTC)
Re: Violence, police and civil
I meant to reply much earlier, but I was doing a proposal (it was accepted!) for a conference, and then we saw a good movie, _The Gret Marigold Hotel_ (heartily recommended) and earlier this evening I fell asleep.

I agree the thread is all these people were perceived as weak -- and all were of low status. Only rich white men are of high status it seems. I've another case: last summer there were 3 appalling rape cases: appalling because in all three cases the rapists got off and the women were excoriated, shamed. A fourth made a woman who was a mother into a monster. The one involving police concerned a young woman who came home from a party and had been raped and made the mistake of calling the police. If I am remembering correctly, the police then raped her. She was drunk when they arrived. So they perceived her as utterly vulnerable.

I didn't know the details of the Zimmerman & Martin encounter that you cited. I agree none of the details about Martin excuses Zimmerman and had there been no gun in the case Martin would be alive today. The "stand your ground" laws are backed by the NRA so the ownership of guns goes with these lawless laws. (Strip searching an innocent person is a lawless law.)

What bothers me or I think about is: what is the training of a police officer? if the US gov't will not put money into anything but military, they do become the first or second line of defense for public need. But when they show up, they behave hostilely or profoundly aggressively. So what is the training? implicit as well as explicit? Are they told to "subdue" the person. In the general training are they taught to despise the public by one another?

It's worrying.

Years ago this same disabled person I've spoken of would ride her bike in the afternoon. She is perceived as bully-able. Well a group of black children from a near-by welfare project (that's the old-fashioned descriptive word) followed and harassed her. I noticed she had stopped riding her bike and had an idea this attempt at bullying had gone on. She had fled them. Unknown to me my neighbor across the street (white) phoned the police. The police then visited the parents or relatives of these children in the project. The disabled girl was never bothered again. (So here we have an instance of some kind of menace having been enacted). Nonetheless, alas, she stopped riding the bike. (Such is the effect of bullying in our society; she also now does not drive a car partly from the police bullying.) About a week or so after the incident another neighbor told me what had happened. That the women across the way had phoned the police. The purpose of telling me was to make sure I was grateful to the neighbor who had called the police. At the time I felt a little guilty. Why had I not phoned the police? The answer I knew was I never thought to. Never would I have thought to. I don't come from people who call the police. I am wary of them -- even before these incidents instinctively I felt I don't know unsure they would be on "my" side. So I told myself maybe I should change and think of the police.

Well tonight this incident comes back to me and I'm telling myself my old instinct is the right one. Don't phone them. And that the reason that woman across the street from me did was she was white and upper middle (the houses in my area are most of them very expensive -- mine was not, another story) and in a way it was wrong that the police went after these black people in the project. While in this instance they did protect a vulnerable disabled girl, they were not to know that and really only did it because she was white and perceived as part of the rich people's neighborhood.


Edited at 2012-05-06 04:15 am (UTC)
May. 6th, 2012 02:13 pm (UTC)
the Trayvon Martin case
I live in Florida so these laws apply in the places where I go for a walk. One of my lab assistants commented cheerfully that she would like to carry a gun just in case she had a problem on her way home (currently guns on campus are not allowed but there is feeling that they should be allowed). So I paid attention to the case.
I was basing my imagined scenario of what happened on Zimmerman's own defense testimony, plus the phone conversation Martin had with his girlfriend. He told her he was being stalked but was walking slowly so as not to provoke the stalker. However, then she heard him ask Zimmerman what he was doing, and the phone hung up. Zimmerman said he had turned away from his pursuit but that Martin confronted him and then attacked him physically; when the younger man saw Zimmerman's gun, he said "I'm going to kill you," at which point Zimmerman drew and fired. The testimony of neighbors is conflicting, but apparently there was a physical fight.
So I asked myself, what had changed that made Martin turn and confront his stalker? Martin was approaching his father's house, where a young brother was alone at the time waiting for Skittles. I would guess that Martin did not want the stalker to see him enter the house. He was protecting his home and his brother. Unbeknownst to him, Zimmerman was also acting on behalf of homeowners. If Zimmerman had been able to talk to Martin, and vice-versa, nobody would have been killed. But if they had shot each other, the law would have allowed that, because they were using deadly force to meet a threat of deadly force.
Re. the cases of Gates and the UF grad student, it is because these persons were high status that we hear about them. Kofi Adu-Brempong was a poor student, but he was an educated man with educated friends in a college town, so he had natural defenders. Gates of course is as famous as a Harvard professor can be without going to DC.
Re. the police. I agree they need better training. Here in town there is a lot of work put in, esp. after the Adu-Brempong case, to train the groups that respond to calls like this so that they don't essentially rescue the kitten by shooting it out of the tree it's stuck in.
The police profession is extremely difficult and seems to be becoming more so. I am glad I only ever have to decide whether to give an A or a B on a paper.
May. 6th, 2012 02:23 pm (UTC)
the Trayvon Martin case
Back again in the morning too (a more cheerful blog tonight, Judy with a strong recommendation to go enjoy _Best Exotic Marigold Hotel_ -- on Ellen & Jim blog later): I do imagine myself. I have no gun nor do I want one nor to learn how to use one. I suspect it would be taken from me and used to wound or kill or control me.

I used to feel for the police to some extent. Growing up in the southeast Bronx has ever tempered that: numerous police were in on the take for drugs, part of the drug circles, and like the characters in Gay's Beggar's Opera, they turned people in to get back and to control others. But I know there were decent officers who meant well and did right (so to speak).

But what are we to say with this growing array of incidents where police are asked to come in to help a person in need and turn on that person. Those police raped the girl who called them because she had been raped. They saw she was drunk but so what? They attacked her. And got away with it, she was shamed and excoriated on Fox TV for weeks because she dared to file suit.

I'm also losing sympathy for doctors. I used to make the comparison you are with doctors. Glad I don't have to take out anyone's appendix; better to sit and grade. Harmless drudge (Johnson quote). But increasing there too a consciencelessness and corruption and use of patients as customers is changing the whole aspect of the profession as the profit system really takes over. Obama's program might slowly eventually tame it a bit, but it would take time, and it may well be that those in charge could prevent that (saying it's not overturned because we must have the right not to have to buy brocoli.)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )

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