Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Reflecting Empire


The routine assault and looting of Iraqi civilians caught up in searches and random detentions in Iraq are not anomalous as we are told solemnly by imperial apologists but the export of racist home-grown brutality endemic in our law enforcement. Abu Ghraib is the return of this repressed, this violent underbelly of America's "liberal" state.

The Public Torture of Robert Davis

October 11, 2005

Less than two weeks ago, on September 29, US District Judge, Judge Alvin Hellerstein ordered the government to release fresh evidence 87 photos and 4 video tapes of detainee torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib, which the ACLU had sought in a lawsuit brought against General Myers in 2003.

But for anyone looking for confirmation that brutality and abuse is not a war-time aberration but a home-grown reality in American law enforcement., no need to wait. An Associated Press Television News tape from New Orleans provides a sneak preview.

64 year old Robert Davis was hit at least 4 times in the head last Saturday night as he stood outside a New Orleans bar near Bourbon Street. As he seemed to resist, flailing at his attackers, 4 officers 3 white and 1 light skinned dragged him to the ground and then kneed and punched him twice, leaving him with blood flowing from his arm into the gutter. Another white officer, Stuart Smith, an 8 yr veteran of the department, then ordered the APTN producer, Rich Matthews, and the cameraman to stop shooting. When Matthews held up his press credentials, the officer grabbed him, pushed him backward over the car, and punched him in the stomach while letting loose a stream of profane invective. A mug shot shows Davis, who was booked for public intoxication and resisting arrest, with his right eye swollen shut, an abrasion on the left side of the neck, and a cut on his right temple.

None of the officers were newbies and though it was claimed that they were severely stressed by conditions in New Orleans, the truth is the department has had more than ten years of repeated charges of racism, brutality and corruption. During the hurricane, police were apparently involved in looting as well apparently making off with nearly 200 cars from a dealership. Davis is the latest proof that drinking while black or even just watching others drink - is an offense punishable by severe beating and even death in America.

Remember the dreadful torture in August 1997 of Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant? Louima was simply unlucky enough to be standing outside the Rendez Vous Club in Flatbrush, Brooklyn, NY, when the police came to break up a fight. He was repeatedly beaten and tortured in the anus with a plunger. Six officers were involved and many others witnessed the barbarity but not one of them or the many witnesses intervened or decried it. Louima was delivered to emergency care at Coney Island Hospital where the officers fabricated a flimsy cover story that blamed his intestinal injuries on consensual homosexual sex. When Magali Laurent, a nurse at the hospital, blew the whistle, there was an uproar of outrage. This was supposed to be business as usual. That,s the same business that showed up on our newspapers last year when the imperial military and the court press proclaimed itself shocked, shocked at the sexual torture of Iraq civilians in prison.

Only two years ago, in November 2003, another black man, 41 year old Nathaniel West who had passed out drunk outside a fast food restaurant in Cincinnati, was beaten to death by 5 white and 1 black policemen wielding metal night-sticks. Tapes showed that the unarmed West resisted. But who wouldn,t if they were being clubbed in the head by six men? Jones was beaten at least a dozen times for several minutes even after he had fallen to the ground and been subdued. Only when he ceased breathing did the assault stop. He died minutes after he was taken to emergency care.

The routine assault and looting of Iraqi civilians caught up in searches and random detentions in Iraq are not anomalous as we are told solemnly by imperial apologists but the export of racist home-grown brutality endemic in our law enforcement. Abu Ghraib is the return of this repressed, this violent underbelly of America's "liberal" state.

Lila Rajiva is a free-lance journalist and author of "The Language of Empire: Abu Ghraib and the American media," (Monthly Review Press). She can be reached at: lrajiva@hotmail.com

Beaten New Orleans Man Revisits Scene
Associated Press Writer
Tue Oct 11, 5:58 PM ET

NEW ORLEANS - Robert Davis stood at the corner of Bourbon and Conti streets in the French Quarter and stared in disbelief at the brown stain on the sidewalk.

"Is that my blood? It must be," said the 64-year-old retired elementary schoolteacher, who was arrested and repeatedly punched by police over the weekend. "I didn't know I was bleeding that bad."

The confrontation, captured on videotape and broadcast across the country, has put another unwanted spotlight on the beleaguered, exhausted police force in this storm-struck city.

Three officers pleaded not guilty to charges stemming from the incident and the U.S. Justice Department opened a civil rights investigation.

Davis disputed contentions by police that he had been drinking.

"I haven't had a drink in 25 years," Davis said Monday. "I didn't do anything. I was going to get a pack of cigarettes and taking my evening constitutional."

The two city police officers accused in the beating, and a third accused of grabbing and shoving an Associated Press Television News producer who helped capture the encounter on tape, pleaded not guilty to battery charges and were released Monday.

After a hearing, at which trial was set for Jan. 11, officers Lance Schilling, Robert Evangelist and S.M. Smith were released on bond. They left without commenting. They were suspended without pay Sunday.

Police Superintendent Warren Riley said any misconduct found in an investigation would be dealt with swiftly. He noted the video showed "a portion of that incident."

"The actions that were observed on this video are certainly unacceptable by this department," Riley said.

Davis is black; the three city police officers seen on the tape are white. But Davis and police officials have said they don't believe race was a factor.

Two other officials in the video appeared to be federal officers, according to police. Numerous agencies have sent officers to help in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and police spokesman Marlon Defillo said it would be up to their commanders to decide if they would face charges.

Davis had stitches under his swollen left eye, a bandage around a finger and complained of aches in his left shoulder and soreness in his back. His lawyer said he suffered fractures to his cheek and eye socket.

The confrontation came as the New Orleans Police Department — long plagued by allegations of brutality and corruption — struggles with the aftermath of Katrina and the resignation last month of Police Superintendent Eddie Compass.

Davis said the confrontation began after he had approached a mounted police officer Saturday to ask about curfews in the city when another officer interrupted.

"This other guy interfered and I said he shouldn't," Davis said. "I started to cross the street and — bam — I got it. ... All I know is this guy attacked me and said, 'I will kick your ass,' and they proceeded to do it."

The APTN tape shows an officer hitting Davis at least four times in the head. Davis appeared to resist, twisting and flailing as he was dragged to the ground by four officers. Davis' lawyer, Joseph Bruno, said his client did not resist police.

Another officer also kneed Davis and punched him twice. Davis was pushed to the sidewalk with blood streaming down his arm and into the gutter. The officers accused of striking Davis were identified as Schilling and Evangelist.

During the arrest, another officer, identified as Smith, ordered an APTN producer and cameraman to stop recording. When producer Rich Matthews held up his credentials, the officer grabbed him, leaned him backward over a car, jabbed him in the stomach and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade.

Davis had returned to New Orleans over the weekend from Atlanta to inspect six properties owned by members of his family, intending to clean them up or figure out how to rebuild them. He's no longer sure he'll return permanently to the city he's called home for 28 years.

"That's up in the air. The chaos that's here — I don't know," he said.


Associated Press writer Rachel LaCorte contributed to this report.

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