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Some thoughts on State sanctioned violence

Today has been a very hard day.

Since I awoke from yet another violent nightmare this morning, I've been overwhelmed by mental images and thoughts of violence, especially State-sanctioned violence.

Two days ago, the partner of a close friend was hit in the head by a high-velocity teargas canister fired into a group of non-violent protesters in the West Bank. He is still alive, but in critical condition and no one knows when or even if he will recover.

Seeing the photos of him on the ground, covered in blood, brought back a flood of memories.

Images of my friend Brad Will, gunned down in 2006 by government paramilitary thugs in Mexico, push themselves into the front of my mind. The sound of his voice when he was shot, recorded by the video camera he was holding at the time, echoes in my brain.

I also keep thinking about the hundreds, if not thousands, of nameless and faceless victims of similar violence.

I know that the attention that Tristan and Brad have gotten is because they are white American activists. Their skin privilege makes them stand out in a sea of darker skinned victims.

It is not fair, but if we can shine a light of attention on the larger issues; if we can get the mainstream public to pay attention because these victims look and talk like they do, it is necessary to do so.

If what happened to them can make the other victims less anonymous and ignored, maybe their sacrifices are not in vain.

I know that there are tens of thousands of people dying in Darfur, in the Middle East, in Oaxaca, and other small ignored corners around the globe.

Why should the lives of these few people be worth more?

The quick answer is that, of course, their lives are not worth more. However, the sad reality is that because of how our world is, it seems to take the mutilation or death of someone white and from the west to get people to put aside their complacency and think about what is going on; what is being done in our names and with our tax money.

Today is especially hard for me because it is the anniversary of one of the darkest moments of my life. 21 years ago this evening, I almost became one of those martyrs.

After calling the police to deal with the theft of my roommate's bicycle, due to the arrogance and hate of one police officer, I was badly beaten -- first in a public parking lot by 3 officers and then again in the witness-free zone of the strip-search room of Central Booking in downtown Buffalo. The only thing that saved my life that night, other than the fast action of my friends, was the color of my skin.

In fact, the cop that was the ringleader of those that attacked me told me directly that it was my skin that kept him from killing me in the parking lot. "You should shut up about police brutality, let me tell you son, if you were a nigger you'd be going right to the hospital instead of downtown"

A half hour later, when he started beating me while I was being strip searched, I was sure that he had decided that white skin privilege was not enough to keep him from killing me. I was sure then and am still sure now that he wanted to kill me, and for it to be a long and painful death.

I'm not sure what happened. Maybe he got bored, maybe one of the other cops made a comment or gesture that made him think twice about it, maybe he just wanted to take a break and continue after some coffee. After he stopped beating the crap out of me, I was put in a holding cell. It was the middle of a very cold Buffalo winter, and the cell I was put in had all the windows open.

Covered in blood, the spit of numerous police officers, and completely naked, I sat there trying to stay warm and awake -- sure that if I were to fall asleep I would freeze to death by morning and it would simply be chalked up as a crazy accident. Maybe they'll try to make it look like a suicide, I thought as I did my best to keep moving and alert.

My vision was blurred by a combination of factors, they had confiscated my glasses and I had sustained a concussion as my head was slammed into a brick wall by the force of the cop's blows.

All I knew was that I was being held on a high bail, I had no idea what I was being charged with. Later I would find out that I was accused of attacking a cop, as well as numerous other false charges.

I was informed that I would be held for the maximum time they could before bringing me in front of a judge. I could only wonder how many other beatings I would be subject to before I got to see a judge.

I knew that I was hurt badly and was not sure how much more I could sustain before my body gave in, or forced me to fall asleep in the sub-zero temperatures. I was comforted by the thought that from what I had read, freezing to death is a relatively painless way to die.

What I did not know at the time was that because they had officially filed charges against me, it was possible for me to be bailed out before I saw a judge. They put a dollar amount on every charge, add them up and arrive at the amount of money (cash only) that is necessary.

As far as they figured, no one knew I was under arrest -- I was never given the chance to make a phone call. If you think that after arrest you are guaranteed a phone call and that someone reads you your rights, you've been watching too much TV. You only hear your rights if they intend to question you and want to be able to use what you say in court. If they think you'll never survive to make it to court, or if they don't care about using your statements in court, they don't waste their time.

They assessed my situation and acted accordingly. They could do what they wanted, kill me if they cared to and I would be simply another faceless and nameless victim of the System.

Luckily for me, they did not realize that one of the witnesses to my arrest and beating was one of my roommates. Their prejudice would not allow them to contemplate the possibility that a grubby hippy could have friends that could quickly organize a bail fund.

5 hours after being thrown into the jail cell, the cage door opened. When the 3 cops walked in, I knew I was about to die. This was it.

When they handed me my clothes and ordered me to get dressed, I was really confused. Where were they taking me? Why won't they just let me freeze to death? What new torture and pain did they have planned? I was fully prepared to die.

"You've been bailed out, hurry up before I change my mind, your friends are waiting for you downstairs." the highest ranking among the cops said.

My friends and professors had emptied their bank accounts, taken cash advances on their credit cards, pooled together whatever spare change they had lying around. Some of them went to the precinct and demanded I be released. They were determined to not leave without me. They had come to take me home (although I required a trip to the hospital first).

I walked as fast as my bruised bones could carry me, still confused and certain that this was a trick. Get my hopes up and then beat me down again -- I was sure this was the plan.

When I was led to the waiting area and saw two friends, Steve and Diana, waiting for me it did not seem real. It was not until I made physical contact with them, limping out of Central Booking with my arms over their shoulders, that I realized it was over, that I had survived.

We went to the hospital, and then home. The feeling of relief that flooded me when I sat down and Diana made me a cup of tea also has stayed with me. It's amazing how powerful such a small act can be, I still refer to Lipton blackberry flavored black tea as "Freedom Tea" and whenever I get really stressed out I make myself a cup.

I will never forget all sides of that night -- the certainty of death; the violence of the State; the power of community; the love of friends.

When my case came to trial, I was forced to take a really crappy deal.

They were going to convict me of at least one count of disorderly conduct if not more. I had after all, as I was charged with, "shouted an obscenity in a public place in a way that made others feel uncomfortable." The fact that the obscenity was used in the sentence "Why the fuck are you hitting me!" would not keep me from being convicted.

In order to keep my record clear of convictions, I had to sign away my rights to sue the City of Buffalo for brutality and false arrest. Nothing would ever happen to the cops that tried to kill me. There would never be any justice.

This is hard for me to say, but in many ways, I have never fully recovered. It was only a couple of years ago that I finally came to the realization of just how much that one night had impacted my life.

I still struggle every day to move beyond that space in my head; to get away from the feeling that death is waiting for me around every corner; to find myself amidst the emotional rubble.

Each day is a struggle, but each day is a victory. I survived. The reality that white skin privilege allowed me to walk out where so many others had been carried out in caskets has gnawed at my soul.

The guilt, the anger, the shame, the rage have all stayed with me. I work every day to move past it.

Someday, I'll be free.

Thank you

Eric, you're amazing. I'm grateful to you for sharing such a powerful account of your experience. I'm glad you're still with us, continuing to struggle for freedom for yourself and for everyone.

thanks for that

Danny, thanks for the kind words. I'm very happy to have comrades like you in my life.


You know, (you probably do know, I suppose) you've never told me the whole story. Post-traumatic stress is real and really damaging. You don't recover from a beating like that easily, and the injustice of having to give up your right to any recourse is a lot of salt to pour on.

I used to think that hippies were a bunch of hippies and all this talk of "peace" was kind of BS, but I'm realizing more and more that countering violence is really hard work. We are a violent lot, humans. A nasty and violent lot when we want to be. Power only makes it worse. and there isn't some magic pill we can swallow to fix that. I find myself imagining that I am capable of understanding what makes people beat the living crap out of anyone else. I'm not.

not even close to the whole story

Yes, I know that many of my friends have never heard the full story. In fact, this post is not even close to the full story, but an attempt to finally start talking about it and looking at how it effected me and how I react to stressful situations at times.

One of the more comical moments that night happened as I was being brought into the precinct. The commanding officer came over, and seeing that I had obviously been roughed up, wanted to know what happened.

He looked at the arresting officer and asked him, "What did he do?" in a way that for a moment made me believe that he was concerned that I had been unreasonably treated.

The arresting officer looked at the commander and simply said "he was being an asshole."

The commander then looked down at me, and in a concerned fatherly tone asked me "were you being an asshole, son?"

As I started to babble about how I had just been beaten for no reason, that I had called the cops because of my roommate's bicycle being stolen, the arresting officer came up behind me and pulled on the handcuffs knocking me off balance. As I tried to catch my balance and not fall over, which required lifting one leg off the ground, the commanding officer cut me off mid sentence and accused me of trying to kick him and essentially gave the arresting pig the ok to do whatever he wanted to.

For a while, that line -- Were you being an asshole son? -- became a running joke between me and some friends. A fun way of suggesting that things totally out of your control were your fault.

"Man was the subway crowded today"
"well, were you being an asshole, son?

on the idea of privilege

Police Brutality was rampant in buffalo, especially in the African-American community. But one white boy being beat was news.

Some folks at the UB Law School even organized a debate on campus about the topic.

The cop in charge of investigating all claims of brutality was on the panel. Without any sense of doubt, he said to the audience that "all reports of police brutality are criminals trying to get a free ride" or something close to that.

At that moment, I lost my shit like I had never done before and ranted about the reality of what was happening at Central Booking. Why was there no camera to watch the police in the areas they most often are accused of abuse? Why was there no Civilian Complaints Review Board? Why were there no statistics released to the public? How often were people forced to sign away their rights?

I was mid-rant when this photo was taken. The next morning it was on the front page of the Buffalo News (the only daily newspaper in Buffalo).

I'm not all that proud of the image, but it clearly shows the rage that had been created by my experience

The full title of the article was "Police Brutality Prompts Spirited Debate on Campus


Holy shit, i have known you for how many years, and never even got close to the narrative you laid out. I thank you for the account, especially in the larger context of State violence. Since it happens (in our society) to such a relatively small subset of the population, it is easy to marginalize and trivialize. PTSD is the ticking bomb in our culture. Watch for more of it manifesting in random ways. My housemate is an x army ranger special forces, who spends a great amount of time watching war films, as a way of dealing with the things he did to the Sandinistas in the 80s. Interesting watching how he deals with the trauma, from the other end of the spectrum. If i digress, its because you can follow this thread anywhere, its so damn pervasive, and an undercurrent in our so called orderly society.

Take care----A

This horrific account of

This horrific account of police brutality is a story that needs to be heard. I cannot believe you were treated this way by the Buffalo Police Department. I wish you didn't take the plea bargain, and took those bastards to court.

Car accident lawyer

Leaping beneath the radar.

There have been a few periods of my life where I've done everything possible to live below the radar of "the man." Working short-term jobs, moving frequently, living without bank accounts or credit cards. Living the life of a digital nomad, computer disks and portfolio in tow, living out of my backpack or the panniers on my bicycle.

In the days before the widespread use of the internet, google and social networking websites it was much easier to go off the grid. I'm not sure if I could pull off now what I did then.

Today's story comes out of one of those periods of living life underground.

Greyhound buses at depot - Portland, OregonJuly 1993. I'm on the bus travelling east. It's been a long time since I've been home. I can almost taste the bagels of my imagination and hear the clanking of the wheels of the subway in my mind. I got word last week that the case against the unknown John Doe had been dropped, the investigation ended, the trumped up charges erased.

I've got 3 days on the bus. Plenty of time to sit and think; read and dream and wonder if I'll manage to pick up right where I left off and jump back into the NYC Activist scene of the Lower East Side.

On this side of the trip is Portland Oregon, one of the places that took me in and gave me sustenance and shelter. I've spent time in a few cities and towns on the west coast on this trip. I didn't manage to pick up the amount of freelance work that I really wanted. I've been living very light and survival has been mostly due to the kindness and generosity of strangers and friends. A loan here, a place to crash there, a referral for a temp job that won't ask me too many questions wherever I could find them.

But now, I'm going home. On the other end of the journey is Manhattan, the grit and insanity; the dreams and the dreck.

The journey west was via Train (Amtrak not freight) when my coffers were full from a period of full-time employment. The journey home is Greyhound via a ticket purchased by my parents -- mom called it a loan knowing that I did not want her charity and knowing full well that she'd never accept repayment. The bus is a very different world from the comfort of the train. There's no bar car, no ability to sneak a smoke, few if any interesting conversations -- nothing but monotony. Still, I'm glad to be going home.

9 Months earlier I was living in a nice apartment on Clinton and Delancey, overlooking the entrance to the Williamsburg Bridge. It was a noisy place, sometimes when I was on the phone the person on the other end would ask me if I was calling from a pay phone on the street. The noise of the traffic was intense, especially the trucks who frequently were skidding to a stop at the red light they knew was there but always seemed to think might just be turning from yellow to green just this one time. They would grind to a halt bouncing over the large metal plates that hid the decay that a few years later led to the bridge being partially closed and under reconstruction for years.

At the time of my departure from NYC, my eviction from that apartment was only a matter of time. It was an illegal sublet -- well it was supposed to be a legal sublet leading to me getting the lease but my friend that had the place earlier decided to not follow the instructions from the housing rights organization GOLES (good old lower east side) and screwed my chances to get the lease.

The reality of soon being houseless again, stepping back into my digital nomad persona, was making me think of leaving town for a while.

Now let me point out that I used the term houseless and not homeless. I might not have a place of my own, but I have a community. At times in the past, I'd divided up my time between friends couches, the guest spaces at neighborhood squats, and friends who were travelling who needed someone to watch their space. I spent a lot of time without a place to live, but I only slept outside when I wanted to -- mostly when I rode east towards beaches where you can covertly camp especially if you don't use a car to get there.

The other important context for the rest of the story is that I had been working a full time job doing print production work for a company that put out newsletters for heating oil delivery companies -- a perfect combination of organized crime and environmental nastiness.

I got the job thanks to an associate in the bicycle advocacy/activist community in NYC. He was the editor of the newsletters. The day he had me typeset a story that used a Greenpeace article on the dangers of building new natural gas pipelines as a way of saying "see even Greenpeace thinks heating oil is better than that cleaner burning natural gas" I knew my tenure there was coming to an end. I had been pushed too far; I just could not use my skill for this twisted propaganda anymore. I decided I was going to leave soon (but had a plan that might have allowed me to get unemployment payments). If I had made a couple different decisions I would have gotten what was mine, my unemployment payments. However, I fucked it up and got nothing.

So, the day in question I was all flummoxed over my decision, do I stay or do I go. There was a car-free central park protest, just the thing to clear my mind. I got on my bike and headed over.

At this time, cars were allowed on the central loop road only during rush hour. The rest of the time it was for runners, bikes and skaters. One problem was that the Park cops never closed the entrances and cars would continue to speed around the loop endangering the lives of those using the park for recreation.

Our protest was simple. During the time the cars were allowed, we'd take up one lane and ride really slow. We were legally allowed to take one lane so the cops would back off. At 7:01pm when the cars were no longer allowed in the park, we'd form a line and funnel all the cars out of the park onto Central Park West.

This one night, one car decided to challenge our blockade. He drove slowly into the line of bikes, making it clear that he was going through no matter what.

I had different ideas.

As I watched my friend Mike's bike slowly move under the front bumper, about to meet its death, I leapt (quite literally) into action. Lots of people are shouting, and I'm Flying over the handlebars of my bike. I landed right next to the car. My momentum was moving forward fast and I swung my hand towards the front windshield. My hand was flat open, my intent was to slap the window and scare the driver into stopping the car. But the PTSD kicked in a bit.


Broken car windowEveryone stops, it is super quiet for a moment. Everyone is shocked. Where there was a nice perfectly shaped front windshield a moment ago there's now a fractal pattern of chips held together by some unseen force, the middle layer of auto glass.

No one was more in shock than I was. There was my hand, completely unhurt in the center of a huge depression on the window. I must have been aiming for the driver’s head and not the glass; the glass must have been improperly installed making it vulnerable to breaking.

The Car stopped.

The Driver Got Out.

I reached for my U lock.

A funky standoff indeed.

The crowd starts chanting the license place number of the car as a way of intimidating the driver to back off. We know who you are (or do we).

As the chanting continues, I realize that under the letters and numbers we were yelling was the word "Official." Official plates mean this guy is important, he's in government or some other high level position.

This was the first moment I realized I might be in a situation that I might not get out of. Visions of my police beating in Buffalo flew around my brain and I started to panic.

I was moving slowly to the back of the crowd, starting to plan my getaway.

Bill then came rushing over to me. "Do you realize who that guy is, this is bad, get out of here."

Bill takes off his jacket and shirt and we swap clothes and bikes. I keep my backpack for a few reasons I'll go into some other time.

As we're swapping camouflage Bill tells me to look at the dashboard behind the broken window. Oh shit. Is that? Is that a red siren light? Oh shit. Oh SHIT. Oh, man this is bad. As I'm rambling Bill informs me that he's a Deputy Commissioner of the NYC Parks Department and also a Captain in the NYPD.

I'm out.

Most of the rest of the story is second hand from the folks that lived through the final chapter.

The driver apparently stank like booze and was probably drunk. Lots of folks were still around -- 4 of them decided to stick around until the cops came explicitly to try to file charges against the drunken cop driving the now wounded car.

Of course the cops refused to give a Breathalyzer to the drunken cop, they took the 4 interested in pressing charges to the Central Park Precinct. There they got to fill out accident reports, the first step towards filing real charges. After a couple of them had been given their receipts, the Commander of the precinct came in and tore up all the accident reports (but not the receipts he did not know were already in nervous back pockets).

The tables had turned. The 4 were arrested for disorderly conduct for having been in the roadway legally so they could be hit by the drunk cop.

As the situation progressed over the next week or two, it became clear that all those charges would be dropped if they turned over the "guy that hit the car with the lead pipe" The cops offered to drop the charges if they help arrest the guy that attacked the car. A John Doe warrant was issued for assault with a deadly weapon (a crime more fitting to be charged against the cop in the car if you ask me).

They refused to cooperate. They gave mocking answers.

What was his name? Sven I think... no it was Jose. No that's not it. Homer, it was Homer.

One cop asked my friend for the name of the guy with the lead pipe, he replied that there was no lead pipe. The cop, having watched too many episodes of NYPD Blue, got in his face and asked "well, what type of pipe was it?!"

There was no Pipe!!!

Anyway, after a few liberal types that knew me as a more radical but reasonable activist tried to get me to turn myself in, I decided that all signs were saying one thing: get the fuck out of Dodge.

A week or two later I was on a train from NYC to Chicago, connecting at Chicago for the train to San Fran via Salt Lake and Denver -- One of the most amazingly beautiful sections of train travel in North America.
California Zephyr near Denver, Co. wiki pws
I looked out the windows for hours, got into amazing political debates in the bar car, found out that middle America has some interesting places and people. We wound back and forth for half a day slowly climbing the Rocky Mountains, I was mesmerized by the landscape and wondered how long until I could return home.

The story would end there if not for the epilogue I learned of years later.

The Commander of the Central Park Precinct, the cop that tore up the accident reports and started the campaign to bring the biker with the pipe to justice in order to cover up for his associate’s drunken assault, is now known as the highest-ranking NYPD officer to kill himself. He was due to appear at a commission investigating police corruption and decided to eat his gun instead.

A while after that, the friend who's bike's peril sparked my actions, the friend who still had his accident report receipt when he was told by the soon to be dead by his own hand Commander of the Central Park Precinct, that there was no accident and he was under arrest, was at a family reunion. His grandfather started talking to him about how he was a little depressed; a cousin that my friend had never met was an NYPD cop and recently killed himself instead of appearing at a corruption investigation.

Not so instant karma.

Images from the wikimedia commons. listed in order from top of page down: By M.O. Stevens; Lionel Allorge; Peter W. Svendsen