Friday, May 04, 2007

This Country, I Tell You What

Sorry, no poetry this Friday. I'm too cranky.

This past Tuesday there was a big march in Los Angeles to push for immigration reform, one of a number of marches around the country. The day was entirely peaceful and positive, as all of these immigration marches have been. And then, at the end of the day, there was an altercation between some cops and protesters at MacArthur Park. Supposedly, a rock or two might have been thrown, although possibly it was just some plastic water bottles. The police responded by charging the crowd, firing rubber bullets indiscriminately at a mass of people that included families, ice cream vendors, and the usual homeless people that live in the park. Parents dived on top of their toddlers to keep them from being killed by the rubber bullets.

Now, you might not know this, but this stuff happens all the time at protests. And it is usually pretty well-documented. I wasn't at this particular protest, but a bunch of friends of mine were at one of the big anti-IMF protests in Washington, DC back in 2000. The Wesleyan contingent was part of a larger group that was blocking traffic at an intersection, with their arms chained to each other. The student newspaper I worked on, Hermes, published the accounts of these protesters, and here is the story of one friend of mine:
The police bus pulled up around noon. We'd scarcely seen a squad car all morning, and we were off our guard. Everyone in the lockdown circle stood up to see what was going on, which was the worst thing we possibly could have done. The police came off the bus running, and formed a riot line a few feet from our circle. None of them were wearing badges. They didn't even order us to clear the area--one shouted "Let's do this," and they charged us, nightsticks first. In the training sessions, they told us that you're supposed to sit down when the police charge you--that way they can't push people around, knock them over, and start a stampede. Our lock-circle was standing, staring stupidly at the riot visors and shouting for support when they hit us. People's arms started twisting inside the lock-boxes, and they started screaming. A couple unhooked. A soft line formed around us and starting shouting for us to sit down. I sat. The riot officer in front of me looked over at someone who'd just pulled out of his lockbox, looked at me, and drove his nightstick into my face.

I don't know quite what happened next. I was bleeding, screaming, trying to get my arms out of the boxes and figure out where my glasses had landed. There were so many cameras snapping it sounded like machine-gun rounds. When I unhooked my right hand, I saw Sasha, reeling and bleeding, pulling her hand out from the other side. The police backed off--I don't know why--and a second later I was behind the lines, two medics were taking care of me, and a legal observer was interrogating me in the most apologetic tone imaginable.

In the emergency room, they put seven stitches in my face and told me my nose was broken. Sasha had a broken nose and was missing a third of one of her front teeth. And in the hospital waiting room, we watched the network news shows laud the DC police for their restraint.

This stuff really does happen all the time. As Tuesday's march showed, it is rarely related to actual threats from protesters; the LA Times is estimating that there probably about a dozen anarchist-types in MacArthur Park, out of the hundreds of protesters. In the DC case quoted above, the protestors were literally chained to the ground, and were in no position to be a threat to anyone!

Luckily here in LA, MacArthur Park was also home to an area where the press was stationed, underneath a clearly-marked tent and next to their news vans. We're not talking a couple of hippies with video cameras, we're talking the normal national and local news. The police nevertheless pushed through the press, at once point kicking an NBC cameraman while he was on the ground. The national news anchor for Telemundo was roughed up. A woman producer was punched. And so, for once, there is actually some awareness of what happens. Here's a YouTube clip of Brian Williams telling the story:

Know what bothers me? This stuff always goes on at marches, and the media knows it. It's only when their own people get beat up that they get outraged. Know what also bothers me? The so-called progressives in the blogosphere have largely ignored the story--both the marches, and the police violence. Am I missing something or was there not a single post on DailyKos about this? They are so busy worrying about electing Democrats, they could care less that the down are literally being trod upon.

And in other news, today, the president of the American Musicological Society--probably one of the most apolitical, if not downright conservative, scholarly groups out there--emailed all the members to give us an update on Nalini Ghuman. Ghuman is an assistant professor of music at Mills College. (For my non-academic readers, that means she is a full-time faculty member on the tenure track.) She is a British citizen, with degrees from Oxford (BA, MA) Kings College (MA), and UC Berkeley (PhD). Having a job in this country, she has a work visa good through 2008. She went to England this summer for a month to do some research. When she flew back home, to begin her fourth year of teaching, she was detained for eight hours at SFO. Her visa was then revoked, and she was sent back to England.

No explanation.

Eight months later, the government still won't let her come back into the country, as the INS has not yet granted her a security clearance. Again, no explanation. She has apparently heard a rumor that it is a case of mistaken identity, but no official word. While stories like this are sadly a dime a dozen, this really hits home. I don't know Prof. Ghuman, but I do know how difficult it is to be a student in a foreign country, and also how hard it is to get a tenure track job. And to think that it could all be taken away from her because her name is probably similar to the name of someone who once visited the Middle East or something.

Outrageous, and depressing.

1 comment:

Rebecca said...

Yikes. Thanks for this post. Thirty years of LA experience leave me unsurprised, but greatly saddened all the same. My mother lives not far from downtown and on the edge of a part of town which has witnessed 21 shootings in the last month, most of them gang-related.

I agree that it is a case of hitting close enough to home that it became newsworthy (finally) when it comes to the press. I'm just tired of people needing Academy Award-winning documentaries to get them to wake up and show some interest. I'll be interested to see what the "investigation" reveals. Heartbreaking.