Monday, January 08, 2007

Atlanta cops harass historians.

There is something about giving a man a badge, a uniform and a gun which turns him into a thug. Or maybe those things merely attract people who are already thugs. There is a nice concept that the police exist to protect our rights, to stop people from hurting us, to keep the peace. Those notions are long outdated. They stopped being peace officers and became law officers.

And once they become law officers they become, in spirit, brownshirts. We have seen it over and over. And now they have taken to harassing historians! Here is the scenario. The American Historians Association was holding their conference in Atlanta. Delegates had to cross between the Hilton and the Marriott hotels. The hotels are directly across the street from one another and in the middle of the street.

And like most of the world people would look for traffic and, if safe, cross in the middle of the block. But some petty law enforcement officer showed up. Rick Shenkman describes what happened: “Today it rained. Crossing between the Hilton and the Marriott was treacherous at times. Making matters worse, a local cop stopped people from crossing in the middle of the street even though that's where the entrances to both hotels are. Laboriously we had to walk to the corner and wait for the light in the rain. One historian who tried a mad dash through the empty street got yelled at. "Hey, didn't you hear me," said the cop. "I said to walk at the corner." He was only doing his job. But the determination with which he protected us from ourselves went mostly unappreciated.”

So we have a cop with attitude problems. And that came to a head the next day.

One of the most prominent historians in the world is Felipe Fernandez-Armesto. Again Shenkman describes what happened.

On Friday the Tufts historian Felipe Fernandez-Armesto was arrested by Atlanta police as he crossed the middle of the street between the Hilton and Hyatt hotels. After being thrown on the ground and handcuffed, the former Oxford don was formally arrested, his hands cuffed behind his back. Several policemen pressed hard on his neck and chest, leaving the mild-mannered scholar, who's never gotten so much as a parking ticket, bruised and in pain. He was then taken to the city detention center along with other accused felons and thrown into a filthy jail cell filled with prisoners. He remained incarcerated for eight hours. Officials demanded bail of over a thousand dollars. To come up up with the money Fernandez-Armesto, the author of nineteen books, had to make an arrangement with a bail bondsman. In court even the prosecutors seemed embarrassed by the incident, which got out of hand when Fernandez-Armesto requested to see the policeman's identification (the policeman was wearing a bomber jacket; to Fernandez-Armesto, a foreigner unfamiliar with American culture, the officer did not look like an officer). The prosecutors asked the professor to plead nolo contendere. He refused, concerned that the stain on his record might put his green card status in jeopardy. Officials finally agreed to drop all charges. The judge expressed his approval. The professor says he has no plans to sue. But the AHA council is considering lodging a complaint with the city.

Apparently the police had nothing better to do but to do. Now this may be out of line but I wonder if this was intentional. The AHA is mainly very anti-war and that doesn’t sit well with many of the authoritarian types in the police in the deep South. I’ve certainly seen this type of thing done in the past by police elsewhere.

During the dying days of apartheid I attended a conference on censorship at the University of the Witswatersrand. The police faked a bomb scare to order everyone out of the conference center. And as people were leaving the building we found groups of police officers outside waiting with video cameras to record the identities of people attending. They also tried to randomly arrest attendees of the conference who were black but had a little less luck with that as the dozens of people would intervene in each case to stop the arrests --- remember those arrested could have “accidents” and die.

The police kept us outside the main hall for well over an hour as they harassed people. On one occasion I was standing next to a police officer who started punching a woman in the face quite violently. I reacted and grabbed his one arm and another participant jumped on him from the other side while others rushed in to help us pull him away. To say the least he was threatening us with rather dire consequences.

So I’ve seen how police can use the law to harass people intentionally. And I just wonder if there was any of this happening in Atlanta since the police are notorious about hating “liberals” and the AHA is a well-known liberal group. Below are three videos with interviews with Fernandez-Armesto regarding this absurd action by the cops.

Labels: , ,