Rage and patience, despair and exaggerated confidence—emotions that have been swirling around lately. The demonstrations, blockades, and protests of many varieties have come as an inspiration and their resilience and fortitude is absolutely surprising. Something new might be happening, something we’ve dreamed of and hoped for, for a long time. I’ve seen tweets and facebook posts claiming an insurrection is underway but that seems grandly overstated, the hubris of youth at best. On the other hand, the steady unrelenting pressure in the streets in Ferguson, New York, Oakland, San Francisco, Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles and other places, combined with the recognition that the protagonists are not the same old faces (even if some of them—us—are out there too!), is worthy of close attention and critical support. More on this in a minute.
It’s the end of another year. I found myself writing a lot less this past year. No book project underway (though that’s about to change), blogging once a month at best. Instead of thrusting my own views onto the world (something I’ve done plenty of in my life, after all!) I seem to have taken a break. I didn’t decide to do it, but instead of opining on everything going by, or forcing myself to write something that I didn’t feel particularly inspired to do, I spent a lot of time reading other peoples’ words, mostly books, but plenty of magazines and to a lesser extent, online and electronic writings. I do download or bookmark a lot of articles and even whole publications but I rarely go back and read them because frankly, I like physical books and magazines much more than electronic reading. Partly I had to do some catch-up reading to be able to be a good teacher in the classes I taught at the SF Art Institute, and partly I have a tendency to accumulate books I want to read and haven’t made enough time for them. So I was able to plow through dozens of fantastic books this year, all of which have helped deepen my growing historical knowledge about San Francisco and California, as well as filling in important gaps in my grasp of 19th century history.
Anyway, I have also been in a small, background support role to Adriana’s amazing work on the Alex Nieto case. After his murder by local police on March 21, 2014 she threw herself into working with the family and friends and that has been absorbing much time and attention around our house. She’s determined to shape the narrative, which has put her in the role of the tortoise vis-à-vis the hare known as the San Francisco Police Department. When they shoot someone, their modus operandi (apparently this is the model used across the U.S., probably developed by the FBI with major input from the politicized cops and ex-cops who run police unions) is to assassinate the character of the victim within hours of the shooting. Instant criminalization irrespective of any facts is an essential component of their strategy, and its purpose is to put up a cloud of doubt over the circumstances under which the victim was killed. Then, having “established” by leaking false or irrelevant information that the person shot by police somehow caused it themselves, either because of prior interaction with law enforcement or all too often because of documented mental health issues, the police can claim that they were endangered and had to use deadly force. They did this to Alex Nieto—you can read how they took 18 hours to inform the family they had killed Alex, how they bluffed their way into their home and tried to find “evidence” to use before telling what happened, and so on. It’s amazing that this case doesn’t already have the kind of national profile that Michael Brown and Eric Garner and some others are getting. But it may get there yet, since anyone familiar with the facts can see that Greg Suhr, the San Francisco police chief, is probably personally involved in obstruction of justice and a cover-up, and the whole department is doing whatever it can to delay, obfuscate, and prevent a proper investigation from taking place. More »