racial politics

Excessive Force


I took this picture in Beverly Hills, CA two weekends ago, while protests were breaking out around the United States over the issue of the disproportionate use of excessive force by police departments against African Americans. I don’t know what the quite apparently homeless woman had done but she was in obvious distress at this moment and loudly vocalizing her displeasure with the actions being taken against her.

I have nothing else to say, really, about this conveniently relevant photo that fell into my lap because I happened to be in the right place at the right time. Well, other than the fact that my heart goes out to the woman, and also to the cop.

Back before there was such a thing as a blog, when Macromedia Dreamweaver was the coolest thing on the planet, I used it to make and publish a handful of websites. One of them was an anonymous rant against the police. I made it to publicize and characterize for the world-wide-web the never ending cycle of unjustified police shootings here in Southern California.

I had on it the story of the black girl sleeping in her car in the rain at night who police shot while she was unconscious and possibly even overcome by carbon monoxide by her car’s running engine. There was the story of the unstable 130 lb 16-year-old whose family called 911 because they were worried about his erratic behavior and who, when surrounded by police, was whirling in a circle keeping the cops at bay with a broom stick. He was shot 9 times. There was the infamous story of the homeless 90 lb woman in her 60s who was shot for pulling out a screwdriver when stopped by police for having a shopping cart back when the police were instructed to arrest homeless people for shopping cart theft.

Let me repeat. I made a website about a dozen years ago (or more) to publicize questionable killings of black and hispanic people in California. That’s ALL the website was about. The police shooting and killing blacks and hispanics.

Details are very very important. Details are why a progressive leftist person who started a website decrying police violence, along with millions of others, find themselves unable to get behind a protest movement based on an incident that doesn’t have the right set of circumstances and facts to build the kind of systemic change that is needed upon.

That is Ferguson, in my eyes.

The Staten Island tragedy, however, and the I Can’t Breath movement and protests that have been growing out of it, represent, in my opinion, a truly valid protest movement that was born by a clearly indefensible example of unreasonable force by the police resulting in the death of a citizen.

I am deeply disturbed by the death at the hands of the police of Eric Garner in New York.

More power to this movement and to these protests.

I’m putting what I’m about to say out there because I don’t see it on protest signs, I don’t hear it coming from the talking heads on television and I certainly don’t envision the police opening up on this point. So here it is.

Policies and Procedures

Police policies and procedures are largely written by the police with a big assist from police unions. They are the instructions the police write for themselves as to how they are to go about every aspect of their jobs.

In all the years that these shooting have been happening in Southern California, through multiple federal investigations and consent decrees imposed on multiple law enforcement agencies… the one thing that has remained almost untouchable by civilian oversight or the government is police policies and procedures. They’ve changed very little. The police continue to get away with discharging their service weapons into human beings who did not need to be shot to death.

If you want to fight the police the way to do it is find a way to impose civilian oversight over the re-writing of THEIR OWN POLICIES AND PROCEDURES.

Policies and procedures. It’s all right there in those two words. The police write their own. As long as the police make the rules for their encounters with the public, of how and when to use force, they are are going to continue to escalate situations, in the tragic case of Eric Garner, INTRODUCE violence, in that case, DEADLY violence, over minor non-violent and even, I believe, non-criminal violations.

Who gets this? Southern Californian activists. This region of the country is Ground Zero for questionable police shootings of unarmed, mostly (but not always) minority, citizens.

So it would be fitting that right now, as I write this, at this very hour, the LA County Board of Supervisors, with protestors raging outside, is taking up the issue of a civilian oversight board for the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

This was voted down last year but with two new members on the board supporting it there is hope that it may pass this time. It’s important that there is civilian oversight and that it not be simply the brand that rubber stamps whatever the police departments decide.

“We are encouraged that this new board is moving forward and has the political will to shift the course where the previous board fell short.” – Jaz Wade “Dignity & Power Now”

I’m not so encouraged, honestly, or nearly as optimistic as Ms. Wade but I am hopeful. If you’re in LA please keep an eye on the news as this story is being covered by all the local television channels.

An Owner’s World

Clippers center DeAndre Jordan's last Instagram

Clippers’ center DeAndre Jordan’s last Instagram

Almost as soon as this year’s NBA playoffs opening rounds began something seemed to be in the air. Two top seeds were upset at home. Another higher seed, the Los Angeles Clippers, also lost its opener at home at the Staples Center. Now we’re more than halfway through the eight first-round match-ups and in just two of those playoff series, the Memphis Grizzlies vs Oklahoma City Thunder and the Houston Rockets vs the Portland Trailblazers, in just eight games total, there have been an astounding SIX overtime contests.

The eighth-seed Dallas Mavericks are up in their series against the class of the league, the number-one-seed San Antonio Spurs, on an unlikely last-second three-point bomb from deep in the corner by the Mav’s Vince Carter. Four of the series are now tied up 2-2 including the match-up between the team many felt was the league’s best for a good portion of the season, the Indiana Pacers, and the only team to come into the playoffs with a losing record, the Atlanta Hawks.

Even before this past weekend’s game the verdict was in and it was unanimous. In the 68-year history of the world’s premier professional basketball league no one has ever seen anything like it. No playoff opening round has ever been this exciting or competitive or dramatic.

This was shaping up to be the National Basketball Association’s finest hour.

But going into the playoffs one series was touted as being the one everyone most wanted to see. The budding, extremely physical and emotionally charged cross-state rivalry between L.A.’s Clippers and the San Francisco Bay area’s Golden State Warriors, two of the most exciting young franchises the NBA has seen in years.

It was into this context that the taped conversations between Clippers’ owner Donald Sterling and his one-time mistress V. Stiviano came to light this past Saturday morning.

Regardless of the fact that everyone already knew what a piece of shit this man has always been, these audio tapes, graphically demonstrating him verbally intimidating a women of color into altering her Instagram history and attempting to get her to alter as well her associations with other African Americans, changed everything.

All we can hope for now is that the league will act tomorrow with a devastatingly clear and deeply satisfying response to the disgusting information that has come to the surface and continues to shock as more is revealed.

Anyone who thumps on his copy of the NBA bylaws or any other contractural legalities at this time and asserts what the league can’t do is on the wrong side of history and is standing up and voicing an opinion dangerously on the wrong side of the matter of racial progress and justice in the United States.

What the NBA can do is suspend Sterling indefinitely. But what’s important is that they do the most they can legally do now. Immediately. Almost everything else, what they can and will do later with or about Sterling or the Clippers ownership, is a far-off in-the-distant-future consideration. 

The heat on the controversy is so intense right now because of the laser focus on the playoffs and the Clippers presence in the playoffs and the reactions from everyone, past greats, current superstars, and including that of the President of the United States.

Not to mention the reality, not a mere perception, that the story breaking and the league not acting swiftly or strongly enough on Saturday has broken the focus and momentum, if not the spirit of the Clippers — Lob City being maybe the greatest show in professional athletics right now — and is therefore effecting the outcome of the NBA playoffs. 

We are Clippers fans.

Let me tell you all a story from this morning. I’ve been with a certain girl for 39 years. She is as wide-eyed and pure of heart as she was the day she was born, and certainly as she was the day she arrived in LA. She is a Clippers fan. We’ve been Clippers fans for about the last 20 years or so. But she loves the Clippers more even than I do.

When she talks about the Clippers it’s like a child talking about astronauts or firemen. 

So she comes into the bedroom after her shower this morning and says, in that childlike voice, ‘I don’t think the Clippers will ever be the same again.’

It hurt to hear that. And to know it could very well be true. 

This isn’t a product that we can just choose not to purchase or support. This is our team. There is love and there is heartbreak right now in our world that is off the charts. We realize that our beloved Clippers are really a lesser consideration to the greater issue and injustice of the moment. We’re resigned to that. And I think our minds are right in terms of our priorities. 

But the NBA owners and their commissioner, representatives of the owner’s world we all must live in, can fix many many things right now with swift and decisive action punishing this member of their own club, serving racial and social justice while at the same time letting us Clippers fans get back to loving and supporting our team’s playoff run.

And we will support them. Fine young black men who we admire and, as a Clippers fans, love, their hopes and dreams and all their hard work cannot become just so much collateral damage because of what was said by their white owner.

Art, Documentary, or News: Photography and Racial Politics


L1050830-Edit-2That title suggests a lot, I know. These are amazing times online. There are at any point, almost surely simultaneous, multiple battles occurring in larger cultural wars over things like racial and sexual politics. The recent Stephen Colbert – Suey Park skirmish was fascinating, the back and forth analysis provided me, at least, with an education in the current taxonomy of racial and gender politics at least framed by a small subset of the larger culture.


Anyway, so it now falls on photography to fire our interest and further the fine-tuning of all of our racial and political sensibilities. Here specifically, in the article I’m linking to, the analysis turns towards two different presentations of the same photographs taken (obviously) by the same photographer and how those presentations differ and cross many lines. Some that are probably okay to cross and some that are, increasingly, not.


None of us really want to offend with our photographs or our presentation of them, or to have our work frowned upon by those who are more in-tuned, sometimes by way of professional experience and sometimes by way of their own personal experiences, to the myriad and shifting protocols surrounding photography that involves the lives of people who are not us. Whoever we may be.


Okay that was tricky. I have included a bunch of MY recent images that I do (or do NOT) think work well with this subject matter. (I refuse to say. ;-)) But I repeat, these are NOT the images referred to in the articles. These are my own images, taken yesterday in downtown Los Angeles. By me.


I would love to hear what others here have to say about all of this. Please feel free to jump in. I think one place to start, maybe most obviously, is what is the responsibility of photographers to click the shutter, or not, when seeing realities that also represent stereotypes in his or her viewfinder. That would be a starting point for one discussion, actually. The blurred line betweens art and documentary photography, presentation and commentary, etc., all are other fascinating angles as well. Anyway.


Here is a quote that describes what the writer of this piece does in the linked article. It’s a great idea. The result itself might elicit a more mixed response from readers.

Below, I step through the images that Politico ran, juxtaposing the caption of the photo from Raab’s site with the Politico caption with a brief comment on how that copy effects the meaning of the picture. 

via Art Photography vs. News Photography: Politico, Race and the “Other Washington” — BagNews.