Friday, September 09, 2005

Yellow with a Camera

If you haven't already, please be sure to read Ian Spiers' account of his ridiculous treatment for the terrible crime of "trying to complete his photography project". His brilliant, strategic artistic response is an uplifting ending that will help you wade through today's main account.

Buffalo News reports that Robert Rhodes III was acquitted of criminal civil rights charges. The jury found that he didn't violate Zhao Yan when he pepper sprayed her, knocked her down, struck her head with his knee, grabbed her by the hair and repeatedly smashed her face into the pavement. Rhodes attacked the woman because he mistakenly concluded that she was involved with a man who had just been caught smuggling four pounds of marijuana over the bridge into the United States

Rhodes' statement presents his side, "I did my job. . . . If Zhao Yan had not run away from me when I tried to question her, we would not be sitting here."

Rhodes' attorney thanked the jury saying,
"The jury did a great job for their country. They reaffirmed a law enforcement officer's right to protect himself, and his right to be able to do what is necessary to do his job." He added, "I believe that if the people of China had heard all the evidence in this case, they would have reached the same verdict - that Robert Rhodes did nothing wrong."

If you read the article further, there were three witnesses against Rhodes including two Homeland Security officers who corroborated Zhao's account.

So basically, it boils down to this: pretty much everyone knows what happened. The defense argued and the jury agreed that the officer was just doing his job and thinking of his own safety when he maced and savagely beat an unarmed woman taking pictures.

There's three issues I want to point out here. First, note the way the defense team highlighted that the woman was foreign and basically only Chinese people would care about the attack. Bullshit. She wasn't attacked because she was Chinese--she was attacked on the basis of her appearance and the assumption that she was with some other criminal in the vicinity. That's profiling. If she was a Japanese American raised in Orange County, it wouldn't have helped her initially. If she stuttered or was nervous, angry or scared, she would have received a severe beating. (Of course, I'm also not saying that someone not speaking English is a grounds for smashing their head into the pavement repeatedly--something the defense and jury basically did uphold.)

Secondly, I think we need to rethink this whole, "The police and law enforcement need to defend themselves" idea. That idea assumes that the police are in a war and that our own citizens (usually poor and of color) are enemy combatants. As we see in the Vang case (see below) when a person of color acts upon that assumption, they are certainly not vindicated by the press or our law enforcement system. The idea that our officers lives must be protected with force is basically saying that we are happy to have a few utterly innocent poor people of color die for what we claim is law enforcement's safety.

If you think more deeply about community safety though, you'll realize that this is not even the reality. Animosity between those targeted by the law enforcement and those job is law enforcement is not a foregone conclusion. It is a dynamic that has been created by decades and centuries of law enforcement killing and brutalizing innocent people of color. To reinforce that dynamic is to only make their own jobs harder and more dangerous.

The solution I proscribe is simple: Law enforcement should be paid more generously to reflect the hazardous nature of their profession. They should also be forbidden from protecting themselves through the profiling of those they choose to interact with. Their first priority must be the safety and health of those they are supposed to protect even at the potential cost of their own lives. That doesn't mean that they cannot discharge their weapons. But it means that they cannot shoot at someone who may have a gun or might use that gun, etc. No more shoot black kids because they carry wallets or cell phones, etc.

The final issue that surfaces is Rhodes' comment that he was targeted for prosecution because he is gay. This might seem preposturous given the nature of his crime--some might scream back, "You are getting prosecuted because you smashed an innocent woman's face into the pavement, not because you are gay!"

But still I wonder... The question is not "Should he have been prosecuted?" It is "Would he have been prosectured if he were straight?" Or furthermore, "Would he have been convicted if he were black?"

I have no idea, but I do believe that he should have been convicted and he has every right to demand that anyone else commiting a similiar crime be charged and sentenced in the same manner that he is.

As a final thought, I want to remind people of "empathy". Instead of subconciously putting ourselves in the shoes of the person in a situation that we most identify with, really trying to understand the feelings and thought processes of everyone involved. When we don't do this, we often get these ideas like, "Of course we need to fuck with Arabs now--they are our enemies! If Arab Americans are caught in the crossfire, so be it!"

Instead we need to ask, "How would I feel if my son were thrown in prison forever for nothing with no trial?" "How would I feel if my face were smashed into the pavement repeatly for taking pictures of Niagara Falls?"

If your answer is, "That would never happen to me--this is America," then maybe you are more deeply acquainted with racist privilege than you claim to be--many of us have to worry about these scenarios everyday. If you cared about equality in the least, that would anger you.


Anonymous toml said...

This makes me so angry!

7:25 PM  
Blogger xian said...

Yeah, I've been brainstorming ideas on what to do about it.

I've got a couple of good ones cooking--I'll put them up soon...

11:53 PM  
Blogger Gar said...

Great post... a never knew about the incident at Ballard! That's right in my backyard, here in Seattle.

1:07 AM  
Blogger xian said...

Yeah, toml (see above) actually let me know about Spiers' site. (Sorry, I forgot to give props).

What's the community like in Seattle, Gar? Do you recommend it? We may have a chance to move there next year...

2:20 AM  
Blogger Ironcheffie said...

Seattle is the most Canadian part of America.

I'm from vancouver, i head there pretty often.

4:59 AM  
Blogger Gar said...


Seattle has its problems just anywhere else, but overall, I still love living here. The AsianAm community isn't as militant as I'd like, but I guess that's why they keep me around... haha.

2:45 AM  
Blogger xian said...

And hey, that's where us teachers come in, right? I firmly believe that if we just give students choices of ideologies rather than a single "correct" ideology, we will be blessed with a more active, strategic populace several decades down the line.

6:33 PM  

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