By Krista Schwimmer
Did you know that the first S.W.A.T. Team was created in Los Angeles in 1966? Or that you are eight times more likely to be killed by a police officer then by a terrorist attack? That the origins of the police department stem from slave and Native American patrols? These facts, and much more, were discussed at the Electric Lodge when the Occupy Venice Film Series (OVF) kicked off its fourth season.
Co-sponsored by Venice Neighborhood Council, Occupy Venice Film Series is a free, monthly event that, according to their website, aims “to educate, activate and unite” the local community by showing short films, hosting speakers, and encouraging community comment around a new topic each month.
After feeding the community a complimentary, delicious meal, OVF launched its first topic, Police State USA. The moderator, Rob Dew, began the night with a moment of silence for Dan Wang, a member of both Occupy Venice and Occupy Wall Street, who was killed in a tragic car accident on September 3rd.
Rob soon introduced the panel of four speakers: John Raphling, primarily a Criminal Defense Lawyer and member of the National Lawyer’s Guild; Regina Clemente, a professional activist and Campaign Director for Brave New Films; Dan Factor, an LA Criminal Defense Attorney, and Teka-Lark Fleming, a journalist and creator of Morningside Park Chronicle.
The event was well-organized, using a sixteen page handout to guide the mixture of short films, speaker presentations, and public comment. Topics ranged from the origins and the history of police militarization; its correlation to both minority and poor communities; and solutions to fighting it.
The panel of speakers enriched the night, each speaking from both experience and conviction. The first speaker, John Raphling, using the 2008 Oakwood raid as example, spoke to the concept of how police criminalize poor and minority communities. Raphling also illustrated how gang injunctions contribute to such criminalization. These injunctions give “the police justification to stop young people whenever they want to – not that they need that justification because they stop people anyway, but they give them one more legal tool that they can to have social control and operate as an occupying army.” His concern was not only the physical militarization of the police force, but their “militarized mentality”. Like other speakers that night, he spoke of the erosion of 4th Amendment rights.
The second speaker, Regina Clemente, talked briefly on the issues that Brave New Films focus on: justice; income inequality, and security. She also addressed the issue of race and the police. “We’re willing to go into black and brown communities, military up, no matter what the causalities,” Clemente stated. She then shared a powerful example of how activism and community effort can positively change the relationship between police and the community it serves.
Teka-Lark Fleming, the third speaker, spoke of how the origins of all police departments shaped what they are today. They started as either slave or Native American “patrols”. The first publicly funded police department was in 1704, in South Carolina. She also spoke of the early 1900s as a better time for the African-Americans, at least in comparison with other cities then. This changed in the 1950s, when the Chief of the Police, William Parker, recruited southern officers to once more, change the culture of LA. For her, publicizing what is going on in communities is essential. She herself started the Morningside Chronicle for that reason. She encouraged blacks, latinos, and women to write more about economics, politics, and policy so that all voices could be heard.
The final speaker, Dan Factor, started out as a prosecutor in Compton. He left because of police lies and lack of holding them accountable. Two issues for Factor are the militarization of police and the non responsiveness of the judiciary. Right now, he continued, there are young, 40 year old prosecutors, 95% right wingers, who have no experience of working with people. “One of the reforms that we need is to have judges that are elected from their area.” Judges also need to make search and seizure motions again. Like Raphling, he thinks the 4th Amendment has been eroded. How can we as a society reinvigorate the 4th amendment? “One of the things you have to do is start with the judges,” Factor replied. “You have to put judges in that will actually respect it.”
Other solutions to the over-militarization of police included proposed legislation by Georgia Rep. Hank Johnson to demilitarize domestic police forces; know your rights educations for the public; documentation and filming of police (in cascade); returning to foot patrols; drug testing officers for steroids and stimulants; and creating a national database of police shootings.
Once more, Occupy Film Series addressed a pressing topic, highlighted in the news by the killing of Michael Brown; but already being usurped by other issues. The militarization of our police force is a very real danger. How else can one explain that in 2013, other countries such as Japan and Great Britain had no deaths from police shootings whereas for that one year, the United States had 409? Let’s not let this conversation be buried beside the bodies of more unarmed citizens. Let’s continue to educate each other and take the necessary actions to change Police State USA to Peace State USA.
For more information about the Occupy Venice Film Series: https://www.facebook.com/OccupyVeniceFilmSeries
By Krista Schwimmer