The Theme Of White Privilege

January 31, 2016

The mayor’s speech disrupted over the Dontay Ivy incident, a rant about the wannabe terrorists in Oregon, and once again the marchers arrive in my neighborhood on ML King Day

It was cold and a frozen wind that blew across Lincoln Park in the South End of Albany on Martin Luther King day this year, I gotta tell you the weather was nasty. Several times while waiting for and watching the marchers wend their way from the Empire Plaza to the statue of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King in my neighborhood, my little camera kept freezing and wouldn’t function. Three times I somehow managed to warm it up enough to function by clasping it against my thigh deep in my pants pocket, the wind kept blowing right through me.

I have to say that despite the cold this was the largest and most passionate crowd of citizens I can recall marching to the statue, easily 300 people or maybe more in successive waves entering into Lincoln Park. The seriousness on people’s faces was striking, and the song We Shall Overcome was sung loud and clear by all. Clearly something is happening here, what in past years had been a bland display of government sanctioned ceremony appears to have taken on a special significance for the people of this City.

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan (Red Hair And Shades) Leads A Wave Of Very Cold Marchers Through Lincoln Park On MLK Day Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan (Red Hair And Shades) Leads A Wave Of Very Cold Marchers Through Lincoln Park On MLK Day

Meanwhile, on this MLK day, in the town of Burns in eastern Oregon, the whole world was treated to a shameful display of media hype and runaway white privilege. About 30 well-fed white guys brandishing rifles walked into the visitor’s center of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge and announced that they were forcibly occupying the park. They were demanding that, um, as best as I can figure, that the government should give them personal possession of the public land they were trespassing upon and that the federal government should overthrow itself, presumably after giving them the land.

I’m hardly the first person to point out that if any other group of people besides privileged white boys had pulled this unpatriotic juvenile stunt, the Feds would have stormed the visitor’s center and blown their fat butts to hell weeks earlier. Imagine what would’ve happened if Black folks with guns had occupied this park, or Native Americans, or Muslims, or Hispanics, or environmentalists, or feminists, or gay rights activists, or union organizers, or Bernie Sanders supporters, or just about any group considered politically incorrect by the corporate elites. The few survivors would have been locked away and sentenced to consecutive life terms under the so-called “Patriot” Act.

The Neighbors In Burns, Oregon Were Not Pleased With The “Occupation" The Neighbors In Burns, Oregon Were Not Pleased With The “Occupation"

This point is so loud and obvious that even the corporate media has occasionally mentioned it. Instead we were treated to the spectacle of the FBI secret police benignly letting the junior terrorist scumbags come and go from the wildlife sanctuary as if they had a right to commit treason and threaten violence against decent people and against local law enforcement. Meanwhile the corporate media machine, from FOX to NPR, continued to amplify the farce as something important and newsworthy, knowing full well that if they ended their coverage the entire clown show would also cease instantly.

The neighbors of the wildlife refuge continually demanded that the junior terrorists be removed, and even the Re-pub presidential candidates wanted nothing to do with them. After a month of this nonsense, in which once again the United States became the laughing stock of the world, the Obama administration managed to prevail upon the FBI secret police to finally take action. When one or possibly more of these privileged turds raised their guns against the federal cops during one of their media fueled jaunts into town, the FBI boys dropped their sympathy for the armed brats in a hurry and brought a quick end to the “standoff.”

All except for the endless media hype, of course. The leader of this “occupation,” breakaway Mormon Ammon Bundy, was still issuing media fodder and vowing to “carry on the fight in the courts” or whatever. He has not been spirited away to a Communications Management Unit (CMU) like Terre Haute where it is next to impossible for prisoners labelled as terrorists to communicate with the rest of the world. That’s white privilege.

Rancher Tim Puckett And His Crew Repair The Fence Along His Property That Was Torn Up By The Junior Terrorists For The Media: “I Didn’t Give Them Permission To Do Anything" Rancher Tim Puckett And His Crew Repair The Fence Along His Property That Was Torn Up By The Junior Terrorists For The Media: “I Didn’t Give Them Permission To Do Anything"

I can see why president Obama waited a month to take decisive action, he did not want these clowns to become instant martyrs (for what exactly?) that could be exploited by the Radical Re-pub Party presidential candidates and by the corporate media. And of course he had to wait for the FBI to become embarrassed by their lack of action, and I strongly suspect they initially refused to take action. So the president waited for these freaks to make total fools of themselves before doing what was necessary, but meanwhile the neighbors had to put up with them and both public and private property was destroyed.

As for ownership of the land, if anybody other than the federal government owns the Malheur Wildlife Refuge, it is the Northern Paiute Indian Tribe. The land was granted to the tribe as a reservation in 1872, but was forcibly taken away from them in 1879 when the Indians tried to stop white settlers from encroaching on their land. As an inferior race of beings they did not have the same privileges that Ammon Bundy and his band of brats would later enjoy and exploit, the Northern Paiute to this day do not have a reservation of their own.

Dignitaries And Proletariat Listen As Mayor Sheehan Confesses To White Privilege Dignitaries And Proletariat Listen As Mayor Sheehan Confesses To White Privilege

The high point of the march to the King monument in my neighborhood this year was, once again, Mayor Kathy Sheehan’s stunning address at the monument. With the cold wind pounding her back, she proclaimed that she too was guilty of white privilege and that it was her duty to become aware of the ways in which she personally manifested this problem. It was not so much a proclamation as a confession of ongoing error.

I noticed a lot of hanging jaws as she spoke, people listened intently and applauded warmly (so to speak) when she finished. Following the pattern of the other two years of Ms. Sheehan’s march to the statue as mayor, Congressman Paul Tonko and County Executive Dan McCoy were the only elected officials who got to speak. Neither tried to top the mayor, Mr. Tonko gave a quick Legislative report and Mr. McCoy kept it well under 30 seconds. Everyone except us chroniclers taking pictures bowed their heads as the Pastor gave the invocation, the dignitaries laid the wreath and that was it.

Of course, the monument was lousy with public officials both elected and appointed. Next year we should see this march get even bigger, that is, if people continue to regard Martin Luther King as a mainstream supporter of American values that are currently being taken away by the authorities, and continue to see him as an opponent of radical corporatization who was murdered for his patriotism. And so the politicians will be attracted to the event in even greater numbers to proclaim their solidarity with Dr. King’s anti-corporatism. Welcome everybody to my neighborhood.

Black Lives Matter Protest At City Hall, State Of The City, View From The Balcony (click photo for larger) Black Lives Matter Protest At City Hall, State Of The City, View From The Balcony (click photo for larger)

A few weeks later Mayor Sheehan faced a much different reception at City Hall when she gave her third annual State of the City address. The local chapter of Black Lives Matter and their supporters made no secret of the protest that they had scheduled over the killing of Dontay Ivy in Arbor Hill by the Albany police on April 2, 2015. Everybody knew there would be a confrontation, but that confrontation turned out to be surprisingly sophisticated and effective.

The mayor and Chief of Police Brendan Cox were well aware that there would be an invasion of the downstairs hall of City Hall where the mayor’s address was held. Usually at public events like this the unconstitutional security theater police checkpoint inside the doors of City Hall is wheeled out of sight for the duration, presumably to create the temporary illusion of friendliness by the City government. But for this event the checkpoint was up and running and the police conducted illegal searches on anyone who was not a City official.

The Wife showed up with her longtime activist friend Rezsin Adams, who is in her late 80s and still going strong. The two of them had walked all the way down to City Hall from Chestnut Street in Center Square, slowly to be sure, and afterwards the two of them walked back up the hill. Rezsin insisted on walking to the event with The Wife, she attributes her longevity (all of her female relatives died by their 60s) to never having owned a car and walking at every opportunity throughout her life.

At the checkpoint Rezsin set off the alarm, the flashing lights that is, because the obnoxious noise was turned off. She tugged on her house keys which were hanging around her neck. “I have these,” she told the cops, clutching the keys. “Do you want me to take them off?” The cops impatiently waved her through, and the lights flashed angrily. Goodness, Rezsin could have carried a bomb into City Hall and killed everybody.

 Shortly After The Banners Were Dropped Behind Mayor Sheehan [Credit: The Wife from her seat] Shortly After The Banners Were Dropped Behind Mayor Sheehan [Credit: The Wife from her seat]

Actually, the checkpoint was supposed to impose a measure of control over the expected protestors, but like all security theater it didn’t work very well. Word is that earlier in the day or the day before some very large banners were smuggled into City Hall and stashed inside, perhaps with help from a City employee. I mean, those banners were really big and hard to hide. But that’s just a likely story I’d heard, who knows how they got in there.

As the time for the mayor’s address approached, cops were stationed at all the stairs and at the elevator to prevent protestors from heading upstairs. But it seems a couple of folks were already up on the balconies waiting. As soon as the mayor started speaking the banners unfurled behind her and the hundred or so protestors in the audience stood up and started chanting in disciplined unison, not letting Mayor Sheehan speak.

This went on for some 15 minutes, the mayor attempting to speak and not being allowed to. The cops around the periphery glowered but did not attack. The protestors called for the firing and arrest of the officers involved in the Ivy incident and the dismissal of both Chief Cox and Albany County District Attorney David Soares. They then broke into a song, and when it was over marched out of City Hall in a disciplined manner. An impressive display.

Rancher Tim Puckett And His Crew Repair The Fence Along His Property That Was Torn Up By The Junior Terrorists For The Media: “I Didn’t Give Them Permission To Do Anything" More Protestors Outside City Hall [Credit: Alice Brody]

The issue, for anyone local who’s been in a coma for the last year, was the death of a schizophrenic black man by the name of Dontay Ivy, who was stopped by police officers shortly after midnight on Second Street in the sacrifice zone neighborhood of Arbor Hill. Reportedly the cops suspected Mr. Ivy of carrying a concealed weapon and attempted to search him. After initially cooperating with the not quite legal search, Mr. Ivy reacted to the close threatening situation in a manner that persons suffering from schizophrenia are likely to do, he panicked.

The cops tasered Mr. Ivy multiple times. Instead of becoming quiescent, he broke free and ran up the street, and collapsed onto the sidewalk, stricken with a pre-existing heart problem. To the credit of the officers involved, they then did everything possible to revive him and get him to a hospital, this according to District Attorney David Soares’ report of the incident. He arrived at Albany Med 34 minutes later and was soon pronounced dead.

The officers involved that night were a patrol that was specifically looking to get guns off the streets, they were doing what they were supposed to do. But it is clear that they badly mishandled the situation and did not recognize that they were dealing with a harmless and hapless mentally ill person. It was a consequence of ignorance by white cops who live in the suburbs toward a low status urban black man. Was it racism? Compare this local incident to how the local and federal cops mollycoddled the white buttholes in Oregon.

Protest Over The Death Of Dontay Ivy At South End Police Station, April 2015 Protest Over The Death Of Dontay Ivy At South End Police Station, April 2015

In all the photos of the protest in City Hall, Mayor Sheehan looks very small, almost but not quite overwhelmed. I saw her like this once before back in October of 2014 when a crowd of South End residents at Howe Library shouted her down and would not let her speak about the City budget. The residents were enraged because the City firefighters, who were in the middle of contract negotiations with the City, had spread false rumors that the mayor was planning to close the South End fire station.

I give both Mayor Sheehan and Chief Cox much credit for letting this protest play out the way it did, and for remaining dignified throughout the ordeal. The local corporate media falsely reported the protest as an embarrassing whirlwind of chaos perpetrated by irresponsible anarchists, that was the heavy handed slant in their copy. But the mayor knew better, when after the protest she declared that this was “democracy in action” those were not just empty words on her part.

Rezsin Adams When She Was A Bit Younger Down In The State Plaza Concourse Rezsin Adams When She Was A Bit Younger Down In The State Plaza Concourse

After the protestors left and after the Mayor gave her speech (which, judging by reactions I read on Spacebook, was considered lacking by the public,) she walked through the crowd of elected officials and those citizens who managed to get inside, meeting and greeting. After a bit she came upon Rezsin and The Wife and greeted them warmly. The Wife had snagged a couple of scarce seats by presenting elderly tottering Rezsin to the fellows acting as ushers, which prompted Rezsin to whisper to The Wife, “You’ve learned very well.”

Talking with them the Mayor vented some of her frustrations, saying that her intention had been to have an open dialogue with the protestors before her address, but they shut her down every time she tried to speak. My guess is that the protestors wanted to send the message that they were through talking about the issue and wanted action. She stated that she still wanted to talk with them as soon as they were willing.

She told The Wife and Rezsin that the problem she has is that she has to represent everybody. “When I go door to door in challenged neighborhoods, people tell me that they want to see more police, not less,” she said. She noted that The Wife lives in one of those affected neighborhoods (she and Rezsin did not participate in the protest, they sat and behaved themselves) but that many of the protestors did not live in parts of the City such as the South End and Arbor Hill, and thus they did not understand the problems those neighborhoods face.

As for firing the Chief and the officers involved in the Ivy incident, she said, that was not an option. “People are not lining up to be police officers,” she said, “you have to work with what you have.” As I’ve observed, since 2010 the toxic culture that formerly prevailed in the Albany Police Department has been greatly reformed for the better. Ten years ago I would have violently disagreed with Ms. Sheehan’s position. Clearly there is room for quite a bit more improvement, but unlike in past decades that improvement is quite possible.

Laying The Wreath Before The Statue Of Dr. King Laying The Wreath Before The Statue Of Dr. King

Finally the Mayor mentioned that she planned “to take City Hall on the road” to the neighborhoods, to find out what people need, and to let people know what the City is up to. During her first term she took the City budget on the road to the neighborhoods, and found that people wanted to talk about a lot more than just the budget. The impression is that this is still in the planning stage, but it seems the Mayor intends to keep focused on what precisely the majority of her constituents want so that she can stand on more solid ground, particularly with issues such as this one.

I’m impressed that The Wife can get the Mayor to open up like that. Whenever I catch the Mayor in public, she flashes a quick involuntary look of alarm, answers my questions briefly and flees at the first opportunity. The Wife explained, “We’re three short women standing there. We’re all on the same level.” Of course the Mayor knew damn well whatever she said would likely end up on this blog.

So what are the solutions, how can the police do their job in “challenged neighborhoods,” get the guns off the street and deal with the criminal element without any more bad incidents like this one? I’ve seen vast improvement with police response and with how they handle problems, but I’m a middle class white guy who has no fear of the authorities and knows how to get my complaints heard without getting shot in the head. But as we can see, obviously that improvement in how the police conduct themselves is not vast enough to adequately protect and serve the black population in low income neighborhoods.

At The April 2015 Rally For Dontay Ivy At The April 2015 Rally For Dontay Ivy

All who knew him agree that Mr. Ivy was completely harmless, a sketchy looking individual to be sure but not the sort who would run with gangstas and carry a weapon in his pocket. If the three officers who confronted him were more familiar with the neighborhood and had a better idea who was who, then it is unlikely any of this would have happened. This is a longstanding problem going back at least 40 years, the cops who patrol Albany neighborhoods are for the most part commuters who do not live in the City and thus are not intimate with the neighborhoods or with the people.

And it is rather astonishing that these officers were not able to discern that Mr. Ivy was mentally ill, a fellow with a promising life ahead of him who succumbed to schizophrenia in his 20s and ended up living a marginal life. Reading the progression of the incident in the report put out by District Attorney Soares, one is struck by how the officers reacted to Mr. Ivy’s growing agitation by escalating the confrontation. I’m not a law enforcement professional so I will not try to suggest the best way to handle the situation, but as professionals these officers should have been able to not take Mr. Ivy’s behavior personally as some kind of challenge to their authority and deal with him in a better manner.

Also, I do not see why the officers used a taser on Mr. Ivy. Just about every Friday and Saturday night outside certain notorious downtown bars at closing time, these same officers have to deal with out of control persons zonked out of their minds on alcohol combined with a variety of vile substances, and sometimes it takes a taser and pepper spray and a few good smacks with a stick to get these whacked persons to calm down enough to be detained. But here we had a lone fellow on the street minding his own business, not at all the same kind of situation.

Now He’s The Establishment: Albany County District Attorney David Soares Announcing No Indictment Of The Officers In Dontay Ivy's Death

Now He’s The Establishment: Albany County District Attorney David Soares Announcing No Indictment Of The Officers In Dontay Ivy’s Death

A seriously alcoholic fellow used to live in my neighborhood, a white guy with relatives on the force (his last name would be instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the Albany police.) I once watched the cops drag him out of his flat after a particular bad domestic incident, and I could hear the fellow repeatedly snarl at the cops, “I’ll kill ya, I’m gonna kill ya, leggo a me, I’m gonna kill ya.” To my astonishment the cops just grimly tightened their jaws and led him away, and the fellow was back home a few days later after sobering up.

With this out of control alcoholic fellow we see what was lacking in the Ivy case, the officers were familiar with this fellow and there was a direct community connection, so they knew his death threats were meaningless. But also they were dealing with a white guy. Comparing the two incidents one is reluctantly drawn to the conclusion that the Black Lives Matter activists are absolutely right, in the end it comes down to racial discrimination fueled by ignorance.

This is a fixable problem. I am very reluctant to condemn the officers involved for the way they mishandled the situation, but I am not willing to completely exonerate them either. Although the autopsy showed that Mr. Ivy did not have street drugs in his body as was widely implied by corporate media reports, he did have a serious heart condition and was taking prescribed anti-psychotic medicine, drugs which can have a debilitating effect on the body. It’s quite possible that he was in poor enough health that he was ready to collapse a day a week or a month later without being agitated and tased by the police.

Marchers For Dr. King In Lincoln Park

Marchers For Dr. King In Lincoln Park

But this does not mean that that the City authorities should sweep this incident under the rug and hope the public forgets about it, which, it appears, the authorities were doing. At the same time firing Chief Cox and the three officers is not going to make for a better police department. What is most needed is an agreement between concerned citizens and the authorities on how to prevent this from happening again, how to improve officer’s response to similar situations and how the people of the community can get along better with officers on patrol. As I said, this is a fixable problem, we need to do what is necessary to fix it.