Saturday, 23 October 2004

Approbation and Ignominy

BOSTON, Oct. 22 [The New York Times] — In the wake of the death of a Red Sox fan hit by a police pepper-spray weapon after the team’s playoff victory, Boston officials are imposing restrictions on the bars around Fenway Park…. A police officer fired the pepper-spray weapon, striking 21-year-old Victoria Snelgrove, a college student, in the eye, which caused her death several hours later….

At least one expert, Melvin L. Tucker, a criminal justice and security consultant from Morristown, Tenn., who is a former police chief, said that the pepper-spray guns are “less than lethal” weapons designed to be fired at the ground or at a person’s chest or lower, so that the plastic balls will break open and send a cloud of pepper spray into a person’s face, causing burning and stinging that should stop the person’s actions but should not kill.

“…Either … the equipment was used not in accordance to training or the manufacturer’s recommendation or it was inaccurate in the way it was fired,” said Mr. Tucker…. “The protocol is you don’t shoot if you’re going to hit the person in the head or neck area because that can be lethal, as it was in this case.”

The death of Ms. Snelgrove, a journalism student at Emerson College, has cast a cloud on the euphoria over the Red Sox victory and prompted some people to accuse the police of overreacting in trying to control the crowds.

Danielle Kotzias, 22, a classmate of Ms. Snelgrove, said, “The people who were supposed to protect us in that crowd, the police, used quote-unquote nonlethal weapons — those nonlethal weapons killed my friend.”

The weapons were bought by the police department for the Democratic National Convention this summer but were not used then.

Compounding the typical, and predictable, irony of weapons bought to “protect us against terrorism” being used, in the event, not to protect us but to kill —literally — our celebration and joy, this all took place just after midnight on October 22nd — a day which since, 1996, has been an annual National Day of Protest to Stop Police Brutality, Repression, and the Criminalization of a Generation .

Here’s what my mother, Marguerite Helen, wrote today from Massachusetts:

On October 22, 2004, the Red Sox — Boston’s home baseball team, New England’s home team — won the American League pennant. They won amazingly, in the seventh game; in the fourth straight win after being down three; against the team regarded (at least, by Bostonians) as winning more than their share over the years. It caused not just celebration but an explosion of joy and exhilaration. It gave us both a respite and hope, in a time when the whole world is in the midst of despair and destruction and war. The pride and joy of the team and its fans are well deserved and cannot and should not ever be regarded as anything less.

Older folks, like us, waited, holding our breath, until after the last out, and then filled and clicked glasses in a small, celebratory toast. Younger folks spilled out into the streets, as young folks have always done, leaping and shouting and hugging and gloating. We saw them on our TV screen. And we saw a line of cops in ninja suits marching towards the happy crowd. We heard a shot. The camera instantly moved away.

A cop had fired “nonlethal, crowd-control ammunition” into the revelers. He had hit a 21-year-old woman, a local student and a local resident who had grown up in this Red Sox territory, and he had killed her.

Why were barriers not put around the spot on the street where she fell, so that mourners could come to pray; to leave flowers and notes? Why have the police commissioner, the officer in charge of that night’s work, the policeperson who shot her, and anyone in between who might be held responsible not been fired? Why has the Massachusetts legislature not called for the resignation or impeachment of the mayor and the governor? (The commander-in-chief is ultimately responsible, just as George W. Bush is for Abu Ghraib.) Why did the police and the Red Sox not immediately offer an honor guard for the funeral of the victim? And why have not fans been asked by the Red Sox to wear black arm bands at the World Series games, as the players will?

None of these things have happened. Last night, we were shown a well dressed crowd of city and state officials, team owners and managers, and others considered to be at the top and the heart of the victory at what was described as an elegant party at the Kennedy Library. The Kennedy Library. Host to a celebration of an assassination.

The police commissioner announced that the police took “full responsibility”. I don’t think that is any comfort to Victoria Snelgrove’s father, shown supported by others, tearfully holding up a picture of her and saying that among many other things she had always been such a Red Sox fan.

The mayor announced that there would be No Drinking during the World Series. Really? There were still liquor ads on the network between innings of the first Series game. People still have liquor in their houses if they want to drink. And had the cops been drinking before they went out, as they too often do, looking for a truly warlike riot?

Young people, especially, have always joined in sometimes raucous celebrations. It used to be called “sowing their wild oats”. My father-in-law and his buddies liked to rock the trolley cars on which they rode to make them fall off the tracks. One night every spring, my husband and hordes of his fellow college students burst from their dorms and filled the streets. They held a “panty raid” at my school. (One year, one man actually got into a dorm and then didn’t know what to do with himself). We threw underwear out the windows. I forgot that my piece had a laundry name tag on it, and I was told that it was tacked, with other such bounty, onto a bulletin board in a men’s dorm. A few cops came and parked at the edges of the melee, just in case. Tales were told with glee, like that of one student casually leaning on a cop car, talking with a cop to distract him while others flattened the car’s tires. Eventually, the students got it out of their systems and went back to their dorms and the cops left. No one was even attacked, much less shot at.

Bostonians cannot think and speak only of the warmth and excitement of their team’s triumph. They must accept great shame. Not shame for the Red Sox or for their fans. Shame for the city. Shame for the cops, for all cops in this nation, and for those who order them to be trained for such acts of terrorism and to exercise them. Shame that we are not just an example of superlative playing and accomplishments but also of good, of support for each other and those who represent us. Shame for representing the real terrorists.

My son suggested that a win this year of the World Series by the Sox would be a special present for me, with my end-of-October birthday. It would be an unbeatable and unforgettable victory. A great gift. A sweet revenge for one who was at that fateful seventh game Series loss to the Cardinals too many years ago. I hope that it happens. If it does, I will relish it; if it does not, I will still rejoice in this year’s pennant win.

But October 22nd? For victory and victim, a day always to remember.

[Addendum, 26 October 2004: Eyewitness account by Russ Stein (Boston Independent Media Center); Death of a Fan by Dave Zirin (Counterpunch)]

Link | Posted by Edward on Saturday, 23 October 2004, 21:50 ( 9:50 PM)

Apparently, immediately following this killing, Seattle police stated they would withdraw the weapons from use.

I have to wonder if the reaction would be the same, had the victim been a 'protestor'. Boston purchased the weapons for the purpose of quelling political dissent, and then the first time out of the gate, they murder a sports celabrator.

As a victim of past police aggression during political protests, I know from experience the caustic attitude and disdain many people have for those who try to exercise their 1st ammendment right.

While tragic that anyone was killed, I am in a way greatful that it was not a protestor- as now the media, the state, and the public will take things much more seriously.

Posted by: Clay, 25 October 2004, 17:35 ( 5:35 PM)
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