UPDATE - Herman Wallace died, shortly after this article was published, on 4 October 2013. He was 71 years old. Surrounded by friends and family, his last words were "I am free, I am free".
[ORIGINAL ARTICLE 4.10.2013] Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3 held in solitary confinement for 40 years following a corrupt, racist trial, and who is in the late stages of liver cancer, has been freed. To the surprise of both his defence campaign and the US ‘justice’ system, a judge ordered his release after finding that the exclusion of women from his original jury breached his constitutional rights.
Herman Wallace, one of the Angola 3, who were unjustly jailed in the United States following the death of a guard in a prison riot, has announced that he is in the final stages of cancer. Following 40 years in solitary confinement, Wallace has been transferred to a hospice for his final few weeks of life.
Former Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) and ex US Navy Reservist, Officer Christopher Dorner died, apparently by his own hand on February 12 2013, in a blazing mountain cabin set on fire by surrounding police after a gun battle lasting several hours. Variously described by the media as ‘rogue’, ‘insane’ and ‘revenge-seeking’, Dorner had allegedly killed two police officers, two civilians with a police connection and wounded two more officers. Thousands of police officers spent days searching for the ex-cop in an unprecedented manhunt extending through California, surrounding states and Mexico, with a reward of $1 million.
Early on, it became clear that LAPD wanted Dorner dead rather than alive. On February 7, in Torrance, LAPD officers shot-up a blue Toyota Tacoma, which they believed to belong to Dorner, wounding 71 year old Emma Hernandez in the back and showering 47 year old Margie Carranza with shrapnel and flying glass. Dorner’s truck was grey; the two women were working, delivering newspapers. Vehicles belonging to nearby residents were left with bullet holes and some even penetrated surrounding houses, forcing occupants to seek cover – when they called the emergency number 911, they were reassured that police were already on the scene! A block away, a white surfer (Donner was black) had his truck rammed by police cars and shot up, leaving him with a concussion and shoulder injuries. A number of other innocent civilians were shot at, and some 400 warrantless searches carried out.
If Dorner was insane, then the LAPD drove him to insanity: ‘I am a man who has lost complete faith in the system, when the system betrayed me, slandered and libeled me’, he wrote in an online manifesto he left behind. Dorner had reported his training officer, Teresa Evans, for kicking a mentally ill homeless man. A subsequent hearing, with a panel composed of people with links to Evans, exonerated her and terminated Dorner for lying. After exhausting subsequent appeals Dorner announced to the world that he was taking matters into his own hands: ‘You’re going to see what a whistleblower can do when you take everything from him … Self preservation is no longer important to me … I was told by my mother that sometimes bad things happen to good people. I refuse to accept that. … I am here to correct and calibrate your morale [sic] compasses to true north.… The attacks will stop when the department states the truth about my innocence … Let the balance of loss of life take place. Sometimes a reset needs to occur. … I have nothing to lose. … I will bring unconventional and asymmetrical warfare to those in LAPD uniform whether on or off duty.’
However, Dorner’s motivation was not purely selfish: ‘From 2/05 to 1/09 I saw some of the most vile things humans can inflict on others as a police officer in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, it wasn’t in the streets of LA. It was in the confounds [sic] of LAPD police stations and shops (cruisers) [cars - SP]. The enemy combatants in LA are not the citizens and suspects, it’s the police officers.’ Dorner lifted the lid a little and gave us a glimpse inside the racist terrorizing LAPD where officers cheerfully engage in racist abuse and brutality without sanction. In fact, as Dorner shows in his manifesto, it is the innocent who get punished and the guilty who are promoted. The vicious videotaped beating of Rodney King in 1991 triggered massive rioting and Federal prosecutions of officers involved. The subsequent Christopher Commission Report revealed major management failures in the handling of complaints of brutality. The Ramparts investigation in 1999-2000 exposed unprovoked beatings and shootings, planting of false evidence, framing of suspects, narcotics stealing and dealing, bank robbery and perjury by officers in the LAPD. Yet ‘those officers involved in the Rampart scandal and Rodney King incidents have since [been] promoted to supervisor, commanders, and command staff, and executive positions.’ Dorner adds details of his own personal experiences of racism and brutality within the department. If Dorner was insane, then the conduct of LAPD drove him mad.
When Dorner’s manifesto surfaced, it hit a raw nerve within the Los Angeles community – Angelenos, especially black and Latino, but of all colours, have widespread experience of LAPD’s true behaviour. Signs appeared on vehicles: ‘Run Dorner, Run’. T-shirts with the slogan ‘Don’t shoot – I’m not Chris Dorner’ went on sale. Social media erupted, with many posting their videos of police brutality under Dorner’s Twitter hashtag. Dorner’s fight against injustice had become politicised, threatening the ‘rogue cop’ narrative. Dorner had to go, to protect the department from renewed inspection, to preserve individual reputations and to deter any thought by other officers of going public with the true nature of the LAPD and to criminalize a political issue.
Yet, however noble Dorner’s personal motivation might have been, his fight was inevitably quixotic because he tried to solve the problem individually. As Dorner’s manifesto shows, the issues he faced personally were not the fault of a few individuals, but part of a much larger problem of endemic police brutality, corruption and racism: a social problem which needs a social and political solution. This kind of police behaviour is not simply an organizational problem, but is essential to imperialism which needs to terrorize and criminalize the poor and oppressed in order to maintain its domination. The fight against it needs a movement which starts from the fight against imperialism.
Every so often, something happens to remind us how racist the United States really is. One such incident is the murder trial of George Zimmerman. The agreed facts of the case are well known: at 7.09pm, 26 February 2012, Zimmerman, a Neighbourhood Watch volunteer, called his local police department and reported ‘a real suspicious guy ... looks like he is up to no good or he is on drugs or something’. When the emergency services dispatcher asked him if he was following the man, he replied ‘Yeah’ and the dispatcher said ‘We don’t need you to do that’. Zimmerman ignored the dispatcher and continued to follow the man, who, minutes later was dead, shot to death by Zimmerman. The ‘real suspicious guy’ was Trayvon Martin, a black youth aged 17, who was returning home after visiting a local convenience store to pick up some snacks. There were no reliable witnesses to what happened between the two. Zimmerman alleged that Martin attacked him, so he shot him in self-defence. Martin, of course, is dead, so we don’t have his side of the story.
The police initially accepted Zimmerman’s story and released him. After country-wide demonstrations, Zimmerman was arrested and charged with second-degree murder, together with a lesser charge of manslaughter. The trial began on 24 June 2013 and culminated in Zimmerman’s acquittal on both charges on 13 July. The defence tried to ridicule the evidence of a young working class woman, Rachel Jeantel, 19, a friend of Trayvon’s who had been on the phone with him while Zimmerman was following him. They played up the discovery of minute traces of marijuana in Trayvon’s body. They produced a parade of witnesses who swore that Zimmerman was an angel and the victim in the fight.
The basic and inescapable point, however, is that if Zimmerman had not followed Martin, if he had not profiled him due to race, Martin would still be alive. Overlooked has been Trayvon Martin’s right to defend himself from the strange man stalking him. The effective outcome of the trial is that open season has been declared on black youth in America and that anyone black who resists an aggressor can be killed at will.
Contrast this with the case of Marissa Alexander, a 31-year-old mother of three. Alexander shot a gun into a wall when threatened by her abusive husband, Rico Gray. Gray admitted: ‘I told her … I ain’t going nowhere, and so I started walking toward her … I was cursing and all that … and she shot in the air ... If my kids wouldn’t have been there, I probably would have put my hand on her. Probably hit her ... She did what she feel like she have to do to make sure she wouldn’t get hurt, you know. You know, she did what she had to do. The gun was never actually pointed at me … The fact is, you know .?.?. she never been violent toward me. I was always the one starting it.’ Nobody was hurt, nobody died. A jury took 12 minutes to find Alexander guilty of aggravated assault. She is now serving a 20-year jail sentence. Alexander is black.
The injustices are glaringly obvious. Behind both lie the ideas both that black people are inherently violent and that they have no right to self-defence.
The outcome of the Zimmerman trial has catalysed the black community into protesting. All over the United States, huge protests have been held. Black people and their allies are not prepared to accept that there are different kinds of justice depending on whether or not you are black.
The recent revelations by whistleblower Edward Snowden about the activities of the US National Security Agency (NSA) have really put the cat among the pigeons. It is difficult to think of peaceful actions by any other single individual which have ever created such an international stir. US correspondent STEVE PALMER reports.