The Case for Consequences When Police Unnecessarily Kill

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Raise your hand if you ever were punished for doing something wrong.

“Well, what do you mean by punished?” you might ask.

Yes, there’s a broad world relating to that word. Butt spanks. Grounded. Losing car privileges. Severe beatings. Barrage of debilitating insults. Psychological torture. Physical torture. Demotion, unofficial or official. Suspension from school or work. Getting fired.

I’ve been on the receiving end of a few of those punishments. Thankfully, I can only think of a few times where the punishment was more extreme than my crime. I have yet to ever be severely beaten or physically tortured. I earned the punishment a vast majority of the times I fucked up. We all fuck up.

Rarely have I ever gotten a break in the times I fucked up.

I have a lot of respect and admiration for emergency personnel. They have willingly decided to take jobs with horrendous hours, immense stress and the potential to either die or be directly responsible for someone’s death every single time they go to work. It’s not something I’d choose to do every day. We owe these people gratitude.

But we don’t owe them a break for fucking up.

We can still be supportive of our police officers while demanding justice be done when excessive force is used. If law enforcement officers face real consequences for excessive force, especially when people die if they didn’t have to die, then people with reasons to fear police might just one day trust them again. If after watching the Laquan McDonald video, you still think not-white people aren’t mistreated, mishandled and unduly killed by police, I don’t know what else to say. Yes, when that happens some people act as if all police are enemies and they aren’t. But even with that, this is a real problem and it has existed for a long time. The road to solving the problem starts with real accountability.

No matter the complexities and difficulties of law enforcement, rightful consequences must be carried out when mistakes happen. It’s the only way people will be able to trust police. It’s the only way people will learn that good police do exist.

In six years of crime reporting, and a few run ins of my own, I have met and gotten know many cops. Many of them are great people. One that comes to mind, a county sheriff, is a foster parent after raising his own kids. I could call him at home and hear a cacophony of movement behind him of the current bunch of lives he welcomed into his home, even into his elderly years. I know of at least one person he demoted for fucking up. The first job with this particular sheriff’s office is in the jail, and that’s exactly where this person returned. He had a calm acceptance to his voice when he described his punishment. No declaration or fake grin or awkward chuckle indicating he felt slighted.

Others pulled me aside to let me know information their bosses didn’t want me to know. Others ran in the direction of a shooter while civilians ran away and took cover. One took a lot of work home with him late at night to make sure a woman who lost all of her savings to identity theft got her money back. One has a knack for teaching overwhelming compassion for everyone he encounters. One runs a jail so tightly, but also so humanely, some inmates go to her for counsel. When I asked her why she’s always so open with me, she said without missing a step “we have nothing to hide.”

I also met cops who blatantly lied to my face. I met others who mocked people suffering from grave circumstances, and others who threatened people with force when unprovoked. A university police chief didn’t have his officers put narratives in his public police reports and took other steps to hide his department’s real actions and inactions.

Good and bad police alike face a ton of scrutiny no matter which they are. As a journalist, I know scrutiny very well. I once wrote a story about a man in his early 50s who kidnapped a 21-year-old woman, tied her to a chair in his home, shot her in the head, set his home on fire and then shot himself in his head. I wrote five different stories about this. One person wrote in the comments of one that I am worse than the man who committed these deeds because I wrote about it.

I’ve been blamed for suicide attempts and ruining lives. I’ve been threatened with death six times. I lost count of the beatings threats. At no point in my journalism training did anyone tell me to expect that, but when I voluntarily took on crime, I should’ve known. I think I was least prepared for how passionately people would deny a truth that I felt completely assured of simply because they didn’t like it. I know what it’s like to work a thankless job. 

But I chose the job. I stayed with the job even after I faced these things. Law enforcement officers chose their jobs as well.

That certainly doesn’t make the jobs any easier. I feel for the good police officers. It has to be one hell of a psychological burden to feel as if the people you are tasked with protecting — even if it means giving up your life — are against you. But it is at the very least a similar burden — if not a far greater pressure — to feel as if the people tasked with protecting you will willingly kill you without just cause and won’t face any repercussions for it.    

I recently met Emmett Farmer, father of Flint Farmer. Flint was shot to death by a Chicago police officer. He ran from the officer. The officer later said Flint reached into his pocket, and so he opened fire. Flint had a cell phone but no gun. The phone was found near his body. At first, the officer shot him four times in the leg and abdomen. Flint was lying face down on the ground when that same officer walked up to him, stood over him and shot him three more times. Those last three bullets went into Flint’s lungs and heart, killing him.

“How are you going to tell me the officer was in danger with Flint lying face down on the ground bleeding?” Emmett said to me.

That officer, Gildardo Sierra, was placed on desk duty, but was not found guilty of any wrongdoing. In addition, it was Sierra’s third shooting in that year, the second of which ended in death. Farmer was shot in June 2011, and the Independent Police Review Authority said they are still investigating the case when I requested records. There’s dash cam footage of that shooting that showed Sierra shot Farmer again while he was already on the ground, similar to what happened to Laquan McDonald.

“Not everyone’s bad,” Emmett Farmer said. “Just like how everyone in Roseland and the South Side of Chicago ain’t bad. And everyone that’s on the police force ain’t like the one who killed Flint. But those that are, they need to be punished. That’s it. In any industry you have people that ain’t gonna do right. But the majority, and you find that in any industry too, the majority of the people are righteous.”

Emmett told me he forgives Sierra, but is still pushing for charges to be filed in connection to his son’s killing.  

“I can forgive. You forgive, but you don’t forget,” he said.

Yes, it took way too long, but I’m glad Supt. Garry McCarthy recommended that Officer Dante Servin be fired from the Chicago Police Department for the Rekia Boyd killing. Yes, it also took way too long, but I’m also glad Cook County State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez formally charged Officer Jason Van Dyke with first-degree murder in the shooting death of Laquan McDonald. Yes, they both coincide with releasing the video of McDonald’s killing. But it’s time. It’s been time. Even if they only did what they did because they were finally backed too far into a corner to do anything else, it’s what needed to happen for any change at all to begin.

And this is just the beginning. A lot of other cases are out there with no action on them outside a settlement, such as Flint Farmer.

We all have a lot of work to do. Police need to be held accountable for excessive and/or unnecessarily lethal force. They need to be trained differently. They need to be less militarized. And if that happens, we need to try to not look at every police officer as an enemy. Know that I am fully aware that it’s easy for me, a white man, to write that previous sentence. But I believe that’s what needs to happen.

It’s going to be a long journey. Let’s walk together.

 

 

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Biff, the Pituitary Adenoma (Or How I Learned to Just Get a Damn MRI)

biff-back-to-the-future-2Seriously, does anyone like this guy?

I was driving through a stark industrial corridor near Fulton Market on my way to work when I was told I had a tumor growing right next to my brain. When you get news like that, especially when you totally dismissed the possibility because of course your gut hope is much more reliable than science, you partially leave your body. Tunnel vision. The world is stuffed into a camera viewfinder. One reason not to answer the phone while driving.

“You have a macro adenoma on your pituitary,” said the nurse.

“That sounds like cancer. Are you telling me I have brain cancer?”

“No, the pituitary is next to the brain. Not in it. And this isn’t spreading like malignant cancer.”  

OK, that’s fair. It really is. Still leaves a lot of “what the hell does this mean?” So she got me in to speak to my neurologist later that day.

The pituitary is a little bean-looking gland that regulates hormones affecting metabolism, various growth needs and, well, a lot of body things. A lot. A pituitary adenoma is the kind of thing you can live with for years, not know it, not feel any changes and then suddenly it’s causing a lot of problems. That’s why we’re going to call this fuck tumor of mine Biff. Because fuck Biff. Do you know a nice, warm, considerate Biff? Me neither. Say it with me. Fuck Biff.

But fuck me too for not dealing with this sooner. I lived with bizarre, random, not-quite-migraines, not-quite-cluster headaches for the last two years. Biff is a strong candidate for the cause. We don’t know for certain, but it’s looking more likely every day. Advil and Aleve stopped working after about a year (though maybe they never really worked). My search for relief started with the acupuncture table and an ever-growing list of home remedies when pills failed. Ice packs. Chocolate with chilies inside. Caffeine. Quitting smoking. But the sharp stabs returned no matter what I did or didn’t do.

At worst, they felt like a drill boring into my head with occasional deeper thrusts just to remind me they were still happening. It’d mostly be on the right side of my head, or back and left, or on the very top. If I was having a particularly bad day, it felt like a string of firecrackers wrapped tight in my head went off, and kept going. Sometimes it was just a dull ache from the moment I woke up in the morning until I went back to sleep at night. They would stop for weeks and then come back. If you noticed a developing trend of me ghosting out during fun things, or generally random pained looks on my face, well, now you know why.

Yep. This was my brain on a bad day. 

I should give some due props to acupuncture, because that helped me a ton with the pain. But it always came back.

We fortunately found Biff relatively early. So there’s good news that comes with something as nasty sounding as this. It’s not spreading or pressing on any nerves or bone. We think we know exactly what it’s doing to me and I’m being treated for that as I write and you read. So far, the very simple medicine I take is working and the headaches are all but gone (with very few exceptions). Also, it’s the one type of adenoma that can be treated without surgery. As of now, I don’t need surgery. That could change, but so far so good. Even the surgery isn’t as bad as head surgery goes. The pituitary is right behind your sinus, so you go in through a nostril, punch through a sinus and there you are. No head splitting. 

Am I completely out of the woods? No, but that’s why I’ll be doing MRIs at least twice a year for my foreseeable lifetime to make sure that prick Biff doesn’t have even an ice cube’s chance in Satan’s crotch to hurt me. Aside from the damage Biff is capable of doing if left to himself, he’s already caused me enough problems. But, he’s also on the retreat.

Why even tell you this? I’m not dying. I’m in treatment and it’s going well. The damage Biff has caused is being reversed as you read this. Take that, you weasley little piece of shit. I will tap dance on your grave. It helps to talk menacingly to Biff. It’s the only language he speaks.

So why? Remember how I said ‘fuck me for not doing something sooner?’ I knew for a good few months I needed the MRI and didn’t do it. And that was a year and a half after the fucking headaches began. Since I learned about Biff, I’ve read other stories of people who got their brains checked six months into a condition very similar to mine. I’m telling you this because there comes a time where you need to get these things looked at. Period.

Fear was part of it, denial was too. My trade off for a slow ass metabolism was I didn’t get sick. This is new territory. People have threatened to kill me because of stories I wrote or was working on, and yet the prospect of breathing my last breaths surrounded by hissing machines all plunging tentacle tubes into all of my orifices is what shook me. I had dreams of dying in a hospital bed when I was first told to get an MRI. During one acupuncture session, I could see my own funeral. I was hovering over it. Some of you were there. For the first time since I was a child, I was scared of the truth.

Warm and fuzzy advice aside, considering the cost of an MRI also slowed it from happening sooner. Health care costs a ton. These tests don’t come cheap. I did some life downsizing myself to make sure I can cover what I’ll need to cover down the line. But if you’ve been living with pain, especially in your head, for months, just get that damn thing looked at. Set up a payment plan. Do you what you have to and make it work.

Besides, as a great writer named Brigid Sweeney pointed out, waiting and delaying might cost you even more.

If I waited too long, Biff would’ve latched himself to my skull and spread, possibly becoming malignant, possibly becoming the deadly brain cancer I feared. Even if he never became malignant, he might’ve started pressing on my optic nerves and blinding me because he’s Biff and he’s an asshole.

Be smarter than me, and get checked out.  

I’ll be sharing more haphazardly learned wisdom as we fight and kill Biff. Look (relatively) soon for my next story: Make Dance Beats with Your MRI Machine

And yes, I know. This is the first post since 2010. I’ve been busy, damn it. Just look around the rest of the site and see what I’ve been up to. That’s how we shamelessly self promote.

Little Dragon @ Lincoln Hall, 4-01-10

Pop is what people know.

Simple. Familiar. Predictable.

So keeping that all in mind how can it be done well, especially when the pool is saturated with garbage to opaqueness?

One way is to keep one of the above features intact while twisting and melding the other two into something else. It doesn’t matter what stays and what gets the full brunt of experimental attack, so long as all three don’t remain in the stock pop form.

Enter Little Dragon. The Scandinavian quartet puts in equal parts synth and human-made sounds to make their pop music, with aching melancholy and enough danceable energy to fuel a room.

Singer Yukimi Nagano pans her delicate and clear voice between powerful melisma and hushed near-whispers, built on everyday occurrence lyrics that seem all the more unique through her voice. She also plays a paddle shaped tambourine, which doubles as a beater that she uses on an array of small Japanese gongs.

The band’s foundation is built by drummer Erik Bodin, who adds just the right spurts of electric percussion in with his otherwise acoustic kit, and bassist Fredrik Wallin adding complimenting thumps to Bodin’s steadiness.

Keyboardist Håkan Wirenstrand, who looks like he could double as Edgar Winter, stays true to my own rule about synthesized sounds: don’t overdo it. While Little Dragon could easily be called an electronic act, and even their myspace page makes the claim, the group doesn’t hide behind their equipment. Wirenstrand produces very simple melody lines to compliment the rhythms and Nagano’s painfully real singing, with bursts of sound effects that work like finding the occasional jalapeno in a complex dish. If your attention strayed, his touches brought you right back in.

Lincoln Hall received the band well, as the whole night was filled with great danceable music. VV Brown started the night off with a small cauldron of rock, reggae, afro beat and rap as a canvas for her to stretch her soulfully strong voice.

This being my first trip to LH it’s reassuring that folks actually built a place for people who go to shows to actually hear music.

Enjoy a couple Little Dragon highlights:

You Me Them Everybody, 2-22-10

What do you get when you mix stripped-down garage rock, red poofy hair, advice on how to make people uncomfortable in a bathroom and a Web site known for breasts?

A recent live recording You Me Them Everybody show, of course.

Recorded on February 22 at Hungry Brain, the show delved into more up and coming Chicago music and comedy with a couple first-evers. Alex White, of the roots garage rock group White Mystery performed her first ever solo set, after nearly 10 years of playing live music. Comedian Cameron Gillette performed his first recorded set with bizarre observations on trying to lie to his parents and getting the whole audience to say, “I make funny sounds because I’m angry with god.”

The show also featured Playboy.com Editor Scott Smith talking about the joys of Beverly and getting used to a job where it’s okay to look at naked women all day.

Alex White kicked off the show, exuding a shy comfort with the even-more-stripped-down version of her already minimal garage rock. She was armed only with a Rickenbacker semi-hollow body guitar, her howling yet sugary voice and a bass drum that broke midway through her five song set. Her music is naked, soulful rock distilled to the rule breaking, head busting spirit that has either scared people or turned them on since the guitar was first made electric.

White shifted back and forth from distortion-assisted chords and gentle muted picking, with her red fluff of curly hair bouncing with the beat. Her voice was musical and clear, but with urgency and primal energy, like she would scream at any second. She tapped into that primitive form of rock with a laugh and smile throughout the set.

After her set, she talked with YMTE hosts Brandon Wetherbee (founder of YMTE) and Esmeralda Leon about ditching lessons at Old Town School of Folk to start her own band, the power of Baba O’ Riley and singing Staples Singers covers like “Will the Circle be Unbroken” with her mother.

“It’s about your mother dying and I do a duet on it with my mom,” White said about the song.

White Mystery has a new album coming out, with a record release show March 20th at the Hideout.

For everyone who says digital doesn’t have the warmth of analog, here’s what might be one of the grainiest digital videos taken.

Scott Smith, editor of Playboy.com, joined Wetherbee and Leon after White’s set. He described his first few weeks working at Playboy as feeling like he was getting caught watching porn all the time at work, and not used to the fact that he was supposed to look at breasts at work.

“If you’re at a regular job and you look at nudity or things you’re not supposed to look at at work, you do the porn flinch,” Smith said. “Someone comes up behind you and it’s like ‘Oh hey, what’s up?’ Click. For the first three or four weeks at Playboy I still did the porn flinch. I’d be like ‘Oh shit I’m supposed to be looking at this.’”

He described 15-20 minute conversations at work about how to accurately represent masturbation on the Web site, John Mayer comparing his penis to white supremacists and the limits of making Playboy.com safe for viewing at work.

Later in the talk, Wetherbee hassled Smith about his love for Beverly and a short feud Smith had with Richard Marx over some blogs a few years ago (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i26qpuqjAsA). Wetherbee also prodded Smith about his Twitter account picture.

“You’re doing the face where ‘I just made a funnier joke than everyone else and I’m smarter than you, so let’s have this smartini,’” Wetherbee said. “But I know you, and you’re not that like that.”

“Aren’t you sweet? We’ll kiss later,” Smith said.

“I would totally kiss you if that would be on your Twitter page,” Wetherbee shot back.

By some stroke of blind (dumb) luck, I shot a picture right as Smith was making the face he makes in the Twitter photo.

From left to right: Brandon Wetherbee, Scott Smith, Esmeralda Leon

Comedian Cameron Gillette closed out the show with a series of random one-liners that required thinking for a moment or two before the laughing came. And it was brain power spent well. During his first-ever recorded set, he had the room laughing hard.

“I had a hard time telling my parents I was gay,” Gillette said. “But I have an even harder time lying to them.”

To close his calm, deadpan set, he brought the audience into a call and response that had the crowd saying “I wish my dad had loved me more,” among other oddities.

Download the entire show.

You Me Them Everybody meets every Monday night at Hungry Brain for more music, comedy and random outbursts of debauchery. www.youmethemeverybody.com

Another beginning

Hi. It’s been awhile. Plenty happened, but you won’t find that here. At least up until now you won’t. But that is about to change…

My name is Benji Feldheim, and I preach on the porch. It’s a saying that describes that act of caring just enough about something to let your voice be heard, but not quite enough to get out of one’s comfort zone to fix or tackle said problem. Or issue. Or objection.

We are all guilty of this, and so am I.

But it’s a start.

And it’s a hell of a lot better to preach on the porch then talk about what happened on Lost.

I mean, really? Don’t people get that the writers are admittedly fucking with everyone?

Anyways, this is called better late than never because I started this blog before, but I hadn’t gotten around to actually starting it, if you follow…

If not, here’s a rundown:

I have worked as a shoe salesman and a bad sailing instructor. I interned at Rolling Stone Magazine, and I only had to make coffee once all summer. I have a master’s degree in journalism, which I also studied in undergrad. But the best part about that is I got to hang out with my favorite musician Cyro Baptista for my thesis. His music is so full of life, it’s painful.

Later I got into a lot of madness working for a newspaper. Murders, lying politicians, natural disasters, Trinidad natives who are really good at building steelpans. They are NOT called steel drums, by the way. A year after I started there, a guy decided to shoot up a classroom full of students before blowing his own brains out, and ensured that no one would know why.

Then I was gone. I didn’t even tell any of the people I spoke with on a daily basis. It was one part shame and three parts I didn’t really know what I would say to them, because now there wasn’t a story.

But soon there would be another story. Another interesting story.

I taught. For a semester. I tried to teach kids that got kicked out of high school. It seemed only a select few really deserved to be kicked out. Most of them were just enough to the left or right of center. They were good kids and I miss them. But it wasn’t for me. At least not yet.

So now, I’m in Chicago, trying to apply what I once learned through publications toward web media. We’ll see how it goes.

I am a big believer that progress takes one solid first step. Here was mine, from last summer.

Fortunately, time has passed since then and with time comes experience. We can only hope. This is from two weeks ago:

If you’re here, you bought the ticket. Enjoy the ride.