I had to be pulled kicking and screaming into the arena of political commentary. Well, in truth, it wasn’t that dramatic. But it was holding my nose. I’m no Mr. Smith, as in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, but entry into this whole sordid stratum of political culture makes my stomach churn more often than not.
I wish I could be like that kid in The 6th Sense and see dead people, but instead my gift and curse is to see dead democratic principles. This week the streets here in Tucson are littered with bodies, and my stomach is churning from two disturbing incidents. I feel I have to write about these things. Even though living in a world where such murders are common is unpleasant, and I would love to live in a different world, I cannot ignore dead bodies. If I did not feel it is my duty as an American to do everything in my power to preserve the principles of justice and equality as well as the mechanisms of representative democracy that were put in place by this country’s leaders in the 18th century I would be a far happier person. Living day in day out with this crap is depressing, but someone has to do it.
The first thing about which I’m concerned is the weekly Counter-Recruiting Demonstration that takes place in front of the military recruiting complex on Speedway just west of Tucson Blvd. On Wednesday morning. A little history is in order here. We are now in the fourth year of ongoing weekly demonstration against the war in Iraq. Last year after what I still contend was false arrest (the case was eventually dropped) of the Raging Grannies of Tucson and several news reporters and a blogger (me) for reading and reporting on the reading of a statement about why the Grannies wanted to enlist and then singing a couple songs and leaving the recruitment station within five minutes, a counter-protest group began arriving every Wednesday morning. The presence of counter-demonstrators is great in and of itself; freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are essential components of our liberty. But when these counter protesters are demonstrating, not to express their viewpoint but rather to suppress another group’s message, this is no longer something of which to be proud.
At first the pro-war group stayed on the north side of the street respecting the three-year long precedent of the anti-war group assembling on the south side. Within a few weeks though the pro-war group moved to the south side of the street. They began heckling the pro-peace demonstrators. The pro-war group then encroached on the space claimed by the pro-peace demonstrators. There was some interaction with the police at that time when the police asked both sides to stick to opposite sides of the street. At some point, coincidentally beginning just after a complaint against the police involving the Raging Grannies arrest was filed, the police stopped responding to calls from the pro-peace group about threats and intimidation made by the pro-war group.
The police recently, in June 2006, have responded to calls for assistance, to complaints about intimidation and requests for protection from assault, but only after the demonstration ends. Yesterday morning, Wednesday, June 7th, a gentleman called the police to report an assault made on his person as he attempted to exit his vehicle near the demonstration. A man in a red hat who was among the counter-protestors was the person who assaulted him according to what he told the police. (I didn’t see the event, but overheard the call to police. It took the police over 40 minutes to respond and the man in the red hat came back to the gentleman who reported the assault at least a half an hour later, which was conveniently after I had stopped video-taping and had gone to my car. I returned to the area to ask a friend about a meeting time. The man in the red hat had crossed Speedway and then crossed the side street to come over to the corner where the pro-peace demonstrators had gathered near where a mobility impaired older woman protestor sat with the banner. A crowd of pro-war people had collected along with the man in the red hat as he and a man in a pink shirt were having a heated discussion about a car door. As I attempted to get close enough to report what was happening, another pro-war man who had also crossed Speedway to get to the pro-peace NW corner front of me when I said to another pro-peace demonstrator as I was shaking my head, “you can see the maturity level, you can see the maturity level…” Another man who had crossed the street and was carrying a large wooden staffed flag with a sharp edged brass eagle on top, began shouting in my face, “You sure can, can’t cha!” Then once again much louder, “Can’t cha?” He was so close that his flag was touching me, so I then asked him, “Would you not touch me please” when he turned to confront me and began ranting that I had touched him with my “little” camera, and asked the child with the camera, “Did you get it on film?” I began to respond, “my camera…” then thought better of it as he was just deflecting my request and loudly ranting in my face. At that time I then turned my attention back to the man in the red hat and the pink shirted man, when I heard the term “yellow faggot” come from the Red hat man.
I managed to transcribe the following:
Red hat man: …you yellow faggot. Never been in the military.
You don’t like what I’m saying?
Pink shirt man: I went to Vietnam. For three years. (pause) you little…f (inaudible)
[Red hat man is screaming and coming toward pink shirt man.]
Red hat man: Why you. What unit were you with? What’s the unit? Name your unit!!!
[A woman then drags red hat man across the street. He is still screaming.]
Red hat man: Faggot!! Yellow faggot!
Things calmed down for a couple minutes until one of the remaining pro-war men [the one holding the flag, I think] tried to provoke the pro-peace folks by insulting them again.
Flag man: “You don’t believe in God so what do you care? You don’t believe in God, so what do you care? What do you care? What do you care?
Verbal assaults of a very crude sexual nature were also made. My friend was called, and I quote, “an ugly old c-nt” by one of the young males who accompany the adult pro-war people to these demonstrations. These adolescent verbally abuse the pro-peace people pretty much constantly. (I apologize for the crudeness of this language, but I feel it is important to accurately report the severity of the vile language used by these folks.) When I had a recorder near the young man, he cleaned up his language a bit and referred to me as an ugly, old hag.
People are becoming frightened. The pro-war folks who all dress in military clothing harass, intimidate, and assault the pro-peace folks. The women and youth who arrive with these folks verbally insult us. Yesterday I was told as I was filming that I would have been hung like Benedict Arnold during the Revolutionary War. The man was quite clearly intimating that I should be hung.
Can you imagine what people who are just walking by these folks think? You can see it on their faces. They are afraid. Women hug their purses tight to their sides and stare straight ahead as they pass, not making eye contact. They often have to walk through a group of the young pro war men who will part long enough to allow them through, but who intimidate by blocking the sidewalk before and after passage. This same man who implied that I should be hung told me the counter-protestors were trying to move the peace protesters away from the recruiting station because they were against the troops. That is what he said folks. They are there to keep the peace folks away from the public property in front of military recruiting offices. They are not there to support the troops they are there to get the anti-war folks to move. That isn’t exercising their rights; that is keeping others from expressing theirs. The police should respond for that infraction alone. But they will not respond until after the demonstration has ended.
The only thing the peace folk want is for the “counter-protesters” to stay away from them and not interfere with their freedom of expression.
The corruption within those in government service and with local government and in Tucson is getting to not only intolerable, but to outrageous and frightening levels.
When the police choose which laws to enforce and instruct individuals to act in ways that will allow the police to arrest them a police state has arrived.
When the County Board of Supervisors votes to purchase machines that control the voting process in spite of the fact that they are easily hacked and produce or use no auditable data. That’s the second concern disturbing me these last few days. Without fair elections and with the police making the laws or at least choosing which ones they will enforce, Tucson is not a good place to be. But this is my home and I will not run away…. I will work to make it a great place to live once again, how about you? (Oh… more on voting in the very near future.)