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WavyGravyAtWoodstockI’ve been thinking a lot about Hugh Nanton Romney Jr., better known as Wavy Gravy, these days. Last year there were specials and movies and articles about the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. One of the issues in setting up the concert was security. Many wanted to go with the standard police style security. Nelson Rockefeller thought about sending in the National Guard as the crowd began to gather. Fortunately, he was talked out of it. I think that would have been catastrophic. We know how he handled Attica. If you don’t, read Heather Ann Thompson’s Blood In the Water. Rockefeller orchestrated a massacre. And thank goodness the organizers didn’t make the mistakes of Altamont. They went with Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm.

Rather than a police force, the commune organized a “Please Force.” They used talking and caring rather than confrontation. As in the Dao De Jing, softness overcomes hardness. When we feel threatened, we can fight or flee. If we are overwhelmed, our polyvagal system kicks in and we may dissociate or faint. But there is that other possible response – tend and befriend. That is what Wavy Gravy and the Hog Farm did. There was no violence. As Republican Max Yasgur (who owned the land where the event took place) said, “A half a million young people can get together and have three days of fun and music, and have nothing but fun and music, and I God bless you for it!”

These days, police forces are militarized and equipped with lots of military equipment meant for warfare just begging to be used against our own civilian population, and disproportionately against people of color – people who for centuries have been traumatized by violence perpetrated against them. That culture of violence is carried on in the stories of our country and in the epigenetic framework of our bodies. We could not criticize the Nazis in the 1930s for their treatment of Jews because they just brought up the US treatment of black people and red people and brown people and yellow people, but especially black people particularly in the South. Lee Camp gives an idea of what police do and how we got here in this article.

A lot of police got into the job to help people, and they do a good job. But many also got into it to satisfy their own egos by having power to control others. There is also a long history, especially in the South, of an overlap of Klan and police. I have written before about our police training being biased to getting false confessions. Our policing is also biased towards confrontation and control by force. “Leaders” with their own issues of ego, control and cowardice (for example, hiding behind a bought diagnosis to avoid the draft) demand harsh justice while at the same time appealing to Christians. Really? What became of “a soft answer turns away wrath?” “Turn the other cheek.” “The meek shall inherit the earth.” The virus of bullying infects not just the politicians and the police, but our foreign policy as well. People at weddings, at hospitals, and on breaks at work are killed and are just called collateral damage. Do you really think we will lessen a threat of terrorism by committing terror? What was the American reaction to 9-11? We have increased our “shock and awe” strikes and have been at war ever since. It is a never-ending cycle.

The cycle will never end until our national psyche changes, until white people quit supporting the rich and powerful who use war and domination and bullying as an economic tool to increase their riches at the expense of everyone else, including their white enablers. The white enablers are the historical descendants of those who fought for the plantation owners to maintain slavery, though their lives improved when slavery ceased to exist. And they fought unions and still oppose unions though they have reaped the benefits of unions. I wonder just how long people can be fooled? Forever?

So, I think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force. The Peace and Love crew was going to change the world. But murders took their toll in the 1960s. JFK, MLK, RFK, Malcolm, Medger Evers, Fred Hampton, Herbert Lee, William Lewis Moore, Louis Allen, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwerner, James Reed, Viola Liuzzo, Jonathan Daniels, Sammy Younge, Jr., Vernon Dahmer, Robert W. Spike, Wharlest Jackson, and more were all murdered during that decade. A list of people around the world who have been assassinated for their work advocating human rights can be found here. Who from that generation took office? The Clintons, Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Trump, McConnell, etc. The current leadership in Washington is too busy lining the pockets of themselves and their corporate buddies (a legal version of looting that is far greater than anything in the streets) to even see a civil rights issue. In the midst of the current turmoil, the party that calls itself Republican (but is really a new Dixiecrat Party thanks to Atwater, Buchanan, Goldwater, Nixon and Reagan – Atwater spells it out here) uses the fight strategy – as long as they don’t get their hands dirty and take risks by doing the actual fighting. They just channel their inner Bull Conner. Even Nelson Rockefeller would be appalled. And the ministers? These days it is Graham, Falwell, and Robertson and the like who preach the opposite of the Beatitudes and compassion. I wonder if they would have called Jesus a thug when He turned over the tables of the money changers. Would they call Him a thug if He turned over their tables of money today? How would Jesus react if a “leader” had police tear gas and remove people from in front of a church to enable a self-serving propaganda photo op? Meanwhile armed white people march on state capitols and take over public lands and are met with peace and discretion and are never called thugs, while Native Americans protecting their lands and water are. Do we live in the land of Newspeak? And I wonder if the political ancestor of today’s right-wing politicians and preachers, Jefferson Davis, called the women of Richmond thugs during the bread riots. If you want to know how the language and the landscape has changed to where something that was mainstream prior to 1980 is now considered radical leftist, watch Heather Cox Richardson in this interview concerning her book, How the South Won the Civil War. At the end she talks about how to change the language back.

For the past 400 and more years in America, black people and indigenous people have been on the receiving end of violence. When demonstrations are peaceful, too often police meet them with firehoses, mace, tear gas, attack dogs, night sticks and sometimes gunfire. And white folks pontificate against the violence and call those on the receiving end of violence “thugs” and judge them harshly. Like Pontius Pilate, they wash their hands of responsibility. I wonder where the empathy is. How would you act if you and people who look like you had been treated that way for centuries? I get irritated when white folks decry “identity politics.” The founders made all politics identity by definition when they only gave rights to people like themselves in the Constitution – white (with a very narrow definition of white) males over the age of 21 who owned property, with people of color who were owned counting as property. Anyone without that identity has had to bitterly fight to get even a semblance of the rights enjoyed and taken for granted by the privileged. I think white guys who condescend towards “identity politics” dismissing it as “political correctness” are just clueless. They are like the fish who has no concept of water – until they are taken out of the water.

I’m not sure what the answer is. I do know that if you really do believe in the teachings of Jesus, if you study trauma and how to work with folks with trauma, if you study neuroscience, if you study cultural change, you might come to think of Wavy Gravy and the Please Force as embodiments of how things can be done in a peaceful and positive way. That will be difficult. It asks those with power and their enablers to treat all with respect and dignity and to have equal justice and to share that power. It doesn’t appear they have the principles or the integrity or emotional maturity or the courage to do that at this point. But hopefully, all are capable of redemption. I hope it happens soon, for now it is starting to feel like Berlin in the mid 1930s. We need a Please Force. We need people with empathy, maturity, compassion, integrity, and decency everywhere.

Leo Copy

Uncle Leo

We are less than a year from the end of the centennial of World War I, the war to end all wars that ironically in many ways still continues to this day. My great uncle, Leo, was in the National Guard in Chase City serving as a medic when his unit was called. They were first sent to Camp McClellan in Anniston, Alabama for training. One day, his horse caught a hoof in the tracks at a railway crossing. Leo tried to free his horse and in the process, the horse fell on him crushing Leo’s kidneys. He lingered for three painful days with my great grandparents getting updates via telegram. He died April 28, 1918. My great grandmother was devastated. The soldiers who went to Europe and lived to return received a great welcome home. One of the soldiers from Mecklenburg County received particular acclaim. For his actions in capturing guns and twenty-two of the enemy on October 8 during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive, Sergeant Earl Davis Gregory received the Medal of Honor. He was the war’s only Virginia recipient.

 

Not everyone got a welcome home, or even a loving send off. In “Water Tossing Boulders,” Adrienne Berard writes about how in Mississippi, black men had a choice of work on plantations, be arrested (and work on plantations) or be drafted into the Army. Nate Shaw, a black sharecropper, recalled that whites would meet the returning veterans “at these stations where they was gettin off, comin back to the United States, and cut the buttons and armaments off of their clothes, make em get out of them clothes, make em pull them uniforms off and if they didn’t have another suit of clothes – quite naturally, if they was colored men they was poor and they might not a had a thread of clothes in the world but them uniforms – make em walk in their underwear.”

Berard further writes: “In the spring of 1919, a band of white men in Blakely, Georgia, confronted a black soldier named Wilbur Little as he returned home from his tour of duty in World War I. When they ordered him to take off his uniform, he refused, A few days later, a mob attacked Little at a celebration for his achievements during the war. He was found beaten to death on the outskirts of town, still wearing his uniform. In the Mississippi Delta, a black coast guardsman returning on leave to visit his grandmother in Greenwood was stopped in Tchula and arrested for ‘trespassing without money.’ When it was discovered that he did, in fact, have money, the charge was changed to vagrancy. He was sentenced to thirty days of hard labor at a cotton plantation. Thirty-six days later, he was released, haven been beaten on several occasions with a ‘seven pound strap,’ once for writing a letter to his commanding officer.” These men were treated far better in France than in the country of their birth.

Not only do the repercussions of that war linger on in this world, but the struggle for equal justice and treatment with dignity, compassion, and respect for all continues as well.

How The Police Generate False Confessions, by James L. Trainum

Review of “How The Police Generate False Confessions,” by James L. Trainum

There is an old adage that confession is good for the soul. But what if the confession is false and the result of coercion and the stakes are your life? In his book, “How the Police Generate False Confessions: An Inside Look at the Interrogation Room“, James L. Trainum tells us just how that can happen. He follows the case of the Norfolk Four, and in particular the case of Danial Willams, throughout the book as he guides us through the investigative process that is commonly used by police and prosecutors in the US. The case was also featured in a Frontline documentary in 2010 called “Why Would Anyone Confess to a Crime They Didn’t Commit?”

The reason is because of the investigative techniques used in trying to close the case, which doesn’t necessarily mean solving the crime. Trainum is now a consultant but was a police officer and detective for many years and said that by using the techniques generally employed by police, he also caused a false confession. There is no standardized investigative method in the US. There may be training or it may be on the job or some combination. Typically you receive a lot more firearms training than you do investigative training. Court decisions and cultural changes have taken out the “third-degree”, though “enhanced interrogation” and torture still finds its way in at varying levels and has been reinforced in pop culture in television series such as 24 and Hawaii Five-O. It makes for marketable drama but is lousy for finding accurate information and evidence. Shane O’Mara published his work, “Why Torture Doesn’t Work: The Neuroscience of Interrogation” last year that laid out the evidence. That can be a hard sell, though, with pop culture driving home the storyline that it does work and enables the “hero” to get to the bottom of the case in roughly 48 minutes of air time.

Trainum says that just as many police mourned the loss of the third-degree and felt it would make their jobs impossible, they felt the same after the Miranda ruling. Police quickly evolved to find creative ways to get around that decision, though, and again you can see that in books such as “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” by David Simon (which is an excellent book) and pretty much any current police procedural program.

One source of training that Trainum discusses throughout the book is The Reid Insititue. Reid provides training on interviewing and interrogation. One problem that seems to typically occur in investigations is that the focus is on closing the case quickly which leads to investigators in good conscience making a quick decision as to guilt or innocence and moving from the interviewing and gathering evidence stage straight to the interrogation phase. The sole goal of the interrogation phase is to get a confession of guilt. Methods include lying to the person, sometimes procedurally questionable line ups, tag teaming during the interrogation so the questioners are fresh but the suspect is continually worn down, jail house snitches, deal making, and when the physical evidence doesn’t match the hypothesis of guilt, rather than looking for a different suspect who is the actual guilty one, the hypothesis is changed. That is what happened in the Norfolk Four case when the DNA did not match Williams. Rather than looking at another person (who had been named by a witness early on and who later was found to be the actual perpetrator), the police decided that there must have been accomplices. I suppose it is difficult for anyone to admit they may have been mistaken. People do get wedded to their theory. Years ago, I was trained to investigate client rights allegations of abuse, and one of the techniques taught was having the person be able to save face. It would be nice if investigators and prosecutors could admit they were wrong and have some way to save face. I also remember one person who was receiving the training had a big smile when he said substance abuse counselors would be great at these types of investigations. I thought of that as I read this book. I never felt comfortable with the old style denial busting heavy confrontation of traditional substance abuse counseling.   The person had to admit they were an addict, and confess that they had a problem. Otherwise they would never get better. Talk about a Catch-22. If you go along, you are labeled an addict. If you say you are not, you are in denial and the confrontation goes on. It is the same style here. Whether the allegation is true or not, sometimes people just get worn down and confess and are not always aware of the consequences.

Trainum does an excellent job of showing just what can go wrong with our current system. He even mentioned a case from Vermont in which a person confessed to murder and was condemned to death even though a body was not found. Fortunately, the person supposedly murdered was found alive before the execution. You can read about that case and other similar ones in “Wilkie Collins’s The Dead Alive: The Novel, The Case, and Wrongful Convictions “by Rob Warden of Northwestern’s Center on Wrongful Convictions. This book is also a worthwhile read and reviews many cases of wrongful convictions, including a death penalty case in Virginia in which the person was put to death – the case of Joseph O’Dell. A case was brought by the Roman Catholic Diocese of Richmond afterwards to re-examine the DNA evidence and the court ordered the evidence destroyed. According to Warden, the “prosecution argued that if the requested testing turned out to be exculpatory, ‘it would be shouted from the rooftops that the Commonwealth of Virginia executed an innocent man.'” Warden also mentions the case of Roger Coleman who was executed. When DNA testing had advanced enough to be able to tell whether the now executed man was innocent, the court did not allow the testing. Whether you agree with the death penalty or not, one thing that cannot be argued is that the dead who turn out to be innocent cannot be brought back from the grave, and the guilty are still out there. The death penalty is also a good tool to get a confession, including a false confession. “Do as we say and confess, and we let you live. Go to trial, and we will seek the death penalty. This is a time limited offer. Choose now.”

One technique often used is lying by the police and prosecutors to suspects in order to obtain a confession. Trainum points out that in the US, “we justify the use of lying to suspects by saying that they are on a ‘lower moral plain’ than the rest of us. This is a dangerous mentality that has been used to justify all sorts of abuses, including but not limited to the use of third-degree tactics. Lying not only increases the risk of false or unreliable confessions and statements, it damages the reputation of law enforcement in the eyes of the public.” So even before a person is charged, he or she is considered to be of a “lower moral plain.” With stereotyping and profiling, some people are automatically put into that category without having done anything. Perhaps those who like to point out that all lives matter could take into consideration that engrained cultural prejudices (conscious and unconscious) can produce situations in which some of our lives are treated as less than equal in mattering and as being worthy of justice. Some folks, whether because of race or gender or economic status or beliefs, are automatically classed as being in that “lower moral plain” because of history and culture and the time in which we live. Fortunately there is training to help counter unconscious biases in the use of force by officers. Hopefully training also includes addressing judgments and biases in the techniques of questioning and mitigating quick decisions on guilt. The justice system is not the only part of our culture with unconscious biases. We all have them. You can check out your own attitudes at Project Implicit. Project Implicit is a “non-profit organization and international collaboration between researchers who are interested in implicit social cognition – thoughts and feelings outside of conscious awareness and control. The goal of the organization is to educate the public about hidden biases and to provide a ‘virtual laboratory’ for collecting data on the Internet.” You can also examine your beliefs at Understanding Prejudice. You will become more informed by the information on the site.

Trainum’s goal is to see that the right people are convicted. That can be very difficult to do in highly charged emotional circumstances. We can be so repelled by the viciousness of a crime that we want justice and vengeance as soon as possible. Tunnel vision takes over.

Trainum does discuss a way of investigating that is very different than the US model. The investigative mindset in the UK is Assume nothing; Believe nothing; and Challenge everything. It is the UK model he recommends and which he describes using the acronym PEACE.

  • P – Planning and Preparation
  • E – Engage and Explain
  • A – Account Clarification and Challenge
  • C – Closure
  • E – Evaluation.

Trainum does of good job of explaining the model and the rationale for it. He provides US objections and the UK response to each of the parts. PEACE is a model of seeking the truth and of accountability. It is a model of critical thinking and evaluation. It has oversight and maintaining a trail of the investigation including videotaping of interviews. Investigators and prosecutors do not lie and manipulate. The oversight also allows investigators to change theories and save face. Our current model can not only contaminant the memories of the suspect but also of the witnesses. This model seeks to rectify that problem. A detailed outline of the model can be found here. All members of the criminal justice system that are looking to seek the truth in cases and find justice by arresting and prosecuting the correct perpetrator would do well to consider looking at Trainum’s arguments and his rationale for change. It would do us all good to read this book to see just how justice can work, or sometimes not work. Trainum opens the book with a scenario showing how easily a person can quickly become a suspect and almost immediately be subject to an interrogation with the sole purpose of getting a confession. As for the Norfolk Four, according to Trainum they are out of prison but have not been able to get a full pardon despite the evidence and the subsequent legal and ethical issues of the investigator who got the confessions. “One has been released from prison, having served his full term. The others are out, granted conditional parole by a governor who, though admitting the existence of the evidence pointing to their innocence, does not feel that he can grant a full exoneration because they ‘confessed.’ It is true – the power of a confession can trump all reason.” Trainum devotes chapter 12 of the book to recommended safeguards and reforms. His closing paragraph is powerful:

“Change and reform begins with you. As evidenced in the 2015 public responses to police shootings of unarmed African American men, the criminal justice system (and law enforcement agencies in particular) will respond to adverse public opinion. One good thing remains: As resistant as law enforcement agencies are to change, deep down, most individual investigators want to get it right. They need the right tools, the right training, and the right mindset. With your voice, and the reforms suggested in chapter 12, they can get it. Then we can all sleep better.”

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