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“Arrests are not polite events”
The Clark investigation is instructive in its uselessness
The talk of the town today is Clark University's so-called independent review of the police force marching demonstrators down Main Street a month ago. I went a little long on why the credibility of the report was in question before it even got written, so you should read that first if you haven't. I don't want to spend too much time on the politics behind this, but it's important for proper context.
So what we have here is a five-page investigation by two lawyers who were presumably paid a lot of money by the university to rewrite the cop's police report with a few gentle pokes at the cops, because you gotta do that to sound fair, I suppose.
Here is the hardest the report goes on the 50 cops in riot gear who fired pepper-ball rounds, sponge-tip bullets and gas at a small group of demonstrators and also arrested 11 of them in varyingly violent fashions.
"Arrests are not polite events, but they should involve only those actions which accomplish them. Even in the situation described in this report, that standard applies. Actions taken during the arrests of the Clark students did not meet that standard."
Oh you mean the cops who came to a pillow fight with a shotgun may not have made the politest of arrests?
In the report, the esquires Michael Angelini and Brian Mullen of the esteemed firm Bowditch and Dewey focus on the four Clark students who were arrested with only a cursory reference here and there to the others. They were getting paid by Clark, so it makes sense to a certain degree. But it obviously demonstrates we need a real independent investigation and this ain’t it fam.
So what were these impolite actions anyway?
Let's start with a young woman who laid on the ground because the police told her to. She was rewarded for this compliance with a knee on her back, which she said was painful due to a lung issue. "The officer reportedly said 'OK' but did not move" is a line from the report and I can imagine the manner in which the cop said "OK." I think you can too. I've said OK like that to my shitty boss before continuing to not do what he told me to. At that job I made sandwiches, I didn't knee young women in the back, though.
The cop only lifted his knee when another cop said that the student could lay on her side, so good for that other cop, I guess, except for the fact he may have been the one who called her a "fat bitch" or said "welcome to the real world" or said "should have thought of that before getting arrested." Per the report, the cops said all those things, but we'll never know who said them, because the cops get the anonymity befitting the bottom rung of the ladder of state violence. They are just "the police" in the same way castle executioners got to wear a hood.
"Welcome to the real world" are not the words of a person invested in de-escalating a situation, and that's because the police were not interested in de-escalating the situation. They never are.
Stomping on someone's cell phone is not the action of a person invested in de-escalating a situation, but that's what one cop did to a student who was recording as another cop was punching a person lying face down on the ground and kicking him a few times too for good measure. Arrests are not polite events, after all.
Similarly, focusing only on the Clark students in your investigation is not the action of a person interested in providing a comprehensive investigation. They gave Clark the information they needed, and that's it, and that's likely exactly what they were contracted to do. The need for an independent investigation remains, and the closest we're going to get is the court cases. And man oh man are these court cases going to be interesting.
I'm in touch with Joseph Hennessy and Hector Pinero, the attorneys representing all of the arrested folks that night. They are similarly unhappy with this investigation and here’s what they have to say about it.
You have asked for our reaction to the report written by Attorney Angelini to Dr. David Angel from Clark University. Worcester City Manager Edward Augustus, who allows the Worcester Police Department to operate as an independent and unaccountable agency, caught a break from Clark University when it hired a lawyer who previously worked for him and whom he has appointed to sit on city boards to review the conduct by WPD officers on June 2, 2020, toward Clark students and other in the Main South area. Attorney Angelini is not an expert in the use of force or policing generally. Clark’s motto is “Challenge convention. Change the world,” but this report is an exercise in tunnel vision. The report correctly finds that officers used unnecessary force and otherwise did not exactly cover themselves with honor in arresting Clark students. The report has no comment or finding about repeated instances of police using force unconstitutionally to prevent video recording of their conduct and to outright destroy evidence of their conduct by seizing, stealing or stomping phones or by erasing recordings. Not only does the report fail to challenge this outright thuggery and violation of the First Amendment by the WPD, it is does not even raise the question: If police do not record their conduct, and will not allow others to do so, why?
Here's something they pointed out to me that did not make it into the Angelini Report. A young Latino man, who I'm not going to name because I spent years ruining people's lives as a local reporter for no reason at all besides the content machine, and now I no longer have to be complicit in that mundane cruelty... I'm going to write about that some day. Anyway.
The cops arrested a young Latino man on charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. The cops said he was shouting at them from his car, so of course they had to do what cops do: they dragged him out of the car and arrested him. Can't have people yelling out of cars, you know. Gotta drag them out and throw 'em on the ground. Gotta get some cuffs on 'em. Gotta throw 'em into the meat grinder of the American justice system, setting him up for a life of diminished returns because he yelled something out of a car. The cops obviously didn't say it like that in the police report, though; they put their cop voices on and said they "brought [name] to the ground and he was placed under arrest."
But there's a video. Here's what this guy actually said:
The cops said he "began yelling obscenities after he was repeatedly told to stop" in the report. The video shows him saying something people say every day I mean hell, I heard it at my other job yesterday, and for this grievous infraction against the rule of law, police officers ripped him out of the car and threw him on the ground. You can see in his face that he's scared when the officers reach in and grab him. I would be scared. You would be scared.
The cops said he might have been someone who threw "rocks and/or glass at the numerous police officers that were on scene." I've spoken to many, many people who were there. No one saw anyone throw any rocks. That's not to say that no one threw any rocks, and if they did, boo-hoo. The cops looked like characters from Gears of War; they'd survive strafe fire from a fighter jet, let alone a stray rock or bottle.
But do you honestly trust the person who described what happened in that video as "yelling obscenities" and "offensive conduct and disruptive shouting" to get the part about the rocks and glass right?
Cops lie, is what I'm trying to say. Cops lie all the time.
Nicole Apostola is a true gift to this city and she has a very detailed post on the same investigation. Definitely read it.
I said a lot of stuff in here that I would never in a million years be able to say at Worcester Magazine. I really love this newsletter. I think about it all the time like I have a crush on it. I'm well on my way to making enough to live off it, but I'm not quite there, so if you think someone writing about Worcester this way is valuable, maybe throw me a couple bones so I can keep doing it?
Also thank you to Sam Bishop for the header photo as I eagerly await a logo which I am very excited about. Sam's a great reporter and he's done yeoman's work covering these demonstrations in Worcester. Give him a follow.
In this scene of the HBO short series The Night Of, John Turturro drops an absolutely stunning line about the cops. The first time I heard it it spun my head and I thought about it every day for weeks.
He's a talented oppressor. A subtle beast.
I named a one-off demo project of mine in 2018 after that if you want to listen but it’s a bummer for sure.
Til next time losers. Buhbyeeeee