For Kini Seawright, and all the other women who bury a loved one due to police or prison violence...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Resistance Alley, Prison Violence, & the PHX Graffiti Police

I met the Graffiti Detectives Friday evening in my back alley, which is along the main drag for the Phoenix Artwalk on the First Friday of every month. A few friends and comrades showed to cop-watch from the sidelines; most of my friends are on probation or parole, however, and couldn't afford the risk involved in being as criminally disobedient as I have been in recent days, so they were excused from showing for the action.

A few folks have rightfully asked me to explain what I'm doing and why a little better. Among other things, I've been trying to force a more animated and engaging public dialogue about the prison deaths, free expression and resistance, and Arizona's tendency to prioritize property rights over human rights in our legislative practices. There are a host of intersecting issues affecting human rights in this state, beginning with a flawed value system. Here it's "criminal damage" to block access for livestock to water supplies - a felony - and yet guaranteeing access to water in the desert for people is prosecuted criminally as littering.

As a manifestation of our collective social values in Phoenix, the city's response to my solicitation to resist the status quo through possible criminal activity turned out a whole squad of cops to protect an alley from art, but no one in this state will initiate an investigation into all the suicides and homicides at the AZ Department of Corrections. What gives? I can't even count how many cops I've reported the state's crimes too, but no one seems to feel responsible for intervening themselves, or even calling in the feds.

An argument can be made that my chalk - and now paint - on the ground invites graffiti on the walls and "blight"; there was some new artwork done the night before they arrived Friday, specifically a message to them:

The images that bug me the most, frankly, are not graffiti per se, but from the advertising I can't avoid looking at everywhere I go - especially those faded, aging political signs like the ones outside of Tom Horne's old campaign office on 7th Ave and McDowell - boy that place is looking trashy. Bottom line is that if you have money you can ram your politics down everyone's throat with fear, racism, sexism, homophobia - the list of ugly manipulative strategies we're subjected to each political season goes on.

Then we must respect the "rights" of people who just want to make a buck from us to advertise their garbage - from fast food joints to casinos to strip clubs and the state's lottery system, as long as they have the money to buy or rent space they can push their products and messaging all over our everyday landscape. But if an impoverished citizen objects to the way our government is being run and puts up their own highway signage to express objection to the wars, for example, it's considered a crime.

Only property-holders and lawmakers can color and abuse our public horizon that way, it appears. All public space should be safe for free (unpaid) political expression, but none is really protected by our laws in meaningful places, quantities, or ways - if anything, it's discouraged by the privatization of so much community space (done to give police departments and businesses the leverage to criminalize homelessness and hassle the poor riff raff busking on "their" sidewalks).

I can only guess who made those kinds of laws, and who they serve most today - I'm fairly sure they weren't designed to empower The People, though. Law is mainly made to maintain the social order, after all - which is inherently heirarchical, capitalist, racist, misogynistic, and anti-democratic in America - especially Arizona...

Anyway, as I said, I met the Graffiti Detectives (Diane Rowe and her partner, whose name I keep forgetting) in my back alley Friday in time for my planned protest. It quickly became clear that they wouldn't be arresting me - I think they mainly just didn't want to become players in my street theater any more than they already had to be.

Detective Rowe took issue with my characterization of cops picking on teenage taggers - they feel as if they try to help the kids they arrest, in particular. They also argued that there really aren't that many youth being charged as adults or even sent off to child prison for graffiti alone. They see writing as being like a "gateway" drug, so the youth getting into real trouble may face burglary and other charges by the time they get busted for tagging...

So, the Graffiti Detectives are really here to help wayward youth, not control and punish budding revolutionaries. Right. Regardless, we never would have had the conversation we did if I was a teenage Latino male chalking the public walks in the middle of the
night instead of a middle class white woman calling my vandalism "politics" and "art"...

which is what this protest was really about - my own privilege. In a year and a half of chalking the walks of Power, how is it that I've never been arrested, assaulted, or shot by a cop in this town? Not that I WANT any of those things to happen, mind you - but I see them happening to people of color and those in poverty all around me, and can't help but wonder why I get a pass, if not for the intersections of my gender, age, race and class...

That I am particularly privileged by the status quo in Arizona today is fairly disturbing - and the cost of accommodating my comfort, and that of my class, compels me to resist with everything I have. I may not be the most brilliant organizer or political strategist - some folks really doubt my sanity given my engagement of the police in confrontations - but I have yet to hear one good reason why not to tackle this head-on, at every level of law enforcement.

Anyway, I talk to cops more than real anarchists do because I want them engaged in the struggle of prisoners - they're the ones doing them the "favor" of arrest and confinement to get them off the streets, give them "3 hots and a cot" (which are really two bag lunches and a "boat" on the floor) - like everyone did to help Marcia Powell and Shannon Palmer, lucky them. That's a reminder that even the best intentions can still hurt a lot of people, especially if the police are brought into the mix as partners or "helpers". Their primary job is to maintain the order of the state, not promote the liberties and rights of the people - no matter how friendly they may seem.

But the cops didn't come to chat about my politics. Detective Rowe and I talked about all those issues for half an hour or so before I finally threw my red paint down and slapped my palm print up on the side of one of the dumpsters in our alley, irritated by the show of police force to discourage such activity. In the end I was yelling, I think, about how property rights trump human rights in this town as they all showed up to fight "vandalism" but I can't get anyone to follow up on serious abuse complaints against cops.

That's bullshit, frankly. So I've asked the Phoenix Graffiti Detectives to help me get the DOJ out here - we'll see if they bother to do that much. That might be too much like ratting out their own to internal affairs - that's how creeps like Gerster, Keesee and Chrisman stay in positions of power, though.

As for my criminal damage - I was the only one to handle the paint Friday night, since my friends don't need to be harassed any more than they already are - I can expect them to catch up to me with criminal charges and a bill for restitution and clean-up, on their own schedule. They aren't about to accommodate mine. I'll keep you all posted on how that unfolds; I expect it will give me plenty to write about, if nothing else of value.

Thanks for all your support, by the way, folks. You all rock!