Welcome to Ferguson, Where Arrest Warrants Have Been Issued to 70 Percent of its Citizens

Welcome to Ferguson, Where Arrest Warrants Have Been Issued to 70 Percent of its Citizens

Community police station, Quito


I may be four and a half thousand kilometers away, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t been paying attention to the aftermath of the damning Department of Justice report on policing practices in the broken community of Ferguson, Missouri.

In The Shocking Finding From the DOJ’s Ferguson Report That Nobody Has Noticed published yesterday in the Huffington Post, Nathan Robinson and Oren Nimni point out that nearly every citizen of Ferguson, Missouri, is wanted for a crime.

That may seem like hyperbole, but it is a literal fact. In Ferguson — a city with a population of 21,000 — 16,000 people have outstanding arrest warrants, meaning that they are currently actively wanted by the police. In other words, if you were to take four people at random, the Ferguson police would consider three of them fugitives.

While that sinks in, as a point of comparison, they offer:

To give some context as to how truly extreme this is, a comparison may be useful. In 2014, the Boston Municipal Court System, for a city of 645,000 people, issued about 2,300 criminal warrants. The Ferguson Municipal Court issued 9,000, for a population 1/30th the size of Boston’s.

Those figures reveal that beyond the institutionalized racism and shakedowns that targeted and fleeced the African-American community there for years, Ferguson was quite literally operating as a police state.

As others have noted, the Ferguson courts appear to work as an orchestrated racket to extract money from the poor. The thousands upon thousands of warrants that are issued, according to the DOJ, are “not to protect public safety but rather to facilitate fine collection.” Residents are routinely charged with minor administrative infractions. Most of the arrest warrants stem from traffic violations, but nearly every conceivable human behavior is criminalized. An offense can be found anywhere, including citations for “Manner of Walking in Roadway,” “High Grass and Weeds,” and 14 kinds of parking violation. The dystopian absurdity reaches its apotheosis in the deliciously Orwellian transgression “failure to obey.” (Obey what? Simply to obey.) In fact, even if one does obey to the letter, solutions can be found. After Henry Davis was brutally beaten by four Ferguson officers, he found himself charged with “destruction of official property” for bleeding on their uniforms.

The Chief of Police was allowed to resign, with a year’s severance pay and benefits.

Read the piece here.

Image: A balsy tag on a wall of a Community Police precinct in Quito, Ecuador, 14-Mar-2015. The blog’s 426th straight Pic du Jour.


O’Hare’s Indoor Urban Vegetable Garden

A variety of lettuces growing at the OHare Airport Urban Garden

Two of the lettuce varieties at the O’Hare Urban Garden

Lousy weather, delays and a canceled flight all conspired earlier last week to allow me some 30 minutes of a badly-needed respite in the unlikeliest of settings: a 928-square-foot vegetable garden in Chicago O’Hare Airport’s Terminal 3.

I vaguely remember hearing about the O’Hare Urban Garden when it opened back in September 2012, and am happy to report that it remains perhaps the most peaceful and inviting place to kill some time at one of the world’s busiest airports.

What is it?

The short answer: a mini farm-to-table experience, post-porno scanner, located over the corridor to Concourse G in O’Hare’s Terminal 3.

The less-short answer, via the airport’s website:

In O’Hare’s aeroponic garden, plant roots are suspended in 26 towers that house over 1,100 planting spots. A nutrient solution is regularly cycled through the towers using pumps so that no water evaporates or is wasted, making the process self-sustaining. No fertilizers or chemicals are used in the garden.

At the OHare Airport Urban Garden

And what is aeroponic gardening?

.. a method of growing plants without soil. Instead, plant roots are misted with a nutrient solution during a regular watering cycle. Aeroponics is becoming increasingly popular around the world as agricultural land uses must compete with developers for limited open space.

It’s also higher yield per square foot, uses less water and allows cultivation year-round.

Edible flowers growing at the OHare Airport Urban Garden

Edible flowers at the O’Hare Airport Urban Garden

The output?

Some two dozen herbs and vegetables, which include several varieties of lettuce and basil, thyme, cilantro, dill, habanero peppers and edible viola and nasturtium flowers.

The harvest is then used at airport terminal restaurants, including Wolfgang Puck, Tortas Frontera, Wicker Park Seafood & Sushi, Blackhawks Restaurant and Tuscany Cafe, giving the produce a near-zero transportation footprint.

Any type of indoor gardening is going to use substantial amounts of energy, so it’s not the greenest venture out there. But as Tree Hugger pointed out, O’Hare has to light and heat the place anyway, so the garden largely shares energy that’s already being used. By one published estimate, the garden feeds upwards of 10,000 people.

Continue reading…

Kaboom, Waterloo

Blasting Off Into The New Year

2015 is going to be huge. That’s not a resolution, just a brief mission statement for the new year.

How about you?

For the record, today’s Pic du Jour, the 353rd straight, was snapped on 29 December 2014 in the Waterloo Arts District in Cleveland, Ohio. More next week about this rejuvenated neighborhood on the city’s east side, the only business and arts district in the city that’s 100% locally owned.

Racism kills - demostrator protesting the shooting of Tamir Rice in Cleveland

Weekend Demonstrations Begin in Cleveland to Protest Fatal Police Shooting of 12-year-old boy

About one hundred people gathered in Cleveland’s Cudell Commons park this morning to kick off a two-day Weekend of Resistance event to protest last month’s fatal shooting of Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old boy killed by a Cleveland police officer at the park on the city’s west side. A 26-photo gallery of the demonstration is below.

I posted previously about the Rice case here and here but to summarize: Rice was holding what turned out to be a toy airsoft gun when he was shot on November 22, 2014; he died early the next day. Video footage of the shooting, showing how the police officer shot the boy within moments of arriving on the scene, has sparked outrage nationwide and attracted attention worldwide.

Local residents were joined this morning by some 40 activists who traveled from Ferguson, Missouri, to show their support for Rice and his family, and to join the protest.

As I post this, the protest is ongoing with the demonstrators marching to various parts of the city’s downtown area. You can follow on twitter via the hashtags #Ferguson2Cle and #CleProtests. A pair of actions are also scheduled for Sunday.

All images © Bob Ramsak; for editorial use, please check out the images I filed for Demotix and Corbis.




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Portland clown

Portland Clown

A clown made a cameo in a dream last night. But not this one. Hope you’re enjoying your day.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 337th straight, was snapped in Portland, Oregon, USA, on 04-Aug-2013.

At the memorial for slain 12-year-old Tamir Rice at Cudell Commons Park in Cleveland, Ohio

Memorial for Tamir Rice, 12-year-old slain by police officer in Cleveland

Here are a dozen shots from the growing memorial for Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old boy who was holding what turned out to be a toy airsoft gun when he was shot by a Cleveland police officer at a community park on the city’s west side on November 22, 2014. He died early the next day. Video footage of the shooting, showing how the police officer shot the boy within moments of arriving on the scene, has sparked outrage nationwide. (I wrote about the surveillance tape in a previous post here.)

The memorial, comprised mostly of stuffed animals and other toys left by neighborhood children, sits on a picnic table in a gazebo at the Cudell Recreation center where Rice was fatally shot. The gloomy gray skies and the air’s still chill set a fitting tone at the park late this morning where locals are still coming to pay their respects. Fitting too for the news the city received yesterday.

U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder was in Cleveland Thursday to deliver a scathing report of two Department of Justice investigations of the Cleveland Police Department’s use of force. From today’s Cleveland Plain Dealer:

The 58-page letter paints a woeful portrait of officers pulling their guns and firing at suspects without justifiable cause, of beating defenseless persons already in handcuffs and of covering their actions by failing to write accurate police reports —if they write any at all. It also enumerates examples of cruel and excessive force being used against the mentally ill.

While welcome, the damning investigation, which calls for immediate sweeping reform, comes too late for Rice, whose shooting was not part of the DOJ investigation, which covered nearly 600 use-of-force incidents from 2010-2013. Surveillance footage of Tamir’s shooting, which shows the boy being shot twice within two seconds of the officers’ arrival on the scene, seems to underscore the report’s assertions that police in Cleveland are quick on the draw.

These are things many residents already had first hand knowledge of. I relocated to Europe from Cleveland more than a decade ago –maybe that’s why I was a little surprised to learn about how abhorrent the situation here actually is. Or maybe I’d just forgotten.

Continue reading…

Cleveland police officers waited four minutes to give first aid to wrongfully shot 12-year-old

I can’t say that my entire stay in Cleveland has been pleasant. Not this week.

Cleveland Police today released surveillance video that recorded the fatal shooting of Tamir Rice. Rice is a 12-year-old boy who was holding what turned out to be a toy airsoft gun when he was shot by a police officer at a community park on the city’s west side on Saturday. Rice died early Sunday.

The video shows a police officer shooting Rice within two seconds of arriving on the scene. What I found even more profoundly saddening about the entire tragedy is that the two officers waited four minutes before delivering first aid to Rice who lay bleeding on the snow-covered grass.

Rice was shot twice in the abdomen at close range, dropped to the ground immediately, but received no attention until a passer-by assisted.

Rice wasn’t given first aid until a medically trained FBI agent on duty in the area arrived at the scene — Cudell Recreation Center on the city’s West Side.

Police were responding to a 9-1-1 caller’s report that someone waving “a pistol” at the park. The caller said it may be a toy and that the person was “probably a juvenile”. The dispatcher did not relay that information to the officers.

In an editorial published just a few hours after the surveillance tape was released, The Plain Dealer/Cleveland.com wrote that the police have some serious explaining to do.

The account Cleveland police gave of the shooting by a rookie police officer does not seem to match what the video reveals.

The police said two officers, responding to a 9-1-1 call, went to the park and saw Tamir take what they thought was a pistol from a table under a gazebo in the park and stuff it in his waistband. Police said that the boy was sitting with a group at the time.

Police also said that the officers told Tamir three times to raise his hands, and that when he reached for what they thought was a real pistol, he was shot.

The video, however, shows officers in a cruiser pull up within several feet of Rice, who was not with a group, but by himself underneath a gazebo. Immediately, even before the car stops rolling, the cruiser’s passenger side door opens, an officer emerges and fires at Tamir, who drops to the ground.

Deputy Police Chief Ed Tomba said the officers ordered Tamir to “show your hands” three times from the ajar passenger door, but it’s hard to believe that’s possible based on the video.

The shot that struck Tamir appears to have been fired the very moment the officer stands up after getting out of the car. If this is the proper technique for confronting an armed gunman, let alone a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun, one has to wonder what training manual they are consulting.

And more crucial questions:

Why did the officers drive right up to Tamir? Why didn’t they park further away, climb out of their car and shield themselves with a door or another section of the car, and then order Tamir to drop his weapon?

Indeed, many questions to answer.

The video was released at the request of Rice’s family. They didn’t meet with the press but did issue the following statement.

“We have seen the video that shows our son, Tamir, being shot and killed by a City of Cleveland police officer. It is our belief that this situation could have been avoided and that Tamir should still be here with us.

The video shows one thing distinctly: the police officers reacted quickly. It is our hope that the City of Cleveland Division of Police and the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office thoroughly examine the events outside of the Cudell Recreation Center on Nov. 22, 2014.

Again, we ask for the community to remain calm. Please protest peacefully and responsibly. Your prayers, kind words and condolences have meant so much to us.

We understand that some of you are hurt, angry and sad about our loss. But let’s use those emotions in a way that will contribute to positive efforts and solutions that bring change to Cleveland, Northeast Ohio and cities across the nation as it relates to how law enforcement officials interact with citizens of color.

We thank the City of Cleveland Division of Police for making the video public. We will await the results of their investigation.”

Protests took place in downtown Cleveland over the past two days, in response to both the Tamir Rice shooting and in the aftermath of Monday’s decision of a grand jury in Ferguson, Missouri to not indict a police officer who killed an unarmed teenager in August. More demonstrations are expected.

Project Ice screen cap

Project: Ice – Review

There’s a lot to like about PROJECT: ICE, a new feature length documentary about the Great Lakes of North America, now making the rounds on the festival circuit. It’s part history, part folklore and part geology lesson, all beautifully shot over the course of 27 months from 2011 to 2013.

First off, it’s a fascinating history, documenting the area from its geological origins as a massive chunk of ice to the pivotal role the lakes, and the people that would be attracted to the shores of what’s become known as the U.S. ‘North Coast’, played in the westward expansion and industrialization of the U.S. and parts of Canada.

The Great Lakes –Superior, Huron, Michigan, Erie and Ontario—the film reminds us, contain a staggering twenty percent of the planet’s fresh water. Lake Superior, by area the largest continental lake in the world, itself holds ten percent of Earth’s fresh water supply. Collectively, they cover a surface area of 94,250 square miles, or 244,106 square km, roughly the size of the United Kingdom.

As lakes go, they’re massive. Unless you’ve spent time near one –I lived more than twenty years of my life less than a 15-minute drive from a shore of Lake Erie—you can’t imagine just how large they are. You can’t see the other side; with their strong currents, large waves, distant horizons, legendary storms and significant depths, they are, for all intents and purposes, inland seas. And as such, play a crucial role on their immediate environment, home to 25 million people in the United States and 8.5 million in Canada.

As the title suggests, the film is framed by ice: on one end, by the large retreating ice sheets that formed the lakes’ basins 10,000 years ago, and on the other by the profound disappearance of ice on the lakes in recent years.

The latter isn’t the story that Washington DC-based filmmaker William Kleinert, a veteran of six documentaries, necessarily set out to tell. But it’s the one that ultimately emerged.

“We kept hearing the same stories from different people, about how the climate was changing, about the mild winters, the lack of ice,” Kleinert said after a screening at the Ohio Independent Film Festival earlier this month.

That said, the film isn’t ‘about’ Global Warming per se. Kleinert in fact chose to avoid delving into many of the complexities of climate change, choosing to tell that story through the stories told by the interviewees themselves, a diverse group that included local fisherman, small town mayors, hockey players, coast guard captains, regional historians, adventure tour operators and even a photographer.

That’s not to say that the scientific perspective and ecological impacts of global warming are ignored. Kleinert brought on Marie Colton, a former director at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory (GLERL), and Henry Pollack, a scientist at the University of Michigan and contributing author the IPCC climate change report that won the Nobel Prize in 2007, to discuss the ecology of the lake system and how its been affected by climate change, and the likely direction the impact is heading.

The film is also just as much about how this part of middle America, those large swaths of land, water and shore almost dismissively referred to as flyover country, has evolved and developed. With its tales of ice-fishing, ice climbing and ice hockey, there is an appealing small town-like sensibility emanating from the film. At 119 minutes it could have been too long, or a bit too ambitious. But I wanted more. And that’s not a bad thing.

In short, PROJECT: ICE is important as a history of this corner of the planet – and critical as a look at the impact climate change is having on it. I hope it finds the distribution it deserves.

The film’s website is here, a listing of upcoming screenings is here and the official trailer below.

A few resources addressing climate change and the Great Lakes:


Notebook from the screening at the Ohio Independent Film Festival on 8 November:

  • In the Ojibwe, or Chippewa language, ice means the ‘blood of the earth mother’.
  • Commercial and sport fishing on the Great Lakes contributes more than $4 billion annually to the basins’ economies.
  • and, a sad fact about Ohio and its relationship with Lake Erie brought up during the post-screening discussion: the entire state of Ohio has half as much public access to Lake Erie than the city of Chicago has to Lake Michigan.
Renovate Me - graffiti in Bratislava, Slovakia

The 2014 US Midterm Election (Pic du Jour)

Analyses proclaiming that yesterday’s sweeping Republican victory signals a widespread wave of discontent towards President Barack Obama are a bit hazy at best, considering that about two-thirds of eligible voters weren’t inspired enough by any candidate or party to even bother going to the polls.

It’s more likely the low turnout and general malaise is a repudiation of both Congress, a legislative body whose approval rating hovers at about 15 percent, and the electioneering system itself, which this season involved spending that reached at least $3.7 billion, the highest ever for a mid-term election. Piles of cash, an increasing amount of it dark money, is now apparently needed to reach an electorate whose interest and input continue to shrink.

Voting –or in this case, not voting– does of course have consequences. When the Republicans take over the U.S. Senate in January, Climate change denialist James Inhofe of Oklahoma, who said in 2012 that the Bible itself refutes global warming, will likely take over the chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Coming just a few days after the most recent IPCC climate change report, that’s hardly encouraging.

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 296th straight, was snapped on 22 June 2014 in Bratislava, Slovakia.

A dock on North Carolina's Bogue Sound just before sunset

Bogue Sound Sunset (Pic du Jour)

While many visitors to Bogue Banks focus their attention on the Atlantic shore side of this North Carolina island, quite a few opt for the north-facing side and Bogue Sound which separates the island from the mainland portion of Carteret County. This was taken at the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission Boat Launching Facility in the city of Emerald Isle just before sunset.

ISO 250

Today’s Pic du Jour, the 290th straight, was snapped on 21 October 2014. Want a print? Go here. For a greeting card, here.