Gabrielle Canon

Gabrielle Canon

Editorial Fellow

Gabrielle is a Renaissance scholar and graduate from USC where she recently received a Masters in Specialized Journalism. Her work has also appeared in LA Weekly, the Huffington Post, and the National Catholic Reporter. Connect with her on Twitter @GabrielleCanon or email gcanon[at]motherjones.com

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Soundtrack for a Police-Brutality Protest

| Mon Dec. 22, 2014 6:00 AM EST
Police move in as marchers push a cart of sound equipment in Oakland, CA

The sun was setting as the Millions March began to disperse in downtown Oakland, California. Thousands of people had taken to the streets throughout the day to show solidarity and outrage over the slew of high-profile killings of unarmed African Americans by police. With coordinated marches held around the country, it had been a day of signs and banners, impassioned speeches, and pointed but peaceful demonstrations.

As evening fell, a second march was about to begin. A young man in a black hoodie, his face hidden behind a red bandana, shouted "Fuck the police!" through a megaphone as hundreds filed into the intersection behind him—the tone of this march was markedly darker.

"It's hard to describe," Brian said. "You go on a march without music—there's a difference."

In Oakland, anger over racism in the criminal justice system is always simmering beneath the surface. But the grand jury decisions to not indict the officers responsible for the deaths of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, and Eric Garner in Staten Island, New York, had fueled continuing protests around the Bay Area. Graffiti scrawled across street signs and boarded-up businesses reflected the shouted sentiments that could be heard over sirens and helicopters, echoing through the streets each night.

But something made this march stand apart. Among the marchers was a cart stacked with two PA speakers, an amplifier, an inverter, and a couple of deep-cycle batteries to power the setup. With nearly $4,000 worth of equipment, the music cart added a dimension missing from the previous protests. At dusk, people followed the sound to join the march, pausing to circle around the cart and dance to the rhythm booming through the speakers.

Brian, the cart's owner, who asked that I not publish his last name, told me he started bringing his sound system to demonstrations as part of Occupy Oakland back in 2011*. A student who works part time in sound production and theater design, Brian was happy to step up when march organizers asked him to. "I think music helps crowds stay together and it helps people feel more empowered. It's hard to describe," he said, with a pause. "You go on a march without music—there's a difference."

"I think it is super-important, as a white person in this movement, that I take a backseat."

Brian's selections, some of which were penned on these very streets, reflected the sentiments of the marchers. "I think in a lot of ways music enables protests to be something that is fun and joyous while still matching the angry mood," he told me. "That is balance that you have to strike." He emphasized that his role was strictly one of support. "I think it is super-important, as a white person in this movement, that I take a backseat. I am trying to be very careful not to lead the march with the sound system, and it is very important to play music that people are enjoying in the crowd."

Police presence was felt throughout the night, but around 6:30 pm, following scattered acts of vandalism, an Oakland Police intercom boomed instructions to disperse, warning the hundreds of marchers that their assembly was unlawful. Anyone there, regardless of purpose, was subject to arrest, which could "result in personal injury," the police warned. The march continued even after police ran at the crowd, causing some protesters to scatter momentarily. But the music kept playing and people kept marching.

Some volunteered to help push the cumbersome equipment—nearly 200 pounds of it—over grassy knolls, through stopped traffic, and away from police who attempted to corral protesters into kettles, a common crowd-control tactic. Others gave Brian song requests.

He tried his best to match their moods, switching from heavier, more strident songs to upbeat classics like the Commodores' "Brick House" and Michael Jackson hits to calm the crowd during police confrontations. "At that point we had broken out of those kettles," he said, "and it is a little bit of a scary moment—a moment in which we won, which is great, but I think people were a little on edge." The music seemed to do the trick; marchers could be seen dancing past a growing number police vans and squad cars.

The victory wouldn't last long, though. Around eight o'clock, the group around the sound system danced right into a police kettle and was quickly surrounded. The police silenced and confiscated Brian's gear and began arresting people. Officers from 11 different agencies made 45 arrests that night in Oakland, and Brian was among them. He was released quickly though, and he says people can expect to see him and his sound system out on the streets again soon.

Here's a sampling of songs he played last week:

"Lovelle Mixon"—Mistah F.A.B. feat. Magnolia Chop:

"Fuck Tha Police"—Lil Boosie:



"We Ain’t Listenin' (Remix)"—Beeda Weeda, J Stalin:


"N.E.W. Oakland"—Mistah F.A.B.:


"Hyphy"—Federation feat E-40:


"Don’t Snitch"—Mac Dre:


"G Code"—Geto Boys:


"California Love"—2Pac feat. Dr. Dre:


"Fuck Tha Police"—N.W.A.:


"Rock With You" – Michael Jackson:


"September"—Earth, Wind, and Fire:

Correction: The original version of this article misidentified the year the Occupy Oakland protests began.

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A Majority of Cop Killers Have Been White

| Sun Dec. 21, 2014 8:59 PM EST
Investigators work at the scene where two NYPD officers were shot in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn on Saturday.

As officials continue to investigate Saturday's tragic killing of two NYPD officers, Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos, details have surfaced about the suspect, 28 year old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, who allegedly shot a woman in Baltimore before traveling to New York. Anti-police posts he appears to have published on social media sites prior to the killings have lead many to connect his crime to protests that occurred in previous weeks, and some commenters have cast blame on officials including New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Holder, and President Obama, all of whom have condemned the violence. (Read my colleague Kevin Drum's response to that.) 

But, while every killing of an officer is a tragedy, it is worth noting, as my colleague Shane Bauer reported in the context of another story, assaults and felony killings of police officers in the US are down sharply over the past two decades. Attention has also been focused on Brinsley's race, but FBI data shows that, though African Americans are arrested and incarcerated at a higher rate than whites, the majority of assailants who feloniously killed police officers in the past year were white. 

 

I Was There When an Undercover Cop Pulled a Gun on Unarmed Protesters in Oakland. Here's How It Happened.

| Fri Dec. 12, 2014 7:12 PM EST

Over the past 24 hours, photos showing a plainclothes police officer pulling a gun on unarmed protesters in Oakland have gone viral. Tens of thousands of people, and news outlets like Gawker, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, and NBC have shared them, often including outraged comments. But there have been few accounts of what exactly happened, and how the incident came to pass.

I was one of the few reporters with the protesters at that point, around 11:30 p.m., and what I saw may add some useful context.

The protest was the latest in a series that have filled the streets of Berkeley and Oakland in the past couple of weeks in response to the lack of indictments for the officers who had killed Mike Brown and Eric Garner. (I covered most of them via Twitter.) Marchers generally remained peaceful. Sometimes they overtook highways and blocked intersections. Parents pushed strollers, students kept stride with older marchers, and people from all across the Bay Area joined in. But there was also infighting among the crowds, and breakaway factions looted stores, smashed windows, and burned trash cans. Police officers responded with tear gas, flash-bang grenades, and fired non-lethal bullets*, and their actions were often met with outrage.

Protesters run after police set off flashbang grenades in Oakland, Calif. Gabrielle Canon

Wednesday night seemed as if it was going to end differently. Organizers with hoarse voices rallied the crowd of some 150 with updates on the movement that they said was building across the country. They presented a petition listing demands, including for Darren Wilson to be indicted and protesters who'd been arrested to be released without charges. Starting at the Berkeley campus, the group marched peacefully toward Oakland as a rainstorm approached.

A little girl rides along on her stroller, chanting in a march last week. Gabrielle Canon

About 10:30 p.m., a small group from within the march broke windows at a T-Mobile store and smashed Bank Of America ATMs. Protesters blocked photographers documenting the violence, pushing us and putting their hands in front of lenses.

Marching floods into the streets in Berkeley, CA early on Wednesday night Gabrielle Canon

Shortly after this, police presence increased. Squad cars and white vans full of officers followed the march slowly as announcements rang out over a police intercom informing protesters that police were there for their protection and that their right to demonstrate was being respected. They also warned that any vandalism or violence would lead to citation or arrest.

According to reporter David DeBolt, writing for Inside Bay Area, officials say it was then that two undercover officers joined the march, both wearing dark handkerchiefs and hoods that covered their faces. I had not seen them earlier, and they did not appear in any of the photos I took.

A marcher does a different take on "Hands up don't shoot" Gabrielle Canon

Suddenly, behind me, someone started to yell. A protester had discovered the undercover cops and shouted an alarm. Others began to join in, calling them pigs and telling them to go home. The two men passed me in silence, at a hurried pace. Suddenly, a scuffle erupted as one protester attempted to pull off one of the officer's hoods. The officer tackled someone involved, and was quickly surrounded by a small crowd and kicked from several directions while on the ground. (That officer, who was African American, is who you see in the ground in the photo above.) The other officer stepped in front of his partner and brandished a baton. When the crowd did not back up he drew his gun, pointing at protesters and photographers. Moments later, police flooded the area, scattering marchers and blocking others, as the undercover officers arrested the man who had been tackled in the skirmish.

Protester in Oakland, CA Gabrielle Canon

DeBolt reports the undercover officers were later identified as members of California Highway Patrol, assigned to follow the march on foot. They had been following in a vehicle providing information to stop protesters from blocking highways. Officials said in a press conference that the agency is investigating the incident, but believes the officers did what was necessary to protect themselves. They said that undercover cops had been deployed in prior protests and would be again, and that Twitter accounts had also been used to gather information.

The incident and photo have sparked anger and questions about police tactics in crowd control. Protesters are expected to resume marching over the weekend throughout the Bay Area and I will send out updates on Twitter as events unfold.

Correction: An earlier version of this article erroneously stated the location from which nonlethal bullets were fired. The language has been changed to fix the error.

Silly String Is Illegal Here—But Only on Halloween

| Fri Oct. 31, 2014 5:00 AM EDT

Halloween is finally here! It's time to celebrate macabre mischief, ghouls and gluttony, and of course, tricks and treats. But there's one scary alliterated substance you should steer clear of—especially if you are in Hollywood. On the streets of Tinseltown, getting caught with Silly String is considered a serious offense—but only on Halloween.

Signs have been posted across Hollywood Photo taken by Gil Riego

Generically called "aerosol string," Silly String is basically brightly colored plastic propelled from an aerosol can. Like confetti but for terrible people, its primary purpose is to annoy or to instantly reveal who the most obnoxious person at a party is. Both sticky and slimy, it is hard to clean up, is bad for the environment, and—surprise!—can be dangerous if you eat it.

As awful as Silly String is most days, it is apparently more awful on Halloween. That's why, in 2004, Los Angeles Councilman Tom LaBonge sponsored an ordinance to outlaw the stuff for one night only. City officials were sick of cleaning it up, and dealing with the brawls they said were provoked by Silly String sprayings. More than 100,000 people flock to Hollywood to celebrate Halloween and the Silly String remediation costs were said to exceed $200,000.

So, starting at midnight last night and extending until noon tomorrow, should you happen to cross the threshold into the LAPD's Hollywood Division's jurisdiction, you better not be packing any String.

Specifically:

No Person, as defined in Municipal Code Section 11.01(a), shall possess, use, sell or distribute Silly String at, within or upon any public or private property that is either within public view or accessible to the public, including, but not limited to, public or private streets, sidewalks, parking lots, commercial or residential buildings, places of business, or parks within the Hollywood Division during Halloween.

The ordinance comes with a pretty heavy set of un-silly sanctions. Just carrying a can of Silly String could get you charged with a misdemeanor, slapped with a $1,000 fine, and jailed for as long as 6 months. That's a stiffer penalty than you'll get for misdemeanor pot possession ($100 fine), breaking into a zoo enclosure ($250 fine), bicycling or hunting while drunk ($250 and $500, respectively). It's more on par with petty theft, and more severe mayhem like being disorderly while drunk or getting minors drunk.

So while you are free to spray away in most places today (litter ordinances permitting), why not do everyone a favor and take a hint from Hollywood? Just keep it in the can.

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