Artless & Broken: My Brother and Ows
This blog is about art, and as an artist, that’s what I love to talk about. Sometimes, though, things happen that leave you feeling empty, hopeless, artless. These can be huge things, all-encompassing things, things that make art seem tiny and futile. A few of my fellow Mad Art Lab bloggers have been gracious enough to help me through one such thing by being my artists when I have no art left.
My brother, Andrew, was among a modest throng of protesters at the Occupy Wall Street protests in my hometown of Eureka, California in the wee hours of the morning on November 14th. The protesters were assembled on the courthouse lawn and a few, including Andrew, were wearing Guy Fawkes masksin solidarity with the cause when a band of police officers arrived and informed the group that they needed to leave. I assume there was opposition to this command; I also assume that my brother, the outspoken guy that he always is, probably said some things that the cops didn’t like too much. But after both sides had said their piece, Andrew and his girlfriend began to walk away from the protests, as instructed, and back toward their car.
At this point, two officers came up from behind and grabbed Andrew. I should mention that one of these cops had a particular aversion for my brother, since every time Andrew would see him in public he’d loudly exclaim, “Look, everybody! There’s the murderer!” in the subtle-as-a-brick-wall way my brother has about him. To call someone a murderer is a pretty lofty accusation, you might think, but there’s a reason for it. The officer shot and killed a 16-year-old boy in a standoff for a truancy violation in 2006, and in 2007 riddled an 18-year-old with 11 bullets when he saw “a flash [he] associated with a shotgun blast.” He was also present in 2006 for the shotgun death of a 48-year-old mother during a police standoff. This guy has seen so much senseless brutality that even if all three of these events were warranted–which is what the DA decided in each case–the decision to allow him to continue dealing with suspects considering his mental state seems unwise.
So when they grabbed Andrew as he was peacefully walking away, the actions this officer took were not those of someone in his right mind. He tackled him to the ground, pinned Andrew’s arms beneath the officer’s knees, and proceeded to beat him on the back of the head with his nightstick. And beat him. And beat him. And pick him up by the shirt collar once or twice to allow another officer to beat him. And put him back on the ground so he could beat him some more. Andrew’s girlfriend screamed repeatedly for them to stop (something you can just make out on the hazy but disturbing cell-phone video of the event), and when they finally did, Andrew was covered in blood and barely able to see. The charge he was arrested for was California Penal Code 185 and 148 a: wearing a mask and resisting arrest. Since you technically need to be arrested for something in order to resist arrest, I’d imagine. This is also why there are so many cops arresting trick-or-treaters on Halloween, of course.
When he finally got out of jail and made his way to the emergency room, Andrew had a severe concussion and was unable to make out a single letter on an eye chart. When I talked to him two days after the event, still sounding sleepy and as if he was talking through cotton, he couldn’t remember where either my sister or I lived. As the days passed, he began suffering wild mood swings, lashing out at his girlfriend one minute and collapsing into a sleepy stupor the next.
I don’t know if this damage will last. That’s what scares me the most. What if the brother I knew is no longer with us? What if I go home for Christmas to meet an entirely different Andrew?
I wish this was just an isolated incident, but things like this are happening all over the country. Beating journalists. Pepper spraying elderly women, priests, and pregnant women. Beating former poet laureates. (A well-compiled list of the brutality can be seen here.)
While any harm coming to a friend or family member is terrible, it at least makes some sort of mental sense when it’s in the standard fashion: illness, car accident, athletic blunder. When the people we have entrusted with our protection end up being the ones responsible for my brother’s lingering brain damage, something breaks in my own brain. What country is this? What world is this?
I have to trust that these are growing pains. The people standing up in the streets and facing this kind of brutality are the only ones who can shed a light on these problems, and I wholeheartedly appreciate them for that.
By the way, though Andrew is still recovering, he never stopped attending the Occupy protests. The only difference now is that he’s wearing a helmet.
A cocktail contribution to this piece by our resident mixologist, Anne:
1 oz smokey whiskey, like scotch (I used Yamazaki Single Malt 12-year)
1/2 oz Gran Classico (an Italian herbal liqueur flavored with orange peel)
1/2 oz Amontillado sherry
Stir all ingredients with ice to chill, then strain into a glass over a single ice cube. Garnish with an orange peel.
Update: Since I wrote this a few weeks ago to give the artists time to work, Andrew has been more thoroughly examined by a doctor, including undergoing a CT scan. It appears that he has no skull fractures and no blood in the brain, which are two causes of brain damage stemming from head trauma. He’s still dealing with some mood swings, but otherwise he’s feeling much better.
Update #2, February 15th: All criminal charges against Andrew have been dropped. There was apparently a recording of the beating that had been taken by the city for insurance purposes. Andrew’s lawyer and my mom (his other lawyer) had planned on bringing a motion to make them give over that tape, along with another motion to dismiss for police brutality, which was backed by seven witnesses. Meanwhile the DA had hired a private law firm to submit a 25-page brief on why they didn’t have to relinquish the tape.
But this morning, before any of that happened, the District Attorney moved to dismiss the charges, and the judge dismissed. According to my mom, “They really didn’t want us to have that tape, apparently.”
The civil trial against the police department is still under way. Andrew has also seen a neurologist, who says his remaining brain-damage issues should resolve themselves in six months or so. I appreciate everyone’s kind words!
Thank you for sharing this story, Ashley, and thanks for the update–I’m glad to hear he’s doing better!
I’m glad your brother is feeling better.
Thanks for sharing. Please do keep us updated.
This story makes me alternately angry and tearful. I wish I could do more than offer support across the aether.
You may or may not still live in the land of the free, but that it’s the home of the brave is indisputable.
I can do little to help from this far away other than offer advice.
Whether or not helmets mitigate concussion, and if so by how much, is still a contentious issue. More research is needed apparently.
This is an issue that comes up all the time in my work as I own a bicycle store so I try and keep up with the latest research, but I’m not an expert so take it for what it’s worth.
My suggestion would be that the more massive the helmet the better off he will be. A motorcycle or football helmet for instance. Bicycle helmets are too light to be much help keeping one’s head from being accelerated by a blow and they aren’t designed for multiple impacts. Mind you, they’d be better than nothing and they do protect against fractures.
I hope that your brother continues to a full recovery and that his injuries are not in vain.
Right. Thanks for the well-informed advice! To be fair, I told him he was dumb for going back out there, helmet or no helmet (calling siblings dumb is a sister’s job, after all). If he got hit on the back of the head, you’d think the only thing that would protect him would be a helmet with neck protection, too. From what I understand, he’s wearing a skate helmet, which I assume means it has protection over the ears as well. (Though I think his wearing the helmet has less to do with protection for next time and more as a big “fuck you” to the police force. 😉 )
Thanks for your support, everyone!
I wish these stories weren’t real. I wish that we could peaceably protest and practice nonviolent resistance without being physically attacked; but then, that’s never been the case, has it. Thank you for sharing Andrew’s story.
I do hope these are growing pains, but I wonder if it is an escalation or if it has always been this level of power abuse, and we simply have more access to the information. Reading this sent chills down my back, and I’m horrified to think that this officer hasn’t been investigated for what he did. How is it possible to have this take place, in front of so many people, so many witnesses, and nothing be done? How terrified people must be, knowing that they can be walking along, respectfully, lawfully and be attacked by those who should be protecting us. These officers must be held to a higher standard. Full stop.
I’m so sorry to hear about your brother, and I really hope he makes a full recovery, for himself, his girlfriend and his family.
I’m really sorry this happened to him. Henry Rollins tells a horrible story about how he and a friend were attacked, his friend shot in the head and then when he called the police, they ridiculed him and taunted him for being “gay” because he was so traumatized that he’d just seen his best friend shot in the head for no reason. That kind of stuff just terrifies me.
I had a bad bicycle accident some years ago that knocked me unconscious and while I didn’t have any fractures or bleeding, it still messed me up. It took me about a year to get better, and aside from a sensitivity to motion sickness (I can’t play first-person shooters or sit close to a movie screen), I’m all better again. I am hoping for the same for your brother. I hope he gets well soon, and I hope he knows how proud you are of him.