No Stranger to Fiction #18: “A Life on the Killing Streets”

There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!

— Mario Savio (1942-1996)

We all know things are bad; worse than bad, they’re crazy! It’s like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house and slowly the world we’re living is in getting smaller, and all we say is ‘Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won’t say anything. Just leave us alone’. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone.

–Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981)

Growing up, most people in the United States tend to learn to pre-judge people of certain professions. Judges like Lance Ito, politicians like Zell Miller and evangelical clergymen like Charles Coughlin don’t exactly lend their brethren-in-occupation a helping hand.

For me, it has always been police officers. Growing up as I did as a child of the 80s and 90s in Los Angeles, this is understandable. The beating of Rodney King in 1991, which paved way for the L.A. riots the following year resulting in roughly a billion dollars of citywide property damage and the deaths of fifty-three people, is not a good introduction, from the ages of five through seven, to the men in blue who are supposed to be there to serve and protect.

A few years later, the bungling of the Nicole Brown Simpson/Ron Goldman double-murder case by Detective Mark Fuhrman and others didn’t exactly help build bridges to a bright, shiny future where I believed the police were here to watch out for me and mine.

Growing up in L.A., “rampart” was never a type of defensive wall; it was a word to be feared if you looked “different”, acted like an individual or were politically outspoken. As the grandchild of a German and an Austrian who fled Europe after doing everything they could to help the Resistance, this didn’t sit well with me either. The Shield is not a TV series to me; it’s a documentary.

Living in the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut was no different. The murder of Sean Bell on would have been his wedding day in 2006 by NYPD officers smacked of a new Rodney King incident by way of post-9/11 paranoia. The 2007 death of a close personal friend, so clearly a murder, was hushed up by the local PD and written off as a suicide for tax purposes.

Having returned to LA recently, sick of East Coast life and looking for a new start, I was not shocked to hear that less than a month after my arrival, on Labor Day of all days, the LAPD–always trustworthy and protective and employing non-lethal tactics–shot a day laborer twice in the head.

The deceased man in question, Manuel Jamines, a Guatemalan day laborer, was only thirty-seven years old. The police, who had banned news vans from the area of his death, had been constantly clashing with locals demanding justice from a man they claim was publicly drunk and armed with a knife. Many, if not most, witnesses have claimed Jamines was unarmed.

To paraphrase James T. Kirk, “I’ve never trusted cops, and I never will”.

I know it’s a taboo thing to say in this day and age, but opinions formed early in life based on personal experiences, much like similar conditioning, mental disorders and the individual’s emotional life, are nearly impossible to shake.

It’s for this reason that it took me so long to warm to even comics’ most benign and loving characters; folks like George Stacy, James Gordon and Maggie Sawyer were lost to me for years, my subconscious and my formative years yelling at me, telling me that Arnold Flass and Gillian Loeb were the real deal, that even Izzy O’Toole was an ideal that could not be met in real life.

Lucas Bishop’s face-heel turn in Marvel’s X-Men line took some major digestion, however. A once-noble mutant rights crusader whose capabilities were never questioned due to his status as an immigrant from another timeline or whose abilities were never doubted due to his status as an ethnic minority (apparently Australian Aboriginal as of the early 2000s, despite clearly being created as an African-American in 1991). His original occupation, of course, always overshadowed his nobility, his humanity, his decency.

However, when he attempted to assassinate Cable to stop a future that may not come to pass, instead hitting Professor Xavier (the equivalent of a Catholic priest, in an attempt to assassinate the Anti-Christ, instead shooting the Pope in the face) before going on a time-traveling crusade to commit, essentially, infanticide, I stopped. I paused. I put the comic down.

“Of course”, my brain told me. “The X-Men should never have trusted him to begin with. His characterization these last few years, they were preparing him for this. Why else would he constantly remind the team and anyone who would listen that “I’m a cop?'”

It’s too early to say what will happen to the police officers involved in the remarkably unnecessary shooting death of Manuel Jamines. They have already been convicted in the court of public opinion.

My only hope, aside from their dismissal and conviction, is the hope that one brave cop, one Izzy O’Toole or George Stacy, will stand against his so-called “brothers” and tell the world, in no uncertain terms, the truth behind the death of Manuel Jamines.

Until then, I’ll be waiting.

It’s the least they could do for him, and for the countless others who have had their lives ruined, taken by police officers for no reason at all or even had their chance for just vengeance eliminated by the boys in blue.

It needs to happen not just for Manuel Jamines, but for Nicole Brown Simpson, Ron Goldman, Sean Bell, Javier Ovando, Nino Durden, Rodney King, Amadou Diallo, Ferdinando Nicola Sacco, Bartolomeo Vanzetti, Mumia Abu-Jamal, Rubin Carter and so, so many more.

Please, Commissioner Gordon. We’re waiting. I’m waiting. The friends and family of Manuel Jamines are waiting.

Don’t let us down.

No one knew the circumstance but they say that it happened pretty quick.

The door to the dressing room burst open and a cold revolver clicked.

And Big Jim was standin’ there, ya couldn’t say surprised.

Rosemary right beside him, steady in her eyes.

She was with Big Jim but she was leanin’ to the Jack of Hearts.

–Bob Dylan (1941-present)