Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Police Shootings Happen Fatal Enounters Staff Document Them D. Bian Burghart Explains In This Edition of Candid Conversations

Only once in my life have I ever been stopped by the police.  I was walking home from a bar late at night.  The encounter was brief, but still a bit unsettling.  Most encounters with police are not happy ones.  We call them when we are in trouble, never when we are in a happy mood. 
  
Imagine having a gun pointed at you and the holder of the weapon is an officer that is even scarier than the usual encounter.  Sadly in the U.S. and Canada people do die at the hands of police officers.  The most famous in my mind is Robert Dziekansky a polish immigrant with no ability to communicate in English trying to find his mom in Vancouver’s international airport back in 2007.  He was tasered by police and died.  The incident sparked a huge backlash against the RCMP and the four men involved.  One is now facing 30 months in jail and no doubt the loss of his job for lying to the inquiry that followed the incident. 
  
Save for the few videos that capture events like the one mentioned above few stats are really kept, especially in the United States where hundreds of people have been killed by police.  One man hoping to change that is D. Brian Burghart the man behind fatalencounters.org he joins us to do a Candid Conversation about his work. 
  
Welcome sir 
  
D. B Burghart:   Hi, thanks for having me. 
    
Cliff T.: I was listening to a podcast called Day 6, from CBC radio and when I heard you speak I was immediately thinking I want to speak with this guy.  I find it absurd to think that there are no real statistics on deaths linked to police encounters, when you started to take a look did you have the same feeling?  
    
D. B Burghart:    I was na├»ve when I started. Even when I was looking at the Department of Justice's data, I thought I must be doing something wrong.  I felt it was beyond absurd.  It was offensive.  Our government tracks anything it considers important, bearing any expense.  The fact that it was not tracking the people its employees killed suggested pretty strongly that those deaths didn't matter.  
    
Cliff T.: You also mentioned in the interview with Brent, that you had an encounter of sorts, you passed by a scene where a shooting had culminated in a death, what was that like for you when you realized someone was killed by a police officer?      
    
D. B Burghart:   It wasn't shocking or surprising, particularly when I read about the guy afterward.  The local media just repeated the police narrative that he was a dangerous criminal, a meth addict.  I did a little research afterward, and found out he was more three dimensional than that.  He didn't have a gun.  He was a father, a leader in his church, the lead singer for a very popular Christian rock band.  Jace Herndon was an addict, but he was also a human being who'd committed no capital crime. 
    
Cliff T.: I think that we can agree that in most cases police civilian contact is largely routine, even when arrests are made the bulk of these are with no incident.  That said it is the incidents that are that the most shocking if they are captured on film, problem is most are not and even the media reporting in some cases is scant.  Do you have any real difficulties getting the data even in the current context of social media?    
    
D. B Burghart:   Yes, getting public records from law enforcement agencies can be extremely time-consuming and expensive.  Sometime agencies can be very helpful and just supply the records. Other times, they refuse to follow the law and dare you to sue them for it.  As far as social media, it's not really a factor for us.  We do most of our research using the internet, particularly news organizations, then blogs and activists, then probably court documents. 
    
Cliff T.: Another point that caught my ear was that many if not most of those who die at the hands of police are mentally ill, and POOR!  That almost suggests that it is easier for police to get away with, well murder or are we barking up the wrong tree with this assumption after all most police do not go on duty looking to kill anyone?    
  
D. B Burghart:  Police don't go on duty looking to kill someone.  The numbers are huge, more than three people a day killed with guns and cars, but it's not a 1-in-a-million interactions occurrence.  That said, check out the second map on the Our Visualizations page on FatalEncounters.org.  The vast, vast majority of these killings happen in the most poverty-stricken areas of the country.  It makes sense, though.  Police patrol areas where they're most likely to find street-level crime--that whole "broken-window policing" concept.  Even the mental illness aspect makes sense, since the mentally ill often act in unpredictable ways, and that's what scares cops and makes them defensive and aggressive.  In those volatile situations, bad things happen. 
  
Cliff T.:  The purpose of fatalencounters.org is to document incidents where someone dies at the hands of the police.  Is the site contained to U.S. stats or are you looking at international data as well? 
  
D. B Burghart:  We're focusing on U.S. data right now.  A university professor in Canada asked me to set up a spreadsheet for her, but I don't know if she ever used it for anything.  In any case, it only took me a couple hours because you have groups up in Canada who are keeping track. Does your government keep accurate statistics?  Also, we've started a Spanish-language project, EncuentrosMortales.org that focuses on people killed on the southern U.S. border. We've already got some records of people killed by U.S. law enforcement who died on the Mexican side of the border. 
  
Cliff T.:  That is a great question I do believe the Canadian government does  However I have to say I Have not actually looked into that myself, but, as a starting point Google does serve up some links that may be of interest to you and also to readers of the blog.  That said.  Are you noticing any trends and if so what are they? 
  
D. B Burghart:  I think we were the first ones to spot the relationship between mental illness and being killed by police.  It's pretty common knowledge now.  Also since there was no data about race, people had suspicions but couldn't prove the racial disparity.  The race data is still pretty bad.  About a third of the time, the media doesn't report it, but this is improving, particularly in the area of officer-involved homicides. 
  
Cliff T.:  I would assume that most deaths are gun related, which other ways do people end up dead while in custody? 
  
D. B Burghart:   I might be misunderstanding your question, but police kill people with vehicles, Tasers--all manner of less-lethal methods--they beat people to death, asphyxiate them … there's a pretty long list.  Also, these stressful situation also tend to cause things like heart attacks and strokes.  To be clear, though, most of these deaths don't happen when people are in custody, but when an officer is trying to make an arrest.  Also, we don't track deaths after someone is booked into jail.  Some 5,000 people die each year in local jails and state prisons; if we include some but not all, it inflates our numbers while making them less accurate.  If we were to only track the incarcerated deaths that make the news, it makes it look like the number of incarcerated people who die is much smaller than it actually is. 
  
Cliff T.:  No you got the last question bang on.  Brian I have to ask, why, why do this kind of work.  What do you want to see come out of this research? 
  
D. B Burghart:  I want people and law enforcement agencies to have as much information as possible so they can track trends across regions and time.  This will enable agencies and governments to change policies, training and protocol to get the best outcomes for everyone and have fewer police killed and have fewer of the policed killed. 
  
Cliff T.:  How will you know if you have been successful or better that I put it this way, what is the ultimate goal of the project and how will you know you have achieved it. 
  
D. B Burghart:  Well, we've already informed the national dialog so we've achieved a measure of success.  We proved beyond the shadow of a doubt that the numbers our government was broadcasting were wildly inaccurate.  I'll know the first part of our job is finished when we consider all 50 states and D.C. complete.  We've calculated that day will come in August 2017. 
  
Cliff T.:  In the interview on Day 6 you said that it takes about a day to work on the project.  You probably are getting some help on this.  Is there a volunteer group helping you build the database and who are they? 
  
D. B Burghart:  I actually put in about 25-30 hours a week on the project.  Most of our helpers are paid for their research--there are about 10 really solid researchers.  There are only four volunteers, including me, who've put in more than a couple of hours without payment. 
  
Cliff T.:  Brian if anyone wants to participate what can they do to help the Fatal Encounters project? 

D. B Burghart: A certain percentage of our work still comes from crowdsourcing--people add records through our form, and it all gets verified before it gets published into the database.  The main way people can help is with donations, as it all goes to the researchers.  

Cliff T.:  Besides media attention has there been any response by policing agencies to what you are doing, have they come on board or are they not as willing to open up to you about the stats? 
  
D. B Burghart: Hard to say. I did see a story where an FBI representative said they look at sites like ours to improve their own data-collection methods.  We have quite a few police officers who've sent data or even donations.  The individual men and women seem to get that we're neutral, but getting an agency "culture" to change is different.  It's usually the lawyers and the bureaucrats who block our access to records.  
  
Cliff T.:  Before we close I want to ask so far what is the biggest impact you feel you have had since developing the Fatal Encounters site? 
  
D. B Burghart:  There are three.  First, when I started this project, nobody knew how many people were killed by police in the United States.  Now they have a pretty good idea, about 1,200 a year.  We're up to about 8,000 records, with an expected endpoint of about 19,000.  Second, nobody knew the government wasn't counting and analyzing this data.  Now, it's pretty common knowledge and people are demanding change.  The third is the protocol.  Our method of collecting the data was really unsophisticated, but it has now been applied to many different issues.  For example, https://puppycidedb.com is using our protocol to document incidents of pets and animals killed by police, and http://data4justice.org/ is tracking people arrested for child pornography. 
  
Cliff T.:  I think it is an absolute and important job that needs to be done.  I bet it can be gruesome to document these things.  That said it is important to keep going, thanks for sharing some time and insight with the Candid Conversations readership much appreciated. 
  
D. B Burghart:  I always say it's the most depressing hobby ever conceived. Thanks for having me.  
  
D. Brian Burghart, created the fatalencounters.org a page, a database that documents thousands of deaths of people, at the hands of the police.   
  
A special note to readers of this post:  As mentioned most if not the vast majority of police never go on patrol looking to kill anyone during the tour of duty.  Sadly many do die at the hands of police most are justifiable shootings.  The concern is the few that are suspect.   
  
Edmund Burke stated the following.  The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”  As bloggers, reporters and database managers we are all expected to operate at a level where open honesty is the first and most important goal, even when the truth bears ugly facts.  In this case the fact is that some police officers have behaved badly and people have died while in they’re care and custody. To stop or keep this fact from seeing light is an injustice to the victims and to those officers who perform they’re jobs at the highest level of professionalism. 
  
D. B Burghart wrote to us from Las Vegas NV U.S.A.  His website is fatalencounters.org.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Come Up and See Mae West Via Blogger & Playwright LindaAnn Loschiavo



“Come up sometime and see me.” This legendary line was made popular by the one and truly unique Mae West. Mae West was not a conventional woman, by a long shotIn her day, she was considered to be a trouble maker of sortsMae drove the cops nuts!  What made her so unique?  Why did that uniqueness cause so much concern amongst the so called pious of the day?  To explore that and also discuss the celebration of Mae West’s birthday, I am happy to welcome LindaAnn Loschiavo, a playwright and blogger who has a deep interest in Miss West. LindaAnn, thanks for doing a Candid Conversation.

LindaAnn L.: It’s a great pleasure to connect with you, Cliff, and your readers.

Cliff T.: Off the hop, I have to ask did Mae West really say “Come up sometime and see me!”? 

LindaAnn L.:  The line was originally written for Winnie, a drag queen character in Mae’s 1926 stage play “The Drag.”  Here is Winnie's line of dialogue:  "So glad to have you meet me. Come up sometime and I'll bake you a pan of biscuits."  That was Mae West's intentional echo of the very well-known line of the late great female impersonator Bert  Savoy, who used to say, "Oh, Margie! You must come over!"  In 1932, six years later, Mae repeated the line in the screenplay for “She Done Him Wrong.”  Her character, Lady Lou, says it to Captain Cummings (Cary Grant).  Play the clip on YouTube -- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dgYqkNCZ1Y --- to see exactly how she said it in the film.

Cliff T.: Are there other quotes made famous by Mae West and, if so, which are the more known? 

LindaAnn L.:  My Mae West Blog is full of her popular quotes. Here’s a link to dozens:
http://maewest.blogspot.com/2011/02/mae-west-quotations.html
In addition to her very famous one-liners, I offer a section in every post called: “In her own words.”  Mae West’s statements are taken from magazine interviews she gave during her career. She was often asked to comment on Marilyn Monroe, what her latest projects were, etc.

Cliff T.: From what I can see on your blog, Miss West appears to have had many run ins with the law and also had to deal with many civil cases as well.  Which are the most notable in your mind, LindaAnn?  

LindaAnn L.: Mae West was first arrested in Connecticut in January 1927, then arrested in NYC on February 9, 1927 and jailed overnight. The police were basically trying to close down her first gay play “The Drag,” which was having its try-outs before Mae brought it to Broadway. She was also arrested on October 2, 1928 and her second gay play, “Pleasure Man,” was raided and padlocked. That was only the start of many lawsuits, some frivolous and launched by people who wanted money.  When Mae became a successful movie star, people sued her for plagiarism.  However, the judges (perhaps realizing that rich people are often a target) always sided with Miss West.  Then in 1935, Frank Wallace, a vaudeville dancer she had married in April 1911 (but never lived with) was out of work and tried to claim this was a valid marriage, that they had never been divorced, and he was thereby entitled to half of her six-figure income and her assets. At the time, Mr. Wallace was unemployed and Mae was earning over $300,000.  This lawsuit ran for two years but, ultimately, his claims on her income were denied. The judge saw through these arguments and realized he was merely a fortune hunter. After he separated from Mae in 1911, Mr. Wallace had married someone else, so the judge said he came to petition the court “with unclean hands.”

Cliff T.: She also seemed to keep the Hollywood censors busy, too. Was this a deliberate thing, was she trying to push the limits or widen them?

LindaAnn L.:  Mae West was the only Hollywood actress who wrote her own material. Additionally, she was from a broad-minded New York City culture where liberties were taken for granted on the live stage. But when she tried to put those jokes or all that playful innuendo into her screenplays, the censors were afraid of what the general public might think. Also, the male dominated film industry perhaps resented dealing with a strong woman. (In contrast, all other actresses were given a script written by someone else.)

Cliff T.: It is obvious that there were many dimensions to Mae West, but getting to what I wanted to know about is the event you are having on August 17, “Onstage Outlaws,” an interesting title.  Can you describe the event and what a person will see when they enter the venue? 

LindaAnn L:  As the Mae West Blog documents in several posts and pictures, in 2008, I held an exhibition in the same restaurant where Mae West had auditioned the gay waiters in 1926. The New York Sun wrote this: And that's the idea behind an exhibition at Village Restaurant [62 West Ninth Street] called "Onstage Outlaws: Mae West and Texas Guinan in a Lawless Era," which runs through mid-September.  See:  http://maewest.blogspot.com/2006/09/subversive-influences-on-mae.html .  In 2008, the free exhibition "Onstage Outlaws: Mae West and Texas Guinan in a Lawless Era" was popular. The restaurant was open late and there was a lot of foot traffic. On the walls were numerous enlarged vintage photos with captions.  There was several private press parties connected with my exhibit but no talks or lectures since it was a public eatery where paying customers were dining. In 2015, seven years later, I decided to revisit the topic with a multi-media event with vintage photos and rare film footage. On Monday, August 17, 2015, it will be held in Mae’s former court room; the building is now a public library. So both Onstage Outlaws” sites were buildings Mae West had actually been inside --- as well as Texas Guinan.

Cliff T.: Will there be any screenings of Mae West’s films or workshops of any kind during the event? 

LindaAnn L: Though I have done numerous Mae West events for eleven years, I never show her films. These events have to do with Mae West, the New Yorker the human being.  Since anyone can see her films on YouTube or rent them, I want my events to relate more meaningfully to her personal history.  On August 17, 2015, I’ll show rare clips from Texas Guinan’s silent films. One lucky person will win a set.

Cliff T.: The event celebrates the birthday of Mae West. But, I sense it is more than just a party to remember Mae West. What would you like to get across to an audience about Mae West?

LindaAnn L.: All the events feature rare vintage photos that introduce people to the pre-Hollywood film star called Mae West.  She wrote a lot of material that was made for gay men and black people, attempting to give marginalized people visibility onstage.  She was very brave, risking everything to champion these groups at a time when blacks and whites did not share the same stage and when you could not join a union if you identified as gay.  She was a heterosexual woman who strongly believed in equal rights and was willing to go to jail for her beliefs.  Many of her colleagues avoided doing things like this.  I don’t think people realize how courageous and talented she was.

 Cliff T.: I see that you are also featuring another performer Texas Guinan. I never heard of her, but she was also from what I see quite a character, did she and Mae work together?

LindaAnn L.:  Yes, when the women met during the 1920s, Mae was a struggling actress who had just begun to write her own plays.  Texas Guinan was a speakeasy hostess earning more than $700,000 (for 10 months of work). Previously, Texas had starred in five dozen silent films (1917-1922), so she was quite well-off.  Texas Guinan was one of the backers --- people who invested $$ in Broadway plays --- that Mae turned to when she needed financing to put on a show.  They became friends.  Texas was often arrested when her night clubs were padlocked by federal agents, so she sympathized with Mae’s legal troubles.  To learn more about her, see my Texas Guinan Blog: http://TexasGuinan.blogspot.com

Cliff T.: I noted on the blog that you have that you are a playwright. When did you get interested in Mae West?  

LindaAnn L.: Jefferson Market Court (now a library) is near my house. Though the Sixth Avenue building has so much women’s history attached to it, the plaque outside only names the two male architects. Every time I passed the building, I wanted to find a way to let people know how much had transpired inside in those court rooms. I began writing newspaper articles about these women.  Here is one piece I wrote: http://thevillager.com/villager_129/fromactivistandauthors.html.  Then I thought of writing a play that would be three acts, each act devoted to a different female who had been arrested and jailed there --- such as Catholic worker Dorothy Day, Margaret Sanger, birth control pioneer, etc.  But there was too much information of these women to cram into one play so, instead, I decided to focus on Mae West.
 
Mae’s life had so many ups and downs. Unlike Texas Guinan, who became wealthy making silent films and then got wealthier in night clubs, Mae West struggled in obscurity for decades.  Each time Mae made progress, there would be a serious setback.  But no one had told this story before, set during the Prohibition Era, when she was struggling.  It was her court trials that made worldwide headlines, giving her the attention she desired but also the infamy that can be humiliating.


Cliff T.: LindaAnn, I have to ask, what does it feel like to slip into the persona of Mae West? What do you think of her legacy overall? 

LindaAnn L.: Her legacy is why I started my blogs on Jefferson Market Court, Mae West, Texas Guinan, etc.  When we held the first auditions for my play “Courting Mae West” back in 2004, the actresses who came to audition had no idea that Mae West, Texas Guinan, Starr Faithfull, and some others in the play were real people who walked the earth.  This may sound shocking but it’s true.  Actresses hoping to be cast in “Courting Mae West” were completely unaware that Mae West had been a major movie star and a Broadway sensation.

At the time (2004), there were only a few “ancient” Mae West fan sites, archival sites no longer being updated.  I wanted to send my actresses to one place where they could find out about these human beings, so I began my blogs.  Now that I have blogged about Mae West for 11 years, many more people come to my blog and, let’s say they “borrow” from it.  I’ve made it easy for others to write about her.  As to her legacy, while Marilyn Monroe has many lively fan clubs, Mae West has none.  Mae has never been on a USA postage stamp either.

There used to be an annual birthday party for her birthday in Los Angeles, California hosted by Ramfis Diaz in his apartment, a private event strictly by invitation (not public).  When Mr. Diaz died, other fans were either too lazy or too disinterested to carry on the tradition on the West Coast, sad to say.


Cliff T.: Did you ever think that the attraction to Mae West would get as big as it has gotten in this day and age? 

LindaAnn L.: For the past eleven years, I have held numerous types of Mae West events in New York City, where she was born in 1893, and it’s often a struggle to get the local newspapers and magazines (such as The Village Voice, New York Magazine, Time Out New York, or Brooklyn publications) to print these calendar items --- despite the fact that my events are usually free (or under $10). Therefore, I tend to think that either the editors don’t know who Mae West is or they may feel their readers don’t know or won’t care. I’ll bet if I hosted a Marilyn Monroe or Elvis event, my phone would ring off the hook. Those people still have fan clubs who would help spread the word, you see. Over the years, I’ve seen that the attendance at my Mae West events is usually “a mature audience.” I’d love to be able to attract a younger crowd. The “Mae West fans” are an endangered species, I fear, Cliff. That said, I am very happy to share these thoughts with you and your followers.

Cliff T.: Like I said earlier this is one conversation that has so many dimensions to it. That said I really want to thank you for letting me and the readers of Candid Conversations peek into the fascinating world that Mae West lived in.  
LindaAnn L.:  It was a great privilege to do so.

Come up sometime – http://MaeWest.blogspot.com is authored by native New Yorker LindaAnn Loschiavo, playwright and Mae West blogger, she is hosting a birthday celebration featuring the star and another gal Texas Guinan. 
The event takes place Monday. August 17, 2015 from 6:30 PM to 8:00 PM.  Location: Jefferson Market Library, 425 Sixth Avenue in New York, NY.  The best part: it’s free for the public to attend and there will be food and a raffle, too.  

More info on the event can be obtained at 212 243 4334.
The website for all things Mae West: http://MaeWest.blogspot.com 
 
LindaAnn Loschiavo wrote to us from New York, NY.