By Krista Schwimmer
Throughout the country, numerous cases of police brutality are bringing communities together in both explosive and peaceful ways. The most recent case is the killing of 18 year old, African-American Michael Brown, an unarmed teen shot down by Officer Darren Wilson in Ferguson, Missouri. The shooting of this teen led to rioting in Ferguson, bringing urgent attention to the matter across the nation. Such incidents not only reflect the racism in this country made more transparent since the election of our first African-American president, but also the heavy handedness of the police forces throughout the country. Military style tactics are used not only against African-Americans, but against the homeless and the mentally ill. A recent, unreported incident on the Venice Beach Boardwalk reflects just how far the local, LAPD police are willing to go to show their might.
On Thursday, August 7th, Solomon Turner, also known as “The Snake Man”, was skateboarding on the Boardwalk. It was a sunny, breezy afternoon, around 1 pm, with vendors, tourists, and locals enjoying the vibrancy of Venice. Solomon noticed four cops walking together “like the Gestapo.” He watched as these same cops surrounded a man sitting under a pagoda. Solomon had previously seen the man a few times. He described him as an African-American man in his 50’s or 60’s with grey hair, 6 feet something, 200 plus pounds, and wearing headphones. Later, this man was identified as Arrington Samuel Calhoun – not only elderly and African-American, but also disabled.
The same cops that Solomon thought were “walking like Gestapo” went up to Arrington who other witnesses claimed was merely sleeping under an umbrella. These officers wanted to write him a ticket for his umbrella.
According to not only Solomon, but several other witnesses there at the time, Arrington was just sitting down. “All he did was say he was not going to sign the ticket.” He did not fight or resist the police. He did, however, finally say he was tired of the cops messing with him; and then, looked up to the heavens. Evidently, he was known already for singing to God, singing to the Universe. When Solomon later asked people if this man was combative, the response was “he was the coolest guy ever.”
Solomon told the Beachhead that all of the cops jumped the man; then, took out “little skinny sticks and started poking him. All of a sudden we heard a tazer go off – BOOM!” After that, one of the cops punched him six or seven times in the face while Arrington was laying face down on the ground. Then they hogtied him, and took him to a nearby police car.
“That was the worst beating I have ever seen,” said Solomon. “Worse than Rodney King, worse than the highway patrol with the lady.” Here, Solomon is referring to the July 1st incident where California Highway Patrol Officer Daniel Andrew was caught on video punching 51 year old, homeless Marlene Pinnock. Evidently, the CHP Officer thought punching her would protect her from wandering onto Interstate 10 where she was walking, barefoot along the shoulder.
Another witness to the incident, Katt, said the police “took him. They tazed him. They put a thing around his neck, his feet. They bound him up like an animal, a pig.” Not only that – but one of the cops grabbed Katt’s arm as she recorded the incident on her phone. The officer then threatened to take her to jail. She refused, telling the officer she knows her rights as an American citizen. Katt also stated that the reason she was getting more involved in this incident was because “I’ve seen what they did to another man before, a Caucasian guy that was walking through the parking lot and he was kind of hollering out, but he wasn’t bothering anyone. It was over there on 7th and Broadway. They threw the man on the ground, they tazed him, started beating on him. And I stood right there and told them. ‘Stop it’ because if I hadn’t they would have kept on going.” In that instance, the police officers did stop the beating, even offered an apology. Katt thought the apology was insignificant. The man needed help, not a beating.
Michael Mandel, a third witness to the August 7th beating, said he “saw the whole thing from the time the cops came over and beat this poor man silly. You know, he just wanted to sit and relax and they turned it into violence on their part. . . I bet a lot of people were getting robbed in the area while they were picking on this poor man. It’s very sad where they put their priorities. . . The guy was peaceful.”
On September 1st Solomon told the Beachhead that he has not seen Arrington Calhoun since the beating. The police, however, left all of the man’s stuff. “No telling what happened to him,” Solomon said. On another day, when talking to other police officers about the incident, Solomon said to them that “If we weren’t there, if it was in a dark alley, you would have killed him.”
But it wasn’t a dark alley. It was a sunny, breezy afternoon in the month of August, a time when the boardwalk is full of vendors, tourists, children, and locals. A time when it is quite common to run into a variety of quirky, strange characters of Venice. Was this deliberate on the part of LAPD? Through the number of officers and the excessive force on what Solomon said was “just a helpless, old, homeless guy sitting on the beach,” were the officers making a statement to the community at large?
In a Venice Neighborhood Council meeting this past February, Councilman Mike Bonin discussed at length his position on the homeless throughout the city. On the one hand, he referred to the problem as complex, a kind of rubrics cube of different colors and different sizes, that required diagnosing each situation individually. On the other hand, he seemed more concerned that our streets look inferior to those of Santa Monica due to the success of the Lavon case which prohibits the city from removing materials that may or may not belong to someone living on the streets. He spent more time explaining how the city can now get around this through storage units and 72 hour notices that state the city is going to remove materials then addressing how we could “move beyond managing the problem to solving the problem.” Ironically, the August 7th incident occurred on the afternoon before one of these city cleanups.
There is enough fury, grief, and dismay throughout the country to call to task the polices of police regarding the use of force. In fact, even the International Association of the Chiefs of Police (IACP) recognize this urgent need. On August 15, the IACP President Yost Zakhary released a public statement stating that due to the fact that “High profile incidents and allegations of police misconduct may drive a wedge between law enforcement agencies and citizens they are sworn to protect” IACP “will shortly be convening a summit to examine the current state of police-community relations, the evolving landscape of threats that confront law enforcement, and the need for policies and procedures that ensure fair and equitable policing practices.”
In the meantime, we must all watch over each other. Like Solomon, Michael, and Katt, we must be willing to not only bear witness to injustices around us, but to stand up and speak out about them. As the Buddha once said: “You are the community now. Be a lamp for yourselves. Be your own refuge. Seek for no other. All things must pass. Strive on diligently. Don’t give up.”
If you have photos or videos of this incident, please contact the Beachhead at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Photos by: Michael Mandel