Jennifer Stewart

Good vs Evil: More Police Brutality in the Wild West

In stepping out of history on April 10, 2015 at 7:32 am


A social worker in Paris once spoke about how Islamic fundamentalists recruit from the poorest areas in the city. They provide food and shelter and understanding and create huge gratitude and loyalty. It’s an easy step to convincing those they’ve rescued that their ills stem from the animal West, that purity of soul and heart rests only in Islam which needs to be defended even at the cost of life and limb.

It’s called grooming. It has nothing to do with Islam. Pedophiles do it. Christians have been doing it for a long time and they still do. I’ve seen it happen in Cape Town, where there are a lot of people living on the street. Christians take them in and brainwash them. If they refuse to do what they’re told and accept the tenets of whatever brand of Christianity is being foisted on them they’re thrown out and harshly judged—not by people, you understand. By God, or Jesus. Of course. We all understand the truth and wisdom of that.

The French social worker said that if societies don’t deal with poverty and inequality of opportunity realistically and humanely poverty will deal with those societies.

That was over ten years ago. Some leaders and many social workers, international organizations, celebrities and citizens of different countries have worked hard and still do to try and stem the rising tide of everything that’s unjust and inhumane in societies.

But it’s kind of like dealing with global warming; too many people just don’t want to face reality and deal with it. They don’t like change and their comfort zone is denial that there are consequences to their actions—including to their denial. So the right in politics gains ground everywhere and laws that should be secular and independent of religious bias are poisoned by zealots with huge financial backing. Right wing media brainwashes millions every second of the day and the line between Good and Evil, so often portrayed as easily identifiable Black and White, is unutterably blurred.

Now ISIS is an international problem, inequality in western societies is beyond the pale, too many poor people live right alongside too many people with so much money they can’t possibly use it.

There’s too much demoralization, too much exploitation, too much crime and too much of a violent backlash against criminals, too much rage all over the place, directed towards even perceived criminals, immigrants, people of color. Too many guns, oh my God, so many guns and weapons of destruction. Too much entitlement in law enforcement to beat suspects up, shoot to kill for no reason. Many of us think of the Wild West in America with fondness, as a romantic thing of the past, thanks mostly to Hollywood. But actually, the Wild West is on the rebound and not in cinematic form. In real life. Maybe it never was overridden by civilization but just took on different a different medium.

There’s so much good happening in the US right now, with President Obama working tirelessly to build up the middle class and diminish inequality in his own country, and to forge democratic, peaceful solutions in foreign policy and particularly in the Middle East. As always he constantly faces a powerful and vocal Conservative Right, but it doesn’t stop him. It’s inspiring to watch him and members of his Administration, like John Kerry in the Middle East and Eric Holder, dealing with corrupted police culture.

Now that’s a big job. We’re living in an era where in the US police can do whatever they want, shoot to kill an unarmed 12 year old or a man for no reason, chase and beat up a suspect.

The latest brutality to hit the news comes from San Bernadino. Yesterday sheriff’s deputies tried to serve a search warrant on Francis Pusok who lives in Apple Valley on the edge of the Mojave Desert, north of LA. He ran and they gave chase. Pusok passed Deep Creek Hot Springs, grabbed a horse and rode off into the desert. He was followed by a helicopter and 11 deputies. One of them Tasered him and he fell off the horse. He lay unarmed, face down, with his arms outstretched. But the deputies descended on him and beat and kicked him senseless in the head and groin, for minutes. Then they stood up and looked down on him as if he was a piece of dead meat.

And they were captured on video by a NewsChopper4. It’s a 6 minute video; hard to watch for the inhumanity it shows. Interestingly, the video starts with audio, until the deputies start kicking the life out Mr. Pusok.

The whole murderous incident is being internally investigated, but of course the police haven’t released the truth of Mr. Pusok’s state; they’ve simply said he’s in hospital with unknown injuries. What a load of rubbish. I wonder if he survived. I hope somebody gets to the truth of that pretty soon and that there are huge consequences to the criminals.

Good versus Evil; somehow it’s always David against Goliath. This is nothing new; it’s how humanity does itself. When I first learned about the Dark Ages I presumed that everybody knew it was a Dark Age. But now I reckon it was no different to how things are now, except that there are so many more people. And millions can record their lives and those of others and spread the word around the world. Maybe social media is the modern version of David’s sling.

What’s kind of miraculous about it all is that even when the Dark is very dark and depressing and seems overwhelming, the light part of humanity finds a way to fight. That’s the human spirit for you.

Rest in Peace, Walter L. Scott

In stepping out of history on April 10, 2015 at 7:25 am

Walter L Scott

At about 9:30 pm on Saturday North Charleston police officer Michael T. Slager shot and killed an unarmed African American Walter L. Scott (pictured above) while he was running away.

The North Charleston police statement’s version of the events was that Slager pulled Scott over for a broken tail light. Scott ran, so Slager used his Taser to try and stop. That didn’t work and a scuffle ensued, during which Scott grabbed the Taser and tried to use it on the officer, who was forced to resort to his service weapon. He shot Scott dead. That was the official original police report.

It’s clear from the police statement that something isn’t true. First Scott tries to run away. Then Slager Tasers him. The statement indicated that that didn’t work, which would mean that Scott was still running away so how could a scuffle ensue?

But the inconsistency didn’t bother the North Charleston PD; nor was anybody particularly interested in the fact that Slager had, by his own later admission, had quite a few beers before coming on shift but he wasn’t tested until 5 hours later. So that’s where the story would have ended. Another unarmed man killed in cold blood by a police officer. This time for a broken tail light.

Except that the truth was captured on video by a bystander, who gave it to Scott’s family. They brought it to the New York Times. The footage shows an unarmed Scott running for his life from Slager, who fires repeatedly at Scott’s back, hitting him 7 times until he drops dead. The autopsy report showed that the last three killed him. Another officer at the scene doesn’t try to resuscitate Scott, he simply turns his body over and examines something. At that point he’s handcuffed and clearly dead. I guess the handcuffs were to ‘prove’ that Slager hadn’t killed him.

Slager appears to plant something next to Scott’s dead body then stands casually over him, dusting his hands, showing no remorse at all for the fact that he just took his life—for no reason at all other than because he could—and tried to cover up his crime.

His version of the events, accepted originally by the North Charleston Police Department, is a lie from start to finish. And for once, justice might be served. Slager has been fired and charged with murder. The thin blue line, which is increasingly more like a very thick blue fortress wall, can’t withstand the power of a bystander with a smart phone. Times are a-changing.

Walter Scott’s brother Anthony issued a public statement saying that he and his family don’t believe all police officers are bad; just that some are. His dignity was awe-inspiring as he called for prayer.

Rest in peace, Walter L. Scott.

Of Hollywood, Heroes and Heroines

In stepping out of history on February 18, 2015 at 4:44 pm

Hollywood 1920s

Hollywood. Who can ever understand what motivates decision makers in their choices of scripts to pump money into? Lots of people think they’ve nailed a formula for success, most notably those who teach scriptwriting and sell their services as script editors. It’s a huge industry. They all claim they know what makes producers choose your script. They gloss over the truth that ‘producers’ come in all shapes and sizes. Some of them think they know the formula for success and they reckon the other guy doesn’t. The other guy – oh, I don’t need to finish this sentence, do I?

The script teachers and editors also rarely agree with each other. It’s confusing if you’re new at the game or don’t have a mind of your own and can’t figure out that self-styled authorities’ true skill lies in milking your insecurity.

They need you to believe your writing is full of imperfections and that you’ll never succeed without their very special advice. I entered a high profile script competition last year and didn’t make the short list but within days of being told so I got an email from a guy who’s a co-partner or something or other in the company, telling me, congratulations! You’ve won a discount on an advice session.

I called him up. He was a nice guy; I enjoyed talking to him. Then he said he could help me with my script and tighten it up so that agents and producers would be more likely to look at it. I said how do you know anybody will like the version your advice has led to? IMO, I continued, getting noticed is less about a perfect script and more about gutzpah; getting out there so people know you exist. Not backing down or giving up when you don’t win a competition or somebody says no thanks.

Or says it more rudely; it’s not unheard of for a big fish in a little pond who doesn’t like your work to tell you you’ll never make it in the industry. Pretty much everybody who’s succeeded in the world in any discipline has been fed that line some time or another. And we all know who’s the one left with the regrets.

My fella seemed to be smiling when he admitted he couldn’t guarantee that his advice would further me in any way.  Ha! The pleasures of having a mind of your own.

All of this is not to say that I don’t care about the quality of my scripts. I do. But that’s just for me. I’m under no illusion that it’ll be the primary factor in my success. So I turned down the generous offer, which amounted to R2500 for an hour. Of advice that might or might not be of any use to me. But my money would have been of a lot of use to that fella.

Some of the teachers etc. really do understand story-telling and can boast of many ‘students’ who have achieved a lot of success. But whether that success came directly and solely from their teaching or not, who can say?

Here’s the reality: Sometimes there’s a massive difference between a good script and one that will attract a producer, or between a brilliant director and one whose work will garner Academy Awards. Take Martin Scorsese. He’s widely acknowledged as the most influential filmmaker in the history of Hollywood but he’s only won one Oscar. And Boyhood, nominated for a best screenplay Oscar this year, deserves a column on its own, not all of it gushing praise.

But sometimes a quality script does attract producers – I’m thinking The King’s Speech – and awards and great directors do get Oscars for their work. Robert Zemeckis won in 1994 for Forrest Gump and beat Quentin Tarantino (Pulp Fiction). Good decision.

There’s just no predictable formula in Hollywood, because producers come in all shapes and sizes and are as subject to whim as those who determine what or who should win an award.

I reckon the best way to get the most out of everything as a screenwriter is to write as much quality as you can and enjoy yourself when doing it, then fight like the devil to find producers who’ll throw money at you, and find ways to enjoy that fight as well. Because if you write to please producers you’ve never met, based on somebody else’s opinion of what those producers want when they’ve never met them either… It’s gambling on rather long odds. And the worst part of it is how horrible the whole experience is.

Scripts are all about heroes and heroines so if you’re writing about them I figure you might as well be one yourself. Heroes and heroines do their own thing and everything they can to forge a path to success, facing fears, dealing with insecurity and with all the demons and harsh realities that are part of the landscape of not playing it safe. They don’t strive to adapt. They strive to conquer.