by Dan De Leon
A Latina high school student created the art work, above, inspired by a previous work titled A Tale of Two Hoodies. However, she was later ‘persuaded’ by the Denver schools’ public relations director that the picture did not foster good police-community relations. “Notice he didn’t say it could be done by having killer cops arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison.” Apparently, her elders had never seen Picasso’s Guernica.
They Call Me MISTER Picasso!
by Dan De Leon
This article previously appeared in Counterpunch.
“Criticism of police brutality and murder is more offensive to these people than the actual brutality and murder.”
Did you ever wish that cops would stop shooting, beating and choking people to death? Would you find it refreshing if cops stopped being that unappealing combination of out-of-shape candy-ass little cowards and sadistic brutal psychopathic bullies? What if, instead, they got in touch with some inner high-minded peaceful aesthetic and maybe turned to a career of… art appreciation and criticism? What if the “drug war” could be traded in for a “war on art” and, maybe, featured TV shows of cops crashing through artists’ lofts with water colors splattering instead of blood? What if cops were busting up easels instead of human heads? Cops are, after all, already waging a war on inanimate objects, via civil forfeiture. And, speaking of civil forfeiture, the Denver Police Department used $120,000 of civil forfeiture money to buy audio visual equipment to make videos for a local Emmy competition. Anyway, here’s a story about the Denver police and art.
In early March, a couple Denver cops were walking inside the Wellington Webb municipal building – which they happen to personally own by virtue of being cops with guns – when they were assaulted by a painting in an art exhibit. The painting, done by Michelle Bustamante-Lopez, a 10th grader at a Denver high school, was a homage to Michael D’ Antuono’s 2014 painting “A Tale of Two Hoodies” which depicts a cop wearing a KKK hood pointing a gun at a black child who’s wearing a hoodie. Bustamante-Lopez’s painting was chosen by a panel of Denver Public School’s jurors to be part of the art show. The painting was later taken down, supposedly at the request of the Bustamante-Lopez herself “after learning of the negative impact of her work.” The person who let Bustamante-Lopez know about this alleged “negative impact” was the school system’s public relations director. It’s always good to get ethical guidance and social conscience from public relations directors.
“Police are a big repository of the most sadistic people in capitalism.”
What “negative impact”? Telling the truth about racist killer cops? Where’s the downside for the only class that matters – the working class? Cops don’t matter any more than bankers or war merchants do – they aren’t part of the working class – they forfeited that honor the moment they put on a badge and a gun and committed themselves to uphold the theft of the wealth of the working class majority by the capitalist minority. Cops put down strikes and kill strikers, they assassinate working class leaders like Fred Hampton, they infiltrate and wreck working class solidarity, they provoke, they brutalize, they instigate, they steal, they plant, they entrap, they torture, they perjure, they spy and they’re corrupt. Police are a big repository of the most sadistic people in capitalism. Type “police brutality” into youtube and have a look at who’s “protecting” you. Cops don’t own productive property but they “own” the working class in the most elemental way: they “own” us in the street and in our homes. They get away with murder and brutality on a regular basis. Camera phones only show a fraction of it. Cops are what they’ve always been in America – slave catchers. Their job is to round up and funnel poor people of color into the “criminal justice” and prison systems where other parasites of capital – lawyers, judges, politicians, prison owners – make careers and money off them.
But back to the crimes of art in progressive Denver…
Denver’s black Police Chief Robert White says that Bustamante-Lopez wasn’t intimidated into removing the painting from the show. So, you’re a sophomore in high school and the police chief, the mayor, the school principal and the school superintendent call a meeting in the principal’s office to tell you that they don’t like what you’re doing. That’s not intimidation? Why didn’t they just invite Obama in to have a beer with her? Of course, the real point is to intimidate other students who might have ideas about making art that speaks out against the crimes of the police.
“Think of the outrage if a white police chief in Georgia censored this art work.”
Police Chief White says, “The reality of it is there are a lot of people across this country and our community who still portray police officers that way. And it is our responsibility to mitigate that portrayal. And that can only be done by having meetings like we had today with this young lady.” Notice he didn’t say it could be done by having killer cops arrested, charged, convicted and sent to prison which is the kind of “mitigation” that most people would have in mind. No, it will be done by sweet talkers like the chief getting young people to shut up about crimes committed by police against the working class. (They don’t commit crimes against their bosses, the capitalists.) That’s the normal state of affairs. Don’t worry your young naive artistic head about it. His blackness is quite an asset – if oppressed minorities like him can learn to love the racist beast of American capitalism, well, why can’t all of us? Think of the outrage if a white police chief in Georgia censored this art work – that’s the bonanza of having black collaborators running many of America’s big cities for the white ruling class. They’re all budding little Mahmoud Abbas’s, betraying their own people every day for capitalism, occupation, ethnic cleansing/gentrification, environmental poisoning and white supremacy. They’re plantation overseers and ghetto kapos, hurriedly tearing off their rapidly decomposing piece of the American shit pie.
But don’t make any art about it! That violates the “safe space” of the National Latino Peace Officers Association who called the painting “hate art” and the Denver Police Protective Association who denounced it as a “horrible stereotype.” Criticism of police brutality and murder is more offensive to these people than the actual brutality and murder. There’s no record of these organizations saying anything about Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, the bombing of MOVE, the massacre at Wounded Knee, the Haymarket massacre or Christopher Columbus raping and murdering nine-year-old native girls. “What? You’re crazy!” you say. “Ridiculous!” No, I say, it doesn’t matter what color or sex or time in history these cops exist – these are all the same fucking karma-challenged people: they’re Custer, they’re the Pinkertons, they’re the confederacy, their minds are colonized and their pockets are corrupt, they never made it past Dred Scott. With no class consciousness, they’re empty vessels that have been filled with poisonous ideas of conquest and exceptionalism, kissing up and kicking down, where stealing from people of color and killing them is totally normal. It’s always 1492 in America and there’s always some person of color in the world to steal from and kill, even if the “new world” is Syria, Somalia or the Congo. If this weren’t true, explain three million dead Vietnamese or over a million dead Iraqis in our most recent rampage. Comfort is the enemy of justice and these people would sell out the world for a little more. The job of every warrior in an unjust society is to overthrow it, not sign up for racist policing and foreign bloodbaths. The problems aren’t outside this country, they are deep inside it and at the highest levels of power. Cops and soldiers, if you really believe you are warriors, it’s no wonder you’re so alienated, fucked up and suicidal because you’re fighting the wrong battle every day of your lives. There’s a great and noble battle to be fought and won – it’s the only battle that matters because it’s the final one – it’s called overthrowing capitalism and constructing the Socialist Republic.
“It’s always 1492 in America.”
Denver’s black mayor, Michael Hancock, a chip off the old Barack, the Great Inoculator, brought up the problem and then told a barefaced lie about it. Just as he successfully practiced censorship, mayor Hancock said, “We want to continue to encourage our young people to do their art, to exhibit their art in city buildings. But we as adults have to make sure that we protect them and we make sure the message is honoring to the entire community.” Protect them from what – police art censors at their next traffic stop? So the imperative for artists is to “honor” things? Really, mayor? A whole lot of art is about pissing all over things that need pissed on. Did you ever see Picasso’s Guernica? Anyway, this was the mayor’s way of saying that the police are the “community” that matters above all others. By the way, here’s an article by Kyle Harris in the Colorado Independent listing various names of the people that the “artists” of the Denver Police Department have “honored” – by painting the jail floors and the streets with their blood. And, for more thin blue line exploits, here’s a brief video of cops protecting and serving the shit out of students in schools. America’s cops party like it’s 1799.
Then there’s a whole flotilla of art teachers in this article telling students to be careful about what art they make and where they present it. “They need to consider the community and how the artwork will be viewed by their particular community, and whether or not the artwork would cause more damage than constructive comments,” says one. Another teacher/artist, not in the mold of Diego Rivera, said: “Hanging the art in the Webb building where law enforcement agents are going to walk by it and see the depiction? That’s probably pushing some buttons.” Are you teachers, artists and journalists afraid of cops? Do you Lilliputian gatekeepers imagine that protecting bankrupt authority figures will earn you some points somewhere?
“The best button I ever saw pushed was Detroit 1967.”
My God, a cop’s button got pushed. Extra large whoop. The best button I ever saw pushed was Detroit 1967. I was there when the riot was going on. Despite my best begging and crying, twice a year I’d be sentenced to visit my grandparents in Ferndale. On my first day of arrival at the cult on West Cambourne Street, my Jesus-occupied grandmother would always send me off to get my long hair shaved into a burr, then be taken to a doctor to get a shot in my ass for unknown reasons, followed up at night by a visit to the most gigantic Southern Baptist church in the world where the hell would be scared out of me to make room for the fear of human fanaticism. She had an ample bosom and a large collection of broaches, each one the size of an alarm clock and made of out shiny spikes, broken glass and razor wire, where my face would be pressed while she sang the praises of Jesus Christ our Savior. On my Detroit visits, my mother back in Ohio would always be pleading into the phone about various issues: “Don’t buy him a hamster!” “He’s not sick – he doesn’t need to go to the doctor!” “Don’t take him fishing!” (We always rightly despised animal abuse.) So the long distance screaming plea in 1967 was: “Don’t let Al take him to the riots!” Uncle Al was a bookie, married to my grandmother’s sister who was not at all like my grandmother, and he thought it would be fun to go to the riots – like taking me to a Tigers game. From the Italian mob perspective, what was better than blacks and cops killing each other? That was some button-pushing! It took the 82nd and 101st Airborne to finally crush the working class resistance in Detroit – the local police, the state police, the National Guard couldn’t do it – that’s how powerful you are, working class, if you would ever use it. You even had a recent reminder in Ferguson, Missouri. Remember what happened in Ferguson when the working class shot back at the cops with rifles in the night and got away with it? Those gunshots were downplayed in the media but these rebels weren’t found and they weren’t killed. They live to fight another day. And in the following day or two, the state decided to turn down the heat, get the National Guard off the street and out of town and, basically, back the fuck down. That was a lesson and a victory. Pay attention to it.
Back to free speech in the mile high city…
“The adults in these articles would like to make the young people into their own conformist, authority-worshipping, defeated image.”
Bustamante-Lopez probably had no idea just how many different adults would betray her, instead of commending her for having a social conscience. Students should make any kind of art they want and put it wherever they can. The adults in these articles would like to make the young people into their own conformist, authority-worshipping, defeated image. The country has had forty plus years of you losers. Get off the fucking stage. You zombies are already dead – why won’t you fall over and make it official? The journalistic coverage of this issue was mostly abysmal except for Harris’ article in the Colorado Independent. Not one of the articles began with the simple logical question: Why do you motherfucking pigs imagine that you have any right to say shit or control the artwork of anybody, let alone a 10th grader? The Denver Post, for instance, never asked the tough questions: “Do you cocksuckers have to show your ass every moment you’re alive? Do you understand how guilty you look and insecure you are that you have to censor a painting by an adolescent?” Shit, people like me – vegan – have to live with walking by meat counters every day and understand that I live in a Satanic society of blissful barbarians that are one thin little compartmentalization away from going full Bergen-Belsen. Grow up, cops! Hey, I’m glad I brought this up because another painting in the art exhibit, done by Amanda Carabajal, shows a cow and a chicken gutting a bunch of humans in a slaughterhouse. These kids in Denver are on the ball.
Here’s something else that’s been bugging me about cops. I worked on a locked psychiatric inpatient unit for 23 years. My 5’ 10” 135 pound self has been hit (fists, chairs), kicked, bit (the worst), burned (cigarettes), choked (quite stunning), spat on, cussed at, threatened, cut (broken glass), stabbed (a fork) and had the tension-building, heart-pounding, nerve-quivering bejesus scared out of me dozens of times. On some of my lucky days off, my co-workers faced down a loaded pistol, a hatchet, a Bowie knife and razor blade attacks. One of the worst assaults was a patient who blind-sided a co-worker with a metal trash can and gave him a concussion. All over this country there are thousands of completely unarmed nurses and techs and therapists who are dealing in a mostly non-violent way with violent people and the parties involved rarely get seriously injured. So when we see a gang of you cops beating, kicking and jabbing your batons into someone on the ground we rightly and righteously hate your goddam guts as do millions of other Americans. You don’t have to fucking do that, you despicable brutes. You cause resistance and you love it. You’re fucking sadists. You’re criminals. You belong in jail. Sure, large swaths/tikas of white America may cheer you on but this country is becoming less white and you may not always enjoy your current level of impunity. (By the way, I’m not making any endorsement of the way mental health care – drugged-up social control for capitalism’s castoffs – is practiced in this country. That’s another diatribe.)
“Cops are rarely charged, let alone convicted, and they know they can get away with anything.”
The American ruling class, like its racist blood brother Israel, can no longer compete intellectually for its dying system so it has to resort to censorship. The police in America have not become chastened in any way since Michael Brown was gunned down – they’ve become more brutal and murderous. It doesn’t matter how many times they are filmed beating and killing non-resisting people. They’re rarely charged, let alone convicted, and they know they can get away with anything. The biggest black face in a high place murders innocent people every day and received a Nobel Peace Prize for his trouble. The whole country is one giant perversion that the majority of people have no investment in at all. It doesn’t matter what happens to America. The alienation, amusement, detachment and distraction are off the scale. The American military are now back in Iraq by the thousands and occasionally getting killed and nobody here cares anything about it except their families. Nobody hates it enough to stop it or is honest enough to acknowledge that we live in a dictatorship with a wholly unresponsive government that doesn’t do one little thing that the majority of people would like for it to do. All that’s left is prejudice united, the insulting white sexist racist id of Trump that is so successfully running amuck. America can’t fucking die fast enough. When it finally does die (by losing its reserve currency status), the rest of the world will be able to breathe, recover from the destruction that America has inflicted on it and, hopefully, flourish.
(A Trump aside: The 1994 crime bill, ending welfare as we know it, NAFTA, the endless wars, the financial deregulation… the Clintons have done more concrete things to destroy black wealth, put more blacks in prison or send them off to die in criminal wars and, in general, make their lives materially worse than Donald Trump has ever done (so far). It’s not even a contest. So, yeah, protest Trump but you’re only protesting because he’s uncouth and he’s in your face. The real damage and outrages have been going on uninterrupted for the last four decades, a good portion of them perpetrated by intelligent, “civilized” master explainers like Clinton and Obama. Trump is showing the country that the white nationalist right is willing to fight for the hate that it believes in. Are you leftists willing to combat that the only way possible — by working to eliminate its breeding ground, i.e., capitalism?) And here’s another painting from the Denver art show, done by Renato Najera-Renteria, addressing Trump:
“All that’s left is prejudice united.”
America can’t flourish. As even Asher Edelman, the model for Gordon Gekko in the movie Wall Street, told CNBC recently, the robber barons have taken so much that the American working class doesn’t have the money to get the economy going again. (They were robbed at the point of production by being paid only a fraction of the wealth they create, just as Marx said and which every capitalist knows but which the American working class is completely mystified about. All wealth is stolen – it’s all yours, workers – fucking take it! – you created it!) So the country is stuck indefinitely in broke-ness and debt bondage. This particular “problem” of capitalism used to be “solved” by a world war but the next world war would be the final one. (The security and munitions industries make tons of money based on the fear of armageddon and preparations for armageddon but there’s no money or point in actual armageddon. So, I’m hopeful that the humanitarians at Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Raytheon will pull back the treasonous Israel-firsters and the Russophobes in Congress and the White House from actual armageddon.) This “problem” could also be remedied by a debt jubilee but that would be humane and the people who rule us are the same punishers who gave us control management units and quantitative easing. So, we’re stuck with the working class majority being ground down to the slave wages in China, India and US prisons, each generation having worse lives than the previous one.
And don’t try to cheer me up with California’s $15 an hour minimum wage hike (which takes full effect six years from now) as the capitalists are already laying off workers in droves and speeding up robotics and automation. Machines will take our orders at restaurants while $15 an hour will be a law in some dusty book in Sacramento. The capitalists aren’t going to give up a dime. Understand that. They’re going to take more dimes. Only under socialism can automation be used to kick hours out of the workweek instead of the capitalist way of kicking workers out of jobs. The capitalists steal most of the wealth we create every day. We probably need only work a couple hours a day to have a decent life once these bastards are overthrown. We currently have the material resources to provide every person in this country with superior housing, education, healthcare and more.
“There’s no working class rebellion, no class consciousness, no successful fights against austerity and endless war and no understanding that capitalism must die.”
That’s the reason a ghastly wreck like Hillary Clinton keeps rising from the dead, no matter how many debacles she leaves in her wake. She’s here to tell us over and over: “Austerity at home, war abroad, Israel forever, Assad must go, Putin’s a dictator, Iran is evil – Haim told me so, the Contras were good, so many enemies, so much fear, fight terror with more terror, three strikes and you’re out, we ended welfare as we know it (and gave you a homeless problem like you’ve never seen it), I brought peace (and death squads) to Honduras and (destruction) to Libya! Cruz and Trump may talk about copulating with rats but what experience do they have – I’ve been doing it for forty years! Bill and I both fuck the best when we’ve thrown a few hundred thousand of Goldman’s cash on the bed and then fantasize about doing it with Israel! Of course I deserve to lead the United States of America – I’m a corrupt, successful war criminal. My mentor is Henry Kissinger. I’ve gotten away with everything. I just won the confederacy, I just got the support of the neocons, I’ve proved that I can hoodwink blacks as well as Barack. Come November, I’m going to put that orange-headed orangutan, Donald Corley Wallace Trump, on display in the zoo of Cleveland politics and carry Cuyahoga County by 80% which will give me Ohio which will give me the country! Bill and I put a bullet in Ohio’s head with NAFTA and they still voted for me over Bernie – and Trump couldn’t even beat Kasich there! Thanks for everything, Ohio, it’s losers like you that create winners like me!”
Or, to paraphrase Orwell: if you want a vision of the future, imagine a pair of patent leather pumps stamping on a human face – particularly a Palestinian/Muslim face – for the next four years. Hillary Clinton “versus” Donald Trump. That’s the freedom and democracy we’re allowed. When the masters of the universe run out of black Wall Street stooges to exorcise the revolutionary black left of the 1960s, or they run out of cackling women war criminals to show us that being a “feminist” means slaughtering innocent people just like the guys do – when they run out of these tools, they will probably come up with a paraplegic Hispanic woman who will campaign on a platform of people “pulling themselves up by their bootstraps” and dismantling the ADA to make American business “competitive” again. Every perversion will happen because there’s no reason for it not to – there’s no working class rebellion, no class consciousness, no successful fights against austerity and endless war and no understanding that capitalism must die. The American working class doesn’t have the self-preservation instinct. It’s unfit, it doesn’t evolve – it stopped doing that in the early 1970s. The American working class doesn’t learn anything from any pain inflicted on it and lacks empathy to feel other’s pain – so it doesn’t know where any boundaries are. It’s like the Fool walking off the mountain in the Tarot card deck. The Fool’s dog is trying warn him about plunging into the abyss. But when did human beings ever listen to a creature or the natural world, the real world, the only world, when their fake world of “civilization” (barbarism with toilets) is so much more interesting. Lights! Cameras! Apps!