Tag Archives: police

Death Threats and Red Flags

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Above: this photo earned the author a death threat just ten minutes
after being
posted on a sub gun internet fan page.

”Extreme Risk Protection Orders” or “Red Flag Laws” present an interesting form of gun control, currently adopted by seventeen US states. These exist in various forms and allow temporary firearm confiscation, even if no laws were actually broken by the individual in question. They are typically granted by judicial decision at the request of family members, concerned friends or police officers and present one of the few gun control positions enjoying relatively broad support across the political spectrum.

In the two years since Oregon adopted a Red Flag Law, it’s most commonly involved domestic violence situations or suicide risk. For me, these social issues hit close. I’ve lost friends to suicide and also spent five years working in a women’s shelter. Any means for potentially making violent partners less deadly carries undeniable appeal. Still, I worry about the potential for abuse because laws are only as fair as those enforcing them. 

There’s plenty of reasons I feel trepidation. For example, one year ago a resident who was nearly nine months pregnant with an abusive ex-partner’s child, turned up covered in bruises after being beaten by him again. While she cried in the managers office, her ex raged on the sidewalk outside, screaming threats against her and my co-workers. Incredibly, he was still there when a cop showed up twenty-five minutes later. The responding officer then yelled at the woman for being too emotional and on his way out, actually gave her abuser a fist bump. The very next evening, her ex came back with a shotgun and was arrested attempting to break in. 

Given the notorious connection between police officers and domestic violence, this  camaraderie shouldn’t be shocking. It’s also worth observing the cop in question and the abuser were both White. The pregnant woman was Black. Of course, it goes deeper than personal anecdotes. There are countless other examples for why law enforcement has accountability problems, from Ferguson, Baltimore, Portland and everywhere in between.

During times where people distrust police, and Right wing terrorist sympathies originate from the president, it’s unsurprising marginalized communities are banding together around defense and mutual aid. Sometimes this involves training with arms.

Now, most sensational outrages by Fascist militants occur against relatively wide targets of opportunity, like the El Paso shooter who drove hundreds of miles to find a favorable location for slaughtering Mexican-Americans or the one who selected a particular Charleston church because of it’s Black congregation. As terrible as those events were, more dangerous are the less organized acts, a national pogrom occuring in plain sight yet receiving fewer headlines… the rising wave of violence against people of color, immigrants, Jewish and LGBTQ communities.

Against this background, the issue of Sgt. Shane Michael Kohfield presents many complications and deserves scrutiny. To sum up, Kohfield is a military veteran experiencing mental illness, substance abuse and PTSD who attended a 2018 Right wing rally in Portland. There, he claims anti-Fascist protesters assaulted him, yet without details of physical injury. Kohfield subsequently wrote a Texas politician demanding “Antifa” be condemned as a terrorist organization and declared if the government didn’t take action, he would orchestrate “genocide” against them. The FBI opened a file regarding this. Next he showed up outside the Mayor of Portland’s house while repeating his threats through a loudspeaker. This ostentatious display caused agents to temporarily confiscate his firearms using Oregon’s “extreme risk protection order.”

Kohfield’s case presents a unique political twist. Indeed, Kohfield’s own father testified he posed significant risk of committing murder. Like many anti-Fascists, I’ve received my own share of death threats, so I’d be lying if the news such a person had been disarmed— no matter by who or how temporary, didn’t provide some satisfaction.   

4C64B5F1-F3D5-4FED-816D-44972AD14A4FThen this September, Kohfield appeared on the Lars Larson show, a Northwest conservative talk radio program. Their recorded exchange is well worth hearing. Kohfield sounded confused and nearly incoherent at first. Despite everything, I immediately felt badly for him. It should have been obvious this was someone who needed help, not a person in any condition to make public commentary. Instead, Larson vacillated between chiding him for muddled statements and then goading more extreme directions. Kohfield seemed reluctant to restate his earlier violent outbursts, perhaps feeling understandably ashamed, yet Larson prodded him into specifics.

Kohfield: First veterans join Antifa social media pages and groups, and get names of most active members and social media, along with getting the arrest records from rallies and write down all the names they see. The veterans will use background check programs to get all the home addresses of Antifa. Using the intelligence they have gathered, the veterans will take maps of the cities where Antifa are known to live there, grid overlays will be placed over the maps of the cities, the veterans will be broken down into squads, each squad will be assigned a grid and given names and addresses in their assigned grid square. There’s an ap called Route4me that can be downloaded on a phone with the GPS, it is an ap that allows delivery truck drivers to enter more than one address, unlimited addresses and ap plot turn by turn the best route to deliver the packages. The veterans would use Route4me to find the most expedient route to hunt down the most violent members of Antifa in their beds at night until every one was gone in every city in America, if need be, in a single well coordinated night. The losses for Antifa would be catastrophic

Larson: So you are planning to hunt down and kill members of Antifa?

Kohfield: No. No.

Larson: But that’s what you just described!

Kohfield then attempted to backpedal and equivocate his statement, both denying this plan endorsed violence but also declaring anti-Fascists deserved death if they became a lethal threat, something he clearly believed was reality, having earlier claimed “Antifa” chased “conservative” citizens around with knives while being protected by the police. Larson made no attempt to correct his fanciful imagination, but only pressed for more details.

Larson: What do you plan to do to them when you get to their home and they’re asleep in their beds?

Kohfield: According to the plan, it would be kill.

Larson let him ramble on for another 15 seconds and suddenly ended the interview, not before thanking Kohfield for his service. 

There’s a lot to be angry about here, and it’s more complicated than the fact an unstable man with military training openly contemplates slaughtering Americans in their beds. While Kohfield seems an obvious villain, Lars Larson more richly deserves that billing. It’s completely irresponsible allowing someone clearly in the midst of a mental health crisis to make murderous public statements that will follow them the rest of their lives. Larson blatantly exploited Kohfield’s disturbed state for radio sensation, without making any attempt to assist the man. Larson is someone with a widespread following who many on the Right take seriously. By not challenging  Kohfield’s toxic social delusions, he reinforced the fantasy that “Antifa” represents some sinister organization bent on killing others. 

But it’s only a relatively minor news story. One could imagine the national outrage if some progressive radio show let a Leftist militant describe plans for death squads around the country to assassinate sleeping bankers in their homes. Of course, in our consequence-free climate where the current president wantonly pardons war criminals, and the previous one authorized assassinating citizens without trial, perhaps Americans would accept that extrajudicial killings of anti-Fascists might be an extreme, but ultimately legitimate political stance.

This case also sets worrying precedent in firearms policy. Kohfield brought his threats to an escalated level by broadcasting them at the Portland mayor’s house, yet was convicted of no crime. The question for armed anti-Fascists becomes, at what point does this affect us? For some time there have been movements by powerful people in government toward declaring “Antifa” a terrorist group.  After taking action against a figure on the Right, state agencies may feel political pressure to next target anti-Fascists with  “extreme risk protection orders.”

Therefore, we must be very clear about what community defense means and make sure no excuse can be given for authorities disarming vulnerable populations during these fraught times. Everyone should agree:

It’s doesn’t mean assassinating people in bed at night.

 It’s doesn’t mean preemptively shooting anyone, no matter their political affiliation. 

It absolutely means firearms are for defending against immediate life dangers, not property.

It absolutely means keeping our friends and families safe through mutual aid, training for emergencies and with force as a clearly defined last resort. Guns have their place in the social justice toolbox, but only when all other means have been exhausted.

 

The Need for Real Community Police

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In America today, many people experience relatively little contact with police and subsequently base their opinions about law enforcement more through media portrayals than reality. My life has provided examples in three distinct ways that are worth sharing.

Personal: I’m a working class white man in Portland who often carries a gun. That makes for a lot of common ground between myself and most local cops. In virtually every case where I have been pulled over for traffic infractions or had other occasion to interact with police on an individual level, I am treated respectfully and sometimes even like a blue collar brother. Officers waive away multiple equipment violations on my vehicles, simply dispense verbal warnings and after inspecting my Concealed Handgun License (CHL), often feel comfortable casually chatting about firearms. Based on this history, I actually feel more anxiety driving through an intersection where I know red light cameras are posted than if I notice patrol cars following me. That’s textbook White privilege.

On the Job: I work at a building for women who come from domestic violence, substance addiction and houseless backgrounds. This population suffers high levels of trauma, PTSD and mental illness, making for a highly vulnerable community. As one might imagine, the site is a natural magnet for male predators in search of victims. We dial 911 as needed.

While every filmatic treatment features these calls being answered immediately by a capable human, in reality there is often a messaging system, significant wait, and eventually a harried operator looking for excuses to divert any concern towards non-emergency services. Here’s one classic example:

A very large intoxicated man came into the building after visiting hours one night, terrorizing everyone with his yelling and drunken antics. The 911 operator didn’t consider this very serious and passed me off to non-emergency. They in turn advised me that police would respond when they had time. Women kept approaching me in tears, asking why nobody cared about their safety. After a couple hours, four officers responded and made the man leave. About twenty minutes later he returned and gained entry once again, resuming his previous behavior. 911 still didn’t consider this man who had repeatedly violated a women’s shelter to be worth their time. Non-emergency once again said police would respond whenever possible. Around 4am, two cops finally showed up and reluctantly heard my account of the evening. They ran the man’s name through their database and told me this individual in our building was a notorious violent felon and they had standing orders to only deal with him in groups of four or more. With that information passed along, they swiftly departed, leaving us to handle the situation ourselves.

Or try one from just last week:

A nine month pregnant resident had been repeatedly beaten by the father of her child and so we trasspassed him from the building. One afternoon he showed up outside, screaming threats against the woman and specific staff members. Terrified, she warned us that he was extremely violent and had a gun. Our building manager called 911 and amazingly, when an officer showed up over an hour later, the man was still outside. The cop behaved in a very condescending manner with the manager (also a woman) as though her account of the situation couldn’t be trusted. Then, while talking to the resident, who remember, was extremely pregnant and whose life had just been threatened, the police officer yelled at her, accusing her of being too emotional. If this unprofessional manner wasn’t enough, the cop eventually strolled outside to speak with the man whose actions caused all this in the first place. The two of them laughed together, joked around and even exchanged a friendly fist bump before the officer left. Both men were White. The pregnant woman is Black.

Update from 12/3/18

The same man who had beaten his pregnant ex (and was disrespected by a cop when she warned them he was dangerous and armed) showed up at the building with a shotgun and tried to force his way inside. Police appeared and peacefully arrested the man, then released him on bail just a few hours later.

Politically: I could go on and on about historic collaboration between law enforcement and regressive social forces in America, but one current event carries more immediate gravity. On August 4th, the right wing group Patriot Prayer, known for attracting White Nationalists and fascists, (including one who murdered two people last year) held a rally in Portland. A large community response turned up, opposing them. Police in riot gear separated both groups, and then abruptly turned on the counterprotesters, firing 40mm concussion grenades designed for airbursts, directly into the crowd. Several people were badly injured, including one man struck in the back of the head so hard it shattered his helmet. If not for that safety device, he would surely be dead.

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In Summary: As a working class White man in Portland, on an individual level I am given the benefit of most doubt by police officers. “Better fix that tail light, buddy!” or “Remember next time, you really gotta carry insurance papers!” or even “How do ya like that 9mm carry rig?”

But once I reach out to law enforcement requesting help at a facility assisting women on the lowest rungs of society, that all evaporates. Suddenly I’m a time waster. A generator of annoying paperwork. The people I work with aren’t perceived as trustworthy and male abusers seem greatly sympathetic by comparison. We are dismissed as quickly as possible, left to figure out problems on our own, yet with little authority.

It’s even worse once I operate as part of a collective opposing injustice in our community. Police officers have wide discretion in their use of violence and low accountability. The cop who fired what was nearly a lethal shot against the antifascist activist recently clearly felt little reason for concern, despite being caught on camera violating the proper use of a crowd control weapon.

The answer is real community policing.* Average people may not be able to interpret forensic clues that catch some devious mastermind, but most crime is highly localized. We all know our neighborhoods; the usual flow of people, which houses host loud parties and who yells at their spouses daily. Law enforcement must be decentralized so that first responders in an emergency are from that same community, already know the background situations and have a stake for how everything turn out. If power is abused, there should be a transparent review process with actual consequences. By the same token, consequences must exist for individuals making frivolous accusations, which are often used to target minorities.

Until power is granted to govern our own communities, people will simply rely on distant authority figures with little personal investment in the outcomes of their work. Every day I see a direct human cost when the solutions are obvious. We can do so much better. 

 

*Virtually every police force claims that they practice community policing. See here for a typical jumble of buzzwords that the Portland bureau hammered together.