(en) Keith McHenry arrested at U.S. Mayor's Conference

Lyn Gerry (redlyn@loop.com)
Thu, 26 Jun 1997 08:04:58 +0000

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Subject: Keith McHenry arrested at U.S. Mayor's Conference


Certainly one of the more grotesquely surreal constructs of the American police state seen yet to date is Bill Clinton's proposal to give federal housing subsidies to cops. Clinton made the proposal Monday, June 23, while addressing the U.S. Conference of Mayors in San Francisco. Under the proposal, designated as "The Officer Next Door Initiative," cops would receive 50 percent discounts on HUD-owned houses in designated revitilization areas.

Ironically, Clinton's proposal came shortly after the arrest and beating of Food Not Bombs co-founder Keith McHenry on Saturday by eight San Francisco police officers. The assault on Keith occurred as the longt-time homeless-rights activist was attempting to deliver food to the "Beggar's Banquet" protest outside the mayor's conference. Being responsible for delivering food for the protest, Keith was one of the first persons to arrive. Consequently there were few, if any, witnesses to the attack on him.

According to Keith, he was set upon by an Officer Del Torres, who immediately called for assistance from other cops present. After placing Keith in handcuffs, some of the officers repeatedly banged his head into the front end of his truck, while others executed a series of pain-compliance holds, all the while telling him to "calm down." As Keith was already in handcuffs, and had offered no resistance anyway, the violent measures taken against him seem designed for no other purpose other than punitive.

Keith is host of the program "Voices of Rebellion" on San Francisco Liberation Radio. In a live phone interview from jail on Monday night, Keith described an encounter with an individual from the San Francisco Dept. of Public Works, which occurred the day prior to his arrest and which may have precipitated the police action. Keith was posting fliers on light poles outside the Fairmont Hotel, sight of the mayors conference. The fliers said, "Will be mayor for food." Suddenly he was accosted by a man in his early 50's who became very angry with him for posting fliers. The man was wearing a plaid shirt and tie and a plastic badge identifying him as being affiliated with the Department of Public Works, apparently a supervisor. This individual declared that posting fliers was illegal, and he angrily informed Keith that he was "under arrest."

At this point Keith merely turned his back on the man and walked away. The man gave pursuit, however, and began attempting to summon police via a cell phone. Keith, who has many years experience dealing with Cointelpro-type disruptions of Food Not Bombs, reached his truck at last, whereupon he got in and drove away, leaving the city employee screaming at him on the road behind.

After being arrested the next day, Keith was taken to the Vallejo St. police station, where he found the paperwork on his arrest already completed--almost as if the arrest had been prior-ordered. "It was the fastest booking I've ever been through," said Keith, a veteran of more than a hundred arrests by San Francisco police. Throughout the proceedure he was verbally abused by police officers, who made such remarks as, "Nobody would want to eat your fucking food anyway."

Keith's truck, a battered pickup which has been in use delivering food since 1988, was impounded by the cops. Keith was held in jail, coincidentally, until the end of the mayors conference, not being released until 3 in the morning on Tuesday. When he went to retrieve his truck from the city garage he was told he would need $700 to get it back. This fee was only rescinded after Keith spent much of the day in the office of Police Chief Fred Lau, where he was treated with extreme hostility by Lau's staff. His persistance was rewarded at last when the truck was finally ordered returned to him without his having to pay the exorbitant fee. When he got the vehicle back, however, he found it full of rotting food--the same food he had not been allowed to serve at the demonstration on Saturday.

As word of the arrest gradually leaked out, an outpouring of support for Keith was expressed by members of San Francisco's activist community. Van Jones, director of Bay Area Police Watch, told San Francisco Liberation Radio:

"We're looking into the matter. We don't have all the facts at this point, but as more facts unfold we are hoping and expecting that the San Francisco community as a whole will speak with one voice very clearly that Keith McHenry is a valued member of this community and is not to be manhandled and arrested for his political beliefs in this city.

Jo Hirschman, of Action for Police Accountability, said she "cannot help but reach the conclusion" that the arrest "represents part of the San Francisco Police Department's on-going war against Food Not Bombs."

"Keith is a respected member of the community who has tirelessly defended the rights of poor and homeless people and tirelessly spoken out against the San Francisco Police Department," Hirschman said. "He's been arrested many, many times, essentially for his political views and his political activism. That's not acceptable under any sort of political system, and certainly not under a system like this one that purports to be democratic."

Dick Becker, of the International Action Center, told SFLR he thought that "absolutely" Keith was deliberately taken off the streets in anticipation of the mayors conference.

"There's a vendetta that's been carried out by the authorities in San Francisco, by mayor after mayor, city administration, the police department--against Keith McHenry for his great sin, his great crime, of being dedicated to feeding homeless people, and feeding them at no cost. Of course that goes against the grain of capitalism as a whole--I mean--'what are you doing giving away things for free to people?'" Becker said.

Ann Chann, of the office of San Francisco District Attorney Terrance Hallinan, declined to be taped for interview by SFLR on the McHenry arrest. Chann, who at first even refused to give her full name, would only confirm the charges against Keith: "Assault with deadly force other than a firearm" and "failure to obey a police officer."

Keith is currently free on $5,000 bond.

Officials with the office of San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown were unavailable for comment on Monday during the on-going mayor's conference.

Commenting on the conference, Becker said, "Although the city has swept the streets and forced them out of downtown areas, there are still thousands and thousands of homeless people living in this city...he (Keith) was going to be out there on Saturday. We expected Food Not Bombs to be serving food to people, and, of course, he wasn't able to do that since he was in jail. His arrest should be seen as part of what the mayor is calling the quote, unquote cleaning up of San Francisco--where they're going around painting housing projects that are going to be torn down so that they'll look nice for some mayors that are driving through the city. That shows what a complete farce this mayors conference is--if anybody thought it was going to be anything else."

A series of glitzy extravaganzas, the conference included circus performances by the Cirque du Soleil, fancy dinners and a fundraiser which netted a reported $500,000 for the campaign of California Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer. According to the June 23 on-line edition of the San Francisco Examiner, a rollicking good time was had by all:

"In a weekend noted for gracious and gorgeous entertaining (Friday night's party at the Legion of Honor featured satin top hats on the tables; Saturday's party at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium was so black tie that if a mayor had 'forgotten' his or her formal wear, there was a shot set up at the Fairmont for convenient rentals) the Cirque and the after party were the hottest tickets. Very few people chose not to come.

"It was an afternoon in air-conditioned tents. First in the big blue and gold Cirque tents, and then in a white one a quick five-minute walk away. That tent was a Dada-esque compilation of everything that's always worked at big parties in San Francisco: the requsite profuse floral arrangements, the copiously-stocked open bars, enough food to feed Formosa for a week, amoebic living sculpture figures clad in sock material striking weird poses, body-painted half-nude models in Derby hats holding their own picture frames, lasers writing amusing patterns on the ceiling," the Examiner reported.

The "amusing pattern" which played out on the streets was a by-now familiar one for the poor, who survived the U.N. 50th Anniversary celebration held in this city in 1995. Sweeps were the order of the day, as homeless people and prostitutes were rounded up and taken to jail in advance of the arriving dignitaries. Said McHenry upon emerging from lock-up Tuesday, "Time and time again in the last three days I ran into person after person who said, 'Oh, the police rushed up...and arrested all of us."

Grass roots community groups in San Francisco have waged a 2-year long struggle to have SF cop Marc Andaya held accountable for the 1995 bludgeoning and pepper spray killing of Aaron Williams, a 35-year old African-American. Andaya today remains happily employed on the San Francisco Police Department, despite a long history of violence and brutality dating back to May 21, 1984, when he fired nine bullets into the body of another African-American, Jerry Stancill. According to an amicus brief filed by The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights, Andaya shot Stancill, who was unarmed and had committed no crime, six times, reloaded, and then shot three more slugs into Stancill's body.

"As a recruit at the Police Academy, Andaya was reprimanded for sleeping in class, inattention in class and tardiness," said the brief. "He improperly discharged a firearm, and on another occasion showed off by placing his own revolver to his head and pullinng the trigger six times...Seven citizen complaints were filed against Andaya before the shooting and ten more in the year after he killed Jerry Stancill. In perhaps the most egregious of the seventeen cases, Andaya grasped by the throat a small (African-American) handcuffed prisoner and raised him off the ground and told him he would 'crush his skull' or 'kill him.' An Asian-American Oakland police officer had to intervene to prevent harm to the prisoner."

The Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights also obtained records of testimony about Andaya given by his fellow police officers on the Oakland Police Department, where he was employed prior to coming to work in San Francisco. Again quoting from the brief: "According to an interoffice letter...that Captain Edward Smith sent to Deputy Chief Thomas O. Donahue, Andaya's immediate supervisor, a Sergeant Moschetti was of the opinion that Andaya was 'experiencing work related difficulties...

"Smith's letter detailed concerns raised by peers and superiors which included:

"'--while in the recruit academy Andaya pointed an unloaded handgun at his head and pulled the trigger several times ...related by several officers

"--Andaya had a 'problem' with the way he spoke to people in a rude, abrasive manner, thereby agitating them and escalating a situation. He also was very 'quick' to put his hands on people and become physical with them. ...Sgt. Aloe and Officer Kailey Wong

"--On different occasions he had been observed in the report writing room after his tour of duty, visibly upset and angry. Andaya would state, 'I hate this fucking job' as well as other comments expressing his displeasure and frustration with his employment. This was accompanied with his striking of objects and slamming of books in the room. ...Officer C. Chichester

"--While on the street, when given a radio assignment which interrupts a preferred activity, he uses his baton to strike objects readily available to unleash his anger. These objects have included cars, houses, poles, walls, etc... ...Officer Jeff Loman

"--Andaya was observed physically abusing a mildly uncooperative, handcuffed suspect by choking him around the throat with his hands, and pushing him to the ground while Andaya screamed 'I'll kill you.' ...Officer Kailey Wong

"--Moschetti has heard rumors that Andaya tells suspects, 'I've killed before and I want/will (to) do so again.' The source of this rumor is unrecalled, although he has heard it on more than one occasion," the brief said.

All of the above would tend to indicate an officer with serious problems, yet on two prior occasions the San Francisco Police Commission failed to terminate Andaya's employment, ruling that the officer had acted properly in beating and pepper spraying Williams, and had erred only in failing to provide the suspect with medical care afterwards.

The commission's rulings have come as a severe disappointment to Williams' family as well as to a community coalition of activists which has sought to have Andaya fired from the SFPD. The coalition's efforts have included protests and repeated appearances before meetings of the police commission, where commissioners have been treated to poetry readings as well as eloquent and profound speeches regarding the brutal nature of the San Francisco police.

Clinton's choosing of San Francisco to announce his program of providing housing subsidies to cops would seem to be a slap in the face to those efforts. Whether or not it was intended as such, the timing was impeccable. The police commission will meet once again on Thursday, June 26, at which time it will hold a hearing to determine whether or not Andaya lied on his application to the San Francisco Police Department. Since Andaya's application mentioned little of his history with the Oakland PD, the verdict would appear to be self-evident. However, Andaya, through all his troubles, has had the full backing and support of his "union," the San Francisco Police Officers Association, to which San Francisco politicians, such as Brown, seem to cater and kow-tow by the dozens. Coalition activists see the Thursday hearing as the "last chance" to get Andaya fired.

Courageously standing at the head of the anti-police brutality movement in this city is Bay Area Police Watch's Jones, an African-American attorney and Yale graduate who has smoothly put together a rainbow coalition of forces, including activists and families of police brutality victims (the SFPD has obligingly provided a steady supply of the latter) to demand Andaya's dismissal.

The contrast is striking between the studious and often fiery Jones, on the one hand, and the partying, top-hat-wearing Brown, the city's first African-American mayor, on the other--and the temptation is great to characterize the showdown that has evolved over the fate of Officer Andaya as a struggle between the forces of good and evil.

Those who appear to have suffered retaliation from the police for their political outspokenness have seen Jones come quickly to their defense. The first was Leboria Smoor,an African-American artist who lives in a San Francisco housing project, and who painted a breath-takingly enormous canvas depicting the murder of Aaron Williams. After she began attending police commission meetings and speaking out in support of Aaron Williams' family, Smoor saw the front door of her apartment broken down and her son repeatedly harrassed and carried to jail by officers. Though bewildered and terrified by this turn of events, Smoor was nonetheless not left to stand alone.

"What we have here is a consistent pattern," Jones said, rallying coalition members outside the police commission hearing room in early June. "You and I can come out here. We can run our mouths. We can say what-not, and then we go back. We have our college degrees. We have our nice places to stay, but it's consistent that when working class people of color, low income, low-wage people stand up and start saying that they're gonna fight for justice too, they (police) come down with the full hammer and the full weight. And it's not theory, because it's happening right here. This woman is being harrassed every day. Her children are being picked up every day. They're being beaten every day, and our so-called progressive community--till right now--has not done anything about it. Well today we must stand with Leboria.

"We must stand with Leboria and let them know that we are not just weekend warriors, that we understand that the stakes are high for these communities, that when we go out there passing out fliers and people respond to the call we're not gonna leave'em to swing. We're not gonna be the old San Francisco--where the activists jump up and down, and the poor people take the fall, and the low income people take the fall."

"The fall" has, however, been taken by activists as well. In McHenry's case there have, to be precise, been 104 such falls--arrests for serving food without a permit in most cases. These arrests have resulted not only in deprivations of freedom--for Keith and other members of Food Not Bombs--but property as well. The San Francisco chapter of Food Not Bombs has lost to police confiscation, to date, more than ten vehicles, numerous folding tables, printed literature, cooking pots, buckets, banners and propane cooking stoves.

For many people here, even, to a degree, Food Not Bombs members themselves, Brown's election had heralded an end to such treatment by police. Brown, referred to affectionately by the corporate media here as "da mayor," has had little to say about homelessness other than to remark that the problem "may not be solvable."

Jones, on the other hand, seems less restricted by the boundaries of his own imagination and his faith in humankind. And he affirmed that the SFPD's war against Food Not Bombs should be brought to an end, once and for all.

"Obviously Keith McHenry has been arrested numerous times before for his direct action work on behalf of homeless people," said Jones. "His work on the Marc Andaya case is a recent addition to his long record of being on the right side of history and humanity."

The corporate-owned media know whose side they're on. While paying scant attention to Jones and his coalition's efforts to gain justice for the Aaron Williams family, the major media here serve out a generous heaping of praise upon Brown virtually with each passing day, the just-finished mayors conference being only the latest example. Summing up Brown's performance on the conference, the Examiner pronounced, "Da Mayor was golden."

Other people here, those who face the reality of life on the streets under the shadow of the San Francisco Police Department, aren't so sure. Perhaps "golden calf" would be more like it.

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