Thursday, August 28, 2014

Southern Darkness Fest in Tampa 8/23/2014



On August 23rd, I checked out the first Southern Darkness Fest held in Tampa. The multi-venue hard rock, metal, hardcore, and punk show was the first festival of it's kind to be held in Tampa. According to the founder,
Southern Darkness is unique for a couple of reasons: the festival actually presents a coherent narrative and it’s exceedingly cheap show for so many bands.
Between 28 bands and 3 bars, there was a lot going on and of course, I was unable to catch it all. But I wanted to give a quick review of what I did see. Instead of going into a longform narrative, I'm breaking the review into chunks and give each part a grade.

1) Music - A : This is a no-brainer. I wouldn't be going to the show if I didn't want to hear the music. That said, however, I wasn't familiar with hardly any of the bands. As a matter of fact, I had only heard of three (Black Tusk, ASG, and Weekend Nachos), and that was because they had songs on a Relapse Records sampler I picked up. So I had heard three songs from the catalog of 28 possible bands. Maybe less than 1% of the total music?

(Compare that to the Soundgarden show I saw recently where I had most of the songs in my collection for 20 years.)

Every band was new to me and none disappointed.

Here is where I have to admit I missed half the festival. I only saw 5 bands total, only one song from one of them. I saw Scrog (half their set), Weekend Nachos, Black Tusk, Bongripper (one song), and Pelican. I didn't realize the festival began at 3pm. I thought it began at 8pm. But what I did see was badass.

Of these, Black Tusk was the most imposing, Weekend Nachos had the most energy, and Pelican was the most groove heavy. Each band brought something different to the table. I felt a little old for Weekend Nachos (I wasn't the only one), but their show was really good. Stage diving, mosh-pit slamming, and high energy.

Black Tusk is described on Wikipedia as "swamp" and "sludge" metal. They were more "grown-man" metal than the somewhat punk vibe of Weekend Nachos. With their tattoos, long beards, and Black Sabbath-esque riffs, Black Tusk looked like they could be part of the WWE's Wyatt Family. I was impressed and even picked up a CD.

Pelican also impressed me a lot. They were the headliner, so of course they drew the most attention from the crowd. And they did not disappoint. All instrumental groove-metal songs. I've often critiqued some bands by their lead singer. I've dug the music, just not the tone of the singer. With Pelican, I didn't have to worry about that as there were no vocals at all. Just over an hour of instrumental heavy metal. Good stuff.

2) Venues - A- : The Southern Darkness Fest was held in Ybor City's Orpheum, Crowbar, and Ritz Ybor. I had seen shows at each of these venues and knew each were good places for live music. Of the three, Crowbar was the most crowded and with Weekend Nachos, it was the most energetic venue. Orpheum was a bigger venue and its dark vibe suited the doom metal bands that played there very well. Of the three, Ritz Ybor was the least impressive. Instead of their main stage, Black Tusk was in a side room. The room held a decent size crowd, and Ritz probably realized Black Tusk wasn't going to pack their 500 head main room, but being stashed in a side room was a little disappointing. Thankfully Black Tusk did not disappoint.

Another spot for improvement would be give each concert-goer a venue set list, perhaps with a genre listing next to each band. When I walked from one bar to the next, not only did I not know who was playing, I didn't know what type of metal it was. Each bar was a crapshoot.

3) Ticket Prices - A : The total festival cost on the day of the show was $45. No processing fee, no handling fee, just $45 for 28 bands and 10 hours of music. And had I bought the ticket a day earlier, the cost would have been $35. And had I been there on time, I would have seen more music for the price I did pay.

But I paid $15 each for 3 bands and 4 hours of music. That's still not bad.

4) Concessions - C : Most bands had a merch table, which was awesome, but what was missing was a festival t-shirt. I was hoping to buy one. The only merch the overall festival had was a small poster they were selling for $10, which I thought was overpriced. If it was a larger poster I could hang on a wall, then perhaps, but I was not going to buy a small poster.

Maybe next year, if they do a second Southern Darkness Fest, they will have festival t-shirts or large posters. Some room for improvement there.

5) Overall - A : I had a good time, drank some beer, and rocked out to some metal without spending an arm and a leg. That's a good night. I hope there is a second festival next year and they book similar bands. Next year, I promise I will get their earlier.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Thoughts on Ferguson and the Militarization of Police in America



The situation in Ferguson, Missouri continues to dominate social media. What started as a sad situation when a police officer killed a teenager has turned into much more with protests, demonstrations, looting, and an increased police presence that borders on an occupation.

I am far from Ferguson. I have no first-hand experience nor first-hand knowledge of the situation. But I did want to organize my thoughts in regards to the many discussions going on. Twitter and other social media platforms might be great for news and rapid responses, but social phenomenon and analysis are not done well in 140 characters.

Why I have this blog.

I am going to skip the incident that caused the situation and the racial makeup of Ferguson versus the racial makeup of the powers that be in area. That has been discussed in length in many other places. There are many angles to that situation that I don't know.

What I want to discuss is the concept of power.

International Affairs professor Steve Saideman wrote a really good piece today for OpenCanada.org where he compared the situations in Iraq, Israel/Gaza, and Ferguson. Saideman writes that in each instance, the trust in government and use of power was not correct. He writes that each situation boiled down to deterance and assurance - the ability of a government to deter a bad thing from happening and its ability to assure the populace that only the right amount of power will be used.

According to Saideman,
deterrence is a threat with a promise —that if you do nothing bad, nothing bad will happen to you
When America was first created, long ago in the days of our "Founding Fathers", the nation was built on the premise that power should be controlled. That the central government should not have the amount of power used by the British crown. This is the philosophy behind many of the amendments. The Constitution by nature is a restrictive document.

But Saideman states that perhaps even here in America, democracy has lost its power to control power.
Democracy is seen as the solution to this problem of combining effective governance and restrained governance.  Indeed, some of the chapters in our book make that quite clear.  Yet, even in democracies, the balancing act continues with swings towards too much coercion and too little assurance leading to tensions and conflict.  The situation in Ferguson in the U.S., where protests and even perhaps a riot have followed the shooting of a young, African-American man, illustrates this.  We need police to have the capability to use force, but we need that use of force to be limited and targeted or else the police lose legitimacy.
Which brings me to my second point, that the most extreme insurance against the imbalance of power has been eroded to the point of ineffectiveness.

"Open Carry is White Privilege"

Earlier Wednesday, I saw several tweets comparing the situation in Ferguson - where an unarmed teenager was shot - to situations in Texas, where 2nd Amendment supporters are carrying their rifles on their shoulders as they go to Wal-Mart, gas stations, church, etc. The tweets said this was a clear example of "white privilege", that the rifle-carrying persons were not seen as a threat because of the color of their skin, while the unarmed teenager, who was black, was seen as a threat solely because of the color of his skin.

I disagree completely. Open carry is not only a "white" thing. Never has been.

Prior to 1967, the Black Panther Party frequent patrolled the streets of Oakland armed with rifles. According to PBS.org,
The Police Patrols had become an integral part of BPP community policy. Members of the BPP would listen to police calls on a short wave radio, rush to the scene of the arrest with law books in hand and inform the person being arrested of their constitutional rights. BPP members also happened to carry loaded weapons, which were publicly displayed, but were careful to stand no closer than ten feet from the arrest so as not to interfere with the arrest.
The rifles were not necessarily to shoot cops, but to portray legitimacy, that the Panthers could deter and assure. According to a University of Virginia website,
The gun was a rhetorical tool, deployed to impress black urban audiences and to warn law enforcement officers and other outsiders. Newton described the emphasis on the gun as “a necessary phase in [the Panthers’] evolution, based on Frantz Fanon’s contention that the people have to be shown that the colonizers and their agents—the police—are not bulletproof



Unfortunately for the Black Panthers, their power was neutered with the passing of the Mulford Act, which restricted open carry ability in California. This bill, like many other gun control bills in America, was designed specifically to restrict the power of African-Americans.

(Of course, notice the racial undertones of the image to the right. "Invaded" by a "Armed Negro Band".)

Community Leaders

Armed or not, the Black Panthers had something the people in the streets of Ferguson do not have: leadership - specifically organized local leadership to either continue protest or negotiate on the streets. While organizations such as the NAACP and national spokespeople such as Al Sharpton make their faces shown, there should be church leaders and neighborhood spokespeople who can control, speak for, and when needed, police communities. Of course, neither the right-wing mainstream media or the left-wing mainstream media dare mention the ability of a community to police itself using guns. They believe either a) guns and should only be used by those in power or b) only be used to protect homes and individual persons.

That's what most people believe and what most people have voted for.

And that's why the power pendulum has swung so far to the system and out of the hands of the people.

To quote Boots Riley of the controversial rap group The Coup: "I got faith in the people and they power to fight / We gon' make this struggle blossom like a flower to light"

Examples of Power

Slowly but surely, I am starting to see more people comment on the "militarization of police forces" in America. This has been the case for a while, but if the situation in Ferguson promotes change, then I'm glad people are finally on board. Even non-news media are talking about it.

(Bill Maher had an interesting take here. A few too many bad punchlines, but good points.)

During the 2012 Republican Convention, I was shocked to see pictures of the security forces. The police and security forces were not the usual run-of-the-mill beat cops, they were heavily armed, SWAT troops. As well, blocks around downtown Tampa were blocked off and people had to show identification cards in order to enter the area. There was even debate whether drones were used. All this for a convention.

Less than a year later, after the Boston Marathon bombings, hundreds of police swarmed the streets armed to the teeth, looking for one man. There was no way the bomber could have had enough firepower to topple the Boston police force. Impossible.

Trust of the populace

One of our biggest problems in the US is trust.

Not only do we not trust each other, the powers that be do not trust the populace. There is the assumption that the populace is "up to no good". This is a really bad assumption. It is what got the US military in trouble in Iraq and Afghanistan. It wasn't until the Petraeus doctrine was enacted and counterinsurgency modified to integration not occupation, did US forces start developing bonds of trust with local populaces.

We have police forces in the United States that don't understand that. Forces can be all-white, all-black, all-Asian, all-Hispanic, or all from Mars, if they don't understand the concerns of the populace, then any effort to be seen as positive contributors will be lost. Police need to be seen as a positive presence, not occupiers. In Ferguson in the last few days, with their tear gas, armored personnel carriers, bullet proof vests, shields, batons, and attempts to silence the media, the police are definitely playing the role of occupiers.

Which brings me to another interesting point. We have in a sense, dehumanized the police. They are the authority, the power, The MAN. But I wonder what goes through their heads when they stand their with their armor and their shields. Are they scared? Are they nervous? How much has their training become instinct? When they make a mistake, it is because they were trained wrong, or because they panicked and did what they thought was right?

We have to understand both sides are human. It is easy to humanize protestors. But we also have to remember in many cases the people in uniform also have families and children and the same concern for human life. Unless they are cold-hearted, jack-booted thugs, which may be possible. Then again, some protestors may be anarchists or wannabe martyrs. But the odds are small of radicals on either side.

Solutions

Again, I am not there. I have no idea the political situation or the personalities involved. But I don't like analyzing something if I am not going to give a "now what?".

Hopefully based on the bad public relations the Ferguson police force received, police forces across the country will review their doctrines and processes. Maybe increase their level of work with community leaders to establish boundaries, processes, and equipment use.

Maybe governors across the United States will put limits on police force equipment acquisitions. The US has limits on personal weapon capabilities. Why not limit the power of the authorities to match or be slightly above the degree of average weaponry owned by the people of the community? Weapon restriction is a state issue or something that can be handled at the local level. I wonder if that is a platform that would garner support in an election. Would people back a candidate who says they are going to reign in police? Better yet, could they?

In the meantime, a short term solution could be a legal person accompanying the police in every action. This legal representative would ensure laws are followed and rights are respected. If this is too consuming, perhaps ridealongs should be mandatory only while forces build relationships within communities.

As for Ferguson, Missouri, they need to take their relationship with the community back to square one. It is broken. There is no way the police will be trusted there again. Their credibility is shot. So too is their ability to deter and assure.

Just some thoughts.