matt pearce.

matt pearce.

National reporter for the Los Angeles Times; essays, journalism and poetry previously for the L.A. Review of Books, The New Inquiry, The Missouri Review, Salon, and others.

I'm on Twitter.


[Photo from Oakland, by Noah Berger / Associated Press]

The occasion was this Natasha Lennard report in Salon that the Oakland Police Department had prevented arrested Occupy protestors from getting their HIV meds:

Salon has received three firsthand accounts, corroborated by reports from Occupy Oakland’s media team and the National Lawyers Guild, that ill and injured inmates were denied medication including anti-retroviral treatments for HIV-positive detainees.

“I am a person living with HIV and I was held for over 30 hours in Santa Rita and denied my prescription medications on multiple occasions by jail staff,” one 28-year-old arrestee told Salon via email, asking to remain anonymous as his family are currently unaware of his HIV status. “I know three others with HIV and many others with psychiatric prescriptions who were also held without being given their meds,” he added.

Carey Lamprecht of the National Lawyers Guild San Francisco Bay Area Chapter and Occupy Legal collective confirmed that “two HIV positive individuals were held without access to medication for over two days at Santa Rita jail.” Lamprecht added that one man who usually takes anti-retroviral drugs every four to six hours went without a dose for over two days and was unable to access a legal counsel for more than a day while detained, as the large number of arrestees were constantly moved around the jail.

This prompted fellow New Inquiry contributor and all-purpose hellraiser Malcolm Harris to pose a question to Twitter that I challenged, and I thought the ensuing exchange was interesting enough to repost (mostly due to the fact that we barely agree on anything). Edited lightly to compensate for Twitter’s clunkiness; notes in brackets mine.

@destructuremal: Does anyone for a minute think if the roles were switched and occupiers had the police and guards in cells that they would be denied meds? Not a fucking minute, not even by the most anti-cop militant black blocker insurrectionary whatever the fuck.

@mattdpearce: I thought the Zimbardo experiment would have shown there’d be significant doubt as to the answer of that question.

@destructuremal: Re: Zimbardo objections: he details how to resist that interpellation, and it’s exactly what the occupiers are doing.

@mattdpearce: How?

@destructuremal: He wrote a whole handbook thing, the same things that make people able to disobey police orders make them able to not torture. [Malcolm shares "The Lucifer Effect," which I hadn’t seen.]

@mattdpearce: I’m reading a section on avoiding conformity; seems like all it would take are some charismatic leaders and peer pressure, thrown into ambiguous situations in which there are no preexisting norms, like activists imprisoning cops. I have doubts.

@destructuremal: Do you think there are no charismatic leaders of the occupations because there aren’t charismatic people out there?

@mattdpearce: No, that’s the problem; that’s exactly what I think and exactly what would be the risk.

@destructuremal: But for months people have stopped that from happening because they understand how that power works.

@mattdpearce: Typically so do most police re: meds, but that doesn’t stop it [i.e., neglect/abuse] from happening in isolated circumstances when shit gets crazy.

@destructuremal: You misunderstand what police are for and what they do. Typical of what Zimbardo and Milgram describe in conformity. Sry bro.

@mattdpearce: I covered cops for a year. I know exactly who they are and what they do.

@destructuremal: That’s what Milgram and Zimbardo show: ACAB. [All Cops Are Bastards, for the uninitiated.] It’s not about exceptional circumstances within being a cop, being a cop is an exceptional circumstance that makes you terrible.

@mattdpearce: Which is the point [i.e., of saying it’s not about cops being abusive but about being put in any position in which you can potentially inflict abuse]. If protestors detain cops, they become cops. Their ethos may be a deterrent, but it is not a vaccine.

@destructuremal: Thus the cop a good anarchist hates most is the one in her head. We don’t have that saying for nothing.

@mattdpearce: If only everyone were a good anarchist, a good cop, a good citizen, a good banker.

@destructuremal: That’s exactly wrong. We have way too many good cops, good citizens, and good bankers.

[Fellow journo Danny Gold of NYT/NY Post/The Awl decides to step in.]

@DGisSERIOUS: you guys are classifying cops like they’re a subspecies. becoming a cop (or a fireman) is the working class version of going to law school if you’re an upper middle class white college grad. It’s what you do if you don’t know what to do with yourself and don’t have a particular skill. sure, there are some powerhungry psychos but most are in it for the benefits, job security and pension.

@destructuremal: ACAB doesn’t mean anyone who becomes a cop is a bastard, it means being a cop makes you a bastard. Which is true. According to all the social science research, etc. My arresting officer on the bridge was real nice, told us “good work.” Next day I see pic of him spraying a kid in the face.

@mattdpearce: Malcolm and I aren’t arguing demographics but power; the disagreement is that I think protestors would become police.

@destructuremal: It is possible to talk about The Police and Cops without saying every single cop is the same.

@DGisSERIOUS: agreed. i misinterpreted.

@destructuremal: But when they cover their badges and become undifferentiated Cop we get to see what it means to be police.

@mattdpearce: I’d say the same about revolutionaries’ capacity for totalitarianism, which I got to see last week in Cuba.

@destructuremal: Your biggest fear about anarchists is what we’ll do with state power? Be a little more imaginative.

@DGisSERIOUS: uh oh. you two are just getting started right now. … I’m sure Mal has got like 50 tweets he wants to fire off now.

@destructuremal: Meh, not really. Just that when the revolution turns to the state, they usually kill all the people like me. While journalists watch and wring their hands. Historically, you see.

@mattdpearce: We also get tossed behind bars or shot in the streets for wringing our hands. I’m well aware of my lineage.

@destructuremal: No objections here on that. But which way would you rather go?

@mattdpearce: You can at least write stuff if you get tossed in prison, I guess. Though see "Before Night Falls" as to why this sucks.

And with that, the conversation ended, though Malcolm later passed along this Peter Frase article called "No Police Order," which he described as “much more palatable.”