Anaheim, CA–By 5 p.m. I was completely sunburnt – even my eyes felt singed by the scorch of the Southern California sun. I was seriously depleted of anything resembling energy. I was done. My knees were buckling underneath the weight of my tape recorder, sweat and even that faux black feather that landed ever so gently on my shoulder … No energy to flake it off. I was losing it.
Calmly, coolly coming down the red carpet, past the teen and tween Disney actors, past that juggling long-legged stilt master, was a finely bedecked LaDonna Harris, Comanche, president of Americans for Indian Opportunity. Harris, Johnny Depp’s adopted mother, wore hypnotic turquoise. I could hear the audible gasps of the white reporters around me. They don’t experience turquoise often – not like this. They see it on shelves in Middle American trading posts. Not on bona fide Indians, and definitely not on red carpets at Disneyland.
I spoke with Harris, the whole time feeling the bony fingers of my elders poking at me insistently: “You have one mouth and two ears for a reason. Shut up and listen.” So I did. I asked only questions, if I could, and then thanked LaDonna for sharing a moment with me – Simon, the oft-verbose pain in many asses.
Then along comes Johnny Depp. There was an immediate roar from the crowd, like teens at a TOOL concert. People pushed hard at my back. “Johnny! Over here! Johnny!” The actor’s name was shouted maddeningly … like cries from a sinking boat. And all I could think was, “Who is this lady standing in front of me?”
The lady had appeared almost immediately. I could see her eyeing the white, laminated sign I stood before. It read, “INDIAN COUNTRY TODAY.” She looked at it with a stare & glare, then said, “Here, Armie. Right here.”
Armie Hammer, the actor who plays John Reid/The Lone Ranger in the film, suddenly appeared in front of me, standing tall in a soft-grey suit and with a smile that could melt the hearts of the darkest demon.
I found myself before the man in the mask. … What do I ask him? I thought. I could jab him with something major – like, “What do you know of the plight of Native Americans today?” Or “What does ‘Redskin’ mean to you?” No, I thought. Just tag him with the question I laid on Bruckheimer. I have only a moment:
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?”
“Because I think this is a great project and one of the few examples when you actually see the Native side,” he said. “You see what happens when, through the Industrial Revolution and the building of the railroads, there was exploitation of indigenous peoples across the entire continent. And this is a movie where they don’t paint it in a positive light. In fact, there’s a very serious thing that happens at the end of the movie, and I don’t want to give too much away, but it’s a moment where you look at it and go, ‘Uh, yeah. We definitely didn’t handle that right.’ There’s no glorification of it. It’s a very real sort of side of what happened, and I think it’s a great side to see.”
Then, zip. Armie moved on and Johnny was gone, slipped past me somewhere behind Hammer during the interview. …Did they plan this? I thought. Was that an intentional diversion?
Who was the mysterious lady?
I didn’t get to speak to Johnny Depp, or even see him up close. But from the roar of the reporters and photographers, and the elbows in my back, I know he was there, in close proximity, just on the other side of Armie and the mysterious lady.
From the story’s original editors: Late last week we received an unexpected call from our New York-based correspondent Simon Moya-Smith: He had obtained press credentials for the copy,000-a-ticket gala premiere of The Lone Ranger at Disneyland in Anaheim, outside of Los Angeles. He attended and was one of a few Native journalists on the scene for an event tied to a film that has sparked nearly endless debate in Indian country. We didn’t know what to expect — would he speak to Johnny Depp, who plays Tonto in the film and who has proven unresponsive to ICTMN’s invitations? Would he get to see the movie? Would anybody even talk to him? “Give it a shot,” we said. “It’s going to be a crazy circus. Get what you can.”
Anaheim, CA–At about 4 p.m., some slippery lookin’ reporter with a double chin and gigantic sweat beads on his brow asked me which outlet I was working for.
“Indian Country Today,” I blurted.
“Hoping to interview Johnny Depp then?” he buzzed.
“No, man,” I said. “I’m here for the Ceremony. There’s going to be a fire later, and tobacco and spirits and all kinds of goodies. So keep the camera ready. They’re bringing in the wood now.”
My conversation with the portly camera handler was quick and ugly. Good, I thought. Talking to him was a waste of my time; I needed to watch this whole scene take shape. We, the journos, were huddled together like cattle ready for the slaughter. And any musician-turned-reporter will tell you that there’s very little difference between a press pit and mosh pit: throw your elbows. Avoid the wiggy drunkard in the middle. Gain the upper hand by staying low beneath the frenzy. Occasionally you may suffer a knee to the mouth, but it’s all in the name of The Story.
On my way out of the red carpet area, I caught a sudden glimpse of the film’s producer, Jerry Bruckheimer. He was straggling far behind the herd of ticket holders; the B-list celebrities and even the stars of the film had long made their way to end of the path, which, it occurred to me, was the exact shade of blood. Jerry B. was talking to a gesticulating show host who seemed too jittery in her posture not to be doped up on caffeine or coke or Red Bull. A moment later, I swooped in like a vulture hoping to steal some last scraps of meat (or at least nibble on the bone) of what looked like a rich interview. The Disney gods favored me that day, because as soon as I walked to the metal partition separating Bruckheimer from myself, the interview between Jerry and the frazzled reporter was over.
“Sweet Jesus, Jerry, do you have a second?” I shouted. “Indian Country Today. Can I ask you a few questions?”
My curious cry caught him off guard (as you want to do as a reporter in high-octane, red carpet situations like this — if you don’t grab their attention, they’ll keep on truckin’ and you’ll miss some seriously good comments or wisdom).
Bruckheimer obliged, and then I went in with the business that mattered to me. I asked the question that has been gnawing at so many of us from day one:Why?
“Why should Native Americans support this film? Why should they watch it?” I asked.
“It’s a retelling of a tale from a whole different perspective,” he said. “… From a Native American telling of the tale.”
Then zip. He was gone.
Anaheim, California–“Ah, god! Jesus!” I shouted. “Here they come!” Several reporters behind me clawed at my back to see what the Hell this savage reporter was staring at. Suddenly, a gaggle of white kids, clad in faux Native garb and face paint, sauntered down the red carpet; Mom dancing jubilantly in front of them, snapping photographs and goading reporters with mics to interview her brood.
They had Ritalin grins and privilege in their eyes … but also ignorance – yes, I knew it had to happen. Someone had to do it. Costumed-bodies crowded the red carpet, and wherever there’s face paint and fringe, there will be a white Indian. You can bet your ass, slick. #Halloween.
But I don’t want to get into that now. First thing’s first: the cleavage.
The Lone Ranger has caused a serious division in Indian Country, but we’re no stranger to that, are we? Divide & Conquer. We know the phrase – all too well. Nobody on this goddamn continent knows the detriments of the D&C quite like the indigenous peoples of this place, our place. “Remove the head and you kill the body.” That might’ve worked in 16thCentury Europe, but not here. No. You remove the head we honor it and then sprout another. We’re relentless like that. We’re the rock in the American shoe. Rumor has it that, at least once a week, President Andrew Jackson would wake up and find several stones in his boots. Jagged Toe Jack, they called him, and so do I.
I digress. … We were about to discuss the bathroom scene before we went on some odd rant about the DCs and heads and Jagged Toe Jack, the bastard.
After the wildly luxuriant premiere, we ended up at the Piano Bar in Hollywood. I was completely stoned. “When in Rome,” they say. And I certainly was in the back alleys of Rome that day. The premiere was over – for good or vicious ill, and I found myself reflecting on the afternoon, listening to my tape recorded interviews with Jerry Bruckheimer, Armie Hammer, LaDonna Harris, Saginaw Grant and others, when this large black man lunged into the urinal beside me.
“What are you listening to?” he asked.
“I’m not sure yet,” I said. “Some hits. Some flops.”
He stumbled a bit, nodded, urinated and then left without washing his hands, massaging the doorknob on his way out.
Alone again, standing in the narrow bathroom of some seedy dive just off the Sunset Strip, I wondered how I’d conclude this journey, this sojourn of wisdom and anger and edification and booze. Would I endorse the film? How could I? I haven’t even seen the end product, and I never endorse things without trying them on. Right.
Later, I found myself leaning over the bar and writing frantically on several available napkins. I scribbled things like, “Disney is a corporation. Not an advocacy group” and “the [American Indian College Fund] earned hundreds of thousands of dollars today” – which is true. According to Public Education Director Dina Howerdel, the College Fund raised an estimated $266,000 as result of the premiere. That’s what we call a headline in this business, folks – especially in Indian Country.
So it was a pleasant surprise to find this rumpled napkin in my jacket pocket the next morning. “Fine news,” I recall saying as I burrowed my toes deep into the sand of Venice Beach. I had a plane to catch, back to New York, and as I dug deeper into my jacket pockets searching for more evidence of debauchery, I found a ripped parchment with several letters etched into it. The words read, “Keep it pure.” … So I will, and do exactly as my elder in Denver instructed:
“Watch the fucking film and then get back to me. Until then, you’re no expert on it.”
Sweet Jesus, I thought. That’s a solid argument. He should’ve been a lawyer. Cheers.
Here is my personal account of my participation in the march and my false arrest by DPD:
I arrived at the march as it staged outside the skate park. I had my bicycle with me, and rode my bicycle throughout the march, mostly because biking requires less energy than walking. The march took the streets and went under the underpass by the Rockies stadium as we made our way downtown. We unfurled our banner reading “Stop Police Oppression– Solidarity with Anaheim” and chanted phrases such as “Justice for Anaheim”, “We want equality, stop police brutality” and “How do you spell injustice? DPD!”. At least four DPD vehicles began following us at this point, and they blared their sirens in an unsuccessful attempt to keep the game day crowd from hearing our message. The leading DPD vehicle was an SUV driven by one William J Andrejasich Jr, a Sergeant in DPD’s Special Events division.
We made our way to the downtown area of Denver, and Sergeant Andrejasich and his colleagues repeatedly attempted to use their voices and vehicles to discourage the march from keeping its message in the street. DPD prefers to see political expression confined to the narrow sidewalk where it cannot affect business as usual. This march had other ideas. I myself chose to remain on my bicycle in the street, as riding my bicycle on the sidewalk would be a violation of traffic laws and DPD will use any excuse to harass and arrest known Occupy activists.
The march continued down the 16th street mall as we continued to agitate and inform the public about the police murders and subsequent attacks on residents in Anaheim. Our police escort continued to ride very close to us until we arrived at Civic Center Park. After the police caravan departed, we decided to resume marching. We made our way through Lincoln Park and began marching past the Capitol on Colfax Ave.
As the march approached the intersection of Colfax and Pennsylvania, several DPD vehicles pulled into the middle of the street and officers stepped out of the vehicles. Sensing that DPD was looking for a fight, the march diverted onto the sidewalk. At this point, three officers charged our “Stop Police Oppression” banner, one of them striking it so as to break the wooden support pole holding it together. After breaking the banner (which appeared to be the primary target), the officers proceeded to grab and arrest the protester who had been using the megaphone to decry police violence throughout the march. They led him away into a car, and Sergeant Andrejasich barked at us that “if you go in the street again, we will arrest you.” This threat seemed absurd given that whenever we march, DPD’s vehicles that follow us essentially shut down traffic anyway. Sergeant Andrejasich was clearly hoping that by threatening arrest and possible violence, he could frighten our solidarity march into giving up and going home. He should know by now that Occupy Denver doesn’t play like that. Having seen DPD use violence or the threat of violence countless times to attempt to silence dissent, I figured someone should resolve Sergeant Andrejasich’s confusion about the relationship between his department and our subversive assembly. Using the megaphone dropped during the recent arrest, I told him that “Occupy Denver does not negotiate with terrorists, and the Denver Police Department is a terrorist organization.” Upon hearing this, Sergeant Andrejasich instantly went red in the face and grabbed my wrist, at which point he and another officer pulled me into the street, and while holding my wrists attempted to twist my arms into a painful position (I have a sprained wrist and was wearing a splint). I was handcuffed, and when I asked Sergeant Andrejasich why I was being arrested, he replied “for obstructing the street.” I told him that I was legally on my bicycle for the entire march route and he said nothing in reply to this. He then handed me off to two other officers who placed me in a car and took me to DPD’s offices in the Downtown Denver Detention Center. Interestingly, Sergeant Andrejasich is not listed as my arresting officer, and none of my arrest paperwork contains any of his information. We only know it was him due to his past interactions with our group. Before I was processed into the jail, I sat in a DPD District 6 cell while I listened to three officers outside the cell flip through the book deciding what to charge me with, highlighting the fact that this was a false, politically-motivated arrest. Upon being booked into the jail, I was informed that the megaphone I used had been confiscated by the police, presumably as “evidence” of my obstructing the street.
Two more arbitrary arrests of protesters were made after my own; during one of these arrests a ten-year-old child was forcefully knocked to the ground by one of the arresting officers. The march continued well after my arrest, culminating in a heated standoff between the remaining protesters and a heavily armed line of officers outside DPD’s District 6 headquarters as the march chanted “free our friends” and continued to hurl passionate criticism at Denver’s corrupt, racist, and violent police force.
After the march subsided, a group of occupiers gathered outside the jail awaiting the release of myself and my arrested comrades. Sergeant Andrejasich again approached this group, and told them that they were creating a disturbance (even though they were being quiet) and that as a warning had already been issued to the group, he could arrest any of them at any time with no further warning. Sergeant Andrejasich seems to believe that he can operate with impunity, arresting activists simply because they irritate him or offend his political views even when no laws are broken.
Sergeant Andrejasich’s comic arrogance represents DPD’s belief that they have the sole power to decide who is breaking the law and have the right to choose when to selectively enforce these laws. Everybody knows that jaywalking is common practice in Denver; one can jaywalk in front of a police officer without any fear of reprisal. However, when one is walking in the street as part of a radical political march, DPD suddenly decides these laws are worth enforcing with great zeal and armed force. Occupy Denver rejects the Denver Police Department’s twisted, politically selective interpretation of municipal codes, and we reject their claim that they protect and serve the citizens of this city. Their long record of murders, racist beatings, and politically-motivated violence makes their moral depravity obvious to anyone who is paying attention. We call on the City of Denver to condemn this corrupt and criminal police department, and to take their destinies and the safety of their communities into their own hands.
Our Anaheim Solidarity march was just one small part of the struggle against police oppression in Denver. There is a long history of resistance against police oppression in Denver, and this resistance is ongoing. We encourage everybody to attend the upcoming March Against Police Terror, which meets on August 21st at 6 PM in La Alma Park (13th & Mariposa). More information on this important community event can be found here:
Here is a short list of news stories related to Denver Police atrocities outside of their attacks on Occupy
Recent murder by DPD
DPD murdered an innocent man last summer, the murdering officers faced no consequences
In 2009, DPD officers beat a man within an inch of his life while yelling racial slurs at him
DPD recently reinstated, with back pay, two officers involved in the infamous Denver Diner beating
In 2011, the City of Denver had to pay $1.34 million to resolve police brutality lawsuits
In 2010, Denver Sheriffs tased a man to death in the Denver jail simply because he would not take off
his shoes. All officers involved were cleared of wrongdoing.
In 2006, a 24-year-old woman in the Denver jail bled to death as officers ignored her pleas for medical
Solidarity with Anaheim!
Down with killer cops everywhere!
– @DrBenway2323 –
Photo courtesy of Thomas Melchor]]>
Below is a selection of images from the photographer; more photos from the protests may be found here.
– CourtneyOccupy –]]>