Sorry, it’s not “that” kind of “rough man.” When a police officer closes an email with a quote that supports state violence as a guarantee to safety, is that a threat? (And that quote he is using? George Orwell never said it.)Read More
Let me reiterate: cops are the same all over the world. My friend and colleague, Noel Ignatiev says "All over the world cops beat up poor people; that is their job, and it has nothing to do with color."
I spent the majority of the day in my hotel room yesterday. In every country that is not the United States, May Day is International Workers Day. Here in Istanbul, there was an attempt to hold a rally in Taksim Square in honor of the union activists who were killed there in 1977. Every year they try to do this and every year it is squashed by the police. This year was no exception.
I went for a brief walk and was confronted by the image of amassed firepower across the street from my hotel. Suddenly I understood why the cop was being so aggressive yesterday; he probably thought that I was some sort of agitator for the rally. The rally was set for Taksim Square about a mile from my hotel, but the cops were EVERYWHERE. They were decked out in full riot gear with shields. I thought better of taking a walk and went back into the hotel.
Now to prevent people from getting to the rally, the Mayor of Istanbul effectively cut all transportation to and from Taksim Square. That meant there was no way to get here, but really also no way to leave unless it was on foot. And since many of the roads were blocked by the above referenced police, you could get to a point where you were allowed no further. And there is no point trying to explain something to a teenager with an M16.
So I sat in the lobby of the hotel and looked at the news and saw all those images that everyone else saw. I am not remotely interested in seeing people squirted with fire hoses, so I did not go down there to take photos. Also a foreigner in a situation like that runs the risk of being misunderstood by gesture or presence. I am not a photojournalist and I am not a hero. I did feel my heart break for the people as they were hosed down. I wished I could do something.
The police presence was reduced in the evening and I had to get some dinner. I went to a place for a kebab sandwich and saw the school buses that they used to round up the protesters. Some of the people detained had been on the bus since the beginning of the day. There were armed guards protecting the buses and the same massive police presence. I ate really fast.
Today, May 2, it is a different story. It is really as if May 1 did not happen and the city was not occupied for the entire day. The Turkish people seem to have taken all of this in stride - something akin to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. It happens every year, some people get hurt and then we move on.
We moved Labor day from May to September in the US. Most people don't connect this change with the Haymarket Massacre, the Wobblies or Eugene Debs. We don't really think about solidarity with foreign workers or unions. We take the right to assemble for granted (even when it is denied like at the Republican National Convention in NYC). It really made me think about how precious it is to be able to walk down the street in solidarity with others. All over the world, even at home, this is becoming a harder experience to have.
There are a lot of different people in Istanbul. You hear a million languages when you walk down the street.
are. People here refer to Sultanahmet as Old Istanbul. So much of it is overrun with tour groups, huge air conditioned buses and people with the audio guides that it can be a little overwhelming. But we are all here to see the same things, so I guess that makes it easier. Sure I could be a snob and say I am an artist and I have a better view of things but who wants to hear that, in 30 different languages no less.
So let me get back to the cops, or the polis as they are known here. Like the police at home they carry guns but unlike the police at home they carry assault weapons. Out open. In the streets. It is very intimidating. You add to the fact that there is a very close relationship between the police and the army - essentially, they are the same thing. So they walk around like they own the place because they kind of do. The army has taken over the country to restore democracy a couple of times. You really don't want to mess with these guys. So when they ask you a question, you answer.
So I got up pretty early yesterday with a bad case of shin splints from walking the entire city over. I was a little occupied wondering if I had sold some paintings to give me some additional scratch for my trip, which I may have to cut short because of finances. I also was having some buyer's remorse about a rug I had bought. I thought I would go for a walk and clear my head a bit. I got a coffee (Starbucks IS everywhere) and a simit from the seller on the street and walked to Taksim Square. The photos show Taksim, the Opera House and the Monument to Ataturk. This is where I had a seat and started to eat my breakfast.
These two cops come up to me and say hello, in Turkish and I answer in Turkish. Then one demands to see my passport. I tell him I left it at the hotel, I had just come out to get some breakfast. He tells me I don't have a hotel. I ask him what he means and he looks at my outfit and grunts at me. Granted I am not at the height of fashion, but it is 8 a.m. I have my mouth full and he is asking me questions and I am covering my mouth so I don't spit food on him (and I SO desperately want to spit food on him) and he begins mocking my gesture. So I say to him, "Look, my name is Professor Steve Locke, I'm eating breakfast, I left my passport in my room at the Grand Hotel de Londres." and I smile that grin that every black man learns when a white guy with a gun is giving him shit. It worked of course. It always does. Then I went back to my hotel, changed, and got my passport and my faculty ID. Of course I didn't see the cop again.
Yeah, yeah, yeah he's just doing his job and I should have had my passport and all that jazz. All that is true but riddle me this: If he's just doing his job, why is he making fun of the way I talk? Public servant or prick, you decide.
After this I was very happy about the rug I bought. At least I wasn't frightening people with guns.