The Badge Means You Suck

Officer Yanez of the St. Anthony, MN Police Department was acquitted of all charges against him a few weeks ago. His actions after stopping Philando Castile were deemed to be neither manslaughter nor negligent endangerment. I find rulings like this to be almost as disheartening as the shootings themselves. I’d love to think the system is working, that those who have so obviously done wrong are being held accountable. I’d love to think that things will get better. Seems they aren’t, though.

All this makes me think of the years when I discovered political punk rock on home tapes passed around by the kids with cool older siblings. In the late seventies, Houston had a police problem. And from ’79-’83 the local punk scene was doing something about it. There were many songs about cops, but my favorite back in the day still to this day is this one:

The title is a spoof on the once ubiquitous Houston Police Department recruitment slogan: The Badge Means You Care.

Through a little research and in a couple of cases, personal memory, I’d like to provide some historical context to these lyrics. The cover art has a list of eight victims, but not all of them are referred to in the song.

Let’s start with the chorus:

Bodies awash in back bayous
Bibles full of holes
Kill a captive to catch a criminal
Badges where there ought to be souls

The “bayous” line is a reference to the murder of Joe Campos Torres. It’s not entirely accurate because Torres was beaten near the 61 Riesner HPD HQ and thrown into Buffalo Bayou after the officers who apprehended him had been ordered to take Torres to the trauma center at Ben Taub Hospital. Torres drowned. Torres’ body was recovered just downstream on the east side of downtown a couple days later.  This photo essay from the Houston Chronicle covers the case well.

The “Bibles full of holes” line refers to Milton Glover who is discussed later in the song.

“Kill a captive to catch a criminal” refers to Janice Ray, who was shot in a badly handled standoff situation. Her abuser was apprehended alive.

A black man just came back from Nam
People thought he was a little odd
Jogged at night to calm his nerves
Always talking about God

This is a reference to the Milton Glover shooting. Glover was a traumatized Vietnam Vet who became a street evangelist. Best coverage of the Glover case and other cases mentioned in the song is in this Texas Monthly article from the seventies.

Sprinkle bodies with throwdown revolvers
Cover court transcripts with shit

This is a reference to the Randy Webster shooting. More on this later.

The sniper who picked off Carl Hampton
Never paid any bail

This is a reference to a much earlier entirely misguided Black Panther siege situation. There was no reason Hampton should have been shot.

While the Joe Campos Torres case got the most local attention because of the Moody Park Riots, the Randy Webster case garnered national attention and a made for TV movie. Webster, unlike most of the other victims, was actually a criminal and killed after crashing his stolen van. This does not excuse the police, Webster should have been apprehended alive, but there’s an important difference between Randy Webster and most of the other victims. Randy was a juvenile, he was white, and he had rich parents.

The Houston Police Officers Association, at that time the dominant police union, attempted to bring a defamation suit against AK-47. The members of AK always performed under pseudonyms and listed their producer as Mikhailt Kalashnikov.The suit went nowhere as Mr. Kalashnikov could not be located.

And the biggest secret behind AK-47, the supposed writers of one of the greatest anti-police songs of the seventies and eighties, and the supreme masters of Texas Punk anthology albums. is that they were hippies. Here they are:

ak-47

Political Outcomes. Punk Made a Difference:

Kathy Whitmire stormed the mayor’s office in the early eighties with the support of the Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, reformist punks, and partial support from black and Latino activists. She would soon appoint Atlanta reformer Lee Brown as HPD chief. Things weren’t perfect as Culturcide would note, but they were better.

Is there a musical response today? 

Mostly not. And I mostly blame my fellow white folks. Mostly white punks rose to the occasion back in the day, but any white folks I’ve met since Occupy willing to get into the shit are mostly LARPers bent on attacking folks weaker than them. Sorry, that doesn’t count.

There has been some good music from black folks associated with the Black Lives Matter movement. There was a good response from the classical music community of St. Louis, but where are the punks? Are there punks anymore?

 

 

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