Here is another view back through the mists of time…
This video is the product of clips from several different super-8 movies my father and I shot back in May of 1971. This is the second 1971 performance I’ve cut together from old home movies and published on-line. The other one was shot at the main stage of the Renaissance Faire during the same month, back in ’71 (see below).
Cell phone video is a powerful force for Democracy.
Alton Sterling’s life matters as much as mine does. Philando Castile’s life matters as much as my wife’s does. The racial problems in US law enforcement are not new but they are becoming less deniable by the day.
This human catastrophe stems from problems that are deeper and more serious than the current debate suggests.
Racial injustice has played a decisive role in my life and in my legal career. I write to offer a few ideas and a prescription to address some of the most corrosive social ills of our time.
In the late 1960s, as a child I got to take some enrichment classes at Los Angeles Community College. Today it is hard to imagine the political ferment on college campuses 50 years ago. I remember being a 9 year-old kid, walking down a long row of tables at LACC, each one of which represented a political cause. I looked up at a tall black college student with sunglasses and a big afro hairdo.
“Why are you so angry?”
He took off his sunglasses and sat down to look me in the eye.
“We’re angry because the cops hurt us. We are getting drafted to fight in Vietnam. Do you know about little black kids, younger than you, getting arrested just a couple years ago for sitting at lunch counters?”
“I heard of it, yes. There is a lunch counter at the Thrifty Drug Store on Sunset and Fairfax. My dad says its too expensive, but I think black people are allowed to eat there.”
“America is a lot rougher than Hollywood. You should think about it.”
In the spring of 1984, I worked as a Certified Law Clerk for the Los Angeles County District Attorney. I got to appear in court and put on felony preliminary hearings. The first words I ever spoke in court on the record were, “Scott Pearce, for the People.” After reading dozens of identical police reports on different drug cases, I went to my supervisor.
“These cases have problems,” I said. “I don’t think the cops are telling the truth. Shouldn’t we be worried about putting on false testimony?”
“Sworn police officers are our colleagues. We have plenty of conflict with them over which cases to file, believe me, but we are confident of the cases we do file. You’ll see. No go back to court.”
July 1986: A Dashing Defender of Just-Us, in Division 40 of the LA Criminal Court House
I was horrified by what I saw. Going into the central jail to visit clients, I noticed that I was a 27 year-old white man in an expensive suit. Walking down a long line of cells, dozens of brown arms reached out from behind the bars to shake my hand or touch my sleeve and ask for help or to make a phone call to a relative. “Is this South Africa?” My honest reaction was that about 95% of the people behind bars shouldn’t be there at all and the other 5% shouldn’t ever be allowed to get out.
My transactional experience in Hollywood legal work prepared me well for work as a Deputy Public Defender. I was a natural at plea negotiations. My colleagues and I would try to stack the trial courts with lots of cases that had to be tried that day or dismissed, and then go in and work out superb plea bargains.
It did not take me long to realize that pleading defendants guilty – even for a “superb deal” – wasn’t in their interest. At the same time, the trial courts did not seem preferable. Most of the judges were ex-prosecutors or insurance company lawyers, and the evidentiary decisions tended to go against the defense. Sentencing was brutal, even before “Three Strikes” laws led to the wholesale warehousing of criminal defendants.
I admired the tough public defender trial lawyers. I still do. Even so, I knew I coudn’t survive for long as a witness to the daily injustices, and the occasional good I could do for people didn’t seem enough to compensate. I told people I felt like the train conductor to Auschwitz. “This is systematic injustice. It can’t be cured or improved from within. What is the satisfaction in being a Constitutional patina of “due process” when the substance of the criminal justice system is a race war?”
Straight Outta of Compton came out in 1988, not long after I left the public defender’s office to practice on my own and to get into corporate bar exam review and teaching. N.W.A. earned its spot in the Rock and Roll hall of fame with “Straight out of Compton” and “F— the Police.” I spent a little time in the Compton Courthouse in the 1980s, and if anything the N.W.A. album is sentimental and optimistic. Listening to the first couple of cuts on that album felt exactly the same as the first time I heard the Sex Pistols.
30 years later, 1986 seems like a gentle, bygone era. Incarceration rates have exploded during these years. Inequality and injustice in many other forms are obvious, too. What is to be done? Well, for a start:
In the summer of 2002, a couple of videotaped incidents of police violence were global news. One of the incidents happened in Inglewood, California, where I worked as a law professor. I was interviewed on TV2, Denmark’s national television station. Here is the five-minute interview:
Forty years is quite a long time…at least I used to think so.
Joseph LeConte was an early conservationist and a professor at UC Berkeley in the 1800’s. My friends and I went to a junior high school in Hollywood that carries his name. A group of us was given a chance to take a week-long field trip to Yosemite Valley. The school bought a super-8 movie camera and let me use it for the week. I shot five or six rolls of film during the trip, which I edited at home. The camera was able to shoot in slow motion, fade in and out and do cross-fades internally.
Although I spent most of my time shooting film, I make a couple of cameo appearances in this movie. Some of us decided to go swimming in a very cold, wide stream. I’m the one who does a flip into the water. Some kids don’t have a lot of sense.
It was great fun making this movie and showing it to various groups of students and parents. Back in the early 70’s it was quite uncommon for teenagers to make movies. These days we’re all accustomed to shooting HD movies with sound with our phones. Today’s kids are growing up with a vast personal archive of their personal experiences and moments. Older folks are not used to seeing moving pictures of themselves as kids.
So friends, here is your chance to take a trip back in time to May, 1973. Our group even pays a visit to Yosemite Valley’s monument to Joseph LeConte, the Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge, the first permanent visitor center in Yosemite Valley. Maybe you’ll see yourself or perhaps look in on one of your parents when they were 14.
The first big pile of old reels from the Pearce Family Archive has resulted in a bit more than five hours of video, including a fair amount of stuff from the Renaissance Pleasure Faire in 1971 and 1972. Here is the first item from that archive.
This movie was shot by my dad Gerry on Super-8 movie film back in May, 1971. Diane Webber is shown here on the main stage, late in the afternoon. This is the only movie film I’ve recovered so far from the big stage in ’71, but it represents only a fraction of the good footage of Diane. I’ve got fairly elaborate coverage of her performing on the small stage in 1971, some of it shot from two different angles at the same time.
The real treasure trove of Perfumes of Araby material is from 1972. I expect to be able to piece together a surprisingly complete show from the spring of 1972. I think you’ll agree that the images from this 1971 Super-8 movie are surprisingly good. Those who knew my dad will appreciate that I ended up publishing this movie on Christmas Day – no doubt it would help him get into the true holiday spirit!
And so I wish everybody all the best tidings of the season. Happy Christmas.
Now then, can we please have some different music? Yes, belly dancing music would be just fine, thanks.
Barak Obama wants to attack Syria, a secular state that poses no threat to our country.
The President and the Secretary of State claim that the Syrian government has used poison gas against its own population. There’s no reason to believe them. The Syrian government is winning; why should it use a weapon that could draw an international response? The physical evidence suggests that the weapons were home-made by the rebels, who are known to possess a supply of poison gas.
It’s reasonable to suspect that the Obama administration’s true motives have more to do with natural resources, geopolitics and Israel than with avenging a few hundred dead civilians in Syria.
The U.S. administration wants war and is trying to manufacture an excuse. We’ve been supporting the rebels in Syria for years. Many of them are foreign mercenaries. They are aligned with the most reactionary forces in the region, notably fundamentalist Saudi Arabia.
Lately we have heard a lot of empty talk about Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s too bad, because Dr. King’s most important teachings are as useful today as they were in 1968. He said,
God didn’t call America to do what she’s doing in the world now. God didn’t call America to engage in a senseless, unjust war… And we are criminals in that war. We’ve committed more war crimes almost than any nation in the world, and I’m going to continue to say it.
Friends, I urge you to join me in speaking out against a U.S. attack on Syria. Attacking Syria would constitute a war of aggression, which…is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.
Here is a series of one-minute videos in support of Proposition 19, the California ballot initiative that will go before the voters on November 2. Way back in 1972, the California Marijuana Initiative shared office space with McGovern headquarters. I was starting 9th grade at LeConte Junior High School in Hollywood, CA, about half a dozen short blocks away. Election Day was a couple of weeks before my 14th birthday.
I wasn’t old enough to vote in that election, but I was old enough to do a little work for both campaigns. I met Jack Herer when he was young and thin – but no more passionate than he was decades later. I’ve believed in the sanity and justice of this policy for longer than I’ve been licensed to practice law…come to think of it, I’ve been in favor of legalizing marijuana for longer than I’ve been licensed to drive!
Please join me in voting YES on Proposition 19 this November Second!
Arizona’s harsh new anti-immigrant law has received a lot of self-righteous comment from all sides. Although I deplore the racism at the heart of Arizona’s law, I believe the angry, confused white people of Arizona deserve the same compassion their undocumented brown counterparts are entitled to.
I’m writing this entry from a rich suburban neighborhood a couple dozen miles north of the US-Mexico border. There is economic and social chaos on both sides of this frontier. In my little way I would like to contribute to inter-racial, cross-border Solidarity. Illegal immigration is caused by “free trade” agreements like NAFTA and GATT, and by the drug war. It will be solved by limiting corporate power and by legalizing drugs.
Here is a remarkable video, story of which is more interesting than the pictures.
Humboldt County is one of the most amazing places on Earth. Being among the giant redwoods makes me feel the same way swimming with dolphins does. I feel as if I must get as close to the trees as possible.
Since I am traveling by myself, it was hard to get the camera in the right position. I ended up lying on the hood of the 1996 Honda Accord, reaching my left hand back over my shoulder and through the open window to steer the car, while holding the camera with my right hand.
Sometimes you’ve got to take risks for the sake of art!
This is a glorious day! At last I have escaped from the bondage of months of devotion to duty. Happy Days Are Here Again.
I just finished extensive revisions to my two commercial web sites, http://passthebar.com and http://calbarexam.com. This project has consumed vast amounts of time over the last few months, but now the work is complete. Soon I will return to other endeavors, including actually helping people pass the bar exam.
Who said the California Dream was over? Today my cell phone jumped out of my pocket and started issuing demands. The first was that I hold it up high and push the correct series of buttons in just the right way. The result was the image you see before you, which was the view tonight from the front door of my office.
It’s easy to be impressed with the quality of cell phone pictures. Not to be outdone, the phone insisted I capture the scene with video, too.