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Death on Burnside and the Corporate Media

It hasnt't taken long for the corporate media to sketch in the faint lines of the life that was wasted yesterday in the cold, gray morning on Burnside. He was a drug addict, an ex-con, he was a "transient." What more can be said? Well, plenty. Before we swallow this lurid portrait laid out for us with all the subtleties of a magik marker set, maybe we need to look deeper. A lot deeper.
You know, I have a friend who insists that the poison of the corporate media is so toxic that it's dangerous even to glance at it briefly. He's right, of course. But after an event like the one we all suffered through yesterday, I often have an inexplicable urge to see what they have to say about it. I know it's foolish. I don't know why I do it. I never even have to crack open a paper or wander past a television set. I already know what they will say. They will perform their function. They will side with the police state, they will demonize the dead, they will protect and exonerate the killers. They will blame the victim of state violence, every single time.

And so they did.

While most of us know little about the human being who was murdered yesterday, other than that his skin was black and his blood ran red, all the happy faces on the TV news have filled in the rest through innuendo and assumption. These are their flippant denials that anything is wrong with the machine. This is what they do.

He has been cast as the villain. The "bad guy." That is his role. And the role of the corporate media is to cast him there.

His name, not that it matters in their story, was Vern. Vernon Allen. He was 48 years old. He was African American. He lived on the streets. That's all I know about him right now. And that's really all the corporate media knows, either, though it has not stopped Portland's "journalists" from tucking selective bits of flotsam into the frame, all gleaned from cozy chats with the Portland Police Bureau's Public Information Officer. It took them less than a day to begin forming the usual portrait. "A drug pipe was found next to the body," said one "journalist." Another smugly noted, "His last known address was in a prison." There was a slightly-too-long pause after that statement, to ensure that it sunk in.

There are so many facts, so many stories, so many bits and pieces in a person's life. I always wonder about biographies, and even autobiographies, because I can't imagine how one could pick out just enough detail to fill the pages of a book. How much of those words are really that person, and how much of that person is a flowing, changing pattern that cannot be nailed down in written language? In Mr. Allen's case, I wonder even more. How is it that, in a life that spanned almost 50 years, every corporate journalist in town has picked out the same 5 or 6 sparse details, the same shallow, surface "facts," and presented them to us as relevant to his life and to what happened yesterday on Burnside? How is it that all of these details build an image of someone who "had it coming," even when he so clearly did not? Where did these details come from, anyway? Why, from the PIO, of course. Why should we allow them to be the ones to define this man's entire life, and in a way that suits their agenda?

Some of the details sound suspect at best. Like the "drug pipe." Yes, we've all heard that one before. Baggies in mouths, drugs in bloodstreams, pipes laying nearby. I don't think I buy that. But it doesn't really matter. Because a crack pipe is only shorthand for "his life didn't mean anything anyway," and I don't buy that either. I remember how they distilled the life of Kendra James down to "drugs in her bloodstream." That was the corporate media mantra in the days after her death at the hands of the same gang. We never heard about her family who loved her, or her children who must do without her. We only heard that she was a crack addict. But I also I remember how, at the march held for her in the neighborhood where she was gunned down by the PPB, people who knew better stood up to defend her. Said one man, "Bush's daughers are drug addicts. Do you see anybody shooting them down in the streets?" Said another man, "Kendra James, they say you were a crack addict. But we say, you were a child of God. That your life had meaning."

Those words brought tears to my eyes, and they still do. Because the Portland Police Bureau had killed Kendra James in cold blood, and then the propaganda arm of the police state went on to kill her story, too. But these people, standing in the warm glow of spring, reclaimed at least the story, if not the life. They refused to allow cold, corporate journalists to dismiss her. They refused to allow the murderers off the hook on the grounds that the victim did not matter. And they refused to let a few well-spun words represent the human being who was lost.

I want to do that now, for Vernon Allen. I want to stand up and say, Vernon Allen, you were a child of God. I do not know very much about you, but I know that someone cared enough about your life to leave flowers on the corner where three police officers and six bullets ended your story forever.
thanks for this amazing piece 20.May.2005 19:17

regular reader

it brought a tear to my eye and rage to my heart

is it time to pull the plug! 21.May.2005 01:16

no more bread and circuses

Are we just going to let them paint any slander and degrading comments in what passes as "news"? First off its is not "news". it is a sick and twisted entertainment for commerials selling you either a car or fear so you buy another product. My advise is simple gather up a group of friends. In buisness suits or street clothes. And everytime you see a live broadcast then walk in the way and start asking hundreds of clear questions! You are not violating private space if you are in a public area. Infact I would suggest that their lies, hate and fluff that passes as "news" violates the airwaves that are "owned" by the general public. Let us take that further. They owe us time, money and apologies for using the airwaves that are the commons without continuous consent of the general public. Their subversive racism and objectification of people as entertainment is damaging. It is time to pull the plug!

In fact if you need a slogan for a campaign against corporate media let us call it "Pull the Plug!"

asdf 21.May.2005 09:50


These acts of totalitarian repression will continue only as long as we allow them to. Until we begin acting as real subversives, we can continue blaming only ourselves for allowing the reformists to take control (one way, by focusing all attention on Iraq and nothing else).

We need to regain the momentum that was building prior to 9/11. We need to confront the corporate U.S. media, directly forcing our way into the collective American consciousness.

thank you! thank you! Catwoman for sharing with us your thoughts 21.May.2005 10:29

am outraged at KGW-TV

on the day of the citizen-killing, I had guests for dinner and as we waiting for final
settings to be placed, we all happened to catch the KGW-TV's 6:00PM coverage of this
tragic event, ALL were upset by Tracy Berry's characterizations of the situation, and
her blatant spinmeistering. Most of us have lived long enough to have figured this old
tubby "Twinkle Star" out long ago, and simply pay her little attention as it is, but I'm
concerned for newcomer's that haven't had the benefit of long history of this gal's so
obvious "story-telling" as opposed to "journalism" and true "news reporting", so as we
all discoursed on this latest KGW-TV faux paus, I happened to have my computer on nearby
and pulled up their webpage and cranked out an e-mail to lambaste them for their deed.

Of course, I doubt it'll have any positive affect, and don't expect it to.

But, I'll share with you what one of the ladies at dinner table shared with the rest of
us that is worth sharing: she said she'd long since got feed-up with the poor reporting
that came from KGW and the other one at Channel 2 (never watched the one at Channel 6 to
begin with...so doesn't know their "history") and began noticing just who it was that
was paying for all the advertising, and made mental note to avoid patronizing them as a
result...a boycott of firms that advertise on spinmeistered TV-news stations...and she
had the occasion once to tell a high-placed manager of an outfit that was frequent--at
that time--advertiser as to why she didn't buy from him and his firm, and he found the
conversation most interesting. Having seen the reaction she got, she then told a few
other's at the gathering what she'd done and they too spoke up to this man to share their feelings.

Soon, it wasn't long till this firm ceased advertising on KGW-TV and whether they told
the KGW executives as to why, I have no way of knowing...probably not, as why bother, it
far easy in such competetive environment to drag an advertising account somewhere else
with no need to tell why!

The point is...there is "SOMETHING" we can do and that is let these advertiser's that
pay the bills for these errant news outlet know you're feelings, and if needed, that
fact you'll boycott them till a change is had, and you'll soon realize these people have
the hammer to swing that'll get these TV station's ATTENTION, whereas they'll fluff us
off in a heartbeat, as they do already. So...give it a try and see what happens....???

KGW does the "local news" at 5:00PM...I saw it! 21.May.2005 17:17

the NO-News program

Am watching these news-whores now for their 5:00PM BS-session.
It's amazing how they've turned the program over to a pesky noisy neighbor in Hillsboro.
It's the usual half-baked news of NOTHING that we've come to expect from Karl & Nancy
If it's a "local news" program, why all the heavy-reporting on "Saddam" and "Iraq"?
Karl informs us that some company does something that has NOTHING to do w/ us in PDX...?
But, of course, the John Becker "military puff piece"--no program is complete w/out it!
Karl does another "puff piece" on riverbank clean-up, as if no other "news" occurs here
The old gal does a piece on the movie "The Birds"...what's that got to do with us here?
...now the real reason for the program--shift to long episode of COMMERCIAL(s)--3 OR 4
Nancy does a real "fluff piece" on Laura Bush's trip overseas...a meaningless soundbite
Karl does a "serious piece" on Bush's speech at Christian College
Nancy does a "gossip piece" on day old item of woman child-rapist marring victim
....I couldn't stand it any longer...I grabbed remote and channel surfed....
I value my brain far too much to endure a half hour of this meaningless bullshit!

the mindset that kills 21.May.2005 18:27


The mindset that kills hearts, minds and the whole being is one that denies the truth of change and the ability of humans to change. Everyone's an ex-something and many people have gone from living a destructive life to one of wholeness. But it's really hard to do when people are dopeslappped from birth. It's all fine and dandy for newscasters and others to say why didn't he pull himself up by the bootstraps like we did(n't). But this society not only cuts the bootlaces, takes the boots away but chops off people's feet and says why can't you dance.

Remember them all for who they were 21.May.2005 18:52


Kendra James, Jose Mejia Poot, Jahar Perez, and now Vernon Allen. and so many more.

It's easy to dismiss a person you've never met, especially when the cops and the corporate media are telling you they didn't matter anyway. But it's important not to. Because once the pigs have stripped the flesh, all that's left is the story.

how many times 21.May.2005 22:14


how many times do bullshit explanations have to happen before people realize it's bullshit? that robber guy who got gunned down in the lloyd center area after robbing a bank and now this guy, they both were supposedly menacing the police with a knife. WTF?! i don't care how mentally imbalanced you are, any idiot knows better than to threaten an officer who has a gun pulled on you. these cop stories are bullshit, and anyone who has any common sense at all or any ability to predict human behavior at all should know better than to believe it. the real story is that the cops got trigger happy and fired on unarmed or otherwise non-threatening people and then the dept. covered it up with lies and half-truths. fuck the police.

Racism in these labels 22.May.2005 08:17


And another thing. Slapping these labels on people to dehumanize them is all the more unfair. Because a majority of African American males who have spent any time on the streets are going to be "ex cons." The fact is, the justice system is racist. Cops target black men FAR more often than white men, they look for cause to arrest them more often, they arrest them for no reason more often, and they are found "guilty" more often for the same offenses. Jahar Perez, for example, had done nothing wrong except that he was a black man behind the wheel. To make it even worse, he was behind the wheel of a whitey car. An expensive car. The officers who killed him, in their own words, from their own filthy, racist mouths, admitted that they only followed him and pulled him over, and eventually killed him, because the car he was driving seemed too good for him. An uppity nigger? No, a racist pig with a gun.

What can be done. 22.May.2005 10:14


Thank you for your eloquent and incitefull post as always, catwoman.

I believe that the mayor, and through him the council, is open to our oppinions on what needs to change to make the police force really represent the communities will. I think that the community needs power and representation in what the police do, in thier processes. I believe we need to push forward on a citizens review board, with real power over police policy. It is clear to many in the social service sector in portland that they do not have the resources to properly address the needs of the homeless, and mentally ill in portland. Because of this homeless and disabled people are often forced to have to defend themselves on the streets. This leads to an inclanation to respond to threats forcefully. It seems that when a cop encounters a situation like this they should be trained to understand this, and have measures to ensure everyones safety.
I speak to people all the time that tell me of smaller budgets, less resources, and the charity work they do to hold it all together. Why is the last resort for the poor, death? Do the police even have the ability to traquilize somone? I mean honestly, does your average vet have more power to save a life than our "community police?" It seems to me that if a beat cop has the time to ask thier seargent/etc. for permission to kill somone, then that cop probably has the time to go to thier trunk and pull out a traquilizer gun (or some such) and knock them out. Am I alone here?

The last mayor/police chief was uninterested in doing more than pacifying people, and tokenizing this issue. We should expect more, this time around. I sincerly hope we get it.

I'd suggest that interested people write the mayor/police chief and ask them to ensure that every response unit of cops has the ability to knock someone out without killing them. I think this would be a good time to figure out what a representitive body that will govern police conduct is going to look like. Then send your ideas to the mayor and council. Also, people in government here tend to frequent a website called  http://www.blueoregon.com
post your suggestions here and thier "constituency" will listen.

in love and war,
Michael b

tranquilizer 22.May.2005 11:36


mb, I agree with you about taking the opportunity to push for a real citizen's review board. As for tranquilizers for the poor, though, I worry. Like all "less lethal weapons," a tranquilizer dart is ripe for abuse. It will not be used on people who really are a threat. It will only be used on people they could not legally have shot, just like tasers and pepperspray. (see the long comment by catwoman on this thread  http://portland.indymedia.org/en/2005/05/317691.shtml).

as details unfold 22.May.2005 14:26


You should read the tribune article. If the account given by the service station attendant is accurate, it serves to affirm just how poorly trained and inept portland police are in dealing in with the public they come into contact with.

According to the account, the first arriving officer managed to allow the eventual victim, Vernon Allen to get him in a choke hold. Ironically, seconds later, 3 squad cars pull up while the officer is still being held, but as the officers from the cars approach the two, the officer wrestles free, allowing the officers a clear shot at Williams. They order him to drop something, he declines,instead lunging at them several times, and they commence to open fire on him. All in perhaps less than 3-4 minutes.

This attendant was interviewed by other news outfits as well. In another interview, I remember him stating that Allen was yelling out something mostly incoherent that sounded like "do me!". No surprize there. In the past, the police have faced other people who've reached the limit of distress and chose to use the police as a means of ending their lives. The failure seems to be in selection and training of police officers enabling them to effectively identify and deal with such a situation humanely, with a minimum of danger to either themselves or the person being confronted.

It seems just amazing that the first arriving officer would so quicly allow Allen to get him in a chokehold when other officers were sure to arrive momentarily given the nature of the call and the time of day. If Allen really had intended to harm the officer, he would have been dead meat by the time the other cars got there. Instead, it looks like Allen just set the officers up to end his life. It seems wrong for them to have suckered up to destructive plan of a probably unbalanced and troubled mind.

Here's the article below as printed in Friday's edition.

Witness shocked by shooting
Police say man killed by officers was threatening them with a knife
By JIM REDDEN Issue date: Fri, May 20, 2005
The Tribune
Tom Parker has seen plenty of street fights and out-of-control behavior in the four years he's pumped gas at the 76 station at Southwest Fourth Avenue and West Burnside Street.
But even he was shocked by the sudden violence that led police to shoot and kill a man armed with a knife around 6:40 Thursday morning.
"I've seen a lot of sadness down here, but nothing like this," says the 59-year-old attendant.
Parker said he was standing in front of the station when he heard someone yelling near the corner of Southwest Fifth Avenue and Burnside Street. When he looked up, he saw a large black man shouting by a lamppost. A police car pulled up and an officer got out and walked toward the man.
Suddenly, Parker said, the man reached out, wrapped one arm around the officer's neck in a chokehold and placed his other hand near the officer's stomach.
"The officer was definitely in trouble," Parker said. "I was trying to think what I should do, but a microsecond later, three other police cars pulled up and the officers got out and pulled out their weapons and rushed toward them."
As Parker watched in disbelief, he said the officer being held by the man twisted loose. The man then lunged toward the other officers, who, Parker said, yelled at him to stop and drop something.
"The man lunged at them three times, and they shot him. I've never seen anything like it before," Parker said.
The man who had not been identified by the time the Portland Tribune went to press died at the scene. Portland police spokesman Sgt. Brian Schmautz confirmed the man was lunging at the officers with a knife when three of them fired their guns. A possible crack pipe was found near the body, he said.

Closer investigation

Under Police Bureau regulations, the three officers who fired their guns have been placed on administrative leave while the incident is being investigated by homicide detectives. Officers who witnessed the shooting also may be placed on leave during the investigation, Schmautz said.
The Multnomah County district attorney's office has adopted a policy of presenting all officer-involved shootings to grand juries to determine if any laws were violated. State law allows police to use deadly force if they believe their lives are in danger.
The incident was the fifth time police have shot someone this year. One other person has died. Richard Riebling Jr., 40, was killed by police during a domestic dispute March 20. Officer Terry Kruger, a sniper with the Special Emergency Response Team, shot Riebling in the head after he emerged from an apartment and pointed an object toward police. A grand jury cleared Kruger of any wrongdoing. The object turned out to be an umbrella wrapped in a towel.
Portland police now have fired on 94 people since 1990 with a high of 12 in 1992 and a low of one in both 1994 and 1995. Police shot four people last year.
According to Schmautz, Thursday's incident began when someone called police at 6:38 a.m. to say that a man was pacing and apparently was agitated near the corner of Southwest Fifth and Burnside. Schmautz said the caller had not been threatened or attacked by the man, but was concerned about his behavior.

A second witness

At the time the Portland Tribune went to press, Schmautz did not know whether any of the officers had attempted to use a Taser. He said officers are trained to use Tasers in a number of different circumstances, but not necessarily if they are facing an immediate physical threat.
Another witness, Christopher Gonzales-Aguilera, said he did not think the shooting was justified. Gonzales-Aguilera said he heard the officers yell at the man to drop the knife, but he does not believe they were in any immediate danger.
"They were far enough away that they didn't have to shoot him," said Gonzales-Aguilera, who declined to estimate the distance between the officers and the man.
Schmautz said it was too early in the investigation to comment on any witness statements.

catwoman: please contact KBOO News 22.May.2005 14:56

glen owen 503 287 3473 theKnownUniverse@yahoo.com

Your comments and the appreciative attention they have attracted beyond portland.indymedia's usual readership, have become news in themselves. You have indeed become the media.
If you would be willing, I (or somebody else if you prefer) would like to report your take on the May 19th killing on W Burnside and the contexts in which you see it.
Additional Contacts (KBOO news "big cheeses")
"Kathleen Stephenson" < amnews@kboo.org> 503 231 8032 ex 202
"Jaime Heim and Julie Sabatier" < pmnews@kboo.org> 503 231 8032 ex 203

Media Parrots 22.May.2005 15:33


Local TV news and their cozy relationship with the local police
is often a result of their lack of journalism skills. They merely repeat
verbatim the PIO's version of the "facts". They remind me Parrots in an aviary.

I'm a native Portlander, who left for 5 yrs. to live in another
major metro area. At several of the media's staffs there were
full-time "Crime Beat" journalists. Many were gentlemen approaching
retirement age, who had many years of experience developing reliable
sources within the local PD's. They were experts at digging for
the REAL truth using those (often) anonymous sources.
Those reporters always reminded me of the little dog that chops on to
your ankle and wont let go. They got results. They exposed alot of the
crapola going on. I was impressed.

In Portland? They cozy up to the PD, because if they were not to repeat
the police version of events, the cops wouldn't even return their
phone calls. The local media INFO-TAINERS are inept at ferreting
out information. They kick back, listen to their police scanners,
and buzz the PIO for fodder for their stories.

Another thing, grap a stopwatch, and see how much time they devote
to their stories. Stories about evil Dubya & Cheney, the environment,
people DYING in Iraq daily, local working neighbors who can't make ends meet-
Those stories take a backseat to happy puppies, soccer moms,
new industrial developments, and local traffic. God forbid they give
less time to traffic jams, and autombile recalls!

Ever hear their weathermen state "on your drive to the office", the
weather will be... I say WHAT OFFICE? Drive? I TAKE THE DAMN BUS!

Also, as much as I regret the passing of Keiko the (un-naturally) confined
whale sometime back, I don't regret hearing the seemingly endless
candy-coated TV news stories about him. I'm certain KOIN and the rest
of them sh*t a brick when he died. They actually had to fill 20 mins.
more a day with NEWS.

All of the above shows you where there heads are at...

thanks "glazed" for sharing that report 22.May.2005 16:15

believer in retribution

as it clearly illustrates the FACT that under Katz/Kroeker there was a deliberate
policy to dumb-down the PoPo from previous levels of IQ, capacity, human relation
skills, and community policing abilities. The "fruit" came quickly in Katz's term
and now, still we are reaping a harvest of her bad management and boneheaded, if
not totally negligant decisions.

What needs to be done is go in there and start pitching these "lesser than" cops
that were hired under Katz/Kroeker and put out an all out effort to hire a multa-
cultured, multa-racial diverse group of people ((no Mormons allows...too many in
the force already as it is!)) and then TRAIN and EDUCATE them to be "policemen"
and not militarized rightwing nut-jobbers like a Jason Sery or a Scott McCollister
and that ilk.

We need to put pressure on the Mayor and the other's on council to start moving in
that direction, and if Foxworth can't pick up the pace fast enough to get us there
then he can be told "sorry dude, find another job!" and be damned and done with
him. No need to keep molly-coddling these people...it's time to move in with firm
hand and take C-O-N-T-R-O-L!

Cameras may tell story 23.May.2005 10:22

theresa mitchell

There are several police department cameras sprouting from the traffic-light standards at that intersection. It may be that they have a story to tell.

Information 23.May.2005 12:17


Does anyone what the police officers names were, if they had pepperspray and/or tasers, and what their current condition is? This is extremely important to know for next fridays protest.