Posts filed under 'Innocent Bystanders'

1984: The Hondh-Chillar Massacre

Add comment November 2nd, 2020 Headsman

This was the date in 1984 of the Hondh-Chillar massacre

It was one of the many atrocities of the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that ensued the assassination of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi by her Sikh bodyguards.

Hondh today sits in ruins. Prior to November 2, 1984, it was a tiny dhani — basically a hamlet — outside a still-extant village known as Chillar in the northern state of Haryana.

On that dread day, a couple of hundred toughs trucked in by the Congress Party arrived at the dhani and set about sacking the settlement and brutalizing the Sikh inhabitants; at least 31 were beaten or burned to death over the course of several hours.

Surviving villagers eventually rallied to drive off the mob and escaped that night from their devastated homes.

Like other anti-Sikh vigilantism this horror has never been published, and allowed to languish into forgetfulness, as was the physical village itself. The place flashed in the news in 2011 when an engineer in nearby Gurgaon learned about the event accidentally and visited the site’s ruins, later posting heartbreaking photos to social media. That brought calls for reopening case files and preserving the site, none of which occurred; the engineer was forced out of his job a few weeks later, however.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Bludgeoned,Borderline "Executions",Burned,Cycle of Violence,Disfavored Minorities,History,India,Innocent Bystanders,Lynching,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1869: Katkeena and John Anayitzaschist, Glyphs and Gallows

Add comment July 29th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1869, two men of the aboriginal Hesquiat nation of Vancouver Island off British Columbia’s Pacific coast were hanged outside their village by the white colonial authorities, on the charge of gratuitously murdering the (again, white) survivors of a shipwreck.

The English-built barque John Bright foundered in a gale just offshore from the location of the eventual gallows in February of that same year, with all aboard lost — including apparently the wife of the captain, their children, and the pretty young English nursemaid who looked after them.* Although within sight of a Hesquiat village also called Hesquiat, the violent surf put the vessel beyond aid.

The tale of a ship lost to the sea soon became in the eyes of Vancouver Island’s European capital city, Victoria, a very different tale of villainous “West Coast savages.” An unprincipled trader named James Christenson was the first to report the shipwreck in Victoria and put about his suspicions that at least some of the John Bright‘s denizens had reached shore alive. His evidence for this claim was seeing several headless bodies. A more generous interlocutor might proceed from this observation to indict the implacable violence of the rough open-ocean surf that would have carried the drowned to shore, crashing through the John Bright‘s timbers and tossing boulders hither and yon.

Instead the most diabolical inferences were immediately bandied as fact, with the city’s preeminent journalist D.W. Higgins categorically broadcasting that the ship’s personnel “were without doubt murdered by the Indians” and whipping political pressure that forced the colonial government into action. The HMS Sparrowhawk was dispatched to investigate with its conclusions so firmly determined that the refusal of the ship’s doctor to endorse a finding of homicide relative to the bodies he examined did not save native canoes from a cannonade meant to force the village to surrender some suspects. In the end the gunboat returned to Victoria with seven new passengers, two of whom wound up on the gallows: a man named John Anayitzaschist, whom some witnesses accused in contradictory accounts of shooting survivors on the beach, and a wretch named Katkeena (or Kahtkayna) who wasn’t even present in Hesquiat Village at the time of the shipwreck. The former man was a factional rival of the Hesquiat chief. The latter “was a simpleton of inferior rank and considered so worthless that not one woman of his tribe would take him as a husband,” according to the Catholic missionary Augustin Brabant, who lived for many years afterward among the Hesquiat people. He seems to have been given over to the executioner because he was disposable.

The case has receive a bit of renewed scrutiny in the 21st century: the British Columbia government issued a statement of regret in 2012, and an empathetic musician composed a string quartet (“Cradle Song for the Useless Man”) in honor of the forlorn Katkeena.

Executed Today comes by the affair via a wonderful 1997 book, Glyphs and Gallows: The Art of Clo-oose and the Wreck of John Bright. Author Peter Johnson weaves the wreck of the John Bright and the legal shambles that ensued with his exploration of native art — including the titular petroglyphs etched into coastal stone by native artists where still they sit to this day.

Drawn to the story by (accurate) reports of glyphs depicting European ships, Johnson hiked to the petroglyph site at Clo-oose where he sketched and photographed these amazing productions. The glyphs tantalize with the never-consummated possibility that they might directly allude to the John Bright affair, but more than this: in Johnson’s telling, they’re a priceless point of contact offered us by the hand of the artist to a cosmology in the moment before it is irrevocably lost to the tectonic action of European settlement.

Soon after the John Bright affair, things changed on the coast. The Colony of British Columbia joined Confederation, and the Royal Navy no longer sent its gunboats to intimidate worrisome Aboriginals. Settlement occurred, law and order prevailed, the potlatch and the totem poles were taken away. Disease forced a good many Natives to sanitoria, and Native children were sent to the residential schools run by Roman Catholic and Anglican missionaries. Families were disconsolate. The soul of a race was broken, and the moss-wet forest slowly reclaimed the longhouses and the welcome figures of a once proud people. A whole culture was literally on the brink of being wiped out completely. And then, from the very edge of oblivion, the elders began to retell their stories. It was these bits of remembered tales, called up from a desperate soul’s interior like images forced onto stone, that would enable everything to begin again.

The motive for metaphor is the motive to create a story: it is the artistic drive. The impulse to use symbols is connected to our desire to create something to which we can become emotionally attached. Symbols, like relationships, involve us with deeply human attributes. Raven and Bear can speak to us directly. I can smile at the glyph of a seal, with its curious smiling head poking just above the water, and I am filled with wonder at the image of a bird carrying a small child or a bodiless head. A symbols is at once concrete, palpable, and sensual — like a rose. At the same time, it reaches beyond itself to convey an idea of beauty, of fragility, and of transience. The great thing about art is that it continually forces us to see new sets of resemblances. Those long-gone artists who created the petroglyphs at Clo-oose used two sets of symbols — their own and those of nineteenth-century Western Europeans — in order to depict a vignette that was firmly grounded in their point of view. Like the carvers of the Rosetta Stone, they wisely used sets of metaphors and imaginative icons against materialist images of nineteenth-century commercial technology. Unlike the Rosetta Stone, however, the petroglyphs of Clo-oose do not use one set of images to explicate the other; the petroglyphs of Clo-oose are stunning because they incorporate one set of images into the other. Like a series of lap dissolves in modern film, we are drawn to ponder one story while at the same time being faced with the jarring reality of another … They are rich metaphors of the interior world of Native spirituality and history, and they have been juxtaposed with metaphors of European conquest. As such, they are eloquent indeed.

It is impossible to completely crack the codes of the sailing-ship glyphs of Clo-oose because the meaning of the Native spiritual images cast upon the rocks on that lonely shore has died with those to whom it was relevant. Our interpretations are approximations born of respect for the images themselves and of a renewed feeling for the time. We are left to ponder one significant story born of cultural collision. The petroglyphs of Clo-oose have served us well. They have, like any great code, prompted us to express, and urged us to remember, what might otherwise have been ignored. They have brought some light to an obscure world.

“Petroglyphs, monuments, art, music, dance, poetry, etc. are at the core of any culture,” Peter Johnson told us in an interview. “Where a mix of cultures occurs, then look to its art as a means of understanding the complex motives of such clashes.”

Executed Today: It’s the “Gallows” that draws our site‘s eye but can you introduce the native-carved petroglyphs of Clo-oose, including glyphs of 19th century ships akin to the ones involved in your narrative? Twenty-plus years after your book, have these treasures become any better appreciated as art and cultural heritage, or any better preserved and curated at their site?

Peter Johnson: An excerpt of the Clo-oose affair from D. W. Higgins’s The Passing of a Race (Toronto: William Briggs Publisher, 1905) is included in the back of Glyphs and Gallows. Being directly facing the Pacific, the Clo-oose site is one of many that Higgins suggests captures Native / Indigenous interactions in the 19th century. The four ships at the Clo-oose Site, Higgins suggests, are: the Sparrowhawk (long thin one that the Royal Navy used as a gunship to apprehend the so-called guilty tribesmen who “murdered the crew of the John Bright as it foundered just offshore”); the John Bright (the other long one, a barkentine freighting lumber from the coast to Valpariso, Chile); and, the smaller two ships may have been ships that sailed to the site and “discovered” the bodies. The official name of the site (anthropologically speaking) is DdSf 1 or commonly called Blowhole Site, because of a spout of water that comes shooting out of a cleft in the rocky shore at high tide. Other sites nearby are Hill Site, nearby on a sandstone ledge showing a huge beaked bird, and a copulating couple. Southeast of Clo-oose about 6 miles away, is Carmanah Lighthouse; there is a site there that contains several petroglyphs of human figures (one seemingly impregnated with a child) and other sites nearby show huge, fat, birds, and various fishes. These don’t say anything we can understand about first contact with “whites” and are likely religious figures which had a role in Native cosmology or family organization.


Peter Johnson’s sketch of the Blowhole Site, circa mid-1990s: there’s no way to conclusively identify any of the ship images with any one specific vessel, but if we are to suppose that association then in Johnson’s estimation the ship at the top would be the Sparrowhawk and the one at just left of center at the bottom the John Bright. The image is (c) Peter Johnson and used with permission.

The maps, mention and location of the sites are no longer found in recent books about the West Coast Trail, and the sites themselves have been left to erode away along the shore. Since Glyphs and Gallows, there has been no attempt, that I am aware of, to cover, reveal or understand more of their cultural and artistic messages. It’s as if the Natives don’t wish any further trace of information to be transmitted to other cultures and perhaps, they don’t know any more about the sites than we do. For example, totem poles of other indigenous peoples are left, as part of their meaning, to rot in the bush. We have a different predilection, and that is to save objects from the past. Which is more important? Who knows? Perhaps, the one that serves the intent of the original artist is most important?

As sandstone erodes fairly quickly, these important cultural sites will be gone in 100 years. I personally believe they are very important artistically and historically. Were they found in Britain, like the monoliths on the Orkneys, (at Scara Brae) or Stonehenge and other henges, they would be covered and revered. Here, the new Natives at Clo-oose don’t seem to know much more detail about such petroglyphs at Clo-oose, or do not wish to preserve them as culturally important artifacts. Perhaps, too, they are too difficult to decipher, much like Champolion’s translation of Egyptian hieroglyphics, that previously to him took many hundreds of years. Native myths do not seem to be currently studied as much as they are simply appreciated … appreciation is good, but it’s only a start of understanding. Digging for meaning, beyond a purely aesthetic appreciation, is equally, if not more important.

One of the questions you set out to explore was whether these glyphs directly depict the events around the John Bright wreck and the subsequent hangings. Your answer is indeterminate on that … but how should we understand what they say more generally about the cultural upheavals concerning contact with Europeans, and about the civilization that preceded that contact?

The context of what happened during the first 50 years of European contact with West Coast natives, needs to be read about and understood by more “Whites” and Natives alike. D. W. Higgins believes whiskey traders destroyed many Native lives through the products they brought. (I don’t entirely believe this.) Higgins suggests in July 1858, the Native population in Victoria was 8,500, and goes on to say that at least 100,00 Natives perished from booze-related afflictions. I believe smallpox wiped out great numbers as Natives were moved away from Victoria up-country and spread the disease (like Covid), as they met other indigenous groups. Many were vaccinated, but Gov. Douglas at the time (1862), needed to save some vaccine for his own Europeans who settled in Victoria. They did not cruelly withhold the vaccine from the Natives, several European governors helped them as much as possible … that so-called dismissal today is a more popular misreading of the history of the time which serves a current, darker political purpose.

Once the idea that the John Bright survivors had reached shore only to be murdered by the Hesquiat got around, it’s comprehensible how a racist “tunnel vision” fit all facts into this understanding. However, I struggled with why this idea was initially formulated at all — it’s not the null hypothesis when a ship founders in a gale and nobody survives. Was it the shock value of “headless bodies” even though the Europeans on Vancouver Island should have been familiar with the devastating force of the surf? Was it a wholly cynical formulation by James Christenson to, as you put it, “elicit regular naval protection from Natives that he and other unscrupulous traders had cheated”?

Yes, it was a cynical formulation by Christenson and others to elicit naval protection from bald-faced raiding of their Native resources (lumber, fish, etc.). Shock value of the headless bodies certainly inculcated White racist reaction against Native action.

Victoria’s precarity at this moment, as a city that aspired to political leadership but was still a muddy frontier settlement, riven by class conflict, so bereft of women that they arranged bride ships — another of your books — and with a politically uncertain future between England, Canada, and the U.S. … felt eerily resonant with our treacherous current historical moment. Can we interpret the rush to judgment and the hangings here as to some extent expressions of a civic psychological insecurity? If so, did anyone involved in the prosecution later express any misgivings about it as Victoria grew and Canadian confederation became settled?

Yes I think so, not so much insecurity as fear. Myths had been perpetrated about Native violence (Natives attacked and killed white settlers on Lummi Island and in Cowichan Bay about this same time). So certainly, the Indigenous peoples gained much “bad press” about their time. That probably led to the gunboat frontier mentality of the time and the not-so-much later movement to remove the diminishing numbers of children in Native settlements to the White residential schools. This movement is usually interpreted as Native genocide on the part of ingigenous peoples and many Europeans themselves believe this. A few felt it was the only way to save what they believed was a dying culture by giving them proficiency in English so they could survive and integrate among a juggernaut of white settlers that became Canada. I guess the anxiety here is about the meaning on the word “integration.’

The debate over that issue remains. Too bad the petroglyphs are ignored today, they (and pictographs, etc.) could shed more light on the complex cosmology of the region’s Native cultures. Protest, and not an understanding of the historical context, seems to get more coverage. Real knowledge, not bitterness on both sides, is the answer. Proper historical co-operation would help immensely here.

One of the threads in your narrative is teasing out this undercurrent of skepticism about the verdict that stretches back to the European coroner who would not support a finding of homicide and includes the missionary priest Augustin Brabant, who extensively rebutted the D.W. Higgins narrative of native guilt … but only in private. Do we have any direct native sources from the time, or any later traditions, that tell us how the John Bright affair has been remembered in that community? And why did Brabant never publish his extensive personal knowledge from decades of living with the Hesquiat?

Father Brabant had a Catholic ulterior motive. His answer was to turn the Natives away from their own cosmology to a belief in Catholicism. That kind of religious zeal and “cultural blindness” led to the divisions we are trying to solve today. I bet very few remember the John Bright Affair or even care to, as an example and a means to dismiss and/or destroy early Native humanity. It took him years to write about his own view, likely because the Catholic Church would have condemned or excommunicated him.

[Brabant told Higgins in private correspondence that Christenson was at Hesquiat Village when the John Bright wrecked, but fled without attempting to render aid for fear that he would “expose myself to be killed by the Indians.” (That’s Brabant quoting Christenson at third hand.) Brabant thought Christenson only returned, weeks later, to cover up his own cowardice by bearing “to town a tale of cruelty, and barbarism, of which there is not a particle of truth.” Since Higgins extensively published the tale of cruelty and barbarism, it’s no surprise that he didn’t buy what Brabant was selling. Brabant also witnessed another shipwreck in 1882 — he wasn’t there for the John Bright itself — and described victims washing up on the beach in pieces, arms and legs horrifically torn from their torsos by the incredible force of the surf. -ed.]

* We lack a precise complement of the ship and especially of the women-and-children contingent, who were renumbered and rearranged by conflicting reports. Rumors that one or more of the children lived on as wards of this or that tribe circulated for years afterwars.

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Entry Filed under: 19th Century,Arts and Literature,Canada,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,England,Execution,Hanged,History,Innocent Bystanders,Interviews,Murder,Occupation and Colonialism,Other Voices,Public Executions,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Wrongful Executions

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1996: Huugjilt, wrongful execution

Add comment June 10th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1996, a Chinese Mongol with the singular name of Huugjilt was executed by gunshot for rape and murder at Hohhot. With benefit of hindsight, it’s come to be viewed as “one of the most notorious cases of judicial injustice in China.”

Huugjilt discovered the body of a woman named Yang in a public toilet at a factory, on April 9, 1996 — just 62 days before the execution. She’d been raped and strangled, and that official tunnel vision common to wrongful conviction scenarios immediately zeroed in on Huugjilt himself. With conviction quotas to fulfill, authorities abused Huugjilt into a confession and an overhasty conclusion.

“It has not been rare for higher authorities to exert pressure on local public security departments and judiciary to crack serious murder cases,” China Daily editorialized. “Nor has it been rare for the police to extort confessions through torture. And suspects have been sentenced without solid evidence except for extorted confessions.”

This conviction unraveled in 2005 when a serial sex predator named Zhao Zhihong admitted the murder. (He was charged with many similar crimes besides.) The belated investigations ensuing from the resulting uproar cleared Huugjilt, even to the extent of holding a formal posthumous retrial that overturned the original verdict.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Capital Punishment,China,Crime,Death Penalty,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Murder,Posthumous Exonerations,Rape,Ripped from the Headlines,Scandal,Shot,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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1572: Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder

Add comment March 28th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1572, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder were all condemned and burned at Neustadt am Rübenberge, as witches and poisoners.

Although commoners, they were the luckless casualties of misbegotten marital politics in the Holy Roman Empire, and in the words of Tara Nummedal in Anna Zieglerin and the Lion’s Blood: Alchemy and End Times in Reformation Germany, “the entire incident laid bare simultaneously the fear of poison and sorcery and the reluctance to advance witch accusations against women of elite status in the princely courts of central Europe.”

The particular princely court of interest for us is that of Eric(h) II, Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, a Lutheran convert who married a House of Wettin princess called Sidonie of Saxony. It was one of those love-matches by which the bluebloods slip the bonds of arranged dynastic alliances and often, of historical irrelevancy. ‘Tis a likely antechamber to the volumes of Executed Today.

Sidonie was a decade Eric’s senior, leading one wise grandee to predict, “All sorts of things will happen inside this marriage after the kissing month ends.”

Just so. Eric reverted to Catholicism and the childless couple became bitterly estranged — not only over religion, but money, and the want of a child. (Eventually Eric would die without an heir, and pass his realm to a cousin.) So intense would the couple’s antipathy become that they began to suspect one another of seeking an abrupt annulment by the hand of the poisoner.

That hypothesis became self-confirming when Eric fell ill in 1564, and Eric (this is Nummedal again) “initiated an investigation, accusing four women in Neustadt am Rübenberge, close to Hannover, of both trying to poison him and using sorcery to disrupt his marriage, keep him away ‘from his land and people,’ and make Sidonie barren.”

Three of these four women broke under torture and admitted not only poisoning but witchcraft; they were burned in 1568. But the fourth woman, Gesche Role, had the fortitude to withstand her interrogators and was released.

It’s by way of Gesche Role that we arrive at our day’s principals — for in some fresh turn of the diplomatic jockeying between the estranged power couple, Eric renewed his accusation and re-arrested the poor woman upon fresh claims of fiendery. This time she succumbed and confessed — adding, as is the style, a series of charges against five other acquaintances: our three victims, Annecke Lange, Gesche Herbst, and Annecke Rotschroeder; plus, Annecke’s husband Hans Lange, who died under torture; and, a woman named Margarethe Ölse or Ölsin, whose fate was stayed by dint of her pregnancy. Hans Lange had actually been a barber and surgeon who had been in ducal employment, affording some material connection to the “victim’s” plate, but of course all confessions were secured in the usual violent manner.

On the 28th of March, our three victims were condemned at Neustadt and immediately sent to the stake. Several others in the widening witch inquiry shared a like fate later that same year; the overall number of Neustadt “witches” executed from the various procedures initiated by Eric is not known, but might run up towards 60.

The reader will mark that all these souls were merely humble folk destroyed as flies to wanton boys. Witch fires were usually quenched once their flames licked titled estates, and so it was in this case, as the 1572 Hexenprozesse “also implicated a cluster of noblewomen (Anna von Rheden, Katharina Dux, and Margaretha Knigge), and it was not long before Duke Erich’s estranged wife, Sidonie, herself was accused of directing the poison plot against her husband, purportedly because of his relationship with his mistress, Katharina von Weldam. This escalation of the trial as it reached into the nobility proved to be too much, apparently, even for Duke Erich II, who halted the trial before the noblewomen were sentenced,” and after a pause the Holy Roman Emperor reconvened a hearing at which all concerned were exonerated.

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Entry Filed under: 16th Century,Attempted Murder,Burned,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Germany,History,Innocent Bystanders,Public Executions,Torture,Witchcraft,Women

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1968: My Lai Massacre

Add comment March 16th, 2020 Headsman

On this date in 1968, the U.S. Army meted out the signature single atrocity of the Vietnam War, the My Lai Massacre — wanton slaughter of 400 to 500 Vietnamese civilians over the span of four evil hours that would emerge as practically metonymous for twenty evil years in Indochina.


Combat photographer Ronald Haeberle shot a number of pictures on that day, although by his own admission he also failed to intervene against the slaughter and he destroyed some of the most incriminating shots. Nevertheless, his iconic photo of bodies heaped on a path became the iconic antiwar poster “And babies”.

The hero on that day was an American helicopter pilot who, seeing the slaughter unfolding, set his warship down in front of his wilding countrymen and trained guns upon them to still their rampage, then escorted several Vietnamese people next in line for murder to his choppers and whisked them to safety. The late Hugh Thompson revisited the site of the massacre for 30th anniversary commemorations and told a U.S. reporter,

“One of the ladies that we had helped out that day came up to me and asked, ‘Why didn’t the people who committed these acts come back with you?’ And I was just devastated. And then she finished her sentence: she said, ‘So we could forgive them.’ I’m not man enough to do that. I’m sorry. I wish I was, but I won’t lie to anybody. I’m not that much of a man.” (Source)

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Arts and Literature,Borderline "Executions",Children,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Lucky to be Alive,Mass Executions,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Popular Culture,Shot,Summary Executions,U.S. Military,USA,Vietnam,Wartime Executions,Women

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2020: Nathaniel Woods, #SaveNate

Add comment March 5th, 2020 Headsman

Nathaniel Woods was controversially executed by lethal injection at William C. Holman Correctional Facility in Atmore, Alabama, tonight at 9:01 p.m. U.S. Central Time.

Woods and Kerry Spencer — a co-defendant who is awaits execution for the same affair — were in a Birmingham trap house when officers Charles Bennett, Harley Chisholm III, Carlos Owen and Michael Collins arrived to serve a warrant. Of the four, only Collins would outlive the deadliest day in Birmingham police history.

While the facts of the case are contested, one that is universally agreed is that Kerry Spencer, not Nathaniel Woods, killed all three officers. Woods met them but as the police were in the process of taking him into custody, Spencer — just waking up from the commotion, he claimed — burst onto the scene firing an SKS.

“When I looked to the side, there was two police officers trying to train their guns on me so I opened fire with the fucking rifle. I wasn’t trying to get shot, period. I got a rifle in my hand. They’re going to shoot me,” Spencer told CNN. “You point a gun at me, bitch, I’m fixing to shoot.”

Woods said he simply fled from an unexpected crossfire, and Spencer agrees. “Nate is absolutely innocent,” he said. “That man didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody just like I didn’t know I was going to shoot anybody that day, period.” Alabama prosecutors characterized Woods as conspiring with Spencer to lure the cops into an ambush.

Woods and Spencer not only deny this, but developed an explosive appellate argument — never probed by any court — that the slain policemen were hassling the place as part of a routine police shakedown racket, to which the apartment’s owner had fallen behind on payments, and intimidated that owner out of providing exculpatory evidence.

But at a minimum, Woods’s execution presented the disturbing spectacle of a non-triggerman being punished for actions to which he might have been little other than a bystander. The #SaveNate campaign garnered a wide and fruitless call for clemency compassing civil rights leaders …

… celebrities …

… and at least one relative of a victim.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Alabama,Capital Punishment,Common Criminals,Crime,Death Penalty,Disfavored Minorities,Drugs,Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Lethal Injection,Murder,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Ripped from the Headlines,USA,Wrongful Executions

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2016: Daniel Shaver, police impunity victim

Add comment January 18th, 2020 Headsman

America’s crisis of police violence has produced innumerable horrific snuff films. One of the worst is the January 18, 2016 bodycam footage of Mesa, Arizona cop Philip Brailsford executing Daniel Shaver in the hallway of a La Quinta Inn.

In this nauseating five-minute video we see — classic horror film technique — right down the gunbarrel as Sgt. Charles Langley screams at Shaver and a companion, Monique Portillo. Langley and his partner, Brailsford, are responding to a report of a gun: it’s Shaver’s air rifle, which he uses in the pest control work that has brought him to Mesa on business.

After making both parties surrender themselves, Langley and Brailsford disdain such obvious techniques as “move in and frisk them,” instead choosing to subject their prey to a bizarre impromptu game of Simon Says, repeatedly threatening — one might almost say, relishing the anticipation of — the summary death that they’ll soon deliver.

They’re armed not only with AR-15s and an excess of machismo but with the legal doctrine of “Qualified Immunity”, which protects state officials (including but not only law enforcement) from personal liability when they undertake official acts. Such immunity is supposedly contingent on the act falling somewhere within hailing distance of reasonable. In practice, courts always find that qualified immunity applies in excessive-force situations, especially under the infinitely elastic standard of “officer safety” that permits the most specious and absurd claim of police fear to excuse any degree of force in response: “qualified” immunity is really more like “an absolute shield.”

Brailsford and Langley have been trained on this doctrine, just as they’ve been trained for the kind of situation they’re in. Not so Shaver: the traveling exterminator is going to get one chance, and it’s somehow Shaver’s responsibility to manage the situation to the satisfaction of his prospective murderers. (Shaver is also somewhat drunk here.)

When the terrified man is ordered to push himself from a prone position up to his knees, his legs come uncrossed, violating the previous arbitrary instruction that Langley has given him and causing the armed yahoos to straight-up lose their shit.

A panicking Shaver attempts to placate them by putting his hands behind his back — submissively, he thinks, but of course the voices behind the gunsights here pretend to think he might be going for a weapon and again threaten him with execution. “You do that again, we’re shooting you!” Langley barks. (God, please do it again.) Now sobbing and pleading for his life with two guys who don’t like him and can freely merc him, Shaver attempts to comply with their gratuitously humiliating demand that he crawl towards them, when he’s suddenly wasted by Brailsford. The apparent “provocation” is Shaver’s reaching at his pants to prevent them coming down as he scuffles his knees over the cheap hotel carpet. Officer safety! What if he’d had a gun taped in there like Bruce Willis in Die Hard?

A jury that viewed this very video acquitted Brailsford of second-degree murder (and of the lesser included charge of manslaughter), so now it’s legal precedent that cops can just do this to you. His department quietly re-hired him so that it could pension him off at $2,500 per month for life.

Recommended: on Scott Horton’s radio show, former policeman Raeford Davis discusses the scene and the changes needed in law enforcement to make it a thing of the past.

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Entry Filed under: 21st Century,Arizona,Borderline "Executions",Execution,Innocent Bystanders,Mature Content,No Formal Charge,Shot,Summary Executions,USA

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1948: The Eilabun Massacre

Add comment October 30th, 2019 Headsman

This account of a dozen-strong summary execution at the Upper Galilee village of Eilabun by the Israeli Defense Forces during the Arab-Israeli War hails from The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited by Israel’s best-known “New Historian”, Benny Morris:

Christian villages, traditionally friendly or not unfriendly towards the Yishuv, were generally left in peace. An exception was ‘Eilabun, a mainly Maronite community, which fell to Golani‘s 12th Battalion on 30 October after a battle on its outskirts with the ALA [Arab Liberation Army], in which the Israelis suffered six injured and four armoured cars knocked out. The villagers hung out white flags and the Israelis were welcomed by four priests. The inhabitants huddled inside the churches while the priests surrendered the village. But the troops were angered by the battle just concluded and by reports of a procession in the village, a month before, in which a large number of inhabitants had participated, in which the heads of two IDF soldiers who had gone missing after the attack on 12 September on a nearby hilltop — ‘Outpost 213’ — were carried through the streets, or by the actual discovery in a house of one of the rotting heads. What happened next is described in a letter from the village elders to [Israeli Minister of Police Bechor-Shalom] Shitrit: The villagers were ordered to assemble in the square. While assembling, one villager was killed and another wounded by IDF fire.

Then the commander selected 12 young men and sent them to another place, then he ordered that the assembled inhabitants be led to [the neighbouring village of] Maghar and the priest asked him to leave the women and babies and to take only the men, but he refused, and led the assembled inhabitants — some 800 in number — to Maghar preceded by military vehicles … He himself stayed on with another two soldiers until they killed the 12 young men in the streets of the village and then they joined the army going to Maghar … He led them to Farradiya. When they reached Kafr‘Inan they were joined by an armoured car that fired upon them … killing one of the old men, Sam‘an ash Shoufani, 60 years old, and injuring three women … At Farradiya [the soldiers] robbed the inhabitants of 500 and the women of their jewelry, and took 42 youngsters and sent them to a detention camp, and the rest the next day were led to Meirun, and afterwards to the Lebanese border. During this whole time they were given food only once. Imagine then how the babies screamed and the cries of the pregnant and weaning mothers.

Subsequently, troops looted ‘Eilabun.

Not all the villagers were taken on the trek to Lebanon. The four priests were allowed to stay. Hundreds fled to nearby gullies, caves and villages, and during the following days and weeks infiltrated back. The affair exercised the various Israeli bureaucracies for months, partly because the ‘Eilabun case was taken up and pleaded persistently by Israeli and Lebanese Christian clergymen. The villagers asked to be allowed back and receive Israeli citizenship. They denied responsibility for severing the soldiers’ heads, blaming one Fawzi al Mansur of Jenin, a sergeant in Qawuqji‘s army [i.e., the ALA].

The affair sparked a guilty conscience and sympathy within the Israeli establishment. Shitrit ruled that former inhabitants still living within Israeli-held territory must be allowed back to the village. But Major Sulz, Military Governor of the Nazareth District, responded that the army would not allow them back. He asserted, ambiguously, that ‘Eilabun had been ‘evacuated either voluntarily or with a measure of compulsion’. A fortnight later, he elaborated, mendaciously: ‘The village was captured after a fierce fight and its inhabitants had fled.’ The Foreign Ministry opined that even if an ‘injustice’ had been committed, ‘injustices of war cannot be put right during the war itself’.

However, Shitrit, supported by Mapam’s leaders and egged on by the village notables and priests, persisted. Cisling suggested that the matter be discussed in Cabinet. Shitrit requested that the villagers be granted citizenship (relieving them of the fear of deportation as illegal infiltrees), that the ‘Eilabun detainees be released and that the villagers be supplied with provisions. Within weeks, Shitrit was supported by General Carmel, who wrote that ‘in light of the arguments [about their mistreatment]’ and of the fact that the area was not earmarked for Jewish settlement, the inhabitants should be left in place ‘and accepted as citizens’. Within weeks, the inhabitants received citizenship and provisions, and the detainees were released. At the same time, Shitrit, as Minister of Police, persuaded Yadin, to initiate an investigation of the massacre. During the summer of 1949, the ‘Eilabun exiles in Lebanon who wished to return were allowed to do so, as part of an agreement between Palmon, head of the Arab Section of the Political Department of the Foreign Ministry, and Archbishop Hakim, concerning the return of several thousand Galilee Christians in exchange for that cleric’s future goodwill towards the Jewish State. Hundreds returned to ‘Eilabun.

The abortive attack on ‘Outpost 213’, bizarrely enough, triggered a second atrocity four days after the first massacre. On 2 November,vtwo squads of the 103rd Battalion were sent on a search operation to Khirbet Wa‘ra as Sauda, a village inhabited by the ‘Arab al Mawasi beduins, three kilometres east of the outpost. While one squad kept guard over the villagers, the other — led by Lt. Haim Hayun, veteran of the September assault — climbed up to the outpost, where it discovered ‘the bones of the soldiers lost in the previous action’. The bodies were ‘headless’. The troops then torched the village (and presumably expelled the inhabitants), taking with them to their HQ in Maghar 19 adult males. There, the prisoners were sorted out and 14 were determined to have ‘taken part in enemy activity against our army’. They were taken away and ‘liquidated’ (huslu). The remaining five were transferred to a POW camp.

‘Eilabun and ‘Arab al Mawasi were only two of the atrocities committed by the IDF during Hiram, which saw the biggest concentration of atrocities of the 1948 war. Some served to precipitate and enhance flight; some, as in ‘Eilabun, were part and parcel of an expulsion operation; but in other places, the population remained in situ and expulsion did not follow atrocities.

Details about most the atrocities remain sketchy; most of the relevant IDF and Israel Justice Ministry documentation — including the reports of various committees of inquiry — remain classified. But there is some accessible, civilian documentation — and a few military documents have escaped the censorial sieve. It emerges that the main massacres occurred in Saliha, Safsaf, Jish and the (Lebanese) village of Hule, between 30 October and 2 November. In the first three villages, Seventh Brigade troops were responsible. At Saliha it appears that troops blew up a house, possibly the village mosque, killing 60–94 persons who had been crowded into it. In Safsaf, troops shot and then dumped into a well 50–70 villagers and POWs. In Jish, the troops apparently murdered about 10 Moroccan POWs (who had served with the Syrian Army) and a number of civilians, including, apparently, four Maronite Christians, and a woman and her baby. In Hule, just west of the Galilee Panhandle, a company commander and a sergeant of the Carmeli Brigade’s 22nd Battalion shot some three dozen captured Lebanese soldiers and peasants and then demolished a house on top of them, killing all. Civilians appear to have been murdered in Sa‘saas well.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Israel,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Occupation and Colonialism,Palestine,Shot,Summary Executions,Wartime Executions

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1937: The Parsley Massacre begins

Add comment October 2nd, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1937, Dominican Republic soldiers commenced the dayslong “Parsley Massacre” of Haitians.

Cooperstown-worthy evil dictator Rafael Trujillo hailed on his mother’s side from Haiti’s privileged French caste and espoused a virulent form of DR’s rife anti-Haitian racism. “As if personifying the antiblack myth of Dominicans,” Robert Lawless noted, “‘Trujillo used cosmetics to disguise the phenotypical features that he inherited from his [black] Haitian grandmother.'” (Source)

Taking power in a military coup in 1930, Trujillo had spent those early years building up a cult of personality, as was the style at the time — and he put it to use conjuring a bloodbath that some shamefaced soldiers confessed they could only conduct with the numbing aid of alcohol. The hypothesized underlying reasons range from El Jefe‘s particular virulent bigotry to prerogatives of statecraft for a zone that had tended towards sympathy for Trujillo’s opponents.

The massacre followed an extensive tour of the frontier region by Trujillo that commenced in August 1937. Trujillo traveled by horse and mule through the entire northern half of the country, both the rich central Cibao region and the northern frontier areas. Touring these provinces, traditionally the most resistant to political centralization, reflected Trujillo’s concerns with shoring up control in the region at the time. The Cibao was the locus of elite rivalry with Trujillo in those years. And because the northern frontier had been a traditional area of autonomy and refuge for local caudillos, the U.S. legation in Santo Domingo assumed that the August 1937 tour was intended to “cowe [sic] opposition.” Much like earlier frontier tours and his travels in other rural areas, Trujillo shook hands and distributed food and money; attended dances and parties in his honor; and made concerted efforts to secure political loyalty in many heretofore intractable lands. Yet the conclusion of this tour was entirely unexpected. During a dance in Trujillo’s honor on Saturday, October 2, 1937, in Dajabon, Trujillo proclaimed:

For some months, I have traveled and traversed the frontier in every sense of the word. I have seen, investigated, and inquired about the needs of the population. To the Dominicans who were complaining of the depredations by Haitians living among them, thefts of cattle, provisions, fruits, etc., and were thus prevented from enjoying in peace the products of their labor, I have responded, “I will fix this.” And we have already begun to remedy the situation. Three hundred Haitians are now dead in Banica. This remedy will continue.

Drawing on the regime’s prevailing antivagrancy discourse and support for peasant production, Trujillo explained his ordering of the massacre as a response to alleged cattle rustling and crop raiding by Haitians living in the Dominican Republic. This was the first of a series of shifting rationalizations that misrepresented the massacre as stemming from local conflicts between Dominicans and Haitians in the frontier.

Some Haitians heard Trujillo’s words and decided to flee. Others had already left following news of the first killings, which occurred at the end of September. A few recalled clues that something ominous was brewing. Most were incredulous, however, and had too much at stake to abandon their homes, communities, and crops — established over decades or even generations — for what sounded, however horrible, like preposterous rumors …

A few Dominicans from the northern frontier recalled that at first Haitians were given twenty-four hours to leave, and that in some cases Haitian corpses were hung in prominent locations, such as at the entrance of towns, as a warning to others. And during the first days of the massacre, Haitians who reached the border were permitted to cross to Haiti over the bridge at the official checkpoint [at the border city of Dajabon]. But the border was closed on October 5. After that, those fleeing had to wade across the Massacre [River]* while trying to avoid areas where the military was systematically slaughtering Haitians on the river’s eastern bank.

In the towns, victims were generally led away before being assassinated. In the countryside, they were killed in plain view. Few Haitians were shot, except some of those killed while trying to escape. Instead, machetes, bayonets, and clubs were used. This suggests again that Trujillo sought to simulate a popular conflict, or at least to maintain some measure of plausible deniability of the state’s perpetration of this genocide. (From Foundations of Despotism: Peasants, the Trujillo Regime, and Modernity in Dominican History)

“Haitian” in this context meant a question of ethnicity rather than simply one of citizenship, for like many border regions the world over that of the Massacre River was (and is) locally permeable. Some Haitians lived in Haiti but crossed into the Dominican Republic routinely for school, work, life; others had border-straddling families and DR birth certificates and citizenship. But even the firmest of bureaucratic documentation meant nothing to the death squads, who bequeathed the distinctive sobriquet “Parsley Massacre” by demanding potential victims buy their lives by pronouncing the word for that garnish, perejil … as an infelicity with the trilled Spanish “r” denoted a Francophone.** (It’s also sometimes known simply as the Haitian Massacre.)

The slaughter raged on until about October 8, give or take; estimates of the number of victims run from 12,000 to north of 30,000. The affair remains a source of tension to this day.

The massacre has literary treatment in the 1998 Edwidge Danticat historical novel The Farming of Bones.

* The river’s shocking name was not obtained from this slaughter, but from a Spanish-on-French bloodbath in colonial times.

** The term “shibboleth”, originally a Hebrew word for grain, was borrowed to English thanks to a similar test imposed in the Book of Judges (12:5-6):

And the Gileadites took the passages of Jordan before the Ephraimites: and it was so, that when those Ephraimites which were escaped said, Let me go over; that the men of Gilead said unto him, Art thou an Ephraimite? If he said, Nay; Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.

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Entry Filed under: 20th Century,Borderline "Executions",Disfavored Minorities,Dominican Republic,Execution,History,Innocent Bystanders,Known But To God,Mass Executions,No Formal Charge,Put to the Sword,Racial and Ethnic Minorities,Summary Executions

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1630: Guglielmo Piazza and Giangiacomo Mora, colonna d’infamia

Add comment August 1st, 2019 Headsman

On this date in 1630, a ludicrous disease panic sent two innocent men to the scaffold in Milan.

Terrified as their family and neighbors dropped dead around them of a raging bubonic plague outbreak, the surviving Milanese sprouted buboes on their brains.


1630 illustration of the plague-wracked Milanese doing the bring-out-your-dead thing.

Just days before the executions marked in this post, a city official named Guglielmo Piazza was noticed by some busybodies “strolling down the street writing from an ink-horn at his belt and wiping his ink-stained fingers on the walls of a house.” They promptly reported him not for misdemeanor property damage but for spreading plague poison, whatever that would be.

Investigators to their shame gave this accusation enough credence to interrogate Piazza under torture, a decision which obviously was tantamount to the execution itself. He broke he sealed his own fate when he broke and confessed, and sealed same for a misfortunate barber named Giangiacomo Mora whom Piazza was made to accuse.

Milan was proud enough of this obvious injustice to stand up an colonna d’infamia (“column of infamy”) denouncing both “poisoners” until a storm finally knocked the lying marble down in 1788. It read,

Here, where this plot of ground extends, formerly stood the shop of the barber Giangiacomo Mora, who had conspired with Guglielmo Piazza, Commissary of the Public Health, and with others, while a frightful plague exercised its ravages, by means of deadly ointments spread on all sides, to hurl many citizens to a cruel death. For this, the Senate, having declared them both to be enemies of their country, decreed that, placed on an elevated car, their flesh should be torn with red-hot pincers, their right hands be cut off, and their bones be broken; that they should be extended on the wheel, and at the end of six hours be put to death, and burnt. Then, and that there might remain no trace of these guilty men, their possessions should be sold at public sale, their ashes thrown into the river, and to perpetuate the memory of their deed the Senate wills that the house in which the crime was projected shall be razed to the ground, shall never be rebuilt, and that in its place a column shall be erected which shall be called Infamous. Keep afar off, then, afar off, good citizens, lest this accursed ground should pollute you with its infamy.

August, 1630.

Prior to the column’s overturning, the Milanese Enlightenment intellectual Pietro Verri wrote a meditation upon it titled Sulla tortura e singolarmente sugli effetti che produsse all’occasione delle unzioni malefiche, alle quale si attribui la pestilenza che devasto Milano l’anno 1630. Italian speakers can enjoy it here.

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Entry Filed under: 17th Century,Broken on the Wheel,Capital Punishment,Death Penalty,Execution,Gruesome Methods,History,Innocent Bystanders,Italy,Milan,Murder,Public Executions,Terrorists,Torture,Wrongful Executions

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