by Peggy Lee Kennedy
Thursday, Nov. 23, 2006 at 2:03 PM
The Gas Chamber is the LAPD pet name for what was done to Benjamin Barker on the Venice Boardwalk February 2005.
gaschamber.jpg, image/jpeg, 640x480
Officer David Guiterman leaned over, pulled out the pepper spray canister from its holster, shook it hard, and pepper sprayed Benjamin Barker for a count of four or five seconds straight in his face. Count it out for yourself. One-one hundred, two-one hundred, three-one hundred, four-one hundred... While Barker was basically subdued: handcuffed and sitting in the back of a police car pleading, “Don’t spray me, please!”
All the car doors were then shut – creating a Gas Chamber of pepper spray inside. Barker appeared to convulse and not be able to breath while Guiterman, two other Pacific Division officers, and the LAPD Venice Beach Sub-Station Supervisor all stood outside the closed car as if nothing was happening. I will never forget it.
The pepper spay video - now seen on CNN, ABC, KTLA, etc. - was recorded by Calvin E. Moss, Venice Justice Committee member and Food Not Bombs activist. Our Justice Committee is trained in Cop Watch and practices video advocacy in an effort to document human rights violations and hopefully help the victims of these violations.
Once we reviewed the video, trying to get the victim’s name or the number he kept calling out, we contacted John Raphling, an attorney then employed with the public defender’s office. He located Barker the following day - incarcerated. It is no big surprise that the police report conflicted with our video, but some lingering questions remain:
-Where does a poor person get justice without a video?
-Are all police reports full of these kinds of discrepancies?
-How many people are in prison based on lies?
-Can such systemic problems be resolved in the existing police culture?
The video was given to internal affairs, who came and interviewed us regarding the incident. It seemed more like they were investigating us. Funny how that works.
In the end, our video did help Benjamin Barker find some justice and we consider this to be one of our successes. But we wish Barker, someone from his family, or even his social worker would contact his lawyer, John Raphling, now that he is in private practice.
a link to the video is on our web site