I was shocked to hear the news on WKBK earlier this week that Brian Costa, Keene’s police chief since 2015, had died in his home one week ago. I was even more surprised to learn he was just 46 years old. Unlike his predecessor, Brian treated me like a human being. He was kind, respectful, and approachable. Surely he and I disagreed on various subjects, but that never stopped him from being willing to work with me where we agreed. The few times I’d interacted with him in his too-short-a-term as police chief, I was impressed with his humanity and professionalism. Though I didn’t know him well, I wish I did.
Years ago when I moved here, as many activists do, I had an axe to grind with the police. The police, as the enforcement arm of the state, were obviously the bad guys. However, as one of the original Cop Blockers, (Badge #5) out in the streets as often as I was, it didn’t take me long to begin connecting with the Keene police as fellow human beings (instead of mindless statist automatons, which is easy for us libertarians to think about police if we don’t know them). The most memorable early paradigm-shifting encounter was my ride-along with KPD’s Shane Maxfield, nearly a decade ago.
At various different activist events in Keene, (the home of Cop Block) I encountered Brian Costa on multiple occasions, who prior to becoming chief was one of KPD’s two captains. However, due to him being a captain, his responsibilities were more management than they were patrol, so our contact was fairly limited at that time.
Imagine my pleasant surprise then, when one day shortly after Brian’s appointment as Keene police chief, I was standing out in Central Square, distracted by something on my phone. As I looked up from my device, there he was right in front of me! Brian was dressed in his full Keene police uniform, as any other patrol officer would be. He explained that he’d seen me from his walk downtown and he wanted to introduce himself.
I’ll always remember that about him. I was struck by how humble he appeared. Not only was he not above walking the streets like any other KPD officer, but that he would take time to come over and say hello was really impressive. I was happy to meet him officially and grateful to be treated like a human being by KPD’s chief for the first time in years.
Then, early in 2016, Brian called me out of the blue and asked me for help. There was a bad batch of heroin that had been hitting the streets and leading to overdoses. He had reached out to me as the publisher of Free Keene (Keene’s most popular blog and a Google news source), hoping that I would help get the word out about the bad batch of drugs. Of course I would. Though I’m against the war on drugs and it was Brian’s job to enforce it, we found common ground in the goal of harm reduction. I told him I’d get on it, thanked him for thinking of me, and immediately published this article about the bad dope. When I share goals with someone, despite our differences, I’m willing to work with them to accomplish our common goals. This builds bridges between people on opposite sides of other issues, increasing the likelihood of further communication and a growing mutual respect. Brian understood this, and he earned my respect by being a decent person.
Now, he’s gone from this world, and WAY too soon. Whoever is chosen as his permanent replacement has some BIG shoes to fill. I really wish I could have gotten to know Brian better. I feel like I missed out. (more…)
Social media is abuzz as video has been shared of Kristopher Kristolaitis being attacked by police Sunday night at Mr. Mike’s convenience store in Winchester, NH. According to an interview for Free Keene with Kristolaitis, his assailants included officer Michael Paul Laska of Winchester Police, as well as corporal Joshua Murray of Hinsdale police and a third as-yet-unidentified officer. Both Laska and Murray are former Marines. The victim says that WPD’s Laska was the hothead in the video, shouting at the frustrated, angry crowd at one point to “GET BACK!”.
Witnesses say Kristolaitis was arguing with another man, Billy Hillock, when someone called over police. Police eventually responded once Winchester firemen came over to see what was going on. Apparently the firemen were there already on an unrelated situation. As Hillock attempted to leave, police questioned him and let him go, prompting Kristolaitis to ask why. (Hillock is an auto mechanic who happens to work on Winchester PD’s cruisers. Things that make you go hmm…) A Hinsdale officer then asked him his name, to which he responded by saying he’d provide once the officer explained why he let the other man leave. During this interaction, officer Laska approached Kristolaitis from behind and handcuffed him on one wrist without ever telling him he was under arrest. The witness says this is when the video begins. (more…)
Last night around midnight, an NH state trooper pulled over some young men just outside the LRN.FM studio in Keene, NH. The officer must be new to the force, as there are about a dozen liberty-oriented folks who live on this street corner, which means that at any time of the day or night, it’s likely someone is awake and will notice. Experienced cop blocker Renee Kate and I spotted the pullover and after getting on some warm clothing, given it was about zero degrees Fahrenheit, we immediately responded. Here’s the video:
As we approached the scene, we heard the officer badgering a guy in the back of the car about ID. As I understand it, it’s not a requirement for anyone in a car except the driver to show ID, so I told the officer he doesn’t need to be asking for that information. Pretty much right as we arrived, he went back to his cruiser. I then approached the driver and asked if he was okay with us recording the scene. He was. (more…)
I had the pleasure this week of seeing James Carroll of Flex Your Rights give a presentation to a couple dozen students at Keene State College. He covered various aspects of how to handle encounters with police and encouraged not taking a plea deal and going to trial rather than just paying fines.
I found it really rewarding to see James’ presentation. It was informative and relevant to the students watching it and I’m glad I had the night off to be able to record it so others who couldn’t attend can benefit. When James started college in Keene, he wasn’t an activist. Now he’s working with one of the most prominent know-your-rights groups in the world, Flex Your Rights. His path to where he is would not have been possible without his time in Keene and the liberty activism here that had a positive, inspirational impact on his life. What an honor to have had a role in that.
Some people don’t understand why I do the activism that I do. Why take risks by standing up for your rights? Why speak out in favor of peace and liberty? Why do activism that could and does offend? Because as an activist and communicator of the ideas of liberty, you never know whose life you’ll touch. When you stay true to yourself, put your message out there, and stand up for yours and others’ rights, the right people will see it and pay attention. When the student is ready, the master appears. Your actions just might be the spark that ignites the next James Carroll.
Brandon Pinney Awaits Trial in a “Fuck Cops” Handmade Shirt
Brandon Pinney is a NH native who is now facing a year in jail for telling state police to fuck off. His is a classic case of being oppressed for freedom of speech. Historically, people arrested for flipping off or telling off police have been vindicated on appeal. It may not be nice to say mean things to cops, but freedom of speech is meant to protect unpopular speech.
Brandon was arrested at Surry Dam when after doing five-miles over the speed limit he was confronted by a forest ranger. We don’t know exactly how their interaction went, because Brandon did not record video. According to Brandon, the ranger berated him about the speeding and Brandon blew him off in an unkind manner. The ranger then said he would be calling the police and Brandon followed him back to his office. The ranger claims Brandon was pounding on the office door yelling at him, while Brandon says he was not pounding on the door and was in no way threatening the man.
However, the ranger’s testimony was that he was frightened and when state police arrived, Brandon told them to fuck off, and when he repeated it at the request of one of the staties, Brandon was arrested.
One note – during trial, judge Burke said nothing about his shirt, but at sentencing, wearing the same shirt, Brandon was told if he did it again it would be contempt of court. Not only can you not express yourself to police, you can’t express yourself via your wardrobe. Whatever happened to freedom? You generally don’t find it at the district court level.