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  • Sunday, March 13, 2005


    Tragedy of Bassim Chmait

    [Note: This is the first subject I've written for the Progressive Blogger Union that I've had doubts about. Although it seems like a straightforward case of unnecessary force and wrongful death against a young Arab-American, these doubts crept into my mind. There is an obvious appeal to activists: Unarmed Arab-American shot dead by an off-duty Homeland Security member. All the evidence I've found points to the unjustified murder of Bassim. I feel nasty for bringing in my doubts but I can't help it. To see what other PBU members are writing on this subject, go to this technorati page. ]

    Tales of police using too much force for a given situation are distressingly common. The use of overwhelming force is an understandable tactic on the police's part to protect themselves and gain control of a situation. When mistakes are made, covered up and/or dismissed without investigation, then I become very concerned about the acceptance of these tactics in all situations. The arrogance of power, of a code of silence, of superiority, becomes justification for abuse. These should not be allowed to stand unanswered.

    Several years ago, a friend of a friend was the victim of such unnecessary force. Robert "Woody" Woodward's story can be found at Justice for Woody.

    A more recent tale can be found at Justice for Bassim. Here is part of their telling of this tale:

    A typical Friday night house party was held at the Madrid apartment complex in Mission Viejo, California on Friday February the 4th. Late the same night, around 1:30 a.m., a group of six friends, including Bassim Chmait, entered the complex and began walking towards the party. Soon thereafter, a neighbor living next to the party, Douglas Bates, an off duty U.S. Custom's officer, left his home dressed in just his blue bathrobe with his badge in hand and gun drawn. He confronted the group, yelling, "You do not want to F*** with a cop, do you?"

    One member of the group yelled back at Bates to stop pointing the gun at his friends. In response, Mr. Bates then pistol whipped this member of the group in his forehead. Anticipating that his friend was going to be struck again or worse, Bassim Chmait stepped in between Bates and his friend, asking Bates to put the gun down. Without warning, Douglas Bates then shot Bassim in his head. Every member at the scene was unarmed except for Mr. Bates. After shooting Bassim, Mr. Bates fled back into his apartment.

    While I do not want to excuse this horrific act or the way it has been officially handled, a few things bother me slightly about the presentation of this case. Although Bassim was 20 years old, among all the photos on the website above, practically none show him post-puberty/ adolescent/ adult. I find this strange for some reason. Perhaps relatives didn't have many photos from Bassim's later life. The result is a series of pictures that show a sweet, large-eyed boy from infant to about 12 or 14. [Update: There is a good picture of the older Bassim and many other details and links at this DC Indymedia story.]

    Official investigation into this shooting has been more than strange. Mr. Bates has not been charged with any crime. As far as I can tell, self-defense hasn't been cited. It looks like a Grand Jury will be empaneled now, more than a month after the shooting. An Orange County Weekly story has more information.

    Another call for action with some different details can be found at the International Action Center.

    I can't end this with any grand summing up. Bassim's death is tragic and, as far as I can tell, completely preventable and unnecessary. What else is there to say?

    This is PBU11, written in association with the Progressive Blogger Union.

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