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Meet ‘Beirut’s Banksy,’ The Artist Who’s Transforming The City One Wall At A Time

Artist Yazan Halwani peels political banners and posters off Beirut’s walls to make room for his murals. Born in the Lebanese capital, Halwani, 22, grew up against the backdrop of political logos stenciled on city walls and faded posters of politicians plastered on street corners, some left over from the civil war that lasted from 1975 to 1990.

In Lebanon, “people usually identify with sectarian or political symbols,” Halwani said. Frustrated with the political fragmentation and sectarian strife on and off the walls of Beirut, he decided to draw the public’s attention to cultural figures that “reunite Lebanese, and Arab citizens, without any divisions.” On walls and buildings in East and West Beirut (which were separated during the civil war), he paints large-scale portraits of Arab poets, musicians and actors, encircled by intricate Arabic calligraphy.

Born a couple of years after the war, Halwani is part of a generation of Lebanese youth pushing, in various ways, for greater unity in Lebanon. With his artwork, he strives to offset decades of political polarization that has resulted in cultural divisions and “a weakening of national identity.”

Referred to as “Beirut’s Banksy” by Arab media outlet Al-Arabiya, Halwani has also produced artwork for international street art events, and his work has appeared in Germany, Singapore and Paris. By taking his calligraphy outside the Arab region, Halwani says, he wants to instigate “cross-cultural conversations” and to inspire a “positive view of the Arab world.”

But it’s his work in Beirut that’s garnering the world’s attention.

Political paralysis is nothing new in Lebanon’s government, which is tenuously balanced according to the country’s religious factions. But it has reached new heights: The country’s parliament has failed to pick a president for more than one year, and its inaction and corruption leaves much of the country without regular access to services like electricity and water. This summer, more than 20,000 tons of garbage has accumulated on Beirut’s streets after a major landfill closed and the government failed to agree on an alternative dump or a new contract for its garbage collection company.

Residents began to protest, resulting in the YouStink campaign decrying their officials. Public frustration peaked last month, with the recent wave of protests in the capital being described as “the biggest show of civil disobedience” in a decade. 

Halwani marched in a mass YouStink rally in downtown Beirut on Aug. 22. 

“I think the current problem and the main motivation behind my artwork stem from the same reason,” says Halwani. “Sectarian political forces that are working in their own self-interest.”

Halwani won’t write political slogans on Beirut’s walls, though. By painting much less polarizing figures, he subversively proposes an alternative cultural and political narrative: one of unity and harmony.

“I think that what needs to be done on a political level cannot be summed up with a wall tag,” he says.  

Along the side of a building in the vibrant district of Hamra, Lebanese singer-actress Sabah peers out onto the street, smiling disarmingly, surrounded by a halo of interwoven Arabic letters that look like snowflakes from afar. Across an orange wall in the lively residential district of Gemmayzeh, Halwani painted beloved musical icon Fairouz, in black, white and grey.

“I want to replace corrupt politics with more positive cultural elements that show the real face of the country,” he says.

Halwani’s street art hasn’t always been propelled by such lofty ambitions. At the age of 14, he was drawn to French hip-hop songs and gangster films. “Everyone wanted to grow up to be a soldier or an actor, but I wanted to be a gangster like these taggers in New York,” he says. He started tagging his name on Beirut’s walls, in bright colors and big letters. Later, however, he experienced what he calls a “critical response” toward his own work. “I realized that what I was doing did not have a shred of identity. It had no relationship to Beirut. That’s why people ignored or destroyed it.”

Around the same time, Halwani borrowed a calligraphy book from his uncle. He quickly discovered that there was a discrepancy between the essence of calligraphy and that of tagging; the former was less about the artist and more about the words (often Quranic verses or folkloric proverbs.). “I was no longer interested in writing my name,” he says.

In fact, he was no longer interested in writing anything at all. The Arabic letters he places around his portraits often don’t make up legible words; they’re more like ornate crossword puzzles. “What I try to do is I try to evoke meaning without having to use the actual word … I use calligraphy to create an Arabic visual language which can be understood by Arabic and non-Arabic speakers alike,” he noted.

Often, he seeks to paint murals that start conversations. On one of the walls in Concord Street is a portrait of a gray-haired man, his eyelids on the verge of caving in, his gaze despondent. His creased forehead is crowned with tufts of white and grey hair. The portrait is of Ali Abdullah, a homeless man who for years had set up residence in the nearby Bliss Street. In January 2013, Beirut’s harsh weather reportedly led to his death. The incident mobilized hundreds of Lebanese youth to launch initiatives to help the homeless.

“After two weeks, everybody forgot about him,” says Halwani. “I decided to repaint him, just to tell people that you do not need to help the homeless only when you hear a tragic story on the news.”

As Halwani was standing in a shopping cart, with blotches of black paint on his shorts and T-shirt, a worn out taxi pulled up by the curb. A teary-eyed driver called Halwani over, and said, “When I saw what you’re doing, I was really touched. I used to see this homeless man on the street.”

Three years later, Halwani is still touched by what happened next: Desperate to give something, anything, back to the artist, the driver offered him a ride. “All I have is this car. If you need to go anywhere, I’m ready to take you,” the driver told him.

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13-Year-Old Boy Convicted Of Playground Murder

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (AP) — A jury convicted a 13-year-old boy of first-degree murder Friday, turning aside defense claims that a childhood of abuse should shield him from criminal responsibility for the fatal stabbing of a younger boy at a western Michigan playground.

The verdict in Kent County court came after a three-day trial and four hours of deliberations. The Associated Press isn’t naming the boy because of his age. He will be sentenced as a juvenile, then resentenced as an adult when he turns 21.

“Prison is the answer,” said Michael Verkerke, father of the 9-year-old victim.

There was never a dispute that the boy, who was 12 at the time, killed Michael Connor Verkerke last summer at a playground in Kentwood, near Grand Rapids. The jury had to determine whether years of abuse at home had wrecked his mental health and overwhelmed his decisions.

In his closing argument, prosecutor Kevin Bramble said the killing was planned for months and the boy knew what he did was wrong because he called 911. During the call, which was played for the jury, the boy demands that police arrest him and give him the electric chair.

“He set out to kill someone and he did it,” Bramble told jurors Thursday. “Take the emotion out of it.”

 Defense attorney Charles Boekeloo said his client was under the influence of stolen prescription drugs at the time of the stabbing. Psychologist Priya Roa said the boy was deeply troubled.

“He said he thought he would hurt himself but that would hurt too much so maybe he should poke another kid so he would be arrested by police,” Roa testified. “He wanted to die, he wanted to end it all.”

After the verdict, the boy’s mother said she feels sorry for the victim’s family “every day.”

“My son can’t come home now, but I can still see him,” she told reporters.

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.




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11-Year-Old Kills Missouri Teen In Murky Home Shooting

 

An 11-year-old boy left home alone with his younger sister in north St. Louis County, Missouri, shot to death a 16-year-old boy who had barged into the house, police said on Friday.

But two people in the neighborhood told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper that the younger boy was the attacker.

St. Louis County police said in a statement the teenager and another person unsuccessfully tried to enter the house twice on Thursday, and entered through the front door on a third attempt.

The 11-year-old child shot to death the 16-year-old boy with a handgun as the older boy entered the home, St. Louis County police spokesman Sergeant Brian Schellman said in an email. The teenager was shot in the head, police said.

The second person fled after the shooting and was later taken into custody for questioning, Schellman said.

The mother of the 11-year-old boy and the 4-year-old girl, who was not home when the shooting occurred, is cooperating with investigators, police said.

Schellman said the 11-year-old boy was questioned, but he declined to say what the boy told investigators, including whether he indicated he was acting in self-defense.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted Donna Jackson, 45, who lives across the street from the house where the shooting occurred, as saying she saw the 11-year-old boy shoot the teenager in the head as the two were talking near the home’s front door. “It was not a break-in,” she told the paper.

Jazmyne Clark, 18, a neighbor who lives two doors down said the teenager might have been trying to sell the 11-year-old boy a phone, according to the newspaper. “He wasn’t breaking in at all. He was just trying to sell him his phone,” Clark told the paper.

St. Louis County police said they were continuing the investigation.

 

(Reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis in Los Angeles; Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.




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Video Could Be Key To Finding Alleged Killers Of Cop Charles Gliniewicz

 

 

Hundreds of law enforcement officials on Friday pressed on with their search in northern Illinois for three suspects in the fatal shooting of a veteran policeman while police called a home security video among the most important pieces of evidence in the case.

The officers scoured the region of Fox Lake, located about 60 miles (97 km) north of Chicago and close to the Wisconsin border, for the men suspected in Tuesday’s shooting of Fox Lake Police Lieutenant Charles Gliniewicz, 52.

 This undated photo provided by the Fox Lake Police Department shows Lt. Charles Joseph Gliniewicz, who was shot and killed Tuesday, Sept. 1, 2015, in Fox Lake, Ill.

The video was turned over to authorities by a police officer, Lake County Major Crime Task Force Commander George Filenko told CNN. The officer was told that images on the video matched the description of the two white men and one black man suspected in the case, Filenko said.

Filenko said it is still not known whether the video is relevant to the case “but at this point it’s probably one of the most significant ones we’ve recovered.”

The video was turned in Wednesday night, officials said.

A public viewing and funeral service for Gliniewicz have been set for Monday at Antioch High School in Antioch, Illinois, the sheriff’s office said.

 

(Reporting by Suzannah Gonzales; Editing by Will Dunham)

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.




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Dallas Dentist Murdered

Dr. Kendra Hatcher, a University of Kentucky College of Dentistry graduate, was murdered by an unidentified gunman in Dallas, TX on Wednesday. According to Dallas police, 35-year-old Hatcher pulled into the garage at Gables Park 17 apartments on Ceda…



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Dallas Police Searching For Killer Of Popular Dentist

Authorities in Dallas are trying to determine who is responsible for the slaying of Kendra Hatcher, a well-loved children’s dentist who was killed across the street from her apartment on Wednesday evening.

According to the Dallas Police Department, Hatcher, 35, was shot and killed inside the parking garage of the Gables 17 apartments, after parking her car there. Her body was found next to the car.

“Once Ms. Hatcher parked her car, an individual got out of the vehicle of interest and appeared to approach her,” a statement from the department says. “Witnesses describe hearing a gunshot and the individual got back into the vehicle of interest and it drove out of the parking garage.”

Police have released photos of the “vehicle of interest,” which is described as a Jeep Cherokee of an older model with damaged or faded paint on the hood.

Hatcher was pronounced dead at the scene. Authorities said the shooting does not appear to have been random, but they have yet to name a suspect or person of interest in the case.

The State Journal-Register reported that Hatcher’s family members suspect her killer could be a former boyfriend.

Hatcher, who was originally from Springfield, Illinois, worked as a children’s dentist at Deca Dental in Dallas. Friends and co-workers held a candlelight vigil on Thursday outside the parking garage where she was killed.

“She was just very friendly, you know,” co-worker Ariel Ramirez told local ABC affiliate WFAA8.

“If she saw somebody that needed help, she would help them,” Rosie Torres added, according to local news channel NBC 5. “She would always do that extra.”

The Dallas Police Department is asking anyone with information on the case to contact its homicide unit at (214) 283-4818.

Also on HuffPost:

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Sacramento Community College Reopens After Fatal Shooting

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — A Sacramento community college reopened Friday as officers searched for a gunman who fatally shot one man and wounded two others in a parking lot at the edge of campus, officials said. Sacramento police Sgt. Doug Morse says …



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Trans Man Sues NYPD For Discrimination After Alleged Hate Crime

NEW YORK — A transgender Manhattan man says the New York City Police Department repeatedly impeded his attempts to report an alleged hate crime, and has failed to arrest the man who allegedly threatened him and his family.

Marlow White, 51, filed a $2 million federal lawsuit last week alleging that NYPD officers discriminated against him based on his gender identity, putting him, his partner, and their four daughters in danger — all during a time when violence against transgender people in the United States is on the rise. 

Note: This article contains explicit language that may be upsetting to some readers.

The lawsuit — filed on Aug. 25 in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York — states that White, who is on his building’s co-op board, went to his neighbor Ana Amezquita’s apartment on March 20 to drop off some documents. There, Amezquita introduced White to her boyfriend, Napoleon Monroe. 

After some polite small talk, Monroe allegedly shifted the conversation. He told White that he had been in gangs, then lifted up his shirt to show off knife and gunshot wounds. This, the lawsuit alleges, was an attempt to “intimidate” White. 

“He begins to tell me about Ana and I spending time together and he’s uncomfortable with that,” White recounted to The Huffington Post recently. White said he told Monroe that there was “nothing” going on between him and Amezquita.

“I don’t want to hear that shit!” Monroe allegedly responded. “Because I’m a real man with a real dick between my legs!”

(Monroe told HuffPost he never said this.)

White, who transitioned in 2004, said he and Monroe exchanged some more words, and he left the apartment. 

Over the next month and a half, the lawsuit says Monroe “made a point to stop and say hello to [White] as if nothing happened. During each such encounter [White] ignored [Monroe].” And with each passing encounter, Monroe grew more “agitated.” 

“I’m gonna fuck you and your transexual man up!”

On May 3, White said he was driving three of his daughters to New Jersey to buy the oldest a prom dress when he received an alarming series of text messages from Amezquita’s phone number, which can be read below. The texts weren’t written by Amezquita, White said, but by Monroe.

“I just slapped Ana!” read the final text message. “Come protect her! I’ll cut your fucking head off lil man.” 

Two days later, White called an emergency meeting of the building co-op board to address Monroe’s alleged threats. The next morning, when White’s partner, Nathalie Lewis, was leaving the building on her way to work, Monroe confronted her. 

“Are you Marlow’s wife?” Monroe allegedly asked. 

“Do not ask me any questions because I don’t know you,” she replied, according to the lawsuit. “Leave me alone!”

“I’m gonna fuck you and your transexual man up!” Monroe said, according to Lewis. 

A loud verbal altercation ensued, drawing the attention of neighbors. White ran downstairs and several people called 911, while the fracas spilled outside onto the sidewalk. 

Two NYPD officers — identified in the lawsuit only by their last names, Garcia and Ureiba — arrived on the scene. When Lewis told the officers her partner was transgender and that’s why Monroe was targeting him, the officers “expressed obvious distaste for [White], their entire demeanor changed and they became completely uncooperative,” the lawsuit states.  

While White, Lewis, and their neighbors talked to the two officers, Monroe “was walking up and down the block shouting ‘transsexual’ while gesturing towards [White], all within sight and earshot of Officers Ureiba and Garcia,” the lawsuit continues. “The entire time, [Monroe] repeatedly reached into his pants to grab his penis while shouting at [White’s] partner asking if she wanted to see his penis, that he was a ‘real man with a real dick,’ all within sight and earshot of Officers Ureiba and Garcia.” 

(Monroe, again, told HuffPost he had never said this.)

The lawsuit alleges Monroe then went into the apartment building and came back outside wearing an apron, in an apparent effort to taunt and mock White over his gender identity. At this, the officers reportedly smirked. 

Then, Monroe allegedly screamed, “Officer, you know me! I’m Napoleon!” 

White said officer Garcia smiled at Monroe. 

“So let me get this straight: you’re not gonna take a report from any of us?” White said one of his neighbors asked the officers. “And you’re gonna leave here and wait ’til somebody gets killed or murdered, and then you’ll come back later to pick up the pieces?”  

To this, officer Ureiba allegedly responded: “That sounds about right.” 

And that’s my word to God,” White told HuffPost of the veracity of his lawsuit’s version of events. “May I have no good blessing in my life if I’m lying here. [Ureiba] said, ‘That sounds about right.’”

Monroe, who’s named as a defendant in the lawsuit, denied every allegation. He told HuffPost that White was “making up stories behind my back” and added that he has no problem with transgender people. “My sister’s gay,” he added. 

While officers Ureiba and Garcia reluctantly took a criminal complaint from Lewis that day, White said, they did not take one from him. 

Monroe was arrested later that day on an unrelated charge — which he said was later dismissed — involving an incident with Amezquita. 

Meanwhile, White received another text message, this time from Amezquita herself, offering him an apology. 

“I am really sorry for all this situation,” the text message read. “I don’t have words to tell you how sorry I am that you get [sic] involved in this mess.”

Unconvinced that officers Ureiba and Garcia would do anything, White and Lewis went to the 28th Precinct that afternoon — but officers there repeatedly rebuffed their requests to file a criminal complaint over Monroe’s alleged text messages. The couple gave up and went home.

It was the start of a long and protracted effort to get the NYPD to arrest Monroe for menacing, harassment or stalking. Without an arrest on such charges, White couldn’t get a court to issue an order of protection to prevent Monroe from coming near him and his family. 

Since then, White has repeatedly seen Monroe on his block or in his building. White told HuffPost that he and the other tenants have changed the locks on the building, but Monroe managed to get a key, and has been seen walking in and out of the building on multiple occasions.

One time, White said, Monroe lunged at him when they passed each other on the street.

“It feels horrible,” White said of not being able to get a protection order. “We’ve had to have our children on high alert. Text us everywhere they go. Soon as they’re out of the building, and when they arrive wherever they’re going.”

“I said to my older daughter, if [Monroe] makes any approach, just call the police,” White added. “She looked at me and said, ‘Call the police? For what?’ And I was like, ‘She’s right!’ That’s why I’m in this mess right now, because police didn’t do their job.” 

A Problem Reporting Anti-Transgender Hate Crimes To Police

White isn’t alone. Many transgender people across the country experience frustration when reporting hate crimes to the police.  According to a report this year from the National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 54 percent of anti-LGBTQ crime victims didn’t bother to report the crime at all. 

Moreover, when LGBTQ people did report incidents to authorities,“27% of survivors reported experiencing hostile attitudes from the police,” according to the NCAVP report. It’s unsurprising, then, that police only classified 6 percent of reported attacks or harassment against LGBTQ people as hate crimes.

Transgender Americans were also 4.6 times more likely than non-transgender Americans to suffer violence at hands of the police themselves. 

Meanwhile, even as transgender people become more visible in the public eye than ever before, overall violence against the trans community is on the rise. Hate-motivated violence against transgender people rose 13 percent last year, according to the NCAVP report. And 55 percent of anti-LGBTQ homicides in 2014 involved the killing of transgender people. 

Already in 2015, 19 transgender Americans have been murdered. 

Anti-transgender violence, as well as police mistreatment of transgender people, has been particularly pronounced in New York City in recent years. 

In 2012, police arrested a transgender woman for allegedly using a discount fare card illegally at the 125th Street subway station in Harlem. An officer at the precinct allegedly asked her whether she had a penis or a vagina — a question she refused to answer. She was then “painfully chained to a fence wherein, for no apparent reason, her arm was lifted over her head and attached to the fence to make it appear that she was raising her hand in the classroom,” according to a lawsuit she filed against the city. “She sat there in that position for 28 hours.” 

That year, the NYPD, under pressure from LGBT and civil rights groups, revised its patrol guide to ensure that those in NYPD custody would be held in sex segregated police facilities according to their gender identity, even if that identity differed from the sex assigned at birth. It also banned the practice of chaining “special category prisoners” to rails, bars or chairs for long periods of time.

In 2013, a group of transgender women were attacked by a group of men in Harlem specifically because of their trans identity. One of the women, Islan Nettles, died of her injuries. Advocacy groups later protested the NYPD’s handling of the case, saying the department was too slow to bring charges against suspects. 

And in October 2014, another transgender woman was attacked by a group of men in Brooklyn, and suffered permanent brain injuries. 

Forcing The NYPD To Act 

On May 15, with the help of his lawyer, Donald Dunn, White obtained a court order requiring the NYPD to take his criminal complaint regarding Monroe’s text messages.

But when he and Dunn delivered the court order to the 28th Precinct, they were again met with resistance. An officer, identified in the lawsuit as Lieutenant Cautter, reportedly scoffed at the phrase “person of trans experience,” which appeared in the court order. And when another officer interviewed White about his accusations against Monroe, Dunn said the officer was uncooperative. 

“She acted as if though she were the lawyer for Napoleon Monroe, advocating for him and against Marlow,” Dunn said. The officer, identified in the lawsuit by her last name, Rosendary-Phillips, again refused to file a criminal complaint. 

When Dunn threatened to file a contempt of court charge against the city, the NYPD finally relented, and sent hate crime unit officers to White’s apartment to formally take his criminal complaint against Monroe. But that criminal complaint, Dunn said, was limited only to one text message (“I’ll cut your fucking head off lil man,”) and none of Monroe’s other alleged actions. 

As of this writing, Monroe still hasn’t been arrested on any charges related to White — which means he still can’t get an order of protection. White’s repeated text messages to NYPD detectives working on the case have gone unanswered, he said. 

Dunn said he’s actively looking for other “people of trans experience who have been refused the right to file a complaint by the NYPD.” 

When HuffPost asked the NYPD about White’s lawsuit, the NYPD public information department replied in an email that “there was a Complaint Report filed in connection with this case at the time of report by the victim,” but didn’t clarify when the complaint report was filed. 

The department also said police had filed a “Wanted Card” for Monroe after White confirmed his identity. The card notifies officers who stop Monroe and run his name through the system that he’s wanted for arrest. Otherwise, it’s up to detectives working the case to track him down. 

The city law department didn’t respond to HuffPost’s request for comment on the lawsuit. 

Legal counsel for the city — and Monroe, who doesn’t have a lawyer — are all due in court on Friday to respond to two preliminary injunctions Dunn has filed on behalf of his client, White. The first injunction seeks to stop the NYPD from “further discriminatory conduct against [White].” The second would direct the NYPD “to take and file Plaintiff’s complete criminal complaint against his assailant and to investigate that complaint in a non-discriminatory manner.” 

Whatever the outcome of those injunctions, Dunn told HuffPost, the lawsuit, which seeks $2 million in damages, will proceed. 

White, who works part time as a courier and is an active LGBTQ advocate in Harlem and the Bronx, said that although he has frequently faces discrimination, many people on his block in Harlem, where he transitioned back in 2004, have always been supportive of his gender identity. 

Standing outside his building this week on a sticky, summer day, it was obvious that everyone in the neighborhood knew White, who has since been appointed president of his building’s co-op board. Three children, who rolled up on a scooter and a toy car, all said, “Hi, Uncle Marlow!” 

For now, White said he’s just worried about the safety and well-being of his family. 

“Why is it that I would have to get murdered or really badly injured for someone to take care of us?”  

— This feed and its contents are the property of The Huffington Post, and use is subject to our terms. It may be used for personal consumption, but may not be distributed on a website.




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‘Significant’ video in cop’s death?

Police may soon have “significant” evidence to announce in this week’s killing of an Illinois police officer, including footage from a home security video system in the area of the shooting.



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My Stolen Life

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My handbag was stolen two months ago. It happened in seconds in a mall in Turin , Italy. I never saw the thief, and neither did my husband, sitting two meters from the scene of the crime a fast food Japanese restaurant. 

2015-09-03-1441270658-4056245-Mystolenbag.jpg

How is such criminal skill even possible? There was almost nobody around.  Now, after two months, I do vaguely remember though a nice young woman, sitting with a child, next to my table. Was it she who grabbed my bag off the back of a chair and escaped with it?  

A week later, I read that a gang of four women, convicted of serial handbag thefts in Italy, was finally put behind the bars.  Even though found guilty several times, they were always released from custody because they had either small children or were pregnant.  So maybe they relied on the handbags of other women to feed their numerous children?! 

But that would be a topic for a novel, and not what I want to write about. I will focus on this accident from a different angle. Because it can only be compared to an accident, a personal disaster, as if a truck ran over me.  No use asking, was it my fault?  Should I blame myself for leaving my chair to order a second beer to go with my sushi?  And why on earth did I center my earthly life inside one rather small handbag?   Why did I visit  a shopping mall taking with me all of my traveling documents, credit cards, checkbook,  USB backup, health insurance card, iphone, address book, prescriptions, etc. 

I used to carry everything in one bag during the bombings in Belgrade, Serbia, or during political demos when I might have been arrested. But in those dire-straits years, in the Nineties, my home was never bombed and I was not jailed by the Serbian police. I didn’t even lose my bag. 

However, in 2004, during a pleasant event in Amsterdam, in peace, my handbag was stolen in a bar.  I was traveling, so I lost pretty much lost the same set of documents, meaning all I could carry to support my life on the road.   I lost cash, credit cards, phone, some jewelry, my diary, my address book, my passport, my visa.  But the damage I suffered 11 years ago cannot be compared to the damage I suffered a month ago.  The thieves have gotten much better.

Within half an hour, they managed to rush to ATM machines with my bank cards and, without a PIN or a credit limit, they robbed the banks of far more money than I could legally withdraw myself.  These “forchetta” hacks, which involve some kind of ATM hacking gadget, are getting pretty well known.  But of course the banks don’t want to take responsibility for these thefts.  They prefer to pretend that the ATMs are secure, and want me to absorb the loss.

Then there are travel documents.  In 2004 I could replace them without much fuss, but this is an age of terrorism.  So, far as my documents are concerned: Italian, Serbian and American: for each piece of plastic that I’ve carried for years on end, I have to go to the original country to have my biometrics redone.  I must pay all the  uncomfortable costs of travel without  any documents, while waiting for the new ones, being interrogated about my life! As if I weren’t already in their databases; as if they had never heard of me, as if I had never existed!  I was robbed, so I am the suspect.

This disaster crippled my daily life for the following two months.  I still cannot travel as I want, work, or pay .  I realize how vulnerable we are nowadays, since we’re supported by data and electronic gates and barriers. My USB key contained non encrypted backup of my computer’s hard disk. I carefully backed up all my books, essays, mail, films,  photos, music  and various secrets. Published and unpublished.  I am exposed totally, these thieves, if they bother to look, can know everything about me.  They have my email addresses, they know my friends and foes.   They even have the keys to my front door.

In some ways, losing access to your home and documents is worse than having your home and documents physically destroyed.  Because it means that someone can interfere with my life, they have stolen the power to spy on me at will.  My daily life has been hacked, and somebody else is, if not living my stolen life through fake ID, then at least surveilling it. I live in subconscious fear of blackmail, threats, violence!

The police told me theft like mine happens everyday, to many people.  And indeed, sometimes hackers steal entire databases of people’s names, addresses, credit cards — colossal leaks of a quarter of a million people at once.  Even American spies with security clearances have had their security declarations stolen by the Chinese.  How humiliating to be a SONY executive and have your business emails leaked by tools of the North Koreans.  Or to be an activist stalked by political enemies who want to aggressively “dox” you and your family.  

Will I ever get my dear purse back?  Often the victims get their documents back through some weird channels, or just from the trash collectors.  But not in my case.

I am still waiting for the second shoe to drop. I have a feeling this is not the end. It depends on the fantastic skill of the thieves and my legal ability to fight them back and re-assert my existence to bankers, police and immigration bureaus. I could write a novel on a twilight struggle of this kind.  

One feels that the stakes are growing and the pace of the trouble is accelerating.  Still, I will never forget that July 6th between 1.30 and 2.00 PM.  A very close friend of mine died that very day at that very hour.  It was an unlucky, scarifying moment, although no one killed me, no one struck me or bruised me,  I was stripped of my virtual identity.  The impact of  that loss is like a virtual rape, a small death in itself.

Oh yes, one small detail: during the war times I carried sleeping pills in my bag: enough to put me to sleep forever, if I had to avoid torture.  (I had read that Freud family did the same during World War II, and it seemed like a wise precaution.)   Sometimes, in conditions of real fear, it is a psychological comfort to feel that one can put a clean end to one’s self.    But what about my virtual life?  What unknown antitheft device could ever put a clean end to that?

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