August 27, 2006 in City

Doug Clark: Ballad of a simple, luckless man

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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As with most of my musical endeavors, the decision to write an original song about the death of Otto Zehm at the hands of Spokane police came while strumming a guitar in my den.

The inspiration was fear. Fear that as time passed and headlines faded, the community’s memory would forget about the outrageous treatment of this luckless man.

That would be a shame.

What happened to Zehm on March 18 is a dark stain on Spokane. Erroneously pegged as a thief, the mentally ill janitor was aggressively confronted by police inside a Zip Trip store.

The cops say Zehm was armed – with a 2-liter bottle of pop.

So Zehm was knocked down, clubbed with a baton and shocked by Tasers. He was hogtied and placed on his stomach, which is a violation of police protocol. To keep Zehm from spitting on anyone, a plastic non-rebreather mask was stuck on his face – without being attached to an oxygen tank.

That forced the hobbled, panic-stricken man to suck air through a hole about the size of a nickel. He wasn’t up to the task and died two days later.

To me, the most poignant part of the story is in a report made by one of the officers who was at the scene. The officer noted that Zehm, though mostly incoherent, managed to say, “All I wanted was a Snickers.”

Maybe it’s my ‘60s sensibilities, but writing and recording a protest song in the classic rock tradition struck me as good way to keep alive the memory of what happenedon that horrible day.Unlike some of my previous newspaper tunesmithing, there’s no satire here. No parody. No humor.

I want to thank my recording studio pals for making this project happen. You’ve heard their names before in this space, and I truly wanted to praise them individually again. But at their request they must remain anonymous.

The lads tell me they’d like to enjoy life in Spokane without fear of perhaps one day being treated like a pop-wielding suspect.

Weenies.

It’s difficult to appreciate song lyrics without knowing the melody, I know. But here they are nonetheless. After reading the words, I invite you to fire up your computer and listen to the finished product online at spokesmanreview.com.

Even better, come down to Pig Out in the Park on Labor Day. My band – Trailer Park Girls – will play on the City Hall stage at 6:30 p.m. We will perform a set of my original music, including:

The Ballad of Otto Zehm

Otto Zehm, met his end,

In a Spokane convenience store.

The boys in blue came pouring in,

And beat him to the floor.

It all began with a bogus charge.

They said Otto was a crazy thief.

When he threatened to spit, they took  care of it,

And fixed it so he couldn’t breathe.

And you can’t stop a cop with a bottle of  pop.

You can’t outrun a badge and gun.

When the law’s on your side you can do  homicide.

And not worry, cuz nothin’ gets done.

Clutching a bottle of soda,

Outgunned in a quickie mart.

Breathing his last, he managed to gasp:

“All I wanted was a Snickers bar.”

And you can’t stop a cop with a bottle of  pop.

You can’t outrun a badge and gun.

When the law’s on your side you can do  homicide.

And not worry, cuz nothin’ gets done.

They tried to cover it up.

They tried to bury the shame.

And then it all blew up.

And now everybody knows –  his name.

And you can’t stop a cop with a  bottle of pop.

You can’t outrun a badge and  gun.

When the law’s on your side you  can do homicide.

And not worry, cuz nothin’ gets  done.

Please, Mr. Policeman.

Please put those Tasers away.

Otto may be just a simple soul,

But he don’t deserve to die that  way.

And you can’t stop a cop with a  bottle of pop.

You can’t outrun a badge and  gun.

When the law’s on your side you  can do homicide.

And not worry, cuz nothin’ gets  done…


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