Sunday, February 22, 2009

English translation of the KURIER interview with Mike Brennan from Feb. 22

Supported by a pair of blue crutches, Mike B. steps out of the Taxi, he makes his way to the Cinethek “Oz” in the 7th district of Vienna with crooked, slow steps. “I am still in a lot of pain,” the P.E. teacher says, as he tries to make himself at least half way comfortable in the gold, upholstered, 50’s era seats.

It has been 10 days since he was the victim of a mix up at the subway station Spittelau in Vienna. Two men in plainclothes jumped him on that Wednsday afternoon as he was changing public transportation lines on his way to work at school. Mike B. thought we was being robbed. What followed went from the Sunday edition of the KURIER across the world. The African American, teacher at the Vienna International School, was beaten and injured, because drug agents thought he was a dealer.

Mike B. talks softly with a sunken look. He has already told his therapist a lot. Diagnosis: heavy trauma. “It is not funny to be a victim,” he says, and shows a poem that he wrote over 10 years ago. It was presented in many Amercan newspapers and also adorns a calendar from the year 1993. The theme is identical to the situation he finds himself in now: the discrmination against people in the world, in that, skin color still differentiates people. “I knew that there was racism,” Mike says, “but now it has, of all things in Austria, happened to me, and that makes a big difference.”

Mike B. is heavily traumatized

KURIER: Has the police department apologized to you yet?
Mike B.: Nobody has apologized. On the contrary, the police report lies about everything. There is nothing about my injuries. The only thing they talk about is the mix up, as if I did not have a bruised spine, an injured neck, and injured wrist at all, or they say that I caused them myself.

KURIER: What pictures are still going through your head?
Mike B.: The doors of the subway car opened, I stepped out onto the platform and then…(Mike covers his head with both hands) everything went black. I do not know how I am ever going to be able ride the subway again without this fear and the painful memories in the back of my head.

KURIER: Do you know the name of the two police officers?
Mike B.: I know the name of one of them. The fact that both of them are still on the duty is another slap in the face. I have been a football player for many years. If you intentionally injure someone, you are immediately suspended for a long time. Those are the rules, I do not know, what the rules are for the Austrian police….

KURIER: How do you explain that the police officers were obviously waiting for you?
Mike B.: I must have been being watched. Otherwise the two men could not have jumped on me so quickly. My lawyer and I, Mag. Wilfried Embacher, still have not seen a photo of the that man that I was supposedly mixed up with.

KURIER: What do you still remember about what happened?
Mike B.: Very dramatic [Craig‘s note: I think he said “traumatic”], because I was hit over and over. The men never identified themselves. I thought, they are going to kill me, and screamed loudly. “Stop screaming!” they shouted. That is when it hurt the most. I thought, somebody is beating you and your supposed to be quiet?

KURIER: Your girlfriend came to help you. Did you realize that?
Mike B.: Oh yeah, I will never forget that. How Birgit, without a second’s hesitation, tried to pull the second man off of me. She was pushed away herself and injured. She was like an angel, that was protecting me. That was courageous, I am so thankful to her.

Hero status

KURIER: Also in the web there is a community with over 2000 users who view you as a symbol against racism.
Mike B.: Me, a hero? (Mike pours a heap of sugar into his green tea) Yeah, a wounded one…

KURIER: Can you live with being a symbolc figure?
Mike B.: Yeah. I never thought about keeping silent, you know, hiding in my house, maybe, out of shame. It is not funny to be a victim. But what has happened is extremely important and dramatic [note: traumatic?]. The fact that everyone is talking about the incident is great for those who may have experienced a similar situation.

KURIER: Do you think you would have had the same amount of attention if you had not been a teacher at a private scool?
Mike B.: I hope so! You know, I believe, that no one, no matter if they are black or white nor which social class they are in, should be treated in such a way. At least that is what my mother taught me.

KURIER: What saying do you still remember from your mom?
Mike B.: Don’t judge a book by its cover, in other words, every one is special, no matter what they look like.

False Image

KURIER: Do you understand why many Viennese have a bad image of black people in their minds, because they deal with drug dealing daily on the subway?
Mike B.: Honestly, no. Just because there are some white criminals, I don’t have a bad picture of white people in general.

KURIER: Has anyone ever thought you were a dealer before?
Mike B.: With what I know now, probably so. Sometimes guys would come up to me with their eyes open wide and a weird look. I thought, hey what’s wrong with them?

KURIER: But you have not experienced any other racial attacks before this one?
Mike B.: No, of course I heard about the Omofuma tragedy, and about police attacks. But I never thought that I could be one of the victims.

KURIER: Have you heard the “Neger” jokes from the Karinthian governor?
Mike B.: Is there such a thing? No, thank God I have never hard any of them, and I definitely would not find them funny.

KURIER: Do you have a bad image of the Austrian police now?
Mike B.: That is a difficult question. I teach at the Vienna Internation School. The students from the school are always dealing with attacks in the subway, and in these cases, the police protects the members of the school. So, there are a lot of police that are doing a good job.

Solidarity

KURIER: Who has helped you the most in the last 10 days?
Mike B.: Every person who has visited me, written me, sent me an SMS, or called me. The US Ambassador for Internation Organisations, James Walbran, the director of the school, Mrs. Schipelius, head of Secondary, who brought me flowers when I was in the hospital. Students have contacted me, the solidarity at the VIS is enormous. I am sure that my case will be discussed in class when school starts again on Monday.

KURIER: Have your parents contacted you from America yet?
Mike B.: Yes, they are shocked, that something like this could happen in Austira. My mom would like to visit me, but she also knows that I am strong, and that I will make it through this.

KURIER: What is your philosophy?
Mike B.: It comes from my Grandma - I called her Little Lu Lu: the daily challenges in life are like a game, you have to fight to become a master. When you give your best, then the best things will happened to you. Still, some things go wrong and you get knocked doewn. It is important that you get up again. That is the flow, the intensity of life. I pass this philosophy on to my students.

Justice

KURIER: Mike, where will you be in 5 years?
Mike B.: Hopefully I will be able to get around normally again and ride the subway without any fear. I just want justice to be served in the end. That those who acted wrong are brought before a judge and made to answer for their actions. That things, like our black president Barack Obama says, “change”. That is it, but I know it will be a long battle. A battle that I never wanted.