Currently viewing the category: "Law and order"

lucy-steigerwald-previewClearly cool human and excellent radio host Guillermo Jimenez had me on his podcast last weekend. In his words:

On this edition of Traces of Reality Radio: Guillermo is joined by VICE columnist, Lucy Steigerwald. We discuss Lucy’s latest articles, including “LEGALIZE HEROIN!” and “Politicians Finally Realize They Can Stop Pretending to Hate Weed.

Mormons, Ted Cruz fanboys, and “conservatives” who are anti gun prohibition but pro drug prohibition: you’re all on notice. Listener discretion, yadda, yadda, yadda.

The listener discretion is for profanity! He started it! But I indulged as well. I haven’t listened yet, but I remember it being a ranty, pleasant conversation. Check it out. 

I have done Jimenez’s radio show twice before. The first, from May, has us discussing the MOVE bombing, among other topics. The second, from August, is an all round libertarian issues chat, including a good tangent into anti-authoritarian songs that mentions Joe’s excellent list. 

799px-Bushmaster_M17S_rightFor their Facebook page, The Guardian chose an interesting pull-quote from a piece on school shootings and gun control:

Schools now practice lockdown drills to prepare students for what to do if a shooter does enter the building. These drills entail getting all students out of the hallways, turning off the lights, locking doors, and having students sit silently on the floor and away from the windows. These drills are practiced multiple times a year, so these issues are constantly on students’ and teachers’ minds.

Silly me was damn sure this was a Lenore Skenazy-esque plea for sanity in a time of unprecedented safety, happiness, and prosperity for our nation and for our young people. Sadly, author (and teacher, that’s going to come up a lot) Ashley Lauren Samsa is not about that. She desperately wants President Obama to do something about the gun violence in America, particularly in our schools. Samsa supports a ban on automatic weapons and background checks for every firearms purchase. That’s fine, in that her opinion is not an uncommon one — it’s even the majority one for the latter measure — and more importantly, it is her prerogative to argue whatever she wishes. But read how she begins her plea for fewer guns, and tell me if it strikes you as odd:

As a teacher, I expected to return to my classroom after the holidays refreshed and ready for the second half of the year. That’s happened to a certain extent, but I can’t ignore the ongoing violence in America’s schools. On 14 January, a 12-year-old boy in New Mexico came to school with a sawed-off, 20-gauge shotgun and opened fire, wounding two students before a teacher was able to persuade him to put the gun down. On 17 January, two high school students were injured at a charter school in Philadelphia when another teen opened fire. On 20 January, a student sitting in the parking lot of Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania was injured by an unknown gunman. On 21 January, ateaching assistant was killed by a gunman at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. Yesterday, the University of Oklahoma was shut downbecause a member of the faculty reported hearing what he thought were three gunshots, though, fortunately, police are now saying what he heard was more likely machinery backfiring.

All this horror in the the first weeks of January alone.

Not one of these events has prompted the national uproar America saw after the Sandy Hook shooting on 14 December 2012. While the damage done at these schools was far less than that done at Sandy Hook – where 20 children and six staff members were killed – the lack of attention paid to these events is indicative of a larger issue: Americans are becoming numb to gun violence.

For teachers, however, these tragedies are all too real. With so many of these shootings – many of them the worst the nation has seen – taking place at schools and universities, we educators can’t help but feel afraid.

Four injuries in side a school, one outside by an unknown actor who potentially had no connection to the school. One death. And best of all, one case of “machinery backfiring.” The juxtaposition between that anticlimactic incident and the sentence beginning with “All this horror…” is inadvertently hilarious, which is not the tone Samsa intended. And she goes on, even more bizarrely, to suggest a numbness towards school and gun violence has occurred since Sandy Hook. Why? Because five injuries, one death, and one case of loud noises had not provoked the same reaction as twenty slaughtered six-year-olds? Hell, I turned on the TV a few days ago and CNN was broadcasting a press conference about the shooting by the 12-year-old with the shotgun.

Did they do a press conference about the 70-odd people killed by car bombs in Iraq during the same time? I didn’t see one. U.S. policy is greatly to blame for the disastrous state of that country and that’s a lot more deaths. How do we decide what should provoke our horror and our hand-wringing? How about car accidents? We’re clearly willing to do accept that level of risk, based on the convenience of automobiles. Or the risk that comes with owning a home or a bathtub? Why are guns so — pardon the pun — politically loaded? And just once, I would like the onus to be on the person suggesting a ban or restriction or law to be to prove it will go just as they say it will. Do they want a potentially dangerous, Jerry Brown California-style round-up of now-illicit guns? What will the punishment be for those who don’t obey the laws? Do liberals, who profess to be (and to be far, the good ones really are) against the prison-industrial complex, realize that demanding the outlawing of something will lead to more outlaws, then more prisoners? By all means, write about and advocate for a new law, but stop pretending that human beings will simply follow it, end of story. Human nature and all of history disproves that notion.

So no, we don’t react to every newspaper blurb like we did to the second worst school shooting in US history. Because as hysterical as we are about violence, we’re not as hysterical as Ms. Samsa as she pushes for gun control legislation and implies that one death is two injuries, is a loud, scary noise ,as long there was some tenuous — occasionally entirely psychological — connection to guns.

Last Monday, a jury found two former Fullerton, California, police officers not guilty on one charge of excessive force, two of manslaughter, and one of second-degree murder in the beating death of Kelly Thomas. The 2011 altercation, which lead to Thomas’s death five days later, was captured in detail by surveillance cameras and audio from police recorders—on tape, the cops can be seen beating the homeless man mercilessly and Tasing him twice in the face. At one point, Thomas is moaning “Help me dad” as the officers swing their nightsticks at him.

That fairly clear video evidence, along with the activism of Kelly’s father Ron (a former sheriff’s deputy) and the mobilization outraged community, ensured Thomas’s death got a lot more media coverage than the killing of homeless people by police normally do. But the officers are still walking free after beating an unarmed man to death. (In fact, one of them, Jay Cicinelli, already wants his job back.) How does that happen? A great many people in the community are asking that same question—multiple protests against the outcome of the trial this week resulted in 14 arrests

One answer to that question is that the jurors, like most Americans, probably thought that cops are generally almost always right. A Gallup Poll from last month found that 54 percent of respondents had “high” or “very high” amounts of trust in police officers. People think more favorably of cops than they do journalists, politicians, lawyers, or even members of the clergy. The only authority figures more trusted than the police are doctors, nurses, pharmacists, and grade school teachers.

The rest here

Ramos displays an injury sustained during his confrontation with Thomas

Ramos displays an injury sustained during his confrontation with Thomas

Yesterday afternoon, Jay Cicinelli and Manuel Ramos, the former Fullerton, California Police Officers who beat Kelly Thomas to death in 2011 were found not guilty of charges ranging from excessive force to second degree murder.

Afterwards, Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus said he wouldn’t pursue charges against a third officer, Joseph Wolfe, who was to be charged separately with involuntary manslaughter. Yesterday and today, members of the Fullerton community continued to express outrage and bafflement over the officers going free.

(The FBI is looking the verdict, however. And Thomas’ family says they will continue fighting for their son, including filing a civil action.)

In spite of the excruciating half hour of surveillance footage that includes Thomas screaming out apologies and cries for his father, in spite of Ramos saying “Now see these fists? They getting ready to fuck you up”, the officers are not criminally culpable.

It’s difficult to respond to the case and the verdict without being “overly” emotional. I know several male journalists who acknowledge shedding tears when they watched the video in which Thomas can be heard struggling to breath and crying for his dad. Cicinelli and Ramos’ defense attorney did what he was supposed to do, namely raise enough doubt in the minds of jurors. And part of that defense was to argue that Cicnelli and Ramos were doing what they were trained to do. Maybe they were. Undoubtedly that’s worse than them being rogue brutes. If police cannot be trusted or trained to deescalate a confrontation with a man who appeared to be homeless, who was known to the police and the community as schizophrenic, and who seemed unable to obey commands, then it’s hard not to wonder what purpose they serve beyond a mentally ill transient-removal service.

Cicinelli, also, has already announced that he wants his job with the Fullerton PD back. The sheer volume of bad press that might result could save Fullerton’s citizens from being under Cisnelli’s lawful authority again, but you never know.

Thomas during his five days on life support after the beating

Thomas during his five days on life support after the beating

Here are some notable responses to the verdict:

A surprisingly insightful Gawker comment says Joe Public messed it up:

LtCmndHipster

Who the fuck do we blame here? Ourselves. We had a video and a body. We had a DA willing to bring charges against the perpetrators. What we didn’t have was a jury pool willing to convict these two men of murder simply because they were police officers. If the american public can be this apathetic, we have nobody to blame but ourselves. Yesterday 8:15pm

Anthony Gregory, writing at the Independent Institute’s Beacon Blog, puts the Thomas killing into the context of the state’s violent nature:

It is the nature of the state that acts that would be considered criminal if conducted by private individuals are legal if done by the government. Government is a monopoly on legal violence, after all. In today’s America, this reality is no clearer than with the burgeoning police state, whose agents routinely commit violent acts that would condemn most of us to a cell for decades.

The Atlantic‘s Andrew Cohen seems more shocked than anything else:

I followed this case but never wrote about it because I assumed—wrongly it turns out—that Orange County jurors would convict. But I should have known better. The results of these cases often don’t turn upon the strength of the facts or upon the evidence introduced at trial. They often turn instead upon what a group of people, a group of jurors, think is right and wrong. Jurors obviously believe they made the right choice. But because of the existence of that video, and what it shows us with our own eyes, the rest of us are more free than usual to criticize that choice. And I choose to do so. What has happened here— both on that night in July 2011 and again today—is wrong. Painfully, manifestly, cruelly wrong. It is a travesty upon justice.

OC Register Columnist David Whiting correctly notes that bringing the officers to trial was a significant thing for Fullerton and for the rest of the country, but that’s a sign of serious accountability issues, not a reason to celebrate. The rest of the awful piece tries too hard to be optimistic and let’s all move on-y. Whiting says “the rule of law” won out, and nobody broke any windows in anger:

We saw Fullerton police persevere through the cries of “murderers” from some protesters. And we didn’t riot after the not guilty verdicts.

Getting kudos for honoring the rule of law may seem silly. But it’s significant considering what’s happened in many American cities – including Anaheim – after some officer-involved controversies.

More tellingly, Whiting adds to the win column that “we witnessed our district attorney risk his political career by prosecuting those officers.” Did the DA risk his career by daring to prosecute police officers? And if so, isn’t that troubling and worth exploring in more detail than a sentence?

Finally, cartoonist Bob Aul sums it up in the OC Weekly:

Rollerblade_444692_1510740According to a January 9 Wall Street Journal article, the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado may mean that cops have less money to play with. When weed was illegal, police departments could cash in via civil asset forfeiture—they’d raid grow operations and dealers and seize cash and other kinds of property. Those seizures provided both a financial incentive to prioritize drug crimes and a financial perk for departments. Now, presumably, there will be fewer marijuana raids, thus less money for the cops. Washington state hasn’t earmarked any of the tax revenue soon to be coming in from the legal weed market to go to law enforcement, and Colorado may send some of their new dollars towards the cops, but not necessarily—in both states, millions of dollars normally spent on law enforcement may disappear as a consequence of the end of prohibition.

The specifics of forfeiture laws vary from state to state, but generally speaking police can take large amounts of cash (often anything over $10,000) from defendants based only on the suspicion that a big chunk of currency found during, say, a traffic stop, might be drug profits. It can also bechillingly easy for cops to take your property through asset forfeiture if a family member you live with is dealing drugs. The Department of Justice is generally very generous about sharing funds—as long as there’s tangential federal involvement in a case, the Feds take 20 percent of the assets forfeited and the rest goes to the local cops—so police departments are strongly encouraged to go after drug dealers; not only do they get photo ops with “dope on the table,” they can keep the majority of the profits from the sale of seized homes, vehicles, and property. (Not to mention that cash.) Often the onus is on the owner of the property to prove that it wasn’t involved in a crime, which can be an expensive and time-consuming endeavor.

The rest here

policeOn December 19, eight members of Texas’s Burleson County Sheriff’s Department banged open the door of the double-wide trailer rented by 28-year-old Henry Magee and his girlfriend. It was between five and six AM and the deputies, who were there to search for marijuana and stolen weapons, set off at least two flashbang grenades in an attempt to surprise and disorient Magee, their suspect. The leader of the team, Sergeant Adam Sowders, a seven-year veteran of the department, had requested the warrant be “no-knock,” meaning the police could enter the residence without announcing themselves. But it was possibly do to the confusion caused by the sudden entrance of the cops that led to Magee opening fire with a semi-automatic weapon and hitting Sowders. The cop later died, and Magee has been charged with capital murder, which can bring the death penalty in Texas.

The majority of SWAT-style raids on homes in the US—there are more than 100 a day—are over narcotics. It’s unclear how many are no-knock, but the line between and no-knock and announce warrants can be blurry, especially for sleeping residents who may not hear shouts of “police!”According to Dick DeGuerin, the high-profile defense lawyer representing Magee, no-knock warrants are uncommon in Texas because they are dangerous for officers who serve them.

DeGuerin told me that Magee’s girlfriend, who was five months pregnant and “hysterical, screaming, and crying” after the shooting, was forced to lie on her stomach until a female deputy let her turn over. DeGuerin is certain that Magee, whose parents asked him to take their son’s case, “had no idea” who was outside of his door that morning, and Magee thought he was being robbed. According to DeGuerin, Magee yelled “Who is it?” but go no response, then as “the door burst open,” he fired. After the shooting, Magee came out and quickly surrendered.

On Friday, DeGuerin said he hadn’t yet spoken to county District Attorney Julie Renken who filed the charges against his client. (My calls to the Burleson County Sheriff’s Department, the DA, and the county courthouse went unreturned.) He didn’t want to speak to the prospect of Magee’s chances of pleading out or having the charges dropped, but he said that the raid was initiated by a former coworker of Magee’s who had gotten himself into “some deep trouble” with the law and was trying to lessen it by informing.

The rest here.

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Photo by Alan Cleaver

Finally, the song of the day can only be the best Christmas song ever, which can thankfully also be enjoyed every other day of the year:

Merry Christmas, all.

  • 6.Mencken drinking-I’ve had an impressively mediocre two weeks of travel, and really should have updated the blog more, but sickness, plus relatives, plus just bad travels didn’t really bring on the writing itch. Few highlights include: being stuck in a Kafaesque loop of being sent from House desk to Senate desk to House media gallery to Senate media gallery on Capitol Hill, plus having Capitol police having pick up one my socks; firing some satisfyingly huge guns in North Carolina and shopping at an endearingly sketchy military surplus store (cash only, for paranoia purposes); and of course screaming “SHUT UP ABOUT GLUTEN” at the Museum of Sex in New York City. But really, that was mostly it. Somehow the whole of my journeys was not what the parts promised to be.
  • In other news about people The Stag Blog likes, Radley Balko is moving to Washington Post, which is both great for him, great for libertarianism, and rough for those of us who will now feel obligated to read WaPost.
  • Kennedy and Matt Welch will be cohosting a new Fox Business show called The Independents, so for the ill-fitting suit jackets and the mismatched patterns alone (if you know me, you know this is high praise indeed), it will be worth a watch. Here is a snotty, lazy Gawker summation of things. I assume the comments are horrifying beyond words, so don’t bother with that.
  • In humbler news, brother Joe has been told to get a webcam, so that The Stag Blog’s new Google+ show can finally get started. It’s called Politics for People Who Hate Politics, and if you want to be a guest, annoying me about it is encouraged. More details will come. It should be fun.
  • Hey, my latest VICE piece is about how Homeland Security are being assholes to Canadians with past mental health problems.
  • What’s happening in the world? Hmmm.
  • Well, stop pretending the drug war is over, because this guy’s ruined life begs to differ.
  • NYPD mistakes Brooklyn man’s breath mints for ecstasy.
  • Is this is true, I can’t even began to process how horrifying it is. Read with caution: “I Am a False Rape Allegation Statistic”
  • Here is a decent Gawker response to the is that woman who wrote the not-very-good-sorry poverty essay actually poor or not kerfuffle.
  • 1920s prosthetic limbs
  • I want to live in J.D. Tuccille’s society. He makes anarchy sound fun, God save his crazy bootlegging family.
  • This Orange County reporter is covering/livetweeting the trial of the cops who killed Kelly Thomas.
  • Prohibition slang.
  • Currently reading this ancient Vanity Fair piece on the mysterious, sordid death of Hitler’s way too beloved half-niece.

Pam sums up the feeling of not having a reaction ready for the death of notable person:

Today’s video:

No, don’t ask questions.