Currently viewing the tag: "police"

Rollerblade_444692_1510740Last fall, VICE published a piece by Brian Aitken, a man who had recently moved to New Jersey, where he narrowly escaped seven years in prison for possession of guns that were legal in his previous home of Colorado but banned in the Garden State. Only after an executive order from Governor Chris Christie commuted his sentence was Aitken set free—if being stuck with a lingering felony charge can be called freedom.

Disagree about gun laws all you like, but New Jersey is pretty nuts about theirs. It’s less about Second Amendment specifics, or ideologies (unless yours involves more people crammed into US prisons), and more about making criminals appear out of thin air. It doesn’t sound so terrible when you read that New Jersey doesn’t recognize Pennsylvania concealed carry permits, for example—unless you happen to have someone passing through and unaware of the nuts and bolts of interstate laws. Last October, a Philadelphia mother of two was pulled over for an unsafe lane change. Shaneen Allen, 27, told the officer that she had a handgun and bullets in her vehicle, and then showed the cop her Pennsylvania concealed carry permit. Bad idea. Now Allen, who had been robbed more than once—which was her motivation for buying the gun in the first place, along with protecting her two kids—is charged with unlawful possession of a firearm and faces three years in prison.

Lately, there’s been a great deal of positive push-back against federal drug mandatory minimums, but not much resistance to firearm minimums that punish people for selling drugs and owning a gun—even if it was legal in another jurisdiction, and even if it was never displayed.Guns may be a politically loaded (pardon the God-awful pun) object, but owning one is not the same as committing violence. These kind of laws should be filed away with low-level drug prohibitions as unjust restrictions on consensual activity.

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A libertarian panel hosted by Lucy Steigerwald, where ranting is encouraged, and smashing the state is mandatory.

-Lucy Steigerwald: Columnist for VICE.com, Antiwar.com, Rare.us, and Editor in Chief of The Stag Blog; @lucystag

-Jordan Bloom: Opinions editor for the Daily Caller, previously at the American Conservative, blogs at The Mitrailleuse; @j_arthur_bloom

-Joe Steigerwald: Publisher for The Stag Blog, technical dude; @steigerwaldino

-Michelle Montalvo: Perpetual intern, sci-fi enthusiast, laconic individual ;@michellePHL

-Adam Berkeley: libertarian-sympathetic friend who knows foreign policy and hates DC.

Our cranky, liberty-loving panel trashed necons, Mark Ames, Buzzfeed, and warmongering. We talked of the partisan politics of distrusting the police. We spoke of Buzzfeed, and whether plagiarism in clickbait is such a moral failing. And we discussed Bloom’s’s Daily Caller piece on interventionists’ attempts to rebrand themselves, and the ensuing spat with the Washington Free Beacon.

1024px-1537_Braunschweiger_Monogrammist_Bordellszene_anagoriaWhen I was 12 or 13 years old, my mother mentioned that maybe weed wasn’t so bad, and police weren’t so good. Being homeschooled by libertarians has that benefit — the lessons are subtle and everyday, and occasionally they are explicit and in the moment, quite shocking.

Since that day, I’ve written and thought a great deal about the insanity of the war on drugs and the dangerous state of American policing. But, I haven’t written as much as I should about another harmful prohibition on a natural human action — one that also leads to outrageous laws, immoral punishments, and Puritanical shaming  — sex work. When Maggie McNeill prodded me into writing a piece for her Friday the 13 support for sex workers tradition, I was again reminded that I have not done my job in covering the issue. So, though I have a little post here, my real message for today is, I will do better on this. Because it is the same issue that makes me rant 1000 times a day, to my parents, boyfriend, friends, and literally anyone else who will listen. And the same innocent people are being punished.

Drug use is easy (at least for libertarians) to defend. Depriving people of medical marijuana or prescription drugs or punishing people for their choice of relaxant — it’s seems so simple and wrong to me after almost 15 years of thinking about it. I’ve been around people smoking weed, and nothing dire happened. I can see the smallness behind the prohibition of this supposedly great social ill and that yeah, Reefer Madness is a campy movie, not a policy guidebook.

Drugs are more familiar to me (in a manner of speaking), and they can be enjoyed without any kind of ruin to health or morals. But so too can selling (or buying!) sex. Drug use is a failing and a crime, so says the right; and to the left it is a health outrage to be paternalistically — but still forcibly — remedied with drug courts and mandatory rehab.

Sex work is the same. A fallen woman or a dirty whore in the right’s eyes might be to the left a a trafficked victim, perhaps one suffering from false consciousness if she declares she choose this particular carer.

I don’t often feel comfortable wielding such a lefty, workers of the world, etc.! word as “solidarity”, but when I think of the people who “don’t count” by the standards of society and law, I feel an urge to help them. Not because I know the first thing about how they lives should go, but simply because I know that the laws that oppress them, the cops that harass them, and the rest of us who tolerate or excuse it are all in the wrong.

Chatting with Maggie McNeill and once visiting a strip club are about the extent of my personal knowledge of the world of sex workers. I don’t see the appeal of stripping, whoring, escorting, or any of that for myself. I don’t disapprove of any of it, to be sure, but even if I did, I could — and should — write this same post, knowing that my personal feelings about selling sex shouldn’t mean a damn thing to anyone.

They certainly shouldn’t mean anything when deciding national, state, or local policies. The bedroom is the bedroom, whether money changes hands or not. And pro-woman, pro-sexual freedom liberals and small government conservatives should put their money where their mouth is and realize that laws against prostitution violate all manner of their professed principles. But libertarians, too, must take more notice of this, regardless of personal feelings about the work itself.

That’s the thing — the war on drugs, the war on the homeless, the war on immigrants, the panic over gun owners, religious weirdos, right-wing and left wing activists, all of this has lead to an out of control police force, and prisons spilling over with 2 million people. All of this is excused with, well, it’s not me getting my door kicked in at 4 am over weed, it’s not me schizophrenic and afraid of the police, it’s not me who wants to homeschool my kids in Idaho while owning a few guns, it’s not me being sprayed at protests, it’s not me photographed and held for hours at my work for a compliance check performed by armed police officers, so what does it matter?

Sex workers are judged, screwed over, and oppressed. The state and the busy-bodies have decided they — like so many other eccentrics or “immoral” actors — don’t get the same rights and protections good, upstanding citizens do. Their choices are wrong. Not just wrong, but against the law. And the law is the law, as the meaningless, malevolent tautology goes. Once that is declared true, all else so painfully familiar — jailing, “saving,” shaming, and ignoring people when they do need help — follows.

potIn the last two years, it’s been tempting to preemptively celebrate the end of the war on drugs. Consider that more than five years ago, only libertarians, the occasional radical leftists, or politicians named Ron Paul were seriously talking about the need to end this disastrous policy.

Now suddenly recreational marijuana is newly legal in two U.S. states, the House has voted to restrict the Drug Enforcement Administration from going after medical medical marijuana in the 22 states (plus DC) where it’s legal, and mainstream politicians are fighting over who can seem the most relaxed about legal weed (admittedly, with plenty of exceptions).

Nevertheless, the urge to pack it in, say “job well done,” and assume that social progress will roll in the direction of ending the war on drugs is a dangerous one.

It’s dangerous not just because of the countless people imprisoned for consensual drug crimes who are still filling our prisons to bursting. And not just because we still haven’t legally won on marijuana, even though 38 percent of Americans admit to having tried it, and a majority has supported its legalization since last year.

The “mission accomplished” mentality is really dangerous because the hard part is still ahead. Reformers will soon have to press on to legalizing the harder, more dangerous drugs as well.

This is one reason why though the relative safety of marijuana — though be careful with that dosage, Ms. Dowd — is relevant, it’s far from the only important issue in the war on drugs. After all, taking the logic that safety is the concern, we could argue, as Slate’s Reihan Salam recently did, that “the war on booze deserves a second chance” since alcohol is more dangerous than weed.

This is one reason the conversation about legalization must not get bogged down in statistical calculations of danger. Yes, weed is relatively safe. Its schedule one classification helps prove the utter cluelessness of folks who profess to know enough to ban something for an entire nation. But even a scientifically rigorous prohibition on substances is morally reprehensible and will have the same kinds of predictable, bad effects that any kind of baseless government action will.

Consider the recent media and public outrage over the Georgia drug raid during which a 19-month-old toddler was critically burned when police threw a flashbang grenade into his playpen. The no-knock raid performed by the Habersham County Sheriff’s Department and the Cornelia Police Department was over the alleged sale of a small amount of meth by the nephew of the Phonesavanh family who had moved into their relative’s home after theirs burned down two months previous.

After little Bounkham Phonesavanh was sent to the hospital and put into a medically-induced coma thanks to these cops, Cornelia Police Chief Rick Darby swore they didn’t know a child was in the house. They protested that would have done things differently had they known. They also didn’t realize that the subject of their search wasn’t even there when they busted in the door.

Wanis Thonetheva, 30, had hours before supposedly sold meth to an informant. (Thonetheva was later arrested with an ounce of meth on him, so that seems probable for once.) For anyone else besides a police officer performing a no-knock raid, this excuse would be an embarrassment. What made police believe that a few hours was enough time between the alleged meth sale and the 3 a.m. door-kick to be sure nobody innocent would be endangered during the raid? Do they not know children exist?

On the other hand, for a drug war action, “we didn’t know” is just as reasonable as anything else. After all, if killing innocent adults, endangering your fellow officers, and destroying 500 years of English common law isn’t enough for a line to be drawn, why should simple toddler maiming be such an outrage? This isn’t weed we’re talking about, this is “not even once” meth.

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gccHere be the latest Bad Cop Blotter. I had a paragraph, then a smaller tangent about the civil liberties doozies that come with involuntary commitments, but VICE editor dubbed it too tangental. Which is fair enough, but is also an important reason why people might fear getting help for a loved one. Police may kill your mentally ill relative, or just take them to prison. Mental health officials may help them, and it may be a good thing, or they may be indefinitely detained and drugged for acting weird. There’s no good solution here that I can see.

After any mass killing comes the wave of stories that ask why no one saw the tragedy coming. Those who knew Elliot Rodger—who killed six people on May 23 in Santa Barbara, California—were likely aware he was disturbed. The 22-year-old had been under psychiatric care since the age of eight, according to the New York Times; Rodger suffered from anxiety, depression, and likely high-functioning autism, and he became progressively more and more isolated as he went through adolescence.

From what I’ve read, his parents tried to help him as best they could: His mother even called the cops when she found his distressing YouTube videos. On April 30, Santa Barbara County sheriff’s deputies questioned Rodger—who managed to talk them out of searching his apartment—but they apparently never actually watched the videos before deciding he wasn’t a threat to anyone else, nor did they check the relevant databases to see if he was a gun owner. It’s easy to criticize the authorities for not divining that this reclusive loner was more violent than other reclusive loners, or to tut-tut at Rodger’s parents for not persuading the police to respond more aggressively, but doing so ignores the serious consequences of calling the cops on a mentally ill relative, and how limited law enforcement’s responses are.

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upside_down_us_flagA Blair County, Pennsylvania, resident named Joshua Brubaker got into some trouble last weekafter he hung an American flag upside down and painted “AIM” on it. Brubaker, who is part American Indian, was trying to make a statement after learning that the site of the infamous 1890 Wounded Knee massacre—and a 1973 conflict between the American Indian Movement and the FBI—was going up for sale. A graffitied flag is the kind of routine artistic protest often made by 19-year-olds who have just heard of Noam Chomsky, but it really pissed off L.J. Berg, an assistant chief with the Allegheny Township police. Berg—who says a woman who was in the military was offended by it as well—took it upon himself to take the icon down and charge Brubaker with desecration and insults to the American flag.

According to Flag Code, an upside-down flag is a distress signal, and some protesters have, like Brubaker, used it as a symbol for metaphorical or political distress. In 2012, a West Virginia McDonald’s flew an upside-down American flag at half-mast either in protest of Obama’s reelection, or, as the franchise owner later said, because a cable broke. Also that year a veteran in Spokane, Washington, had his upside-down flag stolen from his yard about two weeks after he first put it up to protest “a lot of political things.”

Malcontents from across the political spectrum turn flags upside-down, but there are plenty of people who wish all these damn hippies would get locked up or whatever—as headlines like“Desecration or Free Speech?” reflect. In fact, the right to burn or deface the stars and stripes was only officially affirmed 25 years ago, in the Supreme Court case Texas vs. Johnson. That dealt with a communist named Gregory Johnson, who in 1984 burned an American flag outside the Republican National Convention in Texas and was subsequently arrested for vandalizing a respected object. He was sentenced to a year in prison under the 1968 Federal Flag Desecration Law, but in 1989 his conviction was overturned by the Supreme Court, which held that burning the flag was “symbolic” and protected free speech. Part of the court’s reasoning was that since burning a flag is a proper way to “retire” it, the prosecution of Johnson was based on his political motivations, not the actual action of burning, and you can’t arrest people for their beliefs in the US.

Subsequent federal laws to protect the flag have been either overturned or gotten stuck in a legislative quagmire, usually in the House. State restrictions on burning or defacing the flag have been overturned since as unconstitutional, but not without a fight—in Missouri, a judge overturned one such law in 2012 after a man successfully sued after his arrest for burning and tearing a flag in 2009, but that fight has continued in other courts. Freedom of speech aside, many Americans still think flag burning should be illegal—a 2006 Gallup poll found that a majority of respondents favored a Constitutional amendment that would allow legislatures to ban flag burning. (Fortunately, America is not ruled by opinion polls yet.)

But hold on—doesn’t all that mean the cops were clearly in the wrong when they arrested Brubaker? Not necessarily. He’s been charged with a third-degree misdemeanor under a 2010 Pennsylvania law that prohibits various desecrations of the flag that makes exceptions for “patriotic or political demonstration.” The legal director of the Pennsylvania American Civil Liberties Uniontold the media that Brubaker’s flag absolutely qualifies as political, and thereby protected, speech. The cops can argue that Brubaker’s actions aren’t political and attempt to make the charges stick—they’d just be very, very wrong. As Brubaker said, “If I don’t have a right to fly that flag upside down, which means a sign of distress, which this country is in so much distress right now, then what’s the point of having it?”

The rest of this week’s bad cops over here

police

Earlier this month, news that a 9-year-old girl had been handcuffed and arrested for fighting last May in Portland, Oregon broke to much media attention and public outrage.

Portland officers David McCarthy and Matthew Huspek came to the home of Latoya Harris one week after her daughter got into a fight with another girl at the Boys and Girls club they both attended. Both girls were suspended from the club for a week, and the Harris girl apologized.

Everything should have been squared away, except the other girl’s mom called police after she saw her daughter’s bruised cheek. The officers interrogated the girl and since she, according to McCarthy’s report, “gave vague answers” and seemed nervous and cagey, they hauled her in, still clad in a swimsuit damp from her running through the sprinkler. Her mother was not permitted to come along, and it took her an hour to bus to the station and retrieve her child.

Harris says though she complained to various sources, including Portland’s Independent Police Review Division, nothing came of the matter, so she figured public shaming of the officers might do the trick. The reason the police board said there was nothing they could do? No laws were broken.

Portland law allows the handcuffing of suspects for felonies or class A misdemeanors, and fourth degree assault counts as the latter and that was the charge against the young Harris girl. After all that, the DA never charged the girl, and eventually the charges were dropped.

The savvy Ms. Harris was right about the effects of media attention and public outrage. There is now a push to change the law so that suspects in Portland under 10 can’t be taken into custody without a juvenile court order, among other small changes. This is good, but it it doesn’t change the fundamental absurdity of treating childish bad behavior like a criminal matter.

Nor does it change the fact that neither the local DA, the arresting officers, or indeed the mother who made the first frantic complaint used common sense. But American society has normalized the notion of a law and order response to every vice, every nuisance, and every bad behavior. Why should children be exempt?

Turns out they’re not — not even this month:

The rest here

DEA_badge_CDon’t celebrate the ceasefire until the prisoners are freed:

On March 13, the Colorado Court of Appeals issued a ruling that may provide a benefit for a small but not insignificant number of the people arrested for marijuana in the state. Brandi Jessica Russell had her 2011 conviction for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana overturned, and this precedent could be applied to other specific cases where the defendants had appeals in process when Colorado’s Amendment 64 passed in November 2012.

The victory will be small, since most people charged with drug possession plead out instead. But it’s progress. And in spite of some handwringing about the legal precedent set by retroactively applying a law by such dissenters as The Denver Posteditorial board, this is a good thing. As Tom Angell, the founder of the Marijuana Majority, told me by email, “The voters of Colorado … declared the war on marijuana a failure on Election Day 2012. It’s very good news that their sensible action at the ballot box will not only prevent more people from being arrested under senseless prohibition laws but will provide help to those who have been caught in the grips of those laws in years past.”

The rest over here