Currently viewing the tag: "police"

potThe drug war rhetoric is improving in 2014. Let’s see if actual policy ever catches up.

In a New Yorker profile published this month, President Obama admitted that marijuana was not that bad and the enforcement of anti-weed laws was skewed against minorities. Similarly, on Thursday Texas Governor Rick Perry voiced his support for decriminalizing marijuana and letting states craft drug laws free of federal intervention. On January 16, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said he had changed his mind and that medical marijuana was a fine thing after all. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who was trying to drown his state’s medical marijuana program in the bathtub not three months ago, spent part of his inaugural address delivered on January 21promising to end the war on drugs. New York Senator Chuck Schumer just said on MSNBC that states should be allowed to “experiment” with legalization. What the hell is happening? How did the war on drugs go from a fringe issue five or six years ago to this current race to out-chill your political competitors when it comes to weed policy? It’s hard to know for sure, but it seems like Americans as a whole have decided that marijuana should be legal (or at least partially legal), while our leaders’ views have lagged behind. Now we’ve reached a tipping point where it’s safe for elected officials to embrace an end to prohibition—politicians’ minds aren’t changing, but poll numbers are.

The rest of the crankiness, along with bad cops of the week, over here

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

  • 6-8-07-segway-policeI love(d) my grandparents. I might love them slightly more if they turned out to have broken into an FBI office and stolen documents about COINTELPRO. Damn.
  • Thaddeus Russell on “The Paternalists’ Bible”
  • Two more victims of the Satanic sexual abuse hysteria are free from prison. Only took 20 years!
  • Radley Balko has made his move to The Washington Post, thereby raising the credibility of their editorial pages/blog, uh, pages by an astronomical degree. He writes in his introduction this libertarian poetry: “People move to Washington because they see themselves becoming president someday. People move to Nashville because they see themselves opening for Willie Nelson someday. I find the latter to be a much nobler ambition.” Amen, Balko. Amen.
  • Pennsylvania considering the use of civil asset forfeiture in human trafficking cases. Look at this heartening phrase: “Under the proposal, if a suspect is accused of trafficking in people, any property used in that crime could  be seized by law enforcement.” Accused! I am sure no voluntary prostitution will get lazily lumped in with trafficking. And why wait until someone has been convicted of a crime before you take their property, civil asset forfeiture needs only that you be “accused.”
  • Cathy Reisenwitz and Jeffrey Tucker on the surprising feminism of Ludwig von Mises! (I was surprised, hence the punctuation.)
  • Aeon magazine on “creepypasta” and its status as the urban legends/folktales for an internet age. 
  • Dom Flemons from the Carolina Chocolate Drops wrote a fascinating essay in The Oxford American. It covers Gus Cannon (of the excellent old timey Cannon’s Jug Stompers), Booker T. Washington, and the general complexity behind some of the more now-cringeworthy minstrel-ish songs from back in the day.
  • I adore io9 most of the time, but they still put out this lazy, lazy post on Bitcoins. 
  • Buzzfeed — an outlet I defend on occasion, if only for its reporting and longreads — is shockingly inane on The Simpsons here. The writer watched some of the most classic episodes of one of the best shows of all time and wrote a post that suggested she had never seen a cartoon before. I realize being annoyed by a Buzzfeed entertainment post is also inane, but damn. What is this?
  • Bettie Page, once known by men who needed a little staggish excitement is now mostly loved and copied by ladies. Rockabilly cliche or not, I also love Page’s attitude. Nobody else could look quite so happy to be naked as she. (Though all of us ladies who sometimes suffer a misguided urge to cut their hair into bangs should blame her for that a little. )

Today’s video is Willie Watson, formerly of Old Crow Medicine Show.

He’s working on a solo album produced by Dave Rawlings. I am very excited about this.

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.