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Archive for the ‘Law’ Category

When Police Kill

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Alex Tabarrok’s article, mentioned in an earlier post, appears in Marginal Revolution, and it begins:

When Police Kill is the 2017 book by criminologist Franklin Zimring. Some insights from the book.

Official data dramatically undercount the number of people killed by the police. Both the Bureau of Justice Statistics’ Arrest-Related Deaths and the FBI’s Supplemental Homicide Reports estimated around 400-500 police kills a year, circa 2010. But the two series have shockingly low overlap–homicides counted in one series are not counted in the other and vice-versa. A statistical estimate based on the lack of overlap suggests a true rate of around 1000 police killings per year.

The best data come from newspaper reports which also show around 1000-1300 police killings a year (Zimring focuses his analysis on The Guardian’s database.) Fixing the data problem should be a high priority. But the FBI cannot be trusted to do the job:

Unfortunately, the FBI’s legacy of passive acceptance of incomplete statistical data on police killings, its promotion of the self-interested factual accounts from departments, and its failure to collect significant details about the nature of the provocation and the nature of the force used by police suggest that nothing short of massive change in its orientation, in its legal authority to collect data and its attitude toward auditing and research would make the FBI an agency worthy of public trust and statistical reliability in regard to the subject of this book.

The FBI’s bias is even seen in its nomenclature for police killings–“justifiable homicides”–which some of them certainly are not.

The state kills people in two ways, executions and police killings. Executions require trials, appeals, long waiting periods and great deliberation and expense. Police killings are not extensively monitored, analyzed or deliberated upon and, until very recently, even much discussed. Yet every year, police kill 25 to 50 times as many people as are executed. Why have police killings been ignored?

When an execution takes place in Texas, everybody knows that Texas is conducting the killing and is accountable for its consequences. When Officer Smith kills Citizen Jones on a city street in Dallas, it is Officer Smith rather than any larger governmental organization…[who] becomes the primary repository of credit or blame.

We used to do the same thing with airplane crashes and medical mistakes–that is, look for pilot or physician error. Safety didn’t improve much until we started to apply systems thinking. We need a systems-thinking approach to police shootings.

Police kill males (95%) far more than females, a much larger ratio than for felonies. Police kill more whites than blacks which is often forgotten, although not surprising because whites are a larger share of the population. Based on the Guardian data shown in Zimring’s Figure 3.1, whites and Hispanics are killed approximately in proportion to population. Blacks are killed at about twice their proportion to population. Asians are killed less than in proportion to their population.

A surprising finding:

Crime is a young man’s game in the United States but being killed by a police officer is not.

The main reason for this appears to be that a disproportionate share of police killings come from disturbance calls, domestic and non-domestic about equally represented. A majority of the killings arising from disturbance calls are of people aged forty or more.

The tendency  of both police and observers to assume that attacks against police and police use of force is closely associated with violent crime and criminal justice should be modified in significant ways to accord for the disturbance, domestic conflicts, and emotional disruptions that frequently become the caseload of police officers.

A slight majority (56%) of the people who are killed by the police are armed with a gun and another 3.7% seemed to have a gun. Police have reason to fear guns, 92% of killings of police are by guns. But 40% of the people killed by police don’t have guns and other weapons are much less dangerous to police. In many years, hundreds of people brandishing knives are killed by the police while no police are killed by people brandishing knives. The police seem to be too quick to use deadly force against people significantly less well-armed than the police. (Yes, Lucas critique. See below on policing in a democratic society).

Police kill more people than people kill police–a ratio of about 15 to 1–and the ratio has been increasing over time. Policing has become safer over the past 40 years with a 75% drop in police killed on the job since 1976–the fall is greater than for crime more generally and is probably due to Kevlar vests. Kevlar vests are an interesting technology because they make police safer without imposing more risk on citizens. We need more win-win technologies. Although policing has become safer over time, the number of police killings has not decreased in proportion which is why the “kill ratio” has increased.

A major factor in the number of deaths caused by police shootings is the number of wounds received by the victim. In Chicago, 20% of victims with one wound died, 34% with two wounds and 74% with five or more wounds. Obvious. But it suggests a reevaluation of the police training to empty their magazine. Zimring suggests that if the first shot fired was due to reasonable fear the tenth might not be. A single, aggregational analysis:

…simplifies the task of police investigator or district attorney, but it creates no disincentive to police use of additional deadly force that may not be necessary by the time it happens–whether with the third shot or the seventh or the tenth.

It would be hard to implement this ex-post but I agree that emptying the magazine isn’t always reasonable, especially when the police are not under fire. Is it more dangerous to fire one or two shots and reevaluate than to fire ten? Of course, but given the number of errors police make this is not an unreasonable risk to ask police to take in a democratic society.

The successful prosecution of even a small number of extremely excessive force police killings would reduce the predominant perception among both citizens and rank-and-file police officers that police have what amounts to immunity from criminal liability for killing citizens in the line of duty.

Prosecutors, however, rely on the police to do their job and in the long-run won’t bite the hand that feeds them. Clear and cautious rules of engagement that establish bright lines would be more helpful. One problem is that police are protected because police brutality is common (somewhat similar to my analysis of riots).

The more killings a city experiences, the less likely it will be that a particular cop and a specific killings can lead to a charge and a conviction. In the worst of such settings, wrongful killings are not deviant officer behavior.

…clear and cautious rules of engagement will …make officers who ignore or misapply departmental standards look more blameworthy to police, to prosecutors, and to juries in the criminal process.

Police kill many more people in the United States than in other developed countries, even adjusting for crime rates (where the U.S. is less of an outlier than most people imagine). The obvious reason is that . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

1 July 2020 at 2:21 pm

The US healthcare system and its inequities

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People seem to be willing to put up with it, and the GOP is determined to destroy the reforms that came with the Affordable Care Act, with Trump’s Department of Justice even now arguing that the ACA is unconstitutional and should be struck down in its entirety. And, oddly, many Americans like the current state of healthcare in the US and indeed many support abolishing the Affordable Care Act.

Sarah Kliff reports in the NY Times:

Before a camping and kayaking trip along the Texas Coast, Pam LeBlanc and Jimmy Harvey decided to get coronavirus tests. They wanted a bit more peace of mind before spending 13 days in close quarters along with three friends.

The two got drive-through tests at Austin Emergency Center in Austin. The center advertises a “minimally invasive” testing experience in a state now battling one of the country’s worst coronavirus outbreaks. Texas recorded 5,799 new cases Sunday, and recently reversed some if its reopening policies.

They both recalled how uncomfortable it was to have the long nasal swab pushed up their noses. Ms. LeBlanc’s eyes started to tear up; Mr. Harvey felt as if the swab “was in my brain.”

Their tests came back with the same result — negative, allowing the trip to go ahead — but the accompanying bills were quite different.

The emergency room charged Mr. Harvey $199 in cash. Ms. LeBlanc, who paid with insurance, was charged $6,408.

“I assumed, like an idiot, it would be cheaper to use my insurance than pay cash right there,” Ms. LeBlanc said. “This is 32 times the cost of what my friend paid for the exact same thing.”

Ms. LeBlanc’s health insurer negotiated the total bill down to $1,128. The plan said she was responsible for $928 of that.

During the pandemic, there has been wide variation between what providers bill for the same basic diagnostic test, with some charging $27, others $2,315. It turns out there is also significant variation in how much a test can cost two patients at the same location.

Mr. Harvey and Ms. LeBlanc were among four New York Times readers who shared bills they received from the same chain of emergency rooms in Austin. Their experiences offer a rare window into the unpredictable way health prices vary for patients who receive seemingly identical care.

Three paid with insurance, and one with cash. Even after negotiations between insurers and the emergency room, the total that patients and their insurers ended up paying varied by 2,700 percent.

Such discrepancies arise from a fundamental fact about the American health care system: The government does not regulate health care prices.

Some academic research confirms that prices can vary within the same hospital. One 2015 paper found substantial within-hospital price differences for basic procedures, such as M.R.I. scans, depending on the health insurer.

The researchers say these differences aren’t about quality. In all likelihood, the expensive M.R.I.s and the cheap M.R.I.s are done on the same machine. Instead, they reflect different insurers’ market clout. A large insurer with many members can demand lower prices, while small insurers have less negotiating leverage.

Because health prices in the United States are so opaque, some researchers have turned to their own medical bills to understand this type of price variation. Two health researchers who gave birth at the same hospital with the same insurance compared notes afterward. They found that one received a surprise $1,600 bill while the other one didn’t.

The difference? One woman happened to give birth while an out-of-network anesthesiologist was staffing the maternity ward; the other received her epidural from an in-network provider.

“The additional out-of-pocket charge on top of the other labor and delivery expenses was left entirely up to chance,” the co-authors Erin Taylor and Layla Parast wrote in a blog post summarizing the experience. Ms. Parast, who received the surprise bill, ultimately got it reversed but not until her baby was nearly a year old. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

29 June 2020 at 12:41 pm

Five myths about policing

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Alex S. Vitale, professor of Sociology and Coordinator of the Policing and Social Justice Project at Brooklyn College and author of The End of Policing, writes in the Washington Post:

In the wake of the 2014 protests in Ferguson, Mo., President Barack Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing recommended such reforms as implicit-bias training and an increase in officer diversity — an approach that is now shaping much of the official response to the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. But the public conversation about valuing or “defunding” the police is rife with erroneous assumptions about the institution. Here are five.

Myth No. 1 – Police spend most of their time fighting crime.

Pop culture portrays police largely as elite detectives, intensely focused on tracking down the worst of the worst: drug kingpins, serial killers, child kidnappers. An analysis published in the journal Criminal Justice and Behavior found that 66 percent of the crimes depicted in three popular TV police dramas were murder or attempted murder. And Attorney General William P. Barr claimed in a speech at a Fraternal Order of Police conference last year that, “We are fighting an unrelenting, never-ending fight against criminal predators in our society.”

But police mostly spend their time on noncriminal matters, including patrol, paperwork, noise complaints, traffic infractions and people in distress. An observational study in Criminal Justice Review shows that patrol officers, who make up most of police forces, spend about one-third of their time on random patrol, one-fifth responding to non-crime calls and about 17 percent responding to crime-related calls — the vast majority of which are misdemeanors. About 13 percent of their workday is devoted to administrative tasks and 9 percent to personal activities (such as eating). The remaining 7 percent of the time, officers are dealing with the public, providing assistance or information, problem solving and attending community meetings. A 2019 Vera Institute of Justice report found that fewer than 5 percent of arrests are related to serious violent crimes.

Myth No. 2 – A diverse police force leads to better policing.

After the 2014 killing of Michael Brown, observers commonly noted that the Ferguson police department was substantially whiter than the population it policed. Both the Justice Department’s 2015 report and local activists called on the city to recruit more officers of color. Similar proposals have surfaced in recent weeks: Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey has emphasized hiring “more black and brown officers” and “making sure that the police department actually reflects the community at large.”

Yet numerous studies show that the race of officers has no effect on the quality of policing. Having more diverse police forces does not reduce racial disparities in police killingscitizen complaintsvehicle stops or arrests to maintain order. A 2017 Indiana University study did find some modest improvements related to diversity, but only in a very small number of big-city departments; the rest of the departments in the study showed worse outcomes as diversity increased. While some recent research shows minor advantages to having more diverse police departments, the overall trend remains negative, in part because institutional pressures on black officers require that they not show any deference to black citizens. “It’s a blue thing,” writes Michigan State University criminal justice professor Jennifer Cobbina.

Myth No. 3 – Implicit-bias training can root out racism in policing.

This was one of the central planks of the Obama administration’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing: Racial disparities could be addressed by trainings designed to root out unconscious and unintentional bias. The Justice Department and private foundations have disbursed millions of dollars to local police departments to give this training to their officers. This month, Texas announced that it would require every police officer to receive implicit-bias training.

This training assumes that the problems of race in American policing stem from discretionary decisions by individual officers, driven by unconscious prejudice. But law professor Jonathan Kahn has shown that the research basis for this training is flawed. While implicit bias appears when you group large numbers of people together, it doesn’t show up consistently at the individual level, which is how police officers usually interact with the public. More important, advocates of such training have not proved a connection between the scoring on bias tests and actions in the world. They also lack evidence to support the effectiveness of the training to influence officer behavior.

Such training also fails to address American policing’s explicit racism problem. Officers have been associated with white-supremacist organizations, have made racially offensive postings on social media and have exchanged racist texts and emails; they are also represented by union officials who often defend officers’ racist conduct.

Myth No. 4 – Community policing empowers communities.

Advocates of this approach argue that the community should bring concerns to the police, developing joint strategies for resolving those problems, which gives cities and neighborhoods more control over crime-fighting. According to one of the movement’s founders, Robert Trojanowicz, this arrangement “empowers average citizens.”

Research shows that police give up little power in this process. University of Washington professor Steve Herbert, evaluating community policing in Seattle, found that the police were actively involved in deciding who constituted the “community,” systematically excluding voices critical of law enforcement. Similarly, a 2019 study in Los Angeles showed how officers made their own decisions about who was a legitimate community actor: For example, . . .

Continue reading.

This shows why experts and scholars are needed: without their input, people fall prey to common errors, false assumptions, guesses, and bias.

Written by LeisureGuy

27 June 2020 at 5:28 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

He Removed Labels That Said “Medical Use Prohibited,” Then Tried to Sell Thousands of Masks to Officials Who Distribute to Hospitals

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J. David McSwane reports in ProPublica:

Lucas Rensko was making money through a popular handyman-for-hire app called TaskRabbit, doing odd jobs and delivering groceries, when he picked up a task that led him to a leaky-roofed warehouse on a tattered road in northwest San Antonio.

Inside, a man named Jaime Rivera had set up long tables where five or six other “Taskers” earning about $20 an hour were ripping Chinese masks out of plastic bags and stuffing them into new ones that were identical but for one potentially deadly difference. The old packages were labeled in all caps “MEDICAL USE PROHIBITED,” meaning not to be used by doctors and nurses who need the strongest protection from tiny particles carrying the novel coronavirus. The new bags, intended to make their way to Texas hospitals, simply omitted that warning.

This seemingly small deception highlights a huge problem for medical workers whose best defense against a virus that ravages the body with horrifying complexity is a simple, but trustworthy, mask. That trust has eroded as Chinese-made masks claiming, sometimes falsely, to be 95% effective at filtering virus-laden particles made their way into hospitals and now local convenience stores. You might have bought them: KN95s.

Texas officials have tried to block ineffective masks from making their way to hospitals with screenings and by rejecting anything labeled as non-medical, yet at the same time, the mysterious brokers sourcing millions of masks were working hard to evade those safeguards. The operation Rensko witnessed had the potential to push faulty masks into the Texas supply chain just as Gov. Greg Abbott eased lockdown restrictions and COVID-19 infections began to soar.

“He kind of takes us on this tour of his facility, which is essentially a shelled out warehouse,” Rensko, 36, told me over the phone, detailing how Rivera described the work at the warehouse. “He was saying they were designated for personal or residential use, not for medical. And so what he was doing was basically putting them into other packaging where the city of San Antonio and the state of Texas are able to look at them and then sell them for medical purposes.”

Rensko knew something wasn’t quite right and walked away from the TaskRabbit gig. He told his wife, who told a friend, who told another friend, who told me.

Over weeks of reporting, I’d learn that Rensko had scratched the surface of a larger scheme involving a Silicon Valley investor named Brennan Mulligan to sell what Texas health officials later flagged as “fraudulent” masks to the agency directing protective equipment to hospitals. Mulligan had enlisted Rivera, who was desperate for money after the pandemic had sapped his primary source of income, building furniture and manual labor via TaskRabbit. As countless others have, the two had a chance to make money off of the country’s public health nightmare.

When I caught up with Mulligan, he emphasized that he didn’t break any U.S. laws in his mask business. Rivera would acknowledge it was a gray area that had caught the attention of federal investigators. Both would defend their actions as simply cutting through onerous red tape put up by the Chinese and U.S. governments to get masks to those desperate for them.

The absurdity, greed and incompetence surrounding the distribution of coronavirus-era masks has taken me to Chicago, California and, now, Texas. The federal government’s efforts to get protective equipment out quickly to essential workers had failed spectacularly, and the supply chain that normally moves products from producers to vendors to end users had almost completely broken down. Counterfeit masks were flooding the market, and prices for even unreliable masks had skyrocketed.

I did what due diligence I could from my Washington, D.C., apartment before buying a plane ticket. I researched Rivera and saw on Facebook that he was a father of six who danced in his driveway and camped on the beach with the kids.

But his Facebook page also told part of the supply-chain story. Rivera had posted several photos in late April of beaten up boxes bursting at the seams with masks labeled as KN95s, similar to the American-made N95 masks produced by 3M and other manufacturers. But the Chinese masks often don’t pass muster with U.S. regulators, who screen for effectiveness in blocking small particles and certify masks that meet their standards.

The masks Rivera posted photos of were face masks with earloops that don’t fit securely around the head, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends. While the earloop-masks might offer some protection, the FDA warns that they’re not effective enough to be used in a medical setting.

The 6-foot stack of boxes were labeled as coming from a Chinese manufacturer, Guangzhou Aiyinmei Co. Ltd., which had been identified by the FDA as one of the companies producing ineffective KN95s. The masks filter as little as 39% of particles, according to testing by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They’re so ineffective that Canada issued a recall. The FDA had hastily approved them and others for health care use at the beginning of the pandemic, but it changed its mind last month, even as millions of the masks circulated in the U.S.

Rivera also posted an intriguing screenshot of a $2,000 payment he had received via Venmo, the person-to-person payment app, from a sender with the initials BM.

The payment memo read: “4/17 kn95 37.5 drop off and 50k hand-off …”

“A day’s work!” Rivera boasted about April 17, the day he used a U-Haul rental truck to deliver nearly 100,000 masks to two buyers.

Beneath his Facebook post, a friend commented, “Looks like code for a drug deal.”

Back when I had friends and could go places, I used Venmo to split restaurant and bar tabs, sometimes offering cheeky comments that I mark as private so random people can’t see. But Rivera left all of his transactions and comments public, allowing anyone to see them on a smartphone. Venmo showed that Rivera’s payments from Mulligan, aka BM, included one for “131 boxes to TDEM,” an acronym for the Texas Division of Emergency Management, the state’s version of the Federal Emergency Management Agency. TDEM supplies lifesaving gear to hospitals coping with COVID-19 cases.

Mulligan, the investor, also left his payments public. They showed that he and Rivera had paid several other people for services including deliveries of masks and “repackaging.”

Mulligan turned up in an internet scrub as a successful San Francisco businessman. He founded a company whose proprietary software allowed brands like Reebok and Nike to customize products, then sold that enterprise. He is now the CEO of SKYOU Inc., a “manufacture on demand” business whose online 3D design software allows companies to create unique shirts and hoodies and have them shipped from China.

At first, it seemed odd that a tech entrepreneur would wade into mask trading, but it jibed with my previous reporting, which found that behind every mask sale, there’s a mystery investor.

After the mask supply crisis first surfaced, federal agencies and states went into business with nearly anyone who said they could deliver protective equipment. Masks were the first priority. Here and abroad, textile factories switched to stitching masks. Hundreds of new companies popped up and won government contracts, including some with shady records. My reporting found a high-end juicer salesman, a former state attorney general and dozens in the marijuana business who had become mask brokers.

Thus was born an unregulated market fueled by unprecedented scarcity and unending demand.

The Lone Star State

I met Rensko at a Starbucks around the corner from the warehouse where the mask operation went down. It was only 96 degrees, but it felt hotter, that first day Texans know that the weak spring is turning to summer scorch.

He said Rivera had called him the day after he walked away from the TaskRabbit gig. Rivera “apologized, so he knew something was up.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

And see also:

The Indian Health Service Wants to Return 1 Million KN95 Masks It Bought From a Former White House Official

The former official, Zach Fuentes, is refusing to take back the masks even though IHS said they did not meet FDA standards. His company’s lawyer says the IHS is trying to cancel the order for “political reasons.”

The Trump administration is rotten with crooks and grifters.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2020 at 5:11 pm

How America Exports Police Violence Around the World

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America for years has been one of the biggest arms dealers in the world, and US export of violence goes beyond that. Laura Weiss writes in the New Republic:

As the protest movement responding to the police killing of George Floyd has erupted across the country in recent weeks, my now habitual encounters with police clad in full riot gear in my usually calm Brooklyn neighborhood have been a new and disconcerting experience. In certain moments, while listening to close-flying helicopters and begrudgingly following curfew mandates, as journalists are roughly arrested and beaten up by police, I’ve found myself responding to the surreal scenes with some familiar clichés. I’m not in Brooklyn anymore, Toto, “things” like this “don’t happen here.” Those of us who experience white privilege in the United States don’t typically encounter these sights. These police tactics are usually pushed out of the frame, beyond our sight lines, relegated only to poor minority neighborhoods in America as well as crisis-torn countries of the so-called “global south.”

In fact, the connections between my streets and the streets of others—between policing in the United States and policing in “third world” countries—run deep. While the U.S. polices Black and brown neighborhoods within its own borders as internal colonies, it exports those same militarized and abusive policing techniques to almost every country in the world, through both the State Department and Department of Defense, as well as private contractors. Though it’s difficult to obtain a full accounting, in 2018 alone, the U.S. appropriated over $19 billion in security aid to military and police forces to 144 countries around the world, according to the Security Assistance Monitor.

The role of the U.S. in perpetuating abusive police tactics in other countries has not figured into most conversations around defunding and abolishing the police in recent weeks. But the two are inextricably linked by a common philosophy, and curbing police abuses here at home should force both changes to the way the U.S. provides assistance to police and military forces abroad and a larger reckoning with the neocolonial power structures that enable the U.S. to continue to export its policing strategies and its guns to poorer and less powerful countries in the first place.

“You pick the point in history since the beginning of the twentieth century, the United States has been bringing its national security apparatus abroad and using police in other countries to achieve its goals,” said Stuart Schrader, a historian and author of Badges Beyond Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing. From its assistance to military dictatorships during the Cold War to its ongoing support of two endless conflicts with metaphysical constructs—the “war on drugs” and the “war on terror”—the U.S. has become firmly attached, Schrader points out, to a long commitment.

America’s infernal policing of the global order has manifested itself especially heavily in Latin America. There, U.S. counternarcotics aid has provided counterinsurgency training, equipment—such as tanks and Black Hawk helicopters—and tactical and intelligence support to police and military across the region. In addition to government aid, the U.S. has exported “broken windows” policing to cities across the region. Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani has pocketed millions from consulting with Latin American leaders on how to apply the strategy to their cities. Such policing strategies also disproportionately target both Indigenous and Black people across the Americas.

“The problem of anti-Black policing … is one that is very much alive throughout our hemisphere, and around the world,” said Christen Smith, an anthropologist whose work focuses on police violence against Black people in Brazil. “The way we police at home is also the way we police elsewhere.”

Walking home from protests in recent weeks has brought me back to my time spent living in Mexico City, where police in riot gear, carrying AK-47s, standing around passively on any given day in upper-class commercial districts, are a pedestrian sight. There, their bloated largesse is on full display, as they stare off blankly into the distance, fidgeting and picking their noses. The fact that they are holding weapons that could easily kill you is a passive, constant threat.

The U.S. government has funneled over $3 billion in security and development assistance to Mexico in recent decades, much of it in the name of stopping the flow of illicit drugs—and just as often, its people—to the U.S. This funding has involved multiple attempts to reform the police. These efforts typically amount to little more than a purge of personnel, followed by a rebranding of different “elite” police units, every time a new president is sworn into office. Other half-hearted measures involve the transfers of equipment, training, strategy, guns, and intelligence to Mexican police and military. The overall strategy, carried out in the name of the war on drugs, has chiefly involved the targeting and capturing of the heads of drug cartels. This has mostly led to a splintering and proliferation of violence across Mexico, leaving over 230,000 dead and over 60,000 disappeared since 2008.

Meanwhile, the security buildup of the U.S.-Mexico border wall has come alongside similar training and assistance to Mexico’s border patrol, notably in helping the Mexican government beef up security along its southern border to stop and deter Central American asylum-seekers before they even reach the U.S. border. Mexico’s border patrol, like our own, has been implicated in systematic human rights abuses.

The U.S. has also funded judicial reforms, as well as some nongovernmental organizations working on corruption and impunity in Mexico. But today, some 90 percent of crimes in Mexico remain unsolved. Mexicans know that the problem with the cops goes far beyond “a few bad apples.” Since the drug war began, it’s become increasingly difficult to locate exactly where the cops and the military end and where the “criminal organizations” they’ve pledged to fight begin. Despite this, the overall law enforcement strategy goes mostly unquestioned. This is largely due to the power dynamics at play: If Mexico—or any number of countries, for that matter—decided to do things differently, the U.S. would retaliate by cutting off aid, imposing sanctions, or even supporting a change to a more like-minded regime.

As in the U.S., it’s difficult for many to see an alternative to the police—though in some parts of rural Mexico, Indigenous communities have sought to expel the police from their neighborhoods and replace them with their own self-defense forces. But the police and military maintain a monopoly on authorized violence, no matter how “impervious to reform” these institutions might be, as Smith put it.

Though movements against state violence have deep roots in Latin America, the recent protests in the U.S. have reverberated in unique ways across the region, too, bringing renewed attention to racist and violent policing practices in these countries. In Guadalajara, Mexico, protests . . .

Continue reading.

I’m reminded how the US taught torture techniques and organized and supported death squads in Central America during the Reagan Administration and afterward.

Written by LeisureGuy

25 June 2020 at 5:01 pm

Turns out that, contrary to claims, it wasn’t safe after all: Roundup Maker to Pay $10 Billion to Settle Cancer Suits

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Patricia Cohen reports in the NY Times:

Bayer, the world’s largest seed and pesticide maker, has agreed to pay more than $10 billion to settle tens of thousands of claims in the United States that its popular weedkiller Roundup causes cancer, the company said Wednesday.

The figure includes $1.25 billion to deal with potential future claims from people who used Roundup and may develop the form of cancer known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in the years to come.

“It’s rare that we see a consensual settlement with that many zeros on it,” said Nora Freeman Engstrom, a professor at Stanford University Law School.

Bayer, a German company, inherited the legal morass when it bought Roundup’s manufacturer, Monsanto, for $63 billion in June 2018. It has repeatedly maintained that Roundup is safe and will continue to sell the product without adding a warning on the label.

The settlement, which covers an estimated 95,000 cases, was extraordinarily complex because it includes separate agreements with 25 lead law firms whose clients will receive varying amounts.

Most of the lawsuits filed early on were brought by homeowners and groundskeepers, although they account for only a tiny portion of Roundup’s sales. Farmers are the biggest customers, and many agricultural associations contend glyphosate, the key ingredient in Roundup, is safe and effective.

Bayer still faces at least 25,000 claims from plaintiffs who have not agreed to be part of the settlement.

“This is nothing like the closure they’re trying to imply,” said Fletch Trammell, a Houston-based lawyer who said he represented 5,000 claimants not taking part in the settlement. “It’s like putting out part of a house fire.”

But Kenneth R. Feinberg, the Washington lawyer who oversaw the mediation process, said he expected most current plaintiffs to eventually join the settlement. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

Part of the $1.25 billion will be used to establish an independent expert panel to resolve two critical questions about glyphosate: Does it cause cancer, and if so, what is the minimum dosage or exposure level that is dangerous?

If the panel concludes that glyphosate is a carcinogen, Bayer will not be able to argue otherwise in future cases — and if the experts reach the opposite conclusion, the class action’s lawyers will be similarly bound.

Pressure on Bayer for a settlement has been building over the past year after thousands of lawsuits piled up and investors grew more vocal about their discontent with the company’s legal approach.

Just weeks after the deal to purchase Monsanto was completed in 2018, a jury in a California state court awarded $289 million to Dewayne Johnson, a school groundskeeper, after concluding that glyphosate caused his cancer. Monsanto, jurors said, had failed to warn consumers of the risk.

In March 2019, a second trial, this time in federal court in California, produced a similar outcome for Edwin Hardeman, a homeowner who used Roundup on his property, and an $80 million verdict.

Two months later, a third jury delivered a staggering award of more than $2 billion to a couple, Alva and Alberta Pilliod, who argued that decades of using Roundup caused their non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

“Plaintiffs have gone to the plate three times and hit it out of the park,” Ms. Engstrom at Stanford said. “When you see they’re batting a thousand, and thousands more cases are waiting in the wings, that spells a very bleak picture for Monsanto.”

All three monetary awards were later reduced by judges and Bayer appealed the verdicts, but the losses rattled investors and the stock price tumbled sharply. Those cases are unaffected by Wednesday’s settlement.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2020 at 12:56 pm

The authoritarian iron fist crashes down: Two Brooklyn lawyers accused of throwing a Molotov cocktail

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Murtaza Hussein recounts in ProPublica a case that would not be out of place in any country run by a dictator:

THE KILLING OF George Floyd by Minneapolis police in late May ignited protests in cities and towns across the United States. These largely peaceful demonstrations have been punctuated by acts of violence, frequently committed by the police themselves. But other incidents of both violence and property destruction have also been reported. Among them was the case of two young Brooklyn lawyers accused of burning the dashboard of a New York Police Department cruiser — a case that has become a flashpoint in the Trump administration’s legal and public relations response to the protests.

Urooj Rahman, 31, and Colinford Mattis, 32, are accused by the government of tossing a Molotov cocktail through the broken window of an empty police cruiser in the Fort Greene neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The alleged incident, said to have been caught on video, took place during the early hours of May 30, amid the wave of protests.

The government has not suggested that Rahman and Mattis harmed anyone or intended to do so. According to reports, the empty police cruiser had already been vandalized and damaged amid rioting in Brooklyn that night. The device, which failed to ignite properly, burned part of the driver’s console in the abandoned vehicle.

Yet the potential punishments they now face for tossing the incendiary are staggering. Following a raft of new charges announced by federal prosecutors last week, the two lawyers — neither of whom have previous criminal records — now face a mandatory minimum of nearly half a century in prison if convicted of the charges. The maximum penalty in the case is life imprisonment.

“If you consider what these individuals are accused of doing – throwing a Molotov cocktail into an already abandoned police vehicle and charring its dashboard — the potential punishments are clearly wildly disproportionate,” said Lara Bazelon, a professor and director of the Criminal Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice Clinical Programs at the University of San Francisco School of Law. “They are facing a mandatory minimum of 45 years in prison if convicted. A judge sentencing them would have no choice but to give them that amount of time.”

Rahman and Mattis’s cases have drawn attention in part due to the story’s sensational nature: two well-educated young lawyers who allegedly engaged in an act of symbolic revolution against a marker of police authority. But the case now seems to be transforming into something darker: a tool for the Trump administration to send a message to its political opponents. The government recently took the extraordinary step of appealing the accused’s bail conditions and sending them back into pretrial custody, a decision more common for prosecutions of violent organized crime and terrorism. The move prompted 56 former federal prosecutors to file an amicus brief in protest.

With the administration ominously vowing to “dominate the streets,” even relatively innocuous acts of rebellion like property damage now stand to be punished with the most draconian legal tools available to the federal government.

Thousands of people across the country have been detained amid the protests. But very few of these cases have come to public prominence the way that Rahman and Mattis’s have. In some respects, their backgrounds may seem atypical of many of those detained in recent weeks. Mattis is the son of a Jamaican immigrant who grew up in the impoverished Brooklyn neighborhood of East New York and went on to practice corporate law in Manhattan after graduating from Princeton and New York University. Rahman, the daughter of working-class Pakistani immigrants in Brooklyn, is a public interest lawyer in the Bronx. (A disclosure: I encountered Rahman at past social gatherings in New York City, though we have never spoken.)

A steady stream of provocative leaks to local tabloid news outlets following the arrests has helped make the pair widely known. An edited excerpt from a four-minute video interview Rahman gave to an independent news outlet on the night of the alleged incident was published by the New York Daily News, in which Rahman seemed to make threats of harm against police officers. The unedited version of the interview, which appeared on the YouTube page of the news site LoudLeaks, seemed to adjust the meaning of what she had said: Rather than harming officers, Rahman appeared to be referring to property damage against police department equipment as an inevitable consequence of unpunished police abuses. . .

Continue reading. There’s more, and this — together with the protection offered to Michael Flynn and the pardoning of the Navy SEAL convicted of war crimes — show the direction of the US government today.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 June 2020 at 12:15 pm

My Family Saw a Police Car Hit a Kid on Halloween. Then I Learned How NYPD Impunity Works.

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Eric Umansky reports in ProPublica:

Last Halloween, my wife and then-6-year-old daughter were making their way home after trick-or-treating in Brooklyn. Suddenly, an unmarked NYPD car with sirens wailing began speeding against traffic up a one-way street, our neighborhood’s main thoroughfare. The officer seemed to be going after a few teenage boys.

Then, in an instant, the car hit one of the kids.

It was the first of many jarring things my family saw the NYPD do that night. Afterward, I tried to find out more about what exactly had happened and whether officers would be disciplined. There was footage and plenty of witnesses, and I happen to be an investigative journalist. I thought there was at least a chance I could get answers. Instead, the episode crystallized all of the ways in which the NYPD is shielded from accountability.

This happened in my neighborhood, Carroll Gardens, which is overwhelmingly white. Residents named it that in the 1960s to distinguish it from nearby Red Hook, where the population was largely Black. The area has changed enormously over the decades. But even now, it’s segregated almost block by block.

Halloween is the one day that it can seem like an integrated neighborhood. With lots of stoops and storefronts, there’s always plenty of candy to be had. Kids from the whole area come for the haul.

The police said a group of teenage boys that night had punched and kicked another teenager at a nearby playground and stolen his cellphone. The teen flagged down an officer and was driven around the neighborhood looking for the boys. He pointed out a group, and police descended from different directions. One car sped against traffic until it hit a kid; the boy slid over the hood, hit the ground, and then popped up and ran away along with the others.

My wife took a photo of the car right after.

The police then turned their attention to a different group of boys. My wife and others said they were younger and didn’t seem to have any connection to the ones who had been running. Except that in both groups, the boys were Black.

The police lined five of the younger boys against the wall of our neighborhood movie theater and questioned them, shining bright lights that made them wince and turn their heads. The smallest of the boys was crying, saying, “I didn’t do anything.”

My daughter took in the scene. “What did the boys do wrong?” she asked. The family members of a couple of the boys were there. They had all been trick-or-treating in the neighborhood.

The police eventually let the two boys with relatives go and arrested the three others: a 15-year-old, a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old.

My wife came home with my daughter and urged me to go back. I arrived about half an hour after everything started, a bit after 9 p.m., just as the handcuffed boys were put into a police car.

I watched the mom of one of the freed boys try to tell the ones being arrested to shout out their parents’ numbers, so somebody could tell them what was happening. An officer stood in front of the car window to block the boys from sharing their numbers. Another officer walked up close to the mom and started yelling at her to shut up. A senior officer backed him away.

I also watched another little girl take it all in. She was about the same age as my daughter. Except my daughter is white, as am I. The little girl is Black, and she had just watched her brother be put against the wall and her own mother being yelled at by a cop.

The boys were driven to our local precinct, the 76th. I eventually made my way there, too. The families of all the boys were there. The police are required to notify families when a minor is arrested. But the families told me that hadn’t happened. They’d learned about the boys’ arrests from friends. (The police later said the families showed up so quickly they didn’t have time to make notifications.)

The parents stood outside the precinct for the next four hours, waiting to be allowed to see their kids. One of the fathers, silent most of the time, said he was worried about how late the kids were being held because they still had school in the morning. A mother had to leave her 2-year-old with a neighbor. She paced around outside the station. “I blame myself,” she kept saying. “I never let him out on Halloween. A bunch of Black boys together. I shouldn’t have let him out. But he begged me.”

The police didn’t allow the parents into the station or let them see their kids. At one point, an officer came out, apologized and explained that the station was simply waiting for paperwork to go through. The boys were finally let out around 12:45 a.m.

They weren’t given any paperwork or records about what had happened or told the arresting officers’ names.

The next day, our daughter and her 8-year-old brother were full of questions: “Why did they arrest the boys if they didn’t do anything wrong?” “Is the boy that got hit OK?” I had questions, too. So I called the NYPD. What was the department’s understanding of what happened, I asked, and was it going to investigate any of the cops’ actions?

I felt a sense of kinship with the NYPD’s spokesman, Al Baker. He’s a former journalist. We followed each other on Twitter. Surely, he’d tell me the real deal.

Baker soon called me back. He had looked into it. The boys were being charged with something called “obstructing government administration,” which basically amounts to resisting arrest.

The police hadn’t done anything wrong, Baker said. I don’t know what your wife saw, he explained, but a police car did not hit a kid.

So I went back to my wife and asked her, “Are you sure?” She was sure. It happened right in front of her. Still, memories are fallible. So I went into nearby storefronts and asked if anyone had seen anything the night of Halloween.

“Yeah, I saw a cop car hit a kid,” a waiter told me. He said he had a clear view of it: A handful of kids were running. One of them jumped out into the street and got hit by the police car, “probably going faster than he should have been.” He saw the boy roll over the hood and fall to the ground: “It sounded like when people hit concrete. It made a horrible sound.”

I spoke to four witnesses, including my wife. All of them said they saw the same thing. When I called Baker back, he told me that my wife and the three others were mistaken. The car hadn’t hit the kid. The kid had hit the car.

As his statement put it: “One unknown male fled the scene and ran across the hood of a stationary police car.”

The NYPD has units devoted to investigating its own cops. The city’s district attorneys can also charge officers, of course. But there is supposed to be another check on abuse by police.

New York City has an agency dedicated to investigating civilians’ allegations against the police, the straightforwardly named Civilian Complaint Review Board. After reporters covered what happened on Halloween, the CCRB responded to a Twitter thread I had written, saying it was investigating. Once again, I assumed we’d get answers.

But the NYPD has long fought against truly independent civilian oversight. Seventy years ago, community groups banded together and pushed the city to address “police misconduct in their relations with Puerto Ricans and Negros.” The NYPD responded by creating the CCRB. But it didn’t have any actual civilians on it. The board originally consisted of three deputy police commissioners.

The first outsiders were appointed more than a decade later, by Mayor John Lindsay’s administration. The police unions fought it. “I’m sick and tired of giving in to minority groups with their whims and their gripes and shouting,” said the head of one. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more, and it gives an example of why so many Americans are fed up with police departments.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 June 2020 at 10:32 am

Another wrinkle in Barr’s effort to derail investigations

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Parm Martens and Russ Martens report in Wall Street on Parade:

Shortly after 9 p.m. last evening, the U.S. Attorney General, William Barr, stunned prosecutors in the Southern District of New York with the announcement that their boss, Geoffrey Berman, was stepping down as U.S. Attorney in that District and would be replaced with the sitting Chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, Jay Clayton, who lacks even a shred of criminal prosecution experience. What Clayton does have is a lot of experience representing Wall Street’s largest banks, like Goldman Sachs and JPMorgan Chase, both of whom are currently under intense criminal investigations by the Justice Department. Clayton was a former partner at Wall Street’s go-to law firm, Sullivan & Cromwell, which is currently representing Goldman in the criminal case and representing JPMorgan in various matters.

The breaking news last night went downhill from there. Several hours after Barr’s announcement, Berman announced that he had not resigned from his job and had no intention of leaving his post until his replacement had been confirmed by the U.S. Senate – which could take months. There is also no assurance that Clayton would actually be confirmed, since some Republicans and Democrats believe that Clayton has been a lapdog for Wall Street in his current post.

Even more problematic, Clayton’s family has ties to an opaque company called WMB Holdings, described by David Dayen in The Nation magazine like this:

“This company and its affiliated partners (Delaware Trust Co and CSC) are conduits for creating shell corporations and other sketchy vehicles used in tax evasion and money laundering. Public Citizen found apparent links between these companies and Mossack Fonseca, the notorious Panamanian law firm at the center of the Panama Papers scandal.”

The timing of the attempted ouster of Berman is suspicious on multiple fronts. Goldman Sachs is under criminal investigation over a multi-billion-dollar money laundering and embezzlement scheme involving the Malaysian sovereign wealth fund known as 1MDB. Goldman Sachs has been fighting the Justice Department’s demand that it plead guilty in order to settle the case, according to media reports.

According to the Sullivan & Cromwell website,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2020 at 11:55 am

US police racism update: Why Are NYPD Cruisers Playing the Ice Cream Truck Jingle?

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Luke Fater writes in Gastro Obscura:

IN EARLY JUNE, AN ICE cream truck jingle rang out in Brooklyn, yet it drew no children, produced no soft serve, and evoked no nostalgia. It was midnight, and it came from an unmarked NYPD cruiser.

It was the third night of an 8 p.m. citywide curfew, issued by Mayor Bill de Blasio, ostensibly to curb looting and violence. Despite the order, peaceful protests continued well past 8 p.m. It was around 11 p.m. in the historically Black neighborhood of Crown Heights that police officers descended upon a group of protesters headed home. Sounds from the street brought Taylor, who wished to have his last name redacted, and many of his neighbors to their porches and windows.

“At least six cop cars showed up, and a few dozen cops in full riot gear popped out with their batons and started tackling and aggressively detaining the protesters,” says Taylor. “It was just sheer violence.” He says neighbors broke out in Black Lives Matter chants while the arrests took place, such as the call-and-response “No justice! No peace!” In response, says Taylor, the police taunted the neighbors. “They were yelling back, like, ‘Is that all you got?’”

The cruisers dispersed around midnight, though one unmarked car remained in front of Peter Chinman’s apartment. “They couldn’t start their car, and all the people in the surrounding buildings started really jeering at them,” he says. When they finally got the engine running, however, they made a curious exit. “They drove off giving everyone the middle finger, while playing the ice cream truck song.” A video of their departure taken by a separate witness and posted on social media immediately garnered thousands of likes and comments.

The next night, I heard the jingle as well. At 2 a.m., the unmistakable melody emanated from an N.Y.P.D. cruiser rolling slowly down a Bedford-Stuyvesant thoroughfare framed by housing projects. I returned to the Instagram post to find an outpouring of similar testimony. “They’re playing this in Harlem every night,” read one comment. “This is not an isolated incident,” read another.

So, why are police officers blasting this jingle from their cruisers in predominantly Black neighborhoods? As of the time of publication, the NYPD has refused multiple requests to comment. But with the nation in the midst of a racial reckoning, it may be illuminating to look at the melody’s place at the intersection of ice cream and Black history.

The tune many recognize as “Do Your Ears Hang Low?” first reached American shores with an influx of Scots-Irish immigrants in the 1700s; it was originally a fiddle song called “The Rose Tree.” Early Americans took kindly to the meandering melody, and by the early 1800s it became “Turkey in the Straw,” a playful exploration of rural Appalachian life. The jingle was borrowed again later in the century for an altogether new, and uniquely American form of entertainment: traveling blackface minstrel shows.

As Theodore R. Johnson writes for NPR, the earworm lost its innocence in the 1820s when it became “Zip Coon.” The song introduced a blackface character of the same name who, after finding freedom and moving into a metropolitan setting, clumsily attempted to fit into white society with fancy clothing and big words. By the time of Andrew Jackson’s presidency, “Zip Coon” was the most popular song in the United States.

The success of the melody as a vessel for white supremacy hit a fever pitch in 1916 with Harry C. Browne’s “Nigger Love A Watermelon Ha! Ha! Ha!,” released by Columbia Records. Oddly enough, music of this ilk found a happy home in American ice-cream parlors.

To keep American families entertained while they enjoyed their soft serve with sprinkles, many parlors housed music boxes that played popular songs of the day. Unfortunately, well into the 20th century, that meant minstrel show tunes like “Camptown Races,” “Dixie,” “Jimmy Crack Corn,” and, of course, “Zip Coon.” When ice cream went mobile in the 1920s, newfangled ice cream trucks kept the parlor soundtrack, blaring instrumental versions of the aforementioned hit songs into newly constructed suburban neighborhoods. Thus, the catchiest tune of them all, “Zip Coon,” became simply known as “the ice cream truck jingle.” . . .

Continue reading. There’s more. Racism is deeply embedded in the US.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2020 at 9:59 am

A Friday-night dump for the history books

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Heather Cox Richardson writes:

Tonight saw a Friday night news dump that will go into the history books.

Trump tried to fire the US Attorney from the Southern District of New York, Geoffrey S. Berman, who has managed a series of cases against Trump and his allies, including Trump fixer Michael Cohen, Trump lawyer Rudolph Giuliani, and Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who were indicted for funneling Russian money to Republican candidates for office. Berman is reported to be investigating Trump’s finances, among many other things.

It happened like this: Attorney General William Barr issued a statement announcing that Berman would be stepping down and that Trump would nominate Jay Clayton to replace him. Clayton has never been a prosecutor. He is currently the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, but before he took that position he was a lawyer who, among other things, represented Deutsche Bank. Deutsche Bank is the only bank that would work with Trump after his bankruptcies. It might have given him loans he did not repay, and the Russian money-laundering that landed the bank in legal trouble might have helped Trump.

Legal analyst and Congressional staffer Daniel Goldman noted that this whole scenario was unusual. Normally, when a US Attorney leaves, that person’s deputy takes over. Bringing in a replacement from elsewhere meant that “Trump/Barr did not want anyone at SDNY running the office—likely because there was a serious disagreement.”

But then things got crazier. Berman issued his own statement, saying “I learned in a press release from the Attorney General tonight that I was ‘stepping down’ as United States Attorney. I have not resigned, and have no intention of resigning, my position to which I was appointed by the Judges of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. I will step down when a presidentially appointed nominee is confirmed by the Senate. Until then, our investigations will move forward without delay or interruption. I cherish every day that I work with the men and women of this Office to pursue justice without fear or favor—and intend to ensure that this Office’s important cases continue unimpeded.”

What’s Berman saying? Well, it might be that Trump’s preference for “acting,” rather than Senate-confirmed, officials has come back to bite him. Berman was not Senate-confirmed; he is an interim U.S. Attorney. By law, the Attorney General can appoint an interim U.S. Attorney for 120 days. At the end of that time, the court can appoint that person indefinitely.

Berman was one of those interim appointees, put in place by Trump’s first Attorney General, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions.

Berman’s appointment raised an outcry because he was handpicked by Trump. The U.S. Attorney for the SDNY oversees Manhattan and thus the president’s businesses and at least nine Trump properties. Trump went out of his way to take the unusual step of personally interviewing Berman, who donated $2,700 to the Trump campaign, served on the presidential transition team, and was a partner at the law firm where Trump’s lawyer Rudolph Giuliani is a member. Democrats vowed to block Berman’s nomination, but never got the chance because Sessions used the workaround so Berman would not come before the Senate.

Now, this means that because Berman was appointed by the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, not the president, he apparently cannot be removed except by the court, or, possibly, by the president… but not by Barr. Lawyers are fighting over who, exactly, can remove Berman, but that itself says that any challenge he files will land in the courts for months… likely until after the election.

And that’s another notable thing about Berman’s statement. He suggests he is being fired because the administration wants to delay or interrupt an investigation, and his language suggests that both he and the administration know exactly what that investigation is. There are a number of reasons the SDNY might be examining the finances of the president or his family, but former National Security Advisor John Bolton suggested another reason in his forthcoming book: he apparently claims Trump assured Turkey’s autocratic leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan he would fill the SDNY with his own loyalists, which would enable him to do Erdogan a political favor.

As Berman’s predecessor in the job, Preet Bharara tweeted, “Why does a president get rid of his own hand-picked US Attorney in SDNY on a Friday night, less than 5 months before the election?” President of the Center for American Progress Neera Tanden noted: “To attempt a Friday night massacre 5 months before an election means there’s a pretty big investigation they are trying to kill.”

It seems worth noting that the Supreme Court is about to hand down a decision on whether Deutsche Bank and Trump’s accountants have to hand Trump’s financial records over to Congress and to the Manhattan district attorney, which might well spark legal trouble for the president in New York.

Law professor Stephen Vladeck also asked us to keep in mind that Barr “out-and-out * lied * in a written statement—and in a context in which there could have been little question to him that Berman would publicly call him out for doing so… And he did it anyway.” “Something * really * stinks,” Vladeck concluded.

Something else stinks about this crisis, too, and that is the Tulsa rally the president originally scheduled for tonight. Widespread objection to holding a Trump rally on Juneteenth—the historic celebration of Black freedom– in Tulsa, where a race massacre destroyed the Black community of Greenwood in 1921, forced him to reschedule for tomorrow. But had the rally been held, with media focus on disturbances at it and on the spread of coronavirus there, it seems likely that Berman’s firing would not have gotten much attention.

Indeed, it has seemed all day as if Trump was deliberately stoking trouble in Tulsa. He began today by tweeting a threat: “Any protesters, anarchists, agitators, looters or lowlifes who are going to Oklahoma please understand, you will not be treated like you have been in New York, Seattle, or Minneapolis. It will be a much different scene!” (Americans have a constitutional right to protest.)

Then he made sure his supporters would be in the streets. In consultation with the Secret Service, the Tulsa police chief had asked Tulsa’s mayor to declare a curfew around the BOK Center where the rally will be held. He did so. But Trump pressured the mayor to rescind the curfew, which the mayor did. Trump tweeted “I just spoke to the highly respected Mayor of Tulsa, G.T. Bynum, who informed me there will be no curfew tonight or tomorrow for our many supporters attending the # MAGA Rally…. Enjoy yourselves – thank you to Mayor Bynum!”

This crisis feels big. Trump and Barr know an investigation is out there barreling toward the president, and they are willing to take extraordinary steps, steps that undermine our democracy and threaten our citizenry, to stop it.



Goldman: . . .

Continue reading. At the link are footnotes with links to the news reports and other sources.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 June 2020 at 9:42 am

The Slow Road to Sudden Change

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Ernest Hemingway famously wrote (in The Sun Also Rises):

“How did you go bankrupt?”

“Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly.”

The same phenomenon can be observed in many spheres. Sometimes it’s simply because the incremental change is not noticed until it is glaringly obvious, and the suddenness of the tipping point is an artifact of inattention, but often there truly is an abrupt phase shift, as when the ice breaks up on a lake or river, or when a key log is removed from a log jam.

Rebecca Solnit writes at Literary Hub:

I. The Bonfire

The death of George Floyd was a match that lit a bonfire, and how the fuel for the bonfire piled up is worth studying. That is, for a national and international uprising against anti-Black racism and police violence to achieve such scale and power, many must have been ready for it, whether they knew it or not. Not in the sense of planning it or expecting these events, but by having changed their minds and committed their hearts beforehand. For those who were not directly impacted by decades and centuries of racist police violence this great uprising underway is about a long-overdue critical mass of solidarity with the fury and frustration of those directly impacted.  And finally there is something mysterious about why something happens at this moment and not that—in this case why the response to the police killing of George Floyd is so much larger than previous reactions, and why it is having such a widespread impact on Americans understanding of racism.

A great public change is the ratification of innumerable small private changes; the bonfire is a pile of these small changes lit by some unforeseen event. Looking back on the American Revolution, this country’s second president,  John Adams reflected, “The revolution was in the minds of the people, and in the union of the colonies, both of which were accomplished before hostilities commenced.” Adams was a waffler on slavery, both opposed to it and opposed to strong measures to abolish it, but he offers a useful description of how change works: the revolution was in consciousness; the war with Britain was just an outcome of it. Chateaubriand said something similar of the French Revolution, that it “was accomplished before it occurred.”

CNN reported on June 9, “that 67% of Americans believe the criminal justice system favors white people over black people in this country. And the same percent say that racism is a big problem today, compared to just 49% in 2015, a year after [Michael] Brown’s death in Ferguson… Those findings were echoed in a recent Monmouth University poll that found 57% of Americans believe police are more likely to use excessive force against black people—up from 34% in 2016.” And then the report cited a Republican pollster who exclaimed, “In my 35 years of polling, I’ve never seen opinion shift this fast or deeply. We are a different country today than just 30 days ago.” But the change in consciousness didn’t happen overnight, or over 30 days; it happened over years, and the organizers—most especially Black Lives Matter, founded in 2013—deserve credit for building this.

You can point to specifics about this moment—the horrific brutality of Floyd’s public death by lynching at the hands of the police. To the frustration and desperation of people who had been locked up and financially crushed by the pandemic and had seen Covid-19, thanks to structural racism, become increasingly a disease of black and brown people. To the years of simmering disgust and rage against the white supremacist destructiveness of Donald J. Trump. But none of these would have signified if the smallest thing hadn’t happened millions of times over: people changed their minds. Or in the case of the young, grew up with minds shaped by something better than the obliviousness and indifference that passed as not being racist in my own youth.

There is a danger of believing, as the Republican pollster seemed to, that this happened all at once, rather than that something slowly growing and changing suddenly became visible. The same misperceptions happened with what got called #MeToo in 2017: several years into a remarkable era of feminist activism, organizing, education, and transformation things suddenly escalated when the Harvey Weinstein stories broke in the New York Times and New Yorker and a number of other stories came tumbling out.

And at last there were consequences where there had been none. Too many pundits and amnesiacs framed that as something that began then and there. It wasn’t a beginning, but a culmination, of decades of work by feminists that resulted in people who believed women deserved equal rights, power, and valuation began to be in charge—to some extent—of what stories got told, who got believed. Gradually, more people who regarded women as people whose rights mattered and voices should be heard had come to play a role the news, the courts, the universities, and it mattered. And so it is with this moment.

One more group deserves credit for the present moment: the police. They themselves have made a fantastic case for defunding or abolition—at least as they currently exist. Nationwide, with the whole world watching, these civil servants showed they use public funds to brutalize, murder, and deny the constitutional rights of members of that public. One might imagine they’d have wanted to be careful in the wake of the Floyd murder, but they went on a spectacular display of their own sense of immunity by—well, shooting out the eyes of eight people with “sublethal” weapons, managing to blind a photojournalist in one eye; attacking and arresting dozens of members of the media at work, especially nonwhite ones; San Jose police shooting their own anti-bias trainer in the testicles; knocking over an old man who’s still in critical condition as a result (yeah the one Trump theorized must be Antifa); teargassing children; pointing weapons at other small children; and generally showing us that the only people the police protect are the police. They struck the match that lit the bonfire. Because they thought they could not themselves burn, and that they were indispensable. They’re wrong on both counts.


II. The Waterfall

You can think of it as a bonfire. Or a waterfall. The metaphor of the river of time is often used to suggest that history flows at a steady pace, but real rivers have rapids and shallows, eddies and droughts. They freeze over and get dammed and their water gets diverted. And sometimes the river comes to the precipice and we’re all in the waterfall. Time accelerates, things change faster than anyone expected, water clear as glass becomes churning whitewater, what was thought to be impossible or the work of years is accomplished in a flash.

This had already happened in a way with the pandemic. Suddenly life changed; institutions from schools to air travel largely shut down; the federal government pulled three trillion dollars out of thin air and threw it around; nearly everyone changed their daily life. The status quo’s old excuses that change is impossible got smashed up in the torrent of change. And this too prepared the way for what is happening now. The civil unrest has shifted and grown and had extraordinary effect. Early on people who preferred order to justice carped that riots never change anything, and then out of this uprising monumental change came.

Cities all over the USA are rethinking the funding and parameters of policing and what the alternatives are. Minneapolis, where all this started, actually voted to abolish the police department, and dozens of cities, from Los Angeles to New York, voted to cut funding to the police and in many cases narrow their mission. While all this actual living out of the mandates to #abolishthepolice and #defundthepolice was happening way too many mostly white people around me fussed that #defundthepolice was scary and incoherent and proposed exactly the kind of polite language for reform that has accomplished little in recent years.

It was both a kind of tone policing and a tone deafness about the fact that the people who feared being killed by the police—or mourning those who were—were impatient, six years after the shooting of Michael Brown Jr. and seven after the birth of Black Lives Matter. Impatient and not looking for messaging lessons from white people. The willful incomprehension and disapproval brought back the early days of Occupy Wall Street, when pundits and purse-lipped onlookers were calling the insurrectionary gatherings incoherent and incomprehensible and demanding to know what the demands were, imagining the occupiers as supplicants, not people in earnest conversation with each other about what the alternative to economic injustice might look like. Occupy was immensely effective as it spread across the world, and in the US it reshaped the conversation about the economy in ways that still matter.

Continue reading. There’s much more.

One interesting point, later in the essay:

It is an ongoing mistake to refer to politicians as leaders. Almost all are followers, and they should be if they are to be representatives.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 2:36 pm

One reason for police violence? Too many males with badges.

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Rosa Brooks, a professor at Georgetown University Law Center (where she do-directs the Georgetown Innovative Policing Program) and a reserve police officer in the Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department, writes in the Washington Post:

The countless recent images of police officers facing off against protesters consistently show one thing: men. You’ll see policemen in helmets and gas masks, policemen with batons and riot shields, policemen with Tasers and tear gas canisters. But no matter how hard you scan those images, women are rarely present.

Women make up just 12.6 percent of all police officers. Much of the debate about police violence and misconduct has focused on race while skipping past this stunning statistic. No honest observer can deny that too many American policing practices reflect and contribute to racial injustice, but the focus on racial injustice shouldn’t make us lose sight of the gender disparities that also distort American policing. One simple way to achieve a less violent and more equitable form of law enforcement is to push agencies to hire more women.

Decades of research show female officers can handle hostile and violent suspects as well as their male counterparts, but a 2017 Pew survey found only 11 percent of female officers reported they had ever fired their weapon while on duty, compared with 30 percent of male officers. Female officers were also less likely to believe aggression is more useful than courtesy, less likely to agree some people “can only be brought to reason the hard, physical way” and less likely to report their jobs had made them callous.

These attitudinal differences are reflected in behavior. Controlling for differences in assignments, studies show female officers are significantly less likely to use force than male officers, more likely to display empathy and more likely to de-escalate fraught encounters. One study, for instance, found female officers were 27 percent less likely than male officers to “exhibit extreme controlling behaviors such as threats, physical restraint, searches, and arrest” in their interactions with citizens. Another concluded suspects arrested by female officers were less likely to be injured.

Similarly, female officers partnered with other women used force and extreme force least often compared to men partnered with men and men partnered with women. When women with male partners took the lead in encounters, force was less likely to be used than it was when the male officer took the lead.

Of course, gender isn’t destiny: Every officer, female or male, can and should be expected to police respectfully and with restraint, and statistics tell us nothing about how a given individual is likely to behave. There are many men and women who defy gender stereotypes: In my four years as a reserve police officer in Washington, D.C., I’ve been lucky enough to work with many empathetic and restrained male police officers. Statistics also don’t tell us whether men and women police differently because of nature, nurture or both. Most obviously, addressing gender disparities in policing can’t solve deeper problems such as over-criminalization or structural racism.

Nonetheless, the aggregate data make a compelling case that gender diversity could reduce police violence.

Having men dominate the profession might also be costing police departments more in lawsuits to settle claims of misconduct. A 2002 study found that although women made up 12.7 percent of officers in large urban police departments, female officers generated just 5 percent of citizen complaints and accounted for 6 percent of the money that departments “paid out in court judgments and settlements for excessive force.” The study concluded that male officers cost between 2½ and 5½ times as much as female officers in payouts after lawsuits regarding excessive force.

Since then, a 2015 New York Police Department’s Inspector General’s report examined all substantiated cases of excessive force by NYPD officers between 2010 and 2014 and concluded that although women made up 17 percent of all officers, they were involved in only 3.2 percent of excessive force cases. Another study looked at all reported police uses of force in the District of Columbia from 2014 to 2018 and found although women made up 22 percent of sworn officers during the study period, they accounted each year for only 10 to 16 percent of all uses of force.

Despite these data, there are still few female police officers and as of 2018, only about 11 percent of America’s hundred largest police departments had female chiefs. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Later in the article:

A major reason for this is that law enforcement recruitment, training and treatment of officers tends to drive women away. Recruiting ads frequently emphasize images of SWAT teams battering down doors; recruiters focus on job fairs for veterans and male-dominated university criminology programs; police academies are modeled on military boot camps and overvalue physical strength while undervaluing communication skills and emotional intelligence.

locker room atmosphere prevails in many police precincts, and rotating patrol shifts are devastating to family life. Even police uniforms and equipment are largely designed for men. When I joined the D.C. police reserve corps in 2016, I discovered the “unisex” pants and shirts issued at the police academy pinched and gaped in all the wrong places, the required firearms were harder to use for those with smaller hands and the duty belt system was clearly designed only for those able to pee standing up.

Years of research make clear the kinds of changes needed to recruit, retain and support more female officers: Use recruiting messages that depict police as helpers and public servants, not warriors; be creative in recruiting nontraditional applicants; abandon counterproductive paramilitary training rituals; crack down on workplace sexual harassment, and develop more family-friendly schedules.

Kevin Drum notes:

Hire more women. Reduce discretionary encounters between police and civilians. Change the rules on use of deadly force. End no-knock warrants. Reform the qualified immunity standard. Train, train, and train again on de-escalation. There are so many things we could do if we were really serious about reforming policing in America.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 1:48 pm

Federal judge who thinks it “madness” to rename bases honoring Confederate officers who took up arms against the US gets schooled by a clerk

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Ryan Grim reports in The Intercept:

THE BATTLE OVER renaming U.S. bases that currently honor Confederate officers broke out in the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Monday. But the argument was not in the courtroom; rather, it was launched, and settled, over email.

In an email sent Circuit-wide on Sunday, Judge Laurence Silberman, a Reagan appointee, lambasted Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., for her amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the military to strip the names of rebel officers from any military assets.

“Since I am about to be interviewed I thought it would be appropriate to unburden myself in opposition to the madness proposed by Senator Warren: the desecration of Confederate graves,” Silberman wrote.

The interview Silberman referenced was part of a series of chats judges do, open only to court staff. Silberman went on to explain that his great-grandfather had fought for the Union as part of Ulysses S. Grant’s army and was badly wounded at Shiloh, Tennessee. His great-grandfather’s brother, meanwhile, joined the Confederate States Army and was captured at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. “It’s important to remember that Lincoln did not fight the war to free the Slaves Indeed he was willing to put up with slavery if the Confederate States Returned,” he wrote (lack of punctuation and errant capitalization in the original, and throughout). “My great great grandfather Never owned slaves as best I can tell.”

Silberman’s post, which went out widely to scores of Court staff and judges, sat unanswered over the next day, until the first volley was sent back not by a fellow judge but by a clerk: courtroom employees who work directly with judges to research and write their opinions.

“Hi Judge Silberman,” began the career-risking reply-all email, “I am one of only five black law clerks in this entire circuit. However, the views I express below are solely my own,” they went on. “Since no one in the court’s leadership has responded to your message, I thought I would give it a try.”

[M]y maternal ancestors were enslaved in Mississippi. While the laws of this nation viewed my ancestors as property, I view them as hostages. In a hostage situation, when someone does something that leads to the freeing of the hostages, I am not sure if the hostages would be concerned as to whether the person that saved them, actually intended to save them. In this instance, as people considered to be property, my ancestors would not have been involved in the philosophical and political debates about Lincoln’s true intentions, or his view on racial equality. For them, and myself, race is not an abstract topic to be debated, so in my view anything that was built to represent white racial superiority, or named after someone who fought to maintain white supremacy (or the Southern economy of slavery), see Photo of Liberty Monument attached, should be removed from high trafficked areas of prominence and placed in museums where they can be part of lessons that put them in context.

In your message, you talked about your ancestors, one that fought for the confederacy and one that fought for the Union. This seems to be a true example of a house divided. However, it is very clear what the Confederacy stood for. In 1861, at the Virginia secession convention, Henry L. Benning (for whom Fort Benning is named) in explaining the reasoning for Georgia’s decision to secede from the United States stated, “[it] was a conviction … that a separation from the North was the only thing that could prevent the abolition of her slavery…[I]t is probable that the white race, being superior in every respect, may push the other back.” Unfortunately, in this scenario, no matter how bravely your uncle fought for the Confederacy, the foundation of his fight was a decision that he agreed more with the ideals of the Confederacy, than he did with those of the Union. And in the end, he chose the losing side of history.

Finally, I will note that the current movement to rename Government owned facilities is in line with your previous opinions on the importance of names and what they represent. In 2005, you publicly advocated for the removal of J. Edgar Hoover’s name from the FBI Building due to the problematic material you came across in your review of his FBI files after his death. You equated it to the Defense Department being named for Aaron Burr. In view of your opinion of J. Edgar Hoover’s history and your advocacy for renaming the FBI building because of the prominence it provides Hoover’s legacy, it is very strange that you would be against renaming our military facilities, since the legacy of the Confederacy represents the same thing. This moment of confronting our nation’s racial history is too big to be disregarded based on familial ties.

The correspondence was provided to The Intercept by a member of the Court staff on the condition the identity of the clerk (who was not the source) and judges who replied be kept confidential.

The ice broken, others weighed in, with two federal district judges, both of them black as well, replying all to thank the clerk for their thoughtful note. A third worked to do clean up for Silberman, noting that, while he couldn’t speak for Silberman, perhaps he only meant to refer to the possibility that the legislation may have applied not just to base names, but also to gravesites.

Indeed, during the debate over the amendment, which took place behind closed doors, Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., offered an amendment that would . . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

18 June 2020 at 10:54 am

An entire Florida SWAT team resigned last week. It’s for the best.

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Radley Balko writes in the Washington Post:

Last week, all 10 members of the SWAT team in Hallandale Beach, Fla., resigned (from the SWAT team, not the department). The members believe the team is “minimally equipped, under trained and often times restrained by the politicization of our tactics,” and were offended that the chief of the city’s police department “took a knee” in solidarity with anti-police brutality protesters, including the city’s 22-year-old Vice Mayor Sabrina Javellana. But maybe it’s best if Hallandale Beach doesn’t have a SWAT team.

I’ve written about Hallandale Beach both in a 2006 paper on police militarization for the Cato Institute and in my 2014 book “Rise of the Warrior Cop,” where I cited the city as an example of why small towns shouldn’t have SWAT teams. The city has a population of less than 40,000 and had just a single murder in 2018, the last year for which FBI crime statistics are available. Outside the SWAT team, over the past 10 years the police department has shot several shoplifting suspects, killing two, and paid out other settlements for police brutality. In fact, at times, the annual number of people killed by its police department has nearly equaled the number of murders in the city. (Nationally, the ratio over the past few years has been about 15 murders for every killing by police.) Hallandale Beach is about 80 percent white, but a 2015 Broward/Palm Beach New Times investigation found that 33 of the 38 no-knock raids the city’s SWAT team carried out over a decade were done in a single square mile enclave that is mostly black. The other five were within a quarter-mile of the enclave. None turned up a major stash of illegal drugs.

The Cato paper opened with a story from Hallandale: In 1999, a city SWAT team conducted a late-night raid on the home of Edwin and Catherine Bernhardt. The police team threw Catherine to the floor, and handcuffed her at gunpoint. An officer brought Edwin, who was still nude, clothing to cover himself: a pair of his wife’s underwear. They then took Edwin to jail, where he waited for hours still clothed only in the underwear. The police eventually realized they’d made a mistake and released him.

The couple later sued. In defending the police actions, a city attorney told the Miami Herald, “[The police officers] made a mistake. There’s no one to blame for a mistake. The way these people were treated has to be judged in the context of a war.”

In 2014, the city’s SWAT team conducted a raid on a 34-year-old black man named Howard Bowe Jr. and his 16-year-old son. The raid team first shot and killed Bowe’s dog, then confronted Bowe in his kitchen. Claiming he saw something “shiny” in Bowe’s hands, a SWAT officer shot Bowe twice in the stomach. Bowe was unarmed and would later die from his injuries. As Bowe was being taken to an ambulance, a neighbor heard him scream, “Why’d y’all shoot me?” The police claimed they knocked and announced, but neighbors say they heard no announcement.

In 2018, the city settled with Bowe’s family for $425,000. At the city council meeting to vote on the settlement, several critics of the police department weren’t permitted to speak before the vote, the resolution was passed in private and no one on the council would say Bowe’s name out loud. One of the people who was scheduled to speak, but then disallowed, was Javellana.

It’s not as if the end of the Hallandale Beach SWAT team would mean the town would no longer have access to one. The Broward County Sheriff’s Office, which contracts to provide policing to smaller towns in the county, has 38 SWAT officers, enough for three or more additional SWAT teams. At least 10 other cities in Broward County have police departments with their own SWAT team. That’s 14 SWAT teams for a county of 2 million people, in addition to any federal-local multi-jurisdictional anti-drug and anti-gang task forces operating in the county.

In the early 2000s, both the Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times published investigations of the proliferation of SWAT teams into south Florida and the Miami suburbs, including Broward County. The reports found that many cities exaggerated their crime rates to get surplus military gear from the Pentagon to equip their SWAT teams. The reports also found that though city officials cited incidents such as hostage takings to justify budgets for SWAT teams, the teams were primarily used to serve low-level drug warrants.

Not surprisingly, many of the other SWAT teams in the county have also faced controversy for illegal searches and questionable shootings during drug raids. Most famously, in 2017 the Broward County Sheriff’s Office kicked a sergeant off the SWAT team for wearing a patch for the Internet fringe conspiracy group QAnon during a publicity photo with Vice President Pence. The officer was also wearing what is apparently the unofficial logo of the Broward County Sheriff’s Office SWAT team — a patch emblazoned with what appears to be the Grim Reaper’s scythe and an executioner’s ax. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

17 June 2020 at 4:50 pm

Posted in Law Enforcement

Jon Stewart makes some good points

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David Marchese interviewed Jon Stewart for the NY Times. It’s worth reading. From the interview:

For all the value Jon Stewart delivered as a political satirist and voice of reason during his 16-year-run as the host of ‘‘The Daily Show,’’ it’s quite plausible to suggest that the political and media Bizarro World in which we live — where skepticism is the default, news is often indistinguishable from entertainment and entertainers have usurped public authority from the country’s political leaders — is one that he and his show helped to usher in. ‘‘Look, we certainly were part of that ecosystem, but I don’t think that news became entertainment because they thought our show was a success,’’ Stewart says. ‘‘Twenty-four-hour news networks are built for one thing, and that’s 9/11. There are very few events that would justify being covered 24 hours a day, seven days a week. So in the absence of urgency, they have to create it. You create urgency through conflict.’’ That pervasive sense of political and social conflict has only grown since Stewart left the air in 2015.

. . .  what [have] you been thinking about and seeing in the aftermath of George Floyd’s killing?

I’d like to say I’m surprised by what happened to him, but I’m not. This is a cycle, and I feel that in some ways, the issue is that we’re addressing the wrong problem. We continue to make this about the police — the how of it. How can they police? Is it about sensitivity and de-escalation training and community policing? All that can make for a less-egregious relationship between the police and people of color. But the how isn’t as important as the why, which we never address. The police are a reflection of a society. They’re not a rogue alien organization that came down to torment the black community. They’re enforcing segregation. Segregation is legally over, but it never ended. The police are, in some respects, a border patrol, and they patrol the border between the two Americas. We have that so that the rest of us don’t have to deal with it. Then that situation erupts, and we express our shock and indignation. But if we don’t address the anguish of a people, the pain of being a people who built this country through forced labor — people say, ‘‘I’m tired of everything being about race.’’ Well, imagine how [expletive] exhausting it is to live that.

I get that you’re saying that the police and policing are a mirror of societal power structures, but it doesn’t quite address police brutality. We can’t absolve that.

Police brutality is an organic offshoot of the dehumanization of those power structures. There are always going to be consequences of authority. When you give someone a badge and a gun, that’s going to create its own issues, and there’s no question that those issues can be addressed with greater accountability. It can be true that you can value and admire the contribution and sacrifice that it takes to be a law-enforcement officer or an emergency medical worker in this country and yet still feel that there should be standards and accountability. Both can be true. But I still believe that the root of this problem is the society that we’ve created that contains this schism, and we don’t deal with it, because we’ve outsourced our accountability to the police.

Does the scale and intensity of the protests suggest some positive strides toward accountability?

Maybe. Look, every advancement toward equality has come with the spilling of blood. Then, when that’s over, a defensiveness from the group that had been doing the oppressing. There’s always this begrudging sense that black people are being granted something, when it’s white people’s lack of being able to live up to the defining words of the birth of the country that is the problem. There’s a lack of recognition of the difference in our system. Chris Rock used to do a great bit: ‘‘No white person wants to change places with a black person. They don’t even want to exchange places with me, and I’m rich.’’ It’s true. There’s not a white person out there who would want to be treated like even a successful black person in this country. And if we don’t address the why of that treatment, the how is just window dressing. You know, we’re in a bizarre time of quarantine. White people lasted six weeks and then stormed a state building* with rifles, shouting: ‘‘Give me liberty! This is causing economic distress! I’m not going to wear a mask, because that’s tyranny!’’ That’s six weeks versus 400 years of quarantining a race of people. The policing is an issue, but it’s the least of it. We use the police as surrogates to quarantine these racial and economic inequalities so that we don’t have to deal with them. . .

There’s much more.

* On April 30, protesters, some of whom were armed, assembled inside Michigan’s State Capitol building to protest a request by the Democratic governor, Gretchen Whitmer, to extend her emergency powers in response to the coronavirus.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 8:49 pm

It Can Happen Here

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In the New York Review of Books Cass R. Sunstein reviews a couple of ominous books about how a public can blind itself to what is happening (review also available in complete form here):

They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933–45
by Milton Mayer, with a new afterword by Richard J. Evans
University of Chicago Press, 378 pp., $20.00 (paper)

Broken Lives: How Ordinary Germans Experienced the Twentieth Century
by Konrad H. Jarausch
Princeton University Press, 446 pp., $35.00<

Liberal democracy has enjoyed much better days. Vladimir Putin has entrenched authoritarian rule and is firmly in charge of a resurgent Russia. In global influence, China may have surpassed the United States, and Chinese president Xi Jinping is now empowered to remain in office indefinitely. In light of recent turns toward authoritarianism in Turkey, Poland, Hungary, and the Philippines, there is widespread talk of a “democratic recession.” In the United States, President Donald Trump may not be sufficiently committed to constitutional principles of democratic government.

In such a time, we might be tempted to try to learn something from earlier turns toward authoritarianism, particularly the triumphant rise of the Nazis in Germany in the 1930s. The problem is that Nazism was so horrifying and so barbaric that for many people in nations where authoritarianism is now achieving a foothold, it is hard to see parallels between Hitler’s regime and their own governments. Many accounts of the Nazi period depict a barely imaginable series of events, a nation gone mad. That makes it easy to take comfort in the thought that it can’t happen again.

But some depictions of Hitler’s rise are more intimate and personal. They focus less on well-known leaders, significant events, state propaganda, murders, and war, and more on the details of individual lives. They help explain how people can not only participate in dreadful things but also stand by quietly and live fairly ordinary days in the midst of them. They offer lessons for people who now live with genuine horrors, and also for those to whom horrors may never come but who live in nations where democratic practices and norms are under severe pressure.

Milton Mayer’s 1955 classic They Thought They Were Free, recently republished with an afterword by the Cambridge historian Richard J. Evans, was one of the first accounts of ordinary life under Nazism. Dotted with humor and written with an improbably light touch, it provides a jarring contrast with Sebastian Haffner’s devastating, unfinished 1939 memoir, Defying Hitler, which gives a moment-by-moment, you-are-there feeling to Hitler’s rise. (The manuscript was discovered by Haffner’s son after the author’s death and published in 2000 in Germany, where it became an immediate sensation.)* A much broader perspective comes from Konrad Jarausch’s Broken Lives, an effort to reconstruct the experience of Germans across the entire twentieth century. What distinguishes the three books is their sense of intimacy. They do not focus on historic figures making transformative decisions. They explore how ordinary people attempted to navigate their lives under terrible conditions.

Haffner’s real name was Raimund Pretzel. (He used a pseudonym so as not to endanger his family while in exile in England.) He was a journalist, not a historian or political theorist, but he interrupts his riveting narrative to tackle a broad question: “What is history, and where does it take place?” He objects that most works of history give “the impression that no more than a few dozen people are involved, who happen to be ‘at the helm of the ship of state’ and whose deeds and decisions form what is called history.” In his view, that’s wrong. What matters are “we anonymous others” who are not just “pawns in the chess game,” because the “most powerful dictators, ministers, and generals are powerless against the simultaneous mass decisions taken individually and almost unconsciously by the population at large.” Haffner insists on the importance of investigating “some very peculiar, very revealing, mental processes and experiences,” involving “the private lives, emotions and thoughts of individual Germans.”

Mayer had the same aim. An American journalist of German descent, he tried to meet with Hitler in 1935. He failed, but he did travel widely in Nazi Germany. Stunned to discover a mass movement rather than a tyranny of a diabolical few, he concluded that his real interest was not in Hitler but in people like himself, to whom “something had happened that had not (or at least not yet) happened to me and my fellow-countrymen.” In 1951, he returned to Germany to find out what had made Nazism possible.

In They Thought They Were Free, Mayer decided to focus on ten people, different in many respects but with one characteristic in common: they had all been members of the Nazi Party. Eventually they agreed to talk, accepting his explanation that he hoped to enable the people of his nation to have a better understanding of Germany. Mayer was truthful about that and about nearly everything else. But he did not tell them that he was a Jew.

In the late 1930s—the period that most interested Mayer—his subjects were working as a janitor, a soldier, a cabinetmaker, an office manager, a baker, a bill collector, an inspector, a high school teacher, and a police officer. One had been a high school student. All were male. None of them occupied positions of leadership or influence. All of them referred to themselves as “wir kleine Leute, we little people.” They lived in Marburg, a university town on the river Lahn, not far from Frankfurt.

Mayer talked with them over the course of a year, under informal conditions—coffee, meals, and long, relaxed evenings. He became friends with each (and throughout he refers to them as such). As he put it, with evident surprise, “I liked them. I couldn’t help it.” They could be ironic, funny, and self-deprecating. Most of them enjoyed a joke that originated in Nazi Germany: “What is an Aryan? An Aryan is a man who is tall like Hitler, blond like Goebbels, and lithe like Göring.” They also could be wise. Speaking of the views of ordinary people under Hitler, one of them asked:

Opposition? How would anybody know? How would anybody know what somebody else opposes or doesn’t oppose? That a man says he opposes or doesn’t oppose depends upon the circumstances, where, and when, and to whom, and just how he says it. And then you must still guess why he says what he says.

When Mayer returned home, he was afraid for his own country. He felt “that it was not German Man that I had met, but Man,” and that under the right conditions, he could well have turned out as his German friends did. He learned that Nazism took over Germany not “by subversion from within, but with a whoop and a holler.” Many Germans “wanted it; they got it; and they liked it.”

Mayer’s most stunning conclusion is that with one partial exception (the teacher), none of his subjects “saw Nazism as we—you and I—saw it in any respect.” Where most of us understand Nazism as a form of tyranny, Mayer’s subjects “did not know before 1933 that Nazism was evil. They did not know between 1933 and 1945 that it was evil. And they do not know it now.” Seven years after the war, they looked back on the period from 1933 to 1939 as the best time of their lives.

Mayer suggests that even when tyrannical governments do horrific things, outsiders tend to exaggerate their effects on the actual experiences of most citizens, who focus on their own lives and “the sights which meet them in their daily rounds.” Nazism made things better for the people Mayer interviewed, not (as many think) because it restored some lost national pride but because it improved daily life. Germans had jobs and better housing. They were able to vacation in Norway or Spain through the “Strength Through Joy” program. Fewer people were hungry or cold, and the sick were more likely to receive treatment. The blessings of the New Order, as it was called, seemed to be enjoyed by “everybody.”

Even in retrospect Mayer’s subjects liked and admired Hitler. They saw him as someone who had “a feeling for masses of people” and spoke directly in opposition to the Versailles Treaty, to unemployment—to all aspects of the existing order. They applauded Hitler for his rejection of “the whole pack”—“all the parliamentary politicians and all the parliamentary parties”—and for his “cleanup of moral degenerates.” The bank clerk described Hitler as “a spellbinder, a natural orator. I think he was carried away from truth, even from truth, by his passion. Even so, he always believed what he said.”

Mayer did not bring up the topic of anti-Semitism with any of his subjects, but after a few meetings, each of them did so on his own, and they returned to it constantly. When the local synagogue was burned in 1938, most of the community was under only one obligation: “not to interfere.” Eventually Mayer showed his subjects the local newspaper from November 11, 1938, which contained a report: “In the interest of their own security, a number of male Jews were taken into custody yesterday. This morning they were sent away from the city.” None of them remembered seeing it, or indeed anything like it.

The killing of six million Jews? Fake news. Four of Mayer’s subjects insisted that the only Jews taken to concentration camps were traitors to Germany, and that the rest were permitted to leave with their property or its fair market value. The bill collector agreed that the killing of the Jews “was wrong, unless they committed treason in wartime. And of course they did.” He added that “some say it happened and some say it didn’t,” and that you “can show me pictures of skulls…but that doesn’t prove it.” In any case, “Hitler had nothing to do with it.” The tailor spoke similarly: “If it happened, it was wrong. But I don’t believe it happened.”

With evident fatigue, the baker reported, “One had no time to think. There was so much going on.” His account was similar to that of one of Mayer’s colleagues, a German philologist in the country at the time, who emphasized the devastatingly incremental nature of the descent into tyranny and said that “we had no time to think about these dreadful things that were growing, little by little, all around us.” The philologist pointed to a regime bent on diverting its people through endless dramas (often involving real or imagined enemies), and “the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise.” In his account, “each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’” that people could no more see it “developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. One day it is over his head.”

Focusing largely on 1933, in Defying Hitler Haffner offers a radically different picture, in which the true nature of Nazism was evident to many Germans from the start. Just twenty-five years old that year and studying law with the goal of becoming a judge or administrator, he describes the mounting effects of Nazism on the lives of his high-spirited friends and fellow students, who were preoccupied with fun, job prospects, and love affairs. Haffner says that as soon as the Nazis took power, he was saved by his capacity to smell the rot:

As for the Nazis, my nose left me with no doubts. It was just tiresome to talk about which of their alleged goals and intentions were still acceptable or even “historically justified” when all of it stank. How it stank! That the Nazis were enemies, my enemies and the enemies of all I held dear, was crystal clear to me from the outset.

As Haffner describes it, a form of terror began quickly, as members of the SS made their presence felt, intimidating people in public places. At the same time, citizens were distracted by an endless stream of festivities and celebrations. The intimidation, accompanied by the fervent, orchestrated pro-Nazi activity, produced an increase in fear, which led many skeptics to become Nazis. Nonetheless, people flirted, enjoyed romances, “went to the cinema, had a meal in a small wine bar, drank Chianti, and went dancing together.” Sounding here like Mayer’s subjects, Haffner writes that it was the “automatic continuation of ordinary life” that “hindered any lively, forceful reaction against the horror.”

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

15 June 2020 at 12:02 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Government, Law, Politics

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Can Law Enforcement Officers Refuse to Identify Themselves?

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Rachel Brown and Coleman Sanders write at Lawfare:

On June 3, protestors in Washington, D.C., who rallied in response to the death of George Floyd were met with federal law enforcement officers equipped with riot gear and rifles but who lacked badges or other identifying information. When asked about their affiliation, these officers responded that they worked for the Department of Justice or the federal government, but they did not offer more detail.

The officers’ refusal to identify themselves immediately sparked criticism. Observers raised concerns that this practice could lead protesters to resist lawful orders and create opportunities for armed provocateurs to pose as law enforcement. Some even drew comparisons to the armed and unidentified “little green men” who appeared in the Crimea region of Ukraine shortly before its 2014 occupation by Russia and were widely believed to be Russian soldiers operating anonymously.

Since the first days of protests in Washington, D.C., many of the unmarked officers have been identified as part of special operations response teams for the Bureau of Prisons. But the question remains: What legal authorities require officers to share their identities, and are there any consequences for failing to do so?

After news reports linked the unidentified officers to the Bureau of Prisons, Attorney General William Barr attempted to explain the officers’ behavior by stating that “[i]n the federal system, the agencies don’t wear badges with their names and stuff like that. I could understand why some of these individuals simply wouldn’t want to talk to people about who they are, if that in fact was the case.” Similarly, a statement from the bureau said that “[i]t is common for federal law enforcement agents to identify themselves to citizens simply as federal law enforcement.” However, the director of the bureau said, “I probably should have done a better job of marking them nationally as the agency.”

Nor was this the only instance of law enforcement officers attempting to hide or obscure their identities during the recent nationwide protests. In several cities, including Seattle, New York and Chicago, individuals also reported that a few police officers deployed to the protests covered their badge numbers with tape. Such obfuscation has been widely criticized, even by city officials. Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot stated that the officers who refused to identify themselves “forfeited the right to be Chicago police officers,” although she would not have the final say about whether to discipline the officers.

Broadly speaking, law enforcement officers do not have a legal duty to disclose either their identities or their agencies of affiliation, even if asked directly. Certain municipalities require police officers to identify themselves if asked, but there is currently no federal statute requiring officer disclosure of such information. Generally, federal law enforcement conduct is guided by the internal regulations of the particular law enforcement agency for whom the officers work—or, when federal officials are not involved, the regulations of local police departments.

For this reason, the majority of litigation analyzing law enforcement officers’ obligation to disclose their identities focuses on two scenarios that are somewhat inapposite to current events: undercover law enforcement operations and the potential for entrapment; and search and seizure cases implicating an individual’s Fourth Amendment rights. Courts have adopted a broad definition of seizure that includes displays of force and the use of language that implies compliance is required. Thus, the legal analysis underpinning the second scenario provides the clearest guidance on the standards courts would likely look to in litigation surrounding the recent failures of federal law enforcement officers to disclose their identities. Nevertheless, the current circumstances, where individuals are clearly law enforcement but refuse to identify themselves, present a distinct and novel issue.

The central question in analyzing such officers’ behavior would be whether or not it was “reasonable.” The Fourth Amendment precludes the government from conducting unreasonable searches and seizures, but, as the Supreme Court noted in Mapp v. Ohio (1961), there remains no fixed test for reasonableness. Instead, trial courts determine reasonableness using an objective standard on a case-by-case basis. The reasonableness inquiry under the Fourth Amendment focuses on the specific context and the threat that the suspect poses. In the event that an individual believes law enforcement failed to conduct a seizure reasonably, that individual may pursue a civil action against the relevant government officers for a violation of his or her constitutional rights. But such a suit may be brought only after the alleged constitutional violation has occurred, which highlights the challenges posed by the current situation; if the officers did not conduct a search or seizure of a protestor, there would be no basis to challenge their behavior under the Fourth Amendment.

Additionally, even in the event of a constitutional violation, the doctrine of qualified immunity creates a high bar for recovery when a law enforcement officer is sued. Once again, a reasonableness standard is essential. Only if the right in question has been clearly established and a reasonable officer would not believe that the activity the officer engaged in was lawful, will that officer be denied qualified immunity. (For a broader discussion of the arguments for and against qualified immunity, see this Lawfare post.)

The nature of the inquiry into the reasonableness of a law enforcement officer’s failure to identify as such is largely dependent on where the search or seizure in question occurred. While the Supreme Court has recognized a requirement that police officers should generally “knock and announce” themselves prior to searching a house, it has not made this an absolute requirement for a search to be reasonable. Rather, in Wilson v. Arkansas (1995), the Supreme Court stated, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

14 June 2020 at 7:46 am

Sick of the ‘blue code of silence,’ director Ava DuVernay starts an initiative to spotlight police brutality

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Geoff Edgers reports in the Washington Post on an interesting initiative:

In late May, director Ava DuVernay tweeted a clip of Tye Anders, a 21-year-old black man in Texas, lying on the ground, terrified and in tears, as police stood over him with guns drawn. He had allegedly run a stop sign.

“Can anyone identify these cops for me?” she asked. “I’m starting a new project.”

Now DuVernay, whose acclaimed 2019 “When They See Us” miniseries documented the lives of the five teenagers wrongly imprisoned in the 1989 Central Park jogger case, is revealing that project, meant to spotlight police officers who have abused and murdered black people. The Law Enforcement Accountability Project (LEAP) will fund 25 projects — including film, theater, photography, poetry, music, sculpture and dance — over the next two years through DuVernay’s Array Alliance nonprofit. LEAP will have an initial budget of $3 million from contributors including the Ford Foundation and screenwriter-producer Ryan Murphy (“Glee,” “American Horror Story”).

DuVernay says she had an epiphany after repeatedly watching the horrifying video of George Floyd’s death that was taken by 17-year-old Darnella Frazier. Frazier was walking her 9-year-old cousin to a corner store when she saw Floyd being pulled out of a car. She began filming police officer Derek Chauvin and Floyd, pinned under his knee for more than eight minutes. Chauvin, who has since been fired and charged with second-degree murder, stares into the camera as Floyd pleads to be released.

“I’m used to watching racist, violent images,” says DuVernay. “So why did George Floyd’s final moments devastate me like it did? I realized that it was because this time the cop isn’t hidden behind a body cam or distorted by grainy surveillance video. This time, I can see the cop’s face. As a viewer, there are several times when he even looks right at me. Then . . . I started to realize how rare that is. And that led me to think, ‘how many of these police officers do we never see?’ They disappear, end up leaving town, and show up in another department. Their names are said, but it’s never amplified and it’s kind of like this group contract. Somehow, we, as American citizens, have agreed to not speak their names. I do not agree to that anymore.”

DuVernay says she isn’t ready to reveal specific projects yet, but the first finished work will go public in August.

And there won’t be any shortage of incidents to spotlight. DuVernay notes that it took five years for Daniel Pantaleo, the New York City police officer who choked Eric Garner in 2014, to be fired. Pantaleo was not charged in Garner’s death. And no charges have been filed in the deaths of Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician killed in Louisville in March after police stormed her apartment, or Tamir Rice, the 12-year-old shot in a Cleveland park when a police officer mistook his toy gun for a real weapon. There are also the many officers tried and acquitted, including Betty Jo Shelby, who fatally shot an unarmed black man in Tulsa in 2016. Today, she is a police officer in another county and teaches a course on what she calls “The Ferguson effect,” when “a police officer is victimized by anti-police groups and tried in the court of public opinion.”

DuVernay says: “This is a broken system, some people will say. I will say it was built this way. And we, as taxpayers who pay these people’s salaries, should at least be able to speak their names. Why have we agreed not to mention them? It’s much different than a serial killer or a school shooter. These are people who work for us. They have broken the law, they have broken their oath, and we should be able to talk about that.”

Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, says he was immediately drawn to the idea.

“Artists are the best transmitters and translators of the American narrative and unfortunately, racism in law enforcement has been a part of the American narrative,” he says.

Walker says that DuVernay, whose films include “Selma,” “A Wrinkle in Time,” and the ­Academy Award-nominated documentary “13th,” is the perfect person to lead this project. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

13 June 2020 at 3:15 pm

Making police reform work

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UPDATE: The links were bad in this extract. They now have been fixed.

From David Pell’s excellent newsletter:

“What’s happening in this city, which for many years has been deemed among the dangerous in America? Thomson, who took the helm of the Camden police force in 2008, says the biggest factor may have been the change in structure of the department itself.” CityLab on a smallish city with a big lesson. What Happened to Crime in Camden?

+ CNN: “The city, home to a population about 17% of Minneapolis’ size, dissolved its police department in 2012 and replaced it with an entirely new one after corruption rendered the existing agency unfixable. Before its police reforms, Camden was routinely named one of the most violent cities in the US. Now, seven years after the old department was booted (though around 100 officers were rehired [I’m curious about the number not rehired — and what became of them – LG (I bet they just joined other police department — cf. pedophile priests and pastors.], the city’s crime has dropped by close to half. Officers host outdoor parties for residents and knock on doors to introduce themselves. It’s a radically different Camden than it was even a decade ago.” Here’s how they did it.

+ From the chief who turned it around: “I don’t see a democratic society wherein you could completely eliminate a police force. I do think that there are some serious conversations that can happen with regards to defunding police. There are greater public safety returns on investment with programs other than putting money towards enforcement.”

+ An excellent overview from The Marshall Project: Support For Defunding The Police Department Is Growing. Here’s Why It’s Not A Silver Bullet. “Past attempts to cut police spending or alter police policies offer cautionary tales of how some efforts backfire, and entrenched aggressive tactics and racially discriminatory attitudes remain.”

Written by LeisureGuy

12 June 2020 at 4:11 pm

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