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Amy Swearer: “I’m a Conservative Who Was Roofied by a Stranger. Here’s What I Think of ‘Me, Too’”

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Amy Swearer writes in Stream.org:

Me, too.

That phrase has floated around social media all week, a trend started in response to the recent sexual assault allegations against Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. The premise is simple, if not oversimplified: Shift the focus away from predators and onto the victims.

Tens of thousands of women—and men—have shared their stories of rape, sexual assault, or harassment under the hashtag. For some, the only words that came were “Me, too.”

I process through writing. This week, I have written something incredibly personal, for a trend no one—including myself—expected me to participate in. I believe I owe myself a voice, and for that reason, I share my story with you.

Me, too.

Waking Up on a Hospital Gurney

This wound is still fresh. Not long ago, shortly after moving halfway across the country to Washington, D.C., I was roofied in a bar. I recall telling myself I would just have one drink, since the friends I was supposed to meet canceled on me. The next 12 hours are black. Not figuratively black, but literally black. They do not exist in my mind except for a handful of hazy, dreamlike snapshots of context-less moments toward the beginning and end of that period.

What I know from hospital staff is that someone called an ambulance after finding me screaming for help in a Metro station, a strange and as-yet unidentified man at my side. I was covered in vomit and incoherent, but even drugged-up Amy still put up a fight—apparently, I was kicking at the EMTs.

I came to the next morning on an emergency room gurney, bruised in various places and my wrist so badly damaged it would likely need surgery. There was no alcohol in my system: I had not been drunk. No, some piece of human garbage chemically incapacitated me because he did not feel capable of simply overpowering me. In many other contexts I might take it as a compliment.

There is an ongoing criminal investigation on which I won’t comment. I don’t envy the job of police in this regard—as someone with a background in criminal law, I know how difficult these cases are to prosecute.

After I initially shared this story, several friends asked for explanations as to why I chose now to speak out. Why would I, as an ardent and principled conservative, appear to align myself with a “movement” so closely related in the public eye to the very militant feminism I often criticize? While I don’t owe anyone an explanation for why and when I share my story, I will nonetheless provide one. Why do I unapologetically proclaim, “Me, too?”

Because this is my voice. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

And today, my voice will speak.

I Will Speak

It will speak on behalf of a moderation that neither ignores victims nor demonizes all men. It will speak to a pain that transcends political rhetoric. It will speak for those who are too often silenced by the sheer weight and emotional complexity of a burden they never asked to bear.

It will speak because this week I have seen too many ignorant comments, authored by too many people with too many opinions and too little compassion. People who, if they will listen at all, will only listen to a gun-owning, beer-drinking, God-fearing conservative woman whose disdain for modern militant feminism is well-known and unwavering.

Sometimes, we need to hear it from our own. Today, hear it from me.

There are a disconcerting number of people who, while ferociously and rightfully tearing apart the likes of Harvey Weinstein and his enablers, simultaneously denigrate the experiences of victims in the name of “confronting the lies of leftist feminism.”

I’m not referring to commentators like Michael Knowles and Ben Shapiro, both of whom have offered honest and thoughtful concerns about the #MeToo hashtag. By no means do I think Mayim Bialik was out of line for advocating the exercise of wisdom and modesty as means of self-protection.

I’m referring to those who, without an ounce of empathy, callously dismiss stories shared under the #MeToo hashtag. The ones whose arguments can be fairly characterized as: “If you were really assaulted, you would have gone to the police. You would drop names and raise hell until you got justice. But you either weren’t victimized or you are complicit in all the other assaults that came after you. Most of these women posting ‘me, too’ are exaggerating for attention or because they want to demonize men. There is no rape epidemic, and women sometimes lie, so most of these women are lying, too.”

Stop.

No, really. Just stop.

Yes, there is a difference between sexual assault and sexual harassment (although both are unacceptable) and sometimes the #MeToo hashtag has blurred that distinction. But that shouldn’t overshadow the larger picture of how many women are still affected by these issues.

And yes, it is difficult to bring the hammer of justice down on perpetrators when victims do not feel comfortable coming forward with names. (And I would urge women if they can to report incidents of sexual assault.) But a cold-hearted presumption of culpability or exaggeration only makes it harder for them to break their silence.

When someone confides in you that they were roofied, assaulted, molested, raped, or harassed, they have rendered themselves the most vulnerable they will likely ever be to you. Do not presume to sit in judgment of a person’s reaction to a horror you can never understand until you have lived it.

And no, I promise you, you do not understand. I did not understand, either.

I Did Not Understand. You Do Not Understand

I have sat in quiet judgment of so many women who did not respond to victimization in the precise way I imagined “angry, no-holds-barred, take-names-but-not-prisoners” Amy would respond. I have sworn to anyone who would listen that many victims are partially to blame, that my handguns and I could take care of myself, and that I would always be vigilant enough and smart enough and prepared enough.

And then there I was, waking up on a gurney at 4 in the morning. In an emergency room. By myself. Surrounded by strangers, asked the most intimate of questions by people who did not know my name five minutes ago, still hazy from a drug-induced stupor, bruised and hurting and afraid and wanting desperately to disappear into a hole until it all went away … and I promise you, you do not understand.

You don’t understand the sickening internal debate over whether and how and when and to what extent you should tell your parents. You don’t understand the . . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2017 at 12:47 pm

What’s a fit punishment for the Murdochs?

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Jennifer Rubin, a conservative columnist for the Washington Post (and for 20 years a labor and employment lawyer in Los Angeles, working for Hollywood studios), writes in the Washington Post:

The New York Times reported:

Last January, six months after Fox News ousted its chairman amid a sexual harassment scandal, the network’s top-rated host at the time, Bill O’Reilly, struck a $32 million agreement with a longtime network analyst to settle new sexual harassment allegations, according to two people briefed on the matter — an extraordinarily large amount for such cases.

Although the deal has not been previously made public, the network’s parent company, 21st Century Fox, acknowledges that it was aware of the woman’s complaints about Mr. O’Reilly. They included allegations of repeated harassment, a nonconsensual sexual relationship and the sending of gay pornography and other sexually explicit material to her, according to the people briefed on the matter.

O’Reilly’s lawyer refused to disclose to 21st Century Fox the amount of the settlement, and Fox acquiesced. (Talk about corporate irresponsibility.) Fox’s owners soon felt federal prosecutors breathing down their necks:

Federal prosecutors who had been investigating the network’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Mr. Ailes had asked for material related to allegations involving Mr. O’Reilly, according to an internal Fox email obtained by The Times.

“Their legal theory has been that we hid the fact that we had a problem with Roger,” Gerson Zweifach, Fox’s general counsel, wrote in the email, referring to the prosecutors and Mr. Ailes, “and now it will be applied to O’Reilly, and they will insist on full knowledge of all complaints about O’Reilly’s behavior in the workplace, regardless of who settled them.”

He warned the Murdochs that they should expect details from the January settlement to become public. Six days later, Mr. O’Reilly was fired.

In a normal situation, the highest-ranking executives involved in a scandal like this would be fired. In the case of Fox, however, Rupert Murdoch and his sons — who control a minority of the stock but a disproportionate share of voting stock — were the main culprits, who along with O’Reilly’s attorney did their best to make certain the public, including other women, were kept in the dark about O’Reilly’s alleged predatory conduct.

It may turn out that the worst thing the Murdochs did was not the creation of an anti-news cesspool of conspiracy theories that has polluted our politics and dumbed down the Republican Party. The intentional coverup of someone who allegedly subjected so many women on a regular basis to such horrific conduct forces one to ask: Shouldn’t someone go to jail for this? And I don’t mean just O’Reilly, ifthe conduct rises to the level of assault or extortion (i.e., “You need to sleep with me or you’ll never work in this town”).

So what can be done when the ownership of a company (or those that effectively control the company) engages in such behavior?

Let’s re-up our recommendation that states should bar use of non-disclosure agreements to cover up workplace harassment and discrimination. States may also choose to bar confidentiality clauses in settlement agreements that prevent the victim from revealing the facts and settlement amount of a claim, although that will make settlements — and compensation for victims — much harder to obtain.

Congress can also require disclosure of harassment claims in excess of a few thousand dollars on required securities filings and annual reports. Shareholders have every right to know if they’ve invested in a company that preys on women and then tries to cover it up.

In the case of 21st Century Fox, we find the perfect test for all the stars outraged over Harvey Weinstein and the culture of sexual abuse in Hollywood: Do not make films or TV shows with 21st Century Fox until the Murdochs relinquish day-to-day control of the company. C’mon, stars, you said you wanted to end predatory behavior, so now’s your chance. (Whatever contracts have been entered into would need to be honored, but no new ones should be made.)

This is also a test for all of 21st Century Fox’s advertisers across all the Fox networks as well as its news programming. So long as the Murdochs are there, advertising on Fox amounts to enabling those who protect sexual predators. Let the boycotts begin!

Finally, we did not lightly use the phrase “Shouldn’t someone go to jail?” When physical conduct is involved, a variety of criminal legal theories — extortion, assault, misprision (deliberate concealment of a crime), as well as securities violations (failure to disclose liabilities) — might provide ample power for prosecutors to go after the harassers and those who conceal the harassment. Think about this: If someone extorted money by threats to ruin a victim’s career, criminal law would unquestionably apply; why should not extortion of “services” (sex) qualify as well? If someone knows of the extortion of money and takes steps to conceal it is subject to prosecution, why should not attempts to cover up extortion of sex apply as well? If state criminal laws are insufficiently precise, they can be strengthened. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2017 at 11:40 am

Maureen Dowd interviews Susan Fowler, author of the Uber memo

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Susan Fowler seems to be a very interesting person. She’s a Stoic in terms of her philosophy, for example. Maureen Dowd’s interview in the NY Times begins:

Susan Fowler was, she recalls, “over the moon” in January 2016. At 24, she had just snagged her dream job as a site reliability engineer at Uber, which had recruited her by telling her the ride-hailing company was a “super-women-friendly” place to work, boasting 25 percent female engineers. And she had her first date with the man who would become her husband, Chad Rigetti, who runs a quantum computing start-up in Berkeley, Calif., and who, she says dreamily, is as “beautiful” as Michael Fassbender.

After a movie, she pulled out her phone and opened up her Uber app to get them a car home.

“No, no, no,” Mr. Rigetti told her. “I don’t use Uber.”

“What?” Ms. Fowler replied, thinking he was joking. “But I work there.”

“I only use Lyft,” he said. “Did you read that interview with the C.E.O., Travis, where he talked about how Uber helps him get girls? He’s a misogynist. I could never use his product.”

Ms. Fowler smiles ruefully at the memory, during her first interview since she became instantly famous. As we sit in the Clift Hotel’s lobby cafe, decorated with black-and-white animal tiles, it’s startling to think that this is the woman who pierced the self-indulgent, adolescent Pleasure Island mentality of Silicon Valley, causing the stunning downfall of Travis “we call that ‘Boob-er’” Kalanick and starting a bonfire on creepy sexual behavior in Silicon Valley that, fueled by a report in The Times and cascading stories, spread to Hollywood and engulfed Harvey Weinstein and Amazon’s Roy Price.

Dressed in black jeans, brown loafers, a denim jacket — “the only clothes I can fit into” — and wearing a Fitbit with a hot pink band that cost her $1 on Amazon, Ms. Fowler is 26 and seven months pregnant. She looks so young that people give her “weird looks,” she says, worried that she will be a teenage mother.

She is petite, with an angelic smile and an air of innocence that belies a fierce will. Her Instagram account features a picture of Charlie Brown saying, “Be the best you can be”; a coffee mug with the motto from Apollo 13, “Failure is not an option”; and books she is reading on a wide array of subjects including ants. She describes herself as “an amateur myrmecologist.”

As Kara Swisher wrote in Recode, Ms. Fowler did everyone in tech a favor by unmasking the donkeys “worshiped as kings” by the venture capitalists and investors and boards and even the media, felling them with one “epic” 2,900-word blog post “about what happens when a hot company becomes hostage to its increasingly dysfunctional and toxic behaviors.”

No doubt when Mr. Kalanick met the wide-eyed Ms. Fowler at the office Christmas party soon after she started, it never entered his head that she would become the disciplinarian who effectively confiscated his car keys for reckless driving with one blog post.

Yet it was a role that Ms. Fowler had been preparing for her whole life. The Peter Pan libertines met their match in a sweet Stoic.

She had what she calls an “unconventional upbringing,” the second child of seven in a small town in rural Arizona called Yarnell. Her father was an evangelical Assemblies of God preacher who sold pay phones on weekdays and, with his wife, home-schooled Susan and her siblings. She ended up never going to high school.

“So I was kind of on my own,” she says. “I tried to read the classics, would go to the library a lot, tried to teach myself things. But didn’t really have any direction. I really had this dream that someday I could be educated.”

She read Plutarch’s “Lives.” “The Stoics were really what changed me,” she says. “Because their whole thing was about, ‘You don’t have control over a lot of the things that determine your life, so all you can do is focus on becoming the best person that you can be.’ And that really spoke to me because I did feel, especially during my teenage years, that my life was really out of my control. I really wished that I could just learn and do all the fun things and cool extracurriculars that I thought everybody else my age was doing.”

Ms. Fowler worked as a stable hand and a nanny to help support her family. “And I would tell myself, in the times when I would be really, really sad, ‘Once I get out of here, I’m going to do something great.’ And I would just pray at night, like, ‘God, please just let me get out, give me opportunities to get out. I promise I’ll do good with it.’”

At 16, she began “freaking out” about her future. “I had this really intense resolve. I would call universities and community colleges and say, ‘I really want to go to college? How do I get to college. What do I do?’ And they would say, ‘You have to get an application. You have to get letters of recommendation.’ It was terrifying. I had no idea what I was doing.”

She figured out how to take the SAT and ACT. She made a list of all the books she had read and at the top wrote, “Susan Fowler’s Home School” and sent it off to Arizona State University.

“And they actually gave me a full scholarship,” she says, the wonder still in her voice.

The college balked at letting her take math and physics to study astronomy, given her lack of high-school prerequisites. “And I was like, ‘No! I didn’t come this far, now that I’ve found something I really loved, to have my dream smashed,’” Ms. Fowler says.

She applied to the top 10 colleges as a transfer student and was accepted at the University of Pennsylvania, where she was told she could study physics and given help with the steep tuition.

After a rough first semester, advisers tried to steer her away from physics. So she walked into the office of Penn’s president, Amy Gutmann, and left a message with her assistant: In a commencement speech, Ms. Gutmann had said that the school would help students fulfill their dreams.

“I heard back directly from the president herself, and she was like, ‘You are right. This is a place for people to fulfill their dreams.’” She told Ms. Fowler she could get back to her whiteboards, and after that, it was “fantastic.”

The Memo That Roared

The essay that shook Silicon Valley was called “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” and Ms. Fowler began by noting that it was “a strange, fascinating, and slightly horrifying story.” Published on Feb. 19, it rocked the world’s most valuable start-up, challenging the mantra that great disrupters are above the law. The blog post was notable for its dispassionate tone, as the young engineer who had left the company after a year walked the reader through everything that had gone very, very wrong in the brozilla culture of kegs, sexual coarseness and snaky competition.

Ms. Fowler was on her first day with her new engineering team when her manager sent her a string of messages over the company chat system.

“He’s telling me that he’s in an open relationship and that his girlfriend is getting laid all the time, but he just can’t because he’s at work all the time,” she says, reprising her blog post with me. “And he’s trying really hard not to get in trouble at work, but he’s really looking for a woman to have sex with. And I was like, ‘What the hell? This can’t be real. How stupid does he have to be?’ But it turned out he’d been getting away with this for so long, he didn’t care anymore. And I feel like so many of these men, they believe that the only reason women get into these jobs is to get a guy.”

Ms. Fowler took screen shots and reported the manager to human resources, thinking, “They’ll do the right thing.” But they didn’t, explaining that the manager was “a high performer” and it was his first offense, something Ms. Fowler later discovered to be untrue.

“Somehow I’m supposed to be like, ‘Oh, he’s a high performer? Never mind. How dare I?’” she says, laughing.

She wrote that H.R. told her she could either find another team to work on or stay on that man’s team and expect a poor performance review. Another manager told her that if she reported stuff to H.R., he could fire her. Amid the manic, sexist behavior, the number of female engineers in the division Ms. Fowler was part of dwindled to less than 6 percent — too few, the company said, to merit ordering them the same black leather jackets they were ordering for the men.

When Ms. Fowler earned some money from “Production-Ready Microservices,” a book on engineering she wrote, she went out to Madewell and bought herself a black leather jacket.

“I didn’t really care if they branded me a troublemaker,” she says, “because I hadn’t gotten that far in my life and overcome all these things to get treated inappropriately. I wasn’t going to take it. I’d worked so hard. I deserved so much better. And I was, like, ‘No. That’s not O.K. You don’t get to do that.’”

In her memo, she says, “I knew I had to be super-careful about how I said it if I wanted anybody to take it seriously. A lot of women have been whistle-blowers in the past, and a lot of them have just gotten torn down and treated terribly. One of the things that kept popping up was this idea that if you do whistle-blow about sexual harassment, then that is what will define the rest of your life. And I kind of struggled with this. But then, to me, I realized, you know what? No. Stepping back, just being in my little Stoicism Susan bubble, if what people know you for is bringing light to an issue about bad behavior, about bad stuff going on and laws not being followed and people being treated inappropriately, why wouldn’t I want that? That’s a badge of honor.

“And I wasn’t just standing up for myself. I felt like I was standing up for everyone else that I was seeing at Uber who was mistreated. It was an extremely demoralizing environment. I would see people who would get harassed or made fun of or bullied and they would go report it, and they would just get ground down by upper management and H.R. And so I felt like, if I can take this on despite the consequences, then I should do it.”

Like women in Hollywood I talked to after the Weinstein collapse, Ms. Fowler thought the new outspokenness in Silicon Valley on sexual harassment may have been spurred by the election of President Trump.

“The second Trump won, I felt super-powerless and I thought, ‘Oh my God, no one’s looking out for us,’” she says. “They have the House, they have the Senate, they have the White House. And so we have to take it back ourselves. We have to be the ones doing the work.”

The only woman on the board then, Arianna Huffington, who had vowed that the culture of “brilliant jerks” must end, had been trying to help Mr. Kalanick by advising him to sleep more and meditate. But he caused another kerfuffle when he chose to meditate in the lactation room.

When Ms. Fowler’s memo exploded, Ms. Huffington oversaw the investigation by Eric Holder, reached out and talked to employees, and said she wanted to “hold the leadership team’s feet to the fire.” Uber later fired 20 people, including senior executives.

“So I was disappointed in her because I expected her to be an advocate,” Ms. Fowler says, noting that Ms. Huffington appeared on TV after the blog post to insist that there’s no “systemic problem” at Uber.

“I had two friends who went to her and Liane Hornsey, who’s the head of H.R., and reported various harassment discrimination,” Ms. Fowler says. “And then I was told that many other women were doing the same thing. And then Arianna went on TV that same week and said, there’s no ‘systemic problem.’ Which I was like, ‘No, a whole bunch of people just went to you this week.’” Ms. Fowler adds that the company’s C.T.O., Thuan Pham, who knew about her complaints, is still in the same job.

Ms. Huffington told me that she agreed that the problem was “systemic sexism,” but that she did not believe there was “systemic sexual harassment.” But, she added, “there should be zero tolerance for even one case of sexual harassment.”

“I was totally supportive of having a full investigation of her claims,” Ms. Huffington says. “That’s why we brought in a former attorney general to investigate. I don’t think you can do a lot more than that.”

Ms. Fowler is not so sure. “The one interaction we had was right after I published the blog, when I started getting calls from friends and family and even acquaintances I hadn’t talked to in years and years who were getting calls about private investigators asking about it,” she says “And I was pretty sure that this was coming from Uber or someone close to Uber. So I sent an email to some of the members of the Uber board because I was like, ‘Look, I don’t know if you’re responsible for this, but hey, if you’re doing this, please stop.’

“And Arianna responded and she was like, ‘Travis has assured me that he did not do this.’ And I replied, asking her, ‘O.K., well, then, could you please go and say publicly, “Whoever’s doing this, stop,” if somebody is?’”

Ms. Huffington told me that “the board had a complete assurance from management that nothing was done like that or would be.”

Speaking to The Wall Street Journal earlier this month, Ms. Hornsey, who joined Uber a month after Ms. Fowler left and a month before the famous blog post, was asked if she had ever reached out to Ms. Fowler.

“I have said, very publicly, ‘Thank you’ to her because she raised some stuff that did lead to change,” she said. “I don’t know whether there would be any benefit in meeting her. I’m seriously working for my employees today; she’s an ex-employee.”

Ms. Fowler tweeted a screen shot of that part of the interview, saying: “Oooh burn” and “She really, really doesn’t like me.”

On the advice of a friend, Ms. Fowler got private security for the first few weeks after she published her incendiary essay. . .

Continue reading.

Read the whole thing, by all means.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 October 2017 at 9:18 am

One drug dealer, two corrupt cops and a risky FBI sting

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The blurb:

Davon Mayer was a smalltime dealer in west Baltimore who made an illicit deal with local police. When they turned on him, he decided to get out – but escaping that life would not prove as easy as falling into it.

Yudhijit Bhattacharjee reports in the Guardian:

On a humid summer day in 2004, Davon Mayer stepped out of his house on Bennett Place in the heart of Baltimore. Sixteen years old, Davon was short, plump and baby-faced, still more of a kid than an adolescent. Like many other boys in his neighbourhood, he had long since stopped going to school and was dealing drugs full-time.

On any other day, Davon would have been busy by this hour, trading vials of crack for cash on the pavement, keeping an eye out for the police. But this morning, he was on his way to meet with a narcotics detective named William King. Weeks earlier, the detective had arrested Davon after catching him selling drugs. He had taken Davon to the police station and then let him go, asking that Davon call him. When Davon failed to call, King had paid him a visit to let him know he wasn’t playing around.

As Davon walked to a nearby strip mall where King had arranged to meet, his mind was weighed down by anxiety. What could a city detective possibly want from a small-time drug dealer such as himself? The only answer Davon could think of was that King wanted him to become an informant. The more Davon dwelled on that possibility, the more panicked he got. Where he came from, there was nothing worse than helping the police. To snitch on fellow drug dealers was to invite death.

He got to the mall’s parking lot and saw King’s pickup truck. King was sitting behind the wheel, dressed in sweatpants and a T-shirt. He asked Davon to get in the back seat and turned on the engine. “I have been watching you,” King said, as they drove around. “I like the way you do business.”


Growing up, Davon’s parents weren’t around much. His father, Marvin “Bunk” Nutter, spent much of his son’s childhood in jail on robbery and murder charges. Davon’s mother, Tonya, spent some of those years in jail, too, for drug possession, and the rest on the streets, sustaining her crack addiction with prostitution. Davon reserved the word “Ma” for his grandmother, Norma, who had raised him, along with his sister and a cousin.

Norma was a small woman with a big presence, a matriarch to the entire block. She had fought her own battle with drug addiction when she was younger; at one point, her kids had been taken away by social services. When she finally overcame her addiction, she committed herself to discipline and order, toiling from morning till night to take care of her husband, a factory worker, and three grandkids. The entire block could be dirty and dishevelled but the front of 947 Bennett Place was always spick and span.

What Davon didn’t know at the time was that Norma couldn’t remain insulated from the world of drug dealing herself. Even though her husband earned enough for her to be able to feed and clothe the kids, she struggled to find the money to take care of their wants – toys for Christmas, gifts on birthdays, an occasional afternoon out to the movies. And so she had to make a few bucks on her own. There were drug dealers in the neighbourhood who trusted Norma to keep their money safe for them, to provide a place where it wouldn’t be stolen or discovered in a police raid. Dealers usually paid her a small amount for the service.

Despite Norma’s best efforts, by the time Davon was about 11, he began to feel the pull of the drug business. He was growing more and more conscious of all the things he wanted that his grandmother couldn’t give him. All the boys he knew in the neighbourhood seemed to own a pair of Nike Air Jordan sneakers, but not even in his wildest dreams could he ask Norma for the $100 it would cost to buy a pair.

Davon told a friend, AC, who worked for a dealer in west Baltimore, that he wanted to make some money. One morning, AC took Davon to see one of the dealer’s men, LJ, outside a row of apartment buildings on Pennsylvania Avenue. Davon felt himself trembling a little as LJ looked him over from head to toe. Then he handed Davon a sandwich bag with 50 vials of crack, each capped with a purple top.

Davon slid the pack of vials into his pocket as LJ and AC walked off. He stood nervously in the fenced passageway leading to the door of the apartment building, wondering what he would do if the cops came. Minutes later, a young woman with a sickly pallor came out of the apartment building; recognising him right away as the seller, she asked him for a vial. After Davon had sold to her, he turned around to find a crowd of at least a dozen other buyers waiting on the sidewalk. The pack was gone within minutes.

LJ gave him another pack, which Davon dispensed with in short order. At the end of his first day’s work, Davon had $750 in dollar bills. It was more cash than he had seen before. He was allowed to keep $75. Walking back to Bennett Place, Davon felt a sense of exhilaration.

Over the summer, as Davon’s shoebox savings grew, he couldn’t resist the Jordans, deluding himself that they would somehow escape notice at home. But one night, when he was sitting in the living room talking on the phone, his mother Tonya overheard him bragging about the sneakers.

“Davon, where did you get these shoes from?” Tonya asked him.

“I got them from Bunk,” he answered, without skipping a beat. His father had got out of jail the previous year, and came around every few days.

Tonya didn’t believe him. She called Bunk, and he came over the next day to take the shoes away and give Davon a beating. He warned Davon to stay off the streets. But Davon was back on Pennsylvania Avenue the very next day. He was hooked on the money he was making. A few weeks later, he packed up his things and left home.


As he built up a reputation for hard work, Davon’s boss gave him more drugs to sell and his earnings went up to more than $500 a day. He had moved into the apartment building where he’d been selling drugs, living with an addict named Lisa who let him stay in a spare bedroom in exchange for her daily fix of crack. At night, he would lie on the floor of his bare room, longing for the comfort of the bed he had left behind at Norma’s house. Sometimes, staring out of the window, he would feel so overcome by loneliness that he would break down and cry.

One afternoon in August 2000, Davon was caught selling drugs by police. He felt a tingle of excitement as he was marched into a police van. He would finally be able to brag about having been to jail. The price of this glory would be minimal, too: as a minor, he expected to be let off lightly.

Davon was released later that day, returning home with his mother. Over the next few days, he mulled over whether to return to Pennsylvania Avenue. He didn’t want to go to prison and decided he was better off going to school, which was about to reopen after the summer break. He was also concerned about Norma, who had been diagnosed with breast cancer.

From the very first day of school, Davon felt a restlessness that quickly transformed into a yearning for his old life. At school, the popular kids were much better dressed than he was. The girls he liked paid him no attention. Davon felt he had taken a big step down in status.

Frustrated, he decided to dip his toe back into the drug business. After school let out in the afternoon, he would go over to a street three blocks from Bennett Place and hustle for a couple of hours before coming home. By the winter, he had saved enough money to buy his first car, an old Grand Marquis. He didn’t want Tonya or Norma to see it, so he parked it a few blocks away and walked the rest of the way home.

Throughout the summer and autumn of 2001, Norma’s health worsened. She would spend most of her time in bed. One day in November, after Davon had started in 10th grade, he went into Norma’s bedroom to check on her. She looked like she was napping, but he touched her, and she was cold.

Two years later, Davon lost another family member, when his father was shot in a revenge killing. That night, for the first time in his life, Davon got drunk. Sitting by himself, he wept uncontrollably, although he would never quite understand why he felt so much grief over the loss of a father who had barely been present in his life.

By this point, Davon had long since quit school and his drug-dealing career was taking off. He had seen smalltime dealers in his neighbourhood remain stuck at the bottom of the pyramid, and he hustled day and night to move up. Once he realised there was more money to be made from selling heroin than crack, he branched out into a neighbourhood west of Bennett Place. He was making more than $1,500 a day. . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 October 2017 at 10:57 am

Federal Judge Unseals New York Crime Lab’s Software for Analyzing DNA Evidence

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Lauren Kirchner reports for ProPublica:

A federal judge this week unsealed the source code for a software program developed by New York City’s crime lab, exposing to public scrutiny a disputed technique for analyzing complex DNA evidence.

Judge Valerie Caproni of the Southern District of New York lifted a protective order in response to a motion by ProPublica, which argued that there was a public interest in disclosing the code. ProPublica has obtained the source code, known as the Forensic Statistical Tool, or FST, and published it on GitHub; two newly unredacted defense expert affidavits are alsoavailable.

“Everybody who has been the subject of an FST report now gets to find out to what extent that was inaccurate,” said Christopher Flood, a defense lawyer who has sought access to the code for several years. “And I mean everybody — whether they pleaded guilty before trial, or whether it was presented to a jury, or whether their case was dismissed. Everybody has a right to know, and the public has a right to know.”

Caproni’s ruling comes amid increased complaints by scientists and lawyers that flaws in the now-discontinued software program may have sent innocent people to prison. Similar legal fights for access to proprietary DNA analysis software are ongoing elsewhere in the U.S. At the same time, New York City policymakers are pushing for transparency for all of the city’s decision-making algorithms, from pre-trial risk assessments, to predictive policing systems, to methods of assigning students to high schools.

DNA evidence has long been a valuable tool in criminal investigations, and matching a defendant’s genetic material with a sample found on a weapon or at a crime scene has impressed many a judge and jury. But as new types of DNA analysis have emerged in recent years to interpret trace amounts or complex mixtures that used to be dismissed as hopelessly ambiguous, the techniques are coming under fire as overly ambitious and mistake-prone.

An article ProPublica co-published with The New York Times on Sept. 4 detailed the growing doubts about the Forensic Statistical Tool, which New York City created to determine the likelihood that a given defendant’s DNA was present in a mixture of multiple people’s genetic material. According to the crime lab’s estimates, FST was used to analyze crime-scene evidence in about 1,350 cases over about 5 1/2 years. It was phased out at the beginning of this year in favor of a newer tool.

A coalition of New York City defense lawyers has called for a review of all cases that may have been affected by either FST or a second disputed analysis method, called high-sensitivity DNA testing. The state inspector general, which acts as the lab’s ombudsman, has received the lawyers’ request but has not yet announced whether she will launch an investigation.

The crime lab, which is part of the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, did not oppose ProPublica’s motion, but maintains its support of its technology. “I want to be very clear that OCME continues to stand behind the science that the FST source code operationalized, and that we will continue to defend FST,” Florence Hutner, general counsel for the medical examiner’s office, wrote to the judge on Oct. 6.

She added that the lab agreed to full disclosure of the expert affidavits because the redactions had “exacerbated the substantial misunderstanding of fundamental aspects of the FST source code that is reflected in multiple published criticisms of that code.”

ProPublica’s motion came in a federal gun possession case, U.S. v. Kevin Johnson. Johnson was staying with his ex-girlfriend in the Bronx when police were called to her apartment and found two socks wedged between the refrigerator and the wall, one containing a black pistol and the other a silver revolver. By FST’s calculation, the DNA found on one gun was 156 times more likely than not to contain Johnson’s genetic material. DNA from the other gun had an overwhelming likelihood of 66 million.

In that case, Caproni became the first judge to order the lab to hand over the code for examination by the defense, but her protective order barred attorneys and experts from discussing or sharing it. Nathaniel Adams, a computer scientist and an engineer at a private forensics consulting firm in Ohio, reviewed the code for the defense and submitted an affidavit that was partially redacted before being made public. “The correctness of the behavior of the FST software should be seriously questioned,” he wrote in an unredacted section.

ProPublica’s motion, filed on Sept. 25with the help of the Media Freedom and Information Access Clinic at Yale Law School, argued that the judge should vacate that protective order because of “the profound importance of this technology to the integrity of the criminal justice system, and the overriding public interest in transparency.”

“This ruling finally enables ProPublica to gain access to the code in order to report on this matter of vital public concern,” said Hannah Bloch-Wehba, a supervising attorney in the MFIA clinic, following the judge’s order. “As law enforcement agencies increasingly rely on algorithmic tools in the criminal justice system,  . . .

Continue reading. There’s a lot more.

Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2017 at 2:24 pm

Another week, another crime lab scandal

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Radley Balko reports in the Washington Post:

Massachusetts, which has already seen thousands of convictions overturned due to a crime-lab analyst faking the results of drug tests, looks to be in the midst of another forensics nightmare.

The head of a state crime lab office was fired Monday after investigators found that staff withheld exculpatory evidence from defense lawyers in thousands of drunken-driving cases since 2011, a disclosure that could threaten many convictions.

In a report released Monday, state public safety officials concluded that the Office of Alcohol Testing routinely withheld documents from defense lawyers in a lawsuit challenging the reliability of breathalyzer test results due to an “unwritten policy not to turn these documents over to any requester.”

The documents included evidence that breath testing devices had failed to properly calibrate during the office’s certification process, the report found.

“We conclude that OAT leadership made serious errors of judgment in its responses to court-ordered discovery, errors which were enabled by a longstanding and insular institutional culture that was reflexively guarded . . . and which was inattentive to the legal obligations borne by those whose work facilitates criminal prosecutions,” the report found.

The most important word in the above excerpt is “culture.” The drug tests scandal was blamed on a single analyst, Annie Dookhan. But these sorts of things rarely happen in isolation. Now we have an entire “office” within the crime lab accused of not turning over exculpatory evidence. At some point, we need to start asking pointed questions. Among them: Why would crime-lab analysts feel pressure to fake incriminating test results and to hide exculpatory results? Are they feeling pressure from police or prosecutors? We already know that, incredibly, some crime labs only get funding when their analysts produce results that help win convictions. Is that what’s happening here? There are numerous public and private grants and awards tied to driving-under-the-influence enforcement, both for police departments as a whole and for individual officers. Was that a factor here?

Crime-lab analysts should be neutral. Their job performance should be evaluated based on their accuracy. Clearly, something is making at least some of these analysts think there’s a “right” and a “wrong” answer when conducting these tests. Perhaps it’s right there in the name: the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory. A forensic analyst shouldn’t be considered on the same side or team as the police. Hosting these labs under the auspices of police or district attorney’s offices is a big part of the problem.

If the lab was indeed withholding exculpatory test results, that almost certainly means some people were wrongly convicted of DUI. In Massachusetts, a first-time drunk-driving conviction can bring a one-year suspension of your driver’s license, possible probation and a mandatory 16-week alcohol awareness class (that you’re required to pay for), and thousands of dollars in court costs, attorney’s fees and fines. The conviction remains on your record permanently. If you had a child in the car at the time, you’re looking at 90 days to two years in prison and a one-year license suspension. And none of this accounts for the harm done to your career and reputation. A DUI conviction can be used against you in divorce and child custody cases. It can be devastating if you’re on parole or probation.

Given the stakes, and what we now know about the crime lab, if you find yourself pulled over on suspicion of DUI, you might be tempted to refuse to take a breath test. Generally speaking, unless you were driving really recklessly, or there are other signs of obvious intoxication, it takes a positive breath test to get probable cause to arrest you and subject you to a blood test. But refusing the test won’t help. Massachusetts is also one of the majority of states that mandates an automatic license suspension if you refuse to take a breath test. (Unless, of course, you’re a police officer, and have been extended “professional courtesy” by your fellow officer.) . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

20 October 2017 at 2:21 pm

Racist, Violent, Unpunished: A White Hate Group’s Campaign of Menace

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A.C. Thompson, Ali Winston, and Darwin BondGraham report in ProPublica:

It was about 10 a.m. on Aug. 12 when the melee erupted just north of Emancipation Park in Charlottesville, Virginia.

About two dozen white supremacists — many equipped with helmets and wooden shields — were battling with a handful of counter-protesters, most of them African American. One white man dove into the violence with particular zeal. Using his fists and feet, the man attacked one person after another.

The street fighter was in Virginia on that August morning for the “Unite the Right” rally, the largest public gathering of white supremacists in a generation, a chaotic and bloody event that would culminate, a few hours later, in the killing of 32-year-old Heather Heyer, who was there to protest the racist rally.

The violence in Charlottesville became national news. President Donald Trump’s response to it — he asserted there were “some very fine people on both sides” of the events that day — set off a wave of condemnations, from his allies as well as his critics.

But for many Americans, conservatives as well as liberals, there was shock and confusion at the sight of bands of white men bearing torches, chanting racist slogans and embracing the heroes of the Confederacy: Who were they? What are their numbers and aims?

There is, of course, no single answer. Some who were there that weekend in Charlottesville are hardened racists involved with long-running organizations like the League of the South. Many are fresh converts to white supremacist organizing, young people attracted to nativist and anti-Muslim ideas circulated on social media by leaders of the so-called alt-right, the newest branch of the white power movement. Some are paranoid characters thrilled to traffic in the symbols and coded language of vast global conspiracy theories. Others are sophisticated provocateurs who see the current political moment as a chance to push a “white agenda,” with angry positions on immigration, diversity and economic isolationism.

ProPublica spent weeks examining one distinctive group at the center of the violence in Charlottesville: an organization called the Rise Above Movement, one of whose members was the white man dispensing beatings near Emancipation Park Aug. 12.

The group, based in Southern California, claims more than 50 members and a singular purpose: physically attacking its ideological foes. RAM’s members spend weekends training in boxing and other martial arts, and they have boasted publicly of their violence during protests in Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Berkeley. Many of the altercations have been captured on video, and its members are not hard to spot.

Indeed, ProPublica has identified the group’s core members and interviewed one of its leaders at length. The man in the Charlottesville attacks — filmed by a documentary crew working with ProPublica — is 24-year-old Ben Daley, who runs a Southern California tree-trimming business.

Many of the organization’s core members, including Daley, have serious criminal histories, according to interviews and a review of court records. Before joining RAM, several members spent time in jail or state prison on serious felony charges including assault, robbery, and gun and knife offenses. Daley did seven days in jail for carrying a concealed snub-nosed revolver. Another RAM member served a prison term for stabbing a Latino man five times in a 2009 gang assault.

“Fundamentally, RAM operates like an alt-right street-fighting club,” said Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

Despite their prior records, and open boasting of current violence, RAM has seemingly drawn little notice from law enforcement. Four episodes of violence documented by ProPublica resulted in only a single arrest — and in that case prosecutors declined to go forward. Law enforcement officials in the four cities — Charlottesville, Huntington Beach, San Bernardino and Berkeley — either would not comment about RAM or said they had too little evidence or too few resources to seriously investigate the group’s members.

In Virginia, two months after the deadly events in Charlottesville, Corinne Geller, a spokeswoman for the Virginia State Police, would not say if the police had identified RAM as a dangerous group.

“We’re not going to be releasing the names of the groups that we believe were present that day in Charlottesville,” she said. Investigators, she added, are still “reviewing footage” from the event.

Law enforcement has a mixed record when it comes to anticipating and confronting the challenge of white supremacist violence.

Often working undercover at great personal risk, federal investigators have successfully disrupted dozens of racist terror attacks. In the last year, agents have captured three Kansas men planning to bomb a mosque and an apartment complex inhabited largely by Somali immigrants, arrested a white supremacist in South Carolina as he plotted a “big scale” attack, and investigated a neo-Nazi cell that allegedly intended to blow up a nuclear power plant.

But there have also been failures. During the past five years, white supremacists, some of them members of gangs or organized political groups, have murdered at least 22 people, according to the Global Terrorism Database and news reports. And some government insiders say the intelligence services and federal law enforcement agencies have largely shifted their attention away from far-right threats in the years since 9/11, choosing instead to focus heavily on Islamic radicals, who are seen by some to pose a more immediate danger.

State and local police have struggled to respond effectively to the recent resurgence in racist political organizing. . .

Continue reading.

Later in the article:

. . . Michael German is a former FBI agent who during his career infiltrated a Nazi skinhead gang and militia organizations. German, now a fellow at the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law, said he is worried that law enforcement doesn’t comprehend the threat posed by this latest iteration of the white supremacist movement.

Police and federal agents, in his view, are “looking at this whole thing so narrowly, as two groups clashing at a protest.”

In reality, German said, “it is organized criminal activity.” . . .

Written by LeisureGuy

19 October 2017 at 2:13 pm

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